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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Superboy #171 - Jan. 1971

sgComics Weekend Superboy meets...Aquaboy??

Having never been a big fan of Superboy, I never really bothered with his comics (I only ever bought The Legion of Superheroes until after they had pushed Superboy out of his own book), so this was one of those comics I only recently discovered--I think I saw the cover in Carmine Infantino's book, The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, and made a mental note to pick it up sometime.

Before we get into the issue, let's talk about the nice, but strangely familiar cover, by Infantino and Murphy Anderson-- Aquaman/boy looks really roughed up there!

(As to the "strangely familiar" part, we'll get to that in a moment)

Anyway, inside, we see Superboy as he flies over two fishermen who seemed to have landed something big--really big
Superboy sees who--or what--ever it is, its covered in crude oil! He grabs the unconscious creature, and takes it to an industrial detergents company, and dunks the poor sod into a vat of chemicals.

This works, and we see who the oil-caked being is:

...Aquaman! Er, Aquaboy!

Superboy doesn't know who this guy is, but is shocked to see that he can breath and talk underwater! He explains he is Aquaboy, and explains how he ended up covered in oil.

While in the ocean, he saw one of his finny friends--a dolphin--in the same condition, and tried to rescue it. Unfortunately, he is too late:
...I love Aquaman--er, Aquaboy(dang!) flying out of the water like that. It always looks so dynamic to me.

Anyway, Aquaboy asks to talk to the ship's captain, to tell him they are spilling oil into the water. They ship's crew doesn't care to listen, going so far as to hit Arthur over the head (starting a tradition that would last through his whole superhero career) and throwing him overboard, and then covering him in oil. The captain is not about to lose money and shut down production because of some orange-shirted, fish-loving freak!

It's here we come back to the present, and Superboy is equally unhappy with the situation. He takes Aquaboy to the headquarters of the oil company, who tell them both in no uncertain terms to get lost.

Superboy then tries a more direct approach, grabbing the offending tanker and moving it back to where it came from--Saudi Arabia!:
...and you think oil futures speculators and lack of refining capabilites drive up gas prices? Howabout out of control teenage superheroes??

Aquaboy and Superboy then hatch a plan to find all the ships that are carelessly leaking their cargo into the water, and then Superboy then carts it off. The head of the oil company doesn't appreciate this, of course, so they come up with a plan to stop them.

Via the oil company's spy network, they decide to find some, er, bait--Aquaboy's girlfriend, a lithesome, skimpily dressed redhead named Marita(?):

...we can see Aquaman obviously has a type.

Using Marita as a hostage, they lure Aquaman to one of their ships, where they trap him as soon as he frees Marita.

They then tell Superboy that unless he stops his reign of terror, they will drop Aquaboy into a vat of nitroglycerin!

But this is the Boy of Steel--he flies into the sky, turning around and gaining speed until he's moving faster than supersonic velocity. He grabs Aquaboy in his net, wraps him in his cape, and tears right through the ship's hull!

Superboy then arrests everybody, and the two young heroes part, knowing this is just the first part of a long fight:
...this story, by Frank Robbins (with art by Bob Brown and Murphy Anderson), is completely insane.

Superboy is violating laws by the ton, and causing all kinds of international incidents--but that's what makes this story so fun! Who wouldn't want to see Superboy stick it to fat cats like this, with no concern about legal niceties?

This Superboy harkens back to the original conception of Superman by Siegel and Shuster--the avenger for the common man, the bringer of justice for the oppressed.

I've never heard of this Marita character, and as far as I can tell she never made another appearance. I understand why it wasn't Mera (since it had been established that Aquaman met Mera as an adult), but its funny to me that she was drawn to look like a virtual doppleganger of Aquaman's eventual wife.

I mentioned above that this issue's cover looked somewhat familiar. That's because this general cover design--and even color scheme--ended up being used on three separate Aquaman-centric covers, all around the same time:
...weird, huh? Kind of like how the late, great Julius Schwartz always believed gorillas on a cover sold comics, they also must have thought Aquaman laying on a foreground beach under a bright yellow sky was a guaranteed sale.


Hatter J said...

The cover also reminded me of Aquaman #45 as well.

Pretty cool story, and one that definitely bears searching for. I always love the Arthur as eco-hero stories.

Anonymous said...

I have this story reprinted in a digest. I can give more info later. I just have to find the darned thing first. It's one that pairs Superboy with other young versions of DC heroes.

As I recall, it also features a young Green Arrow and a Bruce Wayne as Robin story. I think it might have had a couple young Lex Luthor stories in it too.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought you were talking about AQUAMAN 45. It's very, very close to that cover.
I like this story. It's insane, but also kind of fun.

Anonymous said...

Man...I would totally read an Aqua-boy series......it could be totally awesome, with him discovering his heritage, and exploring the oceans. I'd buy that.

Paul Kupperberg said...

"...the late, great Julius Schwartz always believed gorillas on a cover sold comics..."

This wasn't just a belief: this was a documented fact! From the late-40s through the late-60s, DC had this massive ledger book-binder; on each page, for each month, was pasted a small 1.5 inch high photograph of the cover for every book published that month. Written under each cover were the issue, number & date, and four numbers: the total print run, the total number of actual copies sold, the percentage sold and the percentage returned to the distributor.

When Julie retired in the 80s, he handed a stack of books to me. Many were the reference books (many from the 30s & 40s) from which he culled so many of his science facts to create his stories (complete with brown paper bag book covers Julie made for them!)...and that ledger book, which one of the old accountants had given to Julie 20 years earlier! I kept that ledger in my office for years and used to browse through it (THE FOX & THE CROW, just so you know, was one of many low-selling titles that nonetheless outsold two months worth of FINAL CRISIS and SECRET INVASION on a regular basis; JERRY LEWIS, another low-seller, chugged along at 325,000 copies a month or so...and we all know the famous story about how BATMAN was on the verge of cancellation in 1965 with sales of under 500,000 (about a 46% sell-through) before the TV show saved it.

ANYWAY: every time STRANGE ADVENTURES or DETECTIVE or MYSTERY IN SPACE ran a gorilla on the cover, the numbers DID spike, noticeably! The gorillas-on-the-cover as a sales gimmick wasn't Julie's--that was Donnenfeld's catch, I believe--but Mr. Schwartz knew how to take advantage of the knowledge and use it to sell books and make the gimmick his own.

P.S.: When I left DC in 2006, as tempting as it was to bring that ledger book home (it had been in my care for more than a decade & I doubt anyone was aware I had it), I instead passed it, and Julie's science books, on to the DC Library for safekeeping. I'm only sorry I didn't copy it before I did...

rob! said...

paul, we need to get going on a documentary about the heyday of DC, with you as our host.

i could listen to stories like the one above ALL DAY. really.

Paul Kupperberg said...

I'm a lucky guy. I got to be a fly on the DC wall in the early 70s, just as the old guard was giving way to us young punks...I just did the math: BEFORE I got into comics, the business as we know it (ACTION #1, 1939) was 36 years old. I'm on the cusp of my 34th year as a paid professional, and my 39th year as an active fan! So, like I say: I've been lucky to witness the 2nd half of this wonderful world of comics first hand; to get to know and/or work with so many of the wonderful people who made the FIRST half of it make me want to be part of the second half: Schwartz (forever Schwartz), Infantino, Kane, Kirby, Swan, Schaffenberger, Novick, Kubert, Cardy, Draut, Tuska, Morisi, Blaisdell, Orlando, Andru, Kanigher, Boltinoff, Vern (or Reed, depending), Evans, Heck, Estrada, Colletta, Boyette, Ditko...oh, the do DOES go on! And I knew a whole lot of the new guys (Chaykin, Wrightson, Milgrom) from hanging my brother, who hung with them. Wein, Wolfman, Gerber, Isabella, Stern, Byrne, Staton...yoiks, I'm a name-dropping fool! But it's awesome to me, who's still the 13-year old fanboy who cut school to take the tour of the DC offices in 1968 inside! I get a thrill every time I see someone like Joe Kubert or Neal Adams and they greet me by name!!! THESE GUYS KNOW MY NAME, OHMIGOD HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?!



Paul Kupperberg said...

While I wrote "...oh, the do DOES go on!"


"...oh, the list DO go on!"

We now return you to your regularly scheduled comments.

rob! said...

like i said: DOCUMENTARY.