Aquaman, Mera, and their Aquababy, Pt. 1Posted: 11/23/2014
While we read comic books for the punching as well as the relationships, rarely do the two mesh well together. November 25th through December 10th is Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s okay if you didn’t know — I’m going to assume that if you love superheroes you also subscribe to the basic morality of not physically, emotionally, or mentally abusing women. So to celebrate (that’s probably the wrong word) this awareness event, Reid Vanier, my favorite comic book academic and his website Modern Mythologies, is spearheading this campaign as it relates to comic books — the form of literature you and I are quite fond of And I don’t have to tell you that both DC and Marvel have a long history of being wildly unfair/cruel to their fictional women, right? I’ll leave it to smarter people than me to break down the more famous infractions (and once again, I urge you to visit Modern Mythologies), but there is one DC story that I think readers tend to gloss over.
I present to you, in promotion of Amnesty International, the unfair/cruel treatment of Aquaman’s wife Mera after their child died. I use the following issues in order:
Adventure Comics #451-452, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Jim Aparo
Aquaman #57-63, volume one, written by Michelinie & Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Aparo, Don Netwon, John Celardo, Bob McLeod, & Dave Hunt
Aquaman Special #1, written by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming and drawn by Curt Swan
Aquaman #1-5, volume three, written by Giffen & Fleming and drawn by Swan
We jump back to the late ’70s, deep in the Bronze Age of comics, which is like the Silver Age just with a slight shift in more “adult”/socially-aware plots. Not porn, but more like the writers and artists dipping their toes in the pool of dark grittiness before submerging and consequently drowning themselves in that pool during the late ’80 and early ’90s. And we start with the perfect example of the socially-relevant Bronze Age — Black Manta, Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, reveals his face for the first time in comics:
Yes, Black Manta wants the oceans to belong to African-Americans because of the mistreatment of them on the surface. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s quickly abandoned and his motivations are re-tooled in later issues. Most importantly, Black Manta has kidnapped Aquaman and Mera’s child Aquababy (not his official name). Like all fantastic villains, the only way Black Manta’ll release the child is if Aquaman and Aqualad needlessly and complicatedly battle to the death in an ocean gladiator arena.
Remember, Gwen Stacy’s death in 1973 broke everything comics held dear about the rules of death. Also, that’s another example of comic injustice to a woman that shouldn’t be forgotten, but that event’s already been covered to death (sorry, another bad choice of words). During the late 1970s, Aquaman got Daredevil’d before Daredevil ever did. His son dies, he’s dethroned by a supervillain, he’s forced into exile, and soon he has to fight his crazy distraught wife. But first things first: Black Manta killed his son, so Black Manta has to die. An eye for an eye. Oh, and want to see the most Aquaman-esque page you’ll ever see? Here he is fighting a giant squid:
You know what comes up next: that pivotal (clichéd) moment every superhero must face as their morality’s tested by their vengeance. And you also know how Aquaman’s going to respond. It hurts book sales to have the king of the ocean punch a hole in Black Manta’s face, or at least angers the readers’ mothers.
We end here today. I know Mera didn’t even show up, but she’s front and center for the next two parts. Spoiler alert: everything from this point on will be frustrating and sad. Sorry.