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The Blackest Night Falls - Aquaman

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“They will descend upon our worlds to claim the loved ones we have lost.  They will forever hunger for those that still feel and live.  And if the universe is to survive, willpower and fear must come together because…across the universe, the dead will rise…”

Black Lantern Aquaman

Although Aquaman first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941), the story of the character appearing in Blackest Night begins a little later.  As touched on in previous articles, the dawn of the Silver Age of comics saw unofficial soft relaunches for the handful of superhero characters that remained in publication from the 40s.  In the pages of Adventure Comics #260 (May 1959), Robert Bernstein scripted a revised origin undersea hero.

In this revision, Aquaman was Arthur Curry, the half-breed son of an Atlantean woman and a human lighthouse keeper.  Gifted with amazing swimming prowess, the ability to control sea life, breathe underwater and withstand amazing pressures, Curry grew up to become Aquaman, the defender of Earth’s oceans (although it was later retroactively revealed that he did adventure as “Aquaboy”, Superboy #171, January 1971).  While Aquaman did possess many non-human abilities due to his half-Atlantean heritage, it was still necessary for him to immerse himself in water hourly.

This first half of the 1960s proved to be very successful for Aquaman, as the character was involved in many historic comic book moments.  The first came in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #28 (February/March 1960) as the Atlantean became a founding member of the legendary Justice League of America.  The next year, Aquaman graduated from a co-star and back-up feature character, receiving his first headlining spot with a four-issue run in DC’s “try-out” book Showcase (#s 30-33, January to August 1961).  For the duration of the year, Aquaman found his home in behind Batman in Detective Comics (#293-300, July 1961 to February 1962).

Aquaman’s print visibility exploded in 1962, as his shorter back-up tales moved from Detective Comics to the more-appropriately fitting World’s Finest Comics (#125, May 1962).  The undersea avenger also finally received his own title, Aquaman, launching in February 1962, and continued to be a major presence in Justice League of America.  As Aquaman’s visibility increased, so too did his supporting cast.  The first of two significant additions was Mera, a queen from an underwater dimension (Aquaman #11, September/October 1963).  Initially serving as a traditional comic book hero girlfriend, Mera and Arthur make history when they married late the next year (Aquaman #18, December 1964 – the same issue they are declared King and Queen of Atlantis).  The happy couple quickly created their own addition to the cast, with the birth of Aquabay (aka Arthur Jr., Aquaman #23, October 1965).

  

Although Aquaman’s back-up features faded out over the decade, his solo title continued swimming forwards, gathering a rogues gallery that included the likes of the  Fisherman (Aquaman #21, June 1965), Arthur’s retro-actively revealed half-brother, Ocean Master (Aquaman #29, October 1966) and Black Manta (Aquaman #35, October 1967).  Despite the proliferation of Aquaman titles in the early 60s, Arthur did not seem destined for long-lasting success.  Buoyed in the final few years by the critically acclaimed team of Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo, Aquaman was finally cancelled in April 1971 (Aquaman #56) when editor Dick Giordano departed the book.

Aquaman remained largely under-the-surface for several years, but on the heels of the first season of ABC’s Super Friends, Arthur returned to a regular feature in Adventure Comics (#435, October 1974).  Within a year, Aquaman took over the cover feature from the Spectre (Adventure Comics #441, October 1975), a run the climaxed with the shocking death of Aquababy at the hands of Black Manta (Adventure Comics #452, August 1977).  The story continued directly into the revival of Aquaman’s series with Aquaman #57 (September 1977).  The revival would only survive for 7 issues, as the infamous DC Implosion (the executive order that all titles with marginal to poor sales be immediately cancelled due to DC’s financial struggles in 1977/78) put an end to the book. 

Sunk

Following the cancellation, the remaining material was shuffled back to Adventure Comics (#460-466, November 1978- December 1979).  Over the next several years, the Aquaman feature became very nomadic, landing in World’s Finest Comics (#262-264, May to September 1980), Adventure Comics #475-478 (September-December 1980) and Action Comics (#517-540, March 1981-February 1983, alternating with Atom and Air Wave back-up features).  Aquaman’s older tales also resurfaced in the final issues of Adventure Comics (#491-503), reprinting the Skeates/Aparo issues in a digest format.

Aquaman was poised to make a big splash in 1984, with a high profile return to Justice League of America.  Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984) introduced a new vision for the team, as Aquaman assembled a new squad consisting of a handful of veteran heroes training a new generation.  Disparagingly dubbed “Justice League Detroit” (after the location of the base of operations), this new team failed to capture the hearts and money of fans.  Aquaman mercifully escaped the title's final fate, departing early with Justice League of America #243 (October 1985), to spend time with his wife.

Crisis on Infinite Earths proved to be a springboard to relaunch many of DC’s iconic characters, but it took several years for a “new” Aquaman to emerge.  The first effort came in the pages of the 1986 four-issue mini series (February-May) which introduced a new blue costume, deepened the backstory of Ocean Master and tinged the entire Atlantean legacy with a hint of mysticism.  Well received, an official sequel never materialized, although a forgettable follow-up special surfaced in 1988 (Aquaman Special #1) that returned Arthur to his classic orange costume.

  

Aquaman’s origin received an official reboot in 1989’s Legend of Aquaman Special #1.  Now born of an Atlantean Queen and the wizard Atlan, the child destined to become Aquaman was named “Orin.”  Abandoned to die on Mercy Reef due to his blond hair (it seems post-Crisis Atlanteans were very superstitious), Orin was adopted by a lighthouse keeper who named him “Arthur Curry.”  As a young man, Arthur eventually struck out on his own, discovering a half-brother, Orm, in the far north.  Sharing a father, the half-brothers became hated rivals, leading Arthur back to the sea.  From this point, Arthur’s tale, becoming Aquaman, King of Atlantis, marriage, birth and death of a son is essentially identical to his Silver Age saga.  This last point was expanded in a 1989 mini-series (Aquaman #1-5, June-October), in which Mera goes mad over her son’s murder, blaming her husband and eventually leaving him.

Following a well-received spin-off series by Peter David (The Atlantis Chronicles #s 1-7, 1990) which filled in the backstory of Atlantis, Aquman returned in a new ongoing series by Shaun McLaughlin.  Running from December 1991 to December 1992, the title was tinged with a sociological tone but succumbed to low sales.  The following December, the Aquaman torch was passed back to Peter David with Aquaman: Time and Tide.  Over the course of the four-issue series, Orin gained clarity to his ancestry, with the Atlantis Chronicles foretelling his ongoing struggles with Ocean Master.

Surfacing

August 1994 kicked off a new ongoing Aquaman series, once again penned by Peter David.  A long-haired, bearded Aquaman begins the series still mired in a depression from the Time and Tide series.  During a confrontation with Charybdis (Aquaman #2, September 1994), Aquaman was temporarily deprived of his ability to communicate with sea life (a subtle change from the Silver Age ability to control fish) and lost his left hand to a school of piranhas.  Aquaman overcame his foe and, upon recovering, attached a harpoon to the end of his arm (Aquaman #0, October 1994), a symbol of all he had lost and all the self-imposed limitations he had placed on himself.  Soon garbed in a new costume (Aquaman #5, January 1995), Orin began an extended journey, finding his place in the world, and then later, as a true King of the seas.

Around this time, DC relaunched the Justice League property as JLA (January 1997), reuniting the “big seven” heroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman – for the first time in years.  During the early issues, the more aggressive and regal Aquaman frequently found himself drawn to the Amazon warrior princess, Wonder Woman – an interesting dynamic that never materialized into a full-blown relationship. 

Aquaman continued to appear regularly in both JLA and his own title until 2001.  Following the departure of Peter David from Aquaman (Aquaman #46, July 1998), the title struggled to find readership, finally cancelled in January 2001 (Aquaman #75).  Later that year, during the crossover event known as Our Worlds at War (JLA: Our Worlds at War #1, September 2001), Aquaman – along with the entire Atlantean city of Poseidonis – disappeared and were presumed dead.

Aquaman – and Poseidonis – were all eventually returned in JLA #66-75 (July 2002 to January 2003), having been lost in the ancient past.  The climax of this arc, which forced Aquaman to ensure the sinking of Atlantis, served as a springboard for a new Aquaman series (February 2003) in which he is branded a traitor by his own people.  Abandoned again upon a reef to die of exposure, Aquaman struggles his way inland, discovering a small pond.  The lake, inhabited by legendary Lady of the Lake, restores Aquaman’s hand, now composed of magical water.  Over the next several issues, writer Rick Veitch continued to draw parallels between Aquaman, and another famous royal Arthur.  Returning to a clean-shaven, short-haired look, Aquaman soon returned to his classic costume in #15 (April 2004).  Aquaman’s adventures continued until issue 39 (April 2006), and issue that dealt with the aftermath of the company-wide Infinite Crisis.  During a crusade to destroy all magic, The Spectre lashed out against Atlantis, destroying the city and killing many of its citizens.

  

Chronologically, the next major change for Aquaman occurred in World War III: The Valiant (June 2007).  Since Aquaman #15, Orin had become the defender of Sub Diego, a portion of San Diego sunk by an earthquake and inhabited by surface-dwellers turned water breathers.  As the humans began returning to their original state, Aquaman invoked the powers of Poseidon and Neptune, to save his charges.  As a cost for this power, Aquaman mutated into a monstrous, amnesiac, squid-like creature.  In this role, Aquaman appeared as the Dweller of the Depths in the re-titled series, Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis (#40, May 2006).  Acting a guide to a new Aquaman, the Dweller eventually came to realize his true identity, although he had no recollection of it.  Not long after (Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #50, May 2007), the Dweller was killed.  His water hand overtook the body and Orin became one with the ocean.  Due to the mystical nature of his death, Orin’s colleagues in the Justice League speculated that it may not be a permanent condition.

As the Blackest Night falls, it appears they may be correct, as Aquaman returns in issue #2…but not in the way his friends had hoped for…

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