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Aquaman 23
"The Birth of Aquababy!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Sept.-Oct. 1965; DC Comics, George Kashdan, editor. To round off my trilogy of reviews in which the AQUAMAN title becomes a family affair.... first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Aquaman with a baby carriage, or is it a baby submarine, as this issue presents "The Birth of Aquababy!" Script I think is by Bob Haney at this point, art as usual by Nick Cardy. On the cover, Mera is holding her newborn child in her arms, and not only is he a well-developed, blond, chubby kid who looks about a year old, but he's waving his hand and conjuring up a big fish with big teeth that threatens to devour Daddy Aquaman. With a gift for stating the obvious, Mera exclaims, "EEK! With his little hand, Aquababy created a MONSTER FISH!" while the cover blurb asks, "Where do his deadly powers come from? What turns the Sea Kings' son into a tiny bundle of DOOM?" Things are no better on the splash page, as Aquababy fires some kind of energy bolts that cause chaos in Atlantis, and one of Aquaman's subjects warns, "Your son is a menace to Atlantis! There is only one answer...he must leave our kingdom forever!" An appalled Mera replies, "Send a tiny baby into exile? Oh.no...."

As our tale begins, Aquaman is leading Aqualad and a troop of sea-horse-mounted Atlanteans in netting and subduing a giant crab which has gone berserk and is menacing the undersea city's population. (Why Aquaman can't simply command the crab to calm down with his sea creature telepathy isn't made clear.) But Aquaman abandons the fight when a messenger arrives reporting that Mera is ill and calling for her husband; "You (Aqualad) and the others can finish the job! Mera needs me!" Upon reaching Mera's chamber, he is told by her doctor that "She's all right, for now! You see, Mera is going to have a... BABY!" Aquaman and Mera are both initially delighted, but the doctor has sobering words; "Wait, Aquaman! Don't you understand? Didn't your mother tell you?.... You don't know that any child of yours will not survive, because of a rare malady that affects your family! What's more, the MOTHER of any child of yours will not survive!" Yeah, Aquaman's mother was definitely derelict in not having that birds-and-fish talk with her son.... but how did she and Aquaman himself survive the family curse? It seems that Aquaman's mother was given a special serum before birth to counteract the malady, but the supply is gone, and the only way to get more is to find "the root of the rainbow anemone that grows only in the GULF OF TERRORS.... a long, long way from Atlantis!" And so, "what had promised to be a joyful time in Atlantis turns into a gloomy, tense farewell," as Aquaman, joined by Aqualad, sets off on the dangerous quest to obtain the means of saving Mera and her child.

As Aqualad and Aquaman head for the Gulf of Terrors, their private thoughts are different.... Thinking of the future, Aquaman imagines his grown son taking his place on sea patrol, but Aqualad envisions there being no place for a mere adopted ward once Aquaman has a real son, and his being kicked out of Atlantis by the young Crown Prince. Nonetheless, Aqualad follows loyally as the pair arrive at the ominous, "drowned badlands" of the Gulf of Terrors--- where a sinister, lobster-like creature watching from hiding thinks, "So Aquaman has dared to enter my domain *Ha, ha* He shall not get far! Yes, King of Atlantis, you are riding to your doom-- for already your ears hear the Sirens' song!" And indeed Aquaman sees and hears a trio of beautiful women singing a song to lure him to them; "Golden hair...bravest of all beneath the waves...come rule in our hearts for eternity!" Despite his devotion to his wife, Aquaman is pulled towards the Sirens, to the puzzlement of Aqualad, who sees only three ugly hags. With his last bit of will, Aquaman orders Aqualad to lash him Odysseus-like to his seahorse mount, and his partner manages to pull him out of the Sirens' influence. But the scheme of the unknown foe (which now seems to be part of a coral reef) is not exhausted, as our heroes' seahorses mysteriously bolt while they are crossing a subsea bed of lava, forcing them to walk across the lava surface (why they can't swim above it, I don't know). Suddenly the lava turns to "quicksand coral", pulling Aquaman and Aqualad inexorably into its grip. Their only hope is Aquaman's command of the sea creatures, and at the last possible minute his call for help brings a giant squid which they are able to seize onto and be pulled out of the grip of the coral.

With Aquaman having escaped another trap, the mysterious watcher-- which now resembles a shark-- decides he must take a hand himself to stop the Sea King. "Far enough, Aquaman! Now you must pay the price for invading my domain!" Aquaman appeals to his tormentor to let him accomplish his mission for the sake of an innocent woman and child, but the foe is unmoved. The enemy appears first as a sea snake, but when Aquaman begins to play crack-the-whip with it, it transforms suddenly into a spiny, painful sea urchin and then into a giant poison anemone. "I can assume any shape I choose, Aquaman-- so how can you possibly defeat me?" Aquaman and Aqualad find a hiding place in the coral to avoid the anemone's deadly tentacles, but it is not quite big enough.... one of Aquaman's arms extends outside the crevice, and the anemone strikes with all its poisonous power.... only to discover that the "arm" is a trick, as Aquaman removed his tunic and filled it with coral scraps to make the anemone exhaust its poison harmlessly. The anemone attempts to change into a giant cuttlefish, but Aquaman strikes with his sleeveful of coral. stunning the shapechanging creature and causing it to revert to its true form, an old Atlantean man. "SINQUO? The criminal who was exiled from Atlantis, long ago?" Yes, it is Sinquo, who explains that he took up residence in the Gulf of Terrors and by some unexplained means gained the power of shape-changing as well as the ability to cast the illusion of the Sirens. But "You have bested me fairly, Aquaman, and as a reward I will lead you to the serum you seek!" Receiving the serum from the seemingly repentant Sinquo, Aquaman promises to see about obtaining a pardon for him to return to Atlantis, and then Aquaman and Aqualad set out back to the undersea city at top swimming speed; "Time's running out for Mera and Aquababy!" But luck is not with them on the return journey, as they are caught in an undersea volcanic explosion and half-buried in the debris. With his last strength, Aquaman telepathically directs his sea creatures to finish his mission, and "a fantastic chain of messengers link up across the ocean wastes," as Aquaman hands over the precious vial of serum to an octopus, which in turn gives it to a swordfish, which hands it to an eel, which entrusts it to a pilot whale.... but as Mera lies in her birthing chamber which threatens to become her deathbed, the exhausted whale allows the vial to fall into a crevice on the ocean floor.

But Aquaman's finny friends do not fail him in the end after all, for as Mera lies on the point of death, a tiny fish swims into the chamber and drops the precious vial at the doctor's feet. While the doctor rejoices, a nurse notes, "The poor little thing.... it died from the strain!" Though her life is saved, Mera is still distraught for Aquaman's fate is unknown.... but then the Sea King arrives at last, explaining that it took him and Aqualad hours to dig themselves free of the volcanic debris and more time searching for the lost vial of serum. 'I-- I thought we'd be returning for your-- your FUNERAL!" But that fate was avoided, thanks to a humble fish that carried out Aquaman's mission with its last strength when the vial fell into its cranny. "And so the months elapse in eager suspense, until one morning, a sensational debut takes place...." and a royal announcement is made to Atlantis; "He's here-- a healthy boy, AQUAMAN's SON!" (This seems to answer the question of whether undersea women have a normal human gestation period and pregnancy.... apparently the whole story up to this point took place early in Mera's pregnancy, before she began to "show".)

But as Mera presents Aquaman with his son, the infant waves his tiny hand and somehow conjures up a giant monster fish which pursues the Sea King. Aquaman manages to subdue the fish by jamming a stick into its giant jaws, and it vanishes.... but, "Our son... he's some kind of-- of SORCERER!" Aquaman suspects this is the final revenge of the evil Sinquo, who somehow tampered with the lifesaving serum to give his son strange and dangerous powers. He hopes the powers will subside after a single manifestation, but this proves unfounded, as the Sea Prince starts shooting dangerous bolts that wreck Aquaman's palace being built and then knock holes in the dome that surrounds Atlantis. With the survival of the city threatened, the elders have no choice but to order Aquababy into exile, along with Mera, Aquaman and Aqualad. Out in the subsea wilderness, Mera grows faint with hunger, and Aquaman sets out to find food while Aqualad stands guard....but Mera falls asleep, and then Aqualad nods off as well. Only Aquababy is awake when the Horrkas, a horde of vaguely gorilloid undersea creatures, attack. At first the aqua-rugrat knocks them for a loop with his sorcerous powers, but then, as Aquaman arrives back on the scene, Aquababy's powers disappear and he is seized by one of the Horrkas. But Aquaman, arriving back on the scene, seizes the last Horrka in a full-nelson wrestling hold and forces it to drop Aquababy, who falls into the roused Mera's arms. Now that his powers are gone, Aquababy can return with his family to Atlantis, and moreover, since he has destroyed most of the Horrkas-- "evil mutants" who had long threatened the undersea city-- the baby has already gained hero status. "AQUABABY, the newest, cutest comics character of all, will return in the next smash issue of.... AQUAMAN!"