Sunday, September 5, 2010
Why Aquaman is actually pretty cool
Yes, yes, we've all heard the jokes about how Aquaman is a useless character whose only ability is that he talks to fish. Comedians from The State to Dave Chapelle have made that observation. Even "Family Guy" spent about three minutes on Aquaman asking a fish to get him a beer. Sure, I laughed too, but where did all this Aquaman abuse stem from?
In the 1940's and 1950's, Aquaman was a solid backup feature in comics like More Fun and Adventure and World's Finest. Every issue, there was Aquaman, using his unique superpowers to rescue ships at sea and battle modern pirates and alien invaders. He was to the Coast Guard what Batman was to the Police Department. Aquaman's powers are limited to his ability to "talk to fish". They include:
1. The ability to breathe underwater. When Aquaman was created, reliable scuba gear was still in the future. The very idea of being able to breathe and move about underwater without cumbersome equipment was the stuff of dreams.
2. The ability to command every living creature in the seas. Far from just talking to fish, Aquaman can telepathically tell them to do anything, and they obey without question. That's not small potatoes. When was the last time Superman commanded a pod of whales to carry a sinking ship to port?? (Okay, not that he'd have to. He could just fly the ship there himself, but you get the idea).
3. Superhuman strength. Aquaman is far stronger than a normal man. His muscles are able to withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean depths and his legs can propel him through the water at a superhuman pace. Not even Michael Phelps could out swim a dolphin.
So how did Aquaman become the butt of so many jokes? It all starts with the Justice League of America. In 1959, DC decided to revive the cross-title super team concept they had invented in the 1940's with their Justice Society of America. The idea of a "Society" seemed stuffy and old-fashioned by the late 50's, so the new team was called the Justice League, which sounded vaguely athletic. The roster of the new team included DC's big guns, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman had been part of the old JSA, too- she served as the team's secretary :P )but also featured some of DC's newcomers, the new Flash and Green Lantern and stalwart backup stars Martian Manhunter and Aquaman.
Although the newly formed JLA made Aquaman even more recognizable, it began to hurt his standing. Here's how: You have a super-hero team featuring seven superheroes. The writer has to write an adventure in which each of these heroes plays a role. One of your team's members can only live out of water for an hour. No writer could come up with a plot every single month that called for some reason why someone would need to take care of a menace in the ocean. Basically, because he's more of a specialist superhero, Aquaman was left standing around with very little to do in a lot of JLA stories.
Still, Aquaman was a pretty cool character and readers recognized that. He got his own solo comic at last and in 1967, he got his own animated TV show.
Well, technically he shared a TV show with reruns of last year's Superman cartoons, but his name was in the title. Aquaman was becoming a household name. Then, The Super-Friends happened.
On the Super-Friends, Aquaman was back to standing around doing very little. Sure,the ocean was a hot topic in the environmentally-conscious 1970's, and the A-man got some screen time in the earliest episodes (which were usually about pollution and/or misguided scientists trying to fix the world by force) but as the show went on, Aquaman was usually on monitor duty or babysitting Wendy and Marvin or the Wonder Twins.
Maybe even more bizarre, was the Super-friends' writers' tendency to pair Aquaman up with Wonder Woman. "What's that? He can't breathe out of water for more than an hour? Well, he should be perfectly fine riding shotgun in the Invisible Jet." In at least one episode, the Super-Friends get a Troubalert that there is an alien menace under the sea. So, of course, they send Batman and Robin in the Bat-sub while Aquaman stands around twiddling his thumbs. *sigh*
I guess my point, if I must have one is that there is nothing fundamentally uncool about Aquaman conceptually. It just takes a talented writer to see his full potential.