Monday, September 10, 2007
Here's something you don't see anymore: a monster story combined with Cold War jitters. "The Merman Menace" is from Forbidden Worlds #5, published by the American Comics Group, dated March-April, 1952. The writer is unknown, but according to the Grand Comics Database, the artist is Lin Streeter, about whom I know little. About all I could learn about Streeter is that he was active in comics from the early '40s until at least the 1950s.
You've gotta love having a monster pumped full of adrenalin and benzedrine to get him back up to speed, so he can get revenge on the Reds. It's in the story, folks. I don't make this stuff up.
Just as this giant merman is a survivor of an underwater city, so is Aquaman a citizen of Atlantis. He was born of an Atlantean mom and an American dad. He can stay out of water for an hour but then he has to be submerged again. His adventures had to be short because of that hour time limit, no doubt.
I was given the DC phonebook-sized Showcase Presents Aquaman, and have enjoyed reading a story or two a night. I read Aquaman stories in Adventure Comics in the 1950s and enjoyed them then, too. Of course, at that time I didn't really discern how gimmicky the plots are. I should have, because that was DC Comics in a nutshell: all gimmicks, all the time. Something I appreciate even more than I did 50 years ago is the artwork of Ramona Fradon. Ms Fradon had an excellent semi-cartoony style, perfectly suited to the somewhat zany plots.* Her panels are full of action and her sea creatures are great. In the 1960s I liked her work on Metamorpho and in the 1970s on Super-Friends.
My favorite story (so far) in the book is "The Undersea Hospital," reprinted from Adventure Comics #262, cover-dated July 1959. In this outrageous tale Aquaman opens a "hospital" for his finny friends, splinting a broken tentacle (!) for his octopus friend, helping a dogfish who chased a catfish and got in trouble. You get the idea. At the end an outrageous story goes right off the outrageousness charts when Aquaman is shot by some bad guys. The sea creatures help him: swordfish-surgeons cut into him, and sucker fish suck out the bullets!
After a tryout in Showcase (the comic book) Aquaman got his own book and the stories went totally bonkers, as all DC Comics did, with science fiction monsters and menaces. The Aquaman artwork went from Fradon to another great artist, Nick Cardy.
The current Showcase series of volumes is bringing back all of the old DC characters, the gimmick plots, the ridiculous and stilted dialogue, just as we saw them in the 1950s and '60s. At an affordable price, too. I hope you're joining in the fun and nostalgia of these great black and white reprints.
*The editor was Mort Weisinger, who showed in Action Comics, Superman, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, etc., etc., how much mileage a comic book editor can get out of a few gimmicks. The writer on most of the Aquaman stories in Adventure Comics was Robert Bernstein, probably best known amongst Golden Age fans as writer of Psychoanalysis for EC Comics' New Direction. Apparently Bernstein had psychological problems, had psychoanalysis, and elements of it pop up even in the Aquaman stories.
It's a bonus! If you've read this far then you deserve a treat. I'm enclosing an extra story about another famous half-fish, half-human hero. The story is from the late 1940s, and was part of the box full of comic book tear sheets I received years ago. I went through and assembled the complete stories, of which this is one. Comic title unknown, by a writer and artist unknown. (See note by reader Darci below.)