Spinner Rack: "The Day Aquaman Lost His Powers" - Part One

Posted by Joanna Sandsmark on 6/4/2013

What would be the most perilous and horrifying situation Aquaman could ever experience? (Constantly getting canceled doesn't count.) The answer will terrify you.

"An ironic twist of fate transforms the water itself into a dangerous and deadly place for Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, to be in! Yet, he cannot survive out of the water for more than an hour! This is the dilemma of doom that bold raiders try to take advantage of…The Day Aquaman Lost His Powers!"

It’s a dilemma of doom, people! How can he survive this? Oh, Great Sea King! Oh, Wearer of Orange and Green! Oh, Communicator to the Denizens of the Deep! Alas, we knew ye well. (I suppose I could read the story and find out what happens, but that would be too easy. It’s much more fun to have a knee-jerk overreaction and sort out the scales and fins later. Okay, fine, you win. I’ll read it.)

This story was originally found in World's Finest Comics #137 from November 1963, then reprinted in Showcase Presents: Aquaman Volume 2, which is where I read it — and it explains why my scans are in black and white this month. I was going to color them for you, but I was afraid of getting something wrong and then feeling the wrath of the mighty Aquafans!

The splash page has an unusual drawing because Aquaman and Aqualad are not in the water. Instead, they are standing on the backs of large eagles in mid-flight. Aqualad tries to hold Aquaman back, fearing that if he enters the water he will die. Aquaman is determined to jump because he has to save Capt. Toby, whoever Capt. Toby is. Maybe he's a recurring character. Not that Aquaman needs to know the people he saves. He is a hero and, to a hero, life is most valuable when it belongs to someone else.

The story begins in the water because, well, Aquapeople. The Damp Duo are riding dolphins, presumably because seahorses are so difficult to saddle. They spot their old friend Capt. Toby. (Well, that explains that. He's an old friend.) Apparently, Capt. Toby's divers are in trouble. They were trying to bring up some sunken treasure and one of the divers became ill. "But, after a speedy descent to the seafloor…" and presumably without getting the bends, the two Aquas spot frogmen trying to make off with the treasure.

I love Aquaman's surprised oath: "Great waves!" As most comic book readers understand, the Silver Age oaths are colorful and often weird. When you read a character a lot, they become a little less weird because of their familiarity, but when you read a character with whom you are less familiar, they really stick out. I am a huge fan of the crazy things that Silver Age characters exclaim. "Suffering sappho!" was one of Wonder Woman's more famous expletives.

In the very next panel after we get the delightful "Great waves!", we are treated to the swimming man's answer to Wonder Woman: "Suffering snails!" I am not sure it is possible for me to find that unremarkable. It's just so very odd. Not "Suffering swordfish!" Or "Suffering sailfish!" Or even "Suffering seabass!" No, Aquaman chooses a slug. (At least suffering snails sounds better than suffering slugs.) I guess what I really find strange about this is that you can find snails on land. He doesn't choose something that is only found in the water. At least "Great waves" is evocative of bodies of water. Snails, on the other hand, bring to mind garden pests. Wait a minute. My newness to the character may be coloring my perceptions. Perhaps this is the only time Aquaman says that. I shouldn't assume that just because he says it once that it's a repeated oath. After all, it's a little too…Wonder Womany. I may have misjudged Aquaman and the snails.

The frogmen use their spear guns against Aquaman and Aqualad, but they are far too fast for such an ineffective weapon. "Like human torpedoes, the darting twosome explode with fury among the raiders…" (No, Terrelle Pryor is not one of the frogmen. Don’t pretend you didn’t think it, all you Oakland fans.) In fact, they are churning up a liquid storm, as one of the frogmen notes. But then things go terribly wrong for Aquaman.

In the panel where Aquaman exclaims, "Great waves!" I noticed a very strange-looking vase lying on the seafloor. I actually spent quite some time trying to figure out what the heck it was. It seemed to be a vase with weird winglike protrusions and with some kind of skeletal face on it. I thought it was just mise-en-scène, like the seaweed in the foreground. I was wrong. It was, in fact, an extremely important object.

As he is darting around, Aquaman gets his foot caught on the handle of "…a strange dragon-head urn…" So that weird skeletal thing in the other drawing was actually a dragon head. And the winglike things actually were little wings.

When his foot makes contact with the urn, there is a "pfft" sound (though I have no idea what that would sound like underwater since I associate that written sound with a puff of air, which would make it less “pfft” and more “glogg” underwater), and some sort of squiggly line comes out (maybe gas?). Immediately, Aquaman begins choking. The frogmen decide to retreat before Aqualad can send fish after them. But don't mistake their retreat for a lack of observation.

"Say, Chief — Did you see what happened when Aquaman got hit by the fumes from that old urn?"

Again, I'm a little confused at how fumes act underwater. I think of fumes as something that happens in air. Can there be fumes underwater? Aquaman wouldn't lie, but then again it was a frogman who said it. (Okay, in the interests of science, I just read a PDF about underwater welders having the fillings in their mouths loosened by, presumably, the equivalent of underwater fumes. I now believe the frogman and will no longer question water fumes — though I’ve decided to give up my dream of becoming an underwater welder and instead will look into underwater dentistry.)

In answer to the fume observation, the chief frogman notes that he picked up the urn as they retreated. With a quick look through some binoculars he notices Aqualad helping Aquaman onto a beach. The frogman sees underwater treasure in his future.

Meanwhile, Aqualad wants to know what happened to Aquaman. "I — I don't know! Those strange fumes seemed to rob me of some of my strength! Found it hard to breathe in the water! I feel stronger on land!" This is devastating news because Aquaman cannot stay out of the water for more than an hour. What will happen to him? Going in the water weakens him, but staying out of the water will kill him. Now that is what I call a dilemma of doom!

I cannot resist the timing of this dooming bit of news and will therefore torture all of you by making you wait until next month to find out what happens to Aquaman, Aqualad, the frogmen and the weird vase. Mwahahaha!

If you'd like to learn more, including a detailed bio and more information about Joanna's books, please visit her website.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

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