BHOC: ADVENTURE COMICS #451

I picked up this issue of ADVENTURE COMICS primarily for the Manhunter from Mars back-up story, although the fact that Aquaman was battling the Justice League’s first foe, Starro was also a draw. But while the Sea King’s adventures were typically well-drawn, they usually struck me as being dry–it was difficult to connect with his undersea kingdom, and the stakes tended to be about stuff that was of no consequence to my ten-year-old self.

But it did look good. Artist Jim Aparo was at the top of his game in this period in terms of dynamics and detail. I associated the artist primarily with his long run illustrating BRAVE AND THE BOLD, a comic book series that was always a bit askew to my sensibilities–and the fact that Aparo even did his own lettering meant that some of that impression bled over into his other assignments on my part–even though there’s nothing especially outre about this Aquaman outing.

The story begins en media res, with Aquaman being trapped by some living coral while his octopus friend Topo not only ignores his telepathic calls for help, but continues to abscond with Aquaman’s toddler son. Being Aquaman, he breaks free relying on simple muscle power, and then as he continues his pursuit of Topo, he muses and we get an extended flashback to the set-up. Mera is still recuperating from injuries sustained when the pair battled the Weather Wizard last issue, and Aqualad is missing. 

Topo takes off with Arthur Jr, and the chase is on. Back in the present, that chase leads Aquaman into combat with a monstrous crab, which eats up a few pages. At the same time, other mesmerized Atlanteans are being drawn towards a mysterious tentacle–one recognizable from the cover. As Aquaman soon discovers, the malevolent force behind these events is Starro the Conqueror, the giant starfish-alien who battled the Justice League years before.

Starro has managed to regenerate himself, but due to a flaw in that process, he’s confined to the polluted waters around where he was reborn. To get around this limitation, he’s been mesmerizing Atlanteans to serve as his footsoldiers. And now he’s after Aquaman. But the Sea King is able to turn the tide against Starro by drenching him in fresh water, which lacks the pollutants that sustain him, and then beating Starro into submission with his fists. In the aftermath, Green Lantern ferries away the defeated starfish, and the two water-breathers Aquaman has freed from Starro’s control petition his help. They’ve been sent to find him by the missing Aqualad! To Be Continued!

The Manhunter from Mars back-up story was even more modern-looking, with young artist Mike Nasser channeling his inner Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers to produce some spectacular images. The drawing itself is often a bit suspect, but the energy and impact of the images is paramount. In this chapter, as J’onn J’onzz seeks the Earthman who killed his friend on New Mars, he comes into conflict with Hawkman and Hawkgirl. 

There’s some inconsequential punching and running around, but ultimately J’onn and Katar and Shayera remember that they’re all long-time friends and colleagues and put aside their differences. But J’onn’s Martian pursuer N’or Kott creates a death-trap for the Martian Manhunter in the form of a Superman robot with a firebomb embedded in his chest.  The robot looks so demented in this final panel where it approaches Hawkman and the Martian Manhunter on the Thanagarian Starship that it creeped me out a little bit. Sadly, this was the last chapter of this serial, and the storyline would be wrapped up ineffectually in a few months in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS.

And the letters page for this issue once again printed the legally-required Statement of Ownership, from which we can glean the following sales information: Over the past year, ADVENTURE COMICS had been selling on average 142,000 copies on a print run of 340,000 for an efficiency of just under 42%–not that wonderful on the basis of total copies or efficiency. The lead slot in ADVENTURE would be changing very shortly in an attempt to improve on those sales figures.

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