The Golden Age Aquaman was spawned in Issue #73 (Nov. 1941) of National Allied Publications (later to become DC) ‘More Fun Comics’ (this issue also debuted Green Arrow) by artist Paul Norris and writer Mort Weisinger. Aquaman saves the survivors of a refugee ship torpedoed by a Nazi U-Boat that’s now trying to wipe out all witnesses. After getting everyone to safety he explains his origin to the captain of the sunken vessel. His mother died when he was young and his father, a famous (unnamed) undersea explorer, dedicated himself to unlocking the mysteries of the oceans. Discovering an ancient sunken city he believed was Atlantis he set up watertight living quarters in one of its palaces (there’s no explanation for his oxygen supply). Advanced scientific records he found enabled him to train his son to exist underwater, endowing the boy with strength, speed, and the ability to communicate, and control, undersea life. During the war, and remaining Golden Age years, Aquaman (his real name) fought, and defeated, Nazi menaces like the one above (he tracked the boat to its island base) along with just plain menaces like Master Sargasso and Black Jack. After issue #107 (Jan. – Feb. ’46) of ‘More Fun’, Aquaman moved to ‘Adventure Comics’.
The Silver Age, which began with DC’s ‘Showcase’ #4 (Oct. ’56), brought changes to our soggy hero, including a new origin. In ‘Adventure Comics’ #260 (May ’59) Aquaman stops a US Navy submarine from testing atomic weapons in a particular part of the ocean; when the captain questions him, Aquaman reveals the secret of his birth. His father, Tom Curry, an ex-sailor, then a lighthouse keeper living alone on a small island, one day, during a fierce hurricane, spotted a raft with a girl clinging to it. He rescues her, and the two fall in love are soon married. All his wife, whose name is Atlanna, would tell him about herself is that she came from far away. A year after the marriage a son is born and they name him Arthur. Even as an infant the boy began demonstrating strange abilities: swimming like a fish at ten months; staying alive underwater for hours; communing with sea life. Atlanna, as she lay dying, finally revealed that she’s an exile from Atlantis, cast out for wanting to visit the upper world. Her son has inherited her ability to live below the surface. Aquaman whispers one final secret that convinces the Captain to move the testing somewhere else.
Aquaman thrived during the Silver Age. In 1962 he received his own book, which lasted until 1971 and he also acquired some new allies. In ‘Adventure Comics’ #269 (Feb. ’60) Aqualad (nee Garth) made his debut. Aquaman finds a sealed capsule from Atlantis containing a purple-eyed boy. The Atlanteans regard anyone born with eyes this color as a throwback to their early Earth ancestry, and a sign that the child cannot survive in a water world. Exile to the surface is seen as their only chance. However, Garth does have the skills to live underwater, his problem is a deathly fear of fish which he could not overcome. Gradually, Aquaman cures him of his phobia, but, instead of returning home, Aqualad decides to stay with his benefactor.
Issue #11 of ‘Aquaman’ (Sept ’63) sees Mera’s first appearance. The queen of an alternate dimension water world she flees a usurper through a dimensional warp into our realm. However, the villain pursues her and the help of Aquaman and Aqualad is needed to vanquish him. Mera returns home, but you get the feeling she’ll return. And return she does, eventually abdicating her throne to marry Aquaman (Issue #18 Nov. – Dec ’64). Mera gives birth to a son in Issue #23 (Sept. – Oct ’65) who, naturally, is called Aquababy.
Oh, and besides the marriage in issue #11, Aquaman also becomes King of Atlantis.
Of all Aquaman’s foes at this time the most noteworthy is the Ocean Master. A flashback in issue #29 of ‘Aquaman’ (Sept. – Oct. ’66) relates their first encounter in a northern fjord restricted from whale hunting. The Ocean Master, an international criminal wanted for whale poaching, ship hijacking and coastal raiding using an advanced manta-shaped under water craft, is pursuing a herd of whales. Assisted by the US Navy, Aquaman drives him away.
Their second run-in finds the Master threatening to create havoc around the world unless the world’s navies stop hunting him. In the ensuing battle Aquaman refuses to harm the Master physically, and prevents anyone else from touching him. Aqualad considers Aquaman a coward until he explains that the Master is his half-brother. His father remarried after the death of Atlanna and had a son named Orm who became extremely jealous of his brother’s powers, since, being fully human, he had none. Orm’s hatred caused him to lash out, and he became a delinquent, until a head injury caused amnesia. Though he no longer recognized his brother, his hatred remained, and he soon vanished, only to reappear as Ocean Master. Aquaman recognized him when he was captured and taken aboard the Master’s craft and saw Orm’s face reflected from under his visor on a plastic plot board (hey, whatever works).
Another Silver Age career highlight for Aquaman is his participation in the Justice League of America. A member of the original team he, along with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, J’onn J’onzz and Green Lantern decided to get together after an around the world battle against an alien invasion saw them unite for the final clash. Aquaman appeared in most of the 1960’s issues.