11.17.2008

Aquaman Week: Long Live the King

AquamanIt was bound to happen sooner or later… it’s AQUAMAN WEEK here at Once Upon a Geek! Now for all you Aqua-haters out there, please give this week a chance.  Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something interesting. If nothing else, hang around so you can make pithy “go talk to some fish” comments.

Why I Like Aquaman…

If you’ve read my blog before, then you know I’m an Aquaman fan.  Why is Aquaman one of my top five favorite superheroes?  That’s a tough question.  I’m not sure I can really put the answer into words.  I just like the character.  For example, how do you answer the question, “Why does chocolate taste good?”  It just does.  I’ll try to quantify some of what interests me about the character, but I’m not sure it will answer the big question.

First off, I like the idea of a superhero that is royalty.  King Hero! Here is a guy that is ruler of an entire nation, and yet he’s bad ass enough to go out there and fight on the front lines to protect his subjects.  Maybe this is a concept that is easier understood by British readers.  After all, here in the United States we don’t truly understand the love that the people typically feel towards their royalty. On top of being the sovereign King of Atlantis, he’s also considered the King of the Seven Seas.  That means while Superman protects Metropolis and Batman protects Gotham City, Aquaman has to cover the other 75% of the planet.  That’s a pretty big jurisdiction.

Second, I like Aquaman’s origin (all the various versions).  In the Silver Age, Aquaman was the son of an exiled Atlantean and an air-breathing lighthouse keeper.  I liked that Aquaman was of two worlds.  He belonged both above and beneath the waves, yet didn’t fully belong in either.  Everything he earned was through his own hard work and dedication.  The modern Aquaman was born to Queen Atlanna and the mysterious wizard Atlan in the Atlantean city of Poseidonis.  He was then left for dead as an infant on Mercy Reef due to old superstitions.  He was raised by other sea creatures and later tutored by an air-breathing lighthouse keeper.  I like the mythical origins of Aquaman’s story.  Go and read “Atlantis Chronicles” some time.  It covers the origins of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis.  Great reading!

Third, I like that Aquaman is super-powered, but not overly so.  Given the moderate level of powers he has, he seems more relatable than the mega-powered characters like Superman or Captain Marvel.  Aquaman can get hurt and is fallible, but still powerful enough to get the job done.  Everyone knows that Aquaman can breathe underwater and talk to fish.  But many people don’t realize he’s super-strong (he can easily throw a car hundreds of feet), his skin is super-dense (to survive the pressures of the bottom of the ocean), he is able to swim at very high speeds, he can see in near total darkness and has enhanced hearing.  Additionally, on a few occasions he has used his telepathic powers (that he normally uses to “talk to fish”) on human beings. He was able to affect humans with his telepathy, even to the point of making them more agreeable to his suggestions.  Not necessarily the most moral of actions, but still a powerful demonstration of his abilities.

Fourth, I like the idea of exploring the wild unknown regions of the ocean.  There is so much about our planet that we don’t know.  How many times have you got sucked in by a Discovery Channel special about life in the ocean; it’s just plain fascinating.  The ocean is a great untamed frontier and it’s Aquaman’s job to keep it in line.  I think this was best demonstrated during the Kurt Busiek “Sword of Atlantis” run a few years back.  During that era, the ocean was essentially a sword-and-sorcery society.  Very rugged and untamed like something out of Conan.

Fifth, Aquaman was a family man.  Back in the Silver Age, Aquaman had the whole extended family thing going on: Mera his wife, Arthur Jr. his infant son, Aqualad his sidekick, and Aquagirl (Aqualad’s girlfriend).  As a parent myself, I kind of dig the idea of a family man superhero.  … Okay, I think I should clarify that what follows is not something I “like” about Aquaman, but something that really hits home with me as a parent. … In 1977 Aquaman’s world was changed forever when the Black Manta murdered Arthur Jr.  Lots of horrible things have happened to superheroes in the modern age, but this ranks up there as one of the absolute worst.  Black Manta murdered his infant son. Let that sink in for a second.  Reader, do you have any children, nephews or nieces?  Just imagine what it would do to your world if those children were murdered by a man simply because he hates you.  Holy crap.  I know if one of my children were killed by someone intentionally, I would never recover.  This one incident shaped the next 25+ years of Aquaman stories.  Mera, Aquaman’s wife, was driven insane by the grief; while Aquaman became an angry, surly person.  It was incredibly tragic and the idea still fills me with dread and rage when I think about the murder of a child in the real world.

Sixth, Aquaman is the underdog.  Most comic readers mock him, yet at the end of the day Aquaman is still the King of the Seven Seas and manages to save the world.  Admittedly, he’s not always the most useful member of the Justice League.  I think it’s fair to say that while he’s an “A-list” superhero and deserves the clout that comes from being on the Justice League, it really doesn’t make much sense for him to be on the team from a tactical point of view.  He should probably stick to the water, air-breathing cities near the water, issues related to the ocean or the environment, and function in a political capacity as King of Atlantis (i.e. Ambassador to the United Nations).  While most people mock him, it’s interesting that really popular writers like Peter David and Geoff Johns are excited about the opportunity to write him. That adds a lot to his credibility.

My Earliest Memories of Aquaman…

I haven’t always been an Aqua-maniac.  That didn’t happen until my college years.  However, I’ve always had a mild interest in the character.  My earliest memories of Aquaman are from the ‘Super Friends’ cartoon. By the way, if you ever want to research the ‘Super Friends’ cartoon, you’ve got to check out Will’s Ultimate Super Friends Episode Guide!  What an amazing resource!

There are two Aquaman appearances in the ‘Super Friends’ cartoon that have always stuck out in my mind.  The first involved Aquaman suffering a terrible transformation into some sort of shark creature.  The second involved Aquaman being time-lost in the prehistoric era, and he figured out a plan to communicate with the modern day Super Friends.  While preparing to write this blog post, I did some research and was able to find the actual cartoons online that I barely remember from my childhood.

Here is the episode where Aquaman is transformed into the shark-like creature.  As a child I felt sorry for Aquaman when seeing this change.  Aquaman was trying to protect everyone, but suffered from radiation exposure himself.  I was also a little freaked out when I learned that Aquaman evolved from a shark creature.  All this happens around the 5 minutes and 30 seconds mark.

Super Friends: Journey Through Inner Space (1978)

When a military jet carrying a deadly radioactive isotope crashes into the ocean, Aquaman comes to the rescue, but when he retrieves the isotope, the deadly radiation leaks through the canister and Aquaman is transformed into the primitive sea creature from which he evolved. The Super Friends capture him and with the help of a Japanese shrink ray, Superman and Wonder Woman in the Supermobile are shrunk to microscopic size to give the beast another dose of the isotope in the hopes of returning Aquaman to normal.

Here is the episode where Aquaman was trapped in the prehistoric era and figured out a way to communicate with the Super Friends in the future.  I remember as a kid thinking his plan was brilliant; as an adult, it really doesn’t seem too feasible.  I guess this was a sign of things to come with my interest in time travel stories.  The scene I’m talking about happens around the 14 minutes and 25 seconds mark.

Challenge Of The Super Friends: Time Trap (1978)

Grodd supplies a time conveyor used to lure Aquaman and Apache Chief after Black Manta and Giganta into the prehistoric past. Then Green Lantern and Samurai are trapped in Camelot, and Batman and Robin in Imperial Rome. Aquaman thinks to bury his JLA communicator in the past to signal the Super Friends in the future, and Superman flies through the time barrier to rescue them. Then they confront the Legion at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.


Watch The Time Trap in Animation |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Collecting the Aquaman Comic Book…

As a kid I read a few comics here and there that featured Aquaman (Justice League of America, Crisis on Infinite Earths, etc).  However, it was the 1986 Aquaman mini-series that was my real gateway drug into the Aquaman universe.  The way I saw it back then, this was my chance to get in on the ground floor with a #1 issue.  Back in the 1980’s, #1 issues were really a big deal.  You never knew what comic was going to be the next big hit, so many of us bought almost every #1 issue just to see if the comic was any good or would become valuable.  On top of that, here was a character I had a mild interest in already from my ‘Super Friends’ watching days.  So it seemed like a win-win situation.

This particular mini-series was written by the great Neal Pozner and illustrated by the amazing Craig Hamilton.  It was a fantastic introduction for me to the Aquaman fishtank.  It dealt with Atlantis, Vulko, Ocean Master, and magic beneath the sea. The best known thing to come out of this mini-series was Aquaman’s camo (blue) costume.  It didn’t stay around long, but it looked awesome!  To this day I believe they should have kept this costume instead of returning to the orange and green.  Years later they gave Tempest (formerly Aqualad) a modified red version of the suit in homage to its popularity.

Aquaman 1986 mini-series

While I loved the mini-series, there was no monthly book to follow.  So my interest in Aquaman began to wane.  There were a handful of Aquaman Specials and mini-series to come out over the next four years.  I picked them all up, but only the 1989 ‘Legend of Aquaman Special’ really captured my interest.  Then in 1990 came the outstanding ‘Atlantis Chronicles’ mini-series by Peter David and Esteban Maroto.  This was a mini-series that began in ancient Atlantis thousands of years ago, and ended with the birth of Aquaman.

Around the same time, my good friend Ravenface had begun to collect back issues of old ‘Legion of Super-heroes’ stories.  He would regale me with his misadventures in trying to acquire these old comics and the wacky fun of the Silver Age stories themselves. Keep in mind, back then there was no internet to order from, or trade paperbacks reprinting old stories. Ravenface’s escapades inspired me to go on a back issue quest myself, however, I needed to decide what old series I would seek out.  After much consideration, I decided to give old Silver Age Aquaman comic books a try.  What a blast!  I enjoyed the hunt and the catch of the experience!  Those old Aquaman comics were so much fun.  Ironically enough, the first Silver Age Aquaman comic I bought was ‘Aquaman #56′ because I liked the cover.  Little did I know that was the last issue of the Silver Age series as it had been canceled with that issue.  I liked the issue and continued to buy more of the Silver Age Aquaman series.  I quickly expanded my search to include the Aquaman appearances in books such as Adventure Comics, Action Comics, and Worlds Finest.

I was officially hooked on Aquaman at that point.  So I was in prime position to be totally jazzed when the late 1991 Aquaman monthly book started.  I’ve been buying all related Aquaman stories since.

Come back tomorrow for more Aquaman action! In the meantime, check out THE AQUAMAN SHRINE run by the amazing cool Rob Kelly.  It’s the best Aquaman site on the net, as well as being one of the best overall comic book blogs on the net. I’ll be plugging this site all week, so you darn well better go check it out!

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7 Responses to “Aquaman Week: Long Live the King”

  1. 44 Says:

    i read the whole thing, and while i still don’t really care for the Aquaman character, i at least sort of understand your love for him.

  2. Steven Marsh Says:

    I think the biggest reason Aquaman doesn’t get much love is that he’s neither identifiable nor does his life or his powers provide much “wish fulfillment.”

    Captain American? Awesome! I know what it’s like to be =really= into patriotism and the Fourth of July, and being able to beat up those who’d attack Lady Liberty sounds great!

    Iron Man? Neat! I get to be a millionaire playboy and fly around! And there’s all the booze I can drink!

    Spider-Man? Cool! I get to swing around New York City — one of the coolest places on Earth — and I can identify with him and his problems. (Part of the Spider-Man appeal is that readers go, “I want him to prevail, but I =know= I could do better if I were in his shoes.”)

    Atom? Pretty neat! Who hasn’t looked at something like a messy garage and thought, “What if I were trying to explore this area as someone who’s an inch tall?” Or seen the “orbiting electrons” representation of an atom and thought, “Wow! What if those are, like, tiny planets, man?!” Or what pack rat — to steal from Hank Pym — hasn’t envisioned having a pocket full of useful and interesting items, all shrunk down to a tiny size?

    But Aquaman? Well, he can swim, but most people find the act of swimming to be pretty boring. He can swim really deep, but most people don’t care. (I remember watching various undersea explorations specials during the Titanic craze and thinking, “Wow! There are so many interesting things underwater! Like . . . umm . . . rusted boats? Coral? Fish?”)

    The thrill of living in a major metropolitan city and flying from place to place, or envisioning spending one’s life as an agent who has a giant flying airship as a base of operations, or running at ultra-fast speeds so you can go anywhere on Earth or accomplish any normal activity in seconds? Those all sound like great ways to live! But living underwater? Staring into the inky blackness, surrounded by creatures most of us envision are butt-stupid? Sounds depressing. (The three hours I spend at a beach every decade fulfills my “see the sea” desires.)

    Now, I say this as someone inclined to like Aquaman. I quite enjoyed most of Peter David’s run. I always enjoyed when he was used well as a member of the Justice League. (The fact that he dismantled the old League ranks as one of the jaw-dropping “Cool!” moments of my childhood comic reading experience.) But it’s not a good sign when the most interesting things one can posit about an undersea adventurer are aspects that could just as easily be handled on dry land. (What differentiates Atlantean sword-and-sorcery adventurers and intrigues from their land-based brethren? [cough]Atom[cough] How many of Aquaman’s deep-sea adventures can be translated whole-cloth to, say, deep space?)

    Just my two cents. Keep the Aquafaith alive!

  3. Stuart Renton Says:

    Shag, I know you’ll hate me for this. But there was a very funny skit on Family Guy with Aquaman.

    You can see it here on youtube:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=OutgQBI2LVY

    Hee hee :)

  4. rob! Says:

    I will be enjoying this week thoroughly!

    oh, and thanks for this:
    “amazing cool Rob Kelly”

    …those words have never been put together in that particular order, ever!

  5. Shig Says:

    I suppose a character is as good as whoever’s writing him at a given time, but I confess
    I’ve always seen Aquaman as a come-lately knockoff. That elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about has the initials S and M.

  6. Steven Marsh Says:

    That elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about has the initials S and M.

    Shig, I had no idea Aquaman was into the S&M scene!

  7. Shig Says:

    Steven, you have no idea of some of the things he was into. He was known as Roly Poly Fish Head in certain circles. And then there was that thing with the cows…

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