Zack Snyder promised the world a “badass” Aquaman, and casting the hulking Hawaiian Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) in the role certainly tipped the odds in his favor. Now that the Justice League director has released the very first image of the Atlantean King, the online reception seems to agree that Snyder’s Aquaman is anything but the joke some assumed – judging by his appearance, at least.
The studio did their best to keep the casting under wraps, but before long word of Batman V Superman‘s Aquaman being a “tattooed Hawaiian” broke, all but confirming the part was Momoa’s (who happens to be both). But both actor and director maintained that this version of Aquaman would be more than a hero: he’d be an embodiment of Polynesian culture. Because of that, some of the design’s elements and markings may not be understood by casual comic fans.
From the tattoos to the armor and weaponry, we’ve singled out a few subtler elements in the Aquaman design that not only will fans appreciate, but shows how committed Snyder and Momoa are to doing the actor’s own people justice.
Though referred to as a “tri-dent,” comic fans will immediately recognize the five-pointed spear as The Trident of Neptune, the weapon forged from the essence of the god of the sea himself. He who wields it claims divine right of rule over the world’s oceans – and, as Snyder, has confirmed, wields the ability to make even the Man of Steel bleed:
“The cool thing with Aquaman is his trident – people don’t realize that can actually cut the flesh of Superman if they came in contact. That’s a thing that’s in the canon.”
It’s unlikely that the Trident will boast all of its comic book powers, like the ability to control the weather or transform living creatures, but it just may be the explanation for Aquaman’s mastery over the seas, waves, and all the life which dwells within it. And if the upcoming Aquaman movie is going to be based on a rival for the throne of Atlantis (as we expect it to be), then there’s a good chance the Trident could become a highly sought-after weapon.
Fun fact: the Trident is also one of the Seven Relics of Atlantis: secret items scattered between Arthur Curry and his most trusted allies.
Neither Aquaman nor Wonder Woman hail from ancient Greece or Rome (technically) yet both sport armor with strong ties to those eras and cultures. In this case, the armor, along with the trident, is fairly common for any and all warriors intended to imply a connection to the sea. The fisherman’s weapon was used by the Retiarius – gladiators in the Roman Colosseum who sported a similar single-arm shoulder and arm protection (known as a manica).
But for those Polynesians who practice the art of tribal tattoos going back centuries (including the half-Hawaiian Momoa’s ancestors), marking one’s skin with ink was all the armor needed. Techniques and purpose vary across Polynesian peoples, but several common images and spiritual connections persist. In this case: the image of the spearhead; or rather, fields of overlapping spearheads seeming to cover both arms, and continued into the engravings on the armor itself.
As one might expect, the image is meant to convey courage and battle strength. The broader meaning can simply be that of warrior, or even a bond to stabbing sea creatures like stingrays. The placement of the tattoo can be just as important as the image itself, so Aquaman being literally covered in spears from the shoulder down sends a clear message.
Shark Teeth Tattoos/Engraving
Another one of the most common images found in Polynesian tattooing is of shark teeth, given the highly spiritual view of the fish among island people. Though sharks are known to most mainlanders today for their lethality, the shark deity Ka-moho-aliʻi is particularly revered, often credited with guiding the first peoples of Hawaii to the islands.
Because of that, lines or fields of the triangular shark teeth are meant to communicate guidance, ferocity, and power. These tattoos seem to be spread all over Aquaman’s sides and chest, once again implying his authority – and responsibility – over his people. As it happens, the armored bracer on Aquaman’s left arm is adorned with the exact same field of shark teeth Momoa already possesses. As he explained in an interview with Inked magazine, the shark is his aumakua, or family deity:
“It’s something my cousins all have, and it goes on the left side of your arm—it’s like a guardian. It’s basically like your power animal, whatever animal represents your family or your tribe. And ours is a shark, a mano. And then there are arrows that face out—out of your heart, that’s what it represents.”
Sadly, one of the most clever and inspired elements of Jason Momoa’s ‘Aquaman’ design may go completely unnoticed by all but the hardcore. Every superhero needs a logo, and with Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman, it’s the ‘A’ insignia typically attached to his belt. The painfully obvious marking has been tweaked over the years, with the New 52 re-imagining the shape and object as a type of Atlantean technology – one that just happens to look like the letter ‘A’ (recalling how Superman wears the Kryptonian symbol for ‘Hope’ that just happens to resemble an ‘S’).
With Momoa’s wardrobe, the insignia acutally looks to be the outline of the same spearhead motif found throughout his armor and tattoos. As an added bonus, the two rivets that seem to attach the spearhead ‘A’ to Momoa’s belt almost appear as the eyes of a gaping shark. We might be reading too much into that, but fans will admit it’s a truly crafty design element that honors the comic canon in an unexpected way.
Hands That… Feed?
It would appear that Jason Momoa’s entire body will be covered in ink for his portrayal of a Polynesian Aquaman (with the actor claiming he hopes to represent all island people with dignity). Several of his tattoos – the striped images on his stomach, and the neck lines that seem to mirror the ridges on his Trident, for instance – are worthy of further analysis, but the markings on his hands are of particular interest.
We’re not certain, but the design appears similar to an element found in several Tiki (demigods that may have begun as humans or ancestors) designs – specifically, their mouths. The parted lips and tongues would imply that Aquaman has, at least, symbolically, turned his hands into mouths of an unknown deity. That’s all speculation on our part, and official explanations will hopefully be made available soon.
But given the rest of the hero’s design, the notion that he would use his implements of death (or nurturing) ‘feed’ doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
If past releases have been a sign of what to expect, this may be the last image of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman we see for some time, whether he is set to make his debut in Dawn of Justice or Justice League. There’s no question that this design makes a memorable first impression, and given our closer look at just how much of Momoa’s cultural and personal tradition has been carried into his physical design, it’s no surprise he feels Zack Snyder should helm the Aquaman movie.
Fan-Made Color Version via CBM
For our part, these ties to Polynesian heritage were one of the main reasons we felt Jason Momoa could bring new meaning and dignity to the role. We welcome you to share your own thoughts on the Aquaman design and influences, and if you have more information on the elements at work, be sure to let us know!
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters on March 25, 2016, followed by Justice League – Part 1 on November 17th, 2017, Aquaman on July 27th, 2018, and Justice League – Part 2 on June 14th, 2019.