I’ve been a comic book fan for a long time. Although I feel that I’m not quite as prone to some of the squabbles that can define comics fandom to many people who aren’t a part of it, I always observe them (especially during my time as a comics retailer), and will only very sparingly get involved if I think it’s a topic worth discussing. Those who don’t step in a comic shop every Wednesday may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of these discussions are frank and cordial. Not too many fans have arrived at their conclusions through unreasonable thinking, and its fun to get into dream scenarios like who would win in a fight, or what characters thrive where others fall.
During my life as a comic book fan and my tenure as a retailer, though, there always seemed to be a lack of reason revolving around a specific character. From the neophyte that wanders into a store for the first time, even to a lot of surprisingly seasoned fans, many of them are unified in their outright hate and derision for one of DC Comics’ iconic founding Justice League members: Aquaman.
One man who doesn’t seem to share this hate is Zack Snyder, who recently called into a radio show to defend the Sea King to a couple of DJs who were mocking him on the air. While most people likely remember the character’s embarrassing turn in the 1970s Super Friends animated series, the character hasn’t really been in the limelight recently. So, when he’s not seen out in the wild on a regular basis, people tend to revert to what they do know of him, which in representative terms is something that is far more akin to the 1960s “Batman” TV show than it is to something like The Dark Knight.
As a fan, I’m here to tell you: Aquaman is more than just a cool character. He’s an awesome character. His stories contain an air of regality because of his position as a king, and his abilities easily make him one of DC Comics’ heaviest hitters. Even Batman himself likes Aquaman, and he usually doesn’t like anybody!
Within the DC Universe, Aquaman is the king of the underwater city of Atlantis. It’s located in the furthest depths of the ocean, and the journey that the hero takes to the Atlantean throne is a long and arduous one. During a violent storm, Queen Atlanna was pushed to the surface when she witnessed something extraordinary. A ship had started to sink, and a lowly lighthouse keeper braved the storm in an attempt to rescue the ship’s crew. In a moment of reversed fortune, the lighthouse keeper was thrown into the raging waters of Amnesty Bay, and looked as though he might drown…until he was saved by Queen Atlanna.
She was touched by the young man’s heroism, having never seen that side of humanity before, and they quickly fell in love. They began a courtship and gave birth to a son: she gave him an Atlantean name, Orin, while he gave him a human name: Arthur Curry.
Atlanna was forced to leave her son and his father for some unknown reason, and Tom Curry raised Arthur on his own. He tried to give him as normal a life as possible, which the young Curry enjoyed, all the while holding the secret of his Atlantean heritage, and the power that it gave his body. Fate would force the young Curry out of hiding when he felt compelled to save a plane that had gone into the ocean. He dove into the water, and unable to simply get the occupants out and risk flooding the compartment and seeing some of them drown, Arthur unleashed his strength and forced the entire plane out of the ocean, saving all of the people within it at once.
This was witnessed by many people, and the papers dubbed the mysterious hero the “Aqua-Man.” After Tom Curry was accidentally killed by the man who would become Orin’s greatest enemy, a distraught Arthur returned to Atlantis to find his mother. What he found instead was a kingdom in need of a king. With the return of Atlanna’s first born son, he took his rightful place as Aquaman, King of Atlantis, and his return to the surface world would allow the formation of the world’s greatest heroes: the Justice League.
What He Can Do, and Why He’s Awesome
In addition to being an ill-tempered king, Aquaman has a lot of really formidable physical abilities. Since Atlanteans evolved in the ocean, his ability to swim and traverse water is unparalleled. In the JLA comics series, it was established that he can swim nearly 2 miles per second. His strength and durability are both immense, with some comics placing his strength level near Superman’s or the Martian Manhunter’s, and due to his body’s ability to withstand the varying temperatures and intense pressures of the deep, he’s invulnerable to all conventional surface-based weapons (like guns and knives). Because of the way light travels under the ocean, he can also see clearly in what would be considered total darkness to a normal human being, and the way that his sight works also grants him a limited kind of sonar. He’s even exhibited a hydrokinetic ability in some stories, allowing him to physically manipulate the water around him, including using it as an offensive weapon and a defensive shield.
Then, of course, he talks to fish. Oh, wait…no, he doesn’t talk to fish. This was actually a highlight of the New 52’s first issue of Aquaman, where he’s seen walking into a seafood restaurant and ordering fish and chips. Some of the people around him are mortified…
Within the DC Universe, he’s also one of the most respected heroes in the entire roster of superhumans. Superman has often seen him as a powerful and important ally, while Green Lantern was quickly shut up within the first few seconds of meeting him, wondering how someone who could “swim” could help them fight off the forces of Darkseid. Needless to say, Aquaman proved himself in that definitive encounter as more than simply a physical force. The respect goes deeper than that, though.
In the 2006 comics, Aquaman had disappeared seemingly without a trace, and a new hero stepped in to take his place. As a result of much of the dark happenings occurring in the DCU at this time, Batman opted to establish a new team of black ops superheroes in a new iteration of the team known as the Outsiders. One of the team members he auditioned was the new young Aquaman, largely based on the value he saw in the original bearer’s abilities as part of the Justice League. When it was time to call it a day, Batman opted to pass on this new Aquaman and return him to his home. The young hero was flabbergasted, but Batman was simple and to-the-point when telling the “new” Aquaman why he wasn’t Outsiders material.
Batman is an Aquaman fan. Why aren’t you?
My advice is to learn more about him before you jump to conclusions. The truth of the matter is that many of comics’ best writers have contributed positively to his legacy over the years. Creators like Peter David (The Incredible Hulk, Young Justice, X-Factor), Grant Morrison (Batman, The Invisibles, New X-Men), Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Avengers, Superman), Kurt Busiek (Avengers, Marvels), and many others. He’s become a staple of DC Comics and of the Justice League, and it’s not by accident: it’s by design. Whether you pick up new Aquaman stories like The Trench or Throne of Atlantis, old team stories like JLA: New World Order or Rock of Ages, or check in on his depiction in the Injustice video game (which is awesome), this is definitely a character that’s worth anyone’s time.
Don’t join the useless chorus of mindless haters. Go ahead and dive in to the adventures of the Sea King. Chances are you’ll be glad you did.
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