Let’s get this out of the way, right up front: I don’t know very much about Aquaman. I’ve read a few arcs here and there, and I like the character well enough, but I’m not well-versed on the character’s history by any means. I have noticed something pretty strange in recent times, though. It seems that every time a new creative team takes over Aquaman, or every time DC relaunches the title, it’s marketing as a badass revival of the character, a story that will make Aquaman a hero to be taken seriously. The unspoken suggestion in that marketing is that Aquaman is taken less seriously than the other heroes in the DC pantheon, and that this Brand New Take (just like the last take, but shhhh) will be the one that legitimizes the Atlantean hero. The new Rebirth series, the New 52 relaunch, and even the way folks are talking about Jason Momoa’s upcoming portrayal as the character in 2018’s Aquaman film assumes that we, the readers, somehow think less of Aquaman. As Blastoff celebrates the character’s history this July, I am going to take a trip through the character’s earlier stories for the first time. By journey’s end, maybe we’ll have a new perspective on exactly when Aquaman became a badass.
We begin with the character’s first appearance in More Fun Comics #73, courtesy of Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, who introduced the character with an appropriately fun short story.
More Fun Comics was an anthology series, and this particular issue is loaded with stories. The tales of wonder include a prose story by Wilton Weston and short comics starring Doctor Fate, The Green Arrow, Radio Squad, Johnny Quick, Clip Carson, Spectre, and, finally, Aquaman.
Aquaman’s story details his first time intervening with “monsters of the land.” In this case, said monsters are Nazis who have hit a ship of refugees with a torpedo. Also? Both of them are wearing monocles. Just another pair of monocle-wearin’, refugee-killin’ Natzees.
Aquaman saves the travelers from another Nazi onslaught, and begins detailing his life story when asked… well, you know, what his deal is, considering he lives underwater. He speaks of his father, who was an explorer that discovered the lost city of Atlantis, and ended up using “training and a hundred scientific secrets” to turn his son into the amazing Aquaman, who can breathe under water, communicate with and command water-dwelling life, and pull of feats of incredible strength.
Inspired by his good deed, Aquaman sets out to find the monocle’d Nazis and put an end to their schemes. He gets the jump on them at first, but they manage to capture him and proceed to weigh him down and throw him back into the drink. It… well, it kind of obviously doesn’t work. My favorite part about the comic is that with any other hero, this would obviously be a huge, dramatic moment. A How Are They Gonna Get Out of This One? bit. When Aquaman hits the bottom, he’s so zen about the whole situation that he barely even registers mild annoyance before having some fishy buddies get him out of the situation, so he can go back up and kick Nazi butt.
Aquaman’s first adventure was fun and, though there are times when he approaches Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze-levels of character-specific puns, he is indeed likable and heroic from the start.
NEXT UP: Aquaman #18 from the 1962 – 1978 run.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl, Family Pets), novels (Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). If you are at San Diego Comic Con this year, you can find him on the show floor, sharing pictures of his cats with anyone who will give him the time of day.