Aquaman in Adventure Comics #475-478
"Scavenger Hunt!"/"The Poseidon Adventure!"/"The Outrage!"/"Grand Illusion!"
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Penciled by Dick Giordano Inked by Dick Giordano and Ben Mitchell
Colored by Adrienne Roy
Lettered by Jon Costanza, Ben Oda and Milt Snapinn
In Adventure Comics #475-478, Starman and Plastic Man were joined by Aquaman. I've never liked Aquaman much, and this panel from Adventure Comics #476 manages to capture why...
Yeah. Those poor, poor, fish. Me? My sympathies are with the guy running from the shark and the poor soul doing his James Mason impression at right. Animal rights are all well and good, but when it boils down to man vs. beast, I tend to side with man. Unless Fox can somehow get Screech to fight a bear. Then I'm rooting for the bear. Then again, Aquaman also seems to be having trouble with this particular dilemma...
Hmm... Should I save my undersea kingdom from about half a dozen guys with spear guns, or save the surface world from nuclear armageddon? Decisions, decisions... (That's some nice art from Rich Buckler on the cover. The two panels are nicely balanced, and Aquaman's figure not only ties them together but helps draw your eye from one to the other and then back again. Even the captions are nicely placed, accentuating the composition rather than struggling against it. Now if only Buckler had bothered to find reference for a dolphin...)
Speaking of Black Manta, I've always thought of him as a second-string supervillain. Sure, he was in the Legion of Doom — but then, so were Solomon Grundy, Scarecrow, and the Toyman. It's not so much a badge of honor for Black Manta as it is a black mark for the Legion's HR department. Anyway, Manta earns my respect for this sequence from Adventure Comics #477 where he puts all his cards on the table...
Sometimes, it's just nice to have an uncomplicated villain who gets back to basics. (As for the storytelling here, I'm torn. Giordano puts Black Manta in an eye-catching borderless panel, giving extra weight to his words, which is nice. On the other hand, Aquaman's head should really be pointing the other way in the previous panel. I like how this produces a sort of w-shape which draws your eye across the top tier, but surely there has to be another way to get this same effect. As for the bottom panel, it seems like a trick right out of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way — it's tilted to add emphasis, but the composition itself is particularly ill-chosen. I do like how the tilt to the bars drags you down to the bottom tier of panels (not pictured).)
After reading these issues, I got to thinking about Aquaman. Namely, why, for god's sake, does DC keep publishing Aquaman comics? Over the years he's appeared as a feature in More Fun Comics, Adventure Comics (three times!), and Detective Comics, and has had four ongoing series and a handful of limited series. None of them have exactly set the world on fire. Even his Detroit-era Justice League was a dismal failure. And yet, after each stumble, DC dusts him off and stands him back up. Why?
It can't be because he's a unique concept, because Aquaman is a bland knock-off of the Sub-Mariner.1 At least Subby has a whole complicated personality, whereas Aquaman is just an undersea Boy Scout. And neither one of them has managed to do anything interesting with Atlantis.
It can't be to exploit the trademark — mostly because there's not much there to exploit. Kids aren't exactly clamoring for Aquaman toys, and adults aren't lining up around the block to buy Aquaman t-shirts and overpriced busts (well, most adults aren't). Aquaman movie projects have never made it out of development, and his cartoons haven't exactly been runaway successes.
It's not because the stories they publish are any good. I'm not saying that they aren't — I'm sure there have been some excellent Aquaman stories. But publishers generally don't care about quality, only sales.
It certainly can't be because of sales.
No, the real reason DC keeps publishing Aquaman is that they don't have any better ideas. Rather than develop a concept that might connect with today's readers, they'd rather keep dredging up the past because it's easier and less risky.
And people wonder why comics are in trouble.
- The Sub-Mariner's first appearance in Marvel Motion Picture Funnies Weekly was some time in late 1939. Aquaman's first appearance wasn't until More Fun Comics #73, November 1941, almost two years later.