Who's Aquaman?

Who's This? The King of the Seven Seas.
The facts: The brain child of Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris, Aquaman first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) and from humble beginnings as just another Golden Age strip, went on to become part of mainstream popular culture through Filmation's cartoon show, then Super-Friends. Similarly in the comics, Aquaman would go on to star in his own book (and and on-again, off-again stint in Adventure Comics) and as a member of the Justice League of America. His star has shone and waned over the years since.
How you could have heard of him: Aquaman has enjoyed some success (again) in the comic book arena under Geoff Johns before and after Flashpoint, and on the big screen, finally got his own hit feature film, starring Jason Momoa. I mean, it's a little ridiculous to do "Who's This?" with DC's headliners, but I mean to be a completist.
Example story: Aquaman #49 (Jan-Feb 1970) by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo
I'd say my expertise on the character - one of my DC favorites - stems from certain eras only. The 1960s short Adventure strips drawn by the likes of Ramona Fradon and Nick Cardy, 1980s JLA (even Detroit) and mini-series during that decade, the Peter David Run, and the Geoff Johns revival starting with Brightest Day. So I thought I'd look at a 1970s story, almost at random, because I don't really know those stories except by reputation. Jim Aparo's covers are all quite beautifully designed and alluring, so Aquaman #49 is merely a shot in the dark, although one that seems to present a complete tale. Let's dive in, shall we?
The story starts on a silent two-pager, a Jim Aparo trademark that always makes me wonder if he imposed it on the writers, because here he does it for Skeates, and would later regularly do it for Haney. Whatever the truth, the art is definitely going to be the major attraction here. As stories go, Aquaman's Silver Age adventures, where he is either policing the open seas or fighting weird monsters, have given way to the "relevant" approach of the early Bronze Age. For him, it means addressing environmental concerns. Case in point, pollution is causing fish to misbehave on the Alaskan coast line. Only one thing to do, kick them in the head.
Though the Aqua lads don't really need help to fight "weakened" fish, an old friend does show up to help them, (wannabe Dane Dorrance) Phil Darson. He's in a bulky diving outfit, not the first pages' wetsuit, but come on, as soon as Aquaman gets on the trail of a saboteur targeting factories that dump chemicals into the ocean, we know it has be Phil, right? Like Aquaman, I immediately dismissed Aqualad's notion that Arthur's oceanographer friend Professor Davidson was somehow involved. But Skeates tries to sell it, but it's really a red herring (oh sea puns, the gift that keeps on giving). Anyway, that night, another factory is hit and Aquaman is there to get a bomb in the face.
But I'm getting strong friendship vibes from the saboteur's thought bubble there. We don't often think of Aquaman as a detective, but that WAS a part of his character. The next few pages play out as a mystery, with the factory owner, one Mr. Leland, denying it was sabotage because he doesn't want anyone to wonder WHY he would be targeted. Unrepentant, he doesn't want to change his methods either because money. I'm also skipping over an Ocean Master subplot, but we've got Mera trying to buy Aquaman some time by playing receptionist. Back in Alaska, Arthur follows the saboteur back to the factory where Leland is personally waiting for him with a rifle. This guy is hands on, man. Aquaman intervenes before either can kill the other.
Somehow, the saboteur manages to knock Aquaman down with a punch, and then sets the place ablaze. Arthur gets up, but Leland really really wants to kill the saboteur and doesn't want a superhero to witness it, so...
Oh no! Our hero faces DEHYDRATION! Wet enough not to burn, I guess, he wakes up unharmed in the inferno and walks out with a mild cough. Then he hears gun shots and tracks them to Leland and Phil - of course it was Phil, I told you! - who mutually annihilated each other.
You're being a little naive there, Aquaman. I'm sure there's legal recourse, but by the time men like Leland have been forced to stop, they'll have already polluted the world. I speak from some experience, 50 years on.

Jim Aparo is one of the great Aquaman artists, so this was a good issue no matter what I think of the obvious mystery. But hey, Skeates engineered a sequence where Aquaman is kicking killer fish in the face, so I'm happy, and it's not that often we see this part of the world's oceans in an Aqua-comic. I like the variety, and the sense that Arthur's world is a rich and complex one.

Who's Next? A displaced Native American.



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