It's kind of hard to review Silver Age material. In the time these stories were written, they were intended to be taken as fairly serious juvenile fiction. The add copy on the cover even refers to the story as a "three part novel". As viewed through my cynical, more sophisticated 21st Century eyes, this kind of material tends to come across fairly ludicrously. That said, I'm going to try to be fair. I'm going to try to be appreciative. I'm going to try to judge this story for what it is, & not for what it isn't.
The add copy is not hype. DC's Silver Age titles tended to follow a standard format of breaking the story into three chapters. The beginning of each chapter even featured a new splash page, depicting an event that occurred in that part of the story. The first two chapters even ended on a cliffhanger, ramping up the suspense as the story progressed.
Unlike the more compressed narrative style of today's comics, there's a lot of story in a Silver Age comic. This is a densely packed tale, & a lot happens in it's 25 pages. The opening introduces the reader to Aquaman, Aqualad & Quisp. Here then is my first criticism. This is the very first issue of Aquaman. By the end of the story, I know very little about him. Who is he? Is Aqualad his son? What's his real name? Do they even have real names? How did he become Aquaman? Why do they risk their lives in the service of others? None of that information is there, & it absolutely should be. If this were any other issue of Aquaman, this would not be a problem. It's the first issue, though. The first issue, of any series, must provide three primary elements or it fails as a first issue. Those elements are introduction, definition, & motivation. It's pretty clear that DC is counting on the reader to already be familiar with Aquaman & Aqualad's origins. While it's true that this is not their actual first appearance, it is the first time a new reader is encountering them. That reader needs a way into these characters or they're just going to walk away from the title. It was true then. It's true now.
This is the first appearance of Quisp, & Jack Miller (the writer) does a good job with his introduction. In short order, we learn that Quisp is a water sprite from a hidden land, & that he has come to warn Aquaman of an impending threat... the invasion of the Fire Trolls. As if on cue, they appear... right outside the Aquacave! What a lucky break for the Aquatic Aces. In all the oceans, in all the world, the Fire Trolls just happen to begin their invasion of the surface world on Aquaman's doorstep. Things start to happen pretty fast now. Aquaman & Aqualad engage the Fire Trolls in combat, The Fire Trolls can actually breathe fire underwater, which is just awesome. Unable to deter them from reaching the surface, Aquaman & Aquald race ahead to an island missile base, where they join the U.S. army in fighting the Fire Trolls. Out of the blue, Aquaman surmises that intense cold might be anathema to the Fire Trolls, & rushes to the mainland to meet up with a (nameless) scientist, who just happens to have a spray tank full of instant freezing chemicals. Then, Aquaman returns to the island missile base to engage the enemy again. All of this takes place in the first nine pages of the story. If this were being told in the current Aquaman series, at this point, we'd be on the third issue.
The second chapter is a bit of a departure from the first. Aquaman & Aqualad's third battle with the Fire Trolls doesn't go any better than the prior two. Thanks to Quisp, the heroic duo are shrunk down to a mere three inches in stature, & spend the rest of the chapter fending off a scorpion & a lizard while trying to get the radiator cap off of an abandoned jeep. They're after the radiator water, you see. Seems they're both about to die from being away from water for more than an hour. This was a surprising development, as it was a mere two & a half pages ago, when the pair came barreling out of the ocean with the icy chemicals. While there's no way of being certain how long it took for Aquaman to summon an army of crabs, turtles & starfish, to assail the Fire Trolls with, as the entire assault lasted a mere two panels, I kind of figured it happened very quickly. Like a matter of seconds. I don't know. Maybe since they were fighting mountainous, molten monsters, the intense heat coming from the Fire Trolls quickened their dehydration. In any event, by the time they find out that the radiator is dry, they're in pretty dire straits. End of Chapter Two.
It's the final chapter of our, admittedly, pretty epic story. Aquaman & Aqualad are on the verge of death. The Fire Trolls are completely owning the U.S. Army. Quisp is... somewhere. There are only seven pages left. Plenty of time for Aquaman to do a strip tease for a passing pelican, return to his normal height (Aqualad, too), listen to Quisp's expositional dialogue, revealing a.) Quisp's whereabout while the Aquatic Aces were dying in the underbrush, b.) the nefarious plans of the Fire Trolls (Hint-- it involves stolen missiles, undersea volcanos, more Fire Trolls, & eventually...WORLD DOMINATION!!!) & finally c.) the inspiration that leads to... *49 year old spoiler alert*... Aquaman's victory over the Fire Trolls.
Honestly, this was a great story. It moved at a breakneck pace, was full of action, suspense, & the wonderful leaps in logic that make the Silver Age stories so fun to read, Jack Miller keeps the narrative moving forward, & even though the middle chapter's "adventures in miniaturization" pulls away from the main plot, the image of Aquaman fencing a scorpion with a plant nettle makes it all worth while. Let me emphasize that last bit. Aquaman fences a scorpion with a plant nettle! Outrageous, indeed. Nick Cardy's art work is truly wonderful. His figure work was a lot more fluid than most of his contemporaries. His back grounds were nicely detailed. The Fire Troll design was suitably awesome.
There were a few things that especially struck me. First, the Fire Trolls weren't just monsters. In the third chapter, they are revealed to be intelligent, they can speak, & they weren't just randomly destroying everything in their path. They had an agenda. This was a nice twist. Second, Aqualad is the most worthless sidekick, let alone super-hero, in the history of DC Comics. That he's not just killed outright, I suppose is, at least, a minor accomplishment. Mostly, he just stands next to Aquaman, when he isn't watching from a safe distance. At various points in the story, Aquaman is backed up by whales, crabs, turtles, starfish, & flying fish. Aqualad is just kind of there. He's quick to scold Quisp for playing his "pranks" on the Aquatic Aces, but everything Quisp does actually helps Aquaman in defeating the Fire Trolls. In fact, when they first engage the Fire Trolls with the freezing solution, Aquaman distracts the monsters, whlle it is Quisp who hits the Trolls with the icy spray. Quisp. Not Aqualad. When he's not whining about Quisp's antics, Aqualad is whining about being dehydrated. Seriously, kid, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Aquaman has an army of aquatic life to assist him. Aqualad is just in the way. Speaking of Aquaman's aquatic troops, while it isn't explicitly shown, it seems pretty obvious that all those crabs, starfish, & turtles Aquaman threw at the Fire Trolls died a horrible fiery death, & ended up serving in the army's biggest victory party/fish fry. I know every soldier knows the risks, but it seems like Aquaman is pretty quick to send his "men' on suicide missions, on a fairly regular basis. That can't be good for morale.