Like Rodney Dangerfield, Aquaman gets no respect. Oddly, his rotten reputation began in shows like Super Friends and the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Both series were campy in the extreme and purposely misunderstood and simplifying the character and his powers. Indeed, we’ll probably never quite get over seeing him riding a pink seahorse.
In recent years, his exclusion from the Justice League animated series most likely confirmed to some that Aquaman was a zilch of a character, and his gritty reboot in the '90s was as transparent in its desperation to prove something as it was tedious to read.
However, Aquaman’s reputation in the mainstream isn’t one he deserves. Writers like Peter David, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Dan Abnett have gone far in presenting the character in a way that is modern while also maintaining the core of Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris’ creation. With Justice League fresh to theaters and a live-action solo film starring the charismatic Jason Momoa on the way, the future looks good for Arthur Curry.
Just to be sure, let’s take a look at 15 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Aquaman.
Okay, this used to be true. In the Golden Age and parts of the Silver Age, Aquaman couldn’t survive outside of the ocean for very long. Then again, this was also the era where Batman dressed as a zebra, so, yeah— stone meet glass house.
Over the years, Aquaman has had adventures on multiple planes of existence, realms, and planets. In the last three decades, he's been tied to Lovecraftian elements deep below the sea (even more so with recent storylines in DC’s Rebirth), a magical Arthurian legend on different shores, and fought a variety of cosmic threats.
In, JLA: A Midsummer's Nightmare, he is the only one in the League capable of fighting Doctor Destiny's artificially imposed gravity. He has fought off a version of Doomsday and taken on the Shaggy Man (think the Hulk with hair) whose powers include being undefeatable. Yep, Arthur Curry defeated him.
It began in the Golden Age with him literally talking in fish language, taught to him by his scientist father, who also taught him how to breathe water in this continuity.
His real power is his adaptability. This is more of a modern era thing where writers have challenged themselves to show how "that fish guy" could be useful in battles with aforementioned cosmic gods. And time and again, even when he's outclassed, Arthur's ability to persevere, think on his feet, and use enemies' misconceptions about him have helped him fell many villains seemingly above his weight class.
If you want something a little more comic-booky, then you have his telepathic abilities. If someone's will was weak, Aquaman could knock them unconscious or give them a seizure. Current writers have forgotten this or tweaked it, but it gave him more range of his powers on land and even allowed him to team with Martian Manhunter a few times in joint telepathic assaults.
Modern writers like Peter David and Grant Morrison introduced the idea that he could communicate with any creature that was once marine - including humans. Most famously, however, people think he has actual conversations with fish.
This is true in the earliest of Aquaman stories in the 1950s where he spoke a “fish language” (it was the '50s). This ability has been altered over the years to be less ridiculous. In JLA: Year One, Aquaman even dispels the notion, reminding a civilian that the brains of a fish are too small. Most recently, the telepathic link he has with them allows Curry to gain control of marine life on an instinctual level to make them follow his wishes.
In the recent Justice League film, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman can sense a change in tide and water patterns caused by fish to allow him to understand what’s going on in the ocean.
When DC’s greatest icons were introduced, so were their love interests—Lois Lane, Steve Trevor, Iris West, Carol Ferris. With Aquaman and Mera, it was different. Mera debuted more than ten years after Aquaman, and their relationship developed very quickly, leading to marriage and a child (mind you, it took 50 years for Superman and Lois to get canonically married, and more than 75 for them to have a kid).
Despite what some believe, Arthur Curry is a great character, and the ladies think so too. While Aquaman and Mera were separated, he dated Dolphin; a human who was altered by aliens to survive in aquatic locations. Before meeting Mera, Arthur dated Ya'Wara, one of his teammates on the Others. Finally, there’s Kako - Aquaman’s first love - with whom he had Koryak, his first-born son. But let’s save that tragedy for later.
It’s only been in recent years that Aquaman’s trident has become a prominent weapon. In the early aughts, he rarely used it except for emergency situations or show. If anything, his former ward, Garth/Aqualad/Tempest, used it more often for major spells, and Ocean Master had his own given to him by Neron during Underworld Unleashed.
It’s an incredibly versatile weapon, and it’s great for superhero poses. However, to fans otherwise unfamiliar with Arthur Curry, it’s also a source for their arguments: that without his trident, Aquaman is useless.
His skin is thick so that he can survive the crushing pressure of the deepest ocean depths, which also makes it difficult for bullets to hurt him. His increased strength allows for him to lift firetrucks. Best of all, he once threw a polar bear at poachers.
Efficiency is important to leaders - especially to leaders whose kingdoms span 70% of the planet. Sometimes Aquaman just doesn’t have time to deal with your crap.
While characters like Superman and Batman have killed before, those tales are well out of continuity, keeping their consciences clean and their reputations intact. Despite their staunch no-kill policy, they don’t seem to mind hanging out with Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern Corps. and Aquaman, all who have kept the morgues busy over the years.
Our favorite Aquaman kills? Not counting Cthulhu-esque monsters and gods, he’s snapped the neck of Black Manta’s father in retaliation for an attack on his father. Charybdis fed Aquaman’s hand to a swarm of piranha. Taking the loss in stride, Arthur then fed all of Charybdis to the same piranhas shortly after. He even stuck around to watch. Now that’s cold.
Black Manta’s hatred of Aquaman is understandable, and his love for his own son is heartbreaking. Manta is one of the most well-rounded villains in comics, even if he doesn’t get the love and respect he deserves in the mainstream.
There’s also Ocean Master, Arthur’s own half-brother. He wants to raze the surface world and take over the planet. Naturally, he falls in love with a woman from the land and wants to adopt her son. While Orm and Aquaman’s enmity is deeply personal and based on resentment and jealousy, there’s an underlying affection and respect. They are brothers who ended up on opposite sides of war.
Then there’s Charybdis. He isn’t complicated like Orm or Manta. He’s just a piece of garbage and is famous for being the reason Arthur lost his hand.
Finally, check out Thanatos. He drove Mera and Aquaman to the brink of insanity by making them think he brought their dead son back to life. Class act, that one.
You can’t have a superhero without tragic backstories, and you certainly can’t have a modern superhero without tragic developments. Despite being considered a joke by many, as well as being one of DC’s “lighter” characters, Aquaman’s story is riddled with surprisingly dark chapters.
Arthur didn’t even know he had a son with Kako; they didn’t meet until Koryak was an adult. The two had a brief and turbulent relationship and didn’t get to know each other very well. Koryak was killed when Atlantis was destroyed during Infinite Crisis.
Black Manta kidnapped toddler Arthur Curry, Jr. and suffocated him to death while Mera and Aquaman watched. Following this, their marriage crumbled, Mera went insane and then into exile, and Arthur had his hand ripped off and lost his kingdom. Oh, and Arthur never met his mother because she was kept against her will in Atlantis by King Orvax, who impregnated her with Orm.
While Jason Momoa will play Aquaman in his feature film debut, the character has appeared in live-action before—on television. Arthur Curry appeared several times on Smallville, played by Alan Ritchson from American Idol. Aquaman’s episode was critical (despite the “water balls” power) and ratings success.
This led to the character showing up more often, culminating in a team-up with Clark, Black Canary, and Green Arrow. Aquaman even donned a discount version of his famous uniform. As per network TV standards back then, it looked terrible.
Eventually, the CW created a pilot for an Aquaman series entitled Mercy Reef. It took place outside of Smallville; Arthur was played by Justin Hartley, and Lou Diamond Phillips and Ving Rhames appeared as supporting characters. The show was found to be too expensive, and never get picked up to series.
The water guys don’t get a lot of respect. Marvel’s Namor is in a similar position as Aquaman in that regard. Despite his own feats and importance (if nothing else he found Captain America’s frozen body), Namor doesn’t get featured a lot and is sometimes considered to be a rip-off of Aquaman. However, Namor the Sub-Mariner debuted in 1939, a full two years before Arthur Curry.
Due to Aquaman’s prominent and infamous appearances in Super Friends and the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure has allowed the second creation to be more “popular” than the Sub-Mariner, even if it is as a joke.
Regardless of who came first, Aquaman has been the much more successful character, and arguably, the most consistent. Also, if we’re honest, Namor is an absolute bore and isn’t worthy of drying Arthur Curry’s gloriously wavy hair.
Aquaman’s often depicted with just Aqualad, Mera, Vulko, and lately Tula for his supporting cast. While he doesn’t have the massive extended supporting cast of Superman or Batman (strange for a loner, isn’t it?), Arthur has plenty of secondary characters that are dying for more exposure.
Some lesser used but longtime characters obviously include Atlan and both the new and old Aqualad, but there was also Cal Durham - a former Manta soldier who underwent an ungodly experiment that allowed him to breathe underwater. In recent years, Durham popped up in the Sub-Diego storyline that introduced the latina Aquagirl, and eventually became mayor. Most recently, he was thought to be Aqualad 2's (Caldur'an) father. However, it was a red herring; Black Manta was the father, as adapted in the Young Justice television series.
Arthur Curry is the rightful king of the lost city of Atlantis. He’s a founding member of the Justice League and a controversial political figure. His brother Orm— aka Ocean Master— is the Joseph Stalin of the seas, responsible for brutality, mass murder, slavery, and war. After those two, it’s going to be hard to notice the other siblings anyway, so we’ll forgive you for never having heard of them.
Deborah Perkins, also known as Deep Blue, is Arthur’s half-sister. Her parents are Tsunami and Atlan. She’s a well-established undersea superhero who had successfully taken on major villains like Black Manta, whom she defeated when he captured Aquaman.
Arthur’s other half-brother, Drin, however, is even more obscure. Like Deep Blue, he debuted during Peter David’s excellent run but only made two appearances. He’s blond, and apparently, no one cares about him.
The Greek god Poseidon has connections to the Atlantean Royal Family and vested interest in the undersea kingdoms. In some continuities, Arthur is even a descendent of Poseidon. Aquaman has had to deal with the Greek gods on numerous occasions, which connects him to Wonder Woman and the substantial myths surrounding both the gods and the Amazons.
He has been a founding member of several Justice League branches, appeared as a United Nations delegate representing Atlantis (often as its king), and was a member of the White Lantern Corps.
Atlantean usage of magic has allowed Arthur more than a passing familiarity, especially in dealing with mages like Arion, which has connected him to the Arthurian mythology and the extensive magical corner of the DCU. This guy spins a lot of plates on that trident of his, doesn’t he?
Atlantis is a combination of New York, Las Vegas and Washington, DC. Everything is centralized there, while the other kingdoms and cities are treated as just flyover states. But that doesn’t mean they’re less important.
In recent years, writers like Peter David and Geoff Johns have made the undersea world of DC Comics as lively, complicated, and historically unique as anything on the surface. There are currently seven kingdoms (thanks, Game of Thrones) comprising 15,000 states that—depending on continuity—Arthur is the king of.
There are dimensional gateways and ancient societies. Aquaman has had psychedelic and horrifying experiences shuttling through dimensions attempting to return to Atlantis or to find Mera. There’s even a place called Netherspace that functions like purgatory and a group of bipedal fish-monsters called the Trench.
Aquaman’s underwater kingdom has embraced and thrived in its weirdness in a way that the surface world never could.
We could spend this entire entry just repeatedly writing in all-caps "KING OF 70% OF THE WORLD", but it might get a bit redundant. A little. Maybe. Instead, let’s just focus on one incident: Geoff Johns’ Throne of Atlantis.
Here, brother Orm decides he’s had enough of the surface-dwellers and full-on invades their world, using the plans he and Arthur created years before. Not only does this show Aquaman’s capabilities as a tactician and his brutal efficiency, but then he decides to take over the Justice League. That’s right. He punches out Superman and threatens Batman. They follow Aquaman’s lead, who now has to defeat his own brilliant plan by supplanting it with a better one. And he does.
Aquaman defeats his brother and keeps the surface and undersea worlds from all-out war. And what does he get for it? That’s right: no respect!
What misconceptions about Aquaman did we miss out? Let us know in the comments.