Monday, August 10, 2009

Grading Aquaman: Justice League of America #4-6

Continuing our look at Aquaman’s membership in the Justice League of America in order to document how he contributed (or didn’t) to the cases the JLA took in its early years. Is his perceived ineptness actually just perception? Or is it fact?

Justice League of America #4: “Doom of the Star Diamond”

The Case: A space hero named Carthan is caught by bad guys and exiled to Earth. They set up a convoluted trap that will destroy everyone on Earth if he tries to leave, and some kind of contrived mumbo jumbo prevents his asking the Justice League for help. Seriously? Gardner Fox went to insane lengths to come up with plots and motivations that make absolutely no sense. Carthan pretends to be a super-villain so that the Justice League will think the traps are a weapon and figure out how to disarm them for him.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman and Flash go after one of the weapons in Australia. Flash pushes Aquaman there in a giant seashell, but it’s not as demeaning as it is when Martian Manhunter or Green Lantern have to transport him across water. Aquaman shouldn’t be able to swim as fast as the Flash can run.

Carthan’s machine is causing Australia to sink into the ocean, so the Flash runs really fast around the entire continent to keep the waves back. While he’s doing that, Aquaman searches the ocean floor for the machine. He finds it with the help of some fish, but can’t get near it due to its built-in “repelling ray.” He has some sea creatures construct a seaweed net to get the machine to the surface, but still can’t turn it off. Fortunately, Flash is then able to counter-balance the repelling ray with his own super-speed vibrations, giving Aquaman the opportunity to flip the power switch. It’s actually a nice bit of teamwork.

Once the three traps are turned off Carthan has some explaining to do – and brand-new JLA member Green Arrow gets to prove his worth by rescuing the whole team from one last device gone wrong (the Star Diamond from the title) – but it’s not that hard for the team to wrap things up.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: B

Justice League of America #5: “When Gravity Went Wild”

The Case: Green Arrow is accused of helping a band of super-villains escape the JLA. The critical JLA members recount recent events to an impartial jury consisting of Superman, Batman, and Snapper Carr. Afterwards, Green Arrow is allowed to tell his side of the story. The title of the story comes from a brief event in which the villains use an anti-gravity ray to capture the JLA.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman relates the story in which he, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern tried to round up recent prison escapees Electric Man, escape artist Monty Moran, and the Puppet Master. While they’re flying in search of the villainous trio, Electric Man somehow uses lightning to turn the jet stream into a mid-air, whitewater river that of course plummets immediately to Earth. Aquaman saves his overwhelmed companions by grabbing hold of them and swimming against the current of rushing water. He can’t keep them aloft, but he manages to slow their fall enough that they survive it.

He’s not much good for the rest of the search and it’s Green Lantern who ultimately captures all the bad guys (with important groundwork laid by Green Arrow, whose actions of course were misunderstood), but GL never would’ve been able to do it had Aquaman not saved his life.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: B

Justice League of America #6: “The Wheel of Misfortune”

The Case: Professor Fortune creates a machine that changes people’s luck. In order to keep the JLA from interfering in his fortune-hunting schemes, he gives them bad luck while giving himself good luck. He’s smart enough though to avoid suspicion by turning the bad luck device on them just as they’re breaking some traditional superstition.

Aquaman, Attack!: The Professor zaps Aquaman with the bad luck machine just as Aquaman’s recovering a cursed opal from a shipwreck. Just as Aquaman’s leaving the wreck, a hatch falls shut on him and knocks him out.

He and the others deny being superstitious, but acknowledge that they’ve all had unlucky things happen to them lately. In the absence of any real case, they open up some fan mail and decide to help a couple of people who’ve written to them. Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern investigate a seaside museum that’s being plagued by a series of robberies committed by an invisible thief.

Aquaman asks the local sea life to alert him if anyone approaches the museum from that way, then returns to keep company with Green Lantern and the museum’s curator as Wonder Woman keeps an eye on the building from the sky. The culprit gets past Wonder Woman and the fish, but is found out thanks to a trap that Green Lantern’s laid. Now that she knows where to look, Wonder Woman catches him in her lasso.

While all this is going on, Professor Fortune happens to discover where the thief’s been hiding his loot and steals it all for himself. The three heroes see him getting in his car with the goods and give chase, but after an extra dose of the bad-luck ray the heroes are overcome by the carbon monoxide in the Professor’s car exhaust. He also manages to capture Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Green Arrow who go looking for their missing friends. Martian Manhunter saves the day since the bad-luck ray only works on humans and doesn’t affect him. He was only pretending to be affected so that the Professor would lead him to the rest of the heroes.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: D

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