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Sunday, August 05, 2007

(Black) Manta Week, Part 7: Adventure Comics #452 - Aug. 1977

sgWe end our (Black) Manta Week with this, "Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams" by David Michelinie and Jim Aparo, a story featuring the single nastiest blow a villain has ever dealt a superhero.

Many people would say the Joker killing Robin II holds that title, but I would argue this is worse--Robin, even though he was still a kid, was engaging in dangerous superheroics, and one could argue that someone, anyone who puts on a costume who takes on super-villains is "fair game."

But when Manta kidnaps Arthur Jr.--who is barely past being an infant--and puts him in a death-trap that leads to him actually being killed, he has gone beyond any notion of "rules" of conduct. It's such a grim stroke to the story that you kind of can't believe you just read it.

How Aquaman, who has never had a great control of his temper anyway, didn't immediately murder Manta the next time he saw him, is something that I think has never been adequately resolved. Sure, much like the Joker, he's too good a villain to kill off, but even as a kid I never totally bought that Aquaman wouldn't spend the rest of his days hunting down and killing Black Manta--and be pretty morally justified in doing so.

Worse still, Manta makes Aquaman choose between saving the life of Aqualad or his son, and instantly Aquaman says "sucks to be you, Garth" and fights him. So of course, not only does Arthur jr. die, but his relationship with Aqualad is shaken--though I have to admit, Garth giving Arthur crap about while he's cradling his son's corpse makes Garth seem...unsympathetic, to say the least. Hey, Garth, can you think about something other than yourself for five minutes?

There's an argument to be made that this was the beginning of a real downward trend for the character, since many writers since turned Aquaman into a brooding, mopey jerk, forever pining his dead son, his previously-blissful marriage shattered. It certainly is one of the most shocking acts of villainy ever seen in a mainstream superhero comic, and it was delivered by Black Manta!


Rick L. Phillips said...

I would want to kill anyone who killed my son too. However, no matter how many times I have seen in real life or in books that a villain should be killed I have to remind myself that you are robbing them of their chance to change their life. Saddly this rarely happens in life or ficition but it does from time to time.

rob! said...

>>and be pretty morally justified in doing so.<<

i realize i shouldve clarified this a touch, since i didnt mean to be making some sort of moral statment.

i meant "justified" within the world of comics, where heroes like Wolverine kill guys because they dont want to take the time to tie them up! Aquaman killing Manta for murdering his son would cause barely a ripple in that atmosphere.

Rick L. Phillips said...

I'm sorry I didn't mean to say you were making a moral judgement. What I wrote was just something that came to my mind when I read it.

rob! said...

oh, Rick, i didnt think you were! it was just your post made me think about what i wrote and how i didnt really put it in a context.

in terms of comic book violence, there really is no justifiable story reason why the next Aquaman story after this one didn't open with Aquaman laying over a lifeless Manta, saying something like "well, that takes care of that!" :)

Anonymous said...

Adventure Comics #452!

A couple of comments about THE coolest comic I ever read as a kid.

It’s my favorite comic book cover, ever. The cover to Teen Titans #28 by Nick Cardy featuring Aqualad decking Robin is a close second but this is numero uno. Garth in a position of power on my #’s 1 and 2? Maybe Aqualad is my real fav’!

“I’m sorry minnow but that’s my son up there.” is probably the single most memorable line of dialogue from my comics-reading youth. The “minnow” comment aside, it just seemed so “real” to my 11 year old mind.

Despite the father / son tone of their early Silver Age adventures, I always thought that this forced battle between Aquaman and Aqualad made pretty clear that their relationship was that of surrogate siblings. Consider all the horrible things that Aquaman did to his young ward once Mera showed up. Seems to me like classic older brother / younger brother stuff. I really dislike when later writers have had Arthur refer to Garth as his “son”. If Arthur is Garth’s “older brother” he’s a lout. If Arthur is Garth’s “father” he needs to be locked up for mental and physical cruelty.

And about this battle. Consider: Aqualad is roughly 18 at the time. We know this because in the story leading up to this event, Garth and Tula are undercover on a showboat casino type thing (Tula in an evening dress – hubba hubba!). Garth asks Tula about her consumption of alcohol and, with much attitude she replies, hey, don’t be such a stick in the mud, I’m 18, or words to that effect. So, Garth is most likely 18, as well. He could be 19 and still be a Teen Titan (which he was around the same time) or he could be 17 or even 16 (right on Garth!) Regardless, he’s still a kid. And he’s fighting Aquaman. At some point when we’ve got the real Aquaman back, I’d love for a writer to address this issue properly (ie: the way I would :-)).

Garth brings it up: “Remember that time you tried to kill me without a moment’s hesitation?”

Arthur turns on him angrily: “I don’t believe this! After all these years I’ve still got to spell it out for you! Listen up ‘minnow’, you were, what, 18 years old? I’m King of the @#%$ing Seas! The Marine @#$%ing Marvel! A member of The World’s Greatest @#$%ing Super-Heroes! If I was really trying to kill you – YOU’D BE DEAD! It was a ploy to keep Manta happy until I could figure out a way for us to save my son, you moron! Now, drop it!”

Doesn’t that make much more sense? I’ll reserve my comments on Aquaman’s not killing Manta for when you post the cover to Aquaman #57.

Sorry ‘bout getting so verbose, Rob. Be thankful I didn’t go into just how I obtained this issue. Maybe if I ever get my own blog …

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

rob! said...

ah, dont sweat it, i LOVE verbose comments!

and i agree on the whole Aquagirl thing--"hubba hubba" indeed.

Anonymous said...

I distinctly remember reading this comic as a kid. The fight between the best friends (I considered them closer than Batman and Robin, at least at this point) was shocking enough, but then the ending...! I figured, Yea, AJ will be okay. Just wait until next issue. It was Adventure #453 that really shocked me, because, lo and behold, AJ really WAS dead!!! I'll never forget this story. Powerful, powerful stuff. I just wish that the level of quality of this series was continued, and maybe Arthur and Mera tried again and had another child, and things went in a different direction (from, you know, her going crazy and Arthur losing a hand and going all grunge)...

Anonymous said...

This stands, in my mind at least, as the millstone about Arthur's neck, the single thing that has dragged every comic from here on into the dregs. Although this story may be a good one, the loss of his son is a tragedy that I can hardly countenance in comics. Aside from that, because DC seems to stick to the worst of continuity, this story and all of the anguish following it continue to Mar Aquaman today.

I think that the JLU version of this tale says a lot more about the character of Aquaman, and was a far better story. The man cuts off his own hand to save his son......that's just TOUGH!