The Last (for now) Lesser Hero

Aquaman and the Sea Devils is the last installment of a trilogy of original, non-graphic novel stories inspired by interesting—but flawed—characters from the Silver Age of comics. Characters whom I call Lesser Heroes. 

Unlike most Lesser Heroes who were created in the Golden Age of comics and then reimagined and updated as essentially new characters in the Silver Age, Aquaman has been published without interruption in one magazine or another since its debut in More Fun Comics #73 (1941), one of the ancestors of DC Comics. According to Wikipedia, Aquaman’s creators, editor Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris, were inspired by Marvel Comic’s Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who was introduced in Marvel Comics #1 (1939)

Since his introduction, Aquaman received incremental changes to his backstory, powers, and supporting characters until he received a more thorough revision in the Silver Age Adventure Comics #260 (1959). Since then, Aquaman has received additional or short-term changes, such as new powers, weapons, and even two teenaged sidekicks both named Aqualad. 

The Silver Age Aquaman is a merman, the hybrid offspring of his human father, Tom Curry, and his humanlike, water-breathing mother, Atlanna, an outcast from the lost underwater city of Atlantis. His parents named their child Arthur Curry, who is frequently referred to by the sobriquet, “Sea King,” or occasionally when traveling incognito, the alias, “C. King.” 

Arthur appears to be Caucasian with short, blonde hair and the DC Comics-patented perpetual, wide, ivory smile. His original costume was a shirt of gold scale mail, forearm-length green gloves, a thin belt with a stylized letter “A” for a buckle, and waist-to-foot green leggings with a cool fin on the back of each calf. Aquaman can breathe underwater; swim at incredible speeds and in crushing depths; has moderate super-strength; and most dramatically, can telepathically communicate with and control marine life. 

Although Aquaman has superpowers, his abilities have long been considered impractical, weak, and almost laughable when compared to other superheroes. This character has been the butt of many jokes and comedy bits, including skits on TV’s Saturday Night Live, and a long-running gag and comedic plot line on cable’s Entourage. This is the version of the character that I grew up with.

In recent years, DC Comics has sought to revamp Aquaman into a darker, moodier, and edgier character, but at the price of immensely complicating and confusing his backstory. DC has given him new costumes; a beard and short or moderate or long hair that trails in the water like seagrass; a mystical trident with immense powers over the sea; and even cut off his left hand to replace it in turn with two types of harpoon, and then a magical watery hand, until his flesh-and-blood hand was finally restored to normal. Fortunately, Jason Momoa’s virile portrayal of this Lesser Hero in the Aquaman (2018) superhero adventure movie has gone a long way toward earning the character newfound respect.

The Sea Devils are a team of ordinary, human, scuba divers and undersea adventurers. They debuted in Showcase #27 (1960), and were created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Russ Heath. There have been a few other ordinary seafaring adventurers in comics, but TV’s Sea Hunt (1958) starring Lloyd Bridges as former Navy diver Mike Nelson, greatly popularized the idea of frogmen as heroes. 

Despite having no superpowers, other than extreme bravery and being excellent swimmers who dressed in spiffy, wine-red drysuits, the Sea Devils somehow managed in each issue to confront terrifying foes including gargantuan eels, octopuses, and sea-horses; giant mythological sea gods; and colossal aquatic aliens from outer space. (You may notice a theme going on here: Judging by each issue’s cover, every threat in the ocean is either huge, immense, or gigantic. I suspect that for each issue of the Sea Devils, Kanigher wrote a fantastical story that required the depiction of a gigantic oversized threat on the cover. However, Heath’s extraordinary draftsmanship guaranteed it was always a beautifully drawn gigantic oversized threat.)

I don’t recall any noteworthy or memorable stories in either Aquaman or the Sea Devils (as opposed to, let’s say, the Challengers of the Unknown in Showcase #11 (1957), “The Day the Earth Blew Up!”). Like most comics, the heroes and villains looked astonishing and their perils were extraordinary, but their stories became lackluster and repetitive. 

Well, Tim Allen Stories is about trying to be a better storyteller, so there are no astonishing drawings of extraordinary peril. Instead, I’ll try to create an astonishing tale; and while I’m at it, provide an extraordinary peril too.

My influences for this story are the original Aquaman and Sea Devils comic books; my What-Little-Girls-Are-Made-Of universe; Arthur C. Clarke’s science-fiction novel, Childhood’s End (1953); TV’s seaQuest DSV (1993) ; and perhaps surprisingly, the comedy film, Auntie Mame (1958).