Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's sixty-ninth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we return to the animated Justice League. Specifically, we're looking at the show's determination to have Aquaman stand in for a hero who just happens to be owned by a rival company.
A few weeks back, I talked about Aquaman's reinvention in the first season. No longer the traditional Aquaman from the Superman days, this interpretation has far more grit. Comics fans will instantly recognize the creators are acknowledging the revamp conceived by Peter David during the 1990s. Some fans loved the harder-edged take on King Arthur of Atlantis. Others snorted and instantly dismissed him as a Namor rip-off.
Second season two-parter "The Terror Beyond" comes from writer Dwayne McDuffie and director Butch Lukic. And, boy, if you were quick to throw the term "rip-off" around before, you've got some ammunition here. But, truthfully, the creators are so blatant, you just have to give them a pass. This isn't a real knock-off, it's a loving homage to Marvel's Bronze Age.
"The Terror Beyond" is famous now for adapting Marvel's classic Defenders team into the DC Animated Universe. Initially, the Defenders team of Namor, Hulk, and Doctor Strange were forced to unite and face the Lovecraftian menaces the Undying Ones. The animated Justice League has Aquaman, Solomon Grundy, and Doctor Fate fill those slots, teaming up to conquer the evil Lovecraftian god Icthultu.
Just to make this more explicit, the episode even opens with a clear analogue of the Hulk's enemy General "Thunderbolt" Ross hounding Grundy. And when the full cast is introduced, more connections become apparent. Hawkgirl parallels Marvel's Nighthawk (and Grundy even mimics Hulk's nickname of "Birdnose"). Fate's wife Inza could be viewed as an analogue for Doctor Strange's love Clea. Wonder Woman is a warrior woman inspired by ancient mythology--just like Valkyrie. Rounding out the Defenders connections would be Superman taking the place of Silver Surfer. Not a perfect fit, but both possess godlike powers, and have been utilized as Christ metaphors in the past.
The opening chapter is action-heavy, presenting a fairly straightforward conflict for the heroes. After Aquaman's attack on the military to rescue Grundy, followed by the appearance of a nasty unknown creature, they have to ask if he's truly turned against humanity. Hawkgirl assumes the worst, Wonder Woman advises caution, Superman straddles the fence. (Eliciting some caustic comments from Hawkgirl.) Not particularly deep, but there's already more character here than the average Season One episode.
At the episode's end, the heroes discover Aquaman and Fate are using Grundy as a sacrifice in an arcane ceremony. Now determined to save Grundy's life, they realize too late the ceremony's purpose. The mystic energy of both Grundy and Aquaman's trident were meant to prevent Icthultu from entering this world.