Aquaman really came into his own during the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look. Nick Cardy illustrated the momentous changes in the hero’s life, as became the King of Atlantis, took a wife, fathered a child, and gained two significant new villains, the Fisherman and the Ocean Master. Aquaman would also battle an acronymic organization, OGRE, in James Bond style adventures that took place more on land than usual. His supporting cast would expand as well, with the introductions of Aquagirl and Vulko, although curiously the latter made his debut in the pages of the Brave and the Bold, rather than in Aquaman’s own book.
In Aquaman 17 the Atlantean hero visits Mera, the woman he had met and fallen for in the previous era, in her home dimension. We learn that Mera is the queen of her world, and her people are anxious for her to marry, dropping unsubtle hints to Aquaman about it. The god Poseidon then shows up, insisting that Mera marry him, and carrying her away. Aquaman tries to fight Poseidon, but loses, and that infuriates Mera's people. Clearly they are none too keen on having Poseidon marry her. Aquaman and Aqualad head back in time, and catch up to Mera and Poseidon at Zeus' court. Zeus seems to enjoy seeing his brother unhappy, and so he arranges a contest between Aquaman and Poseidon for Mera's hand. Zeus tries to aid Aquaman, but Poseidon does all he can to rig the contests in his favour. When Aquaman wins anyway, Zeus is delighted, and Poseidon is enraged. Once again he runs off with Mera, heading back to the present. Aquaman and Aqualad follow him, and not only do they beat him again, they also break the trident that is the source of his powers. Poseidon has to concede, and return to Olympus to beg Zeus to replace his trident. So basically, at the end of this tale, Aquaman has won the right to wed Mera.
As the story in Aquaman 18 begins, Aquaman learns that the king of Atlantis, who we've never really seen, has died, and the Atlanteans want Aquaman to succeed him. He is happy to take the throne, but not too pleased that this means he has to marry an Atlantean woman. Mera has come to Aquaman's dimension, and explains to him and Aqualad that she was informed that the dimensional barrier between their worlds is about to close for good. She decides to leave her world to be with Aquaman, although she gets chased by Oceanus, a rival lover. When she rejects Oceanus, he uses a weapon to remove her hard water powers. Mera is crushed when Aquaman informs her he cannot marry her, and she winds up back with Oceanus. He then invades Atlantis, and installs himself on the throne, with Mera as his queen. Mera goes along with all of this at first, upset at her rejection. But after Oceanus captures Aquaman, and prepares to execute him, she changes her mind, as he is the one she really loves. With everyone opposed to him, Oceanus gets overthrown and sent into exile.
Aqualad suggests that Mera's aid in ousting Oceanus should merit her being given honourary Atlantean citizenship, which means that she would be a suitable bride for Aquaman. As the issue ends, Aquaman and Mera wed, becoming the King and Queen of Atlantis. Justice League members Atom, Batman, Flash, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Superman and Wonder Woman attend the ceremony, with Robin and Hawkman, who was not yet a member of the League, along as well. Aquaman and Hawkman had met, in case you were wondering, in the pages of Brave and the Bold. I should also point out that Mera's loss of powers is not reversed at the end of this story. I suppose, given the mores of the time, that this fit into the concept of the wife giving up her "job."
Despite all the talk about the dimensional barrier between Mera's world and Aquaman's closing for good in the previous issue, in Aquaman 19 people are once again able to move between the realms, although not that easily. The story opens as Aquaman leaves Mera to go off and patrol the seas. She gets bored on her own, and so insists that he leave Aqualad with her. But when Aqualad gets sulky, she sends him off to be tutored, and then mopes. Her old friend, who is called Professor Kreon, Xeon and Xenon at various points in this story, sends her a mirror through which they can communicate, and then sends through the barrier a big ugly fish, which was her old pet, and then other old friends from her home dimension. These newcomers are resented by the Atlanteans. I quite like this element of the story, as it reflects a very common situation in monarchies, in which foreign queens arrived with their retinues, which invariably provoked resentment among the locals. This story takes everything a few steps further.
One of Mera's old friends, Nikkor, drugs her and puts her under a spell, and claims the throne of Atlantis next to her. Aquaman is gone for a heck of a long time, and Nikkor makes a deal with the producer of an aquacade, rounding up and selling off the Atlanteans to perform in his show. Aqualad flees and informs Aquaman of this, but when he tries to stop the man, he gets captured and put in a death trap. Aqualad returns to Atlantis, and joins the remaining Atlanteans in overthrowing Nikkor and Mera, who gets tossed into a deep pit, which cannot be swum out of. Aquaman has a fish move the clock ahead, and pretends to die from being out of water, but once they open his cell he defeats the producer and frees his people. Returning to Atlantis, Aquaman goes down into the pit to free Mera. Nikkor's drugs have worn off, and she regrets everything that happened under his spell. Nikkor also regrets his actions, and when the multi-named professor opens another warp, through which they can escape, Nikkor sacrifices his life so that Aquaman and Mera can get free. This is so much like a medieval history story, despite the underwater location, that I just love it.
Mera is revealed to have an evil twin in Aquaman 22. Mera had never mentioned having a sister, which makes it a bit understandable when Aquaman approaches her and gets into a romantic embrace before he realizes that he is not kissing Mera. Mera does show up, and explains that this is her twin sister Hila, who had been exiled from their home dimension. Hila has a boyfriend, oddly named Kandor, who has also been exiled. Kandor insists that they are innocent of the charges, but the two pull a big scam on Aquaman and Mera, which winds up putting both of them in his power, while Hila impersonates Mera and takes control of Atlantis. Kandor does his best to have his armadillo warriors kill Aquaman, but the hero beats them. Meanwhile, Aqualad and the other Atlanteans are so nice to Hila, thinking she is Mera, that the woman decides she cannot continue the scam, and heads back to Kandor.
There is a lot of confusion about the two sisters. Even Kandor gets confused, and uses mind control on Mera, thinking he is aiming at Hila. Professor Kreon, from Mera's dimension, pops up again and restores her powers long distance. The ending gets even more preposterous, giving a happy ending to Hila and Kandor, even though they clearly do not deserve it. Hila does not appear again, and gets completely forgotten over time. Even so, I am fairly sure she was the inspiration for the Siren, Mera's evil sister, introduced just before the New 52.
Aquaman and Mera became the first DC heroes to have a child, as Aquababy gets born in Aquaman 23. Mera is diagnosed as being pregnant, and only then does Aquaman's doctor inform him of a really weird disease he has, which will kill not only the baby, but the mother as well. Super toxic semen or something. Apparently this is an inherited disease, and the only reason Aquaman was born was that his mother had access to a special serum that counteracted it. This is in blatant contradiction of Aquaman's origin, in which his mother spends all her time at the lighthouse of his father, and has no connection to any Atlanteans during her pregnancy. But it does give Aquaman and Aqualad something to do while Mera gestates. They head off in search of the serum, and face a number of perils along the way, including some very Odyssey-inspired Sirens. They also battle a shape changing water being, not unlike Proteus, also from the Odyssey. Once Aquaman defeats him, the guy hands over the serum, but time is running short, and Aquaman uses a series of sea creatures to relay the serum back to Atlantis faster than he could swim.
Not too much faster as it turns out. The serum arrives one panel before he does. But it seems to work, and Aquababy gets born. But then, the child (who won't get a proper name until the mid 70s, and also won't age much before that), starts hurling destructive bolts of energy. He is too young to understand how dangerous this is, and so the Atlanteans decide to send the infant into exile, and Aquaman and Mera opt to go with him, rather than just let the poor kid die. They get attacked by some nasty creatures, but that turns out to be a good thing, as Aquababy expends his force blasts in driving them off. Aquaman theorizes that the guy who gave him the serum messed with it, causing these temporary powers. Once they have faded, the AquaFamily return to Atlantis.
If you think kids grow up at super speed on tv shows, wait until you read Aquaman 25. The story opens with Aquaman and Mera giving their contrasting hopes for Aquababy's future. Considering the boy would be murdered in the 1970s, this whole section of the story now is almost unbearably sad. The villains of this story are Mongols from the court of Genghis Khan, a scientist, his daughter, and a soldier to provide the muscle. The scientist had developed an immortality serum, and they all live in a big submarine. Aquababy goes off wandering, and winds up entering their ship. As he explores their lab, a beaker falls on him, and douses him with a serum that ages him to a young adult. The grown up Aquababy is quite taken by the daughter, and then falls under the spell of the scientist, who has a mind controlling gem that he uses on the boy. They invade Atlantis, and thanks to a ring that neutralizes Mera's hard water powers, they are able to get the better of Aquaman and Aqualad, both of whom are reluctant to fight Aquababy, despite his willingness to battle them. The bad guys plot fall apart when Aquababy reverts to his proper age, and swallows the ring that cuts off Mera's powers. Mera's hard water has the unintended effect of wiping out the anti-aging formula, and the three villains age to dust.
There is more court intrigue in Aquaman 28. The story begins in a very positive way. Aquaman and Aqualad get buried alive in a cave in, and are rescued by a scientist who has given himself, a gorilla, and an eagle. The scientist has given all three of them the ability to breathe underwater. Aquaman brings the guy, named Starbuck, to Atlantis, and gives him honourary citizenship, and makes him one of his advisors, as a reward. When Aquaman and Aqualad have to head out to deal with an emergency, they leave Mera in charge. When the guys don't return, Mera prepares to go out after them, and publicly leaves Starbuck in charge, as regent for Aqubaby. It's at that point that the story takes a darker turn. Power goes to Starbuck's head, and he drugs Mera and keeps her captive, so he can continue to rule Atlantis in Aquababy's name. Starbuck makes the Atlanteans think that the surface dwellers are out to kill them, and initiates a war. Aquaman winds up disguising himself as a surface dweller, using diving gear to conceal his identity. He winds up captured and pitted against Starbuck's gorilla in an arena. Even after the mask comes off, and the Atlanteans see that this is Aquaman, Starbuck tries to have him killed. Aquababy manifests the same hard water powers Mera has, and saves his father. Aquaman returns to the throne and frees Mera. Starbuck, who could easily have become a recurring villain, is never seen again. I think he went into the coffee business.
Aqualad gets a bit more focus than usual in Aquaman 20. Aquaman and Mera are presented with a statue of themselves by the Atlanteans. Aqualad is jealous, until they give him a present as well, a giant sea horse, named Sea Imp, for him to ride. Then the action gets going. Aquaman and Aqualad encounter a giant two headed monster, which abruptly vanishes as they try to fight it.. Then, out of nowhere, Kaltor appears. It turns out that Kaltor was the first Atlantean Aquaman had met when he was young. Kaltor trained Aquaman, and taught him a lot of the tricks he uses now to fight sea crime. Kaltor claims to have been hunting the two headed monster as well, and insists to Aquaman that the creature needs to be killed, not just captured. His daughter, Starene, knows some dark secret, and is really upset when her father talks about killing the monster. It's really not too hard to figure out that Kaltor changes into the monster, werewolf style.
Aquaman and Aqualad still head out to find it, and though Aquaman insists the powerless Mera stay behind, she follows anyway, and gets captured and dragged down into a network of caves by the beast. There is a bit of romance between Aqualad and Starene, although as she never appears again, it doesn't go anywhere. In the end, Aquaman does succeed in killing the monster, though this has the effect of freeing Kaltor from the spell, rather than ending his life as well.
Aqualad gets the starring role in Aquaman 33, with the introduction of Aquagirl. This cover is also the one and only time I have seen the word wacky spelled with an H. Aquaman and Aqualad rescue a plane load of passengers after they crash into the ocean, and upon returning to Atlantis Aqualad gets a big kiss from Tula. The two know each other, though it seems they have not seen each other for a few years. Aquagirl is far more outgoing than Aqualad, and convinces him that he is not appreciated by Aquaman. They tell Aquaman and Mera (who is tending Aquababy) that they are leaving Atlantis to find their own way. The adults are not happy about this, but Aquaman allows them to go. Aqualad and Aquagirl quickly come across an underwater disco that caters to surface dwellers, and get hired as dancers by the club's owner, who turns out to be a water breather as well, from yet another water dimension. He places the two kids under a hypnotic spell, and gets them to rob for him. The pair seem to retain some sense of who they are, because he also has to lie to them, telling them that the thefts are just gags, and that he returns everything later. Aquaman learns about the robberies, and identifies Garth and Tula as the thieves.
He goes in disguise to find them, certain that there must be more to the story, and winds up accompanying them when they are sent to steal some atomic weapons. Aquaman gets injured in the blast when Aqualad blows a hole through an underwater security net, and his disguise comes off. Aqualad is certain that Aquaman is dead (he's not) and this breaks the hypnotic spell on him and Tula. They turn on the club owner, who winds up fleeing back to his dimension. As the story ends, Aqualad and Aquagirl return to Atlantis, somewhat chastened. Aquagirl continues as a supporting character in the series, and is a very good addition, as it allows for more development of Aqualad, who had been nothing more than a doting sidekick up until now.
Vulko, who would develop into a major character over the years, made his debut not in Aquaman’s own book, but in the hero’s team up with the Atom in Brave and the Bold 73. The story is very much split, with the first half given to Aquaman, and the latter half to the Atom. Aquaman and Aqualad encounter some raiders who shrink down and vanish before their eyes. Somehow Aquaman gathers up the water they disappeared into and brings it to Vulko. Vulko examines it with a magnifying glass, and determines that the raiders are, indeed inside it. Mera and Aquababy also have small roles. Aquaman gets hit by a shrinking beam from the raiders, and pulled into their world.
Fortunately, before this happened, he had contacted the Atom, who comes to Atlantis, and then shrinks down to enter the droplet world. There he finds the captive Aquaman, as well as Galg, the main villain, who looks better on the cover than inside the book. Galg is a super smart form of plankton who plots conquest, but cannot use his enlarging ray on himself. The Atom pretends to join forces with him until he can free Aquaman, and then turns the enlarger on Galg, which destroys him.
The Fisherman, the first of Aquaman's recurring foes to appear in this book, debuts in Aquaman 21. The story does not open very auspiciously, as Aqualad and the other Atlantean youth mock Aquaman for allowing Mera to use him while she spools wool. It's a revolting scene in so many ways. Aquaman heads off to see a scientist friend who has developed a growth serum. A bunch of goons in really weird, ugly costumes break in and steal the serum, though Aquaman gets doused with it, winding up giant sized. His new size causes constant problems for him. The thieves are working for the Fisherman, who is also wearing a weird and ugly costume. The Fisherman uses the growth serum on a variety of creatures, sending them to attack Atlantis. And no matter how Aquaman tries to help, he keeps causing more problems and terrifying the Atlanteans. The Fisherman uses the growth serum on himself, and battles Aquaman, but the hero then shrinks down to very small, smaller than normal. With Aqualad's help, Aquaman lures the Fisherman to a swarm of electric eels, and the shock they give him reduces him to normal size. Aquaman defeats the Fisherman's crew while still tiny, before finally reverting to normal size.
The Fisherman is back, and working with two other villains, the Un-Thing and Karla, in Aquaman 24. The Fisherman is still in his odd purple costume. The Un-Thing and Karla both outclass him, power-wise. The Un-Thing is invisible in water, while Karla has fire-hair, which burns even underwater. The three have set out to steal the water from the ocean. You'd think they could get away with that for an awfully long time without attracting Aquaman's attention, but he and Aqualad get on the case right away. Mera has a small role in the story, as she is looking after Aquababy, but she does manage to be the one to grab Karla, using her hard water powers. Aquaman seems quite taken with Karla, who switches sides and turns on the other villains, after learning that the ones who hired them for the water thefts were aliens, plotting an invasion. Aquaman even goes so far as to request leniency for Karla after the aliens have been beaten, and Mera is none too happy about that. As Karla never appears again, nor for that matter does the Un-Thing, it seems Mera got her way.
In issue 26 Aquaman and Mera are working undercover for the US government, staying at a resort under the names of the Watermans, while trying to intercept an evil organization, OGRE, which is planning to steal atomic rockets and sell them to a foreign government. Aquaman and Mera do not seem overly concerned about maintaining their secret identities, showing off their abilities in the hotel pool. They sleep in what appear to be really uncomfortable diving helmets, which keep them in water. OGRE figures out who they are, which isn't surprising, and two operatives get sent out to kill them, Typhoon and the Huntress.
OGRE is very much along the lines of SPECTRE, and their minions function under the threat of death if they fail. Which, of course, both Typhoon and the Huntress do. The Huntress makes a more impressive attempt on the lives of Aquaman and Mera, but ultimately she and Typhoon switch sides to save their own skins. The cloaked head of this chapter of OGRE turns out to be the hotel manager.
O.G.R.E returns in Aquaman 31. At the top of the story, Aquaman and Aqualad spot a wreck whose anchor is down. This is the secret signal that the government gives Aquaman when they need him for a mission. He lies to Aqualad and leaves the boy behind, and heads to a lighthouse to meet his handler, the Tall Man. The man enlists Aquaman's aid in sealing off the United Nations complex with a wall of water, but . the guy is really the evil twin brother of the Tall Man, working for OGRE. Once Aquaman has created his wall, OGRE holds all the diplomats hostage. The fake Tall Man gave Aquaman a weapon that makes his water wall impenetrable. So then Aquaman has to try to get through his own wall of water, while convincing the government that he had been duped by OGRE, and is not really working with them. The real Tall Man, trapped inside the UN, manages to contact Mera, who shows up at the end of the story and uses her hard water powers to solidify the water wall, making it possible to shatter. Nowhere near as fun as the first OGRE story.
New information about Aquaman's family gets revealed at the conclusion of Aquaman 29, which introduces his enemy Ocean Master. The Ocean Master is basically a pirate operating on the high seas. He has a cool costume, but no real powers. He has become enough of a danger to shipping that the Navy calls in Aquaman for help against him. Aquaman and Aqualad get on the case, and Aquaman figures out that Ocean Master is using a whale to move his weaponry around. But he seems reluctant to actually get into battle with Ocean Master, and even prevents Aqualad from doing so. Ocean Master has no such qualms, and captures the two heroes. Aquaman manages to get free, but in the final battle Ocean Master gets away. Only after the bad guy has fled does Aquaman reveal his dark secret to Aqualad.
Ocean Master is his half-brother, Orm. Aquaman's father remarried after his mother's death, and Orm was always jealous off Aquaman's abilities. This jealousy lead him into a life of crime. Orm wound up getting banged on the head with a rock, which removed his memory, so he has no idea he and Aquaman are really brothers. Despite the lack of powers, the family relationship makes Ocean Master an interesting opponent for Aquaman.
Ocean Master returns in Aquaman 32. Atlantis suffers a severe earthquake, and we learn that this just never happens to the city. Aquababy almost gets killed, but Topo saves him. Topo has appeared in many issues, but is role has been very small, and rarely critical to the plot. Mera is in this one as well, but without much importance. Aquaman and Aqualad go to investigate the area below the city, and wind up getting grabbed by a giant hand that emerges. Aquaman searches for where the hand came from, and discovers the ruins of Tryton's lab. We find out that, before Atlantis sunk, Tryton made himself a giant in hopes of being able to save the city. He constructed the dome himself, but wound up getting buried beneath the city when it sunk.
Tryton's hand throws Aquaman into a different building, which contains a nuclear missile. Aquaman figures out that Tryton caused the earthquake just to draw the hero's attention to this. It's all really convenient timing. Ocean Master happens to show up at that moment, blasting his way in to the missile building. Once again, Ocean Master is prepared to battle with Aquaman, who refuses to fight back, leaving Ocean Master frustrated and confused. It's Tryton who saves the day, emerging from underground and grabbing the missile, which wind up detonating and killing him. Ocean Master gets free, and will be back to face his half-brother before long.
Aquaman continues in the next period, 1967 – 1969: It’s a Happening!
Aquaman: Aquaman 15 – 34 (May/June 1964 – July/Aug 1967)
Brave and the Bold 73 (Aug/Sept 67)
Next up – Wonder Woman!