Aquaman #53 (On Sale: July 2, 1970) has another classic cover by Nick Cardy. Good lord they don't get much better than this!
It is 1970 and there is a rumor going around that California is going to have a major earthquake and sink into the Pacific. Kinda hard to believe these days, but this rumor got so much traction that then governor, Ronald Reagan found some flimsy excuse to be out of the state the day it was supposed to happen. Just a funny last minute schedule change his people said, but we all knew. "Is California Sinking?" by the SAG team (Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo and Dick Giordano) taps beautifully into this 1970 paranoia as only Steve Skeates could.
It opens on a mundane scene of a secretary typing away in an office, obvious until the last moment to what is happening around her. From that startling scene we flip the page to one of Jim Aparo's great splash (no pun intended) pages, showing the power of his triple-threat penciling, inking and lettering. IS CALIFORNIA SINKING?
Well, is it? Californian millionaire Elliot Harlanson (gotta love that name!) has just been told that it will and what that means to him is his beautiful home will sink with it. And Elliot is having none of that. But he is being told that he can save his home, and California in the bargain, if he just buys an atomic bomb and blows up Atlantis. Because, you see, it is the rising of Atlantis that will cause the sinking of California and if Atlantis does not rise, well then, California does not sink! Or at least that is the story being peddled by Elliot's visitor, a mysterious "scientist" who we shortly learn is actually an agent of O.G.R.E. (Organization for General Revenge and Enslavement), who can't afford to buy an a-bomb of their own. They plan on seeing that Aquaman is in Atlantis when Elliot's bomb goes off.
It is now two weeks later and on the east coast Elliot and is his ever-present girl-friend meet the "scientists" from O.G.R.E. on a dock, where Elliot's submarine, atomic bomb inside, await. We find out that O.G.R.E. has enlisted the help of Black Manta to keep Aquaman by Atlantis and preoccupied. They have given Manta a gun that scrambles brain waves and Manta uses it to thwart an attack of sea creatures on him orchestrated by Aquaman. As Aquaman leaves Atlantis to confront Manta, the sub leaves the Florida coast heading for Atlantis.
When Manta uses the gun on Aquaman, the Sea King is able to counteract the gun's affects by concentrating on getting Manta. While Aquaman takes care of Black Manta, Aqualad and some Atlantian police take care of Manta's men. When Manta mumbles something about "They said I'd have nothing to worry about," Aquaman wants to know who "they" are and sort of, well, beats the information out of Manta. When Manta confesses that he got the gun from O.G.R.E., Aquaman knows something bigger than Manta and a gun is going on and he begins scouring the area around Atlantis looking for danger.
Meanwhile on the shore the O.G.R.E. "scientists" have a run in with the feds. who take them down only to be told that they are too late to save Atlantis or Aquaman.
Back at Atlantis, Aquaman sees the sub coming in close and sends a giant squid to capture it. Caught in the squid's grasp, Elliot freaks out, "You act like you don't care what happens to my beautiful, spacious home!" and accidentally whacks a lever. The lever that releases the bomb! Learning what he has done a distraught Elliot proclaims, "I'm too rich to die! Do something!" But there is nothing they can do while caught in the squid's grasp.
Aquaman sees the bomb however and races toward it at speeds only the King of the Sea could muster. Alas, he is still to slow and the bomb hit the sea floor!
And bounces harmlessly away. It is a dud! Inside the sub, Elliot is furious! "Wait till I get my hands on the rat who sold me that bomb!" His girl-friend tells him to, "Just cool it!"
In the epilogue a few days later the feds tell Aquaman the O.G.R.E. are being taken care of by them and not to worry. They also tell him that they have let Harlanson go, as he was duped; he actually thought he was saving California from destruction and had no idea that Atlantis was populated. When Aquaman talks about the act a fate that resulted in a dud atomic bomb the feds reveal that they actually took care of that, or rather their agent on the inside did. That is when Elliot's girl-friend, in reality Agent 03, Honey James, shows up.
Aquaman says that he let Manta go, as the revelation that Manta was being duped by O.G.R.E. was more than enough punishment. After they leave the feds and head back for Atlantis, Aqualad wonders what will happen to Atlantis's people should it rise from the ocean depths. Aquaman says not to worry as that would not happen till well past the year 2000, so they have plenty of time to figure it out.
"And so our story ends. Yet, once question remains unanswered..." Shots of the secretary going under water... "Is California Sinking?" Shamefully, shamefully never reprinted.
Edited by Dick Giordano.