Fire & Water #231 – How Aquaman Got His Powers

For its 60th anniversary on March 31, 2019, Rob and Shag take a look at the introduction(?) of the Silver Age Aquaman in “How Aquaman Got His Powers”, by Robert Bernstein and Ramona Fradon, from ADVENTURE COMICS #260!

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7 responses to “Fire & Water #231 – How Aquaman Got His Powers

  1. Thanks for the informative episode. This may have been the 1st Aquaman solo story I ever read. I believe it was reprinted in one of the digests during the 1980s.

  2. I also remember reading this in my youth, maybe in a digest? Or in a hardcover book from my library that had both the original version of the heroes and their Silver Age updates?

    Anyways, love this story and the art. Even without the book in front of me, IO can see the image of kid Arthur in the tank with the sword fish!

    Looking at Mike’s Amazing World, Action Comics #252 (the first appearance of Supergirl) was also released on 3/31/1959 (despite the May cover date). So that means the *new* Aquaman and the introduction of Supergirl hit the stands on the same day! Happy birthday to us!

    Lastly, I met Fradon in 2010 at the Baltimore Comic Con and had her sign my Super Friends #37. She was so friendly and nice. As you say, if you have a chance to meet your comic heroes, go do it!

    Thanks for great episode!

  3. This story was indeed reprinted in DC Special Series #19, a “Secret Origins of Super-Heroes” digest. That’s where I first read it too!

    SO Digest

    I can’t really add much that you two didn’t already mention. There’s something incredibly primal about this origin. It just FEELS right. The imagery is instantly iconic, and the filmmakers were very smart to basically adapt this aspect of the story and leave well enough alone.

    Bernstein is one of those names I recognize, but I had no info on him, at all. Thanks for filling us in. Ramona Fradon is a treasure, and I only wish I had gotten a sketch from her when we met.

    As for when the Silver Age versions began, as Michael Bailey might say, that’s a zero sum game. There are basically NO first appearances of the non-rebooted Silver Age/Earth-One versions of the DC characters. These things happened in stages. Sources (including Who’s Who!) who cite Earth-One Batman’s first appearance as Detective #327 are kidding themselves. Who the heck was the Batman in JLA in the 4 plus years prior that that comic? The Earth-Two Batman? I don’t think so! In fact, I think you could use B&B #28 as the most definitive hardline for Batman’s first Earth-One appearance at least. It’s the first story that is most definitely NOT a tale of what we would later know as the Earth-Two Batman. Who’s to say Earth-Two Aquaman didn’t have a Topo as well? We do know his origin was different, so this issue is a better marker for myself.

    Great episode guys!

    Chris

  4. Distinctions like “The Silver Age of Comics” is such a nerdcentric specification, but as with many things in life, it’s is also clearly biased as all hell in retrospect. For instance, I just looked at Wikipedia and it states the Golden Age ends in 1950. However, super-heroes were hitting a slump even before the war ended, and most were on their way out by 1948. However, crime, horror, and teen humor were huge until the ’50s juvenile delinquency scare and self-censorship tanked much of the industry in 1953-1954. Y’know, Captain Marvel stuck around until ’53, and Plastic Man until ’56? Tell me again how comics could be experiencing a “revival” as early as 1955? Never mind that Dell was still doing gangbuster business with their licensed adaptations, or that romance ands funny animals were continuing to sell. All 1955 represented was the beginning of a successful DC/National super-hero revival, which impressed O.G. white fanboys like Jerry Bails & Roy Thomas, who went on to write the early histories of the comic book industry through the myopic lens of super-hero fandom. Perhaps the sharpest distinction of the “Silver Age” is that it was when television began killing every other genre but super-heroes, while the “Bronze Age” marked the start of a collector’s niche that pushed out women & children? It’s all wankery.

    That said, I am that kind of nerd, and looking for a distinction between Earth-Two and Earth-One is more doable. However, as I’ve often mentioned, the modern concept of a shared universe doesn’t really begin until Fantastic Four #1. It’s a Marvel construct. DC was a multiverse of distinct universes that sometimes intersected in mostly trivial ways. There is no true break point for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, who just retroactively had them applied to try to force square pegs in round holes. Like Aquaman, Wonder Woman at least got a new origin in the ’50s, but she was still a World War II heroine until Perez, and having two Dianas on two Earths fight the Nazis (with one marrying Steve Trevor and the other dating his son in modern times) is the sort of thing that gave this hobby its sordid reputation. Stylistically speaking, the ’40s and ’50s Batmen are two different dudes and neither is the New Look Batman, so where does Earth-Eisenhower fit in? They’re throwaway yarns for early readers, not a consistent continuity. That’s why Crisis on Infinite Earths was so appealing to Generation X: because that’s when DC finally became Marvel, and everything super could become a homogeneous playground for self-serious fanboys. Sugar was Spiked for our sins.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but my introduction to the Silver Age Aquaman origin story (or really any Aquaman origin) was the inside cover of the Super Powers action figure carrying case at Circus World (I never owned one.) I was like, “Huh. Okay. So he was the Boy Who Didn’t Drown?”

  5. I also remember reading this story in the Secret Origins digest. Did Jim Aparo reference some of these panels when Aquaman’s origin was told in the revival of his solo title in the late 70s? I am disappointed that Rob and Shag did not once mention Mort Weisinger! Okay, I’m disappointed Rob didn’t mention him. Shag can’t even pronounce it. Weisinger was the editor of Adventure, and was the guy responsible for keeping Aquaman in print. If we take a look at Weisinger’s books, and ignore Showcase and Julius Schwartz’s other books, we’ll see that Mort was re-tooling his characters in a sort of “soft re-launch” kind of way. Around the time of this story was the re-appearance of the Legion of Super Heroes, and an origin for the Superman-Batman team. What intrigues me is how Aquaman was allowed to be used by other editors. Julie used him in Justice League, obviously, but it was editor Jack Schiff who put him in Showcase, Detective and then his solo title. I wonder if he had no desire, or ability, to create new costumed heroes, or if Mort strong-armed him into using one of his (Mort’s) characters to keep him in print when he (Mort) was too busy expanding Superman’s world.

  6. Great ep! I, too, remember reading this story first in that Secret Origins digest and those Fradon frames are pretty well seared in my brain.

    Couple things:
    – Robert Bernstein also created (or at least was writer on the 1st appearance of) General Zod and Metallo during his Superman run! “Unsung” is putting it mildly, right? Also, apparently he was Jack Kirby’s neighbor and bounced ideas off him all the time, leading to speculation that Metallo was actually a Kirby co-creation! Could the Human Flying Fish also bear Kirby fingerprints?;)

    -On the topic of the impetus for the origin refresh, I think it’s important to consider the exact same thing occured for Green Arrow in January of ’59, with his Golden Age Native American influenced origin being supplanted with the now-familiar desert island origin.

    Great work again guys!

  7. ‘All 1955 represented was the beginning of a successful DC/National super-hero revival, which impressed O.G. white fanboys like Jerry Bails & Roy Thomas, who went on to write the early histories of the comic book industry through the myopic lens of super-hero fandom.‘

    Frank, why the anger? What the heck harm did these guys do? That was their interest and they have quite the legacy. So often you seem to adopt a contrarianism position that’s pure kneejerk. How does ‘OG white fanboys’ even work in the context of the early Sixties? You admit to being a nerd yourself, they found their joy, you found yours. I love your insights and passion but it doesn’t always have to be ‘Angry Frank’.

    Loved this episode, it’s such a great story by two creators who really knew what they were doing.

    Line of the week: ‘I like the way he straddles the whales…’

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