Sunday, February 24, 2008

Swimming With the Fishes

Today's featured issue comes from 1989, the Legend of Aquaman Special. Here we have Keith Giffen on plot and breakdowns, with Robert Loren Fleming on script, with art by long-time Superman artist Curt Swan with Eric Shanower inking.

The issue is essentially a re-telling of Aquaman's origin story, which had changed slightly in the wake of the Crisis (1985). To be honest, it hadn't changed all that much, but I'm not sure the tale was ever told with as much love and care.

The story begins with the nameless child, who's been abandoned on Mercy Reef by the Atlanteans, who consider his blond hair anomoly enough to leave him to die of exposure to the sun. Of course, he doesn't, and his childhood consists of his exploring the seven seas and honing his ability to communicate with sea creatures.

Eventually, the young man comes to the shore and finds a lonely lighthouse keeper. At first, they are not friends, especially since the only surface speech the young man knows is the CAW of the seagulls. Aquaman (still unnamed) begins filling the keeper's traps with crabs and laying fish on his doorstep, which annoys the lighthouse keeper no end. But when the young man begins to absorb amusing bits of the English language (the terrific scene appears below, and should "embiggen" nicely for your reading pleasure), a friendship blossoms.

They become like father and son, teacher and student, friends. The lighthouse keeper teaches the strong ocean dweller English and the ways of the surface world. And then, "because happy years pass like weeks", the young man has grown and the keeper is old and knows that his end is near. When Aquaman returns the next time, the man has died, but left a letter, bequeathing his name to the younger man: Arthur Curry.

Eventually, Arthur returns to Atlantis, but is quickly captured by the government in power, who imprison him with other "freaks" and revolutionaries...and we see the classic green and orange costume for the first time, as it is the one issued to all prisoners.

Arthur sees his mother, recognizes her face amongst the female prisoners, but she dies before he is able to make contact, and in frustration, he breaks free of the prison and escapes...inspiring those he's left behind to rise up against the powers that be. Meanwhile, he goes off to the surface world and becomes a charter member of the Justice League of America and gains reknown for his heroic exploits.

When finally he returns to Atlantis, he discovers that his friend and fellow prisoner, Vulko, has led the toppling of the regime who'd imprisoned them, and Aquaman is welcomed as a hero. He learns that his mother had been the queen of the underwater society...and eventually, Arthur is convinced to ascend to the throne as Atlantis' King.

It's a great story, and a terrific retelling. There's a little coda that covers his marriage to Mera and the death of their son...which is where the story was to pick up in the Aquaman series that shortly followed this special. But more about the rest of Aquaman's story another day.

It's a shame that Aquaman gets so much flack as a hero, although much of the snark written about him can be amusing. Sure, the water thing definitely limits him, but there've been many times over the years when being able to talk to sea creatures was pretty convenient, and two-thirds of the world is ocean, right?

I suppose, though, that the lack of respect may be what's caused his character to be re-written and re-vamped and changed so much in more recent years. I really haven't been exposed to the newest version of the character yet, except in snips here and there found online.

I just read an account of a panel at this weekend's WonderCon in San Francisco that Dan Didio announced they'll be bringing Aquaman back, once they've determined which version of the character people want. So I'll go on record and say we ought to see the original's return. And find Fleming, or someone equally caring, who can capture the details of Aquaman the way this special did.

My first exposure to Aquaman was the Saturday morning cartoons of the late sixties. Here's a teaser commercial for the "Superman-Aquaman Hour", which featured these two heroes, with occasional guest stars from the rest of the JLA.

I was only two-going-on-three in 1967, but I was probably watching these just the same. I remember them better from later viewing, after the show was re-named the "Superman-Batman Hour", which featured cartoons of Superman, Batman and Aquaman (with Aqualad!)

To be honest, I didn't remember that other members of the JLA had been featured on television prior to the much-later "Super Friends" until I found this clip on YouTube, so perhaps I hadn't seen those earlier cartoons...but odds are good I saw them in reruns and was simply too young then to be remembering that now.


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Rhet said...

I remember coming home from second or third grade to watch Aquaman cartoons .. that would have been 1971-72. Probably between 3:30 and 4:30pm, and most likely on WOR-9. It didn't seem related to the SuperFriends series, which I think came several years later.