Friday, August 10, 2018

And Death Before Dishonor (DC)
Adventure Comics #444 When: March-April 1976 Why: Paul Levitz & Gerry Conway How: Jim Aparo

The Story So Far...
When a fleet of unfamiliar Atlantean warships appears off the coast Monaco - Aquaman springs into action to discover a blackmailing plot hatched by his half-brother Orm!

The Ocean Master demands of Monaco their treasury in gold and silver bullion -- while from Aquaman he wants the substance known as Serum X! Capable of turning air-breathing humans into sub-aquatic amphibians; the closely guarded formula would be easy for the King of Atlantis to acquire -- had he not be deposed while away on the surface!

Fresh from battle with "The Shark" King Karshon, Aquaman abandons his effort to steal Serum X, instead opting to turn his frontal assault on Ocean Master's deep sea headquarters!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Aquaman 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Ocean Master 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Aquaman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Aquaman 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Aquaman 2 (Average)
Fighting: Aquaman 4 (Training)
Energy: Ocean Master 5 (Lasers)
Total: Aquaman 24 (Champion)

It's high time we had a little high sea smackdown - and who better to take on the King of Atlantis than his own flesh & blood?! It's a royal family affair as half-brothers bring bad blood to bear beneath the crashing waves!

Aquaman is a stronger than average Atlantean, possessing the power and durability necessary to endure the pressures associated with deep ocean waters! T
he degree of that power has fluctuated over the years - growing with modern examples. We saw him wield his might offensively with a kayo uppercut to the powerhouse Olympian in JLA: Classified #3!

With breathing under water presumed; Aquaman's most recognized super-power has long been his ability to mentally commune with marine life. When he lost control of his body fighting the Mercury Monster, he was able to summon a school of fish in Secret Origins #32. A killer whale helped finish Sub-Mariner in their infamously controversial Marvel versus DC #2 showdown!

Telepathically summoning sea life doesn't always guarantee success. Sharks weren't able to secure a win when Aquaman went head-to-head with Despero in JLA #118. The alien's vast mental powers outclassed Aquaman's, which have sometimes extended to humans. Fortunate, then, Ocean Master is a long way from developing his own potent psychic powers at this time!

The man sometimes known as Orm Marius has undergone even more radical reinventions than Aquaman. His status as the hero's brother has cast his heritage as both resentfully human, but also equally Atlantean.

Whatever his status: Ocean Master always wields a powerful arsenal of malice against his enemies! Hi-tech solutions, such as his unique helmet, have allowed him to exist beneath the airless oceans. A combination of conventional weaponry, and mystic Atlantean artefacts, have ensured he can weaponized the water itself, and threaten opponents above and below the surface!

Despite the danger he poses, Aquaman has at times shown reluctance to harm his pirate brother. Familial psychology played a part in our only past example of Ocean Master's villainy when Martian Manhunter briefly exploited it in a psychic vision. Orm saw his own trident turned against him by his brother, before baring witness to the Martian's eventual murder, in Final Crisis: Requiem #1.

At the time of this fight, Aquaman has the edge of natural underwater dwelling -- but also the distraction of having just lost his kingdom! He's fighting alone, while Ocean Master commands an army of kamikaze troops!

The Tape: Aquaman Ranking: Aquaman (#63)

What Went Down...
Fifteen miles off the coast of Monaco, Ocean Master anticipates the arrival of Aquaman with Serum X. He presumes his brother to be a hapless slave -- until aide Jurgin spots him coming in hot with a company of electric eels!

Ocean Master scrambles to activate his kamikaze army, but the eels' charge disrupts the signal! Attack crafts are still within reach, but quickly destroyed when whales answer Aquaman's call -- ramming them to destruction!

Before the self-proclaimed Ocean Master can enact threats of total humiliation upon his brother - Aquaman enters the deep sea fortress!

Ocean Master trembles with rage at the sight of his brother - lunging to meet him with arms stretched! This is no greeting of brotherly affection, but rather the insane grasp of a villain who means to choke the life from his nemesis!

With the strength of a madman, Ocean Master wraps his hands around Aquaman's throat! The force of his momentum slams the hero to the ground, but Aquaman's resolve is strong as he stares defiantly into his brother's eyes!

Green gloves wrap around Ocean Master's wrists and squeeze - loosening his grip on Aquaman's neck! The deposed King takes his opportunity, swatting Orm with a left cross to the chin!

The blow sends Ocean Master recoiling, but Aquaman only makes it to his knees before Orm manages to drive his knee into the hero's heart!

Aquaman may be able to breathe beneath the sea, but even he must clutch his chest after such a vicious impact! The pain is not exclusive! Ocean Master rubs his jaw, still reeling from the King's blow, even as he staggers across the control room with finger outstretched -- seeking annihilation!

In desperation Aquaman dives across the room, tackling his brother's legs out from under him -- but it's too late! Even in the fall, Ocean Master managed to hit the button that launches three missiles heading for Monaco!

Death and destruction seems certain for the principality -- until a bubble of hard water suddenly forms around the weapons! Queen Mera successfully detonates the warheads harmlessly inside the hard water shell!

The Hammer...
We never actually get to see the finishing blows, but the abrupt wrap-up implies Aquaman dealt with his brother off-panel, while Mera saves the day for Monaco with her last minute hard-water heroics!

The ending reminds me of a Dennis O'Neil quote: "Occasionally -- just occasionally -- a penciller will become so involved in making wonderful pictures, or drawing what he likes, that he'll forget about parts that may be quiet, but have to be present if the story is to make sense. When you see a story loaded with captions that explain the motives of the characters or describes events that aren't in the story, this is probably what happened."

Some of the finer details get lost at the end, and a few panels wind up a tad sparse, but for the most part it's all smiles as the frenetic action sweeps Aquaman along a current of intense combat!

The "novel-length thriller" of Adventure Comics #444 super-sizes the Aquaman action to fill an entire issue - dispensing with the usual back-up shorts. The ol' novel-length sales pitch feels a little bit cheeky at seventeen pages of comic, but I do wonder if a last minute decision by the editor contributed to some of the looseness.

When I think of Jim Aparo, my go-to reference is usually sharper, more angular and stern figures in his late eighties Batman work. Here, his lines crash and flow like the churning surf! I figured we're overdue a classic showdown with Ocean Master -- but it's actually the least spectacular fight in the issue!

The full length issue delivers the intriguing Karshon to the throne of Atlantis, pitting the former ruler against some of his once-loyal subjects. There are a couple of determined Atlantean Guardsmen that get treated to a particularly brutal impact! Just one of the many skirmishes littering the issue!

I started the year with Flash Gordon on the brain, and I can't help but think of Alex Raymond as I'm whipped through the exotic undersea kingdom by Aparo's blonde adventurer.

The light shadows implying realistic faces, and loose action lines really evoke Raymond. As does the light political intrigue of key figures maneuvering within vividly picture cultures. Even Queen Mera and "Aquababy" feel fitting, with loyalist Vulko a stand-in for Dr. Zarkhov, and Karshon a double for any of the varied rulers of Flash Gordon's intergalactic kingdoms.

It became popular to go sword & sorcery with Aquaman and Atlantis, when he wasn't doubting himself, or subject to outright ridicule. There's some good stuff in a lot of those interpretations, but this might be a peak for me.

This is the kind of Aquaman that really makes you wonder how the character ever fell out of popular favour! Fortunately, this decade has seen him firmly restored to a place of respect amongst the DC pantheon!

Aquaman's aesthetic ascension on film could be the difference maker Warner Brothers has been looking for their DC Extended Universe series! Jason Mamoa will be swimming back to cinemas in December, taking on Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master, with Amber Heard as Mera! Exciting times that will almost certainly give us the perfect excuse to return to more classic comics action!

Want to get ahead of the swell to surf the ultimate wave of Aquaman excitement? Do yourself a favour and cast a net to catch some of Aquaman's most exciting stories in history! A

dventure Comics #444 is included with a cavalcade of classics in trade paperback and digital collected editions! Shopping via the Amazon links provided not only gets you great stories, but also helps support the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths at no extra cost!

Find more classic battles with these characters and more by following links throughout this post or label tags below! You can also find every featured fight catalogued by publisher, series, and issue by diving into the Secret Index. Or follow on Twitter and Facebook for daily links to battles inspired by the popular topics of the day! Say ahoy with a like & share!

Winner: Aquaman (w/ Mera)
#40 (+23) Aquaman
#538 (new) Mera
#545 (-46) Ocean Master

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