Tuesday, December 26, 2017

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Aquaman

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.




This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It's separated here for convenience.



I don't think I was aware of Aquaman before my Dad bought me a copy of Aquaman # 30 (November-December 1966), which cover-featured Aquaman's funeral. Aquaman would eventually become one of my favorite superheroes, but I doubt that I'd heard of him before getting this issue. But who can resist a cover full of superheroes? Fine, I didn't know Metamorpho or Hawkman yet, but I sure knew Batman and Superman! The thing is, even if Bruce and Clark had been replaced on this cover by some other superheroes that I didn't know--Green ArrowPlastic ManMartian ManhunterThe Hooded Halibut, even--I would still have been intrigued: it was a comic book cover full of superheroes! What more could a six-year-old want?! Perhaps it was a cheat that these heroes only appeared in a single panel in the story itself (with Metamorpho entirely hidden, but The Flash bringing up the rear), but I don't believe that put me off.

Given that the King of the Sea's comic book lasted another 26 issues in the '60s (and has been revived again and again since then), and that he became a Saturday morning TV cartoon star in the Fall of 1967 (and did so again as one of the Super Friends in the early '70s), and that he'll soon be moving into blockbuster Hollywood feature film stardom with the forthcoming Justice League and Aquaman movies...yeah, given all that, it ain't a spoiler to reveal that Aquaman survived his own death in Aquaman # 30. He's resilient.





I think I saw DC house ads for Aquaman #s 31 and 32, plus The Brave And The Bold # 73 (co-starring Aquaman and The Atom), but my next Aquaman adventure was Aquaman # 36 (November-December 1967), with its cover blurb proclaiming, "The King Of The Sea Is Now The King Of TV!" This would have gone on sale around the same time as the debut of the above-mentioned TV cartoon series, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS. The series continued Superman and Superboy's  cartoon exploits from the previous fall's The New Adventures Of Superman, supplemented by all-new animated action starring Aquaman and Aqualad, plus one additional cartoon each week starring one of a rotating line-up of DC superstars (The Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, Green LanternThe Teen Titans, and The Justice League of America).

These cartoons were terrible--hokey, juvenile, formulaic, and strictly by-the-numbers--but I just loved 'em as a kid. Frankly, the comics at the time weren't exactly cutting-edge themselves, but there was undeniable energy, and there was artwork by Nick Cardy, who is possibly my all-time favorite comics artist. The TV show added a pair of black boots to Aquaman's costume, and I don't think it made much use of the comic-book supporting cast other than trusty sidekick Aqualad; the villains were there--I think I remember seeing Black Manta on TV--but there was no sign of Aquababy or Aquagirl. And there wasn't nearly enough of Aquaman's beautiful wife MeraThat was a shame! As drawn by Cardy, Mera was the hottest-looking female character in comics at the time.



But my favorite run of Aquaman stories began in 1968, when Dick Giordano took over as editor with Aquaman # 40. Giordano replaced veteran writer Bob Haney with young turk Steve Skeates, and the series just exploded with imagination, drama, and sensational quirkiness. Skeates' first order of business was a long, long serial involving Aquaman's search for Mera, who'd been abducted by unknown assailants. Giordano took Nick Cardy off the main art chores--Cardy retained cover art duties, and proceeded to knock everyone out with some of the finest covers of his long career--but found a more than able replacement in Jim Aparo. Like Giordano and Skeates, Aparo had come to DC fresh from budget-priced-but-brilliant work at Charlton Comics, a low-rent line we'll be discussing in a couple of days. Aparo's work on Aquaman was stunning, gorgeous--so much so that I still consider Aparo the definitive Aquaman artist, my eternal allegiance to Nick Cardy notwithstanding. This was just a terrific, underrated run, one of my favorite runs of any character at any time.











Sadly, sales weren't sufficient to keep Aquaman afloat. The book was cancelled with its 56th issue (March-April 1971), cover-featuring "The Creature That Devoured Detroit!" The book may have been too off-kilter to survive, but it was a blast while it lasted. Aquaman returned a few years later in the pages of Adventure Comics (inspiring a letter of comment from a certain future blogger in North Syracuse), and he regained his own comic book in the mid-'70s. The current Aquaman comic book is pretty cool (and Mera is still a knockout), but no version of these characters could ever top my affection for the Skeates-Aparo-Giordano era.


Splash page of Aquaman # 56
My letter to Aquaman, Adventure Comics # 444

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