Bizarro Back Issues: Aquaman’s One Hour To Doom! (1961)
All right, look. I have made my share of jokes about Aquaman over the years. Heck, if you really want to get down to it, I've made several people's share of jokes about Aquaman, to the point where I may have been personally responsible for the Great Aquaman Joke Shortage of '14. But honestly --- I mean honestly --- they're just sitting right there and you can't really blame me for going after the low-hanging fruit every once in a while.
Which brings us to Adventure Comics #262 and "One Hour To Doom," a classic of the Silver Age where Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, founding member of the Justice League of America, and one of DC's most inexplicably enduring characters, attempts to apprehend a seafaring criminal only to find himself stopped at every turn by the fact that sometimes, he is not actually standing in the water.
Seriously. You remember that one gag from The Simpsons about Knight Boat, where a criminal flees from the ocean only to be foiled by the existence of a canal? Well, this great story, from Robert Bernstein and the always amazing Ramona Fradon is sort of like that, except that it adds in the gritty realism of the fact that sometimes... there's not a canal. There is, however, a goat that can be milked instead, but I guess we'll get to that in a few minutes.
For now, though, we open on the high seas, where the Coast Guard is enlisting Aquaman --- who, again, is an actual superhero, who fights crime and saves the world on a regular basis --- to help deliver their mail.
I'll admit that I can see the appeal to this idea for being kind of amazing, but jeez louise, y'all. No other superhero gets asked to deliver "hobby kits" to lonely lighthouse keepers. I mean, Superman would probably do it because he's a nice guy, but you wouldn't interrupt Batman when he was punching out the Riddler because you had an important letter to deliver, right? Unless that envelope is full of justice for the criminals of Gotham City, just go to the post office, dude. That's why it's there.
Anyway, getting the mail in on time isn't Aquaman's only concern. It seems that Jed Rowe, a smuggler, pirate, and all-around sea-crook, is causing plenty of trouble and needs to be stopped. Problem is, he's extremely elusive, and after Aquaman and Aqualad stop him from smuggling a literal barrel full of gold by commanding swordfish to tear up the sails, Rowe makes his escape by swimming to land. You'd think this would be a strategy that all of Aquaman's enemies would employ, but since "on land" is where Batman lives, they're probably willing to take their chances in the water.
To their credit, though, Aquas Man and Lad attempt to give chase as Rowe scrambles up a nearby mountain. It's a solid idea, but it's not without danger. In case you don't know --- and if you don't, don't worry because this story's going to remind you five or six times --- Aquaman can only be away from water for an hour at a time before he apparently just immediately dies. That's not normally a concern, what with it being one of the most common substances on Earth (and with this story's very flexible definition of "water"), but this time, it seems to be in short supply.
Fortunately, Aquaman has a truly amazing plan:
Okay. So. Considering that Rowe is only wearing a pair of swim trunks when he escapes from the ship, and seems to suffer no ill effects from being in the water, I think it's safe to say that this story is meant to take place in a warm season, at least spring or early autumn. With that being the case, this means that Aquaman and Aqualad have to go high enough up the mountain to hit the year-round Snow Line, so if we're going to be as charitable as possible and assume that this story takes place in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard --- which has the lowest approximate Snow Line due to its arctic climate --- that means that they have managed to climb at least 300 to 600 meters in under an hour through steep, rocky terrain. Considering that everyone speaks English, however, it might be safer to assume that they're somewhere like the Alaskan Panhandle, in which case they'd be climbing three to five times higher.
Just so you know.
Even though they manage to survive by snowballing each other in the face --- something I can get away with saying here because it's actually, literally true --- Aquaman and Aqualad don't manage to capture Rowe. He escapes, leaving Aquaman to just sort of wander around doing odd jobs for a while. You know, like superheroes do.
Eventually, though, they stumble across another one of Rowe's operations. This time, he's taken to the air, stashing a helicopter full of smuggled goods on a tiny island. Unfortunately for Aquaman, he's too slow to keep Rowe from taking off, and once Rowe's in the air, he keeps Aquaman and Aqualad pinned down, unable to reach the water.
Why exactly he doesn't just shoot them is a little hazy. According to his accomplice, they're just hovering in place, strafing the ground every now and then, to avoid a "murder rap." It seems that while shooting someone is definitely illegal, shooting at them to force them to die of thirst is perfectly fine. It's a flimsy explanation, sure, but it is an explanation.
If you want to know why they leave after a half hour, though, instead of waiting out the whole thing, well, that one's never even addressed.
And with that, Aquaman and Aqualad join Quantum and Woody in the rarified pantheon of superheroes who are only currently alive because of a goat.
Surprisingly enough, that's not the end of the story. Instead, it just keeps going, with even more improbably dry situations for our two heroes at every turn. First, they wind up trapped in a desert, and while they actually thought to bring a canteen this time --- and keep in mind this is the third time in one story they have had to venture out of the water and they only just now remembered that containers exist --- they wind up in danger again. After Rowe pops up with a rifle and shoots the canteen (again, instead of Aquaman), they end up getting water from the radiator of a derelict car.
Eventually, though, Rowe gets tired of just shooting things around Aquaman and decides to lure him into a trap and take care of him once and for all, and that's when we get the most amazingly ridiculous, mind-bogglingly coincidental solution of all time:
Oh wait, it gets better.
And look. The sprinklers, fine. You didn't build the building, and you can't really get away from them. But honestly, if you're trying to keep Aqualad away from water and you put him within leaning distance of a dang fish tank, you deserve whatever you get.