Sunday, January 23, 2005

Retro Reviews - Adventure Comics #229

Finding the first Golden Age appearance of Aquaman was easy, since it was also his first appearance ever. But finding his first Silver Age appearance is much more difficult. When did the Silver Age start? Did it start in November of 1955, with the first appearance of a unique Silver Age character, J'onn J'onzz the Manhunter from Mars? Did it start in September of 1956 with the first appearance of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash? Is it even fair to saddle Aquaman, who had continual appearances in Adventure Comics until well into the Silver Age, with a Silver Age starting point?

Originally, I started to use the Martian Manhunter cutoff date, November 1955, as my Silver Age cutoff. This would lead to the Aquaman story in Adventures Comics #218 as being the first Silver Age Aquaman. It doesn't make any particular sense as a narrative, but it makes more sense than using the much later date of May 1959 Adventure Comics #260, which features the first Silver Age origin of Aquaman. Fortunately for me, somebody with a better understanding of DC Comics has already tackled the problem and come up with a useful starting point for Silver Age Aquaman. Mike Voiles, the DC Indexer, argues that there are only three logical starting spots for the Silver Age Aquaman. The first is his origin story in Adventure #260. The second would be the change in the color of his gloves. The third one, though, is consistent with other Silver Age starting points - the introduction of a new character. Mike is able to eliminate the color change and the new origin as the switchover, which leaves the introduction of Topo as the first Silver Age Aquaman story. And, since his arguments make a lot of sense, I think I'll just go with that... and so, the first Silver Age Aquaman is...

Adventure Comics #229

Aquaman moved over to Adventure Comics at issue #103, along with Green Arrow and Superboy. By the time this story rolled around, they were the only three main features left in the formerly robust book. Adventure Comics was a fifty-two pager up until 1951, when it dropped to forty-four pages, then to a measley thirty-six pages in 1954 (this was, incidently, one of the methods DC used to keep the price at 10 cents for so long).

The cover date of this issue is October 1956. As usual, it was on the stands earlier than that, as the month and year is the date the book is supposed to be pulled from the stands. The Aquaman story in this issue is only six pages long, with the last page being a half-page (so a more precise count would be five and a half pages). The artwork is by Ramona Fradon, but the writer is unknown. The only writer confirmed to be working on Aquaman in 1956 was Jack Miller, but it may have been someone else. In addition, Charles Paris inked a few Aquaman stories during this time period. I haven't yet trained my eye well enough to tell Fradon stories inked by Paris apart from Fradon stories inked by Fradon or someone else, so I'm uncertain if Paris was involved in the creation of this story.

Historical Context: 1956 was an Olympic year. The winter Olympics were held in January in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. The Summer Olympics were held in November in Melbourne, Australia (except for the Equestrian events, which were held in Stockholm, Sweden in June due to strict Australian quarantine laws). Elvis Presley made the charts for the first time, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and the Bikini Atoll was the site of the first airborne explosion of a hydrogen bomb. In short, a lot of things happened, but nothing that obviously affected this story.

The Other Stories: Looking through my copy of this book, the other two major stories in this issue are "Superboy: The End of the Kent Family" and "The Green Arrow: The Wildcat Archers". In addition, there's the usual number of ads, public service announcements, and short gag strips. There's also a fascinating text article on a "mechanical man" that checks for gas leaks (which brings to mind my link to combat robots) and a slogan contest with "5000 prizes" (sample slogans: "I buy when I see DC", "DC Comics are Decent Comics" and "Your Reading Key is the Symbol DC").

The Superboy story has the Kent house being struck by a meteor (!!!) and blowing up completely. Clark is able to save his parents, but can't reveal that he's saved them without giving away his secret identity. So he settles his parents in Centerville under assumed names to protect them while he thinks of an answer (Joseph and Mabel King and their son Charles). Luckily, there's an out and the Kents are able to return. The story is 10 pages long.

The Green Arrow story has Green Arrow and Speedy helping a town of people being driven out because their valley apparently has oil. The set-up is so complicated that it has to be narrated in text boxes by a local. But, in short, Green Arrow uses his trick arrows to find and drill for oil. The story is six pages long.

Aquaman's Tale: This six-pager appears in the middle of the book and was titled "Aquaman's Undersea Partner". The splash page shows Aquaman and three sea creatures beating up on four crooks. Aquaman himself is punching a crook, a whale is using its blowhole to splash the driver of the boat, an octopus has tentacles wrapped around his crook's face, body, and leg and is pulling the guy into the water, and a swordfish has somehow managed to spear the seat of his crook's pants.

The story starts in the two panels at the bottom of the splash page, as we see two Mounties watching their prey escape into the open ocean. They radio Aquaman, who cracks a little joke:

At least, I think it's a joke, as Aquaman has every creature of the deep as a sidekick, so why would he need a horse? But the Mountie takes his comment seriously, and Aquaman apparently takes the suggestion to pick just one sea creature equally seriously. And so a contest begins... whatever sea creature serves Aquaman the best in the next 12 hours will become his regular sidekick.

The first contestant is the Octopus. While he seems to do well at first, he apparently gets tangled up in a nearby ship's propellers, and Aquaman chastises him for it:

Note how sad the Octopus looks in this picture.

With the Octopus eliminated, Aquaman calls in another contestant, the Swordfish. This contestant does fine, but Aquaman sends him back to the Mounties with another captured crook and calls in his third creature, the Whale. The whale mainly uses his spout to help Aquaman, only using his strength after the battle is won to push the crook's boat back to the Mounties.

As Aquaman starts to make his decision on which animal to choose, he remembers that the captain of the ship that the octopus got tangled in wanted a word with him, so he goes to chat with him first. Good choice, as the information the captain had was crucial to Aquaman making his decision.

It turns out that the octopus had not "pulled a boner" (as the Mountie put it), but had instead been helping the ship get out of the way of an iceberg. Since the Octopus was thinking independently and saved the ship without explicit instructions, Aquaman chooses him as his new partner.

Observations: Aquaman seems predisposed to choosing the Octopus, and is very disappointed when it apparently fails.

There are a total of six crooks. The octopus helps take out two, the swordfish takes out one (and disables their boat), and the whale takes out the other three. Other characters include the two Mounties and their horses, and the captain and crew of the unnamed ship.

We have no idea what the crooks did, as the only reference to their crimes is that they escaped from prison. This is pretty typical of the Silver Age. The superheroes often go after criminals for crimes that are unmentioned or undefined. Perhaps they didn't want to give their readers any ideas.

There is an iceberg in the waters in this story. I'm not sure how long the Swordfish could survive in such cold water.

The whale, like virtually every whale in classic Aquaman stories, is apparently a small sperm whale.

The Mounties know about the contest, but could the captain of the ship have also known? Is that why he wanted to talk with Aquaman? If so, how did the news of Aquaman's contest spread so quickly? And for that matter, how did the Mounties know that the Octopus had apparently screwed up?

Aquaman has green gloves in this story.

Body Count: Nobody dies.

Named Characters/Places/Ships: The only named character is Aquaman himself. Even the Octopus does not get a name until Adventure Comics #232, despite appearing in both intervening stories.

Loose Ends: We don't know if Aquaman helped to fix the ship that his Octopus saved, but they weren't in too much trouble.

Concluding Thoughts: A typical Silver Age story. The addition of the Mounties is a nice touch, as it indicates that Aquaman works with law enforcement around the world. The art is very solid, and the coloring works well with the story.

Lastly: I thought I'd just point you to my wantlist again. You know, in case you've run across any of the stories I'm missing.

Next up: Duplication.