Aquaman: The Heroic Ideal, Chapter 1: Atlena’s Warning

by Libbylawrence

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A graying, plump man reclined on a sofa as a pretty blonde woman with glasses sat nearby, taking notes. She listened intently and made certain encouraging replies as her patient spoke. However, there was an air about the brilliant woman that suggested she had more of an agenda than merely leading her patient to greater emotional well-being. She wore a short purple dress with hosiery and heels of the same color. Smiling, she leaned forward as her patient concluded what had been a lengthy tirade.

“Stavros, you are a very wealthy man,” she said. “You are in good physical health. Your fortune has not suffered while you were… away. Why should you be anything but positive about your future prospects? You are too pragmatic a man to waste time on petty regrets for time lost or deeds undone.”

The Greek tycoon sat up abruptly and said, “I know, I know! Still, there is something eating at me like a coiled-up serpent waiting to strike. I feel as if I can’t know peace or rest satisfactorily until I rid myself of that venom. The bile of hate fills me and drives me onward like the Furies of old tormented my ancestors in the old myths!”

The woman nodded and crossed her legs for effect. “Then you need to take action,” she said slowly, with a deliberate preciseness. “You are a self-made man. You can’t rest upon past successes while one bitter defeat still taints your perspective. After all, you never knew defeat. You never allowed a rival to best you in love or commerce until he came along.”

Stavros ran a thick hand through his hair and said, “Yes, I know it all! You are right. I can’t find peace, even now that I’m out of prison, until I break the man that put me there. What good is my wealth and power if I can’t enjoy it without seeing his stern and unyielding face? Why, the man acted like he was some kind of king!” He jumped to his feet and began to pace with nervous energy as the doctor watched in interest and with secret pleasure.

“In point of fact, he was a king once,” said the woman. “I suppose he still carries something regal in his manner. How could he not do so?”

“Curse him to the depths of his ocean home!” cried Stavros. “I will find peace by breaking him. Aquaman must learn his place. No one, be he hero or knave, crosses Stavros Markos with impunity!” (*) He turned to her and said, “You’ll be paid well for this session. I believe I’m on my way to becoming a cured man. Thank you, Professor Wye. Thank you very much!” He stormed out of the office, and Professor Andrea Wye smiled as she glanced down at her notepad. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Invaders from Above,” Adventure Comics #464 (July-August, 1979) and “Trade Heroes and Win,” The Brave and the Bold #184 (January, 1983).]

“The Heroic Ideal — An Examination of the Nature of Heroism in Contemporary Society,” she read out loud. “Chapter One: Aquaman.” There was satisfaction in her every expression.

***

New Venice, Florida, was a curious place. It was a modern city built upon the basic lines of Venice, Italy. Businesses and homes lined water-filled canals and were connected by second-story bridges or walkways. All traffic consisted of boats, and the tourism industry was thriving.

But any location that attracted new people on holiday with money to spend and lowered inhibitions to govern said spending also brought in a criminal element. This was also the case in the watery city, and as was often the case in places like Gotham City or Central City, sometimes the criminals were decidedly strange.

Thus, one afternoon found a unique police officer pursuing a rather odd criminal. The policeman was a rugged black man who wore a typical uniform with one added feature that made him a sight worth seeing for the curious. He wore a breathing helmet that contained water instead of air. His name was Cal Durham, and he had known a restless life as a criminal and as a victim of a greater rogue’s experiments. Black Manta had turned him into a water-breather, and with one casually cruel gesture, he had ruined Cal’s life until Aquaman had come to befriend him and offer him a chance for reformation and redirection. Cal became a policeman in New Venice in spite of his past record. Aquaman was the city’s champion, and his influence was great enough to sway Mayor Lyndon to agree to the suggestion that Cal could be an effective lawman in a community so vested in the water.

Now, Cal wondered just how effective he truly was as he raced across a bridge and aimed his gun at a colorful glider that soared across the city he had sworn to protect. The sunlight reflected off of the green and gold glider, and he imagined that he could see a look of supreme contempt and amusement on the features of the green-clad man who hung suspended from the glider.

Shoot! I can’t hit him, thought Cal. He’s too high, and he moves too fast on that thing. I guess I’m going to have to tell the mayor that I blew it. I let that costumed creep sail in and rob the bank, then fly away without doing one thing to stop him.

Callie will think her Uncle Cal is a chump, he thought as he pictured the adoring little girl who waited on him at the apartment he shared with her mother, who was his sister.

Suddenly, as various people stopped and pointed skyward in disbelief or curiosity, a commanding voice rang out, and a muscular and noble figure stepped out of the crowd. Whispers and cheers echoed as the city’s champion Aquaman appeared on the scene.

“Don’t worry, Cal. I think I know how to ground Kite Man,” he said in his normal confident tone. He stood there on the bridge as water glistened on the orange-scaled shirt and green leggings that comprised his famous costume. His blond hair was slightly tousled, and he had the robust glow of vibrant good health about him. Fatherhood agreed with him.

He stared skyward with a keen look in his dark eyes, and Cal gasped in surprise as a flock of gulls swooped into view and landed on top of the glider. One after another, the sea birds clustered on the huge kite until their weight shifted the delicate balance needed to steer the craft. The Kite Man screamed as he dropped like a rock to the waters below.

“Man! That was something!” said Cal.

Aquaman smiled and said, “I thought you might like it. Now that my winged friends have obeyed my request to bring down Kite Man, I’ll just have some other allies bring him and his loot back to us.”

He looked out over the waters, and his powerful telepathy urged a large octopus to drag Kite Man and his broken glider over. “Good job, Topo! He didn’t give you any trouble, did he? I rather expected a felon who battled Batman himself to put up more of a fight, but then I guess he just wasn’t in his element.” Aquaman smiled as cheers rang out from the crowd, and he pulled the dripping and defeated Kite Man onto the bridge.

Mayor Paul Lyndon rushed out of the crowd and gripped Aquaman’s gloved hand. “Well done! You did it again!” said the slightly flushed politician. “I know I’ve said it before, but I’m not too proud a man to eat a second or third helping of crow when circumstances dictate it. I gave you nothing but grief during the period in which I blamed you for not being able to free my brother from that other-dimensional limbo in which he had been trapped, but not only did you eventually free him and all of New Venice from the Sargasso Sea, you even manage to continue to protect our city time and again!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Aquaman: Can Any Place Be Home? Chapter 2: New Venice Restored.]

Aquaman smiled and said, “It’s what I do. Helping people is my purpose. I meant it when I told you that I was going to make New Venice my home above the waters. Every citizen should be willing to protect and promote what is best for his community.”

“Ya kin say that again, and repeat it once more! I may be nothing more than an old salt, but I still likes to add flavor to me home!” said a gruff but powerful-looking man with a pipe hanging out of one side of his mouth. Captain Horatio Strong stood next to a rail-thin woman who wore her dark hair in a tight bun. She gazed at him with obvious admiration as the toddler in her arms squirmed and reached out for his father.

“The Captain speaks for us all!” said Olivia Strong. “We appreciate how you’ve made this city such a welcoming place!”

Captain Strong smiled and said, “Aye! Aquaman, as I’ve said before, you’re a real right Joe!”

Aquaman slapped the sailor on the back and said, “I could not ask for a better endorsement. I see your boy is as active as ever! Does he want to be a sailing man like his Pa?”

Strong gave a chortling laugh and said, “Blow me down, if he doesn’t make captain one of these days!”

Aquaman reached over to lift the smiling child into the air and spoke to him in soft tones. As he handed the child back to the Strongs, he thought of his own deceased son and of his little daughter. “I suppose I’d better head back to my own home. Mera will be waiting with dinner, and I want to play with Nautica a bit before her bedtime.” He jumped off the bridge and swam rapidly down a canal, until he reached a small home near the center of the residential section of the city.

He enjoyed having a sense of home. As a lonely boy who had lived for many years with just his father in a lighthouse on a solitary shore, he had read a lot, and he had made a sense of security for himself out of his own imagination and out of the care and pride his father had shown for him. That feeling had never faded away, and he had been determined to give his own children such a sensation of care and warmth. His duties as a hero and formerly as a king had taken him away from his wife and son too often. He had come close to losing Mera after Black Manta’s hatred had led to the murder of young Arthur Junior. Time had healed some of those old wounds, and now he could recall the good moments he had spent with the bright child, and those memories motivated him to work harder than ever to be a real family man to their daughter Nautica and to his flame-haired spouse Mera.

I’m glad we’ve had such a peaceful time since Nautica’s birth, he thought. Even the alien invasion didn’t really touch us directly, although we prepared for possible attacks both here and in Poseidonis. I’ve been feeling really happy of late. It seems like I have truly found my niche. Being a hero is what I do best. I’m not meant to be a king or even a team leader. I just prefer to protect and serve in my own way.

As he entered the house he smelled an appetizing aroma, and he swept Mera into his arms as he turned to greet him. He kissed her and gently brushed a lock of hair off of her face. “Excuse me, Miss, but while your husband is out, I’d like to have my way with you,” he said.

Mera laughed a throaty laugh and said, “Would you really? You’ll have to get in line. There are several others ahead of you.”

Aquaman laughed and drew her closer into his arms. “Really? Then I’ll just have to prove to you that I’m entitled to special treatment.” They kissed once more, and he released her as she gestured to the stove.

“I prepared the stew your father used to make you,” she said. “I had to add a spice or two of my own out of sheer female pride, but I think you’ll recognize the taste all the same.”

“Wonderful!” said Aquaman. “Is Nautica still up?”

“Try to get that girl to sleep until her Daddy is home!” said Mera. “She has a real princess attitude already!”

“Well, she could get that from her mother, the former queen!” he said. Going to see the baby, he sighed with pleasure. He was home, and he was very happy.

***

Aquaman’s peace ended abruptly one morning when he heard a loud pounding on his door. He patted Mera’s bottom and said, “Stay put. I’ll see what’s wrong.” She murmured sleepily as her husband rolled out of bed and grabbed another one of his orange shirts.

Slipping on his shirt, he hurried to open the door. He was not the kind of man who required much time to wake up. A childhood spent in a lighthouse tower had made abrupt awakenings an almost-routine matter. He was alert and ready as he swung open the door to expose the worried features of a beautiful and elegant woman in a flowing green gown.

“Aunt Atlena?” he asked as he brought the Atlantean aristocrat inside. “What brings you out so early? I figured your noblewoman’s habit of sleeping late would have precluded such an early visit. Is something wrong with Arion?”

Atlena gazed at her nephew with eyes that reminded him of those of her sister. His late mother Atlanna had possessed similar green eyes, and he felt an old pang of regret as he remembered her loss. “Arion is well, but I have come to you for reasons that you may dismiss as ancient folly,” she said. “Still, I could not rest without trying to warn you of my vision.”

“Let me put on a pot of coffee,” said Aquaman. “I acquired my father’s taste for black coffee.”

“Arthur, you must hear me out!” said Atlena. “I am far more than just your aunt. I am or was a priestess of the Delphic Oracle in ancient Atlantis. My vision that the realm was going to sink led me to try to save it with my scientific experiments, which only resulted in trapping me and countless other mariners over the eons within the other-dimensional limbo called the Sargasso Sea. The experiment failed, but the vision was true. Atlantis did sink. I saw it all from that void place. Now, I have had another vision. I have seen you in terrible peril.”

Aquaman frowned. He knew that his aunt was precious to him, since she was a relation he had little dreamt of ever meeting. Since he rescued her and the other captives of that dimensional void, she had become close to him and closer to Arion, the High Mage. He cared for her, but he placed little stock in her visions. She brought back memories of his late mother, and that was reason enough for him to treat her with care and affection.

Aquaman’s real name was Arthur Curry. His father Tom had been a lighthouse keeper, and his mother Atlanna had been an Atlantean. He had inherited his ability to live under the sea, withstand its pressures, and control its life forms from her. She had died when he was six, and thus he had never learned to know her in any capacity other than that of mother. Her death had robbed him of any chance to truly embrace his heritage at an early age. Time had brought him to a greater understanding of the gifts he had developed as he matured, and his heroic career had led him to the lost cities of Atlantis as well. However, even his epic career failed to prepare him for the revelation that Atlanna had not truly died all those years before. She had survived and had gone mad. Her madness led her to oppose him, and that in turn led to her real death. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure,” Action Comics #518 (April, 1981), “Family Plot,” Action Comics #519 (May, 1981), and “The End,” Action Comics #520 (June, 1981).]

Having that type of bitter reunion with his mother naturally made Aquaman appreciative of the opportunity to get to know her sister after he rescued her and others from their ageless imprisonment in a dimension known as the Sargasso Sea. Now, as he prepared coffee, he looked at the lovely blonde woman and began to question her. “Atlena, tell me what you saw,” he said.

She brushed her long blonde hair back and stared at him with wide and piercing eyes. “Arthur, I tell you again that I saw terrible dangers all around you. You are going to be attacked soon by enemies with great powers and strong malice.”

Aquaman handed her a cup of coffee and said, “Atlena, I’ve always had enemies. They come with the suit. Think how often folks like Black Manta or the Fisherman have tried to kill me. I am more than capable of stopping them. I always have before.”

She clutched his hand and said, “Please, summon help. Bring young Garth and his lover Ulla here. Perhaps even your Justice League friends could help you. Surely Arion could preserve you, if only he was here. He is away on some quest of his own devising.”

Aquaman smiled and said, “I appreciate your concern. I’ve missed that kind of family feeling since my folks died. You know, in spite of her later return and her actions then, I’ve always preferred to think mother died when I was six. Pa died long ago, too. That means I value you very much. Still, I have always been able to take care of myself, and I’ll continue to do so. Don’t worry about me!” He took her hand in a slightly awkward gesture, since such demonstrative affection was rather new to one who had been solitary for many years.

Atlena nodded sadly and said, “Arthur, they failed to heed my warnings before Atlantis sank as well.”

“Well, the thing about me is that when I go down,” he replied, “I always manage to get back up again.”

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