A US nuclear sub, the USS Defiant, is set upon by an unknown vessel, damaging it to the extent it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The commander of the attacking ship tells his crew to leave the people on the sub stranded, before a dramatic pullback to reveal a bearded and ludicrously haberdashered Aquaman.
Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern respond, and make mincemeat of the attacking ships, before getting a warning from Aquaman to push off his lawn before he starts kicking their collective arses. They come to an uneasy agreement to let the crew be rescued, if the sub remains on the ocean floor.
Superman urges Aquaman to come and air his grievances with the surface to world leaders, but back in Atlantis, General Brak urges military action and plots with Aquaman’s brother Orm. It’s here we get our first glimpse of Mera (Aquaman’s bride), and his son, who shall henceforth be known as Arthur Jr. (as Aquaman’s real name is Arthur Curry)
Up on the Watchtower, the US Navy bends Superman’s ear for leaving a nuclear sub at the mercy of an angry bearded undersea tyrant, while Green Lantern thinks Superman has been too soft on the Atlanteans. He decides to go and have a nosey at the crash site, and finds that the sub’s nuclear reactor has been removed.
Aquaman decides to take Superman up on his offer and takes a trip to the surface, acting like a king but not being treated like one. He addresses the (suspiciously small) World Assembly with a series of what are called “unreasonable demands” – but we never find out what they are. Aquaman storms off in a huff, only to get blown up when a mystery assailant wallops him with a rocket launcher when he steps out of the building.
The Atlanteans see the news reports (they obviously have fibre-optic broadband), and Orm prepares to kick some surface butt, only to run into opposition from Mera. That doesn’t stop him from taking up Aquaman’s bizarre hat and trident and crowning himself interim king – with the pay rise that presumably goes with it.
Attempts to treat Aquaman fail hilariously, until the appearance of an omniscient Batman, who says he should be placed in a saline water tank so his natural healing abilities will kick in. Realising that most of the Justice League can’t manage their way out of a paper bag without him being around, he immediately takes charge of tracking down the attacker.
Batman arranges for Aquaman to be moved to a marine research facility, only for the phantom rocket launcher to appear again. The League swoop into action as the assassin runs. Dropping into a sewer he casts off his disguise to reveal himself as Batman villain Deadshot. That kicks off a fantastically animated, well scored and dramatic chase sequence where Deadshot consistently gets the better of his superpowered adversaries, including electrocuting Superman. That ticks off the Man of Steel, who is eventually the one who crashes Deadshot’s escape vehicle.
What follows is one of the greatest sequences in the entire show, as Superman and Wonder Woman try and interrogate a glib Deadshot, who won’t give up the name of his employer. Less than ten seconds with Batman changes his mind. The Dark Knight discovers Deadshot has been paid in gold – from sunken Spanish galleons.
In the meantime, Aquaman gets tired of being nursemaided and knocks out his babysitter Green Lantern, venturing back to Atlantis – unaware that his duplicitous brother is plotting a coup. He returns to his throne room, only to find his crown and power has been taken by Orm.
He explains his treachery by claiming Aquaman had done nothing to prevent the surface world becoming more and more powerful, leaving Atlantis at risk. He plans to ensure his nation’s future by claiming the crown and taking the fight to the rest of the world.
The League arrive to warn Aquaman, only to find themselves imprisoned by Orm’s forces and left for dead in a chamber filling with water (why this would kill Martian Manhunter, who doesn’t need to breathe, is anyone’s guess). Mera, having discovered Orm’s plan and the fact he has abducted her son, frees the League and they set about trying to save Aquaman and stop his brother.
Now this is where we get a bit dark, particularly for a cartoon. Orm reveals his plan to Aquaman, who he has chained to a lava shelf. He gloats at the revelation of his plan, to destabilise the relationship between the surface and Atlantean worlds, the assassination attempt on Aquaman, all to win support for his own cause and convince his people that war with the surface is their only choice. To reign though, he must kill the current king, and his successor. Orm pins Aquaman’s son against the rock alongside him, and uses Aquaman’s trident to open up a fissure in the shelf, dropping them towards the molten lava below. Unable to free more than one hand, and needing to rescue his heir, Aquaman removes his sharpened belt buckle, and cuts off his hand.
Mera is consoled by Wonder Woman as she believes her husband dead, only for him to reappear, weakened and lacking a hand, but having saved his son. Aquaman wants vengeance, and goes about having a prosthetic fitted to his arm, as The League hear that temperatures are rising in the North Pole. Aquaman believes the two are connected as he reveals Orm has built a weapon he designed as a last resort, which would superheat the pole and flood continents.
Aquaman decides enough is enough, and with a dirty great barbed hook in place of his left end, sets out to give Orm a damned good thrashing. The League offer to help, but Aquaman is determined that Orm fall victim to his own brand of justice. As they argue, Atlantean forces attack, and an all out battle erupts. Realising the battle is a distraction, Aquaman commandeers a whale (as you do), and heads for Orm’s device.
The brothers duke it out, and Orm ends up dangling from an ice bridge over a crevasse. In another someone shocking moment, Aquaman refuses to to help his sibling, letting him fall to his death. Batman shuts down the reactor, and all is well.
The League meet with the newly reinstated king, who says, for the sake of his son, he’ll try and make amends with the surface world, whatever it takes. That doesn’t stop him turning a deaf ear to General Brak’s pleas for mercy, as he orders them imprisoned for the rest of their lives.
Let me write that down (connections to DC Comics and their history):
Aquaman’s appearance in this episode, is much different to his first DCAU appearance in Superman: The Animated Series. That’s based more on his pre “Crisis On Infinite Earths” look of the comics (Clean shaven, orange shirt). It’s also closer to the look that’ll be adopted by Jason Momoa in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In the comics, Aquaman’s hand is lost to a swarm of piranha in a confrontation with a supervillain named Charybdis, who had stolen his ability to command sea life. Creator Bruce Timm stated in an interview that, since Aquaman had the ability to command fish, it was felt the cause didn’t make much sense. So, they decided to change the scenario to what is shown in the episode; him cutting off his own hand to save his son. It was felt that not only was this a more sensible scenario, but it also spoke a great deal about Aquaman’s character. The prosthetic hook-hand he adopts here is modeled on the one used in the comics.
Did you DCU that? (connections to other DC Animated Universe shows):
Aquaman had shown up before in the Superman: The Animated Series episode “A Fish Story” – There he’s captured by Lex Luthor for the purposes of breaking down and adapting his powers to see if they can be used to fight Superman – but after Supes rescues him, he marshals the forces of Atlantis for war with the surface world. He stands down after Superman negotiates with him, but he remains distrustful of those above the waves.
It’s the first appearance of Deadshot in the the DCAU – he never showed up in Batman: The Animated Series.
Bruce Timm insisted that the blanket in which Aquaman’s son was wrapped had to be colored red so when Aquaman uses it to wrap his arm after severing his hand, the blanket disguises the obvious fact that he is bleeding into it.
I’ll get you next time (characters and consequences that will show up in later episodes):
Orm is better known in the comics as Ocean Master. In the producers’ commentary for Part II, creators mentioned that the name “Ocean Master” works in the comics, but it was too hokey for the story they wanted to tell. Thus, they simply called him Orm.
Orm’s death was also a homage to the end of The Lion King, but with the roles reversed, as the evil brother begs for help from his good brother, but the outcome is the same.
What does all this have to do with showing up in later episodes? Well, Aquaman does turn up again in “The Terror Beyond”, but Orm, despite him being a recurring villain over the years in the comics, stays dead.
Another strong effort, but there’s bits of exposition that are held together by some admittedly impressive scenes. The stand out parts are the Deadshot chase and interrogation, and Aquaman sacrificing his own hand to save his own son – both pieces of real drama that stand out. The final battle is a little predictable and somewhat short, which drops it down a peg or two.