Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 1


By Robert Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1223-0 (TPB)

Big year for comics anniversaries, and we can’t let this guy go unmentioned. Sadly, most of his back catalogue is still unavailable unless you track down aging compendia like this bulky gem. Although unavailable in digital formats, one of the greatest advantages of these monochrome tomes is the opportunity they provide 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…

One of the few superheroes to survive the collapse at the end of the Golden Age was a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster. Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner: debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with fellow born survivor Green Arrow.

Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, Aquaman nevertheless continued on far beyond many stronger features. He was primarily illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazeneuve and Charles Paris, until young Ramona Fradon took over the art chores in 1954, by which time the Sea King had settled into a regular back-up slot in Adventure Comics. Fradon was to draw every single adventure until 1960 and indelibly stamp the hero with her unique blend of charm and sleek competence.

In 1956, Showcase #4 finally rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters. As well as re-imagining Golden Age stalwarts, DC undertook to update and remake its hoary survivors. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but the initial revamp ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers!’ (Adventure Comics #260, May 1959) was the work of Robert Bernstein who wrote the majority of the subsea capers at this time.

From that tale on the hero had a new origin – offspring of a lighthouse keeper and a refugee from the undersea city of Atlantis – and eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick and even super-villains! Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe.

The 49 adventures gathered here encompass that early period of renewal, taking him from wandering back-up bit-player to stardom and his own comic book. Writers from those years included the aforementioned Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney and perhaps other DC regulars, but the art was always by Fradon, whose captivatingly clean economical line always made the pictures something special.

The initial stories are pretty undemanding fare, ranging from simply charming to simply bewildering examples of all-ages action to rank alongside the best the company offered at the time. ‘Aquaman Duels the Animal Master’, ‘The Undersea Hospital’, ‘The Great Ocean Election’, ‘Aquaman and his Sea-Police’ and ‘The Secret of the Super Safe’ kept the hero in soggy isolation, but via an early crossover, Aquaman made his full entrance into the DC universe.

DC supported the popular 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show with a number of successful spin-off titles. Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #12 (October 1959) featured ‘The Mermaid of Metropolis’ wherein the plucky news hen (and isn’t that a term that’s outlived its sell-by date?) suffers crippling injuries in a scuba-diving accident. On hand to save her is Aquaman and a surgeon who turns her into a mermaid so she can live a worthwhile life without legs beneath the waves.

I know, I know: but just accepting the adage “Simpler Times” often helps me at times like this. In all seriousness, this silly story – by Bernstein – is a key moment in the development of one-universe continuity. The fact that it’s drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger – one of the most accomplished artists ever to work in American comics – makes it even more adorable, for all its silliness; and you can’t make me change my mind…

‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl’ (Adventure Comics #266, by Bernstein & Fradon) gave a little more information about lost Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick. Remember, in those days the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus so with Adventure Comic #267 the editors tried a novel experiment.

At this time the title starred Superboy and featured two back-up features. Aquaman tale ‘The Manhunt on Land’ saw villainous Shark Norton trade territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard and, in a rare crossover – both parts of which were written by Bernstein – the two heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his own strip ‘The Underwater Archers’, illustrated by the great Lee Elias.

In the next issue ‘The Adventures of Aquaboy!’ we got a look at the early years of the Sea King, and following that permanent sidekick Aqualad was introduced in ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ In quick succession came ‘The Menace of Aqualad’, ‘The Second Deluge!’, ‘The Human Flying Fish!’, ‘Around the World in 80 Hours’, ‘Aqua-Queen’ and intriguing mystery ‘The Interplanetary Mission’.

Originally seen in Adventure Comics #275 – a few months after the debut of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 – this story concerned a plot to secure Kryptonite from the sea-floor. Although Superman did not appear, nets of shared continuity were being gradually interwoven. Heroes would no longer work in assured solitude. It was back to business as usual for ‘The Aqua-thief of the Seven Seas’, ‘The Underwater Olympics’, ‘Aqualad Goes to School’, ‘Silly Sailors of the Sea’ and ‘The Lost Ocean’: a typical mixed bag which served to set the scene for a really Big Event.

In Showcase #30 (January-February 1961) Jack Miller & Fradon expanded the origin of Aquaman in full-length epic ‘The Creatures from Atlantis’, wherein extra-dimensional creatures conquer the sunken civilisation. From this point on fanciful whimsy would be downplayed in favour of character-driven drama. The saga was followed by tense thriller ‘One Hour to Doom’ in Adventure Comics #282. Inked by Charles Paris, this was Fradon’s last art job for nearly a year and a half, whilst a second Showcase issue by Miller saw the first Aquaman job for comics veteran Nick Cardy who would visually make Aquaman his own for the next half-decade.

‘The Sea Beasts from One Million B.C.’ (Showcase #31, March/April 1961) is a wild romp of fabulous creatures, dotty scientists and evolution rays presaging a new path for the King of the Seas. Jim Mooney drew ‘The Charge of Aquaman’s Sea Soldiers’ for Adventure #284, before the series shifted to a new home, replaced by Tales of the Bizarro World.

Before that, however, there was another Showcase spectacular. Miller & Cardy pulled out all the stops for ‘The Creature King of the Sea’: an action-packed duel against a monstrous villain with murder in mind. The hind end of Detective Comics #293 (July 1961) then welcomed Aquaman & Aqualad, who took only six pages to solve the mystery of ‘The Sensational Sea Scoops’. All this time Cardy – who had initially altered his drawing style to mirror Fradon – had been gradually reverting to his natural, humanistic mode. By the time of fourth Showcase outing, ‘Prisoners of the Aqua-Planet’ (#33) appeared, the Sea King was a rugged, burly He-Man, and his world – no matter how fantastic – had an added edge of realism to it.

Detective #294’s ‘The Fantastic Fish that Defeated Aquaman’ coincided with a guest-spot in a second Superman Family title. Drawn by Al Plastino, ‘The Monster that Loved Aqua-Jimmy’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #55) is another child of its time that hasn’t weathered well, but the big kid in me still regards it fondly and I hope that others will afford it the same courtesy. Meanwhile, back at Detective Comics #295, our heroes defied ‘The Curse of the Sea Hermit’ (scripted by George Kashdan), before next month exposed ‘The Mystery of Demon Island!

To accompany the more realistic art, and perhaps in honour of their new home, the stories became – briefly – less fantasy oriented. ‘Aqualad, Stand-In for a Star’ (Miller & Batman stalwart Sheldon Moldoff) was a standard hero-in-Hollywood crime caper, after which Cardy drew both ‘The Secret Sentry of the Sea’ (#298) and ‘Aquaman’s Secret Teacher’ (#299): a brace of yarns encompassing security duty at a secret international treaty signing and the Sea scions teaching an old blowhard a lesson in tall-tale telling…

The next month saw another milestone. After two decades of continuous adventuring the Sea King finally got a comic book of his own. Aquaman #1 (January/February 1962) was a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves who attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously carefully calculated and considered…

‘The Mystery of the Undersea Safari!’ (Detective Comics #300) was the last Aqua caper before he moved again, this time to World’s Finest Comics. However, prior to that residency commencing, his own second issue appeared. ‘Captain Sykes’ Deadly Missions’ is a lovely-looking thriller with fabulous monsters and a flamboyant pirate blackmailing the Sea King into retrieving deadly mystical artefacts.

The World’s Finest run started in fine style with #125’s ‘Aquaman’s Super-Sidekick’ (Miller & Cardy) and Aquaman #3 provided full-length thrills and more exposure for the lost city in ‘The Aquaman from Atlantis’: a tale of traitors and time-travel. WF #126 then saw the heroes foil thieves with ‘Aquaman’s Super Sea Circus’ as – for better or worse – Quisp returned in #4’s ‘Menace of the Alien Island’.

A more welcome returnee was Ramona Fradon who took over the World’s Finest strip with #127’s ‘Aquaman’s Finny Commandos’ before the next issue saw ‘The Trial of Aquaman’ close in his favour just in time to endure ‘The Haunted Sea’ in his own fifth issue, and encountering ‘The Menace of the Alien Fish’ in WF #129.

This bumper volume concludes with Aquaman #6 and ‘Too Many Quisps’: a case of painfully mistaken identity and a sentiment difficult to disagree with… but still beautifully illustrated by Mr. Cardy.

DC has a long and comforting history of gentle, innocuous yarn-spinning with quality artwork. Fradon’s Aquaman is one of the most neglected runs of such universally-accessible material, and it’s a sheer pleasure to discover just how readable they still are. When the opportunity arises to compare her astounding work to the best of a stellar talent like as Nick Cardy, this book becomes a true fan’s must-have item and even more so when the stories are still suitable for kids of all ages. Why not treat the entire family to a seaside spectacle of timelessly inviting adventure?
© 1959-1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

You Brought Me the Ocean


By Alex Sanchez, Julie Maroh & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9081-8 (TPB)

In recent years DC has opened up its shared superhero universe to generate Original Graphic Novels featuring its stars in stand-alone(ish) adventures for the demographic clumsily dubbed Young Adult. To date, results have been rather hit or miss, but when they’re good they are very good indeed…

An ideal example is You Brought Me the Ocean, which reinterprets the origin of modern day Aqualad, concentrating on the comic book character’s Gay credentials rather than his costumed career.

Crafted by Alex Sanchez (Rainbow Boys; So Hard to Say; The God Box; The Greatest Superpower) and Julie Maroh (Blue is the Warmest Color; Body Music) and available in paperback and eBook editions, this dreamily-rendered, salty sea tale details the graduating year of High School student Jake Hyde who lives in the driest part of New Mexico but dreams of deep-sea kingdoms and fantastic marine adventure.

His mother is a constant worrier: always telling him to eat properly, dress appropriately and stay hydrated. Ironically though, ever since his all-but-forgotten dad drowned years ago, she has never let him near large bodies of water… or even allowed him to swim…

Always a loner, Jake’s absolute best friend in the one-horse town of Truth or Consequences (formerly Hot Springs, NM) is Maria Mendez. She has already mapped out their future together and has no idea he yearns for the nautical life and has already applied to University of Miami to study Oceanography…

The Mendez’s are neighbours and a second family, and far more amenable to Jake’s aspirations of leaving New Mexico, whilst his own mother shuts down every attempt to discuss the issue. She’s far more concerned with why Jake and Maria haven’t started dating yet. Sadly, Jake has never – ever – thought of her that way and has resigned himself to going it alone if he wants to realise his ambitions…

One day, things change dramatically as Jake suddenly notices class rebel Kenny Liu. He’s known the strange, outspoken outsider since Middle School, but has stayed well away – painfully aware of the target the outsider’s actions made him. Now though, the bully-defying, openly-Gay swim team star-athlete seems irresistibly fascinating…

And apparently, the interest is mutual…

Life changes forever when Jake agrees to accompany Kenny on a hike into the desert. The far more mature misfit has plenty of solid advice – on Maria, leaving town and life choices – but all that is forgotten when a sudden flash-flood interrupts their first kiss and activates tattoo-like birthmarks all over Jake’s body. Suddenly, he starts to glow and project water-manipulating energies…

With Jake’s world suddenly shaken to flotsam and jetsam, shock follows shock and calamity arrives in its wake. Jake’s attempts to explore his sexuality bring heartbreak and chaos, but even that’s dwarfed when he comes out to his mom and learns the truth about his father and how he is connected to both superhero Aquaman and one of the most dangerous villains on Earth…

Moreover, in the throes of these astounding revelations and an irresistible attraction, it’s too easy to forget that not only metahuman maniacs respond with bigotry and mindless violence to what they deem “unnatural”…

A truly magical treatment exploring the processes of coming out and finding yourself, deftly cloaked in the shiny trappings of costumed heroics, the search for belonging and teen feelings of alienation, You Brought Me the Ocean is an intriguing tale to warm the heart and comes with a contact page detailing Resources available to those affected by the issues herein; personal messages from Sanchez and Maroh and an extensive section of designs and drawings from the illustrator’s Sketchbook.
© 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth


By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Aquaman: Deadly Waters – The Deluxe Edition


By Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779502940 (HB)

Aquaman is one of a handful of costumed champions to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age. For most of that time he was a rather nondescript and genial guy who – when not rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disasters – solved maritime crimes and mysteries.

The Sea King was created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) in the wake of and in response to Timely Comics’ antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner. Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, Aquaman nevertheless continued on beyond many stronger features; illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve, Charles Paris, and latterly Ramona Fradon who drew almost every adventure from 1951 to 1961.

When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s taste for costumed crimefighters with the advent of a new Flash in 1956, National/DC updated its small band of superhero survivors, especially Green Arrow and Aquaman.

As the sixties opened, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics. Following a team up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and a try-out run in Showcase #30-33, Aquaman made his big leap. After two decades of continuous nautical service, the marine marvel finally got his own comic book (cover-dated January/February 1962).

Now with his own title and soon to be featured in groundbreaking must-see cartoon show the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, our Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom, but despite increasingly bold and innovative tales presented with stunning art, his title was cancelled just after the decade closed. Towards the end, outrageously outlandish crime and sci fi yarns gave way to grittily hard-edged epics steered by revolutionary editor Dick Giordano and hot new talents Steve Skeates & Jim Aparo that might arguably be the first sallies of comic books’ landmark socially conscious “relevancy” period…

This compelling compilation – collecting Aquaman volume 1 #49-56 (February 1970 to April 1971) – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering potent dramas that changed perceptions of the amiable aquatic avenger forever as well as concluding his first foray as solo headliner…

Way back in Aquaman #18, (December 1964 and not included here) the marine marvel met extradimensional princess Mera, who became ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ in one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age. Talk about instant responsibilities…

A few years later new scripter Steve Skeates and equally fresh-faced illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale wherein the Sea Lord abandoned all regal responsibilities to hunt for his beloved after she was abducted from his very arms.

After rescuing Mera (in an extended epic collected in a previous volume) Aquaman moved back to Atlantis just in time to become embroiled in one of the earliest incidences of righteous eco-advocacy in American comics. Issue #49 stylishly blends a trip to Alaska, industrial waste dumping, greedy factory owners and an old ally acting as judge, jury and executioner while blowing up chemical plants in terse, potent thriller ‘As the Seas Die’.

With Aquaman and young partner Aqualad reeling from indecision over genuinely momentous issues, the tone abruptly switches for #50 as ‘Can This Be Death?’ sees Aparo stretch his creative muscles and enter the realms of psychodelia when the sea king is ambushed by aliens and banished to an incomprehensible otherworld.

The plot is ostensibly triggered by vengeful archenemy Ocean Master, but Skeates provides plenty of twists and surprises for Neal Adams to cover in his back-up slot ‘Deadman Rides Again!’

A complex braided crossover unfolds over the next three issues with Aquaman surviving bizarre threats and incomprehensible rituals in his exile realm, while the ghost of Boston Brand acts invisibly and intangibly to save the Sea King and prevent an alien invasion plot.

‘The Big Pull’ in #51 sees Aquaman assisted by a mute, nameless companion as he searches for a way home, whilst ‘The World Cannot Wait for a Deadman’ finds the spirit flitting between dimensions with shapeshifting enigma Tatsinda, before the parallel plots converge and complete in #52’s ‘The Traders Trap’ – with Aquaman accidentally abandoning his faithful companion to slavers and returning to face fresh hellion Black Manta before ‘Never Underestimate a Deadman’ sees the extraterrestrial invaders sent packing by the ghost and his new pal…

An element of wry satire underpins ‘Is California Sinking? in #53, as agents of O.G.R.E. dupe a wealthy conservative to buy a nuke and bomb Atlantis in the deranged conviction that his actions will prevent the Golden State from being submerged by tectonic forces. This all happens – and fails – without Aquaman’s interference since he’s still dealing with Black Manta…

It’s back to the surface and a return outing for the gangster who orchestrated Mera’s kidnap in #54 as ‘Crime Wave!’ in a chilling psychodrama which sees ordinary citizens engulfed in mind-controlled malevolence after being “killed” by “Thanatos”. Strangely, a brush with humanity’s death-urge doesn’t do much to stop Aquaman…

Seeking to clear up a loose end, Aquaman seeks to liberate his former otherworldly companion in #55’s ‘Return of the Alien!’ but gets a big shock when he confronts the slavers after which short sharp salutary vignette ‘Computer Trap!’ offers a never-untimely parable warning of the perils of mechanisation, dangers of conformity and benefits of youthful rebellion.

Despite producing some of the most avant-garde, intriguing, exciting and simply beautiful adventures of Aquaman’s entire career, Skeates & Aparo signed off with the next issue, more victims of the industry shift from Super Hero to supernatural themes. Aquaman #56 saw the series cancelled but the creators went out with a typically multi-layered bang as ‘The Creature that Devoured Detroit!’ saw the Sea King battling a mammoth unstoppable fungal bloom inundating Motor City, thanks to perpetual sunlight caused by a satellite designed by a vigilante to cut crime by abolishing night and shadows…

The madcap, trenchant and action-packed yarn is counterbalanced by a short Aquagirl yarn warning of ‘The Cave of Death!’

Augmented by a brace of Skeates-scribed ‘The Story Behind the Story’ text pages from Aquaman #52 and #54; creator biographies and a truly stunning gallery of eye-catching experimental covers by Nick Cardy, this collection is a treasure of lost wonders, worthy of far more attention than they’ve received. Time to balance those scales, adventure fans…
© 1970, 1971, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Aquaman: The Search for Mera Deluxe Edition


By Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8522-7 (HB)

Aquaman was one of a handful of costumed adventurers to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age: a rather nondescript and genial 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 and in response to Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941).

Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, he nevertheless continued on beyond many stronger features; illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve, Charles Paris, and latterly Ramona Fradon who drew every adventure until 1960.

When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s taste for costumed crimefighters with the advent of a new Flash in 1956, National/DC updated its small band of superhero survivors, especially Green Arrow and the Sea King. As the sixties unfolded, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics. Following a team up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and a try-out run in Showcase #30-33, Aquaman made his big jump. After two decades of continuous adventuring, the marine marvel finally got his own comicbook (cover-dated January/February 1962).

Now with his own title and soon a to be featured in the popular, groundbreaking cartoon show Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, the Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom, but despite increasingly bold and innovative tales his title was cancelled as the decade closed. Towards the end, outrageously outlandish yarns gave way to grittily hard-edged epics steered by revolutionary editor Dick Giordano and hot new talents Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo …

This compelling compilation – collecting material from Aquaman volume 1 #40-48 (July/August 1968 to November/December 1969) – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering a potent and timeless drama that changed perceptions of the amiable aquatic avenger forever…

In Aquaman #18, (December 1964 and not included here) the King of Atlantis met extradimensional princess Mera, who became ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ in one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age. Talk about instant responsibilities…

A few years later scripter Steve Skeates and new illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale as the Sea Lord abandoned all kingly duties to hunt for his beloved after she is abducted from his very arms.

The quest began in ‘Sorcerers of the Sea’ with her being brutally whisked away, leaving Aquaman and Aqualad to voyage to strange, distant undersea realms in search of her. In the interim, royal heir Aquababy is left in the care of loyal comrade Aquagirl (her actual name was Tula) while the kingdom devolves to the ministrations of top advisor Narkran. Their first encounter is with a village of mystics whose queen is a doppelganger of missing Mera. Barely escaping, Aquaman’s resources are further taxed when his faithful sidekick is gravely wounded, but, raging and impatient, the Sea King cannot wait for him to heal…

His only clue is the distinctive jewellery one of his assailants wore and ‘The Trail of the Ring’ eventually leads to a deep-sea realm of barbarians known as Maarzons. To reach them, though, Aquaman has to traverse unexplored depths, facing monsters with telepathic powers similar to his own and escape a super civilised micro-culture with some repellent ideas on the price of survival…

On finally reaching Maarzon country, Aquaman savagely confronts warlike primitives who somehow worship his greatest enemy and is forced to ask ‘Is This My Foe?’, before realising he is being played for a fool. Meanwhile, in Atlantis Aqualad has taken a turn for the worst and Tula gets the first inkling that Narkran might not be completely stable. It’s a situation that will soon be reflected throughout the domed city-state…

Despite physical injuries and mental confusion, Aqualad absconds from hospital in Atlantis to aid his friend’s search, only to be captured and forcibly turned into a monster-slayer by a dying subsea race in ‘To Win is to Lose!’ Aquaman has since encountered another bizarre race and a helpful surface-man Phil Darson. The explorer provides a powerful clue that changes everything and sends the Sea King swimming for the sunlight lands above…

And in Atlantis, shattering quakes presage a different kind of instability as the drowned realm begins shifting upwards too…

The mystery begins to resolve in ‘Underworld Reward!’ as Aquaman exposes American gangsters planning a big coup that somehow involves him and Mera. Sadly, that only leads to a bounty landing squarely on his head and every rat in the city gunning for him, before ‘Underworld Reward! Part 2’ sees a partial resolution and fraught reunion when the king and queen explosively meet up and crush the thugs.

Embellished by Frank Giacoia (as “An Inker”) ‘The Explanation!’ fills in the blanks on a bizarre and complex scheme that highlights high level treachery in Atlantis and collusion between the subsea corridors of power and the back alleys of American crimelords…

Dash back home, Aquaman and Mera fortuitously save embattled Aqualad en route as ‘Come the Revolution’ finds Aquagirl and the city’s youth taking on the usurpers until the Royal Family return in climactic earth-shaking conclusion ‘A Kingdom to Re-Build!’

Also boasting a telling Foreword from latterday scripter Dan Abnett and a full cover gallery from Nick Cardy – some of his best ever work – this bombastic thriller forever ended the genteel, anodyne days of the B-lister Aquaman: reforging the hero into a passionate, questioning, forceful champion far more in keeping with the turbulent times.

What this collection proves is that his past adventures are all worthy of far more attention than they’ve received of late, and even though it’s probably just the commercial fallout of his movie incarnation, comics readers get to benefit from the renewed exposure and unearthed gems of aquatic adventure.

It is a total joy to find just how readable they still are. With tumultuous sea-changes always in store for Aquaman, the comics industry and America itself, this tasty testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold


By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesús Saíz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB)                :978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comic’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of team-ups, they were laying the foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Now there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

That short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but for a while readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV and comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and soon decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, but it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star

What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his martial love for his new comrades in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was short-lived experimental title developed by the legendary Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (of just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me). He was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ as the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists. Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz then play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes the ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker and perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement the physicist eventually agrees, but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and be forced to relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and insists that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Aquaman: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Mort Weisinger, Joe Samachson, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Robert Bernstein, Steve Skeates, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Peter David, David Michelinie, Rick Veitch, Geoff Johns, Cullen Bunn, Paul Norris, Louis Cazeneuve, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Martin Egeland, Jim Calafiore, Yvel Guichet, Ivan Reis, Trevor McCarthy & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6446-8

Aquaman is that oddest of comicbook phenomena: a timeless survivor. One of the few superheroes to carry on in unbroken exploits since the Golden Age, the King of the Seas has endured endless cancellations, reboots and makeovers in the name of trendy relevance and fickle fashion but somehow has always rapidly recovered to come back fresher, stronger and more reinvigorated.

He’s also one of the earliest cartoon champions to make the jump to television…

Where many stronger features foundered – and although strictly a second stringer for most of his career – Aquaman nevertheless soldiered on long after the Golden Age ended: a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts is available in hardback and digital formats, offering an all-too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of tantalising snapshots detailing how Aquaman has changed like the tides yet remains as constant as the endless seas.

Collecting material from More Fun Comics #73, 89, Adventure Comics #120, 174, 220, 260, 266, 269, 444, 452, 475, Aquaman volume 1 #1, 18, 40, Justice League of America Annual #2, Aquaman volume 2 #3, Aquaman volume 4 #2, 34, Aquaman volume 5 #4, 17, Aquaman volume 6 #1, 43, cumulatively covering April 1941 to October 2015.

These groundbreaking appearances are divided into specific eras, each preceded by brief critical analyses of the significant stages in his development, beginning with Part I 1941-1961: Making a Splash

As previously stated, Aquaman was one of the handful of costumed adventurers to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age. He was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of and in response to Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with an untitled tale latterly designated ‘The Submarine Strikes’ for this edition.

This salty sea saga sees survivors in lifeboats being rescued – and the brutal U-Boat commander responsible for their plight swiftly brought to justice – by a mysterious stranger who converses with porpoises. The golden saviour then reveals that he was made into a subsea superman by his scientist father; an explorer who had discovered all the secrets of lost, long-dead Atlantis…

Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but for More Fun Comics #89 (March 1943), Louis Cazeneuve limns the marine marvel’s heated and ruthless battle against modern pirate Black Jack and ‘The Streamlined Buccaneers’, with Aquaman now commanding an army of varied sea creatures whilst ‘Aquaman Goes to College’ (Adventure Comics #120, September 1947 by Joe Samachson & Cazeneuve) sees the sea king sagaciously seeking to expand his knowledge of marine life only to become embroiled in collegiate sporting scandals…

By 1954 young Ramona Fradon (Metamorpho; Brenda Starr) had assumed the art chores, by which time Aquaman was settled like a barnacle in a regular Adventure Comics back-up slot offering slick, smart and extremely genteel aquatic action. She was to draw every single adventure until 1960, making the feature one of the best looking if only mildly thrilling hero strips of the era.

A fine example is ‘The Whale That Was Wanted for Murder’ (Adventure Comics #174, March 1952, and scripted by George Kashdan) wherein the hunt for a seemingly rogue cetacean leads our hero to a conniving smuggler…

Cover-dated January 1956, Adventure Comics #220, revealed how Aquaman saved the reputation of a disgraced naval aviator in ‘The Coward and the Hero’ (Jack Miller & Fradon) after which the Silver Age revival of superheroes caught up to the Sea King and led to a canny reboot in issue #260 (May 1959).

In 1956, Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters with a new iteration of the Flash. Enjoying a heated fan response, the editors sanctioned other re-imaginings of many departed Golden Age stalwarts, and also updated and remastered its isolated survivors, especially Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman.

Thus, ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers’ by Robert Bernstein & Fradon, which retconned previous origins for a new tale of the offspring of a lighthouse keeper and exiled refugee from the undersea (and fully populated) city of Atlantis. Eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick, super-villains and even a civilian name – Arthur Curry!

Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe…

In Adventure Comics #266, (November 1959) Bernstein & Fradon detailed how ‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl!’: giving a little more information about fabled modern Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick – after all, the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus!

With #269, Adventure Comics #269, (February 1960) Bernstein & Fradon completed the formula by introducing permanent sidekick Aqualad. ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ was a young, purple-eyed outcast from the mysterious city possessing the same powers as Aquaman but terrified of fish… at least until the Sea King applies a little firm but kindly psychology.

By the end of the tale the little guy has happily adapted and would help patrol the endless oceans – and add a child’s awestruck perspective to the mix – for nearly a decade thereafter.

The Sea King’s rise is charted in Part II 1962-19: The Sovereign of the Sea.

As the sixties unfolded, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics (until 1964); teamed up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and – following a try-out season in Showcase#30-33 – made the big jump. After two decades of continuous adventuring the marine marvel finally got his own comicbook.

Cover-dated January-February 1962, Aquaman #1 is a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves that attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ (by Miller & Nick Cardy) and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously calculated.

Now with his own title and soon a to be featured in the popular, groundbreaking cartoon show Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, the Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom. Moreover, the writers and editors were happy to embrace evolution and change…

Mere months after Aquaman met extradimensional princess Mera, she became ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ (by Miller & Cardy in Aquaman #18, December 1964): one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age and only possible after our hero defeats her obsessive, super-powered stalker Oceanus and frees Atlantis from his despotic grip. Talk about instant responsibilities…

A few years later scripter Steve Skeates and new illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale as the Sea Lord abandoned all kingly duties to hunt for Mera after she was abducted. The lengthy quest began with her being whisked away, leaving Aquaman and Aqualad to voyage to strange, distant undersea realms and here encountering ‘Sorcerers of the Sea’ (Aquaman #40, August 1968). The saga was a compelling one but frustratingly does not continue or conclude here…

As the decade closed superhero sales tanked in favour of other genres. The Sea King was again reduced to back-up duties in other titles, but the quality of his stories remained high.

‘And Death Before Dishonor’ by Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway & Aparo comes from Adventure Comics #444 (April 1976): the first chapter in another multi-part blockbuster with Aquaman forced to abdicate the rulership of Atlantis due to a conspiracy hatched by his half-brother Orm, the Ocean Master and a mysterious political player named Karshon who replaced him as King of Atlantis. The newcomer naturally had a horrific secret to conceal, but you won’t learn it here as we skip (following a brief feature on ‘The Aquafamily’) straight to Adventure Comics #452, (August 1977) where David Michelinie & Aparo orchestrate the darkest day in Aquaman’s life as ‘Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams’ finds him fighting both his friends and greatest foe Black Manta. Tragically, despite his greatest efforts, he fails to save the one life that means most to him…

Time and tides passed before Adventure Comics #475 (September 1980) found J.M. DeMatteis & Dick Giordano detail how the newly-reconciled Aquaman and Mera forcibly separated yet again in ‘Scavenger Hunt!’ after a subsea tech and treasure hunter attacks…

Like many good superheroes, Aquaman always maintained a strong presence in a super-team throughout all his troubles, and when they went through their own sales and popularity crisis, stepped in to guide them to calmer waters…

‘…The End of the Justice League’ (Justice League of America Annual #2, October 1984; by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt) reveals how an attack by Martian invaders almost wrecked the World because the big gun superheroes were all occupied elsewhere. Vowing never to let it happen again, Arthur disbands the old league and goes about recruiting a new, dedicated and ever-ready team.

With the king in command, established heroes J’onn J’onzz, Zatanna, Vixen and Elongated Man relocate to Detroit picking up trainee titans Steel, Vibe and Gypsy to fill out a street-level roster short on power but packed with potential…

Part III 1986-2010: The Return of the King covers a period of almost constant change and revision with the backstory of Atlantis and the Sea King regularly tweaked in search of a winning formula. In truth, the creators frequently succeeded but could never maintain the high sales each reboot started with, even after Crisis on Infinite Earths cleared away much of the five decades of accumulated backstory…

Aquaman volume 2 was a 4-issue miniseries redefining the relationship of Arthur and his half-brother Orm, as well as solidly embedding magic as a key component of previously super-rationalist Atlantis. Sporting a new costume, Aquaman endured a revised origin in #3, (April 1986 by Neal Pozner, Craig Hamilton & Steve Montana) whilst trying to stop Ocean Master subjugating Earth with lost Atlantean necromancy…

In Aquaman volume 4 #2, (September 1994) Peter David, Martin Egeland & Brad Vancata took drastic steps to make readers notice the Sea Lord and his new paramour Dolphin, as ‘Single Wet Female’ revealed the hero’s defeat of super-psychos Scylla and Charybdis and the awful cost… his left hand…

Soldiering on with a fancy multi-purpose prosthetic against ever-more incredible adversaries, Arthur faces next ‘One on One’ (by David, Jim Calafiore & Peter Palmiotti from Aquaman volume 4 #34, July 1997) jealous junior sea god Triton who learns not to take out his daddy issues against the superhero…

A new millennium and another spin as Rick Veitch, Yvel Guichet, Josh Hood, Mark Propst & Sean Parsons indulge the exiled Sea King’s mythical side as the legendary Lady of the Lake replaces that prosthetic hand with an appendage grown from magic water and tasks this King Arthur with protecting the life-sustaining Secret Sea from human exploitation and demonic contamination in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (Aquaman volume 5 #4, May 2003).

Still looking for a solid subsea scenario for the unflinching hero, Will Pfeifer, Patrick Gleason & Christian Alamy then return to strict scientific methodology for Aquaman volume 5 #17 (June 2004) as ‘American Tidal Part Three’ finds Arthur helping the citizens of a Californian city suddenly turned into water-breathers by a mystery maniac who also explosively submerged their homes to create Sub Diego. Helping him solve the mystery whilst adapting to her own status as the newly-minted Aquagirl is feisty millennial teen Lorena

Wrapping up the superhero salvage voyage is Part IV 2011-2015: Twenty-First Century Aquaman concentrating on a back-to-basics Sea Sovereign and Atlantean Overlord created in the wake of the Flashpoint publishing event and DC’s company-wide reboot The New 52.

Crafted by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado, Aquaman volume 6 #1 (November 2011) saw Aquaman and Mera attempting to reconcile their status as second-string heroes on the surface world and unwelcome rulers of a belligerent Atlantis eager to wipe out air-breathing humanity. However, those petty tensions were about to be sidelined as unknown deep-sea horrors attack above and below the waves; consuming everything in their path in ‘The Trench Part One’

As the New 52 reboot staggered to an ignominious early close, the fresh, amped-up Aquaman underwent another retrofit and re-imagining, emerging with a new costume to oppose an invasion from another reality even as his beloved Mera turned on him. Leading an army of fantastic monsters, the Sea King battled to thwart a ‘Gospel of Destruction’ (Aquaman volume 6 #43, October 2015 by Cullen Bunn, Trevor McCarthy & Jesus Merino) with the only certainty being another company wide root-&-branch retrenchment. DC Rebirth was in the offing…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Cardy, Aparo, Brian Bolland, Craig Hamilton & P. Craig Russell, Martin Egeland & Brad Vancata, Jim Calafiore & Mark McKenna, Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado and Trevor McCarthy, this peek at the perpetually renewable Marine Monarch is a book of many flavours and textures.

DC has a long, comforting history of genteel, innocuous yarn-spinning delivered with quality artwork. The pre-Crisis Aquaman was a trusty champion and family friendly average guy, who became an earnest, unsure and strident wanderer in the latter part of the 20th century. In recent years he operated as a bombastic, bludgeoning brute with a chip on his shoulder and plenty to prove: proving that the Sea King is certainly a man for all generations, eras and seasons.

What is most clear however, is that his past adventures are all worthy of far more attention than they’ve received of late. It is a total pleasure to find just how readable they still are. With tumultuous sea-changes always in store for Aquaman, the comics industry and America itself, this monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1941, 1943, 1947, 1952, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1994, 1997, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 3


By Bob Haney, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-2181-2

Aquaman was one of a handful of costumed adventurers to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age, a rather nondescript and genial guy who solved maritime crimes and mysteries when not rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disasters. Created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris he first launched in More Fun Comics #73 (1941). Strictly a second stringer for most of his career he nevertheless continued on beyond many stronger features, illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve, Charles Paris, and latterly Ramona Fradon who drew every adventure until 1960.

When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s taste for costumed crimefighters with the advent of a new Flash DC updated its small band of superhero survivors, especially Green Arrow and Aquaman. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but after the revamp fuller records survive and this third black and white collection starring the King of the Seven Seas has only two creative credit conundrums.

Now with his own title and soon a to be featured in the popular, groundbreaking cartoon show Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, the Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom. These joyously outlandish tales, reprinting issues #24-39, a Brave and the Bold team-up with The Atom (# 73) and a scarce-remembered collaboration from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #115 comfortably and rapturously mark the end of the wholesome, affable hero, laying groundwork for the grittily innovative run from revolutionary editor Dick Giordano and hot new talents Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo and Neal Adams…

Sadly those are a treat for another time, but there’s entertainment a-plenty here beginning with Aquaman #24, November-December 1965 from an uncredited author (Dave Wood and Jack Miller are both strong possibilities…) and regular artistic ace Nick Cardy.

In ‘Aquaman: Save Our Seas!’ the titanic tussle with maritime malcontent The Fisherman found the new parents (the Sea King and Mera were probably the first 1960s heroes to marry and have kids) almost fatally easily distracted when an alien plot threatened to destroy earth’s oceans, whilst in #25, ‘The Revolt of Aquaboy!’ an ancient Chinese sorcerer rapid-aged the proud parents’ newborn into a spiteful ungrateful teenager as part of a plot to capture the sunken city of Atlantis.

The entire world went spy-crazy in the first half of the Swinging Sixties and anonymous acronymic secret societies popped up all over TV, book and comics. With #26 (March-April 1966), Aquaman joined the party when seconded by the US government (even though absolute ruler of a sovereign, if somewhat soggy, nation) to thwart the sinister schemes of the Organisation for General Revenge and Enslavement in the still surprisingly suspenseful ‘From O.G.R.E. With Love!’ by Bob Haney and Cardy.

With Haney and Cardy firmly ensconced as the creative team, thrilling fantasy became the order of the day in such power-packed puzzlers as #27’s ‘The Battle of the Rival Aquamen’ wherein alien hunters unleashed devious duplicates of the Sea King and his Queen and #28’s ‘Hail Aquababy, New King of Atlantis!’ with rogue American geneticist Dr. Starbuck attempting to steal the throne with subtle charm, honeyed words and a trained gorilla and eagle who could breathe underwater.

Archenemy Orm the Ocean Master returned to attack America and the world in the tense undersea duel ‘Aquaman, Coward-King of the Seas!’, which provided some startling insights into the hero and villain’s shared shadowy pasts as well as the requisite thrills and chills, whilst ‘The Death of Aquaman’ proved to be a guest-star-studded spectacular of subterfuge, double-cross and alien intrigue, before the Sea King found himself a fish trapped out of water when ‘O.G.R.E. Strikes Back!, attempting to destroy the United Nations.

Ocean Master’s family connections clearly struck a chord with readers as he returned to unleash the ancient leviathan ‘Tryton the Terrible’ whilst the troublesome teenagers got a tacit acknowledgement of their growing importance with the introduction of Aqua-Girl in ‘Aqualad’s Deep-Six Chick!’ (stop wincing; they were simpler, more obnoxious times and the story itself about disaffected youth being exploited by unscrupulous adults is a perennial and worthwhile one).

Aquaman #34 featured another evil doppelganger ‘Aquabeast the Abominable’ and typified a new, harsher sensibility in storytelling. Even though the antagonists were still generally aliens and monsters – from now on they were far meaner, scarier aliens and monsters…

The Sea King teamed up with JLA compatriot the Atom in Brave and the Bold # 73 (August-September 1967) to tackle a microscopic marauder named ‘Galg the Destroyer’ in a taut drama written by Haney and illustrated by the vastly undervalued Sal Trapani, before returning to his home-title and another deadly clash with Ocean Master and the ruthless Black Manta. Never afraid to tweak the comfort zone or shake up the status quo Haney’s excellent tale ‘Between Two Dooms!’ resulted in the Atlanteans losing their ability to breathe underwater, leaving Aquaman’s subjects virtual prisoners in their own sub-sea city for years to come…

Now a TV star, Aquaman went from strength to strength as Haney and Cardy pulled out all the creative stops on such resplendent battles tales as ‘What Seeks the Awesome Three?’ pitting the hero against mechanistic marauders Magneto, Claw and Torpedo-Man – and the chillingly prophetic eco-drama ‘When the Sea Dies!’, due in no small part to villains Ocean Master and the Scavenger.

Closing out his volume are two more dark thrillers and a classic guilty pleasure. Firstly Aquaman #38 introduced a relentless, merciless vigilante who accidentally set his sights on the Atlantean Ace in ‘Justice is Mine, Saith the Liquidator!’ before ‘How to Kill a Sea King!’ revealed a tragic tale of an alien seductress set on splitting up the Royal Couple, and the dilemmas and delights conclude with a charming treat from scripter Leo Dorfman and artist Pete Costanza which originally appeared in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #115 (October 1968).

One of the greatest advantages of these big value black-&-white compendiums is the opportunity they provide, 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 Aquaman, that’s an awful lot of extra appearances for a fan to find so the concluding tale here, taken from a title cruelly neglected by today’s fans, is an absolute gold-plated bonus…

‘Survival of the Fittest!’ saw the mystical Old Man of the Sea attempt to replace Aquaman with the far more pliant cub reporter: never realising that the lad was made of far sterner stuff than the demon could possibly imagine…

DC has a long, comforting history of genteel, innocuous yarn-spinning delivered with quality artwork. Haney and Cardy’s Aquaman is an all but lost run of classics worthy of far more attention than they’ve received of late. It is a total pleasure to find just how readable they still are. With tumultuous sea-changes in store for the Sea King, the comics industry and America itself, the stories in this book signal the end of one glorious era and the promise of darker, far more disturbing days to come.

© 1965-1968, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.