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The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Aquaman Was TAUGHT to Breathe Underwater?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today, we examine Aquaman’s odd original origin..

Enjoy!

When Aquaman first debuted in More Fun Comics #73, here was his origin…

This origin, written by Mort Weisinger, stood for nearly TWO DECADES before writer Robert Bernstein was tasked (by Weisinger himself, now an editor) with coming up with a new back story for Aquaman, including, for the first time ever, a “real” name for Aquaman (as despite the fact that his origin story clearly indicates that he was born of a normal human being, he was never called anything but Aquaman for his first 19 years or so of his existence). The results appeared in Adventure Comics #260, as Aquaman explains to a naval officer why he does not want the Navy practicing bomb tests in a certain area of the ocean….

And that, more or less, has been his basic origin ever since (stress basic, as there have been PLENTY of retcons mixed in since then).

37 Comments

I dunno… iI know the rules for A & F seem a bit fuzzy, but it seems like his origin was either abandoned or forsaken, but not both… (Wasn’t the premise that the future writer would have to explain away the original thing to be dropped?)

The original story just has to be abandoned and then overwritten (without a line-wide reboot like Crisis or Flashpoint, of course).

One of the very first installments of Abandoned An’ Forsaked had to do with the Fantastic Four seeing Doom’s real face and then Byrne doing an issue later on where Sue mentions she has never seen Doom’s real face (without specifically stating “I have never seen Doom’s true face, even though it seems like I did awhile back”).

Another installment had to do with a change in where Superman’s powers came from (going from “Kryptonians are super-strong themselves” to “Earth’s yellow sun gives Kryptonians powers”) with no notation that this new explanation differed from the previous one.

Most of the time, when a comic overwrites an earlier story, it will specifically explain away the earlier story – but that is not a requirement. It just has to override a previous story that is now being abandoned in favor of the new story.

What an outstanding artwork from Ramona Fradon (Adventure Comics #260), especially coming from that era.

I think Green Arrow’s origin is even more dramatic in its overwriting– from a really complicated affair involving both Oliver Queen and Roy Harper and American Indians, to Oliver Queen washing up on shore of Star Island and practicing survival techniques to become a world-class archer.

It too was another Weisinger-created character whose original origin stood for almost 20 years before he had someone rewrite it. I wonder if it was done around the same time Aquaman’s was changed?

As john “Mikishawm” Wells has pointed out, Speedy’s origin was repeatedly changed:

“Unlike his partner, Speedy actually had three origins, one in 1943 (More Fun # 89), one in 1959 (Adventure # 262) and a forgotten third one in 1954 (Adventure # 209). Each version had an orphaned Roy raised and trained in archery by an Indian mentor (variously Quoag, Chief Thunderhead or Brave Bow) but the similarities largely ended there.”

Atlanna and Tom Curry were terrible parents.

It’s strange how the changes in Aquaman’s origin make him MORE like Namor.

In a sense, this was not quite abandoned or forsaken. The golden age Aquaman of Earth-2 still had that origin, and he eventually was erased from continuity after the Crisis of Infinite Earths. Later, when Sword of Aquaman came out (which I always like to call ‘Sort of Aquaman’), a young man named Arthur Curry had the golden age Aquaman origin and took over as Aquaman. With the coming of the Earth 2 comic, I wonder if we will see the golden age Aquaman with his original origin.
The same is true of Green Arrow, in fact, that his old origin is considered the origin of the golden age Green Arrow (who, like Aquaman, was erased from the continuity after Crisis). I once read an article by the creator of Green Arrow, where he explained why Green Arrow’s origin was altered. He explained that he really didn’t like the original origin that was published, so he came up with another one and just published what he considered the better origin, assuming nobody who read comics really cared that much about continuity and so would not notice. It’s a funny statement, considering how fans are now.

WARNING: Horrifying Continuity Geekery Ahead

I suppose fans could treat the Green Arrow example could be treated just as DC editorial eventually treated the Aquaman situation: the version from More Fun Comics #89 is the Earth-2 (Golden Age) G.A. origin, and the later version is the Earth-1 (Silver Age) G.A.’s backstory.

Bull’s Eye is the only Golden Age G.A. character (other than the heroes) who has some possible Earth-1 relevance — he once inspired the Signalman to take on Batman as the Blue Bowman, an evil Green Arrow ripoff — I suppose there’s a virtually identical Bull’s Eye on both Earths, just as the Batmen of both Earths had nearly identical early careers and enemies. (Well, until Gerry Conway started introducing very different, post-dated versions of the Monk and Dala and the Scarlet Horde.)

The three Speedy origins could be assigned to Earth-1 (the last version), Earth-2 (the More Fun #89 version), and Earth-B or Earth-E (the “forgotten” version). For those wondering, Earth-B was where they dumped the goofily out-of-character Bob Haney and Murray Boltinoff stuff from the 1960s. Earth-E was where stories that didn’t fit on E-1 or E-2 fit, such as a team-up story that had Robin time-travel and wind up helping Superboy (E-1 only; the Golden Age Superman was never Superboy) survive his first encounter with an adult Luthor (since the E-1 Luthor was the same age as the E-1 Superboy). Boh Earths were named in lettercolumns and interviews with fans, not in actual stories.

This sort of continuity-porn bafflegab is why geeks like me sometimes miss the DC Multiverse of old and also why losing it was probably a good idea.

Is it just me, or is the Golden Age origin a bit stronger?

I do not mean better told. The Bernstein-Fradon take is much better crafted story. The rescue of Alanna from the hurricane alone is worth the price of admission. However, the idea of Atlantis as a abandoned and growing up there having a weird effect on young Arthur Curry seems like a rich vein of further stories. The Alanna as a exile story is essentially closed. She is dead, so her conflict with her father is off the table. Aquaman knows where Atlantis is (and has become its protector), so there is no conflict there. That necessitates some sort of retcon to open it up.

Pg. 6 panel 4, feels like Arthur is actually going to list all 150 species before the teacher interrupts him.

“Pg. 6 panel 4, feels like Arthur is actually going to list all 150 species before the teacher interrupts him.”

I wonder how the rest of his exams went:

“Amazing! Simply amazing! Now, what’s three times four?”

“Um…the whale shark is the larges of all sharks. It subsists mainly on plankton…”

The Ramona Fradon art is just delightful. I like the Golden Age art well enough too. Artist and original creator(s) credits please!

I dunno what’s so strange about naming your kid Aquaman. That’s what I plan to do!

…and that’s probably why I don’t have any kids.

The funny thing is, even after we found out his name was Arthur, he was still usually called just Aquaman, even by his wife.

Bicycle-Repairman

March 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

The Aquaman story from More Fun Comics #73 was written by Mort Weisinger and drawn by Paul Norris. I’d like to read more Golden Age Aquaman stories but I think only a couple have been reprinted.

interesting that they changed aquamans story to starting out with his father being the one that taught him his powers over fish to the one that has last so long he is from an altania female and she fell in love with his human father the light house keep arthur though surprised that in the first version Atlantis is no more the version that has lasted as the normal origin aquaman mother gets vanished from atlantis. and has him on shore.

Bernard the Poet

March 11, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I seem to remember that when Roy Thomas used the Golden Age Aquaman in his All Star Squadron stories back in the ‘Eighties, he used the familiar lighthouse keeper/mermaid origin rather than Weisinger’s original version.

I assume that the Submariner was out of print at the time of Aquaman’s reboot and no-one imagined that Timely would get back into the superhero business, because that is a pretty outrageous rip-off of his origin. It is a shame, because I agree with Dean Hacker that the first origin is stronger.

Bernard: The new Aquaman origin was in an issue dated May 1959. The Sub-Mariner reemerged in FF#4 dated May 1962, exactly three years later. So that sounds pretty reasonable… except that the final issue of Subby’s own Golden Age title was in October 1955, less than four years before Aquaman’s new origin debuted. There’s not really much of a window of time when Timely/Atlas/Marvel was entirely out of the superhero business.

And that’s certainly true of DC as well. Aquaman himself was actually never out of print from the Golden Age into the Silver Age. Both he and Green Arrow had continuous adventures in the back pages of Adventure Comics behind Superboy, who kept going and going while superhero comics in general were in decline.

Bernard the Poet

March 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

I’ve been reflecting on Aquaman’s change of origin and it seems strange to me. In the original version, Atlantis is long gone, so Aquaman’s ability to breathe under water makes him unique. In the revised version, he becomes one of millions of people, who live under the sea.

It is not just Aquaman, the Golden Age Hawkman is a reincarnated Egyptian prince,but his Silver Age replacement is a policeman from another planet, with abilities that are ten a penny on Thanagar. The Golden Age Green Lantern is like no other person in the universe, the Silver Age Green Lantern is one among thousands, if he is killed we know that he will be replaced in a heartbeat.

Even the Flash, who starts off as unique is quickly knee-deep in alternatives. Soon readers are introduced to the Earth 2 Flash, the Earth 3 Johnny Quick, Kid Flash and the Reverse Flash.

Now I suppose that there is some sociological reason behind this. Could it be that in pre-war isolationist America, individuals were lauded. Whereas following the Second World War and at the height of Eisenhower’s Pax Americana, Americans saw it was their legions not their individuals that made them strong? Of course it could all be a coincidence.

“Atlanna and Tom Curry were terrible parents.”

Agreed.

“Sure son, you can go swim out there. I’m sure the sharks won’t be by today.”

“Um…honey? Darling? how come the sharks don’t eat our son?”
“Oh, don’t worry too much about it, just chill.”
“Oh, okay.”

” Could it be that in pre-war isolationist America, individuals were lauded. Whereas following the Second World War and at the height of Eisenhower’s Pax Americana, Americans saw it was their legions not their individuals that made them strong?”

I think you’re on to something there, Bernard the Poet. It wasn’t just the superheroes, but also the adventure groups too: Challengers of The Unknown, Sea Devils, Cave Carson’s group… All working together.

I particularly like the bit about “I’ll tell you the truth someday.”

“Hey, Atlanna, you’re my wife. How about you tell me the truth TODAY? ‘Cause, y’know, I should have established a certain level of trust with you, right?”

@ Berard the Poet:

That is an excellent point.

The other factor is the comic code. The Golden Age Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl had supernatural origins. Both were tinged with some more ambiguity. The Green Lantern itself was almost a curse to everyone before Alan Scott. Carter Hall and Shiera Sanders were bashing real people with ancient weapons based upon the belief that they were immortal lovers.

Therefore, Julie Scwartz needed to clean it up across a couple different dimensions. His (and Mort Wesinger’s) go to move was “aliens”, which automatically made the characters less unique. For whatever reason, it also has aged less well than Marvel’s all purpose “radiation”.

Aquaman’s Atlantis is really just a slight variation of the Alien theme. The same thing is true of the Amazons, the Kryptonians and even the LoSH who spent most of their early adventures in the 20th century. It is disappointing that they felt the need to hammer The flash into the same mold.

I really think the alien based DC orgin stories have aged a *lot* better than Marvel’s radiation-as-magic trope. We’ve never met aliens, so who knows, maybe there’s a big corps of space cops out there – but we know all about how radiation works and what it does to people, which makes the Marvel origins seem a bit… fantastical.

Bernard the Poet

March 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Kevin – of cpurse the “radiation-as-magic trope” is fantastical but it has the advantage of being a quick and throwaway method to give characters powers. Once you have established that Bruce Banner can turn into a jolly green giant or Peter Parker can walk up walls to doesn’t really matter how it happened and the author can easily avoid drawing attention to their origin and just concentrate on their present.

That isn’t as easy to do if their origin is derived from them being an alien. It becomes integral to every story. And so draws attention to how unlikely it is. ‘Why is Hawkman flying around bare-chested with a mace?’
‘Well that’s how Thanagarian policemen tackle crime’.
‘Really? He has the technology to fly all the way to Earth in a spaceship, but could be blown out of the sky by anyone who can shoot straight.’

Much better if Carter Hall had been bitten by a radioactive hawk.

@ Kevin Street:

i more agree with your assessment in the “Radiation vs. Alliens” power source debate. i think that Ellis’ “Ruins” is a great retort to Dean Hacker’s assertion about the ‘Radiation vs. Aliens’ battle between the Big 2. That book shows what radiation would actually do to people.

Not that i want to make a habit out of disagreeing with Dean! :-)

@ Kevin Street:

Neither conceit is especially well grounded in science.

However, the Marvel concept feels more modern than the Silver Age DC one. With “radiation-as-magic”, the key is the inner life of the effected character. Bruce Banner is angry inside, so he becomes The Hulk after exposure to gamma rays. Peter Parker feels weird inside, so he becomes Spider-Man. The outside of the superhero is reflective of the inner state of his (or her) secret identity. The idea of being a different person in different contexts is very modern.

The “Earth-as-a-cosmic-airport” idea is more reductive. All these different alien races have one (and only one) culture. They one set of attributes. They have one dominant technology. It feels like an outmoded way of looking at the world and the people in it. It is like saying that all French people wear berets and eat croissants, or all Canadians drink beer and watch hockey.

Bernard the Poet

March 14, 2012 at 12:38 am

@Kevin & Dean,

I really like this idea that DC and Marvel can be reduced to “radiation-as-magic” vs “Earth-as-a-cosmic-airport.”

Henceforth I shall be claiming it as my own.

…Dean -”The “Earth-as-a-cosmic-airport” idea is more reductive. All these different alien races have one (and only one) culture. ”

Completely agree, this has always bothered me on Star Trek and other Sci FI. Every alien planet seemingly has one unified global culture. Occasionally you get a second culture on the other side of the planet. Seems rather oversimplified and boring, not to mention naively idealized and unbelievable.

…although I must take issue with your logic because all Canadians drink beer and watch hockey ;-)

Odd thing about Aquaman and Flash Gordon; in one tale Gordon could breathe underwater and wore a scaled orang shirt.

Man, the art in the Adventure Comics story is gorgeous.

“Completely agree, this has always bothered me on Star Trek and other Sci FI. Every alien planet seemingly has one unified global culture. Occasionally you get a second culture on the other side of the planet. Seems rather oversimplified and boring, not to mention naively idealized and unbelievable.”

Well first off since we only see these alien civilizations for 45 minutes or less it could be case of things just seeming that way.

And who’s to say, from a distance maybe all Earthlings seem to have the same culture.

“All these Earthers wear clothing made of fabric and are obsessed with sexual reproduction!”

I know that once I left the US all Americans started to seem the same.

Joining in the love for Ramona Fradon’a . There’s a later story, “The Human Flying Fish” where the mad scientist looks so folksy, I could almost imagine him plotting evil with an Irish brogue (he doesn’t have one, but she gives him a twinkle in his eye that’s quite incongruous with being the bad guy).
While Aquaman is protecting Atlantis, he’s still an outcast at that point–it’s not until his Showcase tryout for his own book that he goes and visits (unfortunately they don’t do anything with the xenophobic suspicion of Atlanteans who leave the nest). I think the second origin’s better.
The idea that radiation reflects the inner You is something they suggested years later (I think What If #6 was the first example). Not something in the Silver Age. Bruce Banner wasn’t particular angry inside, in fact he had almost no personality (early Hulk is not Lee and Kirby’s finest hour).
As for the group-heroic model of Silver Age DC (or at least the Schwartz books) I don’t think it fits. Atom was unique. Adam Strange ditto. And Hawkman, having won the honor wings, was established as the best of the best, not one of the pack. It could just as easily be the realization that having an alien culture and another world to return to gives Hawk-writers more to play with (same with GL–the post-Crisis decision that he could only be interesting if he was unique was completely wrong).

The JLA/JSA graphic novel Virtue and Vice actually touched on the monoculture concept: Despero explains the reason aliens keep trying to conquer Earth is because a species with so many different cultures and philosophies has the potential to solve any problem if it could get its shit together.

[...] The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Aquaman Was TAUGHT to Breathe …Mar 10, 2012 … Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically … [...]

“It’s strange how the changes in Aquaman’s origin make him MORE like Namor.”

Those were my exact thoughts too.

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