Monday, July 27, 2009

Aquaman in the JLA: The Brave and the Bold Era

So, looking at Aquaman’s earliest Silver Age appearances we learned that he was always intended to be a superhero first. He had all the standard trappings: a sidekick, a secret hideout, a super-power (for all practical purposes he really only had the power to control sea life), and a weakness. The only thing he didn’t have was a secret identity, which is actually pretty remarkable for that time period. Any potential he had as an undersea fantasy hero though was largely unexplored. His adventures were mostly on the surface, helping sailors and seaside communities fight modern-day smugglers and pirates.

What I want to do next, before exploring more of Aquaman’s solo career, is to look at his membership in the Justice League of America. After all, it was his perceived ineptness in the ‘70s Super Friends cartoon that started the whole Aquaman-is-Lame meme. By sticking him with a bunch of other superheroes, Aquaman’s limitations as a superhero concept were highlighted.

In re-reading Volume 1 of the Justice League of America Archives, I didn’t actually expect to uncover anything new about Aquaman’s role in the JLA. My goal was just to document how he contributed (or didn’t) to the cases the JLA took in its early years. I’ve also got to finish the first volume of Showcase Presents the Justice League of America, so there’s more evidence to gather, but here’s what I’ve found so far. Today we’ll look at the JLA’s first three appearances in The Brave and the Bold. I’m thinking about making this a weekly thing, so next week we’ll see what happens when the JLA gets their own comic.

The Brave and the Bold #28: “Starro the Conqueror”

The Case: An extra-terrestrial echinoderm comes to Earth, makes duplicates of himself, and tries to take over.

Aquaman, Attack!: It’s actually Aquaman who discovers the Starro threat thanks to the report of a puffer fish. When Starro changes mundane starfish into giant copies of himself, the JLA splits into teams to stop them. Aquaman’s job, given to him by the Flash, is to “patrol the sea deeps in case Starro makes any more giant starfish” and to alert the rest of the team if he learns anything. Woo hoo. Big important job there.

That sidelines him for the rest of the adventure until the very end where the entire team goes up against Starro himself. But even then, Aquaman’s role is to stand around and watch the others work.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: Poor.

The Brave and the Bold #29: “Challenge of the Weapons Master”

The Case: A criminal from the future travels to our time to test some weapons on the JLA. There’s some very stupid logic behind his outlandish plot, but the gist of it is that whichever weapon defeats the JLA will also help him beat the cops in his own time. He traps the team in their headquarters by immobilizing them with a “gravitic ray” (Hey! Why not use that against the cops?) and then sends them out in groups to fight his other weapons.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman is paired with Martian Manhunter to battle a De-Evolutionizer cannon at the Panama Canal. Aquaman helps solve the Weapons Master’s riddle so that he and Manhunter know where to go, but he travels on the back of a huge sailfish to get there. Blown by Manhunter’s super-breath. Apparently Manhunter can blow a sailfish to Panama faster than Aquaman can swim. Lame.

He does better in the actual fight though. Since they’re at the canal, he can call in sea help. First he gets a team of octopi together to cover the viewscreen on the Weapons Master’s giant robot with ink, then he has them drag the robot into the ocean. While Weapons Master is trying to de-evolutionize the octopi (as Aquaman hides below the ocean’s surface), Manhunter whips up a way to defeat the weapon.

The villain escapes though and returns to fight the entire League with his Illusion-Maker. He makes the heroes fight each other, thinking they’re fighting alien monsters. Aquaman’s ineffectual, but no more so than anyone else. In the end, Superman – who’s been absent up to this point – swoops in to ex machina the deus.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: Okay.

The Brave and the Bold #30: “The Case of the Stolen Super-Powers”

The Case: Professor Ivo creates the Amazo robot to steal the Justice League’s powers, which will in turn help Amazo steal specimens of the longest-living creatures in the animal kingdom. It’s all part of a plan to unlock the secrets of immortality, naturally.

Aquaman, Attack!: In an epic example of Aquaman’s uselessness, Amazo uses Aquaman’s power to lift large fish to the ocean’s surface so that he can run across them with Flash’s speed. Only – as we’ve seen countless times – Flash is perfectly capable of running on water without having to use fish. Amazo doesn’t even need Aquaman’s power.

Aquaman does help to create a list of long-living animals though by suggesting the tortoise as the longest-living reptile. Way to go, Aquaman! He even goes along with Green Lantern to protect the oldest tortoise in the world, but he has to be pulled across the top of the ocean by power-ring-created water skis. Guess he can’t swim as fast as Green Lantern can fly. Not quite as lame as Martian Manhunter and the sailfish, but still…

And while Green Lantern’s fighting Amazo, Aquaman’s sole responsibility is to talk to the tortoise and help it hide. Which he totally sucks at because he picks a little underwater cave right underneath the very island where Amazo and GL are fighting. Once Amazo’s done with GL, he immediately spots the hiding place with Manhunter’s super-vision, steals the tortoise, and uses his own power ring to send the heroes back to Ivo. In the final battle with Ivo, it’s Green Lantern who saves the day while Aquaman and the others watch.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: Poor.

Next week: Despero and Green Arrow. But things don't get any prettier for Aquaman.

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