Nearly 50 years ago, the Swift and Powerful Monarch of the Ocean made the A-List.
Every Saturday for 13 weeks, we’re serializing Back Issue editor Michael Eury’s upcoming book Hero-A-Go-Go! — a ginchy exploration of the Silver Age and Swingin’ Sixties. For other installments, click here.
Hero-A-Go-Go! is due 4/19. You can pre-order it here.
Aquaman is one of my favorite heroes and the roots are right here: The Filmation cartoons of the ’60s, which were a big part of Young Dan’s early childhood. (As an adult I’ve also collected a decent stash of ’60s Aquaman comics, which are great.)
This excerpt is a truncated, slightly edited version of a segment that takes a broader look at the Sea King in the ’60s:
By MICHAEL EURY
The Bob Haney/Nick Cardy Aquaman (comic) of the mid-Sixties was one of DC’s most exciting titles, pulsating with the type of drama, unpredictability, and soap opera you’d find in a Marvel comic. And so, when superheroes old and new were making a big splash, it made perfect sense to turn Aquaman into a TV cartoon.
As a high concept, the animated Aquaman was Batman-meets-Flipper-meets-Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea-meets-Father Knows Best. Aquaman had it all: a colorful waterworld environment, playful pets (Tusky the walrus and seahorses Imp and Storm), freaky undersea menaces (villains, monsters and aliens, both from the comics and created for TV), a kid sidekick, a cute wife, and imaginative super- powers and sound effects that translated well to cartoons. At least that’s what the folks at DC Comics believed.
Filmation Associates’ co-founder Lou Scheimer needed persuading, though. Animation house Filmation had scored a hit in 1966–67 with its half-hour New Adventures of Superman program for CBS, so for the 1967–68 season it was working with DC in the development of the publisher’s heroic pantheon for Saturday morning cartoons.
“DC actually asked us to do Aquaman, but I wasn’t convinced the network would buy it without seeing a pilot,” the producer revealed in his 2012 TwoMorrows Publishing autobiography, Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, written with Andy Mangels. “He wasn’t as famous as Superman or Batman.” So Filmation produced an Aquaman cartoon pilot that convinced CBS to pick up the project. “Nothing like it had been on the air,” Scheimer wrote. “The undersea stuff looked interesting, and it was visually fascinating.”
And thus, in the fall of 1967, Filmation rolled out the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, 60 minutes of DC superheroes (including shorts featuring other heroes like the Flash, Green Lantern and the Teen Titans). The following season, once ABC’s live-action Batman had ended, Filmation rebranded its hourlong block as The Batman/Superman Hour and moved Aquaman to his own half-hour show on Sundays. A total of 36 Aquaman episodes were produced.
Filmation’s Aquaman veered slightly from DC Comics’ Aquaman—the hero’s costume was modified for animation and he received the visually fun super-power of throwing hard-water balls—but more or less, the TV Aquaman was very much like the comic-book Aquaman.
You can thank DC Comics for that: The publisher policed Filmation’s Aquaman, with Superman editor Mort Weisinger (who wrote the very first Aquaman story way back in the day, by the way) story-editing the show. Scripts were produced by comic-book people intimate with the character, most notably George Kashdan and Bob Haney.
As Aquaman artist Nick Cardy told me in 2006, he was also involved with the development of the cartoon’s visuals— which explains the animation’s similarity to Cardy’s style.
“Well, when Aquaman first started, DC’s publisher was Jack Liebowitz,” Cardy remembered. “And he said, ‘We’re going to have animation that’s done in Australia.’ They talked about sending me there [to work with the animators], but someone decided, ‘No, we can do it here.’ So there went my trip to Australia!”
Aquaman also looked as if took place underwater, an effect the comic books could never quite produce. Scheimer revealed in his autobiography that this appearance was achieved by shooting through a baby oil-coated piece of acetate, a gimmick used judiciously but commendably.
Released in tandem with the show was a blitz of Aquaman merchandise. Some of this followed DC’s (or Filmation’s) models for the character, while a few items prove that DC’s licensing staff had little quality control standards (case in point: the 1967 Ben Cooper Aquaman Halloween costume, which featured a picture of Aquaman and his logo on the body and a facemask of Aquaman wearing an orange, finned domino mask!).
Ideal Toys produced the first Aquaman action figures during this time: An Aquaman suit for Captain Action (with accessories including a trident and knife), an Aqualad costume for Action Boy, and a Mera doll for its Super Queens companion line. Most of these collectibles command astronomically high prices in today’s collector’s market (especially Mera), as do high-grade copies of DC’s Silver Age Aquaman.
So, the next time you hear someone making fun of the Sea King, swat him with a Haney/Cardy Aquaman comic (a slabbed one, for an extra sting) or wave a toy price guide in front of him and ask, “Who’s laughing now?”
NEXT: The Mad Adventures of Captain Klutz. Click here.
You can pre-order Hero-A-Go-Go! here.