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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Adventure Sunday: A Look Back

Well, it's come to this: after five years and over 200 posts, we have have wrapped up the Adventure Sundays segment here on The Aquaman Shrine, following the Sea King from his Nazi-busting in More Fun Comics to his more genteel romps in Adventure Comics, and finally to his more sci-fi-driven escapades in World's Finest Comics. It's been a ton of fun, but I'm not sure I would have kept doing them if a number of you Aqua-Fans out there hadn't told me how much you had been enjoying these looks back.

To that end, I thought I'd invite a couple of the more regular Adventure Sunday readers to chime in on what they liked about these Golden Age/Silver Age Aquaman stories, maybe tell us which were their favorites. So let's start off with Shrine Correspondent Russell Burbage:

Although there were quite a few great Silver Age Aquaman stories, my favorite hands-down is The Kid From Atlantis from Adventure Comics #269:

First of all, the story is illustrated by Ramona Fradon. Sure, Nick Cardy, Lee Elias, and Sheldon Moldoff are all great artists, but there is just something about Ms. Fradon's clean, fine lines that make her stories more fun to read.

Secondly, this is another interesting oceanic adventure. Aquaman helps a sail-boat in distress, a freighter to steer through rocks, and an airplane to land on water. Silver Age Batman and Superman stories were fun, but they never had adventures like THIS! Where else could you learn that Pilot Fish swim with sharks to help protect them from danger? Nowhere else, that's where.

And lastly and most importantly, this story introduces Aqualad. Now don't get me wrong, I don't believe that the introduction of Aqualad is in and of itself an Earth shattering event. However, I do believe that he represents a huge step forward for both the Aquaman strip and the Aquaman character that cannot be denied.

Let's look at his inclusion strictly from a narrative point of view. The addition of a second character to the series added plot and story possibilities that had been unavailable when the series was focused on a single character. Structurally, the hero no longer has to employ heavy exposition or internal monologues to explain a plot point to the reader. Or instead of sounding pompous when the hero has to tell the reader information he needs to know, now the hero sounds benevolent and wise when he naturally tells his partner, “I knew he was a fake because he confused a dolphin with a shark!” Then we the reader can empathize with the secondary character and both think, "Gosh, Aquaman is cool!" Also, with a secondary character in the series there can be heightened suspense (Aqualad’s been kidnapped!) or concern (Aqualad bumped his head!) that was absolutely impossible before. This allows the readers to be drawn more fully into the characters’ predicaments, as we care more for the recurring characters than, say, a retired Naval officer or an actress (who keep showing up, regardless). The dynamic of having two characters sharing the spotlight lends itself to all types of drama, such as jealous arguing, misunderstanding, individual challenges, ways of helping each other out, etc etc etc. This was only a good thing, as it all of those story ideas were, again, impossible for an individual hero.

But having Aqualad around wasn't just a boon to the narrative. It also gave us another side of the character of Aquaman. We get to see the paternal and fraternal side, as he comes to care for this boy in a deeper way than was ever shown with his finny friends, even, say, Topo. In fact, at the very end of this very story we get to see the tender and loving side of Aquaman like we had never seen before. They are two orphans who need each  other, and watching their interaction and relationship grow and deepen during their adventures was always entertaining.

And of course, the introduction of Aqualad was another small step to the inclusion of Atlantis to the Aquaman Mythos. If Batman could have Gotham and Superman could have Metropolis, why couldn’t Aquaman have Atlantis? At this stage of his career Aquaman had not yet visited the undersea city, but he knew of its existence. With the inclusion of Aqualad in the strip, Aquaman’s stories would continue to inch ever closer to including Atlantis, until we eventually got the love-hate relationship status quo. And although a strong case can be made against the inclusion of Atlantis in the Aquaman Mythos, I don’t believe that the series would have been at all better without the inclusion of The Kid From Atlantis. 


Next up is F.O.A.M.er and all around good egg James Chatterton:

Viva Adventure Sunday!

Boy, am I lucky. I had the good fortune to grow up in the 70’s, when DC’s 100 Page Super Spectaculars dominated spinner racks.  20 pages of new content, a few pages wasted on ads for space monkeys…and the rest devoted to reprints of DC’s glorious past.  The Golden Age adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, Black Canary, and Aquaman were there to lend weight and context to…wait a minute, did I say Aquaman?


Nope, his Golden Age adventures were conspicuously absent. Precisely one story from the 40’s saw print in the 70’s: His origin from 1941 in the last issue of Secret Origins. Other than that, we got nothing earlier than his mid-fifties tales drawn by Ramona Fradon. Why? Could it be that the sea king’s golden age adventures were so bad, that they had to be hidden from the cowardly, superstitious readership at all costs? How bad could they be? If you’ve ever tried to make it through one of the Atom’s golden age adventures, you know how “bad” bad can be. Take a look at the average WW2-era adventure of Flash or Green Lantern, the flagship characters for the AA side of things. There’s a reason Blackhawk was probably killing them on the newsstands. It’s more likely that decent proofs weren’t available at the time. Or that E. Nelson Bridwell just preferred the Atom to Aquaman.

Flash forward a few decades, and I stumble upon Adventure Sunday in the Aquaman Shrine. Now, the shrine itself is a thing of beauty, but my favorite part is undoubtedly Adventure Sunday. Not only do we finally get a chance to check out Aquaman’s golden age, but we get to see it all, sequentially, once a week, with commentary. And there were some interesting revelations. I grew up with Fradon, Cardy, Aparo and Dillin’s (JLA) work on Aquaman, and I have to say I was kind of spoiled. But it turns out that Aquaman has always attracted artists that were better than average.  Take John Daly. Here's an excellent example of his work:


Daly is so obscure that I’d never even heard of him (that would shock my wife), but his work is a revelation. His fanciful seascapes show a degree of design and color (due in all probability to a separate colorist) that far outstrips the drab sea-tones that Namor, a flagship character, dwelled in. The splash panel is kaleidoscopic. The different frame-shots in page 1, panels 2-3, and the continuity carried over into page 2, panel 1 show a sophisticated sense of storytelling. Otto Binder’s writing is also a cut above average for DC back then. No surprise there, since he was also the top Captain Marvel writer at the time. Binder’s Aquaman is a resourceful swashbuckler who smiles through every escapade. We also get the villainous Black Jack, and I have to say, Adventure Sunday has given me a soft spot for what is admittedly the worst pirate to ever set sail on the high seas.

The Shrine does an outstanding job of celebrating Aquaman-Past, Present and Future. Adventure Sunday holds a special place in my historically minded heart, but it did come with built-in obsolescence. After all, when you’ve reprinted a legend’s entire past, your job is kind of done. But Aquaman’s past is documented now, and it’ll be there the next time a 10 year old wonders what the sea king was up to in the past.  Now, if Marvel were smart, they’d hire Rob to look into Namor the Shrineless. That guy needs some serious PR.


Next up is F.O.A.M.er and Mego customizer extraordinaire Anthony Durso:

I think what I'll miss most more than any particular story is the format of Adventure Sundays and the age (Silver) that it lovingly represents. As a kid, the Sunday Comics were a staple. But as time as gone on, and I've gotten older, I became disenchanted with what was provided by our local paper. Adventure strips as a whole (like Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, and the Phantom...LOVED me some Phantom) have fallen by the waste side. Good soldiers who fought the good fight but were no longer desirable. Instead, their space was parceled out to one-panel gags and puzzles and advertisements for the local lumber yard or other such nonsense.

Adventure Aquaman Sundays filled that void. A flashback to a simpler time when 8 pages was ALL YOU NEEDED to tell a complete story. The phrase "writing for the trade" didn't exist back then. Writers and artists were trying to put food on the table and if they needed more than 8 pages, well they simply weren't doing their job very well. As kids, that thought never crossed our minds...we just knew a good story when we read it.

And Aquaman was always good for a fun adventure. Not to mention, that although he wasn't a cover feature, it's almost like an extra bonus to get old covers of Detective and Adventure Comics and see what Silver Age Shenanigans Batman and Robin or Superboy were up to back then. A nice snapshot of a time long-past.


Next up is loyal F.O.A.M.er Joseph Brian Scott:

The entry I’d like to spotlight is from February 12, 2012; that’s the Adventure Sunday that gave me a look for the very first time at "Treasures Of The Sea!" from Adventure Comics #167, published Aug. 1951.

Though the untrained eye might be unable to tell--I can relate, I have two of them--this is the first Aquaman story to feature the work of Ramona Fradon, an artist who for many fans of a certain age is synonymous with the Sea King. To be honest, I myself find the art to be redolent of the Golden Age depiction of Aquaman and his realm--the multi-colored wavy "streamers" that tell us he’s underwater, for instance, are a staple of that era--but there are definitely hints of the Fradon aqua-style that would emerge; the overhead perspective of the fishing boat with Aquaman’s friends both finny and feathered coming to his aid, and the big, pulled-back vista showing gigantic whales tugging a sunken ship out of the seabed muck both seem very "Fradon" to me. And of course Aquaman’s hair actually moves. It’s a fun, sly, energetic story, the beginning of a new look for an old hero, and an indication that things were going to lighten up a little in the ocean depths.

Though not my favorite Aquaman story by any means, this is one of my favorite Adventure Sundays, and the reason why is emblematic of why I loved this particular Shrine feature so much: it’s a significant moment in the history of the King of the Seven Seas that I would otherwise probably never have seen. Thanks for making it happen, Rob!


Finally, we wrap up with inaugural F.O.A.M. member Chris Franklin, who was on the same page (literally) with Russell:

When Rob asked me to contribute my favorite Adventure Sundays issue, the first one that came to mind was Adventure Comics #269, the first appearance of Aqualad. I know, I know, it’s a super-obvious choice. BUT, that story has long touched some nerve in me, ever since I first read it in DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest  #9, May 1981.
When we are introduced to "The Kid from Atlantis” (the Aqualad and Garth names will come later) he is an outcast from the sunken city and deathly afraid of fish. I was afraid of just about everything as a kid. A dental surgery involving less-than-gentle surgeons at age two left me afraid to be away from my parents for any amount of time. It took a lot of patience, understanding and kindness on my parents’ part to get me past my phobias. In Robert Bernstein’s story, Aquaman shows that same level of understanding, comforting the Kid, but also pushing him forward to conquer his fears. Ramona Fradon draws a very young, very vulnerable Aqualad. He looks like a real little kid, and how could you not empathize with those huge purple eyes? 

There are several panels in the story of Aquaman hugging the Kid, and it would be easy for our modern cynicism to take over and make fun of these images, but that would be wrong. They are sincerely presented, genuinely touching,  and go a long way toward showing us why the Silver Age Aquaman was such a stand-up guy. At the story’s end, he takes the Kid in, and the Sea King’s adventures are changed forever.

For a young me, it made me feel better about myself, knowing that a super hero was once afraid of such a silly thing as fish-phobia. If Aqualad could get past his fears, maybe I could too. I doubt I’d get to join the Teen Titans, but a kid could dream, right?

A big Aqua-Thanks to Russell, James, Anthony, Joseph, and Chris for their commentary over the years and for sharing their thoughts on Adventure Sunday.
So what's next? Well, I do have another feature starting in two weeks--October 19--in this Sunday slot, covering yet another aspect of the Aquaman Mythos that is as-yet-untapped on the Shrine! I'm not going to say what it is, but here's a big hint:
...until then, thanks for reading, Aqua-Fans!


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Viva (choke) Adventure Sunday!

Great work here by Russell, Anthony, Joseph, and Chris. I felt that all of your commentaries captured something I felt from my weekly dose of Aqua-history.

And I think I like the directions Sundays are taking.

James Chatterton

Anthony said...

Yeah, I'll miss the Adventure Sundays. No more "fish man" insults by villains...no more "sea sleuth" nicknames... no more debates over the Earth-1/Earth-2 dividing line and continuity... no more seeing what Superboy was up to... no more complaining about Johnny Quick eating up page space...and finally, no more sea eagles!

If what's coming up next week is what I think it is, though, it should be interesting...

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this! What a great send-off for Adventure Sundays, though I'm very sad to see it go. I always loved this feature, and though I had read a lot of these tales, there are many more that I hadn't. It was wonderful to see Aquaman's history, a history that I never knew existed, introduced week by week. Thanks Rob, for all you do!

Earth 2 Chris said...

I really enjoyed your write-ups gentlemen, just as I've enjoyed Adventure Sundays. Now, Filmation Sundays sounds pretty darn interesting, though!