Friday, April 7, 2017

ADVENTURE COMICS #435, 436, 437, 441, 442, & 443

”AS THE UNDERSEA CITY SLEEPS” | “THE KING IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE KING!”
Story: Steve Skeates | Art: Mike Grell | Editor: Joe Orlando

“A QUIET DAY IN ATLANTIS”
Script: Paul Levitz | Art: Mike Grell | Editor: Joe Orlando

Déjà vu! I already wrote about these three issues of ADVENTURE COMICS a few years ago when I covered The Spectre by Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo! But, even while the Spectre was the lead feature in the bimonthly series, Aquaman served for a time as his backup serial before eventually — as well see below — graduating to top billing.

Unfortunately these early Aquaman tales are nothing to get too excited about. I've known for years that Black Manta is Aquaman’s main villain; his Joker or Lex Luthor, of you will. But to read these stories, one would get the impression that he's the Sea King’s only antagonist! He appears in all three stories, and unfortunately they're all pretty pedestrian. And, mind you, this is partly Aquaman’s fault, as it’s established in the first story that when he captures Black Manta, he just tosses him back out into the sea rather than incarcerate him anywhere.

Anyway, I can only assume things will pick up moving forward; otherwise what's the point of collecting this stuff in a trade paperback?

”THE PIRATE WHO PLUNDERED ATLANTIS" | “H IS FOR HOLOCAUST”
Writer: Paul Levitz | Artist: Jim Aparo | Editor: Joe Orlando
Additional Dialogue: David Michelinie

I don't know if it's really always the case or if it just happens to be, coincidentally, the driving force of this run of stories -- but it seems that every single one of these Aquaman adventures so far has involved him protecting Atlantis -- whether from invaders who seek to rule the undersea city, as was the case with Black Manta in the earlier stories and Captain Demo in “The Pirate Who Plundered Atlantis”, or from a nuclear missile as in “H is For Holocaust”. But in any case, surely there must be more story hooks for the character than only this.

But on the plus side, these short stories are now beginning to resemble an actual serial rather than a series of unrelated events. With Paul Levitz aboard as writer, we now learn that the crown of Atlantis hangs heavy on Aquaman’s brow, and that he wonders if someone else might be better suited to the political maneuvering his kingship requires. Meanwhile, there's dissent among the people as well, as we see a pair of Atlantean politicians scheming to overthrow our hero.

A couple additional notes about these two installments: one, I find it incredibly odd that all of Aquaman’s subjects actually call him Aquaman (and, in one particularly silly moment, “King Aquaman”). Why not King Arthur? Or did I just answer my own question with the unexpected mythological connotations that would carry? And two — there's a poster seen on an Atlantean street at one point which says Aquaman will be giving an address on the kingdom’s budget. I assume this is Levitz giving evidence of the sort of mundane stuff Aquaman dislikes about his job, but even so, it reads as kind of surreal. It's hard to imagine Namor giving a speech about the budget.

”THE DOLPHIN CONNECTION”
Plot: Paul Levitz | Script: David Michelinie Art: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando

And now a brief hot take and reminiscence rolled into one: I’ve never quite understood the idea that Aquaman is a joke of a character. Yes, I get the absurdity of him being somewhat useless in the Justice League unless there happens to be a body of water nearby – but the “joke” seems to have expanded past that to the point that people don’t take him seriously in any circumstances, and that’s the part that mystifies me.

When I was a kid, our local video store had a few cassettes containing old Filmation DC cartoons. You had Batman, Superman, and Aquaman, as well as a few others – and I loved those Aquaman cartoons! The action was set pretty much entirely beneath the sea, and as a result Aquaman came across as a pretty awesome character. He was super-strong, he had control over all the creatures of the sea, and he was a king to boot! There was very little he couldn’t accomplish in his native realm. Plus, the show had this fantastic, majestic theme music which has stuck with me for decades afterward.

Anyway, all this is my way of saying that one of the villains in the cartoon was the Fisherman, who also happens to be the antagonist of this tale as well. Though where the animated Fisherman came across extremely spooky to my younger self with his constantly hooded, almost supernatural appearance, as an adult, this version on the printed page doesn’t impress me nearly as much.

Still, if nothing else, “The Dolphin Connection” brings back some long-dormant memories of that great old Filmation series that cemented Aquaman for me as far more than the butt of a million jokes.

7 comments:

  1. Now I am imagining Namor's budget speech.

    "THE BUDGET HAS BEEN BALANCED. IMPERIUS REX!"

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  2. By Coincidence, I am reading the JM DeMatties PRINCE NAMOR: THE SUB-MARINER Limited Series (from the 1980s), which also deals with its protagonist having monarch problems. At least Arthur acknowledges his flaws; Namor is living in denial-land that there is a problem.

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  3. Speaking of the 80's limited series, Namor gets dethroned and it's partially because of his failure to address the Atlantean issues of poverty through not being one for paper work, and I see guys at Supermegamonkey suggesting that his financing for the Atlantean military is subpar (either by accident or by design) because every time he leaves he returns to find Atlantis in shatters. Maybe he should have given the balancing of the budget a shot.

    And then he moves on into the 90's and becomes a CEO.

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  4. Huh, I didn't know there even was a Namor mini-series in the eighties! I should add it to the ever-massive lists of things to check out someday.

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    1. Marvel was putting out a lot of four issue mini series in the eighties for some reason. One of my favorites was a Balder the Brave mini written by Walt Simonson and drawn by Sal Buscema when he suddenly stepped up his game about 10 levels and went from journeyman good to damn impressive. Around the same time Dave Cockrum wrote and drew a great Nightcrawler mini that revisited in part the "Kitty's Fairy Tale" X-Men story, and there was a four issue Iceman series from DeMatties that got WEIRD. Fun era, really.

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    2. I once read a theory -- not sure how based in fact it was -- that Jim Shooter greenlit tons of limited series in the mid-to-late eighties just to reach the bottom line Marvel's corporate owners demanded. In addition to the ones you listed, there was ICEMAN (also written by DeMatteis), FIRESTAR, FALLEN ANGELS, KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE, X-MEN/MICRONAUTS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, PUNISHER, and still others I know I'm forgetting.

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  5. // I’ve never quite understood the idea that Aquaman is a joke of a character. Yes, I get the absurdity of him being somewhat useless in the Justice League unless there happens to be a body of water nearby – but the “joke” seems to have expanded past that to the point that people don’t take him seriously in any circumstances, and that’s the part that mystifies me. //

    Thank you! He’s full of potential in his element. And even if there’s no water (meaning no aquatic life to help out) nearby, he’s still superhumanly fast, strong, and hardy thanks to his Atlantean constitution — until dehydration sets in, at least, which became its own trope and punch line. Like heave-a-car strong, at or beyond Spider-Man’s level.

    I watched those Filmation cartoons in syndicated repeats after school, and they were far, far better at showing Aquaman’s cool factor than Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends on Saturday mornings, from the character design to his commanding presence. You can get ’em on DVD now, by the way.

    Adventure #441 was one of my first comic books ever, but I have only vague memories of the action referenced on the cover or the angsty stuff.

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