I finished watching the entire series of Filmation’s The Adventures of Aquaman a while ago, but I’ve struggled with figuring out what to say about it. In every way that counts, it’s exactly like the Aquaman comics from the same time period: full of fantastic ideas that are only sketched out in a very broad, general way.
Some of that’s the result of the format. The episodes were originally created for The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967-68), which also featured Superman cartoons as well as a segment that rotated through other DC heroes like the JLA, Teen Titans, and some of their individual members. Because of this, each story is only about six to seven minutes long, so that’s not a lot of time to develop anything.
The typical episode involves Aquaman and Aqualad’s foiling a villain-of-the-week’s attempt to conquer Atlantis. Some of the villains do recur, so there’s a bit of continuity, but for the most part there’s a steady stream of new threats each episode. That’s not a flaw. It’s actually where the fantastic ideas come in. Writers Bob Haney and George Kashdan (who were also writing many of DC’s comics at the same time) came up with countless bad guys to throw at the Sea King, most of whom were pretty cool: whether supervillains, aliens, or another undersea race.
What’s lacking is things like motivation for the bad guys or any sense that Aquaman’s undersea realm is a cohesive world. The villains never explain why they want to invade Atlantis, we’re just to take it for granted that they do. That also contributes to the lack of structure around the world-building. There actually are some crossovers and team ups between bad guys, so it’s not that. It’s just that all the characters are sketched out so one-dimensionally that nothing feels real.
Bob Haney’s involvement in the show brings to mind his comment about the comics he wrote. “The PR research that [DC] had done showed[…]the average reader was a 12-year-old boy living in Dayton, Ohio. Who was not that sophisticated. So a lot of my stuff I wrote in the ‘60s was aimed at him. Generic little boy. It was simple stuff. It was not sophisticated.” I imagine the same approach applied to his and the other writers’ work on the Aquaman cartoon. It’s not that they couldn’t have made it good. It’s just that they didn’t have to.
The result is a show that’s fun to watch, but only in small doses. I started out trying to watch it in two-hour chunks, but that ends up being like sixteen stories back-to-back. I couldn’t do it. It was just too repetitive. Eventually, I ended up just watching one story before another movie or TV show and made it sort of the cartoon short before the feature. It worked out better that way and was a lot more fun, but it’s probably going to eliminate any repeat viewings.
I’m glad I did it though. If nothing else, it made me appreciate some truly great cartoons like Thundarr the Barbarian. But that’s a post for another day.