Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wonder Wednesday 05-19-10 Aquaman Edition

Sorry, got called in to work this morning, so that's why this is late. For my birthday, Dave got me this sweet two-pack of Aquaman and Black Manta:I already have the original issues, but these were packaged together and could only be found at Walmart, PLUS they are repainted. The original Aquaman had a regular orange shirt, but this one's is GOLD! Plus his gloves and tights are this extra vibrant green. The original Black Manta is black and silver, but this one is a rich, dark indigo which more closely resembles the way he was painted on Super Friends! So Aquarific! In honor, today I am paying homage to inarguably my favorite male hero!
Of course, my first exposure to Aquaman was on Super Friends and I was so tiny at the time, that I'm pretty sure the only reason I gravitated toward him is that he was so colorful! I mean ALL of the others had black hair (even Batman, underneath that cowl) and his was screaming yellow, plus that costume, green, yellow, black and ORANGE! I can't even think of another hero whose costume is primarily orange NOW!
I couldn't properly pronounce his name at that age. I called him "Sharkoman" POSSIBLY because he swam under water with sharks.
Or maybe it was his giant trident, which I thought might come in handy when grilling and thus I may have actually be trying to call him "Charcoal Man" but couldn't pronounce it correctly. Or correctly incorrectly, as it were.
Aquaman is the Rodney Dangerfield of super heroes, no respect! I guess some see his jaunty suit or the countless times on TV that he had to ride bitch in Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet as being effeminate. Others just don't see the upside to being able to communicate with sea life.
As if the only marine animals he can communicate with are guppies and goldfish! Um, ever hear of the largest living creature on Earth, the Blue Whale? Or what about Killer Whales?! Or Sharks?! Or piranha?! Mr. Cool, Batman doesn't even HAVE powers! So nyah! If he fell in the ocean, you know what he'd do? Die, that's what! Yeah, not so funny now, is it? Also, Aquaman can survive the pressure of the depths of the ocean, which makes him practically invulnerable! I think they have even established him as being bulletproof! Okay, sure, he has to submerge himself in water every 24 hours or he'll die, but Jesus, Green Lantern's powers don't affect anything yellow! Aquaman could defeat him with a head butt!
AND, Black Manta, his archenemy is one of the coolest looking super villains around! And on Super Friends he had this cool robotic/Darth Vader voice, which in my head, he still has when I read his dialogue in comics. (Actually, most of the characters from SF still sound the same in my head, with the exception of those that had better voices in subsequent shows like Justice League Unlimited.)
What's really strange is that Aquaman was a huge star for DECADES! He debuted in 1941 and was one of only five DC heroes to continue adventuring after WWII, when super hero comics basically ceased publication. In the 1960s, he co-founded the Justice League of America and was tapped to co-headline a Saturday cartoon series, The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure!Plus, on the cartoon, he had the added ability to hurl powerful balls of water at his enemies... like mega-water balloons! He should be able to do that in the comics! It would make him more powerful, at least!
In addition to adventures starring Aquaman (always accompanied by Aqualad) and Superman, each episode featured a short starring a guest star, either The Atom, The Flash, Green Lantern or Hawkman... OR all four teamed up with Superman as The Justice League of America!
Sadly, and strangely, Aquaman appeared in the title sequence, but never in an actual JLA short. But they weren't even ten minutes long, so it wasn't like they could shoe-horn in TOO many characters. It'd be over before they finished role call.
At least Aqualad starred in the Teen Titans shorts along with Kid Flash, who also appeared in The Flash's shorts. Interestingly, Wonder Girl and Speedy were both featured on Teen Titans, but their mentors, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow didn't appear on the series at all.

With his own show broadcasting into the homes of millions, Aquaman was a prime candidate for licensed merchandise and indeed he was featured in the first real super hero toy line. Sadly, that line was Captain Action.Released by the Ideal toy company, Captain Action was conceived of as a super hero-themed competitor for GI Joe. Just like Joe, kids were expected to buy the basic doll... er, action figure, and then NEED the accessories to go with it. In this case, Ideal came up with the idea that the accessory packs would be costumes that enabled Captain Action to become any number of other super heroes.
The Captain Action doll himself is rather schlubby and sad looking. And some of his outfits were pretty weak as well. The Sgt. Fury military uniform is a drab camouflage jumpsuit. The Flash Gordon outfit is a blah white astronaut's suit. Aquman's...
I'm not sure if he had white hair originally or if they all faded after the fact, but I think all the Aquaman CA sets today have white hair, eyes and... for whatever reason, LIPS. The rest is fairly clever... a swordfish sword, a trident, a... lance? Er, okay. Flippers, overall, a nifty little set.

The following year, Captain Action's son, Action Boy joined the line and was given his own array of super costumes, so that he could become Superboy, Robin or... yup! Aqualad!
The Aqualad mask is infinitely better than the Aquaman one! His accessories are cute too, a sea shell axe and a seahorse dagger, and even a pet octopus named Octo!

In addition to Action Boy, Ideal released a villain for Captain Action, Dr. Evil, but unlike the heroes, Ideal didn't release neat little Joker or Black Manta suits for Dr. Evil. They just gave him generic criminal disguises, including an EXTREMELY racist Asian mastermind costume with fiery yellow skin!Sorry the pic is so crappy. It was the only one I could find. If you Google Dr. Evil, you just get a bunch of pictures of Mike Meyers.
Ideal also released a line of female companions for Captain Action, but for whatever reason, rather than recreate the CA formula with Action Woman and a line of super heroine costumes, they opted to release four stand-alone dolls based on Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Supergirl, as well as Mera! All four dolls utilized the existing molds Ideal had used to make its Tammy doll line, but the Super Queens have slightly more detailed faces. The first three came with a nondescript sack dress so they could assume their secret identities, but Mera doesn't have one, so she got screwed out of the second garment.

Captain Action never caught fire like GI Joe, due to any number of factors. Like I said, the Captain Action doll is rather sad looking. Honestly, I think the over-reliance on comic strip characters from ages ago might have hurt too. Who the hell is Steve Canyon?! Also, according to something I read, kids didn't like the idea of him dressing as the established heroes, because they already knew that Superman was really Clark Kent under his disguise, not some hoo-ha named Captain Action!
The Aquaman cartoon eventually disappeared, alongside the Captain Action toy line. Then in 1972, Mego made a deal with DC Comics to produce dolls based on its characters and the first four were naturally, Batman, Robin, Superman and Aquaman! Very soon afterward, Hanna Barbera produced a new Saturday morning show starring the super heroes, called Super Friends, which ran for almost ten years on ABC.
Mego not only produced an Aquaman doll, but eventually Aqualad as well. They even produced a playset, Aquaman Vs. The Gret White Shark:...the same year as the movie Jaws 2 came out, but unfortunately, the movie was no where near the phenomenon of the first Jaws and no real interest was generated for a shark-themed toy.

Allegedly, the Aquaman Mego was never a good seller and was packed minimally in assortments and even then lingered on pegs in stores. The Great White Shark playset reportedly languished for YEARS on clearance. I don't know where these magical stores, packed to the gills with Aquaman toys were, but they weren't in Mobile, Alabama! I NEVER saw an Aquaman! I'd probably have crapped my pants if I had! Noooo... instead, I just kept getting Superman, Shazam, Batman and Robin over and over again. (And don't even get me started on the girl characters!)
Despite being part of the core Super Friends team for nearly ten years, Aquaman only appeared in the opening credits of the 1984 season, having been replaced by new member, Firestorm, whose nuclear blast powers were apparently easier to work into storylines than Aquaman's talking to fish powers. He did appear a couple of times the next year, though.

Since that time, though, Aquaman's popularity has plummeted. His days as the fourth or fifth top gun (depending on where you rank Robin) are long over. In more recent times, both The Flash and Green Lantern have soared in popularity and most people consider them, along with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as the five biggest stars in the DC Universe. If a licensee releases a line of super hero anything, those five are part of it. Aquaman, not so much.
They tried toughening him up in the 90s. His hand was severed and replaced by a harpoon. He grew his hair all long and scraggly and a beard. God, grunge sucked! And worst of all, he lost his orange shirt! Boo!
But that's all turning around. A legion of former kids who grew up loving Aquaman just the way he was, orange jersey and all, are taking over the industry, so recently, he returned to his former glory. A new series is rumored to be in the works!
He's back on TV as well. The long-haired, harpoon-handed version appeared on Justice League Unlimited, but a more classic-looking version co-stars on Batman: The Brave & The Bold. This version of Aquaman is much more boisterous and fun-loving than previous depictions and his popularity is once again on the rise. He's already had several action figures release as part of the B&B toy line and amazingly, those figures AREN'T just warming pegs!

So perhaps we're seeing an Aqua-Renaissance! Here's hoping!

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