Sunday, October 19, 2014

Aquaman Episode 1: Menace of the Black Manta

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Aquaman Episode 1: "Menace of the Black Manta" by Bob Haney

Welcome to our new Sunday feature, Saturday Morning Sundays, where we will take a look back the Aquaman animated series by Filmation, which ran from 1968-1969, as part of the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure!

This first episode kicks off with Aquaman's (then, and arguably still) #1 foe, Black Manta, skimming the bottom of the seas in his fearsome Manta Ship:
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Manta spies on our heroes, Aquaman, Aqualad, Mera, and Tusky the Walrus, as plans his attack. Having attached an antenna to a nearby whale, Manta emits a transmission, causing the whale to go wild! Aquaman's finny friends try to warn him of danger, and they go an investigate.

Aquaman tries to calm the whale down, to no effect. After Mera is knocked off her steed into the mouth of a giant clam, Aquaman orders a hammerhead shark to smash the antenna on Manta's ship, breaking the transmission and calming the whale down. Next, Manta sends out a small band of his really creepy-looking Manta Men.


Aquaman and Aqualad fight them off, but Manta keeps attacking: using various powerful beams of energy, Manta has different sea creatures grow out of control in size and become deadly. They free themselves, only to see that Manta has spun a large net of coral with which to trap nearby ships. Aquaman again uses his telepathic powers to have some swordfish cut the net loose.


Aquaman and Aqualad then use the coral to trap the Manta Men. Black Manta follows our heroes into a canyon, where his ship gets caught between to cliffs. Now it's time for Aquaman and Black Manta to fight mano-a-mano:
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After a brief fight, Manta falls into a nearby whirlpool. Aqualad thinks he's gone forever, but Aquaman is none too sure. After freeing the still-trapped Mera, who has to play catch up, we have reached...The End!


This first episode of the series--written by then-Aquaman scribe Bob Haney--establishes the necessary template that Filmation would follow for the remaining episodes. At only seven minutes each, there's virtually no time for set-up or characterization (not that there would have been even if there had been time): a villain appears, attacks Aquaman, there's some initial setbacks, and then the heroes triumph in the end. Filmation's visual imagination is on full display here, with the really cool Manta Men and bright, dazzling colors. 

This show aired in tandem with Super Friends way back in the early 1970s, and it was my first true introduction to the character. And what an introduction! Aquaman (voiced by Marvin Miller) is the epitome of a can-do hero: never flustered, brave, powerful, and kind to his sidekick Aqualad, steed Storm, and partner/wife Mera (though here on the show she seems more of an equal to Aqualad, and no relationship between the two is ever suggested). Aquaman the series is essentially the Haney/Cardy era of the Aquaman comic book brought to life.

For some reason, despite the Shrine being eight years old, I never did quite get around to covering the show in detail. So when Adventure Sundays started winding down and I wanted something equally fun and light-hearted to replace it, I realized than an episode-by-episode look at the show that kicked off my Aqua-Fandom would fit the bill. I hope you all enjoy and let the Shrine know what you thought of the show!

 

7 comments:

BlUsKrEEm said...

I picked up the complete series on DVD at a thrift store two years ago for $0.99, having never seen it before. I was really surprised by how good it was. It's a nice companion to your Showcase when I'm feeling down.

Unknown said...

Viva Filmation Sundays!

I remember seeing this for the first time on a vacation to LA in the 70's when I was a kid, after Super Friends was already established. The idea of an Aquaman cartoon from the 60's that I'd never heard of blew my mind. What else could be lurking out there in the past?

James Chatterton

Anthony said...

I first saw this show on the USA Network's "Superman/Batman Adventures" Sunday morning series in the 90s (reruns of SUperfriends and the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure in a half-hour format). I joked that the episode with Aquaman vs the Lava Man would probably take six issues (and related tie-ins, including the Lava Man's own miniseries) to tell if done in the 90s. Nowadays, that'd be pretty short for a comic storyline. :-p

I own this and one volume of the companion Superman show on DVD. The opening theme for "Superman/Aquaman" is pretty catchy (if cheesy/too flashing-colors prone). Ditto the stand-alone Aquaman show opening... even "SpongeBob SquarePants" parodied it (down to the narration phrasing/throwing the water ball at the end to create the title/the fish swimming pattern).

Wonder if anyone would be up for a modern, all-new "Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure"... ;-)

Earth 2 Chris said...

I first encountered this series on those Super Powers VHS tapes first released in 1984. Of course they were way too pricey to buy back then, but I rented them often from the local video store. Despite being more of a Batman/Superman guy, I was more intrigued by Aquaman. I guess because, at that point, I had only read a few Silver Age Aquaman reprints in the DC digests, and these fit right in with those. We pull the DVD out and watch it from time to time. The kids still dig it!

Chris

r duncan said...

The Manta Men always freaked me out. I always wondered...Did Manta create them? Were they people he mutated?

Does anyone know if they were ever in the comics?

bentongrey said...

Ohh man, I am excited about this feature! I LOVE this show. It is so charming and fun, and even the hokey bits are really not that bad, despite its proximity to Super Friends. I'd take this show over that goofy old mess any day, and hold it up as being better quality as well, even with its short episodes. I'm really amazed that Aquaman didn't take off and become more of a hit, as it had all of the elements necessary for one and then some!

This show is so colorful, creative, and had such a great cast of characters, that, in many ways, it represents one of my favorite versions of Aquaman. The central concept of the Aqua-Family adventuring around this wonderful, whimsical, and wild undersea world, riding their seahorses and facing a wide range of threats, is a great premise. It makes for a really entertaining set-up, and it just has miles and miles of potential.

In fact, given the popularity of The Brave and the Bold's Aquaman, WB really missed out on a golden opportunity to spin him off into a modern version of this show. Tell me that sucker wouldn't have been a hit! With the talent that was behind that show, the love of the DCU, and groundwork they had already laid, just think about what they could have done.

All this show really lacked was some clear direction and the room to tell more complex stories. If they could have actually developed their world more, like Thundarr the Barbarian or the Thundercats, we could have had some really amazing Aquaman stories! And, a modern, B&B based spin-off would have had those advantages. What a waste. What a waste!

Anyway, this first episode is definitely a strong beginning, and I'll agree with the others who say that the Manta Men are creepy. It seems like they DID show up in the comics somewhere along the line, maybe in the 90s (I've seen pics, but haven't read the stories).

As for this feature itself, I hope you'll feel free to provide some more commentary on the episodes themselves, Rob. I for one would welcome more of that.

Anthony said...

Actually, this show probably represented the height of Aquaman's popularity before the recent trends IMO; along with this TV show, Aquaman also had his own comic and the JLA book.

As for Aquaman's show's fate, it debuted on the 1967-68 season, then went to Sunday mornings (when the networks actually tried running a few shows then) for the 1968-69 season. My guesses for its fate: they wanted to give Batman a prominently-featured (per the primetime show being a hit), as Bats replaced Arthur's half of the "Hour of Adventure." Moreso, 1968 saw the start of the backlash against violence on Saturday mornings (superheroes/action shows dominated the several years beforehand). 1968-69's schedule is much tamer, and "Archie" being that year's big hit likely gave encouragement for even more comedic/less-violent shows next season (1969-70 saw another such hit, "Scooby-Doo", debut). By the time "Super Friends" debuted a half-decade or so later, the stricter standards (and motivation for such ratings-wise per Archie/Scooby) ensured the 70s DC heroes would be much less violent than the 60s ones.