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Robert Greenberger

by Robert Greenberger

By 1968, everyone knew who Aquaman was, thanks to his weekly appearances on CBS’ Saturday morning children’s slate. The animated fare closely resembled the comic, which had been steadily produced by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy for several years. Artistically, Cardy was steadily growing with his craft so it became one of the best-looking books across the DC Comics line.

Incoming editor Dick Giordano, snatched away from Charlton Comics, saw the stories as safe, the focus on Aquababy and other elements too juvenile. He felt the book needed freshening so handed it to writer Steve Skeates and artist Jim Aparo, both coming over with Giordano. The results were hidden under Cardy covers, but readers were jolted.

Aquaman: The search for Mera

Skeates launched a serial as Aquaman’s mate, Mera, vanished and he left Atlantis in search of her. So began the heralded storyline, stretching from Aquaman #40-48, which is finally being collected as Aquaman: The search for Mera (interestingly, this has only been reprinted once before, thirty years back in adventure Comics when it was a digest).

Aquaman #40. The search begins.

Giordano wanted to explore what else lay under the sea and Skeates recalled in interviews that his editor wanted a western, with the Sea King visiting different communities all under the guise of seeking his wife. She vanishes in the initial story and the only clue her spouse has is that a man with a five-sided ring was seen (think the one-armed man or the assassin with a hook). Such a lengthy serial had not been previously attempted at DC although there had been several thematic stabs at the storytelling format and for the 1960s, this was still a radical method even for Marvel.

The serial remains consistently voted the top one or two Aquaman stories of all time according to numerous online news sites and blogs.

Readers responded and sales were strong although publisher Carmine Infantino canceled the series with #56, incorrectly telling Giordano it was a sales move. later research showed it was quite profitable.

Aquaman #42

The Skeates/Aparo/Giordano (dubbed SAG at the time) team delivered interesting civilizations, character-driven motivation, and stunning artwork. Aparo admitted to initially being intimidated by Cardy’s work but grew into his own after a handful of issues. While visiting new realms, Aquaman still had familiar threats such as Black Manta. However, there were also issues nagging back at Atlantis, with a heady dose of politics as well, with Narkran angling to take the throne from the absent king. Vulko, Aqualad, and Aquagirl did their best to stop the brewing coup.

There was a sense of urgency to these stories, absent from the previous run and across the line. Mera had to be found for his family, the King had to return to rule his people. Her explanation for the abduction and absence may be a bit of a letdown given the buildup, but at least it was a plausible one that played into the overall series. Regardless, once she’s found, they have to return home quickly as undersea quakes threaten to send their domed city to the surface, something Narkran sees as a plus.

It probably helped Skeates that his fellow Charlton import, Denny O’Neil was writing Justice league of America at the time and knew of the quest. As a result, the Sea King made only sporadic appearances elsewhere in the line during this two-year story lending some continuity and credence to the quest.

Aquaman #48. The story reaches its climax.

What we have here is a dramatic story that widens the readers’ understanding of the undersea worlds while deepening the characterizations of all the key players. It allowed Skeates to grow as a writer, neatly weaving multiple plots per issue and putting his mark on the series in a way few of his predecessors managed.

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