He’s one of the pillars of the Justice League, having been an original founding member of the team, and is the subject of great storytelling by some of comics’ best creators.
“He talks to fish, so what?”
That seems to be the representative attitude by many people who don’t know about the character beyond the fact that he dwells in the ocean, but fact is DC Comics has managed to shape Aquaman into one of the publisher’s most compelling characters, carrying the burden of a throne that he doesn’t always want.
Aquaman was created in 1941 by writer Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris. Originally able to speak the “language of the sea,” Aquaman could confer with fish and other sea creatures and enlist their aid when he felt it was needed. Since Aquaman was one of the superheroic creations of World War II, some of his early adventures featured him squaring off against Nazi U-boats and Axis commanders that had attempted to wage war through the oceans.
Probably one of the most defining — and damaging — portrayals of Aquaman came during his appearances in 1970s animation, particularly as a member of the eponymous Super Friends. For whatever reason, it’s this image of Aquaman telepathically calling fish and swimming below the Bat-Plane that has stuck with the mainstream, though like Batman and Superman he endured a constant string of character evolutions throughout the intervening decades between Super Friends and today.
The resulting character that we now have is a product of truly stellar comic book storytelling by modern creators like Peter David (X-Factor, The Incredible Hulk), Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova), Grant Morrison (All Star Superman, New X-Men) and Geoff Johns (Justice League, The Flash).
This modern incarnation is likely going to be the one represented by Jason Momoa in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the follow-up Justice League film. To that end, you may want to banish the cheesy fish talker from your minds, since he doesn’t really exist anymore. The modern Aquaman probably shoved a trident in his face.
What to Read
Here are a few modern Aquaman comics runs you should read to get to know the real Aquaman: a hero, a king and a warrior.
Peter David’s Run (Aquaman vol. 5, #0-46, 1994-1998)
Oddly enough, this series is considered to be a modern masterpiece for the Aquaman character, but isn’t being reprinted in any collections. So, if you want to read it you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: go to a comic book store and start digging through long boxes.
Peter David’s Aquaman series is considered seminal in the life of the character because of the amount of changes he brought, as well as the coherence of his writing and the understanding of what made Aquaman compelling. His changes were also very bold, with the second issue of his series seeing Aquaman lose his hand and replace it with a harpoon weapon, as well as the adoption of a more hard-edged, sea-faring mariner design.
The aesthetic design of the character during David’s run would last only into the early 2000s, but the character work acomplished by the writer has continued to define the character to this day.
Aquaman in Grant Morrison’s JLA (#1-41, 1997-2000)
As far as late-’90s DC Comics are concerned, writer Grant Morrison’s tenure on the ongoing JLA title offered a wonderful balance of DC’s most iconic pillars with creative storytelling, requiring the combined efforts of the publisher’s seven biggest characters.
When JLA #1 launched in 1997, it was largely seen as a return to form for one of the first superhero teams, since it brought back the “original seven” lineup. While other characters besides Hal Jordan and Barry Allen had taken up the mantles of Green Lantern and the Flash respectively, the fact that DC’s most identifiable superhero team finally regained the roster of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter and Aquaman was a pretty big deal to comics fans.
The critical reception for Morrison’s run on the title was extraordinary. His fundamental understanding behind the mission of the team (that being to protect the world, not to change it), as well as his keen understanding of DC’s biggest characters, all made for one of the absolute best comic book runs of the 1990s, a decade now known more for what it got wrong in comics than what it got right.
Aquaman in the New 52 (2011-Current)
While the previous few years of the regular DC Universe had seen Aquaman mutate, die, and be reborn, fans seemed to clamor for brand new adventures featuring the fabled Sea King. His appearance as one of the revenant Black Lanterns threatening the DC Universe in the Blackest Night crossover event seemed to renew interest in the character.
While Aquaman appeared as an important part of the Blackest Night follow-up Brightest Day, it wasn’t until it was announced that DC Comics would be relaunching its entire line of superhero comics that fans began to get truly excited. Out of the 52 titles that would be premiering new #1 issues, Aquaman was among them, and would be handled by the very same blockbuster creative team that rendered his return in Blackest Night: writer Geoff Johns, and artist Ivan Reis.
When Aquaman #1 launched in September of 2011, Johns and Reis transformed the title and character into a sales powerhouse, and for the first six months that it was on sale, Aquaman outsold every Marvel Comics title on the market. Also on display was cleverly reflexive writing, with Johns directly referencing many of the incorrect perceptions about the character that people had made fun of, while also obviously showing strong characterization descended from Peter David’s work.
Johns also wrote Aquaman in the New 52 DC flagship title Justice League, some of the pages of which gave birth to a popular meme that began making rounds on the internet.
Johns also wrote a great crossover story between Aquaman and Justice League called “Throne of Atlantis” (recently recommended by Comics on FIlm as a good basis for a Justice League film), where the Sea King had to choose between his Atlantean heritage that had stormed the surface world in a massive invasion, or join his fellow heroes of the League to stop his own people.
Overall, if you’ve been one of those fans that have written off Aquaman as a stupid and gimmicky character, read up on what he’s actually about. There’s no doubt that Jason Momoa’s look will likely give a great deal of credence to the scowling badass characterization the character has predominantly had since the 1990s.
So take our advice and read up on what the King of the Seven Seas is really about, and see if you can understand exactly why a visceral actor like Momoa has been chosen to embody him.
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
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