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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Aquaman (Vol.1) #56 - April 1970

Comics Weekend "The Creature That Devoured Detroit!" by Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo, and Dick Giordano.

The Shrine covered this issue of Aquaman previously, way back in 2007, but it was long before I thought to give the proper spotlight on the art contained in any given comic, so the recaps were very abbreviated affairs (what can I say? I was new at this). So since there's new issue of Aquaman or Justice League to talk about this week, I thought why not give this story--and its unique place in comics history--its proper due. It's a doozy, in more ways than one!

Aquaman #56 opens, not with Aquaman or any members of the Aqua-Family, but with a married couple not quite overwhelmed in marital bliss:

But Aquaman isn't the only costumed superhero in Detroit! Across town, another vigilante is on patrol:
The Crusader gets into a nasty, bare-knuckle brawl with the gang of crooks, while Aquaman's search for his friend is halted when he talks with a policeman about the creeping algae. Aquaman is told that they are spraying nearly-frozen water onto the algae, which seems to halt it's growth...temporarily.

Aquaman asks about his friend Don Powers, and is told Powers run a big-time private investigation firm downtown. The Sea King is directed to the building, and is impressed by the scale of it. When he enters, Powers recognizes his old friend, and is given a tour of the place.

Powers reveals that the satellite that has been creating all the forced daylight in Detroit is his doing! Thanks to the permanent daylight, crime is down a whopping 38%, which is music to Powers' ears! Aquaman tries to reason with him, telling him what ecological damage the satellite is doing. But Powers doesn't care, concerned only with the crime rate.

Their argument becomes heated, and some of Powers' men try to restrain Aquaman when he lunges for the satellite control room:
We follow Powers, and see him change into the costume of The Crusader!

As he suits up, we learn that Powers' eyesight has been deteriorating, and the constant daylight has been helping him with his superhero duties. He goes out on patrol:
Meantime, Aquaman wakes up on a nearby beach, in time to see a young girl about to be swallowed up by a wave of the green goop. When it crashes down upon her, Aquaman steps in:
Aquaman heads back town, and sees the police huddled around a dead body...the body of The Crusader!

Apparently, while on patrol, The Crusader missed the building he was aiming for, tripped, and fell to his death. When he is unmasked, Aquaman immediately recognizes him as his friend Don!

Aquaman heads back for Powers' lab, and punches his way into the satellite's control room:
...The End!

Man, there is so much to say about this story I'm going to have to fight to get it all in. First off, you have to appreciate the sheer impish rule breaking going on here, courtesy Steve Skeates (and editor Dick Giordano)--Skeates makes all this effort to introduce a new superhero, even giving him his own logo (which I assume was the work of artist/letterer Jim Aparo, doing his usual tremendous job), only to kill him off a few pages later. And not only does The Crusader die, but he dies because of his lousy eyesight, a mordant gag if I ever saw one.

If this story seems to end a little abruptly, that's because...well, it does. One of the reasons for that is Aquaman was unceremoniously cancelled by then-DC head honcho Carmine Infantino, partly due to in-house squabbling with editor Dick Giordano. This turned out to be the last issue of the series, until it was briefly resurrected seven years later.

To rub salt in the wound, this issue features one of those "Statement of Ownership" thingies that comics used to run all the time, and we can see for ourselves just how well Aquaman was selling:
So, at the time, Aquaman was selling about 160,000 copies per issue. Certainly not a best-seller by 1970's standards, but it's funny to compare those numbers to today. If the current Aquaman series was selling 160,000 copies an issue, it would be--by far--DC's #1 title.

As I mentioned above (and you can see with your own, hopefully-better-than-The-Crusader's eyes), Jim Aparo does a superb job on the art on this issue. Of course, he did that for every issue, but Aparo excelled at gritty crime comics, and here Skeates' script gives him all kinds of fun film noir stuff to work with, even though there's not a single scene at night! This comic manages to mix urban grit and goofy sci-fi, all in twenty or so pages, an amazing feat (
also--I want that shot of Aquaman punching the algae monster as a t-shirt).

In any case, Skeates did have a second part of this story in mind, and didn't let a little thing like cancellation stop him! He did write a Part Two, which appeared in...well, for those of you who don't know, I don't want to spoil the surprise. Come back at Noon today to find out!


Richard said...

To this day, one of the most thoughtfully constructed superhero comics ever published. It was as if Skeates worked out a checklist of everything you weren't ever supposed to do in a DC comic, then decided to break each of those rules in turn and still make the story work. It really stands up.

Joe Slab said...

A rare gem!!! Thanks rob! Really love the covers as well, showing Aquaman's super-leaping ability waaaay before Geoff Johns ever got his hands on the character :)

Joe Slab

M W Gallaher said...

And of course we should not Skeates, as he and Aparo often did, sneaking in little tributes with names: Laura van SKEET, Neal Dennis (a.k.a. Denny O'Neill), author of "Kids of Doom" (or Charlton Premiere's highly-regarded "Children of Doom").