“Madam, God Himself could not sink this ship.”
–A steward on the Titanic
April 15, 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s super-sad super-sinking. The tragedy’s main cause, according to apocrypha, wasn’t the notorious, compartment-crushing iceberg, per se, but J. Bruce Ismay, the White Star Line grand poobah, whose directorial edict pressured Edward J. Smith, the Millionaire’s Captain, into speeding through an iceberg field so that the passenger liner’s precocious maiden docking would generate even more free publicity than had its whorishly public launch.
And that end was certainly achieved. The big ship did indeed dock precociously, two and half miles beneath the North Atlantic’s surface, in a binomial of big pieces accented with lots of mean pieces, and the press was more than a little interested. The Titanic’s demise, despite its cold, hard, factual nature, comprises, in its way, a wretched crazy quilt of every fictional genre: the worldly wonder of a Western film, the snug suspense of a crime novel, the tingly terror of a horror story all display themselves within echoes of the dark epic.
Where genres are concerned, American comic books are considerably less ballasted than are Titanic tales. In fact, no other medium–not film, not television, not prose, not radio, not telegraph, not telephone, not tell Aunt Polly–is so dominated by one genre as American comics are dominated by the super-hero genre. As fun and worthwhile as super-heroes are, this makes for a dangerous practice because it links comicdom’s fortune, or its lack of fortune, or its reversal of fortune, to the salesy course of the super-hero ship. Like the Titanic closing in on that giant shard of frozen midnight, a change of course is required.
American super-hero comics foster their own specialist where sunken ships are concerned: no, not former Atlast/Seaboard founder Martin Goodwin–rather, the ruler of Atlantis-DC, the Toast of the Inverted Coast, the King of the Seven Deadly Sins…Aquaman! In the twelfth issue of Waterdude’s first series, Dr. Cyrus Beard, a good/mad scientist abetted by a chinless, lastnameless dork named Kirk, puts the finishing touches on “the exciting climax of years of experimentation.” This experimentation-climax is not, as readers of this column might suppose, some kind of intergender sex act–rather, it’s the act of foundering a gun-like, special-element-powered Adapto-Ray.
How the Adapto-Ray works-o: after placing a cute wabbit and an even-cuter squiwwel into a giant, submersible cage that would make whiz kid oceanographer Matt Hooper salivate like a maneating shark, Dr. Beard zaps-o the critters-o. As the cage is lowered into the adjacent ocean-o, Dr. Beard and Chinless Kirk pile into a diving bell and observe “a million years of evolutionary change*–in mere minutes!” [*”Evolutionary change” in the comic bookiest sense, beggin’ yer pardon.] The varmints transmute-o into larger, darker, edgier, finnier specimens, much in the same way that entire comic book continuities were transmuted by DC and Marvel around 1985.
The Adapto Ray polarity-o is inverted-o, and the pugly-wuglies are re-zapped, as the cage is raised. “I get it!” Kirk swoons to his boss while the animals re-cutesify. “Just by reversing that switch, they’ve returned to normal! You’ll become one of the most famous men in history!” Yeah, sure…”famous” in the same way that the designer of the Studebaker is “famous.”
Some weeks after the non-sex-act climax above, the jungles of Africa empty themselves of wildlife as lions, gazelles, elephants, giraffes, and the ever-popular jungle kangaroos bound into the ocean and attack the nearest cargo ship. “By the North Winds–look!” the great, white commander of said ship orders. “Land beasts, turned into sea creatures! And they’re stampeding!” Even Captain Smith never had to deal with conditions like this.
An SOS (“Save Our Shipment”) is sent, and the lifeboats are manned, because it’s a little-known maritime fact that stampeding land-animals-“evolved”-into-sea-beasts never attack anything smaller than a hurricane deck but bigger than a capstan, so the lifeboats remain mercifully unmolested. The Save Our Shipment brings shipment savers in the form of not one, but two, scaly-spandex-swathed males, Aquaman and Aqualad.
Since breathing water doesn’t impress stampeding land-animals-“evolved”-into-sea-beasts, Aquaman applies his only other superpower, making ocean creatures his bitches…but do newly-minted sea beasts say “How high?” when the King of Seven Seas says, “Jump!”? Negatory, it turns out. “It’s no use, Aqualad!” the Sea King seesaws after applying his telepathic commands. “They just don’t respond!” In other wordies, replace “Aquaman’s telepathic command” with “Viagra” and “land-sea beasts” with “Rush Limbaugh’s lingham,” and you’ve got the right idea.
That little-known maritime fact about stampeding land-animals-“evolved”-into-sea-beasts not attacking anything smaller than a hurricane deck but bigger than a capstan doesn’t apply, as it turns out, to things swathed in scaly spandex, so a literal sea lion emerges from the converted colony and assails the Diluent Duo, forcing Aquaman to dodge while Aqualad parries. Mental commands directed toward the land-sea beasts having proven to be about as useful as a nun’s mammary glands, Alantis’s Champion summons a school of sharks to thwart the rampaging mutates…but the selachian students are easily repelled by the transfigured teem while the cargo ship sinks. “When the beasts take off, we’ll try to salvage the cargo!” Aquaman speculates as the forgotten sharks consider auditioning for villainous rôles in Sea Devils. “It’s the least we can do!” Said cargo proves strangely missing while a diving-bell-sized clump of seaweed hovers ominously in the foreground. This obviously means nothing, so the self-identified Sea Sleuth dutifully ignores it.
What Aquaman doesn’t ignore is the connection between the hybrid hijinx and Dr. Beard’s “famous” evolutioncentric handiwork, so he approaches the good/mad scientist who postulates that his Adapto-Ray has sprung a radioactive leak. By way of radioactive cork, Dr. Beard lends the Adapto-Ray, set for un-adapt, to the adaptable Sea King who resolves to chase down the anifish.
Ergo: repeat the first water war, only this time, between the sea lion safari and shark school schooling, insert a moment where the un-adapting Adapto-Ray is applied…and fails–because the Adapto-Ray-powering element is missing! (Adapt-d’oh!) While searching his black Underoos for a spare, Aquaman (finally!!) notices the diving-bell-sized clump of seaweed (again!!!) in the foreground. Once the seaweed is torn away, it reveals a diving-bell-sized diving bell!
Inside the naked diving bell is Kirk, the chinless, lastnameless dork assistant, indulging in some nefarious loonmiting: Kirk has placed the Adapto-Ray-powering-element into his own Adapto-Ray, stealing the sunken ships’ cargo while everyone was understandably focused on the rabid, water-breathing giraffes. Unmentioned is the fact that that Adapto-Ray gun must also contain some white dwarf star matter (per Ray Palmer) and every chemical known to man (per Barry Allen), because there ain’t no way, other than super-shrinkage and super-speed, that all that cargo is going to fit into a teenee-weenee, constantly-immersed diving bell, seaweed covering notwithstanding.
Kirk craftily Aqua-chases Man and Lad toward a bloat of hydropatamuseses who herd the heroes into a cave already headquartering a bat-themed vigilante and his pixie-booted kid sidekick. Ha ha, just verifying your attention there. A pride of feral ocean-pussies has turned the underwater grotto into a submerged Serengeti, and they don’t cotton to no two-legged squatters. “>Gulp!< Wh-what'll we do, Aquaman?" Aqualad aqua-laments, proving that deathly dilemma is no excuse for bad grammar. "W-We can't stay in here--and we daren't leave!" MacAquaman proves as resourceful as Richard Dean's on-screen persona when he brilliantly casts a rock from the cave and toward the diving bell. Um, that little-known maritime fact that stampeding land-animals-"evolved"-into-sea-beasts never attack anything smaller than a hurricane deck and bigger than a capstan unless it's swathed in scaly spandex turns out to have one more asterisk attached to it--that is, if the anything in question is a ROCK (with apologies to Dwayne Johnson and Alcatraz Island). The non-scaly-spandex-covered stone proves irresistible to the thwarted hydropatamuseses who follow the rock 'til it bounces off the again-seaweed-smothered diving bell which is tantamount to ringing the berserk bell, or something. While the hydropatamuseses pommel the thoroughly-submerged diving bell, Kirk makes the...interesting decision of abandoning it. Aquaman uses the chinless crook as bait, towing him by the shirt collar to shore where the land-sea beasts are transformed via Adapto Ray into fruit bats. Ha ha, we got you again, didn't we? And again with the bat motif! After Aquaman's course change, the land-sea beasts are zapped into just-land-beasts, much to the gilled relief of heroic sharks everywhere. These days, if a member of the general public wants to consume a slice of super-hero genre, his options, media-wise, are limitless--film, television, prose, radio, telegraph, telephone, tell Aunt Polly, and even this Interwebs thing offer super-heroes, as well as every other story sort--so the general public consumer can be excused for slaking his super-hero thirst without seeking out four-color pamphlets cubbied away in Freemasony specialty stores...but when he enacts this option, he's not buying super-hero-dependent American comics, whose existence he might not even fathom, thanks to a perfect absence of cross-media advertising. When this lack-of-sale hits our beloved cottage industry, iceberg-like, and comics' captains collectively decide that the solution is to re-re-re-re-re-boot their super-hero continuities, a re-imagining that our hypothetical consumer will never see or buy, they're not changing course as they need to. They're merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. ###