Friday, April 21, 2017

ADVENTURE COMICS #449, 450, 451, & 452

Reuniting the twin titans of Aquaman’s past:
Writer: Steve Skeates | Artist: Jim Aparo
Aided and abetted by: Colorist: Liz Berube

It occurs to me that in two posts covering several issues so far, I haven't once said anything about Jim Aparo’s artwork! I know I've seen “Aparo’s Aquaman run” referenced here and there on the internet over the years, and I must assume those references are to this run of issues specifically. And since most of those references have held the work up as excellent, I must concur with them. This is really good stuff!

Mind you, I have no real baseline to go off of; I've never read any other Aquaman comics. But Aparo has a great handle on the character (I love the wavy locks he gives him; all the better to float about in the seawater as he swims), and his grasp of the supporting cast and environments is just as good. His Mera in particular is very fun to look at, with her massive mane of flowing red hair.

It's interesting to me that Aparo is working on Aquaman here just after his brief run with the Spectre, and he has adapted his style accordingly. Where the Spectre stories featured glorious use of heavy, overwhelming blacks, Aquaman is much more open for traditional superhero coloring. It's quite a remarkable adjustment in the span of only a couple months.

Oh, and Aquaman fights some guy named the Marine Marauder in this issue.

Writer: David Michelinie | Artist: Jim Aparo | Colorist: Liz Berube

Well, that “reunion” between Skeates and Aparo didn't last long, and I'm beginning to see a trend here. Since this Aquaman serial began, we've seen a parade of writers from Steve Skeates to Paul Levitz to Gerry Conway to David Michelinie to Martin Pasko, and while Levitz did plot a number of the stories scripted by those others, it does seem to speak to some level of disinterest on many of DC’s writers with regards to Aquaman.

So now Michelinie is back, in the capacity of full writer rather than mere scripter, and he pits Aquaman against a member of the Flash’s rogues’ gallery followed by the Justice League’s very first villain — which in itself speaks to another criticism I had a while back; namely that Aquaman’s own rogues’ gallery seems to consist of precisely three villains in regular circulation.

So we have disinterested writers and a lackluster stable of villains. The first story arc was good, but Aquaman’s adventures still lack some much-needed stability in every area other than the art.

Oh, and Aquaman fights the Weather Wizard and Starro in these issues.

Writer: David Michelinie | Artist: Jim Aparo | Colorist: Jerry Serpe

Well, at least the creative consistency problem seems to have been resolved, as David Michelinie returns for his third issue in a row—but the matter of the rogues’ gallery remains a problem, as we have yet another engagement with Black Manta. But in this case, well — it kind of had to be Black Manta, Aquaman’s greatest foe.

I should mention at this point that there's been a sub-plot running through the past few issues where this Atlantean named Mcaan has convinced Aqualad to help him find his long-lost son. That story reaches its climax here, as Aquaman catches up with the duo in the village of the Idyllists, a peaceful people under the rule of Black Manta, who also happens to have Aquaman’s son prisoner.

Manta forces Aquaman and Aqualad to fight a gladiatorial duel to the death, or he will suffocate Aquababy by draining the water from a sphere in which he's encased. With no choice, Aquaman goes all-out against his protégé, but also manages to telepathically command his octopus, Topo, to attack Black Manta. Aquaman uses this distraction to free Aquababy and he and Aqualad mop up while the Manta escapes.

But—and this is where things get insanely dark for a Bronze Age comic—it turns out Aquaman’s rescue was too late, and Aquababy has died. Aquaman vows revenge and takes off to find Black Manta.

Yeesh! I don't know whose idea it was to murder a toddler in these pages, but every so often I see something in a comic and wonder how it ever made it to the printed page. This is the sort of thing that would have depressed the heck out of me as a child. I'm sure the goal here, as it always is with these things, was to get the kid out of the picture in an attempt to not “artificially age” Aquaman, but—killing him off?? A toddler?? Sure it makes for great drama, but it's just a horrific thing to do in a kids’ comic.

And thus ends Aquaman’s adventures in ADVENTURE COMICS. But the DEATH OF A PRINCE collection isn't over yet; there are still seven issues of AQUAMAN to go. Let's see what happens next…


  1. Jim Aparo is one of those guys that I really didn't realize, until a lot later, how damn good he was. Probably wasn't until his time on Batman during Knightfall that it hit me how good his storytelling was. He had something of an elegant simplicity to his art, and I don't recall seeing something of his that wasn't at least good. He rarely did a lot that made you go "WOW" but his consistency was stellar.

    1. I've not read "Knightfall", but I know I've flipped through it once or twice. Aparo's skills were kind of declining by then, but it seems to me that even at that point, he may have been the best artist involved in the event. I guess that speaks to how darn good he was!

  2. Aquaman should fire Topo. Taking his baby son in order to get his attention about Aqualad was not the brightest of ideas. Tusky would never do that one.
    Aquaman loses both his sons, as Aqualad is left wary over his mentor trying to kill him. First we had Speedy's drug problem causing a rift with Green Arrow. Then we have this estrangement. And soon Robin is going to quit college and wishing freedom out of being the second part of "Batman and..."

    1. Yeah, now that you mention it DC seemed to be on a mission to de-sidekick all their heroes in the seventies! I wonder if there was some actual agenda to do it, or if it was just coincidence. Even prior to Robin leaving Batman, he was off at college for much of the seventies, leaving his mentor as a solo hero the majority of the time.


  3. Now that it's been proofread...

    // I must assume those references are to this run of issues specifically. //

    Well, Aparo had an 18-issue run — with Skeates; hence the “reuniting” tag in the credits — that ended in 1971 when the Aquaman series folded (to relaunch in 1977 on the strength of this Adventure serial; the feature moved back to Adventure when Aquaman was canceled again a year later, but Aparo only drew a couple of stories for that iteration).

    I guess that speaks somewhat to the adjustment you mention in going from The Spectre to Aquaman; not that his change in approach is any less impressive, just that he actually transitioned in the opposite direction before going back again. He was also working on the more Spectre-like Phantom Stranger concurrently with the, um, first last issues of Aquaman, then Spectre in Adventure followed by Aquaman in Adventure with The Brave and the Bold in the mix as well.

    // Aquaman fights some guy named the Marine Marauder in this issue //

    No doubt my impressionable age when these issues were published has a lot to do with it, but I thought Marine Marauder was cool. He was fun to draw, anyway, in that uncluttered but inventive, distinctly late-1970s costume, and I was big on drawing. Plus, like you say, Aquaman had a pretty sparse rogues’ gallery.

    // Sure it makes for great drama, but it's just a horrific thing to do in a kids’ comic. //

    I can’t argue with that. Yet it’s only ever bothered me in the abstract, because in those days of getting comics haphazardly off the spinner rack I missed this issue; Aquababy (definitely no argument on how silly it was to use that name as more than an occasional cutesy label, by the way) just went from being a part of Aquaman’s status quo to a tragic element of his backstory. The weirdest part to me personally is how, even though I read a few comics with Aquababy in them contemporaneously, when his death was brought up subsequently I felt like it was something that slightly predated me.

    Funny that you refer to the creators or editorial not wanting to “artificially age” one of their core superheroes (in the public consciousness, at least), as it’s more a case of artificially retarding his age, but of course artificially aging the children of evergreen characters would become a trope in the coming decades as a way of not having to deal with older superheroes or little kids.

    1. I removed your double posts, so I went ahead and removed the apology as well. Now no one will ever know...

      Hmm. Unless they read this. I better delete this, too.

    2. I like the Marine Marauder; I just didn't have a lot to say about his story. He is kind of cool-looking, though!

      I can only assume Aquababy was killed to not age Aquaman (or, as you correctly point out, to make him seem more youthful), but personally I just don't get it. As a kid I always knew superheroes were older than me, and I didn't care how much older. Curt Swan's Superman looked about forty-something to my eye, and I never had any problem with that! I generally assumed most adult heroes were in their thirties, and that especially applied to DC characters, who somehow felt older than Marvel characters for whatever reason.

      This makes me think of a somewhat related anecdote: When I was maybe like ten or twelve years old, I was playing the MARVEL SUPER HEROES RPG for the first time and after I put together my character, I filled in the blanks like age, height, weight, etc. Well, I wrote on the character sheet that my guy was something like 33 and when my friend, in the capacity of gamemaster, reviewed the sheet, he asked why I'd made the guy so old! He suggested he should be around 25 because most heroes were in their twenties. I had somehow never noticed, but of course he was right about that.