Friday, April 14, 2017

ADVENTURE COMICS #444, 445, 446, 447, & 448

Plot: Paul Levitz | Script: Gerry Conway | Art: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando

Beginning here, the Aquaman serial truly ramps up, and it's in a style that I enjoy. See, I have maybe an odd take on serialized fiction: I believe that “filler” is necessary. Not “fill-ins”, mind you, but filler. One of my favorite examples of this in the field of comics is Roger Stern’s final year-ish on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The Hobgoblin was the overarching story of that entire run, accounting for seven out of fourteen issues from #238 – 251. In the meantime, Spider-Man had other adventures unrelated to that villain, even as his presence lurked in the background, informing some of the wall-crawler’s choices in that time (such as his actively searching for the goblin in #246 and 247).

Most all the stories in that run of issues are fun adventures, but only about half of them relate to the overarching story. I really like this approach. It makes the “main” story feel more important when it’s touched upon if you have unrelated adventures interspersed among those that advance the main plot.

Side note: This is one area where I believe pretty much all of the Marvel NetFlix series fail dramatically. They have thirteen episodes per season, and they tend to devote every one of those thirteen to the main plot with no divergences or side-stories. Wouldn’t the Purple Man’s machinations be a lot more meaningful if he only appeared in about half of JESSICA JONES’ episodes, with Jessica taking on “case-of-the-week” style adventures in between? Wouldn’t DAREDEVIL be more fun if Murdock & Nelson spent a few episodes per season on some court case that had nothing to do with the Kingpin or the Punisher or whoever else? I think so, at least -- and this would also help to alleviate the Netflix shows' universally recognized flaw of treading water during the back half of every season.

But I digress; we're here to talk DC comics, not Marvel TV. As of this issue, Aquaman is voted out as kind of Atlantis, replaced by a usurper named Karshon while he was off fighting his villainous half-brother, the Ocean Master, and from this point, the Aquaman serial will feature a mixture of stories dedicated wholeheartedly to the “king in exile” saga, interspersed with others which have nothing to do with it.

Plot: Paul Levitz | Script: David Michelinie | Art: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando

Exiled from Atlantis, Aquaman, Mera, and their son, who they inexplicably call “Aquababy” rather than Arthur Junior, move into an “Aquacave” far from Atlantis so Aquaman can figure out his next move. But, in one of those afore-mentioned filler adventures, Aquaman and Mera are roped into fulfilling a long-ordained prophesy by a group of undersea barbarians. It’s a totally inconsequential story, but like I just said, it helps the main storyline to feel more important by way of that inconsequence.

Plot: Paul Levitz | Script: Martin Pasko | Art: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando | Colorist: Carl Gafford

Black Manta returns, but this time with a decent story-related reason as we learn that he knows more than he should about Aquaman’s recent exile, and by the story's conclusion Aquaman determines the Manta has been smuggling laser rifles to Atlantis, setting up the possibility that he's in league with Karshon. Immediately thereafter, the Fisherman is back as well, as we learn that he’s involved in this plot too, facilitating the manufacture of those very weapons.

The first of these two tales introduces Aqualad and his girlfriend, Tula, to the serial, as we meet them undercover, looking into Black Manta’s smuggling operations. I know about Aqualad from that old Aquaman cartoon series I mentioned last week, though I must confess I was unaware of Tula — a.k.a. Aquagirl — until now. I like her. By Silver/Bronze Age standards, she’s a pretty progressive female character; spunky and capable of taking care of herself. So of course when I looked her up on the DC Wiki, I learned she was killed off in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, then resurrected as a Black Lantern and killed off again in INFINITE CRISIS. Way to go, DC.

I do wonder about Aquaman’s rogues’ gallery, such as it is, based on these stories, though. Is his depth of enemies so shallow that we need to see Black Manta four times and the Fisheman twice in the span of ten stories??

Writer: Paul Levitz | Art: Jim Aparo | Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Joe Orlando

This first leg of the Aquaman serial reaches its conclusion as our hero confronts Karshon for the lives of Mera and Aquababy, and learns that the usurper is actually a mutated humanoid tiger shark who has previously battled both Green Lantern and Superman. By story’s end, the shark is defeated and Aquaman’s family saved, but our hero has decided to renounce the throne for real, turning it over to his old advisor, Vulko, as he heads off to dedicate all his time to the roles of father and superhero.

Somewhere about halfway through this issue, it occurred to me that “Karshon” is partially an anagram for “shark”. Let it never be said I'm not a little slow on the uptake!

Paul Levitz has plotted, but not scripted, the vast majority of these Aquaman stories so far, but here he takes on scripting chores for the final installment in his inaugural storyline, and it's… not great. His dialogue is fine, but he engages in a tic that seriously bugs me for some reason – he addresses the reader directly as “reader” multiple times and he uses the collective “we” all over the place (e.g. “An explanation that we shall miss, reader, as we turn from four whispering figures in a prison to a man in the palace above…”) Blecch. Maybe it's just my own hang-up, but I really can't stand this scripting convention.

And look — to be clear, I’m all in favor of a conversational style if you’re Stan Lee and you’re saying stuff like “Lest you think you’ve stumbled into one of our ever-lovin’ romance mags by mistake, true believer, let’s ditch this scene and cut across town for some action!” It’s just the combination of conversational narration mixed with overwrought prose that rubs me the wrong way. But for whatever reason, this style seemed to be popular in the seventies, because you see it a lot in comics from that era (and even beyond, as I believe John Byrne engaged in it several times during his FANTASTIC FOUR run).

But it looks like Levitz is off the book as writer/plotter at this point, assuming editorship as of next issue and turning the writing over to others. We’ll find out next time what comes of that.


  1. Stan Lee could get away with that conversational style narrative because it was, well, conversational. Lee scripted the early Marvel comics as a one on one chat with the reader, and it worked brilliantly. When you read a Stan Lee comic it was like the damn thing was your friend inviting you over to the Marvel universe.

    When everyone ELSE did it, though, it was like this: the conversational was interspersed with frankly purple prose. By 1976 imitating Lee should've been largely by its sell by date. I make an exception for Roy Thomas, since he stepped in as one of the first major writers after Lee pulled back and did it pretty well within his own style. Levitz doing it...okay, there's a reason why I don't like much of anything Levitz did without Keith Giffen, after all. He's bland.

    1. Yeah, that's pretty much my opinion as well. Stan's style was almost uniquely his and later writers were probably better off looking for their own voice rather than imitating his, especially when they started to combine the jovial banter with the purple prose that was coming into vogue at the time.

    2. Oh, I guess I also give Roy Thomas a pass since he was basically trained by Stan, but I have other issues with him. I just find his narration so over-the-top verbose that reading anything he wrote becomes a slog. I remember the first (and only) time I read "The Kree/Skrull War" -- I'd heard so many great things about it that I felt like I had to check it out. It turned out to be a miserable experience.

  2. I gave Thomas a pass for that because he was really writing the first huge epic Marvel ever did, and that operatic tone fit for me. By the time he was writing Fantastic Four, the book was almost funny, and I don't recall his Thor being too rough. I can see where his Avengers work would be a classic Your mileage may vary though.


  3. I’m glad you liked this because this stretch of the serial is what I remember best and most fondly.

    More to come.