Finally! It's here! The long-awaited Aquaman introduction post. Yeah, it took me awhile to gather the interest to finish this one, but that's not because Aquaman isn't a great character. He is and I hope to try and help prove that by the end of this post. However, I'd be lying if I said he was one of my favorites. Still, he's a Justice League founder and one of the Big Seven, so he deserves our respect. I will try to get through this blog with as few fish and water puns as humanly possible. Also, if you're interested, check out my introductions to Cyborg and Wonder Woman. And now, Aquaman:
Created By: Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
Portrayed By: Jason Momoa
Like every other Leaguer, Aquaman's origin has changed here and there over the years. These days, though, you can count on the basics being consistent. Arthur Curry is the son of human lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry, and the Atlantean queen, Atlanna. Initially being brought up as human, Arthur had no knowledge of his Atlantean heritage. As he got older, though, he found himself drawn to the sea and eventually discovered that he had strange abilities. He would train these gifts over the years, and learned to master them. In some origins, he had the "help" of his father.
Inevitably, Arthur learned of his Atlantean origins and of the fact that he was in line to succeed his mother on the throne of Atlantis. Burdened by his newfound royal responsibilities and his dual identity as both human and Atlantean, Arthur decided to rise as a champion for both his peoples. Assuming the superhero identity of Aquaman to help gain the trust of the surface world, Arthur began his mission to battle evil and keep both of his homes safe.
Personality and Motivations:
We'll start with his motivations. The fact that he's half-human and half-Atlantean royalty often puts Aquaman in some awkward situations. Let's face it, the surface world doesn't really treat it's oceans and seas with an awful lot of respect. Our underwater neighbors have to put up with our pollution and our dangerous nuclear submarines encroaching on their territory. This often makes Aquaman a mouthpiece for environmental responsibility. Over the years, he's become a champion for keeping the seas clean, for nuclear disarmament, and even for responsible fishing practices in hopes of maintaining the ecosystem of our oceans. He is also highly motivated to keep the peace between Atlantis and the surface world. Being two very foreign peoples who often have legitimate gripes and conflicting interests, Atlantis often finds itself on the brink of war with the surface world. This makes Aquaman work overtime to cool hostilities, avert misunderstandings, and stop his human and Atlantean brothers from tearing each other apart. He battles to protect Atantis from surface threats, the surface from the evil creatures of the sea, and the world to keep everyone safe. At the end of the day, though, he is the King of Atlantis. His main responsibilities are to Atlantis and its people. He accepts that burden and never lets anyone else forget who they have to answer to if they disrespect his oceans.
What does this all do to his personality? Well, he's a warrior king. He's a leader who fights his own battles and leads the charge. He's royalty. Because of all this, Aquaman usually comes off as stern, fierce, and arrogant. He kind of has to be because of his station. The stress and strain also makes him prone to some serious outbursts of anger. If you push Aquaman too far or even just catch him on a bad day, he's liable to whoop you. That being said, Arthur enjoys the adventure of his lifestyle and is known to lighten up and even crack jokes around his closest friends. He's a badass but he knows how to take it easy.
Powers and Abilities:
Okay, let's start off with the elephant in the room: He talks to fish.
Okay, fine, technically porpoises are mammals, but I've got my eye on you...
Seriously, though, the official story these days is that he doesn't talk to fish so much as he telepathically commands them. With this ability, he can get all forms of sea life from whales to squid to seahorses to even the microorganisms swimming in the ocean to do his bidding. The versatility of sea life and their unique qualities makes this power rather handy (even if it's generally not respected). Think about it, though. The man can call on an army of sharks and killer whales. Tell me that's not cool.
As an Atlantean, Aquaman can also breath underwater, swim at tremendous speeds, has enhanced strength, and limited invulnerability. He's not nearly as strong or as invulnerable as either Superman or Wonder Woman. However, his body is built to withstand the intense pressure of the deep sea environments and needs to be able to propel him through strong crosscurrents, so he's certainly no pushover. As an Atlantean warrior, Arthur is trained in both armed and unarmed combat. His weapon of choice these days is his royal trident which he wields with mastery. If you do end up fighting him, you'd better hope the fight isn't underwater where his combat skills are arguably unmatched.
Aquaman's Atlantean physiology gives him one, serious Achilles' heel: Dehydration. The rule used to be that he couldn't go an hour without being submerged in water. These days, he can definitely go longer (and doesn't wear the bubble helmet- thank God), but he still needs regular contact with water to survive. If he dries out completely then the king is dead. This weakness has been exploited by his enemies more than a few times. Most notably, Ra's Al Ghul gave Aquaman a water phobia using Scarecrow's fear toxin during the "Tower of Babel" storyline. This almost led to Aquaman unwittingly committing suicide. Outside of that big weakness, Aquaman's invulnerability is extremely limited. He can be harmed or killed by a weapon propelled with great enough force or wielded by a strong opponent.
Key Supporting Characters:
Mera is the love of Aquaman's life. Originally, she was the exiled queen of a watery alternate dimension. Later, she was retconned as an Atlantean outcast. In just about every timeline, she meets Arthur, they fall in love, and she becomes his queen. Mera can breath underwater, swim at tremendous speeds, and has the added ability of being able to control water. She can make it move and form into any shape she wants. She cannot talk to fish, however. Mera is a worthy queen. She is fierce in her defense of both her husband and her realm. She can also be a bit cold, harsh, and unforgiving if you get on her bad side. To her friends, though, she is both loving and loyal. She and Arthur have gone through a lot over the years and, sometimes, their relationship is strained by tragedy and Aquaman's responsibilities to Atlantis and the Justice League. However, they always come back to each other in the end.
I didn't want to talk about Vulko. I wanted to talk about Aquaman's pet squid, Topo. However, it looks like Willem Dafoe will be playing Vulko in the Justice League movie, so I can't always get what I want. Nuidis Vulko is Arthur's royal adviser and his most ardent defender at Atlantean court. The original version of Vulko was a befuddled, pompous bureaucrat. The New 52's version was more of a desperate schemer. He's unflinchingly loyal to Arthur and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Aquaman on Atlantis' throne. I'm guessing that the movies will stick close to the New 52's version as that option gives Vulko some more interesting plot points. I'm listing him as a supporting character, but his methods are so questionable that I could have easily listed him a a villain. Vulko is not afraid to bloody his hands for the king that he believes in. More on that in a bit.
Any list of Aquaman's supporting characters would be incomplete without his perennial sidekick, Aqualad. Garth was a young Atlantean who was cast out of Atlantis due to their superstitious beliefs about his purple eyes. The meaning behind his purple eyes has changed over the years. Originally, it meant that he was doomed to be unable to adapt to life in Atlantis. Garth would prove this to be accurate by developing a phobia to fish (yes, you read that right). Later, his eyes were associated with a pacifist sect of the Atlantean community. Later still, it signified ones ability to wield magic (that's the coolest one). Regardless, Aquaman took the boy in and trained him to be his partner in the fight for justice. Aqualad would go on to grow into his own hero and help found the Teen Titans. He would also accept his destiny as a magic user and became the badass water warlock, Tempest. At this point, it's unclear if or to what extent we'll see Garth in the movies. So far, the DCEU has been averse to using sidekicks (hey there, Jimmy Olsen). However, he should at least make a cameo. The kid's got history.
Honorable Mentions: Topo (dammit!), Dolphin, and Tula (Aquagirl)
Black Manta is, hands down, Aquaman's worst enemy. Kidnapped by pirates as a child and forced to work on their ship (yup...), young David came to develop a grudge against the sea and against Aquaman for failing to notice his plight and save him during a chance encounter. Using this anger and his own scientific prowess, David became Black Manta by building a suit that would allow him to survive the ocean's depths. He also built a helmet which shot lasers from its eyes. Time and again he'd use his suit and his genius in attempts to conquer and crush Atlantis and its king. Aquaman was always there to stop him and foil his schemes, but their rivalry took a decidedly ugly turn after Manta did one of the worst things to Aquaman that a villain has ever done to a DC hero. ...More on that later. Aquaman and Black Manta hate each other with a vengeance so it's amazing that one hasn't killed the other by now.
Ocean Master is Aquaman's younger, half-brother Orm. Orm is usually portrayed as being jealous of the fact that his brother was allowed to ascend to the throne, and angry at his mother for having the half-human king in the first place. As a result, Ocean Master often schemes to depose Aquaman and take the throne for himself. He's had a number of different abilities over the years. Sometimes he can control water. Sometimes he's wielding a trident that can summon storms and shoot lightning. His relationship with his brother has changed over the years, as well. Sometimes it's outright hatred. Sometimes it's love and familial devotion mixed with envy. Regardless, Ocean Master doesn't share his brother's trust for the surface world, and sometimes exploits Atlantean anger toward the dry land to gain power and influence. After all, Orm is full Atlantean. He believes this makes him the right king to protect Atlantis from the surface. I'd strongly expect to see Ocean Master appear in the Aquaman solo film. The Game of Thrones-esque plot points he bring to the table would be too much to resist.
Filling this third spot was tough. Aquaman has a lot of lame villains and a lot of others who were just one-offs. However, I think The Trench fit the bill as something you may see in future films. The Trench are an evolutionary off-shoot of the Atlanteans. After Atlantis sank, The Trench were forced to adapt to survive in the harsh conditions of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. As such, their bodies can survive the great pressure of the deep, deep sea and their eyes can see in almost total darkness. Plus, they also have razor sharp teeth, can spit a paralyzing chemical, and, yes, they're carnivores. Basically, they're a deep-sea nightmare mixed with zombies. The Trench seem to follow the commands of whoever wields their king's trident which is a relief if the trident is in responsible hands. Under a more nefarious influence, The Trench can act as a terrifying invasion force of death and destruction. Considering how frightening they are, I would bet on seeing them in the Aquaman solo film or its potential sequel.
1) Aquaman (2011) Vol.1- The Trench- This is the beginning to Geoff Johns' New 52 run of Aquaman. It'll acquaint you with the basics of Aquaman's world, origin, and, well, with The Trench. It's how DC decided to reintroduce Aquaman to a wider audience, so it should probably be your first stop.
2) Aquaman (1994) #1,2,0- This kicks off Peter David's critically acclaimed mid-90's run on Aquaman. David went all-in on making Aquaman a badass. He had Arthur grow out his hair, beard, ditch the orange and green trunks, and even replace his hand with a hook. How did he lose that hand? Read the story to find out. The film version obviously took Aquaman's look from Peter David's run, and this material did a lot to make more people interested in Aquaman. Personally, it's my favorite Aquaman era.
3) Adventure Comics #451-452- Remember when I said that Black Manta did something unforgivable to Aquaman? This is the story where that happens. It starts with Aquaman's son being kidnapped by his pet squid, Topo, and ends with the Aquaman/Manta rivalry becoming a blood feud. This story is not for the faint of heart. It contains some problematic elements, but it's seminal. Just be warned.
Top Moments as a Justice Leaguer:
3) Justice League of America (Vol.1) Annual #2- Deciding that a team made up of part-time members wasn't good enough anymore, Aquaman invokes his right as a founding member to disband the Satellite Era Justice League and create... Justice League Detroit...? Yeah, this is the beginning of the Justice League's Detroit Era which is not looked on particularly well by critics. That being said, this is a strong moment for Aquaman in the league, and this story did give the Justice League its first non-white members (yes, it really took that long). So... good on you Aquaman.
2) JLA Vol. 11-12: Obsidian Age- This story sees Aquaman and the Justice League working in the past and present to free Atlantis from a dark timeline created by the witch Gamemnae. Aquaman has a big moment in the finale to help rid his home of a dark and shameful past.
1) Aquaman (2011) Vol.3- Throne of Atlantis- This is the best Aquaman-centric Justice League story and a must read before you see the films. Throne of Atlantis sees Ocean Master raise the armies of Atlantis to war against the Justice League and the surface world with Aquaman in the middle. This one contains some key plot points for Ocean Master and Vulko. It's also Aquaman's greatest triumph as a member of the Justice League.
Other Live Action Versions:
Aquaman, like so many other heroes, was featured on Smallville. He first appeared in Season 5, Episode 4 entitled "Aqua." He went on to make a number of other guest appearances as part of Smallville's own version of The Justice League. The CW also completed a failed 2006 pilot of an Aquaman show that was in the mold of Smallville. It centered on a young Arthur Curry played by Justin Hartley (who would play Green Arrow in Smallville) discovering his powers and his Atlantean heritage. I've seen the pilot and the best part about it is that Ving Rhames plays Arthur's Atlantean mentor which means you get to hear Marsellus Wallace, himself, talking about Atlantis and mermaids. That, alone, makes it worth the watch, but... it's probably good that the CW didn't pick up the show.
There you have it. My Aquaman post is finally done. I know that I've made fun of poor Arthur a bit, but, with the right stories and creators, Aquaman is a great hero. He can be used to help spread environmental messages. The mystical setting of Atlantis also leaves the door open for some great fantasy plots. Also, remember, much of our ocean depths are unexplored which can make Aquaman's world a fertile breeding ground for the right imaginations. Aquaman's a great hero and a fantastic character. I hope we'll all get to see that on display in the Justice League movie. Anyway, stay tuned for my next Getting to Know the Justice League post. It'll be a fun one... and that's a Flash Fact.