The comic vending machine adventure takes a deep dive!
This week: AQUAMAN #63, January 2000, actual newsstand date: November 17, 1999
The cover of Aquaman #63 is a beautiful illustration by Mike Kaluta. Featuring a bearded King of Atlantis in the background, looking almost god-like. In the foreground, Aquaman swims with his undersea allies. This cover evokes fantasy images, as Atlantis is portrayed as a castle on a hill. Aquaman himself looks quite regal, his beard overgrown and flowing. Two large stone statues bookend the cover, adding to the fairy tale-like atmosphere. Ironic then, that the story inside has almost no connection to fantasy or fairy tales.
Familiar face, unfamiliar mythology.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this issue. I did, more than I thought I would when it dropped from the vending machine. I think the cover is indicative of my feelings for Aquaman as a character. I’ve always known about Aquaman, even if I had never read any of his adventures on a regular basis. For a character who has been maligned for a good part of his existence, Aquaman has been well represented in merchandising—even before the recent Jason Mamoa iteration. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I grew up with Aquaman appearing on Saturday morning cartoons, showing up on lunchboxes, coloring books and all sorts of licensed goods. I knew who Aquaman was, I just never took the time to get to know what he was about.
Aquaman and Batman aren’t often brought up in comparison to one another, but one thing both characters share is their malleability. You can drop both characters into different styles of story comfortably and make it work. So even if the cover of this issue seems to promise a fantasy epic, what we get is a political thriller firmly entrenched in the post-Crisis DC Universe. I emphasize this because that is my DC Universe, complete with mentions of Soder Cola and talk show tapings on WGBS. Coupled with the smell of the pages, this comic was like slipping on a warm, comfortable blanket.
More than just a fish talker.
Most non-comic book fans know Aquaman as “the guy who talks to fish”. That misrepresentation is played up in this issue. Aquaman appears on a late night talk show to spread a message of diplomacy to a wide audience. This is the warrior king version of Aquaman. Bearded, stern, his one hand gold which I believe can transform into a hook. The story itself is presented as a flashback. We begin and end the issue with a reporter interviewing a subject who has first hand knowledge of the events that transpire. In an efficient 22 pages, we get a bomb scare, a child birth and an undersea battle. All rendered by penciler Steve Epting in a style quite similar to the author of the comic, Dan Jurgens.
As an avid DC reader in the late 80’s and into the 90’s, I had been a fan of Dan Jurgens work, most notably his Superman and Justice League runs. Before reading this comic I was unaware that he had worked on Aquaman. After some research I discovered his run only lasted 13 issues, until the title was canceled. Aquaman #63 was the first for Jurgens and the rest of the creative team. Although not a soft relaunch like my previous vending machine comic, it does promise to introduce a more brutal version of the King of the Seven Seas.
A mature King of the Seven Seas.
We don’t exactly get much brutality, but what we do get is a well told, mature political espionage tale that acts as a sort of palate cleanser for this new run. This was something I wasn’t expecting from an Aquaman comic. Having read this in a vacuum, I can’t say for certain that I would pick up the next issue. But I can say that I enjoy this version of the character. Not the bland do-gooder from Super Friends or the dude bro from the movies, this Arthur Curry is a man of action, a no nonsense figure of authority who commands not only respect, but also loyalty and trust. Far from a one note joke, this Aquaman is truly the King of the Seven Seas.
While I don’t have any intention of continuing with the Dan Jurgens run after this issue, I do find myself interested in looking into the different versions of the Aquaman character. I know there are well regarded arcs from the 70’s boasting Jim Aparo pencils, along with highly recommended runs by Peter David and Geoff Johns to explore. There’s even the mid 80’s blue suit miniseries. While Aquaman #63 may not have inspired a follow up, it has at least opened up the possibility of a deep dive into the rich history of an often underrated character. OUTRAGEOUS!
Where will Mike’s Comic Book Vending Machine adventures take him next? Stay tuned to find out!