Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Underwater Pirates


Cover art by Jim Aparo

The cover story for Adventure Comics #441 (October 1975) has some interesting credits. It was written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Jim Aparo. But then DC editor Carmine Infantino decided the dialogue had to be re-written by a more experienced writer. David Michelinie did so and this dialogue was pasted onto the original art.

The end result is an entertaining but flawed story. Aquaman is conducting his daily kingly business (meeting with diplomats, guild leaders, etc.) when he's interrupted by pirates dressed in traditional Gold Age of Piracy garb (but also wearing breathing masks) announce their presence. Their leader, Captain Demo, announces his intention to take over Atlantis.

Aquaman swims out to confront the pirates, whose "sailing ship" travels underwater and is equipped with laser cannons.  Here, we run into the story's main flaw. We see only portions of the ship as the action unfolds (at least until we see it fleeing at the end of the story). An underwater sailing ship is a cool idea and we should have been given a real sense of its scale. But instead, we see just bits and pieces.

It seems odd that an artist as skilled as Aparo or an editor as skilled as Infantino would miss this, but there you go.

Aquaman defeats the crew and also manages to beat down Captain Demo. But then Demo threatens Aquaman with his hook hand. Abruptly, the action switches from the fight back to Atlantis a short time later. Aquaman has surrended the city to Demo. Apparently, the pirate has one heck of a hook hand.

The pirates start demanding tribute, threatening to bankrupt the undersea kingdom. Mera tries to stop Demo, but Aquaman actually knocks her out rather than let her succeed. 

It's a neat little mystery. We discover the answer when Aquaman tricks Demo into getting the hook hand trapped in an oyster equipped with a jamming device. The hook is rigged to send out a radio signal that will detonate bombs hidden around Atlantis. Aquaman had to let Demo have his way until he could do something about that.

Aquaman and a posse of sea creatures drive the pirates out of Atlantis, though Demo makes a getaway in his ship. Aquaman figures that Demo will be back one day. Sadly--because an underwater pirate is an undeniable cool idea--I don't think he ever does. He simply sails away into Comic Book Limbo.

Overall, the story is visually fun and worth reading. 

Next week, we'll return to the Lonely War of Captain Willy Schultz.

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