Aquaman’s third run in Adventure Comics ended with issue 452 (Aug 77), a truly ground-breaking story by David Michelinie and Jim Aparo, with a highly unexpected ending.
Still pursuing Topo and Aquababy, Aquaman runs straight into the Idyllists, and the waiting hands of Black Manta, who had taken control of the tribe, and their “lost city,” thanks to the map he acquired from the Shark. Aqualad and McCaan are also his captives, and some history of the Idyllists is given.
For the first time ever, Black Manta removes his helmet, and we discover why, in his own words, he is called “Black” Manta. He reveals his plans to build an underwater kingdom for black people, making him sort of an aquatic Malcolm X.
Manta announces that he has suppressed the ability of Aquaman and Aqualad to control the sea creatures, and indeed they find themselves incapable of doing so. Manta has imprisoned Aquababy in a glass ball of air, in which he will die, and commands Aquaman and Aqualad to fight to the death for his own amusement. Pretty sick and twisted guy, that Manta.
The battle scene is extremely well done. Aqualad is hurt and horrified to discover that his friend and mentor is sincerely trying to kill him. Aquaman finds out that the fish they cannot control are actually mechanical, and commands Topo to free Arthur Jr.
But too late. Aquababy has died. It was very rare for heroes to die at this time, and beyond imagining that the infant son of one would be killed. On top of that, Aqualad finds it hard to simply forgive and forget that Aquaman tried to kill him, and cannot just go back to Atlantis with him.
Black Manta escapes, having sealed his position as Aquaman’s main enemy.
Aquaman jumps into his own comic at this point, and his search for Black Manta, as well as his difficulty with Mera after the death of their child, are handled in that book. Although this would be pushed to the side for a while, the death of their child would cause a rift between Aquaman and Mera for well over a decade.
Aqualad stays on in Adventure, gaining his own back-up series.
And I cried myself to sleep after I read this, at 12 years old.