Aquaman and the Infinite Sadness: A Brief History of Comic’s Wet Lapped Sea King

by lil’ Devin T. Quin

Comic books have a tragic hero to rival the heart wrenching figures of classic literature, such as Quasimodo, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Dobby the magical house elf. Often disregarded and certainly underrated, this comic book icon has been the butt of jokes almost since his inception. We speak, of course, of Aquaman, the aquatic Pagliacci, the Rodney Dangerfield of the Sea.

Aquaman is the perpetual bridesmaid of comic book cool. When Superman reinvented the game Aquaman tagged along, a human living underwater thanks to the wonders of science. Aquaman had backup adventures in the pages of Superboy’s comic title. His powers included swimming, breathing and verbally talking to fish.

It’s hard to respect a man dressed in orange. It’s even harder to respect him when he’s sitting second chair to a boy who can fly to the sun and shoot lasers out of his eyes. What did Aquaman bring to the Golden Age? An octopus sidekick named Topo.

Making fun of Aquaman is SO easy it’s passé. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel….whoa, sorry Aquaman, I didn’t mean to be so insensitive to your friends. My Bad.

IT GETS WORSE

Silver Age Aquaman was shackled with a new origin, being a half human half merman, and given two teenage prodigies. Renewed with the ability to telepathically communicate with sea creatures, he was also hampered by the need to get wet every hour or die. “Superman has a weakness in Kryptonite,”went the thought process. “Kids like weakness, don’t they?”

Regardless of what was happening in comic books during the time, 80’s kids remember Aquaman as the respected member of the Super Friends that NO ONE wanted to be during recess. Young boys would rather assent to being Marvin the Wondermutt before they’d willingly play-act Aquaman.

When the one/two punch of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns hit the scene in 1986, EVERYBODY had to be grim and gritty. It took Aquaman a while to horn in on that act, but by the 1990’s Aquaman was looking like a disheveled drunk and had his hands chewed off by his own piranhas. How’s THAT for dark?! Is that dark enough for you? How about if he stopped wearing a shirt, too?! NOW you’re talking! Aquaman is so F’ing core! Aquaman is darker than Trent Reznor on Gothday at Disneyworld.

Aquaman was so dark that he freakin’ DIED! Yeah, Then he came back as a Zombie, undead Black Lantern during the Blackest Night storyline. Once that was over, he had angst, as he couldn’t remember WHY he was alive, and when he summon up creatures of the deep they were all ZOMBIES! Zombie killer whales, zombie giant squids wreckin’ up the place! Feel my aquatic angst! Only the black, empty eye sockets of a Zombie Hammerhead shark matches the color of my soul!!!

OLD SPICE

So let’s review: When Superman was flying in the air, Aquaman was swimming underwater. When Batman was punching crime, Aquaman was wearing orange and green tights. When everything had to be as dark as pitch, Aquaman looked more like Aqualung from Jethro Tull.

Aquaman is first and foremost a trend follower. Aqu is ALWAYS wearing yesterday’s fashion and trying to turn a buck by aping his betters. May we present an alternative perspective?

Aquaman is a distinctively interesting character because he’s the king of sea…but who of us cares or understands the water anymore? Superman works because we all want to be able to fly. Batman works because we all want to punish those who wrong us. Aquaman is awesome because he can explore shipwrecks, discover new forms of phytoplankton and is immune to the Bends…but that isn’t what kids fantasize about.

They’ve hit the nail on the head once or twice. Aquaman as he appears in Kingdom Come and subsequently in the JLA as the all powerful, experienced naysayer, always two seconds away from finding something better to punch underwater is a good characterization. It implies what we suspect: that life as an undersea monarch must be fascinating, though hard to picture.

I like the recent “Batman the Brave and the Bold” Aquaman, too. Stripped of all his darkness, this Aquaman is a pompous version of his Super Friends fore-bearer, eagerly having a freakin’ blast being an all wet super hero and constantly outliving everyone around him. Herculese of the Sea is he, arg!

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

But t’is naught but the shiny side of a darker coin. Aquaman in popular culture is a flat joke. The first “Aquaman is a worthless dope” joke I can remember was done on the seminal MTV show, “The State,”but since them it’s been a quick go-to for lazy humorists (apparently, as I review this column years later, myself included!) Aquaman’s q-rating is so low that they used an Aquaman movie on the TV show “Entourage” as the big budget project that NOBODY would ever want to be a part of. Even Spongebob, that spineless sea sponge gets to kick Aquy when he’s down by parodying him as the geriatric Mermaid Man.

AQUAMAN: THE FUTURE

Aquaman can thrive if he stays true to himself, the much-harangued king of the oceans, discoverer of lost scientific discoveries and the all around macho muchacho of the briny blue. Here’s my pitch: Page 1, Aquaman punches a submarine onto land yelling “Get off my lawn, ya’ dang kids!” Page 2 he goes back to flirting with Mermaids until he has to fight a sea monster!

The recent announcement that Conan and Game of Thrones Ubermench Jason Momoa is going to play the Wet-Nap King Arthur is heartening, but we must mettle our enthusiasm with perspective. For years DC marketing was only happy when Aquaman was a dog fetching back the comic trends that others tossed into the busy street of publishing. DC and their parent company Warner Brothers gave two less hoots than a mute owl about feature film versions of their characters before Marvel and Disney started raking in the big bucks. This push for a full length feature film on Aquaman is (in the minds of accountants) part of a bigger, healthy jig-saw puzzle of films to reinvent their assets and produce mass capital..i.e. Roll in the filthy cash.

Can this Aquaman movie succeed? YES, if the right people give the right love and respect to the character and give the audiences something they’ve never seen before…a cool, bad ass Aquaman. Are there any talents out there who can do such a thing?

Yes. Me. I accept the director’s chair for the Aquaman feature film.

GO AQUAMAN, GO!

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About unkiedev

Devin T. "Unkiedev" Quin is a cartoonist, writer and musician. His professional art clients include LEGO, Kelloggs, Scholastic and The New York Press. He has self published several comic books, including Robots R' Cool, Zombies R' Jerks and The Living End. He continues to play with his all pirate comedy band, The Scurvy Pirates, as featured on NPR and The Doctor Demento Show.
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