Your favorite superheroes are over 50 years old! Before they got dark and gritty, they did some goofy things. Welcome to Midlife Crisis on Infinite Earths where we look back at the less than illustrious adventures of some of the biggest heroes in comics. In this edition, we are talking about Aquaman.
These days Aquaman seems like quite the bad ass. However before Jason Momoa took on the role, and before the New 52, Aquaman was the butt of many, many jokes. The punchline to every Aquaman joke usually involves some form of “HE TALKS TO FISH!”. Aquaman has suffered being teased about his fish-linguistics for years! The undersea hero wasn’t even safe in his own book.
As a comedian, jokes about Aquaman are what we in the business call a “hack premise”. It’s easy to dump on Aquaman because Aquaman is basically the super-hero equivalent to jokes about airline peanuts and waiting in the line at the bank. However, looking back you start to understand that the jokes were warranted.
For your reading pleasure, please accept these examples that demonstrate why the years of mockery were valid. Also, enjoy the fish puns, as I believe if you’re going to write like a hack you should go all the way.
The first thing you learn when you start reading old Aquaman stories is that the writers didn’t research anything. You think old Superman and Batman stories were insane? They don’t hold up a candle to the type of nutty garbage that was churned out in your average Aquaman story.
Aquaman and his Sea Police
In the story titled “Aquaman and his Sea Police” pretty much is a shining example of how utterly crazy these stories were.
In this tale, we are introduced to the town of New Venice which gets its name from the fact that after it was flooded by a seaquake. Instead of being annihilated in a massive tsunami, the people of this town find themselves in a bastardized homage the Italian city. Apparently, the addition of water makes having a function police force impossible and as a result, there is an uptick in lawlessness. Water-based lawlessness. Saner minds prevail and Aquaman is called in to help.
Through the course of this story, Aquaman doesn’t do much crime fighting himself. Instead, he delegates the job to his “finny friends” while he hangs back and offers praise to these hapless sea creatures he forced into helping him out.
I don’t profess to be much of an expert on anything, but if your city randomly floods, I am quite sure your town is a massive ecological disaster what with all the human refuse and sewage that would be free flowing through town. Apparently, this is hardly a concern to the people of New Venice, who have more pressing concerns like making sure speed limit signs are posted in knots instead of miles per hour.
Aquaman’s crime fighting methods are also not as well thought out as you’d expect. To try and tackle people speeding in boats, Aquaman commands seals to gum up their boat motors with seaweed. Nothing says “speed deterring” like sending an endangered animal headlong into whirling blades of death. Someone really needs to tell Paul McCartney about this guy.
Later on, Aquaman crashes the party of drunks who have been tossing their empties into the water. To combat this, Aquaman summons seagulls (which are birds, not marine life) to pick up the litter and dump it back on them. As you can see from the illustration below, the garbage just bounces off the drunks and back into the water, accomplishing nothing.
Just when you think things can’t get insane enough, when a crack in the ground causes the water to slowly start draining out of New Venice. Aquaman buckles to the townspeople’s fear of losing those all important tourist dollars and gets his buddies to plug up the hole. Thankfully there is enough garbage floating around for them to do this successfully.
Hey, remember when Aquaman made those drunks stop littering? Well, he has no problem when the town later throws a parade for him, complete with confetti and streamers that fall into the open waterways of town.
The Underwater Olympics
In this story, Aquaman draws inspiration from the Olympics and starts the first (and hopefully last) Underwater Olympics. It’s a friendly competition between Aquaman and his boy sidekick Aqualad to see who is the better. By “compete with each other”, they mean coercing marine life to fight it out for their own amusement. I should point out that they are pitting animals from the Pacific against ones from the Atlantic. Surprisingly, this garnered front page news, but not for the reason you’d hope.
In the middle of all this intense sports action is Bart Horval a very successful deep sea salvage who Aquaman refers to as a “deep sea vulture” because he “grabs whatever sinks to the bottom”. Horval is within the rights of international salvage laws, but remember the man dictating justice in this story is the same idiot who pinned a police badge on an octopus.
What’s most disturbing about this story is how much Aquaman and Aqualad enjoy pitting animals against one another.
In the end, Aqualad wins the competition, but not because he is better than Aquaman. No, as it turns out there was a chunk of Kryptonite on the ocean floor. So instead of leaving it for Bart Horval to find, Aquaman secretly threw the competition so he could dispose of it before it could be used against his pal Superman. To do this, Aquaman has his undersea buddies help him push the giant space rock into a deep underwater trench.
One Hour To Doom!
Back in the early days of DC Comics every superhero had a single weakness. Superman had Kryptonite, Green Lantern couldn’t use his ring against yellow objects, and mentioning the name Martha would put Batman into hysterics. Aquaman was no different, but his powers were the most absurd of all: He couldn’t be out of contact with water for more than an hour or he would die!
To demonstrate this weakness, the story “One Hour to Doom!” also tried to demonstrate how resourceful Aquaman could be when trapped on dry land. In this particular tale, a smuggler who knows about this weakness escapes onto dry land hoping that Aquaman will give up the chase or foolishly follow him and die.
Following their foe up a mountain, the two heroes come dangerously close to that deadly one hour mark. Luckily, this happens to be a mountain with a plethora of snow. Apparently, all it takes is rubbing snow on their heads to keep them alive. To really understand how stupid that sounds, try reading that out loud.
The next time the duo get trapped on dry land and almost come to near death, the pair find salvation from wild mountain goats. That’s right, they save themselves with handfuls of sour mountain goat milk from a female goat.
The next time the pair are tricked into leaving water, the aquatic duo bring a canteen with them. Unfortunately, the mobsters pump that canteen full of bullets. It’s unfortunate in that they wasted their bullets on a canteen instead of the two targets standing still enough for that sort of precision shooting.
I think I’ve explained why Aquaman was probably the worst superhero ever. However, if I haven’t, allow me to provide this final proof. In Adventure Comics #284 there is a story titled “The Charge of Aquaman’s Sea Soldiers!” In said tale, Aquaman and Aqualad gather an army of sea creatures to stop a mad scientist. The scientist filters out all the salt in the water surrounding his hideout. So Aquaman’s “finny friends” don’t suffer in a fresh-water environment, he outfits them with special breathing apparatus. Okay, that makes sort of sense, but can anyone tell me what’s wrong with this picture?
Okay, that’s it for now! I’ll be back very soon with another edition of Midlife Crisis where I will be tackling some not-so-sacred ground. That’s right, I’m finally taking on death itself… in comics! Be there, won’t you?
Midlife Crisis on Infinite Earths is an ongoing series of articles looking back at the simpler days of comics and mercilessly mocking them. Read more from this series here.