Russell Burbage In the spring of 1975 I was only nine years old. More importantly, I had only been reading comics for about a year, and most of those were JLA. For all intents and purposes, I was still pretty green behind the gills when it came to certain comic book conventions.
For example, I hadn't realized yet that death traps were(almost) never fatal. Sure, in the story preceeding this one five JLAers are "killed" by Kanjar Ro and I knew that they hadn't really bought it, but this time was different. In JLA 120-121, Superman and the Flash were part of the group that had been "killed." Even by that point I *knew* that they, Batman, and Wonder Woman were indestructible. I guess I kind of thought that those characters who didn't have their own series were still vulnerable.
So if it had been only Black Canary and the Elongated Man who had been shot by Kanjar Ro, I would have found it one hundred times more dramatic. This time, however, it was only one character who had died: Aquaman! And I had read enough JLA letter pages to know that Aquaman was not one of the most popular members. I can still remember the shock I felt when I pulled my copy of JLA 122 out of the subscription shipping label. I thought, Could this, really, be the death of Aquaman!? Notice that he isn't featured in the Roll Call across the top of the cover, either! "No, no, no!" I thought, flattening out the crease down the middle of the comic before diving into the story.
As soon as I got into it, my heart sank: it turned out that Dr. Light was behind the whole thing. At the time, he was still a deadly force to be reckoned with(this was several years before his New Teen Titans silliness). Up through page ten of this eighteen-page story it appeared that the JLA really was getting knocked off, one by one! Not to give too much away, but Aquaman is caught in an explosion of a lantern fish as he swims away from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. To my nine year old mind, full-panel explosions had to be fatal…didn't they???
You probably guessed that Aquaman didn't really die in this story. On page eleven, when the JLA arrives to capture Dr. Light and he says, "Well, atleast Aquaman is still dead," I nearly let out a little hooray of my own when The Sea King suddenly shows up fine! Not only was he fine, but he gets to explain how he had managed to save almost the whole JLA from Dr. Light's traps all by himself!(Something Batman, the big show-off, tended to do!) By the end of this story I had such a huge smile on my face like you wouldn't believe. How could anyone who reads this issue think Aquaman didn't belong in the JLA???
Aquaman had some great lines in this issue, too, saying, "A booby trap….and I was supposed to be the booby!", calling Superman "old buddy," explaining that lantern fish aren’t found in the Arctic, and my all-time favorite, his reference to the song, "Let Me Call You Sweet Heart," I think of every time I hear that song, "I have a few nastier names for you, crud!"
Of course, re-reading it years later it doesn't stand up quite as well as I would have hoped. The plot is pretty convoluted and out-right contrived, but still, you couldn't have told that to the nine-year old boy who had just learned not to believe everything he saw on the cover of a comic book.