Bizarro Back Issues: Literally The Only Time Aquaman Has Ever Had To Deal With A Ghost Ship! (2011)
To say that I've been more than a little dismissive of Aquaman over the past decade or so is putting things mildly, but in my defense, it's less about Aquaman himself and more about how I'm just completely uninterested in everything he brings to a soggy underwater table. There's just not much there for me to get into, and every time I try, something stops me.
Take, for instance, my experience this week. With the season of spookiness upon us, I thought for sure that the one thing I was guaran-damn-teed to get from 75 years of seafaring adventures was a story where Aquaman had to fight a ghost ship. It's one of those things that feels like it has to have happened at some point, but... here we are. As near as I can tell --- and please tell me if I'm wrong about this --- there has never actually been a story where Aquaman took on an undead crew of pirates out for blood and vengeance.
The closest we ever got was a story where he actually teamed up with one instead --- and even that didn't happen until 2011.
To be fair, there is an early Adventure Comics story from 1946 called "The Ghost Ship," but it's actually about uranium and does not involve the supernatural. There's also a tie-in to 1995's Underworld Unleashed that, from what I can tell, involves Aquaman fighting the ghost of a sea monster (rad), but that's not exactly pirate ghosts, you know? It took a full 70 years for us to even get close, and that boggles the mind.
The one good thing about that delay that it features the Best Possible Aquaman, the cheerfully outrageous underwater adventurer from TV's Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I liked that dude a heck of a lot to begin with, and now that we know Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, Dan Davis, Gabe Eltaeb, and Dezi Sienty brought him closer to p-p-p-pirate ghosts than any other creative team in his considerable history, I think everyone is going to have to admit that he's the best.
It definitely has a whole lot less of the supernatural than you want, though, to the point where it opens with Batman and Aquaman rescuing a luxury yacht from... The Fisherman. And while even Batman takes a moment to clown him for his codename (before remembering that he routinely has to rescue Gotham City from the villainous clutches of Kite-Man and Crazy Quilt), I love that Aquaman has a villain called the Fisherman. He is, after all, a natural ally of fish, and fishermen remain their eternal enemies.
More pressing, though, is the fact that a ghost ship shows up during that initial fracas, and once the Fisherman and his henchseamen have been dealt with, it's revealed to be piloted by one of DC's longest tenured ghosts, Captain Fear!
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The World's Greatest Detective, who routinely fights a man named "Gentleman Ghost," having a hard time understanding the concept of a ghost.
After Captain Fear explains his history and mentions that he's cursed to sail the seas as a specter until he can balance out the evil he did in life, Aquaman suddenly leaps to the conclusion that a long-lost Atlantean artifact, the Talisman of Arion --- named for obscure DC fifth-stringer Arion, Lord of Atlantis --- can probably break the curse.
With that in mind, Batman and Aquaman set off on a new underwater quest, which, not coincidentally, also involves Aquaman getting out of his governmental duties an actual monarch. In a moment of characteristic stodginess, Batman even goes as far as calling Aquaman out for his shirking, only to be met with a pretty solid response:
From here, the story heads into full-on dungeon-crawling adventure mode, but with the dungeon replaced by, you know, the ocean. There's a giant, mindless sea serpent that can't be controlled by Aquaman's telepathy, a group of sirens that threaten to lure the heroes to their deaths, and a whirlpool that threatens to dash them on the rocky floor of the sea, and also leads to another unexpected reference to '90s DC Comics:
It seems that unlike his comic book counterpart, the animated Aquaman never had his hand eaten by piranhas, although who knows? We never see him without his gloves, and he seems like the kind of boisterous fellow who would take it all in stride.
Eventually, Aquaman and Batman make it to the Temple of Arion, where they're joined by Captain Fear to find the amulet just sitting on a pedestal. He's not the only one who's been following along on the adventure, though -- Aquaman's arch-nemesis has been following them all this time!
And like... really? Black Manta? I know that people who like Aquaman a lot insist that he's also a good villain, and I'm not really equipped to dispute that --- if nothing else, I like his hat --- but you're going to give me a story that literally involves pirate ghosts and mystical artifacts from the ancient depths of Atlantis, and cap it all off with Black Manta?! There's no ghost out there, no evil supernatural force, that maybe could've been involved instead?
Apparently not. After a quick zap from his eye-beams --- you know, like mantas have --- Black Manta grabs the amulet, intending to use its vague and ill-defined mystical power to conquer the seas. But there's one thing he didn't count on: Eye-beams don't work on ghosts.
Yes, Captain Fear is still very much involved in the action, and as I think we have all learned time and time again in our lives, if a problem can't be solved by Batman, the only way to solve it... is with ghost bullets.
With that, the amulet is destroyed, along with Captain Fear's hopes of ever being freed from the shackles of his curse. Or so it seems!
As it turns out, this act of self-sacrifice, dooming himself to save others, is enough to balance his karmic scales and get him shuffled off to his final reward, which I assume is pirate heaven. Thus, evil is defeated, the adventure comes to a close, and Aquaman finally heads back to doing signing trade agreements and balancing budgets.
All in all, it's a fun little story, but a little disappointing as the only time in the history of comic books that Aquaman has even come close to fighting ghost pirates.