For Those Who Came In Late: In recent weeks, we’ve been looking at DC Comics’ resident King of Atlantis, Aquaman. Last time, we were introduced to the first and only member of Aquaman’s supporting cast, Aqualad. However, soon even more folks would be added to the cast, although admittedly some were better ideas than others…
One thing DC Comics was definitely not ashamed of in the 1960s was poaching a good idea from themselves. If Krypto the Superdog was getting a good reaction in the pages of SUPERMAN, it wouldn’t be long before we’d see the introduction of Ace the Bat-Hound over in BATMAN. Snoopy reporter Lois Lane always trying to find out Superman’s secret identity? Meet Gotham City’s snoopy photographer Vicki Vale in BATMAN.
Accordingly, with both Superman and Bat-Man having pesky magical imps occasionally popping up in the form of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite, soon Aquaman had his own in the form of Quisp, who first appeared in AQUAMAN #1 (January/February 1962), in “The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls,” drawn by Nick Cardy.
Aquaman and Aqualad first meet the water sprite one day in the Aquacave as they’re doing a little work on the place (with Aquaman using a swordfish as a saw in a clear violation of Humane Society regulations).
Suddenly poor Topo (their pet octopus) finds his tentacles tied up in knots, while inanimate objects begin dancing around of their own volition before a shocked Aquaman and Aqualad.
This, it turns out, is the work of Quisp, who’s come to ask Aquaman for help, but couldn’t resist the temptation to use his magical powers to play some pranks on the King of the Seven Seas first. Always a good idea to get people on your side before asking them for a favor.
Quisp’s people live in a secret sea beneath the ocean bed, he explains to Aquaman, and have been attacked by fire-trolls who had emerged from an undersea volcano and were laying waste to their homeland.
Naturally, Aquaman agrees to help, and eventually the fire-trolls are dispensed with and the volcano sealed up behind them. Relieved to be almost rid of the little runt, Aquaman sends him on his way at adventure’s end, only to find out that he’s not quite going away for good:
Quisp never really had either the annoying punkish appeal of Mxyzptlk or even the cartoony charm of Bat-Mite. Instead, he just came off like a cutesy fop with not much personality, and never found the even the cult appeal that Bat-Mite or Mxy did. Still, Quisp would indeed return fairly often over the next couple of years of AQUAMAN, including in the first appearance of another character who would become far more important to the AQUAMAN mythos: Mera, the woman who would eventually become Aquaman’s wife and the mother of his child.
Mera made her debut in AQUAMAN #11 (October 1963), in “The Doom from Dimension Aqua,” written by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy.
Here Aquaman and Aqualad encounter a mysterious woman trying to save the crew of a burning ship, a gorgeous redhead who can swim at great speed, rivaling even Aquaman’s, and who can control the very water itself.
Catching up to her, she introduces herself as Queen Mera, ruler of a watery otherdimensional world, who has fled to our world in exile following the seizing of power by the evil pretender Leron. Unfortunately, almost immediately after arriving, Mera finds that her powers are gone, leaving her helpless against — you guessed it — Leron, who had also arrived through an interdimensional warp, to finish off Mera and make sure she never tries to reclaim the throne.
Aquaman fends off Leron with the help of his usual assortment of fish pals, but Leron is none too happy about it.
Leron, along with some of his followers, pursues and once again captures Aquaman, Aqualad and Mera. That is, until Aquaman pulls some water-wielding magic out of his back pocket, suddenly displaying the same water-controlling powers as Leron has (and Mera used to). Frustrated, Leron (who, one might say, wears his war wound like a crown) retreats once more, and Aquaman reveals to his allies the actual source of his new powers.
Yes, Aquaman had called in the annoying, androgynous Marines, in the shape of his pesky little magical buddy Quisp the water sprite. Quisp offers to recruit an army of his fellow sprites to help Mera regain her kingdom, only to be ambushed by Leron and waylaid before he can summon help. Eventually, Aquaman figures out why Mera had lost her powers — a natural weakness when exposed to lead — and subjects Leron and his followers to a lead bath, after which he returns them to their own dimension, along with Mera, returned once more to the throne.
Aquaman’s editors must have decided almost immediately that Mera was an asset to the series, as she returned only two months later in AQUAMAN #13 in “Invasion of the Giant Reptiles,” once more by the Miller/Cardy team. Mera returns in response to an earthquake so devastating she felt it in her own dimension. The story shows off the first signs of attraction between Aquaman and Mera, first from Aquaman, in reaction to seeing Mera:
And at story’s end, in Mera’s reaction to the destruction of a futuristic thought-control device:
Almost immediately, the addition of Mera to the cast made the series much more appealing. Suddenly Aquaman seemed far more human, just because he had someone to care about and play off of in a more adult manner. Sure, the father/son relationship he had with Aqualad had been an improvement over the decade or so of solitude the character had previously featured, but the addition of a steady romantic interest made the character seem far more approachable. The only really surprising thing is how long it took for Aquaman’s editors to realize it.
But realize it they did, and within a matter of months, the Aquaman/Mera (now a frequent visitor to Atlantis and Aquaman) relationship was deemed such a success that the powers that be at DC were willing to take it to the next step, something they hadn’t done with any of their flagship characters: marriage.
Come on back next week and we’ll take you through the big day.