For Those Who Came In Late: The Aquaman coverage continues here at COMICS 101, as we explore the history and mythology of DC’s best known yet least respected super-type. Last week, we took a look at Aquaman’s relatively sparse Rogues’ gallery, and this week, we’ll focus our attention on, in our humble opinion, the best artist to ever illustrate the character…
So who’s the best Aquaman artist?
Surely, attention must be paid to Paul Norris, who created the character back in the 1940s. Ramona Fradon had a defining run with the character in the ’50s and ’60s, and Nick Cardy was synonymous with the character, especially through the 1960s once Mera was introduced to the series.
But for my money, there’s only one man who can be said to have drawn the definitive Aquaman. And that’s Jim Aparo.
Why Aparo? More than anyone else, Aparo always made Aquaman look like a badass. Just check out this simple head shot for the upper left corner of Aparo’s run on the character in the 1970s in the pages of ADVENTURE COMICS:
Far from the soft, cheerful, almost innocuous figure we’ve seen in nearly every previous AQUAMAN iteration, Aparo’s Aquaman was all strained ligaments, tensed muscles, clenched jaws and squinted, furrowed brow. He’s all business, all the time, and ready to kick your ass. He just looks perpetually pissed off.
Although Aparo’s first run on the character in the late ’60s-early ’70s is widely acclaimed, I actually prefer his second run which began in 1975 in ADVENTURE and led back to a short-lived revival of his solo series, mostly because this was the run I discovered as a little kid. Let’s first take a look at some of what made Aparo’s Aquaman so great.
First off, there was the underwater issue, whether it was details like Mera’s floating, cascading hair (or Aquaman’s forelock, for that matter), or the thick streams of air bubbles that issued from the mouths of all the characters. Aparo never let you forget that all these adventures were happening fathoms below.
And speaking of the underwater aspect, Aparo really took advantage of that to highlight Aquaman’s strength and speed while swimming. It’s not easy to make a guy look tough and intimidating while swimming freestyle, but Aparo was able to do just that.
Aparo also took advantage of Aquaman’s power to control undersea life to make him look even more dangerous, having him nearly always accompanied by a swordfish or a hammerhead shark. Just look at him on the cover of Aparo’s first ADVENTURE issue:
Those guys mean business.
And talk about serious. Aquaman never even cracks a smile. Like, ever.
Even just standing around, Aparo gives Aquaman a formidable presence he never really had anywhere else. This guy doesn’t look like the Super Friends’ weak sister:
Want another example of Aparo’s Aquaman being one notch tougher than the rest? How about this scene from “H is for Holocaust,” from ADVENTURE COMICS #442 (November-December 1975), by Aparo and writer Paul Levitz. When NATO sends a missile at some Atlantean farmlands to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear materials, Aquaman takes it upon himself to stop the missile. How, you ask? By dropping onto it from above thanks to an assist from two friendly sea eagles (which apparently fall under the effect of Aquaman’s sealife-controlling powers due to a technicality).
Landing square on the missile a la Slim Pickens in DR. STRANGELOVE, Aquaman rewires it in midair and sends it spiraling harmlessly into the sea.
How great is Jim Aparo? He even manages to make the Ocean Master seem cool and menacing, as seen here in ADVENTURE #444, “And Death Before Dishonor,” from Aparo and writers Levitz and Gerry Conway.
This story also began a long multi-issue story arc involving Aquaman’s forced removal from the throne and abandonment by his own people. Which, unfortunately, due to time constraints, we’ll have to get to next week.