DCUG Developer’s Diary #7

Howdy folks, and welcome to another DCUG Developer’s Diary. I’m writing at a sad time, as today the Freedom Force community is mourning the loss of one of the very best of us, my good friend Daglob, who recently lost his long battle with cancer. I hope to be able to write him a fitting tribute sometime soon, but I’m not really up to it at the moment. Yet, he would want the show to go on, and I think he’d appreciate being celebrated with the creation of more FF content, as our community was very important to him. In any case, please know that this project, and all of my projects from now on, will be dedicated to our fallen friends, Cyber Burn and Daglob, Mike and Bill, two good, generous men who I was privileged to know and call friends. I know that’s a heavy note on which to start talking about a video game, but I hope you’ll forgive me being a bit personal and sentimental and will also join me in praying for their families and friends who are missing them today.

In terms of the mod, I’ve got some some cool things to share with y’all today, so let’s chat about some of our absent friends’ favorite subjects: heroes, daring deeds, and Freedom Force, the game that delivers the best of both.

It has been a productive few weeks, though not as productive as I’d have liked. I’ve finished the next two Aquaman missions, both of which gave me more than a little trouble. In fact, the second one gave me such fits and frustrated me so much that I took a few days off and played Crusader Kings II, so I could be frustrated by a different game! Still, I managed to solve the problems…eventually! I’ll tell y’all all about the process, as well as finally talking a bit about my Green Lantern re-work and possible campaign.

Part 1: Rigging for Trouble

This stage of the project began, as did my troubles, with me returning to my old nemesis…the oil rig map! If you’ve been following this feature, you may remember me talking about this blasted map a few posts ago. I had gotten a hold of an object that would serve as my oil platform, thanks to Daglob (who was always willing to help out), but I couldn’t figure out how to make the object work as terrain in the game. I added a set of these objects directly to the map .nif, and they showed up just fine….but characters would fall right through them to the “floor” of the map! I tried approximately a zillion different fixes, and I finally settled on adding super-sized versions of the pier object from the first game to the map, and hiding them right below the surface of the “rig.” This actually worked, though it created some slight pathing issues. So, problem solved, right?

Well, not so fast! When I started actually trying to decorate the map for the mission that I’d had planned for ages and ages, I made an unpleasant discovery: while the pier sections kept my characters from falling through the oil rig, they made the map an absolute pain to work on! You see, in the map editor, you select an object whenever you click on it, even if you can’t see it. So, every time I tried to move a prop or worse, arrange a marker, I’d have to be excruciatingly careful, lest I accidentally yank my ‘subfloor’ pieces out of position, and then I’d have to try to line them back up and sink them back below the surface of the rig, which is a difficult process to do accurately. To make matters worse, somewhere along the line, this “subfloor” system stopped working! I have no idea why this happened, but it might have had something to do with there being other objects on top of it and the combination “confusing” the game’s engine.

Finally, I got fed up and decided to try to find another solution. Once again, I tried a zillion different ideas before finally landing on something that is so obvious, I can’t believe it took me this long to come up with it! The map already has pieces that the game recognizes as “floors,” right? So, why not just copy those onto the rig’s surface? It’s a nice, simple, square shape, and the “floor” pieces of the map are squares as well, so that should work. And since we’re not trying to keep the space under the rig playable in this mission, the two-story problem isn’t really an issue. So, I started copying the actual pieces of the flat map terrain and pasting them into the scene root. Then I maneuvered them up onto the surface of the rig, and once I had the whole thing covered, I dropped them just below the top, rendering the rig itself as navigable terrain as far as the game was concerned! The concept was sound, and it worked like a charm…mostly.

As I was working on this, I re-discovered a quirk of Nifskope that I had previously encountered but forgotten. When you look at the interface, you can see multiple entries for a given mesh piece, usually a top level name and a sub category called “Editable Mesh.” You can manipulate the piece using both entries, but if you don’t use the “Editable Mesh” bit, the results can be weird. When using the top level, I’ve had edits work fine, but I’ve also had them not show up at all or display strangely. In this case, I forgot to use the “Editable Mesh” entry for my edits, and I built the whole map…only for the pieces to show up all out of position because of this eccentricity. So, when I went back and started over again, manipulating the pieces from the proper entry, everything worked fine, and voila, I had a workable map that wouldn’t drive me crazy in the editing!

Now I just had to decorate it, which is not my favorite part of the process because I’m just not that visually creative. And I’m still not 100% happy with the results. However, the community once again chipped in to help me out, and while I was struggling against a lack of proper art assets for what I wanted, RandomDays found me a nice oil derrick object and a helipad, which he imported for me. I think they add a lot to the random conglomeration of game objects I had been using as my decor. After the decoration was finished, I had a map, and all I needed was a script!

Drilling for Danger

The scripting of this mission had a few bumps, but it wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t trying anything too terribly fancy, as the story was fairly simple and straight-forward. This mission saw our finally finished oil rig besieged by fire trolls (with gorgeous new skins by AA and Deanjo2000), and our heroes having to fight them off while also looking for an explanation for their attack. I decided to go for simple and reliable in my mission design, just using basic encounter types, like Save Civilian and Examine, but I mixed this up a bit by simply having some of the encounters overlap. The heroes will be fighting a set of villains and saving civilians in one location, but there is also a clue for them to examine there, spawned by a different encounter. This allowed me to play around with the order of progression, so that defeating the enemies might trigger more bad guys spawning, but the story wouldn’t actually progress until you had found certain clues. My biggest obstacle turned out to be just space and blocking on the map. Even though I made the rig pretty big, taking up most of the space of the map itself, there still just wasn’t that much room to spread things out, but after working with the layout a bit, I think I managed to end up with a mission that didn’t feel too cramped or overwhelming (though I suppose that’s for the testers to say, when we get there!).

A minor obstacle I encountered was trouble with some of my props. I’m having the Aquatic Aces, who are weak to fire, fight a bunch of monsters who are all about fire, and since I’m not a sadist, I wanted to help my players out with this rather difficult situation. So, I added the ability for the players to turn on a “fire suppression system”, which consisted of cold-ray firing turrets that spawned around the map to help you out. That is all built on a simple encounter system that I’ve been using for years, but I ran into an unexpected problem: namely, the nice, tech-looking control panel object from the Freedom Fortress that I wanted to be the controls for the system didn’t spawn in the mission.

Instead, the medlab bed did, which looked quite odd! I had encountered another of those strange eccentricities of Freedom Force, where a single object template sometimes stands in for a whole host of objects. I assume this was done to simplify matters in game design, lumping a bunch of objects together that were different visually, but identical in terms of gameplay. The same is true of many of the building objects. They will have a single template entry, and then in their directory, a number of different meshes. This allows you to use whichever you want in map design, as you can pick the one you want when you go to its entry in the visual editor itself, but it also means that you can’t specify which one you want through scripting or in the editor menus. Fortunately, this is a simple issue to fix, as you can just copy the template entry and point it to the specific one you want. And with that issue solved, I had a completed mission that brought Aquaman back to the surface for a bit of derring-do and an encounter with some old foes from his very first issue! I’ve had the idea for this mission ever since I saw the JLU episode “Ultimatum,” where a similar scene plays out in the opening act. I always thought that would make a great set-piece for an Aquaman campaign, and although it hasn’t turned out exactly as I’d like, I’m reasonably happy with it.

Part 2: The Big Easy, DC Universe Edition

I had always planned for mission #6 to take place in New Venice, one of those classic DC Universe ersatz-urban centers, like Gotham or Metropolis, a fictional town that had shown up in Aquaman adventures over the years. In the comics, at least the early ones, this was a normal American coastal town that had been flooded, turning it into a New World version of the Italian tourist mecca (a change accepted by its populace with an ease and equanimity only possible in fiction). I had originally toyed with actually creating a whole new map, replacing the street texture of a city map with water and things like that.

However, I realized that, while that would probably look reasonably good, and I could even add boats and swimming civilians to complete the illusion, it would, ultimately, be just that, an illusion. While I could make such a map look okay, it wouldn’t really work properly in terms of gameplay. There was no way for me to have the streets be playable space in depth, as canals should be, and there was also no way for me to properly switch Aquaman from swimming to walking as he moved between different parts of the environment. It would have been a really cool setting if I could have made it work, but it just wasn’t meant to be. So, instead, I decided to use an existing map that had a coastal theme, the Liberty Bay map, which had a big sea-wall and dock.

But there was one problem. When I went to write the mission, I remembered that I had already used that map for Coast City in my JLA campaign! Oh no! So, back to the drawing board again. I started thinking about what type of city a “New Venice” might be. If Metropolis was like New York, what would kind of real-world city would make sense as a setting for Aquaman? I finally settled on using a location from my old stomping grounds, the Gulf Coast, and I decided to model New Venice on New Orleans. The name even works! What if the early settlers in Louisiana were Italian and not French?

Well, now I had a concept, but what I didn’t have was a map. So, looking to save myself time and effort, as I always am in mapping, I looked through Alex’s indispensable FF Atlas to try to find an existing map to use as a base. I settled on one of the Berlin maps, which had a nice multi-level elevation, which is admittedly, very unlike the pancake-flat Gulf Coast, but which gave me the idea to create a partially-flooded map, which I thought would look pretty cool. That gave me a base, and the European-style architecture could work okay for a New Orleans pastiche, if not perfectly, but the dark, grim map didn’t really capture the bright and colorful setting of the Big Easy, so I set to work on tweaking it.

First, I edited the actual terrain nif, changing the dark Berlin grass for the brighter, tropical-style grass from the Cuban maps, and making a few other changes. Then I removed all of the German signage and added some more Southern-style street decor. But that still didn’t do the trick. So, I sought out some help to create some New Orleans-inspired textures for the Berlin buildings. I didn’t want to try to gather up all the textures for the map in a custom directory, so I created new building objects and pointed them to copies of the buildings that I skoped to use new textures. Super Powered Yank came to my rescue again by creating those textures, but he also went above and beyond, volunteering to make some DC-centric signage to replace all of the German propaganda, and he came up with a whole set of general and character-specific signs and billboards that added a ton of atmosphere to this map and to the mod as a whole!

The new, colorful buildings and signs helped a lot, but I was looking through the game assets, trying to find something that I could use to supplement the Berlin buildings, something closer to the classic French-inspired architecture of New Orleans, and I came across some of the houses from the Cuban maps, which had these nice little balconies with iron railings. They were very distressed and looked super beat up, but with Tomato’s help, I got a more respectable looking version, used the “Hue and Saturation” tool in GIMP to create a few different colorful versions, and I finally had the makings of an interesting looking city that could work as my New Venice!

Uncooperative Urban Renewal

For my finishing touches, I added a big water object to the lowest level of the map, adding it directly to the terrain nif so that the cursor wouldn’t react to it in-game, and then I decorated and set the map up for use. Then I just had to write the mission and get it working. I had a pretty straightforward plan. I wanted my big monster, Chemo, to move through the city destroying buildings. That should be simple, right? Wrong. This mission drove me nuts! I thought I had it all figured out from the beginning when I realized that the brilliant creator of EZScript, M25, was even more brilliant than I had realized; he had designed the object-centered encounters to work with more than just one object. So, I just used a “Guard Object” encounter and specified a range of buildings that I set to spawn throughout the city. I made sure they were positioned where I wanted by actually placing them on the map, then converting the buildings to markers and naming them for the encounter, “no_object1, no_obect2,” etc. I thought I was good to go, but when I tested the mission, Chemo smashed the first set of buildings which were all next to where he started, but then he just stood around, drained of all motivation and direction. It turns out that he was too far away from his second objective, and a LOT of experimentation with different setups just couldn’t solve that problem.

So, I had what I thought was a clever idea. I’ll just break the encounter into sections. I’ll spawn placeholder buildings with a CS at the beginning of the mission, and then as each encounter ends, I’ll fade the camera, destroy the next building, and teleport Chemo. Then, as the next encounter starts, it will spawn the building into the right space, and its Alert CS will unfade the camera. That should have worked fine, right? Well, I thought so too, but boy I was wrong! It turns out that the “destroy” command just doesn’t work on buildings, no matter what you do. I’m guessing it’s because buildings are designed to collapse in stages, the only objects like that in the game. So, was I out of luck? Was I going to have to radically redesign the mission I’d already written, settle for something much smaller-scale? I wasn’t sure, and this is when I walked away for a few days.

But, a couple of days later, I had an idea that just might work. I thought, if it’s the fact that these are building objects that is giving me fits, why not simply copy them and make them into Generic object types for my placeholders? I tried it, and everything worked like a charm! Finally, Chemo could smash his way through the city to his heart’s content, moving the action nicely through the map and ensuring that he doesn’t just get stuck in one spot. I have to admit, I’m fairly pleased with myself for figuring this out. Poor Lady Grey had to listen to me talk through the plan as I was working it out, and I imagine she’s even happier than I am that I’m done with this mission!

Part 3: Let’s Ride!

So, in addition to my two new missions, I also had some base scenes to create, and while there wasn’t nearly as much backstory, world-building, and exposition to get through in this section, I wanted to do a little something to keep developing our Aquatic Aces and their environs. I just used one of CK’s excellent underwater maps for my setting, but I was able to do something a little special with it too. There’s a visual I’ve wanted in my Aquaman campaign for years, one associated with the classic version of the character, and I was pretty sure I was never going to be able to do it. Yet, thanks to RandomDays and Tomato, this little dream is coming true, which is just plain neat. Now, keep in mind, these images are still an alpha version, still needing skoping and only having placeholder skins.

You see, for decades, a common visual for Aquaman and the Aqua-Family was them riding through the seas on giant seahorses. It’s a charming and fun presentation of the character and his fantastical setting. The old 60s Aquaman cartoon, which is very much a product of its time, but which I love despite its silliness and poor animation, helped to cement this in the zeitgeist as a visual commonplace for the Sea King. Obviously, this presents all kinds of problems for FF, but RandomDays managed to import a really nice, fanatasy-themed seahorse mount, and Tomato is at work creating some great skins for the specific sea-steeds of the members of the Aqua-Family. This is a minor detail, something that won’t add to gameplay, as I don’t have access to proper animations to make these versions playable, but it’s a wonderful and atmospheric addition to the Aquaman campaign.

Part 4: In Brightest Day

One of my big goals for DCUG 2.0 is to expand the roster and add in a lot of characters that I didn’t get to before, but just as important is an updating and reworking of my existing cast. I was working on the latter when I started reworking my existing Green Lanterns to make them more unique and interesting, and that spilled over into me adding in a ton of new Lanterns, including a lot of the classic alien Lanterns, each customized and having unique builds in several key ways! While the Lanterns all had similar power sets, because they are all using the same equipment, I figured the way they used that equipment would be different, both in terms of tactics and in terms of imagery. So, while every Lantern had some basic powers, they also had at least one unique power, and even their similar powers often had unique visuals, as they would use different images for their constructs. This led me to dive down the rabbit hole of FX, and Cyber Burn came to my rescue several times throughout this process, my good right arm, as always.

One of the touches that I was most pleased with was giving each and every Lantern a distinct weapon they could summon with their ring, drawn from a weapon pack that Cyber had imported and ‘Lantern-ized’ for me. Hal, who strikes me as a baseball fan, summons a baseball bat, while Guy, who is more rough and tumble, gets a spiked club. Kilowog gets his trademark hammer, and so-on. It adds a bit more personality to characters that would otherwise be pretty similar in game.

I also gave every Lantern the ability to summon custom constructs as minions. Hal summons jets, John Stewart summons Marines, and Kyle Rayner summons giant robots, while my alien GLs each get their own thematic summons as well! This took me scouring the archives for suitable meshes and having Cyber, Daglob, and others whip me up some green versions of their skins, and I even made a few myself as I began to haltingly explore some of the tools in GIMP. Interestingly, the lessons I learned while working on this part of the project months and months ago would eventually help me in my mapping work for the Aquaman campaign.

Alright folks, that does it for today’s post. I hope that y’all found this intersting and useful. We’re heading out of town for a week and change on our usual summer trip to see family, but I’ll be back home and back to work on the DCUG soon. In my next post I’ll talk a bit more about how the Green Lantern campaign got started, as well as about the troubles that may spell its end! I’m also going to try to finish the final map and mission of the JLA/JSA crossover, so stay tuned!

DCUG Developer’s Diary #6

Howdy folks, and welcome to another DCUG Developer’s Diary! I promised more news before too long, and I am pleased to deliver. It has been an incredibly productive few weeks. I have gotten so much done, conducted so many experiments and tried so many different approaches to modding problems, that I’ll be hard pressed to remember and record a tithe of it, but I’ll try to hit the highlights for y’all! I’ve been hard at work on my Aquaman campaign, and most of the progress I’ve made has been on that part of the project. I’ve finished the next two missions, which were very work intensive and demanding, both in terms of modding and in terms of writing.

I’ve really been digging into FF modding, trying all sorts of things in order to bring this story about my favorite character to life in as high a quality as I can manage. I’ve done a lot of innovating, and I’ve tried to bring a high level of detail to everything about the campaign, from maps to characters, to effects, to plots. I’m quite happy with how it is all turning out, but I am also perpetually frustrated that I can’t quite bring what’s in my imagination to the screen as perfectly as I’d like. I’ll tell y’all a little about all of the different parts of the process I’ve gone through to bring this adventure to life.

Creating an Undersea World:

In my last DD, I walked y’all through some of the steps I went through to try to create an interesting and attractive underwater map for my second mission, and although I was pretty happy with the results of my labors, I wasn’t completely content. Considering how much of Aquaman’s story is going to be set beneath the waves, I had a good reason to keep trying to improve things. I had a number of different ideas about how I could enhance the look of my underwater maps, and I’ve been hard at work trying to figure out how to implement them. Tweaking map textures looks okay and is important, but I had bigger dreams.

I had always thought that it would be great to be able to put a ‘water’ filter over the ‘camera’ of FF. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that, or at least none I could discover…but I couldn’t shake the idea. As I often do when I am trying to get inspiration for a mod, I spent some time going back and playing through FF1 and 2, and this reminded me of something that might provide me another way to accomplish a similar result and set me to digging into FF’s game files and documentation to figure out how to bring a bit more atmosphere to my undersea settings. This lead me on a journey that had me experimenting with Python scripting in new ways that were both exciting and more than a little scary, because I was very much out of my depth! But, that’s how you learn when you’re modding. In fact, constantly stretching to accomplish something that seems out of reach is the only reason I’m a modder in the first place!

The (mostly) finished product with several new features

Dream Wave Effect

As you may remember if you’re a veteran of FF2, the second game began with a rather unusual mission, which was actually a nightmare of one of the Freedom Force members. At the end of the mission, the player’s vision of the map was distorted by this blurry, wavy, dream-vision effect that covered the map. It occurred to me that, if I could figure out how to create this, and if it could be customized, such an effect might actually be a pretty perfect device for giving a submarine map an underwater “feel.” So, I opened up the script for the first mission and started digging. Now, I’ve been teaching myself about real Python scripting, but I am still beyond a neophyte, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for or what to make of it when I found it. Fortunately, Irrational helpfully labelled their scripts, and it was all clear enough for me to find the pertinent sections, even if I didn’t yet know how to interpret. them.

So, I started reading through the FFscripting document, hoping to find explanations of this code. The documentation did have a section on the Dream Wave effect, though it was a little hard for me to understand. Eventually, I copied the code that, to my best guess, was what I needed and just started experimenting with it. Unfortunately, my first efforts either simply didn’t work or even crashed the game! Finally, I hit on this combination. Here’s the code you can use to create an EZScripted mission that uses the Dream Wave.

Misminimod_storyfile = 'mission'

import m25minimod
from m25minimod import *

def OnPreRendererCreate():
	ff.RENDER_WARP = 1

#---------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# Important Callbacks
#
#---------------------------------------------------------------------	

def OnPostInit():
	m25minimod.OnPostInit(campaign=1)
	ff.RENDER_WARP = 1
	Mission_StartDreamWave(5,-1,0)
	Mission_FadeDreamSinParams(1, .01, .25, 1)

The first lines on each side are just the usual setup for EZScript missions. At first I was just using the two obvious lines, Mission_StartDreamWave and Mission_FadeDreamSinParams, but the effect wasn’t actually beginning. That’s when I noticed that the FF2 mission script actually had those PreRenderer and ff.RENDER commands, so I added those too, and I found myself with a nice, trippy warp effect! Then it was just a matter of tweaking it. The documentation explained that the first two commands I started with are what actually controls how the Wave appears.

The Start command has three points of customization (how long it fades in, how long it lasts, and how long it fades out). You’ll notice that the duration control is set to -1, meaning it will run forever, and thus I’ve got a 0 in the last slot, because it doesn’t need to fade away. You could tweak these settings to create short-lived effects and do other kinds of clever moves with it.

The Fade command sets the degree and strength of the effect, and it’s also got various customizations: (Frequency, or how often waves of the warping effect are created / Amplitude, or how big the waves are / Speed, or how quickly they move across the screen / and Fade Time, or how quickly they fade away) The default values in the mission were “(1, .03, .35, 1)”, so you can see that I didn’t change them drastically. I tried a few various permutations, but I eventually settled on the lowest amplitude and a slower speed. I think the final product looks pretty good, and you can check out a video of the effect in action on a mission here below. It looks pretty good in action, but it can be a little disconcerting, even on the lowest setting, so I’ll include a set of non-warped mission files for the campaign for those who are prone to motion-sickness or the like.

Sunlight Settings

So, the maps certainly looked a bit more striking and ‘watery’ with the Dream Wave effect turned on, but they were still missing something. Several folks on FR had suggested that if I could change the light color on the map to make it more sea-toned, that could help, so I had planned to mess with the lighting settings of the maps. However, before I could do that, I had to discover what actually controlled these settings! At first I thought this might be controlled through the map files, like the layout or extents texts, but after examining some of them, I realized that wasn’t the case. There were almost certainly nice, clear tutorials that covered this kind of thing once upon a time, but if they existed they’ve been lost to the ages, so I had to poke around in the forum archives for mentions of the subject. I eventually found some of our great former mappers discussing these settings, which it turns out were located in the python files of a map. Thus, I was once again delving into unfamiliar depths! With that post as a guide, I was able to find this section of the python document:

Mission_GetSunlight()

rotation: Sun rotation angle from north in degrees: +ve is east
tilt: Sun tilt from horizontal in degrees: +ve is down
brightness: Intensity of sunlight (0=none to 1=full)
ambient: Intensity of ambient light (0=none to 1=full)
Color: 3-tuple, red, green, blue values (all are 0 to 1)

Then I dug around in missions and custom maps and found those that seemed to have nice, bright, clear light, and used that as a starting point. I then played with the color values, changing out what colors were strongest, until I found a nice, ocean-y color palette which was, as you might imagine, heavily blue and green. Here’s the code I ended up using (just right below the code for the Wave effect).

	Mission_SetSunlight(-40,30,1,1.0,(0.4,0.8,1))
	Mission_SetShadows(-40,30,(0.2,0.3,0.3))
	Mission_SetProjShadowBackground((1,1,1))
	Mission_SetProjShadowColor((.8,.7,.7,1))

You’ll notice there are some other commands there too, each with their own settings. I just copied those from another mission, but you could add further customizaiton with those settings for shadows. However, we’re concenred with the sunlight settings. I’ve got brightness and ambient light both turned all the way up, and I’ve got the blue light at max and the green pretty close. The combination creates a nice, watery feel for the maps and everything on them, including my characters and props.

Creating a Sky Sphere

You may notice in my screenshots and videos that there’s another feature these maps have that help create their atmosphere, and that is a background that replaces the blank black void that is the default for FF maps. Here, as with most everything I’ve done, I’m just standing on the shoulders of FR community giants. What you see in these images is called a “sky sphere”, which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a big spherical object that sits around your map and provides a lovely backdrop for your adventures. The way that our mapping masters had used these in the past was to make them character templates, but that can create problems in modding, both because of this creating ‘phantom characters’ that mess up the complex “branding” function of the FFX Control Center, and because campaign missions don’t seem to like such characters being on a map. Thus, I tried making these into regular generic objects, and that seems to have worked just fine. I tried adding them directly to the map nif, but when I did, the top of the sphere was registered as the ‘ground’ and all the characters were shunted to the outside!

So, how do you use a sky sphere? Well, it’s actually super easy. They’re included with the map pack, so you can find the actual object and their textures in that wonderful resource. You’ll find the spheres in the pack’s art/library/characters directory. Once you get them, you can copy the settings they have in the map pack, but just change their template type to “generic.” Now, because they’ll be objects and not characters, their textures need to be in with the rest of your map’s textures. Once you’ve done that, you can place them on your maps by placing a marker, then changing it to be the sphere. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go! The spheres come with several really nice textures, but you can also just name your own textures in the same pattern and use them on your maps for a variety of different effects! Check out my ‘water sphere’ on my Atlantis map!

Atlantean Chic – Decorating My Aquatic World:

Speaking of Atlantis, my story called for a visit to the fabled lost city by the Aquatic Ace, and thanks to folks vastly more talented than me, I had great starting places for both the Atlantean Palace and the city itself. However, as always seems the case, I wanted a bit more. So, as I worked on the various maps, I started cobbling together new props to decorate them. I did this by the usual method of just using replacement textures in a map’s folder, but I also literally built props using Nifskope, which is a huge blessing for modders. Nifskope allows you to combine and manipulate meshes, so I was able to take parts or whole meshes, both character and object, and use them to create various new props. This is exceedingly easy to do these days. For example, I created a throne as a centerpiece for my Atlantean throne room by combining the chair object from the FF1 Robot Factory maps, the TNT crates from the warehouse maps, a dolphin RandomDays had imported for me, and a little shell from Tomato’s Aquagirl skope. The result looked like a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Adding a refl and a glow texture to the mesh pieces, as well as tweaking the color settings of the meshes themselves, allowed me to make the whole thing look shiny and impressive. I did the same type of thing to create some nice underwater foliage for my city map. I started with a thin tree object, the ger_tree_poplar, but I wanted to make it look like a piece of a kelp forest, so I copied over ger_weed, and then placed several copies of it all up and down the tree, rotating and enlarging them here and there so that the whole thing had a nice, ragged, wavy appearance. I created a number of items like these, and I rounded out my decorations by adding textures I found online to existing meshes to create artistic accents, making bronze statues, golden images, and paintings. The paintings used art from the Atlantis Chronicles, which a seemed fitting place to find images of Atlantean history.

Populating Atlantis:

While I’ve been hard at work designing maps and writing missions, other incredibly talented members of our community have been contributing some wonderful stuff to other facets of my project. Tomato has continued to help me out with a number of contributions, big and small. RandomDays has imported a ton of incredibly useful objects for me and has in general pitched in innumerable ways, and Deanjo2000 has been churning out some incredibly gorgeous skins and skopes! In fact, between RD and Dean, we’ve got an amazing vessel for Aquaman’s nemesis, Black Manta. Dean has contributed a lot of great DC characters to the mod since my last update, and he was kind enough to create the Aquaman supporting cast member Murk, from the modern books, who Jeff Parker did such excellent work with. This gave me a really useful character to play with in my development of my Aqua-adventure, and it’s also just fun beating the snot out of this thinly-veiled pastiche of the hook-handed Aqua-jerk of the 90s! In general, I’ve seen a fantastic amount of support from the community lately, which has been really encouraging and energizing. Look for even more great art assets coming soon!

Telling the Story:

Of course, all of the work described above has been in service of a story that I’ve been dying to tell for years and years. My Aquaman campaign is one that I mapped out in broad strokes back when I was first working on the DCUG, over a decade ago. The story has evolved and changed a good deal since then, and I have been more than a little influenced by the fantastic work done by Jeff Parker and Dan Abnet in the New 52 Aquaman series. Still, I’m quite excited to finally get the chance to tell it, especially because it is such an ambitious project, and one that I have often despaired of ever having the chance to do justice. With the support of the FF community, diminished but still full of talented, I have been able to make a good start on it. As I’ve made maps and props and a thousand and one little tweaks and enhancements, I’ve also been hard at work on the campaign.

I’ve finished missions #3 and #4, which included some of the most challenging writing of the entire narrative. I had to introduce Atlantis, supporting characters, and an absolute mountain of plot, all in a very small amount of narrative space, as I only had a few missions and base scenes in which to do it. I could probably have spread this over more missions, but considering how much time and effort it takes to successfully write, script, and create a mission, I’ve tried to be conservative with my campaign design, which is not a strength of mine, as my project catalog can attest! So, I’ve slaved over the writing of these missions and base scenes, and while I’m not 100% happy with it (I never am), I am content. The missions themselves I think are a neat mix of ideas, and I hope they’ll prove fun to play. The players will be hit with a lot of information and a lot of my original Aquaman mythos in these missions, but I’ve tried to make them exciting and entertaining, as well as (hopefully) full of intriguing glimpses of story and mystery. As an extra treat, each mission has a custom cover created by Unkoman for their loading screens. Some are snappy tweaks of classic Aquaman covers, and some are much more elaborate creations, but they are all awesome, and Unko has put a lot of time and effort into them, crafting these custom loading screens that really make the campaign feel polished and complete.

#3 “Torn Between Two Worlds”

I won’t give away too much of my plot in these features. Instead, I’ll tease a bit about the missions and talk about how I made them. This first one up presented some design problems, in multiple ways. First, I had to skope custom keys for various characters that I already had in the DCUG, but for whom I didn’t have underwater versions. Then I had to create new powers and builds for each of them. When writing the mission itself, I knew I wanted a showdown with some of Black Manta’s minions, but I wasn’t really sure what to do to make it interesting and provide some variety. I came up with a couple of different encounter types so that the mission wasn’t simply a straight fight, and I designed it so that Aquaman was accompanied by some Atlantean allies. My scripting challenges arose from two sources. First, I needed to get the allies into the mission immediately so that the opening cutscene could include them and set up what was going on. Second, I needed my villain to get defeated but still get away, and I wanted to make sure that he didn’t show up until the player had cleared out all of his henchmen.

To solve my first challenge, I made my starting encounter an Alliance encounter, which allows you to create long-term allies for the mission, and I simply had its starting cutscene be my intro CS. However, as is often the case, solving one problem created another one, and this one was quite the mystery to me for a while. I would play through the entire mission, and everything would work, only for all of the starting encounters to respawn as I was playing through the last encounter. It was maddening! Not only did it look super messy and confusing, the mission wouldn’t end because the event chain had restarted! I finally, just yesterday, figured out what the issue was, after seeing no clear reason why this would happen and trying dozens of different things to fix it. The problem all came down to the fact that I was using my Alliance encounter to start my mission, and it was also being used to launch those opening encounters. It’s super obvious in hindsight! You see, the CS would play, and the encounter would ‘end’, spawning the next ones…but it wasn’t ACTUALLY over until all of the allies died. Most of the would get taken out in the mission, but your main ally, Murk, was made of sterner stuff, and he’d usually stick around until the end, where he was knocked out by another encounter….which would then start the whole thing over again! Simply using a different encounter to spawn the others solved the problem very nicely.

The second problem proved much more easily solved, though it also gave me some trouble. EZScript has an option for Custom Encounters that allows you to set one up where a villain will stop fighting at certain health thresholds. This is meant to simulate a common mission element from the FF campaigns, and it would be a very useful mission component. The trouble is, it’s never worked quite right, and I have trouble with it every time I try to use it. I decided to give it another look, and sure enough, it gave me fits. Either Manta wouldn’t stop and would get knocked out, or he’d stop and just get stuck, so the rest of the mission didn’t play. Finally I gave up and just used a simple Interrogation, which worked like a charm. However, this left me with the difficulty of getting my villain away. I’ve gotten around this in the past by having the screen fade and just having dialog advance the plot and narrate what’s happening. Obviously, that’s not the most elegant of solutions, and I wanted a bit more out of this, especially because I didn’t plan on this actually being the end of the mission. The trouble is that, once in an interrogation state, a character is locked into their stun animation and can’t move. So, I decided to cheat a bit. I used some camera work and fades to extricate Manta, then gave him an animation command to bring him out of the stun state. He still couldn’t move, but he LOOKED normal, and that made the CS work reasonably well. In the, the mission proved to be more challenging to create than I anticipated, especially since it was originally conceived as just a fight, but the final product should prove interesting, I hope!

#4 “Caverns of Death”

Bizarrely, mission #4, although much more ambitious in terms of scripting, as I was trying something I’d never done before, proved much easier. In fact, the most complicated and fanciest bits worked right out of the gate, while the simple stuff, as is often the case, tripped me up. This one involved the newly recruited Aqualad joining Aquaman as they fought their way through a cave full of monsters, and made some interesting discoveries about the history of Atlantis along the way, as well as some hints of the overarching plot! I decided to get clever, because once again I was struggling to find a way to provide some variety to how my story idea made it into mission form. The monsters our Aquatic Aces faced were a fairly straight-forward threat, but I came up with the idea of having the heroes encounter eggs that could hatch at random intervals, spawning more of the monsters. If the heroes can destroy the eggs early, they won’t have to worry about reinforcements, but if they don’t, they might get overwhelmed! I did this by creating two sets of encounters. The first was just a custom Destroy Object encounter with a Countdown condition to provide a ticking clock. The second, which is only triggered if the object isn’t destroyed before the clock runs out, spawns a monster in a Hunt encounter. I added some FX to make it look a little smoother, and it all worked pretty well. Here’s the EZScript encounters in question:

Encounter: Brood1
Type: Custom
Actions: countdown, heroes destroy objects
Objects: trench_egg named bob
Time: 215
Marker: shell1
Next: If Timer Still Going: None
Next: If Timer Expired: Birth1

End Cutscene:
bob is destroyed

#--------------------------------------------------

Encounter: Birth1
Type: Hunt
Villains: trenchs
Marker: scrack1
Next: None

Alert Cutscene:
Play effect effect_ffx_transmute at scrack1

Interestingly, I’ve recently discovered that the brilliant M25, who created EZScript, was even more brilliant than I had given him credit for, and he included the ability to name objects (like ‘bob’ up there) as well as characters so that you manipulate them directly through your scripts.

Alright folks, well that should give y’all a nice peak behind the curtain at what I’ve been up to. Now that I’m past these challenging missions and maps, I’m hoping I can move a bit more quickly in the coming weeks, but we’ll see. I know that I promised some information about my GLC campaign in this diary, but I think it’s already long (probably overlong!) enough, so I’ll get to that next time. I hope that this has been interesting and useful. Please feel free to ask questions or post comments, especially if you’re interested in getting into modding yourself or are just looking to get involved in the fantastic FF community!

DCUG Developer’s Diary #5

Howdy folks, and welcome to the first developer’s diary after my long hiatus.  I am getting back to work on the mod, shaking off the rust, and working out the kinks.  I have been super busy the last few weeks, hitting my modding to-do list hard and getting a ton done!  With the semester done and things calming down a little bit here at Grey Manor, I have finally been able to catch my breath and get back to my great modding love, the DCUG!  I have really had a blast working on it, and I have learned a lot recently.  I’ll share the highlights with y’all, as well as a little sneak peek at my Aquaman campaign, which is my current focus. Fair warning, I’m going to talk a fair bit about mapping in the beginning of this post, and I’m going to try to create my long-deferred tutorial video on the subject in a few weeks. If that subject doesn’t interest you, skip on down to screenshots of the new campaigns! And make sure to stay tuned for another developer’s diary entry next week which will provide another peek at the Green Lantern Corps. campaign which I have also been working on!

Map Design Part 1: Creating the Elusive Second Story

To get started with my return, I foolishly tackled something that I knew was going to be difficult and frustrating, and guess what? It was both of those things!  When I had to put the mod on hold, I had started to develop custom maps for my Aquaman campaign.  I faced a number of hurdles, detailed in my last couple of entries, and there was one in particular I had not solved yet and which returned to haunt me when I came back to the mod.  You see, thanks to Daglob who modified the crane object from FF 1, I had a nice big oil rig to serve as a setting for the Sea King’s adventures.  Unfortunately, while it looked great, characters would fall right through it in the game, meaning it wasn’t much use as, you know, a map. 

The main issue is likely that FF just doesn’t do multiple floors, really, and whatever is tagged as the ‘ground,’ is going to be used that way by the game engine.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the actual mechanics of the terrain meshes (nifs) and how they are set up to change what the game perceives as ground, and there really isn’t anyone left in the community who could tell me either.   So, what to do?  Well, the answer is obvious.  Cheat!

I tried a thousand different approaches to fix this, mostly centered around trying to create a ‘false floor’ through the use of other objects.  I settled on the pier object from FF 1, which gave me a nice, flat object to work with.  I tried blowing it up and adding it directly to the nif.  Characters still fell through.  I tried adding it in the editor.  Still fell through.  I tried a dozen different sizes and permutations, and no luck.  I tried just adding the original, small object, and just covering the rig’s surface with them.  That worked!  However…it also screwed up the character’s pathing. 

Finally, I realized that, when blowing the object up, I had used the scene root and tried to do the whole thing at once.  You see, objects in FF2 have to have two pieces to be interactable.  There is the object mesh itself, and then there is a bounding box, which tells the game where the mesh starts and ends, spatially.  Although Nifskope was telling me it had expanded the bounding box as well, it hadn’t.  So, when I did both pieces, both the object and the bounding box, individually, it worked perfectly!  Now, I’ve got an oil rig, and all I need to do is add the set dressing!

Map Design Part 2: Textures, UV Maps, and Madness, Oh My!

Of course, my luck being what it is, that was far from the end of my mapping woes. The next hurdle arose when I started remastering the first two missions of my Aquaman campaign, which were all that I had previously finished. I’ve been reworking my whole planned plot for the campaign, and I’m really happy and excited about how it’s coming together, but the changes required me to rework those first two missions. And that meant I needed a new map for mission 2, as the map I had planned on using, one of the incomparable CmdrKeonig’s crackerjack creations, but it was too small to fit in everything I needed. CK’s map was, at its core, a re-texturing or re-skinning of an existing terrain. The way most custom maps work is that, in addition to positioning objects in new and interesting ways, they provide a sub-directory in which an existing map’s terrain mesh can look for the textures it needs. But the mappers replace the vanilla textures with new ones that have the same name. Most of the custom FF maps that accomplish such amazing transformations use this fairly simple device to do it, though skilled mappers like CK also put in a lot of work ‘dressing up’ the map with re-textured and repurposed objects too.

So, what does all of that have to do with my own map troubles? Fortunately, CK’s map was based on one of the FF2’s Cuban missions, which all share the same texture set, and there was another of those missions which had the space and layout I needed. So, I just open the map up in FFEdit and point it’s texture directory to CK’s _textures_underwater folder, and it’s smooth-sailing, right? Well, nope; no such luck! The new map featured an airforce base with a big runway, and for some reason, when I gave the map the underwater textures, they displayed differently on the runway area than they did on the rest of the map! This distortion was pretty noticeable, and it really bothered me, so I tried to find a way to fix it. Whew! What a black hole this particular problem was!

Now, I know fairly little about textures (skins), and I know even less about meshes, so I had no idea what was going on here. I guessed that there was something about the terrain.nif, the actual 3d model of the map terrain itself, that was making those spots display the texture differently. So, I had to change it. I started by finding the level_layout.txt file for the map, which tells the game which terrain.nif to use. I copied and renamed it, pointed the map to this new file in the editor. Then I tracked down the terrain.nif, copied and renamed it, and pointed the layout file itself to its folder. The first entry in the layout is always the map’s mesh.

So, now I had a version of the mesh that I could play with and not mess anything up, and play I did. Or more accurately, I beat my head against this particular wall for days! I opened the map in Nifskope and clicked on the various pieces of the terrain, pouring over their entries and trying to figure out what settings controlled how they displayed textures. I compared their entries line by line, looking for whatever was different, and I tried a thousand different things, none of which had ANY positive effect! Finally, the community came to my rescue, and told me that how a texture is displayed is apparently all about something called a UV map. Who knew?!

I suppose that to be a good modder, it really does help to know about all of the different parts of game design. Anyway, I found a tutorial that explained how to edit the UV maps, which it turns out is a rather painstaking process in Nifskope. And that runway area was BIG! But, after a lot of rather maddening work, I finally had the map looking the way I wanted! Then it was just a matter of decorating it! So, I copied CK’s excellent design for his map, scattered a bunch of shrubs and weeds retextured to look like coral and seaweed all over the place, as well as some boulders and such for visual and gameplay interest. Then, because this mission is supposed to be one of the stages on the young Aquaman’s search for Atlantis, I asked superstar skinner Dean2000 to create some extra textures for me so I could add in the traces of a ruined city, using the map’s original textures and layout as a guide. I’m super happy with the finished product!

Map Design Part 3: Getting Clever

With the main map done, I set out to create a base scene to help me advance the plot and set up the mission that was going to take place on it. Now, my Aquaman plot is fairly ambitious. I’ve got a lot of story and a lot of development that I’m trying to cram in, and I struggled figuring out how to get through everything I needed in the base scene, while keeping the cutscenes it featured reasonably interesting to watch. I don’t just want to hit my players with a whole bunch of text with no visual interest! The story called for me to explore the origins of Black Manta and Aquaman, drawing on some of Geoff Johns’ better ideas from his N52 run. I had an excellent FF1 custom map featuring a lighthouse by the sea, but I wanted to portray some of what happened IN the water, and the map just has a flat, ‘painted’ surface for the water. How could I portray a story featuring both land AND sea in one map without looking silly? If I were Dr. Mike of The Strangers mod fame, I could just shift between maps INSIDE the base scene, but I don’t have a clue how he did that, and I probably couldn’t replicate it even if I did! So, once again, I decided to cheat.

I wrote the base scene CSes to focus the camera on a few different spots on the map, all out of sight of each other. Then I added a nice animated “water” object (one of our mappers, I forget who, created this years ago) above the surface of the “water” on the map in two of those spots. In the first spot I added a ship object “floating” in the top water layer, and my swimming Aquaman below it. In the other, I placed two ship objects, partially hidden in ‘floor’ of the map, to make it look like the ship had been sunk. Then, with a little camera work, the whole scene plays out relatively nicely, and the players only see what I want them to see. I’m inordinately pleased with how well it worked out.

Aquaman Campaign Update and Preview

While I was struggling with my various mapping mountains, I also tackled a ton of other, smaller jobs. I spent a lot of time tweaking the art assets for the Aquaman-related characters, especially the Aqua-Family, and that included new skins an skopes for Arthur’s sidekicks, Aqualad and Aquagirl. The tremendously talented Tomato very graciously agreed to make the Prince and Princess of the Sea for me, and they turned out fantastically! I also spent a lot of time skoping the keys of the various aqua-characters and updating their Herofiles to make them more interesting and unique in the game. I did a ton of work on the swimming keys, in particular, creating specially modified versions drawing on a wide range of different animation sets that gave me vastly more options in how I built the various characters. I discovered that the swimming keys were compatible with male_basic keys, and a hovering animation from another MB set would often look quite good as a swimming animation. That really expanded my options!

But the really excited work for me was remastering and reimagining my first two missions, laying in story hooks and plot threads that I can play with throughout the campaign. It’s great to finally be getting started on my Aquaman adventure in earnest, as this was one of the first ideas I conceived when I began working on my DCUG mythology. So, I rewrote the first mission, adding in some new elements to set up things to come, and I completely scrapped and recreated my second mission, starting with that whole new map. The first mission involved Arthur Curry beginning a quest to find Atlantis, and by finding it, to discover what happened to his mother, Atlanna, who was stolen away when he was a boy. During his search, he finds a mysterious island that is home to a research station, which has been besieged by the Marine Marauder!

My second mission saw the rookie Aquaman clash with the forces of Black Manta for the first time, as both men searched for Atlantis! This mission actually takes place underwater, so I have a separate mesh and key-set, essentially for my hero and all of his foes, an entirely separate set of characters, essentially. Everyone gets flight to simulate their ability to move in 3 dimensions, and eventually Aquaman will have the ability to summon his finny friends to aid him! As the mission progresses, Arthur makes a terrible discovery about his future nemesis, and he finds that the sea floor is covered with clues about Altantis! Finally, our hero frees an actual Atlantean warrior from Mantas men, but his welcome from his erstwhile people is not quite what he hoped it would be! Here’s a few glimpses of the mission, and you can see the base scene in action too!

Well, that should give y’all a sense of what I’ve been up to lately, though there are a thousand and one little jobs I’ve been doing as well. I hope that this has proven interesting and informative. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback! There are some exciting developments on the horizons for the DCUG and for the Aquaman campaign in particular. I hope to have more to share with y’all soon! In the meantime, here’s a little peek at the Green Lantern Corps. campaign mission I finished a while back. Expect to see more about that, as well as about OrWolvie’s Green Arrow campaign, in my next developer’s diary! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 2-Special Edition!)

DC-Style-Guide-1

This is a bittersweet post, and that touch of melancholy is part of what has made me slow to put figurative pen to equally figurative paper for this set of books.  On the one hand, we are starting a new month, full of the promise of adventure, but on the other, this month also holds the final issue of Aquaman’s solo series, the last solo Aquaman book that would be seen for six years until its brief revival, after which Aquaman would be absent from solo books until the beginning of the very divisive Pozner/Hamilton mini-series in the mid 80s, which, for whatever positive qualities it may have, is still guilty of starting the ‘let’s fix Aquaman’ approach to the character that endured for decades.  It’s a crying shame, especially given the very high quality of this book and the incredible inventiveness of its creative team, SAG.  Nonetheless, life, and comics, go on.

As I’ve mentioned before, the cancellation of this book was made all the more shocking and lamentable because it had much less to do with sales than with internal politics.  It seems that then editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino didn’t much care for Dick Giordano’s style, so, when Giordano desired to leave editing and start inking full time, the head honcho took that as an opportunity to rid himself of the man.  Now, Giordano was very fond of what he had created with Skeates and Aparo, so he offered to continue editing Aquaman freelance, but rather than agree to that or even replace him, Infantino just cancelled the book, despite the fact that it had maintained solid sales!  The Aquaman Shrine has a great interview with Steve Skeates that reveals a bit of the behind the scenes drama.

However unjust the cancellation, it was presented as a fait accompli, and it was a shock to all involved and a major blow for the character.  In fact, I would argue that it is this incident which crippled the character for years to come.  It attached a stigma that his book couldn’t sell, despite the fact that sales had very little to do with the book’s fate.  What’s worse, it robbed the hero of the chance for development and growth during a very important time in comics history, as I’ve mentioned before.  While Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and many others were being revamped and redefined in extremely influential ways, Aquaman is left by the wayside, with only the SAG team’s incomplete efforts to support him.  This is a situation that the character is only very recently starting to overcome, some forty years later.

Yet, not all is doom and gloom.  As promised, I have a special treat for y’all today.  You see, when the book was unceremoniously cancelled, Steve Skeates was left with a half-finished story.  Yet, he was not one to be daunted by such a small matter as a cancellation, and he would eventually finish that story, but do so on the other side of the aisle.  That’s right, in a 1974 issue of Marvel’s Submariner, Steve Skeates would pick up the dropped thread of this Aquaman adventure and finish the tale for Marvel’s own sea king.  I’ll be covering that comic today, in addition to our usual fare.  So, let’s see what this month has in store for us!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Aquaman #56


Aquaman_Vol_1_56

“The Creature That Devoured Detroit!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“The Cave of Death!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Jim Aparo

Here we have one of the all-time great Aquaman covers.  It’s exciting, titanic in scope and promise, and other than the rather muddy colors, is pretty much a perfect composition.  It’s got an old-school monster flick feel, right down to the title, like a 50s sci-fi film…but unfortunately it also bears little in common with the story inside.  Just imagine what could have been, a massive struggle between the King of the Sea and a colossal monster from the watery depths!  Instead, we get an offbeat, if unquestionably interesting, tale.  I imagine I might have been a more than a tad disappointed if that cover had persuaded me to pick the book up off the newsstand, only to find no massive monstrosity within.

Aquaman56_03

Man, Aparo could pack personality into a page!

Instead, the final issue of Aquaman begins in rather simple fashion.  A husband and wife bicker over the minutia that can grow into its own sort of monster in a marriage, but the debate is postponed by the tuning in of a television to the “Warren Savin Show” (interestingly, that’s actually a pen-name that Skeates has used from time to time).  The show promises to feature, of all people, the King of the Seven Seas as their special guest, but it is interrupted by a special report about a massive algae growth on Lake Erie threatening to consume the city of Detroit.

Aquaman56_05

This bumper bloom seems to be caused by a mysterious satellite which is reflecting light onto the city and its surroundings at night, keeping the area in a perpetual daylight that has sparked this overgrowth.  When the cameras cut back to the show, the Sea Sleuth is missing!  The Aquatic Ace has rushed out of the studio to see what he can do about this threat, answering the call to action.

Aquaman56_07

Too bad this is symbolic…

Aquaman56_06Arriving in Detroit, Aquaman finds the green gunk everywhere and decides to look up an old friend of his, a former police scientist named Don Powers, to try to get a handle on the situation.  Meanwhile, we cut to a strange figure in a garish costume, and we’re informed that this bargain-basement Batman is ‘The Crusader,’ a superhero who is ignoring the growing plight of the city to chase a car theft ring.  We get a nice action sequence as the Crusader jumps the gang he’s been tracking and barely manages to subdue them.

Aquaman56_10

After we see the orange and black clad figure finishes his fight, we switch over to follow Aquaman as he goes to consult his old friend, now a successful businessman and scientist, and the Sea King finds him at his corporate lab, where the fellow is completely unconcerned with the growing green tide swallowing the city, instead bragging about the reduction in crime thanks to the perpetual daylight and revealing that the mysterious satellite is, in fact, his.

Aquaman56_13

During their debate, Powers brings up the Crusader, and Arthur reveals that the League had refused him membership because he was considered unstable and too violent (He’d fit right in today, no doubt!), which is a fun little detail.  When the Marine Marvel tries to take matters into his own hands, Powers and his flunkies jump him, and sadly, you guessed it, Aquaman earns another slot on the Head-Blow Headcount!  Skeates really loved this device a bit too much.

Aquaman56_16

Not again

With the real hero disabled, we watch as Powers slips into his private office and dons the costume of…the Crusader!  In internal monologue, he reveals that he had an ulterior motive for launching the satellite.  His low-light vision is fading, and he’s willing to let the whole city suffer just so he can continue playing costumed crimefighter.  He justifies his selfishness by arguing that the case he’s working on is too big to abandon, and once he solves it he plans to destroy the satellite.  Powers also thinks that this case will be his ticket into the big time, that it will help him prove himself.  Now, just for some perspective, let’s remember that the case he’s trying to crack is no doomsday plot, no terrorist’s master plan, no city shaking scheme, just a car-theft ring.  Priorities man, priorities!

Aquaman56_20

While the Crusader continues his…well…crusade, Aquaman awakens on a park bench, having been dumped there by Powers’ goons, and before he can get back to the lab, he sees a young girl threatened by the growing green goo and rushes into the morass to save her.  He does so without a second thought, putting her life ahead of his own, though the peril of the situation doesn’t entirely come through as well as I imagine Skeates intended.

Aquaman56_22

A bit of a disappointing confrontation, really, and the dramatic title doesn’t help.

On his way back, he discovers a crowd surrounding a still figure on the pavement.  The Crusader lies dead, not felled by an enemy’s bullet or having met his death in the line of duty.  He just tripped over a wire and fell to his fate on the street below, his eyes finally having failed him.  He is the very soul of anti-climax.  When his mask is removed, the Sea King recognizes his friend and things begin to become clear to him.  Rushing back to Powers’ building, the Marine Marvel smashes his way inside, taking no chances, and locks himself inside the control room until he can find the proper switch.  The issue ends with the button pressed, the satellite destroyed, and the menace ended.

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The title here, on the other hand, is pitch-perfect.

So, not exactly what one would expect from that cover, is it?  This is a strange issue, but certainly an inventive and intriguing one.  Skeates is doing what he has done all along, trying new things and experimenting with the medium.  The story at the heart of this comic, the contrasting of two different concepts of heroism in the person of two very different heroes, is actually a great one.  It’s still quite pertinent today.  It’s the examination of the perennial conflict, between selflessness and selfishness.  Aquaman’s selfless conduct throughout, abandoning the TV show to help Detroit, putting his life in danger to save the little girl, and even risking who knows what kinds of consequences to destroy the satellite, stands in relatively effective contrast to the purely selfish motives of the Crusader.  That myopic manhunter, for his part, ignores all other concerns in search for his own fulfillment and fame, endangering the entire city, a city that he supposedly protects, in order to continue his callous crusade.  The concept is a fascinating one, yet Skeates’ treatment thereof isn’t entirely successful.

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Remember these images.

The story is far too rushed.  We meet the Crusader and see his futile death in just a few pages.  He’s not given the time to really develop the comparison appropriately, and compressing the setup and payoff into one book renders Aquaman’s contributions fairly slight.  Part of the trouble is that the threat to the city doesn’t ever quite seem tremendous enough to justify everyone’s concern.  We see the sludge surge up and endanger one little girl playing too close to the water, but that’s about it.  Skeates commits one of the prime storytelling sins.  He tells us about the threat rather than showing it convincingly.  Now, part of the reason for that simply has to be lack of storytelling space.  Nonetheless, this tale is certainly noteworthy for its innovation, and the central concept is worthwhile, despite its flaws.  This was a remarkable plot for its time.  Characters getting killed off was rare enough, but having a “hero” die, especially in the story in which he was introduced, was almost unheard of.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the book is beautiful, with Aparo creating yet another cast of distinctive, interesting faces, lovely action, and rich settings.  Perhaps the greatest calamity in the cancellation of the book is the fact that Aparo stops working on the character that he captured better than anyone else.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of four-color woe to be found in this comic’s cancellation, so that loss has plenty of competition.  Nonetheless, this is a fun and entertaining read.  It may be an offbeat ending to the series, but at least it’s an intriguing one.  All things considered, I’ll give this final Aquaman story 3.5 Minutemen.

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This issue also contains a super brief backup with Aquagirl, where she rescues a little boy foolishly playing too close to an ominously named threat called ‘The Cave of Death.’  Something of a theme this month, apparently.  It’s only two pages, so really too brief to rate as a story by itself, but it’s always nice to see Aquagirl in action.    It seems clear that Skeates was setting something else up, and this is just one more way in which the sudden cancellation of the book is a shame.

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The Savage Sub-Mariner #72


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“From the Void It Came…”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dan Adkins
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Linda Lessmann
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Roy Thomas

 You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

For our special feature, we once again pass across the aisle to Marvel comics, but this time it isn’t ersatz counterparts we see but an actual story-line continued.  It’s a shame that the rest of the SAG team wasn’t able to join Skeates for this revival of his Aquaman work, but he’s creating with a new team.  The results are surprisingly fitting for a Marvel comic considering the origins of this yarn over at DC.

While DC’s Sea King is my favorite comic character, I’ve also always had a soft spot for Marvel’s ocean monarch, Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  He’s not one of my favorite Marvel characters, but I’ve always liked him, and when I read through the classic Fantastic Four stories where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back, I really started to appreciate comics first anti-hero.  Incidentally, Kirby’s work on the history of Namor’s Atlantis is one of the coolest things ever.  While Namor’s temper can wear thin after a while, I’ve always appreciated the unfailing regalness of his character.  He’s one of the few times where comics have captured the ideal of royalty.  I’m just now starting to read his Silver Age solo series, and I’m only up to the 40s at the time of this posting, but I’m quite enjoying those adventures.  For this outing, I’m skipping ahead a few years, so I’m reading this tale without much context.

It begins with the Sub-Mariner himself swimming through the terribly polluted waters offshore of a major city and commenting, in usual fashion, on how terrible us surface dwellers are.  Notably, at this point Marvel’s Sea King is wearing his more substantial costume that replaced his green trunks.  It’s certainly a more dignified look, and it’s grown on me, though, being something of a purist, I tend to be biased in favor of original looks.  Sartorial concerns aside, the Sub-Mariner takes to the sky, still meditating on the evils of the surface world.

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Our narrative lens shifts, and we move into space two years previously where a strange green blob, some bizarre alien lifeform, drifts through the cosmos and lands upon a certain satellite, just before a (blue) gloved hand destroys its temporary lodging.  Take a look at that image.  Does it look familiar?  That’s right, Skeates intentionally evokes the last panels from Aquaman #56 in order to tie these two stories together in a subtle crossover.

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The creature rides the wreckage down and splashes into the ocean nearby where Namor will come ashore.  The being observes the sealife that passes by and decides to emulate those ocean dwellers by creating a body out of the slime on the seabed and the wreckage from the satellite.  The process takes the intervening years, and we get a really nice series of panels as the alien heads to the surface to explore.

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Meanwhile, the Sub-Mariner has encountered trouble in the form of a strange pair of humans.  There’s something just a bit odd about these guys, and you might not be able to put your finger on it.  I wasn’t, at first.  Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that.  These two toughs decide, with suicidal bravado, to pick a fight with Namor because he’s different.  It’s a case of prejudice, and bizarrely, the attack is accompanied by a quote from Hitler which talks about the effectiveness of visuals in delivering messages.  Oookay.

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This looks like a cover for a Double Dragon game.

The Prince of the Blood, who, let’s’ remember, has traded punches with the Hulk, belts his  normal human antagonist and somehow doesn’t turn his head into a fine red mist, instead sending him flying into the drink.  The thug’s friend jumps Namor in reprisal, voicing a rather strange response to the attack, “You’ve probably ruined him for life!”  How odd.  As the two tussle, the curious alien being reaches the dock, and they smash into him, leading all three to tumble into the water.  Interestingly, the narration notes that Namor has become somewhat unstable because of his constant battles, so that he meets the strange, monstrous newcomer with open hostility, just assuming that it’s a foe, and thereby leaving his original human antagonist to his watery fate.

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While the fellow’s companion drags him to the surface, the Sub-Mariner and the star-spawned creature trade blows.  Namor pours all of his rage, all of his frustration, into this fight, attacking blindly, but the creature literally blinds the Atlantean in response.  Even that doesn’t stop the Sub-Mariner, who grapples with his slimy foe.

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Finally, having had enough of this whole ‘body’ business, the being launches itself skyward once more, though, having meant no harm, as it passes into space it uses its powers to restore life to the drowned man and even, surprisingly enough, restore Namor’s sight.  Skeates plays with superhero conventions here to some pretty good effect, raising some questions about the violent ways such characters tend to respond to the unknown.

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For his part, before his eyes are healed, the Prince of the Blood realizes that his metaphorical blindness may have trapped him in literal blindness.  His anger and rage kept him from trying to communicate with the creature and may have doomed him to perpetual blackness.  It’s an interesting and relatively effective message about understanding and tolerance of the “Other.”  And with that, Namor heads for sepulchral Atlantis (previously destroyed, it seems) while the two humans head home as well, with one of them saying, seemingly apropos of nothing, that he just got a new professional wrestling magazine.  With these scenes, our story ends.

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So, what was the discordant note that the two wharf rats kept striking?  Well, these two toughs, Skeates later confirmed, were meant to be a gay couple.  Hence the rather flamboyant dress of the first thug, who was, by the way, named Bruce, a moniker with some associations with the gay community at the time, as I understand.  Now, you may wonder what in the world their sexuality has to do with anything in this oddball story, but it really does add a little depth to Skeates’ treatment of the theme of intolerance and metaphoric blindness.  You’ve got these two characters acting as bigots who have themselves suffered from intolerance, abuse, and bigotry, which is ironic.  While it could just be seen as anti-gay, it could also be read as an indication of the depth to which distrust of the “Other” is built into human nature, how deeply the disease goes.  Even those of us with reason to sympathize with societal outcasts can find it easier to lash out than attempt to act with understanding.

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Nonetheless, that was certainly an unusual wrinkle for comics in 1974, when you could not present any openly gay characters.  Once again, Skeates is experimenting with the genre.  The story itself is solid enough.  It’s more effective in its delivery of its message than in telling a particularly compelling and enjoyable adventure yarn, though.  Yet, I do enjoy the focus on Namor’s reaction to the mysterious creature.  It makes rather perfect sense given the Sub-Mariner’s characterization over the course of his series and the endless series of conflicts and reverses he’s faced.  There’s a very human element in his blind rage.  Still, the story feels a bit disjointed, with the conflict with the two morons on the dock coming out of absolutely nowhere.  I know people are plenty stupid, but who says to themselves, ‘I think I want to pick a fight with that guy that can punch through steel!’  In the end, I suppose I’ll give this story a 3.5 as well.  It’s an interesting one, if not stellar.

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P.S.: Oddly, this story, picking up from the final issue of Aquaman, falls on the final issue of the Sub-Mariner, who has outlived his distinguished counterpart by three years at this point but falls prey to a similar fate, and, ironically, with the same hand at the helm!  Steve Skeates had to wonder if he was jinxed when it came to aquatic characters!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Poor Aquaman adds yet another appearance on the Wall of Shame.  This really illustrates just how much Skeates relied on the head-blow plot device.  Whenever he needed to remove the Sea King from the story for a few pages, it seems a sock on the noggin was the first club out of the bag.  The results are self-evident, with Aquaman more than tripling the next most common resident on the wall in total head-blows.  At least one benefit from the lamentable cancellation of his book is he won’t be adding many more entries in this feature any time soon!


Final Thoughts:

These two comics make for an intriguing pair, a unique case (at the time) with a story translating across both companies and years (Of course, the Marvel character Mantis will see a similar transition later in the decade).  Even more unusually, the stories are very reflective of their universes, DC and Marvel, with each comic fitting surprisingly well into the style of their respective companies.  The DC story is full of bigger ideas, while the Marvel tale is much more melodramatic and emotionally focused.  The contrast illustrates Skeates’ skill as a writer, as one of the great tests of an author’s mettle is the ability to write well in different styles.

I’m really curious what shape the second story would have taken if it had graced the pages of Aquaman as intended.  One wonders if the muck creature from the cover of #56 might actually have put in an appearance after all, perhaps on a much grander scale than Namor’s unwitting sparring partner.  If we assume that the alien creature and its curious attempt to explore our little globe was always the core of the concept, then perhaps it would make sense for all of that algae coating Detroit to be incorporated into the being’s new body.  We might have gotten a version of that massive monstrosity after all.  Sadly, we’ll never know what might have been.

That is, truly, the greatest misfortune to be found in the sudden and unlooked-for cancellation of the Aquaman book, the loss of what might have been.  The SAG team had been paving the way for a whole era of stories, layering in hooks for coming arcs and continuing plot threads, setting up some really intriguing story possibilities, and creating a fascinating setting for the Sea King.  There are too many lost opportunities and abandoned elements in this run to count, like the rabble-rousing politician and his bid for power, the rocky relationship between Tula and Garth, the myriad underwater civilizations we’ve encountered in the preceding pages of the book, the microscopic world in Mera’s ring, Ocean Master’s recovered memories, and so much more that could have been.  I’ll always wonder what plans the SAG team had, what heights the book might have reached in the years to come.  How might the undersea setting have grown?  How might the Aqua-Family have evolved?  The possibilities really dazzle the imagination, don’t they?  Instead, we get this rather off=beat finale.  The book ends, not with a whimper, but neither does it close with a roar worthy of what has come before.  Instead, it slips away without fanfare or acknowledgement, without the slightest hint that this is the final issue.

It’s one of the great comic calamities, and so it is with a heavy heart, that I bid adieu to one of the best Aquaman runs and one of my favorite creative teams.  And it is also time that I say goodbye to this post.  I hope you’ll join me again soon as I resume our regularly scheduled Bronze Age browsing.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Aquaman Primer

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This is a short introduction to Aquaman, a great but underrated character, complete with a few recommendations for some of his better stories and some tips about other fun things to check out.  Below you’ll find some general information, a summary of his powers and abilities, a list of the recommended comics (with some reading advice for comic newcomers), as well as a short publication history.

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Yes, that is Aquaman throwing a polar bear at some bad guys.  You’re welcome.

The Basics:

The concept behind Aquaman is an awesome one.  He embodies one of man’s oldest and most enduring fantasies, to be totally at home under water.  We can swim around in the ocean a little way, maybe cross it in a boat here and there, where we are totally at the mercy of the weather and utterly helpless against its fury, but we are, in the end, out of our element.  Here, on our own planet, we are pretty much locked out of 75% of what we call “our” world.  Yes, we can peak into it with a SCUBA tank, or go a little deeper wrapped up in a metal shell, but these endeavors are always dangerous.  Yet, Aquaman is free from all of these constraints. Not only can he breathe under water, which is, in and of itself pretty darn cool, but he is the ultimate master of his realm in a way that surpasses even our mastery of the surface world.  He can travel to any depth, explore every oceanic mystery, and tread in places man has never even dreamed of.  All of this, and he can also command everything that lives and breathes beneath the sea.  If you can’t imagine that being cool, then obviously you’ve let the world beat too much of the imagination out of you!

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Aquaman’s wonderfully mythic origin as told by the incomparable Alex Ross


The Powers:

One of the biggest “PR” problems Aquaman faces is the perception that he’s useless out of the water and has silly powers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Of course Aquaman is particularly well suited to operating underwater, but he’s just as capable above the waves as he is below them.  He also sports an impressive slate of powers.  He’s much more than just a guy who “talks to fish”!  His powers include:


aquaman building.jpgSuper Strength:
Have you ever tried to throw a punch under water?  It’s nearly impossible to put any force behind it because the water resistance is so strong.  Now, imagine how strong you’d have to be to do something like punch a hole in a steel submarine hull, all while fighting that same resistance!  Believe it or not, Aquaman did just that in his very first appearance, and while his strength has been portrayed unevenly over the years, there’s little doubt that Aquaman is extremely strong, so strong that he could throw your car over your house!

 

 

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Super Speed: Aquaman is also incredibly fast, especially in the water.  He can swim 20,000 fps.  That’s FEET per second, just so we’re clear, here.  That’s around the speed of a jet fighter, and while he doesn’t normally zip around on land like the Flash, he is capable of moving very quickly, so fast that he can dodge machinegun fire and catch rockets out of the air.

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Toughness: The deepest, darkest depths of the ocean boasts a pressure of 15,000 psi, or over 1000 times that of the regular atmosphere.  That’s enough to crush the hull of any submarine and turn a man into jelly, but Aquaman is quite at home in such conditions, making him incredibly durable.  In fact, he’s almost bullet proof, and he is tough enough to trade punches with Superman.

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Marine Telepathy: Aquaman must have one of the most powerful minds in the DC Universe.  He can control everything that lives in the sea, and his thoughts can travel the length and breadth of oceans.  That’s an important distinction too, he doesn’t “talk” to fish, he commands them, completely and utterly.  From the largest whale to the tiniest microorganism, Aquaman rules them all.  While he is a bit more accommodating to the higher mammals, he’s still the boss.  In fact, most folks don’t know this, but Aquaman is also able to affect humans by targeting the parts of their brains inherited from their amphibious ancestors.

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The Problem:

aquamansuperfirends.jpgSo, the natural question becomes, where does all the Aqua-hate come from?  Why has this stuck so long? Two words: Super Friends. Super Friends was a cartoon show from the 1970s that featured much of the DC Universe, and many of us grew up watching it.  That’s how I got introduced to all of these characters, and as a kid, I loved it.  These days, on the other hand, watching it is akin to repeated cranial trauma.  This show crippled Aquaman. They didn’t know what to do with him because they didn’t understand the character, and DC never stepped in and said, “hey wait, this guy can do a lot more than talk to fish!” So, many episodes had our fair-haired hero standing around rather uselessly or getting captured to further the plot.  See, that’s Aquaman’s real problem, not a lack of power, or even a lack of talent on his book (for the most part), but bad management.

DC has spent the last 35 years pretty much trying to drive what was once one of their most successful properties into the ground. It isn’t clear exactly why it started, but it likely had to do with the focus on the Big Three (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) during the lean years of the 80’s.  Eventually though, the kids who grew up watching Aquaman’s awful portrayal on Super Friends found themselves running the company. Aquamansalute.gif
Instead of realizing that DC had made a mistake back then and damaged one of their characters in the process, they compounded the error. They have, until recently, regarded him as a lame duck, despite various successes achieved with Aquaman over this same time period.  Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning (I couldn’t help myself!).  The last few years have seen a much better team and a much better take on Aquaman’s book, as well as powerful and positive portrayals in other media.  The great popularity of Aquaman in Batman: The Brave and Bold is already creating a new generation of kids for whom the King of the Sea is awesome.

The Comics:

Aquaman_Vol_1_35.jpgIncluded with this document is a broad sampling of a few of Aquaman’s better stories from across the years.  I’ve incorporated stories from each of the major periods of comic history, and form most of the Sea King’s major interpretations, though there is certainly some personal bias present in the choices!  You can read the various selections in any order, though within each era there are story arcs that should be read together.  Beware that the various eras are not to everyone’s tastes, so don’t hold a story’s contexts against it.  These are just a few of the many wonderful stories written about this character, so if you enjoy them, seek out the rest and give them a chance!

aquacover05.jpgThe Silver Age: The Silver Age in comics was the second great period of superhero characters, stretching  from the late 1950s through the early-to-mid 70s, depending on who you ask.  This era was defined by its constraints, as the resurgence in popularity that the genre enjoyed came at a cost.  Increased censorship meant that the more mature stories of the golden age, popular among adults and kids alike, were replaced by more kid friendly elements, and grim avengers became cheerful champions of justice, duly deputized and friendly with the authorities.  The result was imaginative but shallow and often silly stories on the one hand, but on the other hand, this period also created a non-leathal heroic ethos that has continued to shape American ideals to the current day.  The character and concepts from this period, despite their often juvenile nature, are still often the most recognized and influential versions.

Recommended: Aquaman’s Silver Age origin and the introduction of his young sidekick in the long running backup strip in Adventure Comics and three fun, not-too-silly adventures from his solo title. (Adventure Comics 260 & 269; Aquaman vol. 1 20, 26, & 36)

aquab6.jpgThe Bronze Age: The Bronze Age of comics was the next stage in the evolution of the genre, running somewhere between 1970 and the mid-80s. It is helpful to think of this as the college years of comics.  They’re beginning to grow up, but they can still be a bit childish at times.  In this era, creators started telling more complex and mature stories.  There were attempts at social relevance and the handling (though often ham-handed) of real-world issues like drug use and poverty.  In general, this is my favorite era, producing the best stories for my money, and yet maintaining a certain purity of heroic ideal that is lost in later years.  At this point, heroes are still heroes, and they live moral lives, holding to high ideals.  This period saw a short but influential and wildly popular run of Aquaman comics featuring the creative team of Steve Skeates, writer, Jim Aparo, artist, and Dick Giordano, editor (SAG).

Recommended: The most famous arc from the SAG (see above) run on the Aquaman, a story that is uneven at points, but illustrates both the age and the character well. (Aquaman vol. 1 40-48)

Aquaman15.jpegThe Iron Age: The current era of comics, what I call the Iron Age in keeping with the metaphor, has no agreed upon name. This period, running from the mid-80s to today is marked by darker, more “mature” stories, where maturity is eventually replaced by sex and violence and the obsession with ‘grim and gritty’ stories largely succeeds in stamping out the joy and adventure that has characterized the genre over most of its history.  In Aquaman’s own stories, this is illustrated by the murder of his son by his greatest villain, losing his hand, his wife going insane, and many more laugh-a-minute tales.  These stories happened early on in this era, and they marked the character, crippling him because writers didn’t know what to do with a hero with a murdered son, et cetra.  Eventually, this lead to the modern version of the character becoming an angry, hot-headed jerk instead of the heroic adventurer who had come before.  Despite that, there have been some good stories come out of this era.  In fact, the biggest tragedy of this shift in creative values is that there are wonderful ideas still in play, but they are often dragged down by the oppressive weight of the period’s love of ‘grim and gritty.’

Recently Aquaman has gotten another reinvention that has taken him back to his classic roots in many ways. As part of the New 52, the company wide reboot of the DC Universe, very popular writer Geoff Johns relaunched the Sea King. Fortunately, Aquaman’s share in this experiment has been one of the high points. Johns’ run on the character, though not without its flaws, began what is almost certainly one of the best eras of my favorite aquatic adventurer.  These stories have presented Aquaman in an impressive, heroic light, and the art is also simply amazing in its own right.  While DC has recently struck yet again, replacing the immensely popular team on the book and taking Aquaman in ANOTHER ‘bold new direction’ that no-one wanted, it seems that the damage will be short lived, and this iteration of the Sea King is still likely to prove one of the best yet.

Recommended: There are a few stories from a very promising but uneven run from the 00s where San Diego was sunk beneath the oceans by a massive earthquake, and many of its inhabitants became water-breathers through mysterious means. One involves a nice overview of the character, while a few others are more straightforward adventures.  I’m also throwing in the beginning of Geoff Johns run, which is good, while the art is amazing.  These stories are only the beginning. (Aquaman vol. 4 14, 22, 32, &39; Aquaman vol. 5 1-5; 26 & 27; and 35-40)

 

Television:

JLUpromo.jpgJustice League (Unlimited): This is one of the greatest superhero shows of all time, and, as with the other shows by its creator, Bruce Timm, it took in the cannon of the comics and made something that is more than the sum of its parts. You should watch the entire thing just because it’s amazing.  In general, the show is routinely even better than its source material, but their version of Aquaman is an exception.  He is great in action, powerful, dynamic, and exciting, but his characterization is drawn from the worst version of Aquaman.  He’s a hot-headed, ill-tempered jerk.  Still, there are several episodes that are impressive, and they certainly show Aquaman as extraordinary and interesting.

“The Enemy Below”: Intrigue in Atlantis brings Aquaman into conflict with the League. The episode is good, but the best part is the hero’s dedication to his family, a staple of the character.

“The Terror Beyond”: This is an epic mystical story, a genre that fits Aquaman rather well. He is very impressive in this episode, taking on tanks, monsters, and everything in between.

“Ultimatum”: This is a great all around episode, especially if, like me, you grew up watching the terrible Super Friends There are a number of references to it throughout.

 

Final Thoughts:

I hope that this look at Aquaman has proven interesting.  Despite years of bad luck and a publisher that seems to hate him, the character endures.  In fact, these days he seems to be thriving, with a major movie deal and a very successful comic run.  You can’t keep a good character down, and there is something about the half-atlantian, half-human hero that resonates with readers.  There’s something archetypal about the hero torn between two worlds, and it seems that he’s not going anywhere.  Enjoy the recommended stories and try to see the King of the Seven Seas with new eyes!

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