Aqualad: "What's the matter, Aquaman?"
Aquaman: "I don't know. The fish are trying to tell me something."
My man Arthur Curry (aka Aquaman) has been around a long time, having debuted in More Fun Comics in 1941 and off-and-on starring in his own comic book. And, despite the longevity and near-but-not-quite iconic stature, there are busloads of people who just aren't feeling Aquaman. And I guess I can see where they're coming from. He's a bit hard to pigeonhole, this outsider, as he's forever tiptoeing the line of superhero and undersea sovereign. Priorities are a definite issue. With much cooler capes like Batman, Superman, the Flash, and Green Lantern doing their thing, Aquaman as a superhero pales in comparison, right? I mean, he's a guy whose super powers are chit-chatting with fish, breathing underwater, and swimming really fast. And these talents don't really translate well when he ventures to shore. Not to mention, remove him from his watery environs for longer than an hour, and he croaks. Wussy stuff, right? But here's the thing: I dig Aquaman. I liked him lots when I was a mere tadpole, and this was because of his cartoon show. When I was a teen it became more of a pity liking, a rooting-for-the-underdog thing. I felt bad for the guy, relegated all the time to secondary status in the Super Friends show and in the JLA comics. But at least he had his own cartoons.
From 1967 to 1968, CBS thrilled kids of all ages with THE SUPERMAN/AQUAMAN HOUR OF ADVENTURE, a Filmation-produced animated series. This hour-long show, comprised of 7 minute episodes, not only starred the titular superheroes (and Superboy) but also provided "guest" episodes featuring the Flash, Hawkman, the Atom, Green Lantern, the JLA, and the Teen Titans. Later in 1968, this show was retooled as a half hour show and titled simply AQUAMAN, although the "guest" spots were still re-ran (Superman and Superboy, however, were ix-nayed). Maybe, someday, we'll see a dvd with these "guest" episodes, but for now I feel good that the high muck-a-mucks are releasing the entire Aquaman cartoon collection.
THE ADVENTURES OF AQUAMAN - THE COMPLETE COLLECTION returns us to a time when Aquaman was perceived as clean-cut, straight-laced, and non-controversial, long before writer Peter David got his nervy hands on him in the mid-'90s and proceeded to do the big makeover. Fans of the Justice League Unlimited TV series would now know him as a burly, long-haired, bearded figure, arrogant and lordly, naked to the waist and with a hook for a hand. And someone NOT to be effed with. I don't know what DC Comics has in store for Aquaman because I haven't been keeping up with his current title (although I hear AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS just ended its run with issue #57). Anyway, his more recent incarnation is quite a drastic change from his erstwhile squeaky clean image. Speaking of which, let's go back to the Aquaman cartoons.
The Aquaman cartoons shy from typical superhero fare, certain limitations coming with having the ocean as your workplace. No cops and robbers as we know it. No familiar cityscapes. The rules are different. And, yet, there's evidently more villainy in the waters than one would assume. Assisting Aquaman (and sometimes hindering him) in his policing of the Seven Seas and safeguarding the domed city of Atlantis are Aqualad (a clear sidekick ripoff of Robin) and the lovely Mera, whom I don't think is Aquaman's wife here. Aquaman doesn't really have a standout cast of supervillains on his rolodex, perhaps another reason why he's not more popular. Black Manta, his most vaunted superfoe, makes two appearances ("Menace of the Black Manta" and "The Silver Sphere"). The Sea King is equally busy with other recurring nasties the Mer-Queen Vassa, the Fisherman, and the Brain. Aquaman also tackles a bevy of vile deep sea monsters or creatures and dastardly space aliens, one race of whom merely wanted to shrink and collect ocean life samples, but they should never have taken Tusky. And, sometimes, Aquaman's adventures enter into the realm of the just plain weird. "War of the Water Worlds," for one - in which Aquaman stumbles onto another water world lying beneath the ocean - is memorable for the grotesque fishes and monsters.
All 36 shorts are here in all their 7 minute glory, and they look fabulous on my screen. These Aquaman cartoons didn't try to change the world or champion a cause or go overboard with plot or character development. At seven minutes long, is you crazy? Not much chance here for intricate world shaking stuff. Instead, these episodes are ideal for the kiddies and their miniscule attention span. Aquaman made an impression on me when I first saw him on the idiot box, what with the aquatic superheroics and the nutty walrus and cool seahorses and the science-fictiony Aqua Cave and the very cool watery kingdom. The clearest memory I probably have of this show is Aquaman fashioning hard water spheres or swirls with his hands and then pelting 'em at whatever. The undersea world is conveyed in a wash of brilliant colors, lending it a truly mysterious and otherworldly feel. And I remember how I keenly marveled at the grace with which Aquaman and company navigated thru the deeps. For late '60s animation, Filmation did excellent work, with special note to the characters' smooth movements. I try not to use the adjective "gorgeous" too much, because, well, you know...But, what the hell, this show looks gorgeous! And, if nothing else, you get to learn more about the many denizens of the sea as Aquaman is forever asking for help from the fishies.
Episode 1 & 2 - "Menace of the Black Manta"/"The Rampaging Reptile-Men"
Episode 3 & 4 - "The Return of Nepto"/"The Fiery Invaders"
Episode 5 & 6 - "Sea Raiders"/"War of the Water Worlds"
Episode 7 & 8 - "The Volcanic Monster"/"The Crimson Monster from the Pink Pool"
Episode 9 & 10 - "The Ice Dragon"/"The Deadly Drifters"
Episode 11 & 12 - "Vassa, Queen of the Mermen"/"The Microscopic Monsters"
Episode 13 & 14 - "The Onslaught of the Octomen"/"Treacherous Is the Torpedoman"
Episode 15 & 16 - "The Satanic Saturnians"/"The Brain, the Brave and the Bold"
Episode 17 & 18 - "Where Lurks the Fisherman!"/"Mephisto's Marine Marauders"
Episode 19 & 20 - "Trio of Terror"/"The Torp, the Magneto and the Claw"
Episode 21 & 22 - "Goliaths of the Deep-Sea Gorge"/"The Sinister Sea Scamp"
Episode 23 & 24 - "The Devil Fish"/"The Sea Scavengers"
Episode 25 & 26 - "In Captain Cuda's Clutches"/"The Mirror-Man from Planet Imago"
Episode 27 & 28 - "The Sea Sorcerer"/"The Sea-Snares of Captain Sly"
Episode 29 & 30 - "The Undersea Trojan Horse"/"The Vicious Villainy of Vassa"
Episode 31 & 32 - "Programmed for Destruction"/"The War of the Quatix and the Bimphars"
Episode 33 & 34 - "The Stickmen of Stygia"/"Three Wishes to Trouble"
Episode 35 & 36 - "The Silver Sphere"/"To Catch a Fisherman"
Special Feature: "Aquaman: The Sovereign of the Seas" - A neat 26-minute-long retrospective featurette which covers Aquaman's comic book evolution, his involvement with HBO's Entourage, his guest spots in SMALLVILLE and the TV pilot which was supposed to (but never did) lead to an ongoing live-action series.