He talks to fish. He carries an underwater pitchfork. He looks like Biff the water polo star. The character of Arthur Curry has been the butt of numerous jokes and criticisms over the years. He’s been the proverbial punching bag of readers and critics alike. Yet somehow, despite all the knocks and jabs, Curry (a.k.a. Aquaman) has survived several decades. Though the Aquaman title has not achieved the commercial print success as some of his peers (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.), it has grown substantially in popularity in recent years, establishing itself a prominent foothold in DC’s line of top tier heroes.
Growing up, my favorite superhero was always the Incredible Hulk, or as I referred to him when I was a little kid, the “Credible Hulk.” Hey, I was five and Bruce Banner was a good guy. That makes him credible, right? Anyway, the comic book nerdist in me discovered the cornucopia of titles over time and stores that fed my addiction such as Carol & John’s Comics in Cleveland, Ohio and Mega Gaming & Comics in Gainesville, Florida. Establishments like these brought forth a seemingly endless library of books to consumers and opened a multitude of options, especially during landmark publisher events like DC’s New 52.
The year was 2011 and comic giant DC launched an event of 52 newly revamped titles, essentially hitting the reset button on a number of story arcs and the direction of where some of the most premier characters were headed. I grabbed several issue 1’s during those first few months. Some series like Static Shock and Hawk & Dove were cancelled before a year out of the gate. Others like Flash and Aquaman saw it out to the end (issue #52). What drew fans to this redone Aquaman series though? After all, the sea-faring hero doesn’t have the most positive track record with fans. For someone who spends most of his time under the waves, his environment-affiliation seems to have been a polarizing aspect to readers. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say for me, that is a huge plus. Always having a significant interest and love of ocean life, the concept of a superhero who resided there was right up my alley.
Why did it take a big relaunch to draw me there though? Why did it take a big relaunch to draw in scores of other fans who weren’t sea life aficionados? The Justice League cartoon in the 80’s certainly didn’t win me over. The much talked about storyline where Aquaman lost his hand in the 90’s was no magnet for me either. The answer is really quite simple. It’s all in the writing. DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns was tasked with author duties when the publisher initiated the Aquaman New 52 series. Simply put, no one before Johns amplified the character quite like he did.
In the premier issue, the book takes a handful of commonly thrown Aquaman jokes and puts them out in the open. Curry walks into a restaurant, sits down and nonchalantly orders the fish and chips, much to the surprise of the waitress and surrounding customers. Blasphemy! Right? Oh contraire mon frère. A fellow patron in a neighboring booth leans over and says, “You can’t get the fish and chips.” Curry responds, to the dumbfounded diner, then to another, and another, all in an attempt to explain who he is in a basic sense. One might even add that it becomes a plea for normalization from the blonde hero. This dialogue comprises only a few panels on are what otherwise pure brilliance laid out on four pages. Don’t get me wrong, the whole issue is great, heck, any issue that Geoff Johns touched is awesome, but here several of the stigmas of Aquaman are brought front and center and addressed with the deteriorating patience of Arthur Curry, so effectively shown in the artwork of Ivan Reis.
Johns concluded writing duties with issue #25 of Aquaman in the New 52 series, with Jeff Parker carrying on the torch from there. I’ll be honest, I am not familiar with any of Jeff Parker’s works outside of this. I cannot speak for the quality of writer he is. I can only say that once he took over, the quality of the title’s stories were less consistent. Maybe corporate told him the stories he would write, who knows? Either way, under Parker, we saw the orange and green hero taking on giant inter-dimensional monsters with Wonder Woman and then going solo against Gorilla Grodd in a jungle. It just didn’t make sense. Like it or not, the closure of the New 52 was a welcomed one. Back to the drawing board, right? Right.
Hot on the heels of the New 52 came another massive company-wide launch in the form of DC’s Rebirth. Affecting numerous titles in the DC line, Aquaman saw writer Dan Abnett come in and offer his own touch to the half-human, half-Atlantean hero. To say the least, Abnett has done Arthur Curry justice. Where Johns called out Aquaman haters in issue #1 (New 52), Abnett does so from another angle in issue #6 (Rebirth). To set the scene, Aquaman has been wrongly accused by the White House of igniting a war. Superman confronts a handcuffed Curry, encouraging the man to turn himself in. Curry’s frustration hits an all-time peak, telling the big man in blue, “I’ve tried to get past it. The BELOVED TRINITY of you and Diana and Batman. Then the LOYAL AND TRUE TRIO of Lantern, Flash and Cyborg, adored by the public. Then me. The Molwark on the outside.” For the record, I’m guessing “Molwark” is an Atlantean term for a non-purebred in their eyes, almost a racial slur if you will. Names aside, a vicious slugfest ensues between the two Justice League members and Aquaman’s seething rant continues with each punch thrown. “It’s damn easier to discredit ME. I’m the creepy fish guy nobody trusts!” exclaims Curry. There is so much emotion that surfaced in Aquaman’s words, certainly a compilation of years of snarky reader remarks and general public view of the most teased Justice League member.
Hopefully Abnett is able to stay with the title for a long time to come. If anything else, after years of subpar storylines prior to 2011, it is proof that more than one writer can breathe life into the Aquaman title. Not only that, but it also proves that he can be written in a way that FINALLY makes him a top tier superhero. With that being said, it is not only the comics that have helped bring Arthur Curry to that point. Say what you want about the film Batman v Superman, but I loved it, and was ecstatic to at last see Aquaman make his big screen debut.
Brief isn’t the word for it, but he made an appearance nonetheless. We will see much more of the Amnesty Bay native later this year in DC and Warner Bros.’ Justice League movie. In addition, Aquaman will have his own self-titled film next year with Geoff Johns providing the story, screenwriter Will Beall (Gangster Squad, Castle) penning the script and director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) behind the camera. Like Thor, the character of Aquaman can be easily botched in movie form. Thor succeeded tremendously in two solo films with a third on the way. Let’s hope Aquaman follows the same path to success.
Who was once a superhero that was joked about from a variety of aspects, the King of Atlantis has finally come into his own, thanks in part to some exceptional writing and solid story arcs. He is a man that has no home but is of two peoples, yet neither accept him as their own. He is usually at the back of the line in Justice League members but has taken down Batman and fought to a draw with Superman. He is the walk-softly-carry-a-big-stick type…or in this case, carry a big trident. His arch-nemesis, Black Manta, is as ruthless and hateful as they come, only adding to the depths of Aquaman’s history and personality. While once swimming along the goofy-named sidekick Aqualad, he now fights alongside his love interest, Mera. The character has been modernized and made into the strong, imposing personality that his series is due. Cheers to DC for never giving up on Arthur Curry and rescuing this character from the comic book depths of dilution. All hail the orange and green.