(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
Most comic-reading DC fans genuinely believe that Aquaman is cool. If they only really started reading Aquaman with the New 52, they probably credit Geoff Johns with making Arthur Curry a certified badass. If they read comics during the 90s, they probably know that Peter David had made Aquaman pretty damn awesome decades before Geoff had taken a crack at the character.
Now, before I move forward, there’s something I’d like to clarify. I’m well aware that most people will just read the headline of this post before writing it off, but, if you made it this far, this needs to be said: I’m an Aquaman fan. Seriously, he’s been one of my top five favorite heroes since the early 90s. I think he’s awesome. But, as the headline says, he will never be cool.
Why? Because the general public thinks he’s lame. In their eyes, there are very few superheroes who are actually “cool.” This list tends to be limited to Batman and Iron Man. Even Superman frequently gets crap for being a muscle bound boy scout who preaches moral lessons all the damn time. That’s not a version of Superman I’ve ever encountered in a serious comic book (I’m sure Man of Steel did a fair amount to change that perception, though my opinions on the film are best left… unsaid. At least for this article.).
The point being that movies and TV shows are usually how the general public get to see superheroes. There’s never been an Aquaman movie. As for TV, the Super Friends cartoon portrayed Aquaman as useless (and is the main source for a lot of the jokes I see about Aquaman these days).
Then of course there was the Justice League cartoon which was far more in line with Peter David’s 90’s badass Aquaman run, but the character only appeared in a handful of episodes. There was also Smallville’s live-action incarnation, which saw Arthur Curry as… well, he was pretty much a jock. Who hung out underwater. And showed up in the 9th season with a wife for no plot-relevant reason (I love Mera but, really, what the hell was the point of that episode? Or any Smallville episode after Rosenbaum left, for that matter?). Lastly, there’s Batman: The Brave & The Bold which paints Aquaman as kind of an idiot who sings a lot (I love him, but let’s be reasonable here).
Pop culture has continued to pass along the idea of Aquaman as a complete loser. I’ve seen “Aquaman sucks” jokes everywhere from Family Guy to Robot Chicken to The Big Bang Theory.
But I know what you’re thinking: “If Aquaman had a movie, people could see how cool he is!” As much as I’d love to see an Aquaman movie, that’s not going to happen any time soon. And, to answer your follow-up, he probably won’t get featured in the Justice League movie, if it ever happens, either. That’s mostly just because the movie won’t have more than five heroes on the team just to make the story easier to follow.
So, no, Aquaman will never be “cool.” Is the character great? You better believe it. Is he kind of a badass? Oh yeah. But will you always get crap for being an Aquaman fan? Even in a society where superheroes have somehow become a major part of the zeitgeist, you will always get crap for being an Aquaman fan.
The real shame of that is a lot of the criticism the character gets is almost completely unfounded. The biggest of these is the idea that Aquaman talks to fish. As the very first issue of Geoff Johns’ New 52 Aquaman run pointed out, fish aren’t actually intelligent enough to talk to. I mean, they’re fish. It’s not like they really understand language. Aquaman basically just uses telepathy (well, he’s more of an empath than a telepath but that’s neither here nor there) to “push” the fish in a certain direction. He can communicate with certain larger, more intelligent sea life to an extent (as fleshed out in Peter David’s run in the 90s) which generally leads to more comedy than you’d think (sharks, for example, are very forgetful and become completely useless in the presence of food). Plus, it kind of makes him a bad ass. After all, who’s going to mess with the guy who could literally make a shark bite someone in half?
Then, of course, there’s the “Aquaman is useless out of water” argument. Which is ridiculous. He’s half-human and he grew up in Maine. He’s got the best of both worlds. Sure, he’s more susceptible to dehydration than most people, and he’s a much stronger fighter in the water, but on land he’s still super-strong, super-fast, capable of leaping long distances, and practically bullet-proof. He’s like Golden Age Superman but he sticks to coastal cities (which, in case you didn’t know, accounts for most major cities in the world).
Perhaps my favorite element of Aquaman’s backstory is his costume. Which, due to its peas-and-carrots coloring, tends to get a lot of crap as well. It’s actually an Atlantean prison uniform. When Arthur first came to Atlantis, he was imprisoned. Depending on the continuity, this happened for various reasons (including that one time he was jailed for being blonde… presumably because the Atlanteans are a very studious people). But he wears it every day. Imagine for a second that the President of the United States had once gone to prison due to some ridiculously unjust laws and, after his release, he took office. But he never removed the orange jumpsuit. It’s poetic in a way. Aquaman wears his uniform as a reminder. It reminds him that he will never truly be an Atlantean, even though he is their king. And it reminds his people that what is legal is not always what is right.
Aquaman is a living dichotomy in many ways. On the one hand, he’s the guy who rides giant seahorses and has a villain named The Fisherman. On the other hand, he’s a bad ass warrior king who rules over 70% of the planet (only 10% of which we’ve actually explored… so it’s kind of like being the King of Space), who once lost a hand and replaced it with a harpoon because he was too busy to stop beating the crap out of bad guys. He’s the guy who declared war on Japan (and won) because they stole his favorite dolphin. Hell, he’s even married to a hot redhead from a different dimension.
Despite all of that, Aquaman will never be cool. That’s okay, though. After all, people have been making fun of Arthur Curry for decades. And all he’s done in response is become more and more awesome.