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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #301

Another character today that I’ve been meaning to write about since day one. He’s the world’s most unappreciated superhero, and it’s time for his ship to come in. (Archive!)

(Updated 10/29/07)

10/28/07

301. Aquaman

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I love Aquaman. I do. I once even offered to write Aquaman for free, here on Comics Should Be Good. DC never called. Shame, that. The offer still stands, by the way. I know the title’s just been cancelled, but I’m available for any and all future retoolings. Have your people call my people, Mr. DiDio.

Created in 1941 by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, Aquaman was an underwater superhero with the ability to command all sea life. After years of adventures, Arthur Curry became the literal King of the Sea, and of Atlantis. He found himself a sidekick in Aqualad. He settled down with a gal named Mera and started a family, having a son named Arthur Jr. All was well. And then, he got cancelled. Thus began the constant cycle of revamps that eventually caused the character and his world to be run into the ground. His son was killed, his wife left him, his origin changed a few times, he got a harpoon hand, he got a metal hand, he got a magic water hand, he turned into a squidbearded guy– it never seems to end.

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What went wrong? Aquaman has an amazing premise– he’s the king of most of the planet and he goes on adventures in a gigantic, mysterious land and battles weird creatures. It’s a terrific concoction– part sci-fi, part Arthurian fantasy. And the rogues gallery…! Black Manta, Ocean Master, heck, even guys like the Fisherman, King Shark, and the Un-Thing are cool.

So, the big question: why doesn’t Aquaman sell? Plenty of fantastic creators have worked on Aquaman stories: writers like Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Steve Skeates, and Peter David, and brilliant artists that include Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Steve Epting, and Patrick Gleason, among others. Almost every creator out there seems to want a shot at Aquaman (unfortunately, we’ll never see the Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo version). They understand the potential.

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Why hasn’t it been realized? I’ll tell you why: the Superfriends Factor. Because of that cartoon, everyone thinks Aquaman is a doofus who talks to fish and does nothing worthwhile. And most people seem to hate the orange shirt, something I just don’t get. I love the orange shirt– but I digress. The general audience can’t seem to warm up to Aquaman, their minds clouded by Aqua-stereotypes perpetuated by a thirty year old cartoon. Aquaman’s appeared in loads of other cartoons and TV shows– heck, he almost had his own show there for a second. So what gives?

It’s not like Aquaman can’t be badass. Case in point:

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(I was not a big fan of the beard-and-harpoon phase, though; the surliness felt far too Namor-esque to me. Aquaman is not Namor– he’s more optimistic than that.)

Alas, Aquaman is cancelled– again. Tad Williams never had a chance. It’s a damn shame, really; I’d say Tad Williams wrote the best Aqua-run since Shaun McLaughlin. From that sentence, you can tell I’m an Aquaman fan. I loved McLaughlin’s short-lived run in the early 90s– it was a modern Aquaman I could get behind– but it didn’t last. Same thing happened with Williams. He was moving in a great direction, and the rug was pulled out from under him.

Like I said earlier– I’d write Aquaman for free. With my lack of salary, the book could stay afloat (no pun) for a little while. I hope, however, that people would finally come around to my way of thinking and stick with the comic. I want people to overcome their Aqua-prejudice and buy the world’s best pop sci-fantasy. Were Aquaman real, he’d be awesome. The ladies would swoon, and the dudes would be jealous. He’d be a celebrity, an ambassador, a king, and a superhero. He’d live in a weird, wild world. It’d be a book filled with mad ideas, embracing the wonderful silliness of the Silver Age and updating it for the hip, modern audience. Basically, it’d be a back-too-basics, classic approach– All Star Aquaman without the star. It’d be cool if Mike Allred drew it, but I’d also love to see Jim Rugg take the book on– I know he understands the inherent brilliance of Aquaman, and he’d draw it in a gorgeous storybook style. After all, it is an Arthurian fantasy with a sci-fi superhero sheen. Honestly, the book writes itself, so why hasn’t it, y’know, done it yet? There are loads of great approaches to take.

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I’d hate for this to turn into a rant and/or a pitch, but, heck, I want to write Aquaman more than any other character out there, except maybe Jimmy Olsen. Who wouldn’t want to read about the new Fishermen, or the Aquamarines, or the Crime of the Ancient Mariner? And you better believe he’d be wearing some version of the orange shirt. Yeah!

Maybe they killed him off, but he won’t stay dead for long. He’ll be back, and I hope he’ll be done right. The king is dead. Long live the king! And keep watching the seas…

There are two fans out there on the internet who love Aquaman more than I do, and know how to show it. Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag’s Aquaman website is the definitive Aquaman page and always has been. She’s an Aquaman fan and a Doctor Who fan, which makes her the smartest woman alive. But let’s not count out the man known as Rob!, who runs the astonishingly awesome Aquaman Shrine.

24 Comments

JLA #3, I think the issue is, was where I decided Aquaman was a badass who was not to be reckoned with. Morrison in three balloons did more for Aquaman than Vincent Chase ever could. And still, I have never bought an issue of an actual series. Why is that?

I think it goes beyond Superfriends (although that was probably a major factor). Aquaman is a lightning rod for jokes about superheroes in everything from the Simpsons to the Tom Hanks movie “Punchline.” Everyone knows at least one lame Aquaman story (“Did ya read the one where he builds a fish hospital and actually puts up a sign reading ‘Fish Hospital’? Like fish can read.”)

It’s not fair–you can make jokes about virtually any superhero and Batman overcame his Adam West phase. For some reason, bad press sticks to Aquaman.

Maybe it’s because he’s a male blonde. I know Captain America, Hank Pym, Hawkeye and a load of other Ayrans were blonde but they covered their hair in costume. Crazy theory but it’s all I got.

That Aquaman #37 cover takes me all the way back to the beginning of grade freaking two. I read it with a dictionary next to me, as my mom would never just tell me what new words meant. So in my second grade new words contest I was able to stump the whole class with “scavenger.” (one of the villains in this immortal issue)

I bought the comic after repeated watchings of the Superman/Aquaman Power Hour where I grew to love the character, and if every issue was this good I would have kept buying forever.

And on a more personal note I remember my little seven-year-old self staring and staring at that cover illustration of Mera in Aquaman’s arms, over and over, realizing just how different girls really were from boys, and getting these funny little feelings and stirrings deep down below…
Then thirty-one years later, when I first saw my wife-to-be with her long red hair wearing a long green dress with bare shoulders, that little seven-year-old self suddenly re-emerged, shouting “this one! this one!” and I was pretty easy game from there on.

Now, of course, her hair is dark brown, and I realize that she’s rather more of a Barda than a Mera.
Equally different from boys, just as likely to cause those funny little stirrings down below, and really strong, too.

Thanks for the kind words. I really, really, REALLY would have liked a chance to work on the title longer, and with a little more freedom.

But Aquaman’s too potent a DC archetype to remain on the outside forever. One of these days, he’ll be back. Let’s hope he gets some high-quality attention.

I remember when DC actually tried killing Aquaman off a few years back, I think during that Age Of Obsidian (or whatever it was called) story, somebody higher up in the Warner Brothers chain said to DC “The hell you will…there’s too much marketing there!” and they were forced to revive him. I’m not a huge fan myself, but it gives us all hope we’ll see Aquaman sooner rather than later…if only because WB needs him to sell more underoos and t-shirts…

Aquaman doesn’t sell for the same reason Thor doesn’t sell; he has to split his time between Atlantean fantasy adventures and land-based superhero stuff, and there’s not as much crossover audience there as there is for either of those two things separated.

I used to love the Aquaman/Aqualad cartoon as a nipper. But I never really thought he was cool until I saw his appearance in the Justice League episode “The Enemy Below” – cutting his own hand off to save his son put the character into a whole new level of bad-assery.

At least he’s cooler than Namor.

Bull-poop, Namor is way cooler than Aquaman.

Off-topic: During the Superboy special, when he comments “Aquaman doesn’t have a sword” I realized (and I may be the last person to do so) that Superboy Prime is the world’s worst fanboy.

Aquaman needs a healthy dose of Errol Flynn, a return to his original Golden Age costume with the awesome yellow gloves, and a rapier. (Broadswords and scimitars are too bulky for a swimmer.) Aquaman just looks really cool with a sword.

I liked the first couple of years of Peter David’s run a lot, until it turned into Namor and His Three Sons, so I came to like the long hair and beard. It really helps to seperate him from the Superfriend image.

I want a swashbuckler Aquaman. Robin Hood of the Sea.

I liked Peter David’s run. I even liked the whole Sub Diego concept.

The main problem with Aquaman is nobody has decided what he really should be.

I favor ‘king of most of the earth because it’s the oceans’. Which is tied into ‘guy who can tell Superman to go away, because he is a sovereign nation of his own’. Similar to ‘guy who deals with Wonder Woman as a royal equal’.

That was what they usually squandered. The fact that he was a king. That he had superpowers AND secular powers. Superman must always work within the law. Aquaman WAS the law.

The latest run, tied in with One Year Later, I actually gave up. “Oh, now it’s a NEW aquaman, with a similar name, and…” Um…that’s just dumb. MAYBE if it was a total restart, but otherwise…and really, no. The art was ghastly, the plot worse (oh, suddenly there are all these other undersea places that nobody knew about? riiiight.). What plot there is is thin. (The ‘albino assassin’ had not, when I stopped, been revealed, but I figured it out about 2 minutes after he slew Squid Aquaman. (Trying to capitalize on Pirates of the Caribbean, maybe, with the squid look?)

Aquaman does best when he’s publically king, with a hint of arrogance.

I liked the bearded “screw you all” Aquaman. He had personality.

That brings me to why I’m not a big fan od 50′s & 60′s DC, or of any of their main characters. They just don’t have any personality. At least not from what I’ve read. They’re all fairly bland, vanilla, boring. that’s a major reason Marvel really kicked DCs ass in the 60′s. Even now, I can’t get into the characters, much less the universe, because their long standing (seeming) lack of characterization is all I can see.

There was a while (late 80′s/early 90′s) when I tried getting into DC, but it was with the fringe characters, like Hawkman & Aquaman. All the retcons & revamps quickly turned me away. Great job DC did of turning away a new reader with their lack of continuity.

And Namor would totally kick the crap out of Aquaman. AM might be able to summon & talk to sea creatures, but Namor would bring out the horn thing (I for get what it’s called) and control them. Then he’s knock the piss out of him.

Grant Morrison. Frank Quitely. All-Star Aquaman. Make it happen. That book would ooze 31 flavors of awesomeness.

All-Star Aquaman would make a lot of sense. It’s the “need” to fit him into the super-hero side of the DC Universe that ruins this character.

This article really sums up the problem with Aquaman though.

He always has been that bland good guy DC hero, like Barry Flash, Hal GL, or Superman. Barry died and was replaced with flawed Wally, Hal was given a past as a drunk, and Superman..stayed the same. Aquaman really didn’t get his post crisis revamp. There were some darker stories, but that was it. There was the McLaughlin series, which I liked as well…that started dealing with him as world leader more than as super-hero, but it still had him connected too much as the nice guy hero.

It was Peter David’s series, which built up the mythology and power of the Atlantis setting, while also revamping Aquaman. It’s his Aquaman that’s so awesome in Morrison’s JLA. It’s his Aquaman that’s so awesome on JLU. He was someone who wasn’t a hero..he was a king..and Kings have to do things that Heroes won’t.

(as an aside, I always wanted a PAD-Aquaman/Priest-Black Panther crossover).

Aquaman? Seriously? What’s next, Stilt-Man and Rob Liefield’s art?

Showcase Presents: Aquaman has the best example of the comic book villain’s fear of success that I’ve ever seen. There’s a story where Aquaman is trying to swim around the world in 80 hours as a stunt for charity, and some smugglers that he’s thwarted in the past (Aquaman fought an awful lot of smugglers back then–he did eventually get some good villains, at least) decide that this is their chance to get him once and for all. They throw the entire weight of their organization behind defeating him…including exploding a low-yield nuclear bomb in his path.

This has all the geniuses that decided to build their criminal careers by robbing banks in Metropolis hands down. With that kind of firepower in their hands, imagine what they could have accomplished if they actually had goals that weren’t incredibly petty…

Aquaman? Seriously? What’s next, Stilt-Man and Rob Liefield’s art?

I could’ve sworn I did Stilt-Man already, but I guess not. One more for the list!

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

October 29, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Hey fellas, watch while I prove John Seavey’s point…

I’m a huge Aquaman fan. In fact, he’s my favorite comic book character (Black Panther is a close second) and for me Aquaman works best when his adventures keep him near the surface of the ocean interacting with non-Atlanteans. Think about it. What is Aquaman’s cornerstone ability; the power that everything else is built upon? He can breathe underwater! Yeh, yeh, yeh, the character himself doesn’t consider this ability a super-power. Well, it is a super-power, dammit! It’s a very basic thing that Aquaman can do that the Navy and the Coast Guard and everyone else trying to protect the seas cannot.

The residents of Metropolis don’t all fly. The residents of Keystone City don’t all travel at superspeed. But everyone in Atlantis shares this basic super-power – they all breathe underwater. There’s a really good reason why Thor slums with the Avengers. In Asgard, he’s a god among … well … among lots of other gods. On Midgard, being a god means something!

I wish we could get an Aquaman book that would embrace the fact that Arthur is a super-hero. Give him some trustworthy contacts in the Navy and Coast Guard – discarding the Atlan origin and bringing back the Silver Age Tom Curry story would help in this regard. I want an Aquaman who fights crime on and under the sea, again. I want a writer to explore the psychology of his rogues. Forget the futility of robbing a bank in Metropolis – how nuts do you have to be strap on scuba gear and go gunning for a Justice Leaguer when the environment itself can kill you. I want an Aquaman sailors and fisherman and all the people who live on the sea can count on for protection.

For years, Aquaman was a super-hero who had super-hero adventures. Now, he’s some strange unsatisfying hybrid of super-hero and fantasy hero. I want Aquaman, the super-hero, back.

SanctumSanctorumComix

October 30, 2007 at 6:33 am

I’m not much of a DC fan, but AQUAMAN was always one of my faves.

As a kid, I had an orange bathing suit (made of some waterproof, skin-tight material).

Anyway, I LOVED those and would imagine myself as AQUAMAN swimming in the sea.

Due to their waterproof material, they always had a “rubbery” smell that whenever I smell something like it, to this day, I flash back to my days as Aquaman.

~P~
P-TOR

I’m right with you on the Aquaman is a great character soapbox. I think the reason for his commercial failure isn’t so much the Super Friends factor, but the fact that he has been written too often as a fantasy novel character instead of a super-hero and the Namorization of his personality.

If you ever get the writing gig, I’ll be buying it!

Oh man, why are you celebrating a lame Namor rip off? You talk about him like it’s a new concept or something. Namor is way cooler and he actually has some character and balls…

I love Aquaman, always have. Tad Willaims’ run was sadly missed by fandom, and now we’ll probably be stuck with another generic Geoff Johns revamp.

[...] is with sadness that I read Mark Evanier’s reporting that Paul Norris, Aquaman‘s designer and first illustrator, has died at the age of [...]

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