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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Batman & Aquaman's Wild Go-Go Adventures

Back in 2008, I posted a complete run of the 1968 Batman newspaper strip that featured Aquaman in a guest role, thanks to the generosity and determination of a couple of very diligent F.O.A.M. members.

Last year, John Schwirian (of The Aquaman Chronicles fanzine) asked me to write an article for his publication giving a rundown of the Aquaman storyline, which I was happy to do.

Since John just published a new issue of TAC (#19), it occurred to me that many Shrine readers have probably never seen it (despite the obvious cross-pollination of audiences), so I thought I'd post it here (with some slight editing by the obsessive author). Take it away Batman, Aquaman, and a mysterious girl named Penelope:
One of the nicest things about putting together The Aquaman Shrine is that I come into contact with Aqua Fans all over the world, who are eager to share their love of the oft-put-upon character.

Frequently, these Aqua Fans will introduce me to some piece of Aquamanus Obscurus that I had never seen before, giving me an even greater understanding of just how much the character has permeated the culture, all without the help of a nationwide TV series or movie franchise. And one of these wonderful discoveries was Aquaman's two separate turns as a guest-star in the 1960s Batman newspaper strip.

The 1960s Batman newspaper strip (officially titled Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder) debuted on May 29, 1966 and ran as a daily strip until 1972, with the Sundays ceasing in 1969. It was written mostly by Whit Ellsworth, and then handed off to DC stalwart E.Nelson Bridwell for the rest of its run. Three separate artists--Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, and Al Plastino--handed the artistic chores over the strip's six years (or, if you believe the signature plastered on every strip, Bob Kane drew every single panel of it for all six years).

Unlike the TV show that was the inspiration (financial inspiration, at least) for a new Batman newspaper strip, Batman (as most syndicates called it) did not reflect that show's campy, uber-hip "mod" style; instead, it was a fairly straightforward series of Batman adventures, leaning more heavily on the daily goings-on of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.

One way, though, that the strip outdid its TV counterpart was it use of other stars from the DC Universe.

Aquaman first appeared in the strip in March, 1968, and guest-starred in a daily story line that ran until April, 1968. Two baddies plan to blow up an island that Batman is on, and when they set the plan in motion, it is Aquaman--in his Aqua Cave--that notices trouble on the ocean floor:
This story also guest-stars a mysteriously-weakened Superman, who teams with Robin, to send a radio signal to Aquaman trying to clue the Sea King as to Batman's whereabouts.

Batman makes it off the island on his own, but then finds himself surrounded by a school of sharks. Luckily Aquaman finds him, tells the sharks to beat it, and gives Bats a ride to safety--literally:
Aquaman played a much more substantial role when he guest-starred in a story line that began on August 16, 1968 (obviously as a "tribute" to the birth of this particular Aquaman fan, which would occur exactly three years to the day later).

A beautiful woman is found dangling precariously over the Gotham River. When the police tell her to climb off of her swing to safety, she refuses, saying only two people can make her do it--Batman or Aquaman:

Commissioner Gordon calls for Batman, who tells Robin he's going on this case alone, since "...oddly enough, it isn't Batman they really want--it's Aquaman!" Someone thinks a lot of himself!

Batman tries to rescue the girl, but they plunge into the chilly Gotham River. As the current carries them out to sea, she tells Bats that if they swim beneath the waves, they can reach the shore. They do, but before Batman can get a word in, she insists they run away from the police!

They make their way to her car, which she had waiting, proving to Batman she had this whole thing planned. She agrees, and says she needed to meet Batman to help her meet Aquaman (kind of like an pre-internet version of Facebook), since he is the only one who can find her father!

Her father is the improbably named Dr. Archimedes Candy, the "world-famous oceanographer." Batman realizes this woman is Penelope Candy, who the newspapers call "a mad-cap debutante." The Brave and The Bold: Batman and Paris Hilton!

Penelope tells Batman her father walked into the sea ten days ago and has not returned. Batman, using those world famous detective skills, breaks it to her that, you know, he's probably dead. But Penelope has news for the Dark Knight Detective:

Turns out Dr. Candy came up with a formula that, if ingested, extracts oxygen from water, which allows people to breath underwater for long periods of time! To prove that it works, both Penelope and Batman take a swing, and Batman is floored to see that it does what Penelope promised.

But of course, like the people who created the electric car or Dr. Alec Holland learned, any time you come up with an industry-changing invention, there's a group of nogoodniks who try to either kill you, steal it, or both. In this case, someone was threatening Penelope's life, and told Dr. Candy to meet them on a submarine(!) and give them the formula, or his daughter would die.

Batman tells Robin to send out a short-wave radio signal (I guess there is no Justice League in the strip's continuity) to try and contact Aquaman. But Aquaman is, er, a little busy right now:

Meanwhile, on the sub "The Sea Wolf", turns out its international smugglers who are blackmailing Dr. Candy, and they are frustrated when Dr. Candy collapses, moaning something about only knowing "half the formula."

Batman and Penelope find the sub (that was easy, luckily the ocean isn't all that big), but are detected by the smugglers, and sucked into the sub's airlock.

Turns out the formula works too well, and anyone that uses it must return to the water in an hour, just like Aquaman does. The head of the smugglers (a real mustache-twirling evil guy named Wolf) says he neither believes nor cares about this small detail, he wants that formula!

Wolf moves the sub further out to sea, and Robin sends the morse code signal again. It is communicated from dolphin to dolphin, across the sea, until it finally reaches Aquaman.

Batman, holed up in a small room with the Candys, figures out that he can shoot himself out of a nearby torpedo tube. Meanwhile, Aquaman races across the ocean depths towards the Dr. Candy's lab. I like this particular daily a lot, since it's all Aquaman:

Batman and Penelope shoot themselves out of the torpedo tubes, and head to shore to get help. But they are quickly winded from lack of oxygen--which they need to get from water. Batman eventually finds a stream of fresh water, and even though Dr. Candy is still imprisoned and the villains are getting away, Batman and Penelope have time to frolic:
They then make their way to a road, get a lift, and tell the local Navy office that they need their equipment to find the Sea Wolf. They do, and the Navy says that if the Sea Wolf doesn't surrender, they will sink it, whether Dr. Candy is aboard or not.

As Batman and Aquaman finally cross paths at Dr. Candy's lab, Wolf is less than pleased to learn that Batman has filled the nose of the sub with water, making the sub too heavy to return topside. Wolf, who still thinks Batman is aboard, is startled--"He's willing to perish to defeat us!" Batman plays to win.

Batman gives Aquaman the sub's location, and its a race against time as he tries to tell the Navy that the sub isn't refusing the Navy's commands--it can't rise!

He then uses his telepathic powers to have his finny friends (a group of whales) swim under the sub and force it to the surface. Wolf swears revenge on the Sea King:
...yeah, yeah, we've heard that before, and from scarier bad guys than you.

Batman thanks Aquaman for the help, and they part, forever ending Aquaman's involvement with the strip. Thanks Aquaman!

Overall, a pretty decent adventure, and even though it takes Aquaman a while to get in on the action, he's the one who saves the day, mostly while Batman is running around goofing off with Penelope Candy (whose BFF is Cheryl Blossom).

Since this story line did run in the Sundays at the time, we also got to see Aquaman in color, always a nice thing. Too bad this didn't lead to an all-Aquaman newspaper strip!

Before I sign off, I must give credit to Aqua Fans extraordinaire John Helfenstein and Colin Smith, who provided me with scans of all the strips, (the dailies and the Sundays, respectively) culled from many different newspapers. Without their dogged, obsessive determination, I would have never had the chance to see these wonderful strips and share them with other Aqua Fans. Thanks guys!


Wings1295 said...

Cool stuff. Have the latest Chronicles, but haven't read it yet. Gonna take it on vacation with me. :)

Fleerfan said...

Great synopsis of the 2 Aquaman story lines. I'm glad I was able to contribute to The Shrine, and was thrilled when Colin was able to add the Sunday strips which I could never find. Thanks for sharing them with your readers.

Keep up the great work!

Jon H.