The Adventures of Aquaman - The Complete Collection
Warner Bros. // Unrated // $26.98 // October 23, 2007
Review by David Cornelius | posted November 24, 2007
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Hey there Aquaman, it's your old pal Dave. Great to see you again. Now, look, buddy, I hate to do it, but I've been asked to bring you some news you might not like.

I know you're feeling good about yourself. And why not? You hit it big with a memorable plotline on HBO's "Entourage," you had a guest part on "Smallville," you found yourself in a TV pilot that, while not yet picked up, got some good word of mouth around the 'net. Your appearances on the "Justice League" cartoon were well received, as was a recent upgrade in the comics. Looks like all that nonsense about the hook hand and the goofy beard and the Atlantean angst that was on loan from Marvel's Sub-Mariner is behind you, and it looks like nothing but good things ahead. Heck, you might even land a spot in that upcoming live-action "Justice League" movie everybody's talking about.

But here's the bad news. It seems Warner Bros. recently released a two-disc DVD set of your old Filmation adventures from the late 1960s. You remember those, don't you? Yeah, of course you do. How could you forget? The cheap animation. The mostly plotless stories. That stuff about being able to throw water really fast, um, underwater. Seahorses that act like real horses. The psychic rings that emit from your forehead to illustrate your telepathic bond with the creatures of the sea. The fact that everyone pronounces your name wrong (did narrator Ted Knight insist that the initial "A" should sound like the "a" in "hat" instead of "car"? and did he know how goofy it sounds?). Tusky the Comic Relief Walrus. Aqualad. Oh, sweet Poseidon's trident! Freakin' AQUALAD!

Yeah, old chum, I know I should stop. It's not fair of me to bring up such things. After all, I did plenty of stupid stuff in my younger days, too.

But look, Aquaman, pretty soon a whole heap of Gen-Xers are going to be renting, or maybe even buying, these DVDs, looking for a quickie fix for their nostalgia jones. And watching your old adventures is only going to remind them that everything you did from 1967 until 1970 as part of the "Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure" laid the groundwork for your days on "SuperFriends," where your general uselessness and goofiness would make you the Shemp, the Zeppo, the Daniel Baldwin of DC Comics.

Worse than that, though, these cartoons are just plain lame. Even if you remove all the modern day baggage (most of which are inspired by various "TV Funhouse" segments from "Saturday Night Live," like the fact that your villains are all as dopey as the ones who chase the Ambiguously Gay Duo - and yes, you and Aqualad do resemble Ace and Gary a bit too much sometimes) and attempt to view these as simple children's fantasy entertainment, these stories are far too lightweight. It's not for a lack of trying; Filmation brought in several writers from the comics themselves, and the wild undersea kingdom allows for imaginative alien encounters on par with Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. But there's just not much of anything going on here. You and Aqualad swim around for a while, a bad guy (usually Black Manta, Queen Vassa, or - ugh - the Brain) tries to kill you, you telepathically command some fish to stop him, you swim away.

Filmation's cost-cutting techniques don't help much, either. For all the admiration some of the animation work deserves, like those time-consuming water bubbles and detailed backgrounds, the sheer repetition caused by the company's "keep using the same darn shots over and over to save money" philosophy causes these episodes to wear thin quickly, even if you choose not to watch them all in one marathon session. A few cheats to simulate underwater-ness come and go so randomly that it never really makes any sense - it's not like our hero suddenly went more underwater. (Besides, seeing the screen wobble like that under such wavy distortion might lead some viewers to motion sickness.)

But really, the biggest problems are all in the writing. Like most of Filmation's superhero work of the era, the action is redundant and uninspired, while the characters barely reach one-dimensionality. Plots rush though themselves rather sloppily. Young kids might be thrilled by the quick, loud action, but if they dare watch beyond the bite-sized episode lengths, they, too, might find themselves bored too soon.

So, yeah, Aquaman, get ready to be the dork of the superhero world once again. Maybe if you come across any Gen-X geeks who dare call you Sea-Man, you can toss 'em a headshot of Adrian Grenier, or let 'em know the CW's still thinking about picking you up for a full series. Good luck, Shemp.

The DVD

Warner Bros. collects all 36 Aquaman cartoon shorts in the two-disc set "The Adventures of Aquaman: The Complete Collection." Each disc holds 18 cartoons, with all bonus material on the second disc. The discs are packaged in a slim cardboard digipak with a single plastic tray holding both discs, one overlapping the other; the digipak fits into a cardboard slipcover. (By the way, who's responsible for the cover artwork? It looks like bad fan art.)

These cartoons, which run about 6-7 minutes apiece, were shuffled and rerun into various full-length episode form several times, first as part of the "Superman/Aquaman" series (1967-68), then as part of a solo "Aquaman" series (1968-70). Both series rotated Aquaman adventures with shorts showcasing other DC heroes; just as Warner did for their "New Adventures of Superman" DVD set, those accompanying shorts are not seen here.

The presentation here pairs every two shorts, offering the "Aquaman" opening sequence at the start of all the "odd" shorts, and the closing credits at the end of all the "even" shorts. This suggests they're being presented as they had been on the solo series and not in the earlier show.

The cartoons included in this set are:

Disc One: "Menace of the Black Manta"/"The Rampaging Reptile-Men", "The Return of Nepto"/"The Fiery Invaders", "Sea Raiders"/"War of the Water Worlds", "The Volcanic Monster"/"The Crimson Monster from the Pink Pool", "The Ice Dragon"/"The Deadly Drifters", "Vassa, Queen of the Mermen"/"The Microscopic Monsters", "The Onslaught of the Octomen"/"Treacherous Is the Torpedoman", "The Satanic Saturnians"/"The Brain, the Brave and the Bold", and "Where Lurks the Fisherman!"/"Mephisto's Marine Marauders".

Disc Two: "Trio of Terror"/"The Torp, the Magneto and the Claw", "Goliaths of the Deep-Sea Gorge"/"The Sinister Sea Scamp", "The Devil Fish"/"The Sea Scavengers", "In Captain Cuda's Clutches"/"The Mirror-Man from Planet Imago", "The Sea Sorcerer"/"The Sea-Snares of Captain Sly", "The Undersea Trojan Horse"/"The Vicious Villainy of Vassa", "Programmed for Destruction"/"The War of the Quatix and the Bimphars", "The Stickmen of Stygia"/"Three Wishes to Trouble", and "The Silver Sphere"/"To Catch a Fisherman".

Video & Audio

For a thirty-year-old cartoon done on the cheap, "Aquaman" looks surprisingly good here, with bold, bright colors (only a few shots look dull), crisp lines, and no noticeable transfer problems. Grain is minimal, and it appears nearly all issues are with the source material itself. Kudos to Warner and Filmation for keeping this looking so good. Presented in the original 1.33:1 broadcast format. The Dolby soundtrack, heard in the original mono, is equally clean. Optional English SDH subtitles are offered.

Extras

The lone extra of value is another admirable retrospective from Warner/DC. "Aquaman: Sovereign of the Seas" is a 26-minute (!) rundown of the Sea King's lengthy history. Although it's made up almost entirely of comic writers defending their love for the maligned character, often insisting that the guy's much cooler than the punchline we think he is, the featurette's still worth a look as it covers every conceivable aspect of the hero's place in pop culture history. Presented in 1.33:1 full frame.

Previews for "Tom and Jerry" and "The Smurfs" are also included. A trailer for the new "Looney Tunes" collection also plays as Disc Two loads; you can skip past it if you choose.

Final Thoughts

There are two potential audiences for this set: nostalgic Gen-Xers and their kids. The older folks will find a few cheap thrills based on fond memories, but that fun fades away fast. Kids, meanwhile, might enjoy these admittedly old-fashioned yarns for a while, but the sheer repetition of story ideas will lead to antsy tykes more quickly than you'd think. Both groups should just Rent It, as there's just nothing here worth repeat visits.


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