Last time, our journey through Aquaman’s history took us to issue #18 of his first solo series, in which Atlantis celebrated the hero’s ascension to the throne and his marriage to Mera. It was a somewhat bizarre issue with sudden twists and turns, which began by putting Aquaman in a situation that was Games of Thrones-esque in nature but dealt with winkingly by introducing a sitcom style romantic dilemma, and ended with Aquaman fighting for his soon-to-be-wife who has been stolen by a villain who, in the span of two pages, overthrew all of Atlantis. It was completely nuts, and a great deal of fun.
This time, we’re skipping ahead twenty-four issues to sample an entirely different type of Aquaman story. Aquaman #42 boasts a different creative team than the last time we examined this series, with Steve Skeates on script duties and Jim Aparo drawing. As was customary, there are no colorist or letterer credits, though Dick Giordano gets a shout out as editor. This issue has by far the most stunning Aquaman cover I’ve ever seen. Simple but both terrifying and iconic, this cover is a statement. It reminds me of the famous panel of Bane breaking Batman’s back – a moment of utter defeat rendered beautifully by an artist at the top of their game. Hell, that the cover manages to shine even through that bizarre double Aquaman type in the top left corner is a phenomenal achievement unto itself. That looks like something I did while screwing around on MS Paint when I was ten. Considering how badass the actually drawn in Aquaman on the logo was, whoever was responsible for doing that work up top gets a pass.
The issue starts in what seems like the middle of an ongoing story arc. Mera is missing and Aquaman is riding around on a giant seahorse (yessss!), desperately searching for his wife. As soon as he issue begins, he is attacked by enemies called the Maarzons, though he isn’t sure what their beef is with him. Aquaman beats them up, demands they talk, and then delivers an epic pimp smack to his almost unconscious foe’s face. Aquaman doesn’t get any definitive answers (at this point in reading, I’m pretty sure he just smacked a mute man in the face for not talking!) but he begins to suspect the Maarzons of Mera’s kidnapping, so he goes to investigate.
Aquaman sees the Maarzons fighting amongst himself and attempts to find their king, but instead encounters the Black Manta, with whom he has a history.
The scenes that follow quickly answer the core question of my trek through Aquaman’s history. I brought up in Part One that it feels bizarre when writers or marketing suggests that they are offering a new badass take on Aquaman, because my understanding is that he’s kinda been badass. This issue proves it. Aquaman isn’t just smacking people who can’t talk – he’s threatening to destroy entire kingdoms, calling out Black Manta right in front of his legion of worshippers, and kicking ass without holding back at all. This Aquaman is desperate to find Mera, even if it means killing to get her back.
Black Manta challenges Aquaman to a duel, and we see in a thought bubble from the villain that he has no idea what has happened to Mera. I’m torn on that, because it’s a cool bit of dramatic irony there, but also seems like a random insert of information that deflates a good deal of the tension. What is also a little strange is that Black Manta called a stalemate between his entire city’s worth of followers and Aquaman, and then just tries to kill him himself, when logically he would’ve had a way better shot if he just helped his team take down Aquaman. His motivation throughout this reads as less clear than the other villains we’ve seen. The Monocle Nazis wanted to launch some missiles… Oceanus wanted to marry Mera and enslave all of Atlantis… and Black Manta says he wants to kill Aquaman, but approaches it in probably the only way he could’ve that wouldn’t have definitely ended in Aquaman’s death.
Step it up, Black Manta. Step it up.
Even with his less-than-stellar plan, Black Manta manages to deliver an incredible onslaught, leaving Aquaman fighting for his life. Aquaman bounces back rather quickly by doing what Black Manta “least expects,” which is launching directly at him for a physical attack. Aquaman beats him, Manta splits after letting him know that he has no idea where Mera is and just wanted to mess with him, and then Aquaman is left to deal with the Maarzons. He easily defeats them again, but is in an even more dejected and angrier state than he was at the beginning of this issue. Badass Aquaman is in full effect here, ready to level any kingdom he comes across in search of Mera. Hopefully, his next villains will be a little more clever with their dastardly plots.
NEXT UP: Adventure Comics #451 – 452 and Aquaman #57.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl, Van Helsing), novels (Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). Follow him @PatShand on social media where he, like everyone you’ve ever met, is absolutely insufferable during the election season. At least he, unlike everyone you’ve ever met, doesn’t tweet spoilers.