I’ve written before on this blog about the fact that as much as I loved the Justice League of America as a young reader — their series was the first comic book I actively collected — it took me some time to get around to sampling all of the team members’ solo titles. While I bought comics starring Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman all within the first six months or so of my picking up the comic book habit, it took me another whole year, and then some, to give the last three JLA headliners’ books a shot. Then, as I’ve related in earlier posts this year, I finally got around to buying an issue of Wonder Woman in May, 1967, and an issue of Atom in June. That left only one to go — Aquaman.
Unlike with Wonder Woman and the Atom, however, where I’m not sure what exactly motivated me finally to take the plunge and pick up an issue of their series, I have little doubt what ultimately sold me on the King of the Seven Seas. It was television.
More specifically, it was this program:
Aquaman #36 was released on Thursday, September 7, 1967. The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure premiered on the CBS Television Network a couple of days later, on the morning of Saturday, September 9. So it’s possible that I bought and read the comic book before I saw the TV show — but I doubt it. I was ten years old at the time, and I hadn’t figured out how to get to one of the various retail establishments that sold comics in my vicinity on my own yet. I was still dependent on Mom or Dad driving me to the Tote-Sum or Short Stop or Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime, and I didn’t get to make the trip every day new comics went on sale. It’s more likely that I picked up Aquaman #36 the week following the television program’s premiere — though it could have been the second or third week, or even later.
If you’re not all that familiar with the Filmation-produced TV series, and you’ve just had a peek at the video above, you may wonder why the show wasn’t named, say, The DC Super Heroes Hour of Adventure, since it seems to have featured a whole lot of other characters besides the Man of Steel and the Sea King — the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Teen Titans, even the whole blamed Justice League of America appearing as a team, for goodness’ sake. The fact is, however, that everyone besides Superman and Aquaman appeared only on a rotating basis, cycling through the same weekly 10-minute slot. Over the 36-episode course of the series, therefore, the Atom (for example) appeared in just 3 solo adventures, compared to (you guessed it) 36 appearances for Arthur Curry and his supporting cast.
About that supporting cast: Along with Aquaman, the TV adventures also featured his protégé Aqualad and wife Mera (although the latter was never identified as the lead character’s spouse on the TV series), as well as two jumbo-sized seahorses, Storm and Imp, that served as the guys’ transportation. Another animal pal, Tusky the walrus, rounded out the roster of regular or recurring characters.
How many of those characters would I have already known from comic books? Well, I’d been seeing Aqualad in DC house ads for Teen Titans for a year or so, but I hadn’t actually read an issue. And none of the characters, humanoid or otherwise, had appeared with the Sea King in any issues I owned of Justice League of America. I had, however, picked up The Brave and The Bold #73 back in June — an issue which, perhaps coincidentally (and perhaps not) co-starred the last two Justice Leaguers whose solo titles I had yet to sample as the summer began, Aquaman and the Atom. (As noted earlier, I picked up my first issue of Atom that same month.) And, as fate would have it, all five of the supporting players of Aquaman’s yet-to-air animated incarnation turned up in that book. For the non-humanoids — Storm, Imp, and Tusky — it was their first comic book outing.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, BatB #73 was written by Bob Haney and edited by George Kashdan, who also performed the same roles on the Aquaman book itself. Both men had been enlisted to write scripts for the Aquaman episodes of The Superman/Aquaman Hour, as well. So they were well-positioned not only to be aware of the new characters and concepts introduced into their hero’s world by the animated version, but also to incorporate those elements into the comic books that remained their primary gig, even months in advance of the TV series’ premiere.
All of which may help to explain how, even if I’d never read an Aquaman solo story prior to issue #36’s “What Seeks the Awesome Threesome?” (written by Haney, with art by Nick Cardy), I came to this tale somewhat more familiar with its star’s milieu than I would have been if all I’d already known about the Sea King had come by way of his JLA appearances.
The story opens in an unspecifed (but presumably American) location, where a world’s fair, “Expo – 21st Century”, is underway:
(There was indeed a world’s fair in 1967, Expo 67, held in Montreal, Canada from April through October of that year. Its theme, however, was “Man and His World”, not the 21st century, so it doesn’t sync up with the one in this story. Nevertheless, probably every reader of Aquaman #36 at the time it came out, my ten-year-old self included, would have thought immediately of the Canadian exposition when they saw this panel. World’s fairs were a big deal back in those days.)
As readers, we follow the long, winding line of fairgoers until at last we reach the expo’s most popular attraction:
(Aquaman nailed it, didn’t he? I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s absolutely fabulous to be living here in the 21st century, with our “many cities below the waves”. And, of course, our jetpacks!)
As noted earlier, I’d already made the acquaintance of Mera, Aqualad, and royal scion Aquababy (and yeah, that’s what everybody always called him, including his parents, although he did also have a “real” name — Arthur Curry, Jr.), but this was my introduction to that swingin’ chick Aquagirl (née Tula) — who, like Aquababy, was a regular supporting character in the Aquaman comic book, but didn’t make the transition to the animated series. In Aquababy’s case, that’s probably because the show’s producers at Filmation weren’t interested in presenting the Sea King as an undersea family man (as I indicated earlier, the show gave barely a hint of a romantic relationship between Mera and Arthur, Sr., let alone a marital one). In the case of Aquagirl, however, it may simply be that she’d been introduced in the comic book too recently to have figured into the conceptualization and planning of the TV series (her first appearance, after all, had been just three issues earlier, in #33 ).
Aquagirl plays a pretty limited role in the story, but I feel obliged to note that, for what it’s worth, her two-piece costume probably revealed more skin than that of any other superheroine I was familiar with in the late ’60s — which is probably at least one reason why, about a year or so later, she’d emerge as my first comic-book crush. (Though that’s a topic for another time, methinks.)
Yep, Aqualad and Aquagirl are shakin’ it with some aquatic fauna — not only TV-derived newcomer Tusky (looking a bit more like an actual walrus in Nick Cardy’s depiction than in his animated incarnation), but also old-timer Topo, whose association with Aquaman goes all the way back to 1956, and Adventure Comics #229.
After their show’s over, Aquaman and company take some time away from their exhibit to take in the rest of the fair — unaware that trouble’s on the way:
The robotic creatures known as the “Awesome Threesome” — Torpedo Man, Claw, and Magneto (no, not that one) — first head to the Atlantean pavilion and wreck it, with the aim of distracting Aquaman while they perform the mission the mysterious “he” has given them. Then, while Aquaman and Aqualad respond to an alert about the damage to their exhibit, the villains head to another pavilion where a weightlessness-generating machine called a “Gyro-Molecularizer” is on display. They begin to attack the device, but the two Atlantean heroes are already on their trail, and before long…
Unfortunately, our heroes don’t fare too well in their initial battle against these “three old enemies” (though just how “old” the Awesome Threesome are as Aqua-foes is a matter we’ll need to deal with a little further on). Magneto electro-shocks the Sea King into insensibility, Claw clobbers the younger Marine Marvel, and the whole trio finishes smashing the Gyro-Moleculizer before making their escape. Aquaman and Aqualad soon recover, however, and, accompanied now by Mera and Aquababy, again take up the pursuit of their foes:
“Big, nasty mans!” indeed, Aquababy! The alien being immediately goes on a rampage, smashing a monorail and endangering its riders:
Aquaman and Aqualad manage to rescue all the monorail’s passengers, but the Sea King doesn’t come out of the encounter unscathed:
Mera happens to be a refugee from an alien dimension, in case you didn’t know, which is why she (and son Aquababy) have the ability to create and manipulate “hard” water constructs, while Aquaman and Aqualad don’t. (Although the producers of the animated TV episodes, having deciding to ignore Mera’s alien background as well as to dispense with Aquababy altogether, couldn’t quite bring themselves to part with the hard-water concept completely, and thus ended up giving the power to Aquaman himself, who generally used it to make balls to throw at his enemies.)
The alien smashes the hard-water constructs, but finds himself at least momentarily stymied by a blast of “regular” water from a fire hose wielded by Aqualad:
The Marine Marvels follow the mysterious being into the river, and from there to the open sea, where the alien demonstrates telepathic control over sea creatures similar to the Sea King’s by commandeering a kraken. Seeing their quarry take off in the direction of the real undersea city of Atlantis, their home, Aquaman and Aqualad pursue on swordfish-back:
This time, the Aqua-duo fares better against the Awesome Threesome, vanquishing them with the timely aid of a “fish armada”. Still, the mysterious alien arrives at Atlantis’ dome before our heroes can reach him:
OK, so… the big green alien was a convicted criminal, but his sentence (strongly implied to have been 5,000 years in duration) was up, and he wasn’t going to be able to go home unless the Gyro-Moleculizer, which somehow prevented his underground cocoon prison from dissolving, was destroyed. So the Awesome Threesome, bad guys or not, were kind of doing a good thing by assisting the alien con, and our heroes were mostly just… in the way. Yes, the alien behaved in a rather anti-social fashion when he was finally able to break free, but we should probably allow for a certain degree of disorientation after five millennia of imprisonment, and cut the guy a little slack.
In other words, all that running around and fighting was essentially for nothing — nothing, that is, besides filling up twenty-two pages of comics. At least there’s that!
And at least my ten-year-old self got a look at these “three old enemies” of the Sea King. Though I had no idea when or where they’d appeared before, this threesome of apparently autonomous, undersea-based robotic beings must have an interesting back-story, right? And how long would it be before the Awesome Threesome returned to menace Atlantis, as Torpedo Man promised the Marine Marvels as he sank out of sight?
The answers to those two questions, which I didn’t discover myself until doing my research for this blog post, are: not necessarily; and, basically forever.
For, in spite of the story’s assertions that Torpedo Man, Magneto, and Claw had all fought Aquaman before, and would one day return to do so again, Aquaman #36 was their first appearance; and it would also be their last, at least so far as Aquaman comics are concerned. Though it wasn’t quite their last in an Aquaman adventure, and, in fact, not even in an Aquaman adventure released in 1967.
Because the leader of the crew, Torpedo Man, would soon turn up in the 14th Aquaman-starring episode of The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, “Treacherous Is The Torpedo Man” — and would then come back for yet another appearance, this time with his two robotic buds, in episode 20, “The Torp, The Magneto And The Claw”. Both of which, it will likely come as a surprise to no one, were written by none other than regular Aquaman comics scribe Bob Haney.
The animated versions of the Awesome Threesome had a somewhat different color scheme than their comics incarnations, but otherwise looked very much the same, as you can see from the image below. According to Michael Eury in his book Hero-A-Go-Go!, Aquaman artist Nick Cardy contributed to the Aquaman cartoons alongside Haney and George Kashdan — so it seems likely he had a hand in these characters’ designs.
But if you expect that Haney would have used the opportunity presented by the animated episodes to flesh out the origins and motivations of his terrible trio of metallic menaces, I’m afraid that you’re in for some disappointment. Like the comic book story that preceded it, “Treacherous Is The Torpedo Man” brings the titular character onstage as someone who’s fought the Marine Marvels in the past, and doesn’t give us any new information about his background. (Not that you could expect Haney to fit a lot of exposition into a six-and-a-half minute cartoon, but he could have given us something.) But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it — check this classic adventure out for yourself:
The follow-up, featuring “The Torp, The Magneto, and The Claw”, is more of the same, with all three villains remaining completely mysterious — and with all three being handily defeated by Aquaman, with the aid of Aqualad, Mera, and (of course) Tusky:
I was grousing earlier about the fact that the action in Aquaman #36, plentiful as it is, doesn’t seem to amount to much of anything — but I have to say that the plotting in these two cartoons makes that in “What Seeks the Awesome Threesome?” seem like the height of sophisticated storytelling. Oh, well. I hope Bob Haney was paid well for the animated gig, at least.
(Earlier in this post, I indicated that the Awesome Threesome would never show up again to bother Aquaman and company in the comics, and that’s essentially true — though, for completeness’ sake, I should mention that Torpedo Man made a brief cameo as a member of Alexander Luthor’s super-villain army in Villains United #5 [Nov., 2005], and “alternate continuity” versions of all three robotic villains put in an appearance in Batman: Li’l Gotham #7 [Dec., 2013]. Is that the last we’ll ever see of them? Maybe, but I wouldn’t put money on it.)
But now, let’s return to Aquaman #36 to wrap things up. The “story”, such as it is, is pretty much over by the last panel of page 22, reproduced above — but we have one more page (or, more accurately, a half-page) of comics left to go. And it’s wholly taken up by the panel below, which shows Aquaman and family back at Expo-21, once again enjoying a glimpse into the “way-out world” of the 21st century, the same world that you and I are living in today:
(I still want my jetpack, dammit.)
So much for my first issue of Aquaman. What did my ten-year-old self make of it, at the time? I don’t really recall, which to me suggests it didn’t make much of an impression one way or the other. I do know that though I would continue to follow the Sea King’s animated adventures on Saturday mornings for as long as The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure ran*, I wouldn’t get around to picking up another issue of his book until #42, published a year later. By that time, George Kashdan was gone, as was Bob Haney, and Nick Cardy was only doing the book’s covers. There was a new editor-writer-artist team on board, and they were already well underway on a run that I, and many other fans, still consider to be the best in Aquaman’s history. But — that’s a discussion for another day, and a later post. Check back with me around this same time next year, however, and I’ll be happy to tell you all about it.
*In the fall of 1968, the show was replaced on CBS’ schedule by The Batman/Superman Hour, which disappointed my eleven-year-old self mightily. Not because I preferred Aquaman to Batman — far from it — but because the new show dropped the rotating segments featuring the Justice League, Teen Titans, et al. It would be about a decade before characters like Flash and Green Lantern would return to television in animated form.