Sunday, January 30, 2005

Retro Reviews - Duplication

I don't know if anyone is actually interested in these. My last Retro Review got no comments... the first one did fine but then there was the whole Namor-thing going with the origin of Aquaman. I guess the Silver Age is just boring? Ah well, if nobody comments on this one, I'll know to drop this feature. It's a lot of work.

This week I bring you a strange artefact of the old way comics were written. The duplicated story. I've found two examples of it in Aquaman, and I'm only going to focus on one of them because I don't have scans from the Golden Age version of the other example, only fiche. There may be more examples in Aquaman's history, but I haven't found them yet if there are. These two are very obvious cases.

In the Silver Age, sometimes an editor would take an old story script and rewrite it a little to update it. Then he would give the script to the current artist who would draw a completely new story. In many cases, the script is close enough to the original to match up lines. In the following case, it isn't only the script that's close... the artist is the same in both stories! I present to you "The Queen of the Sea" and "Aqua-Queen" from Adventure Comics #187 and #274, drawn by Ramona Fradon.

Adventure Comics #187/274

The story: After Aquaman judges a contest, one of the losers is sore enough to use tricks to embarrass Aquaman. Aquaman figures out how she's pulling the tricks, but doesn't expose her hoax, leading her to confess out of guilt.

Adventure Comics #187 has a cover date of April 1953. It is a 44 page book and Aquaman shares the pages with Superboy, Johnny Quick, and Green Arrow. The Aquaman story is five and 2/3 pages long and is titled "The Queen of the Sea". See the GCD for details and cover.

Adventure Comics #274 has a cover date of July 1960. It is a 36 page book and Aquaman shares the pages with Superboy and Congorilla. The Aquaman story is seven pages long and is titled "Aqua-Queen". See the GCD for details and cover.

Note: The story in Adventure Comics #273 is also a duplicate, this one of a 1942 More Fun Comics story! Trust me, if I had a copy of More Fun #86, I'd do this project with that story as well.

Both stories start out exactly the same: "One day, at a swimming meet held for charity..." and diverge a little from there.

Note that in the very next panel of the later story, Aquaman repeats his first line from the earlier story "Yes, I hate to disappoint anyone... but I'm afraid it can't be helped!", only with a new twist thrown in: "I hate to disappoint anyone, Aqualad! But I'm afraid it can't be helped!" Aqualad's presence changed the story mostly in respect to who Aquaman was talking with about the situation. For most of the story, Aqualad is pretty much a fifth wheel.

Next we have the panel in which our sore loser is identified. In Adventure #187 she's "Ann Collins, the wealthy heiress!" In Adventure #274 she's "Dale Conroy, the wealthy heiress!"

In the next panel, Aquaman says "Too Bad! But I wasn't asked to pick the richest swimmer... just the fastest one!" In the later version he expounds on that a little. Apparently in the later story he's judging more than just speed. That's a weakness with the first version of the story, by the way. Everyone in the audience should have been able to figure out who was fastest if it was a flat out race. In the second version, Aquaman makes it clear he isn't talking about speed: "But I wasn't asked to pick the richest girl! Just the best all-round aquatic performer! And she is anything but that!"

The story moves to a time "months later" when Aquaman is either an observer at a test of the Navy's new "atom-powered torpedo" (!) or Aquaman and Aqualad are observers during the recovery of the nose cone of a space rocket. Of course, something goes wrong and Aquaman is sent to recover the speeding piece of hardware. Only, he doesn't get the chance...

The interloper turns the out-of-control hardware around as the Navy men comment that Aquaman's face must be red. In both stories we get a nice shot of Aquaman's confusion as he deals with the fact that somebody was faster than him (and Aqualad).

He's even more surprised when he gets back to the Navy ship and faces his new rival.

At this point, the stories diverge. The later story has another page and a half to fill, and so there is an extra set of challenges. Dale Conroy challenges Aquaman to a battle of controlling fish, which she wins. That challenge does not appear in the earlier story.

The next challenge is to stay underwater. In the older story, Aquaman stays underwater 15 minutes, which is "about five times as long as any human can endure!" In the later story he stays underwater an hour, which is "twenty times as long as any human being can endure!"

Of course he's shocked when he finds out he came up before his challenger, and assumes that she's drowned. She pops up just then, and has a little fun at Aquaman's expense: "Well, well.. and now it seems that I've succeeded in staying under water longer than Aquaman, too!" Aquaman's response: "Impossible!"

The news across the world reports Aquaman's defeat, while Aquaman goes off to ponder this turn of events. In the older version, Aquaman notices that fish are avoiding a certain area, and discovers a glass chamber that Ann used to stay underwater. In the later version, Aqualad dives down and bonks into the chamber that Dale used. But in both stories it's a bunch of expensive gadgets that let the wealthy heiress challenge Aquaman.

In a final challenge, Aquaman and the heiress are sent to get some rare plants. Aquaman sees the midget sub that Ann/Dale uses... but is surprised when she slows down upon entering a school of fish in order to not hurt any, despite it meaning that Aquaman can beat her. He chooses to not race ahead, and she beats him yet again. She notices his restraint and questions him about it. He explains that her compassion for the fish led him to allow her to win.

Out of gratitude... or guilt... she decides to retire. That last line of Aquaman's, though, is delivered completely different in each story. And in the end, Ann and Dale aren't quite as similar as being in the same script might suggest.

Concluding Thoughts: I could go into a bit of speculation on why scripts were reused at that particular time, but I really don't know. I know that Aquaman was not unique in having duplicated scripts, and that it's one of those fun things to look out for when collecting one character through the ages. This one was a bit unusual in that it was only seven years in between the stories, and that the same artist drew both stories.

Lastly: I don't know if anyone is reading or enjoying these. If you are, a comment would be nice payment for my effort. I thought I'd also point you all to my wantlist again in case you've run across any old issues of Adventure or More Fun in the last week.

Next up: If there's interest, I think I'll tackle Aquaman's second ever story (and first ever recurring villain).


Update Jan 31st 10 am: Fixed typos, added a couple of clarifiations.