Home > B, Episode Reviews, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 50 – “A Fish Story”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 50 – “A Fish Story”

October 13, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Fish Story

Story by Alan Burnett
Written by Hilary J. Bader, Rich Fogel
Directed by Shin-Ichi Tsuji
Original Airdate: May 8, 1999
DVD: Superman: TAS, Volume 3

Summary: After a series of animal attacks at sea, Lois investigates LexCorp and finds that they have taken a mysterious water dweller hostage.

Featured Characters: Aquaman

Background:

In spite of what Cartoon Network’s oft-idiotic commercials will tell you, Aquaman is not a joke. In fact, amongst the traditional Justice League members, he’s pretty much at the top of the badass list, if not 1a to Batman. For a guy who looks like he really is into University of Miami football, I know that’s hard to believe, but it makes some sense.

Created in 1941, it’s not hard to see where the idea of Aquaman came from: he’s DC’s answer to Namor, the Sub-Mariner (making Namor one of the few Marvel heroes to definitively pre-date a DC counterpart, rather than the other way around). Aquaman was originally given a much more pulp inspired origin (trained by a father who had discovered an underwater civilization), but in one of the quickest re-thinks in comics history, that was changed to have the child be the son of a lighthouse keeper and a woman exiled from the lost city of Atlantis. Eventually, the child grew up, discovered his heritage, returned to Atlantis and was ultimately crowned king of the realm. Aquaman was also one of the first heroes to get married and have children… but the product of that marriage, Arthur Jr., was killed by one of his enemies.

(This happened in 1977. Don’t anyone let you believe that comics were any lighter “back in the day” – Aquaman’s son suffocated and died on-panel.)

As a result of both this event and his imperial heritage and bearing, Aquaman’s often been characterised as a bit standoffish and somewhat curmudgeonly, especially in comparison to the more genial relationships of the rest of the Justice League. If that also sounds like Namor, well, Marvel’s never won a lawsuit (to be fair, Aquaman’s always been portrayed as much more of a team player than Namor, even leading the JLA for some time).

However, aside from the shocking death of his son, the original version of Aquaman – orange shirt and all – didn’t have much to write about, as writers struggled to come up with ways to keep a solo series for the JLA’s resident family man going, without much success. That changed in the 1990s, but this episode mostly deals with “Aquaman Classic”, so a discussion of those changes will wait until the next Justice League story.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This is something of a swerve of an episode. As Bruce Timm notes in his Modern Masters interview, the creators of Superman wanted to make the animated Aquaman a throwback to an earlier era:

“When we did the Aquaman episode of Superman, we had a knee-jerk reaction to what they were doing with him in the comics, which we didn’t agree with at the time. We were saying “Oh, no, that’s not Aquaman. Aquaman’s not a guy with a  giant hook on his hand. Aquaman’s the seahorse-riding, orange-and-green guy. [laughter]”

– Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, page 74.

Aquaman’s initial design is in fact the orange and green outfit, and for all the flack that it gets, I think it comes across much better in animated form than it does on the printed page. Which is a bit weird, as it always stuck out like a sore thumb on Super Friends, but that can probably be put down as improvements in animation technology since the 1970s.

This episode is a contrast to the earlier Kyle Rayner debut, as rather than showing Aquaman as a new hero, Superman and Lois treat him as more of an urban legend (… or… fish story. Clever.) who’s been around for a while. But the real trick of the episode is that, while it’s a pretty bog-standard “Luthor is doing a bad thing secretly” setup, all we get out of Aquaman for the first 80% of it is the typical Super Friends characterisation; he talks to fish, swims a lot, and generally isn’t very effective out of the water. The show progresses to Aquaman staring down a vessel carrying explosives that will cause damage to the ocean…

… and then an Atlantean battlecrusier rises out of the ocean and pops open a couple of huge gun turrets. Aquaman is acknowledged as the king of Atlantis (which shocks Lois in a great bit), and rather than the environmentally sensitive superhero he’s been for the entire episode, he’s suddenly a king with an entire army backing him up – and one that isn’t going to take any b.s. from anyone, not even Superman. One rash act by one of Luthor’s goons and he blows the ship out of the water without thinking twice.

It’s a great swerve, because it plays so heavily on the “useless Aquaman” stereotype prior to reversing course and showing that a pissed-off Aquaman is a threat to the world at large. Sure, he’s theoretically acting as protector rather than aggressor, but his statements at the end of the episode clearly paint him as someone who could be a menace just as easily attack the surface world for perceived slights as someone who will save us from ourselves.

That’s a really good place to take the Aquaman character, and that take on him was continued in his first Justice League appearance, although now that the cat was out of the bag, there was more said about his status as royalty than anything else. Plus, if you’re unfamiliar with Aquaman, it’s a hell of a swerve.

Overall grade: B (great ending, but a slow first two acts)

Random Thoughts:

  • It may not be Brainiac rasslin’ a polar bear, but Superman grapples with a killer whale in the opening sequence.
  • Bibbo dressing like a Popeye character actually seemed kind of appropriate this time around.

Next Episode: “The Enemy Below”, one of the strongest Justice League episodes of the first season, and probably the series as a whole.

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