By Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Dave Wood, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1712-9 (TPB)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Festive Fluid Fun and Thrills… 8/10
Aquaman was another rare superheroes to survive the collapse at the end of the Golden Age: a rather nondescript and generally bland looking guy who solved maritime crimes and mysteries when not rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disasters.
He was created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris in the wake of Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, launching in More Fun Comics #73 (1941). Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, he nevertheless continued long beyond many stronger features, illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve and Charles Paris, until young Ramona Fradon took over the art chores in 1954, by which time Aquaman had moved to a regular back-up slot in Adventure Comics. She was to draw every single adventure until 1960.
In 1956, Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters and, as well as re-imagining many departed Golden Age stalwarts, DC also updated its isolated survivors. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but after the initial revamp better records survive and this second collection of the King of the Seven Seas poses far fewer creative credit conundrums.
Although now the star of his own title, Aquaman continued as a back-up feature in World’s Finest Comics until 1964 and this monochrome chronological compilation includes those tales (issues #130-133, 135, 137, 139), his Brave and the Bold team-up with Hawkman (#51) and the contents of Aquaman #7-23, comprehensively covering December 1962 through September-October 1965: a period that led directly into the King of the Seven Seas becoming one of DC’s earliest TV stars as part of the animated Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure.
The major writers from those years were Jack Miller and Bob Haney and – although some records are lost and a few later scripts remain unattributed – recognizing artists is far less troubling. The World’s Finest yarns were Fradon’s last: captivatingly clean, economical lines bringing to unique life charming little adventure and mystery vignettes which always were and still are a joy to behold.
Thereafter, apart from a memorable and brief return to co-create Metamorpho the Element Man, she left comics until 1972 to raise her daughter.
We begin with ‘King of the Land Beasts’ (WFC #130, by Haney & Fradon) is a typically high-quality teaser about an alien Aquaman whilst ‘The Sea Beasts from Atlantis’ (Aquaman #7 by Miller & Nick Cardy) pitted the Sea Lord and Aqualad against sub-sea monsters and a plot to overthrow the government of the lost city, abetted if not quite aided by mystical sea imp Quisp.
‘The Man Who Controlled Water’ (World’s Finest # 131, Miller & Fradon) saw them tackle a scientist who could solidify liquids into fearsome weapons, whilst in issue #8 of their own magazine, Miller & Cardy revealed ‘The Plot to Steal the Seas’ with the oceanic adventurers battling far out of their comfort zone to thwart marauding aliens.
Dave Wood scripted quirky thriller ‘The Fish in the Iron Mask’ (WFC #132) wherein faithful octopus Topo is possessed by a sinister helmet and ‘The Secret Mission of King Neptune’ (Aquaman #9, Miller & Cardy) seemingly brings the heroes into bombastic contention with the God of the Oceans – but is he all he seems?
World’s Finest Comics #133 briefly introduces ‘Aquaman’s New Partner – Aqua-Girl’, but Miller & Fradon’s creation was strictly a one shot deal, whereas ‘War of the Water Sprites’ (Aquaman #10, Miller & Cardy) introduced an evil band of Quisp’s fellow imps who eerily presaged a tale of the JSA decades later…
Miller & Fradon’s ‘The Creatures that Conquered Aquaman’ (WFC #135) is another alien invasion extravaganza whilst Aquaman #11 features the landmark introduction of the Sea King’s future wife Mera in Miller & Cardy’s extravaganza ‘The Doom from Dimension Aqua’, whilst #12 present two shorter thrillers from Haney, ‘The Menace of the Land-Sea Beasts’ – with mutated jungle animals wreaking sub-sea havoc – and ‘The Cosmic Gladiators!’, wherein the seaborne sentinels are press-ganged into an intergalactic cage-fight contest.
Miller provided the penultimate World’s Finest outing ‘The Day Aquaman Lost his Powers’ in #137 and Haney scripted a manic tale of team-up terror for superb veteran artist Howard Purcell in ‘Fury of the Exiled Creature’ (The Brave and the Bold #51, December 1963-January 1964) in which the fearsome Outcast of Atlantis turns mutational powers against not just Aquaman but also new DC superstars Hawkman and Hawkgirl.
Aquaman #13 then sees Mera return in the Miller-penned ‘Invasion of the Giant Reptiles’ as the tide-crossed lovers unite to defeat criminals from the future. Fradon & Miller wrap up his World’s Finest tenure in high style with #139’s taut thriller ‘The Doom Hunters’, leaving Cardy as sole Aquaman artist. His work gradually became more representational and realistic, although Miller’s ‘Aquaman’s Secret Powers!’ still held plenty of fantastic fantasy as a dying derelict curses the Sea King with incredible new abilities, whilst the second tale in #14 – ‘The Tyrant Ruler of Atlantis’ – finds the temporarily deranged hero seizing the throne of the sunken city. Within scant months he would be legitimately offered the crown…
Miller wrote the next four issues, beginning with sinister scientific tragedy ‘Menace of the Man-Fish’, #16’s ‘The Duel of the Sea Queens!’ – as Mera battled an alien siren who set her tentacled cap for Aquaman – and #17’s ‘The Man who Vanquished Aquaman’, wherein the god Poseidon abducted Mera.
All this romantic tension and concentration was for a purpose. The next issue featured ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ wherein the Sea King marries his extra-dimensional beloved in one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age. Talk about instant responsibilities…
None of the remaining tales have a credited scripter, but that doesn’t affect their wonderful readability nor Cardy’s better-every-panel artwork, beginning with #19’s ‘Atlanteans For Sale’ as new bride Mera slowly goes bonkers due to her husband’s neglectful super-hero schedule. Cue the arrival of merman man-candy Nikkor who insinuates himself into her affections… and the throne!
This surprisingly adult tale is followed by #20’s ‘The Sea King’s Double Doom’, as an old friend and shape-changing monster both hit Atlantis at the same time. Coincidence? We think not…
Super-villain the Fisherman debuts in #21’s ‘The Fearful Freak from Atlantis’ with the Sea King transformed into a sea monster, whilst ‘The Trap of the Sinister Sea Nymphs’ introduces Mera’s wicked twin sister before this splendidly engaging volume concludes on another groundbreaking high-note with issue #23’s ‘The Birth of Aquababy’. Unfortunately, the happy couple’s newborn child displays uncanny powers (and yes, you nit-picking gossips, it was nine months later… exactly nine months).
One of the greatest advantages of these big value black-&-white compendiums was the opportunity they provided whilst chronologically collecting a character’s adventures to include crossovers and guest spots from other titles. When the star is as long-lived and incredibly peripatetic as DC’s King of the Seven Seas, that’s an awful lot of extra appearances for a fan to find…
DC has a long and comforting history of gentle, innocuous yarn-spinning with quality artwork. Ramona Fradon’s Aquaman is one of the most neglected runs of such accessible material, and it’s a pleasure to discover just how readable they still are. When the opportunity arises to compare her wonderful work to the exponentially improving superhero work of such a stellar talent as Nick Cardy, this book becomes another fan’s must-have item. More so when all the stories are still suitable for kids of all ages.
Hopefully the current editorial administration will soon get around to revisiting them in new archival chronicles and digital editions, but until then why not treat yourself and your youngsters to a timeless dose of whimsy and adventure? You won’t regret it.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.