Previously, in COMICS 101: When last we met, we had begun our discussion of DC Comics’ own King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman. After a somewhat low-key start as a response to Timely’s Sub-Mariner, the character got a new lease on life after moving to a backup spot in ADVENTURE COMICS, where Arthur’s backstory was revised to include an Atlantean background and undersea heritage. With a much bigger canvas to paint on, it was decided that what Aquaman needed next was someone else to talk to…
When you think about it, it’s amazing that by 1960, Aquaman had survived as a character for almost twenty years and yet didn’t have a single supporting cast member. Clearly, giving Aquaman some company was long overdue. This was rectified in ADVENTURE COMICS #269 (February 1960), in “The Kid From Atlantis!”, written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Ramona Fradon.
Our story opens with Aquaman discovering a sealed capsule floating on the sea, with a young boy inside. When the boy awakens, Aquaman is met with a strange discovery, the young boy is deathly afraid of fish:
An even greater discovery comes next, when Aquaman notices the boy’s purple eyes, which mark him as an ostracized inhabitant of Atlantis. Atlantis, it seems has a fairly strict policy when it comes to fitting in. Usually purple eyes means the child is an air-breather, and must be exiled from Atlantis for his own survival. But this child could breathe underwater despite his purple eyes. Unfortunately, that fact that he would freak right the %$@! out at the sight of a fish meant that life under the seas was simply not an option for the boy, so the Atlanteans shoved him in a capsule and fired him off to the surface with the gigantic OstraCannon (all rights reserved).
With both his parents killed in an accident, the boy has no one, and Aquaman is determined to help cure him of his fear of fish so that he can return to Atlantis. First off, Aquaman gives the boy a hoop and stick to play with, only to reveal that they were actually eels. Next, he sends the boy to play in a water spout, which is actually being expelled from the spout of a whale.
A game of merry-go-round with Aquaman’s octopus pal Topo further helps break the boy’s fish phobia, as does a sea patrol with Aquaman, where Aquaman uses a manta ray to help save a sailboat. Now inspired by Aquaman’s example, the boy even learns to use his own telepathic powers to command sea life, summoning a school of luminous fish to create a landing strip for a descending seaplane.
Now that the boy is cured, Aquaman is determined to return him to Atlantis. However, with no one to return to, the kid would rather stay with Aquaman, and after a bit of a false start (thanks to the kid’s faking his return), Aquaman agrees to take in the orphan, making him his new assistant as Aqualad.
One thing that’s noticable right off the bat, even more so than say, Robin or Speedy, is how young Aqualad is. He really looks like a 10-year-old kid. However, it doesn’t seem irresponsible for him to be fighting alongside Aquaman, maybe because unlike Robin or Speedy, he has the same superpowers, or maybe it’s just the more fanciful, fantastic undersea setting. Either way, there’s a tangible father-son dynamic that exists here that was never quite in play with either Batman or Green Arrow, which makes the AQUAMAN stores very unique.
The very same issue in which Aqualad made his debut also saw the long-needed establishment of a home base for Aquaman, who up to this point had mostly been portrayed as a kind of seagoing vagabond. In “The Menace of Aqualad,” Aquaman, still getting used to having a kid following him around, begins to suspect that Aqualad is planning his demise. Wow. Paranoid much?
It turns out what Aquaman thought was sinister goings-on was actually just Aqualad trying to gather some furnishings and décor for their new home, the Aquacave, to celebrate Aquaman’s birthday.
A nice gesture, no doubt. But did Aqualad really have to write “Happy Birthday ” on the side of a whale?
Aquaman finally visited his ancestral home for the first time in SHOWCASE #30, (January/February 1961), in “The Creatures from Atlantis,” from writer Jack Miller and artist Ramona Fradon. Summoned by an unexpected S.O.S. from Atlantis (conveyed by a lantern fish, of course), Aquaman pays his first visit to the undersea city, only to be attacked and captured by weird otherdimensional sea creatures, and forced to work as a slave alongside all the other Atlanteans, building a colossal weapon with which they intend to conquer the Earth. Aquaman summons help thanks to a nearby guppy, and soon Aquaman, Aqualad and their army of whales and fish crush the alien invasion and send them back to their own dimension.
Freed from slavery, the Atlanteans award Aquaman with their greatest honor, the “Hero of Atlantis” medal, and name Aquaman and Aqualad as their official ambassadors to the surface world. If you ask me, Aquaman and Aqualad are being very charitable about that whole “you-banished-my-mother-and-shot-me-out-of-a-cannon-for-being-afraid-of-fish” issue.
It was also decided that Aquaman and Aqualad needed a weakness that could really be played up, a la Kryptonite over in the SUPERMAN books. While it had been mentioned in passing before, “One Hour to Doom,” from ADVENTURE COMICS #282 (March 1961) really stressed the fact that Aquaman and Aqualad could only survive out of the water for a single hour, as it had them following a smuggler into the mountains and over rocky terrain and using their survival skills to find water in unlikely places. Such as, you might ask? Well, let’s just ask this nearby mountain goat.
Man, I really hope that’s milk.