With Justice League right around the corner, now’s a good time to revisit the failed TV pilot for Aquaman. While superheroes are enjoying an unprecedented level of success on both the big and small screen, there’s never really been a time that characters from Marvel and DC Comics haven’t been adapted to other media. Nowadays, many of those projects make it to audiences, but the recent past is littered with failed pilots and films that never left development hell.
For fans of Aquaman, Jason Momoa’s starring role in this month’s Justice League will mean a lot. Furthermore, next year’s Aquaman should help further legitimize the often misunderstood King of Atlantis. But Momoa’s take on Arthur Curry is hardly the character’s first time appearing in live action. Back in 2005, Alan Ritchson debuted as Aquaman on Smallville and helped Clark Kent on a number of occasions. ‘Aqua,’ his first appearance, however, was meant as something of a backdoor pilot. Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar went on to develop a show based around the character, but with a different actor and backstory intact. The subsequent Aquaman failed, though, with only the pilot and trailer remaining.
For years now, the trailer for Aquaman (posted above) has been on YouTube for fans to pore over. Even better, iTunes has long had the entire pilot for purchase. In fact, its debut saw it become the most downloaded TV show ever on the service. And with the character about to make his most high-profile appearance to date, now’s a great time to look back on what could have been.
As cheesy as the pilot is in parts, it’s important to remember that it was on par with Smallville when it was scheduled to debut in the fall of 2006. It also received a decent amount of praise from critics, including those who appreciated Hartley’s portrayal of Arthur Curry. Along with Aquaman as a character, the actor himself has seen a resurgence lately thanks to his role in the hit series This is Us. Before that, though, he suited up as another DC hero.
Aquaman never made it to air following the merger of WB and UPN and the birth of The CW. Hartley, however, impressed the minds behind Smallville. Right as Aquaman was meant to air, Hartley debuted as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow on season 6’s ‘Sneeze’ in October of 2006. Unlike Ritchson’s Aquaman, Hartley’s Queen and Arrow had a long run on Smallville and won over many fans thanks to the quippy take on the hero. In fact, Arrow had a hurdle to overcome when it debuted its darker take on the vigilante just a few years later.
Aquaman may not have survived, but the character is about to finally make his big debut in theaters. Hartley, meanwhile, has found plenty of success following the end of the show, while Gough and Millar have moved on to the acclaimed Into the Badlands. As for Ritchson, he may not have starred in Aquaman, but he’ll soon join Titans as DC hero Hawk. The show may be nothing but a curiosity now, but Aquaman will forever survive online.
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