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Thursday, February 02, 2017 

Since when wasn't Aquaman ever a serious character?

Leave it to the UK Guardian to take everything out of context about Arthur Curry, Aquaman of the DCU, in a so-called history piece, where they claim he "resurfaces" as a serious character, as though there was never a time in history when he was:
He talks to fish, lugs around a trident, has an octopus for a sidekick and gets weaker out of water: even if you’ve never read an Aquaman comic, you can still make a joke about him. Being the embodiment of everything risible and lame about superheroes, the piscine paladin has few defenders (“He once summoned a SHARKNADO, how’s about your dumbass actually reads a comic book?” one irate online comment reads) but Aquaman’s reputation has stuck to him like batter on haddock.
And Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner never ever did anything like talk to sea life? Yeah, tell us about it. Some of the Silver Age tales he appeared in were far better than they make them out to be, yet this is all they can say about the Sea King - that he's "silly". They don't even make clear that when he stayed out of water over an hour or so, or didn't douse himself, that's what made him weaker. Nor do they care that by the mid-70s, such weaknesses were being downplayed. They don't even care that Namor had similar weaknesses too when he stayed above water for more than a hour or so.

IMO, the only reason why Aquaman's "reputation" has ever "stuck" is because all involved wound up cowering in the face of ingrates who wouldn't give Arthur a chance as a story lead. But at the same time, I'm not sure how a character who enjoyed at least two volumes running for several years (the first one was during 1962-71) was supposedly a failure, as they imply. I suspect what they're alluding to is a bunch of early trollers on the showbiz scene who did everything they could to degrade Aquaman. It could be both young and old TV couch potatoes, or a bunch that was so negative about DC for being so "generic" as opposed to Marvel, they lambasted Curry just for the fun of it, and never had any intention of reading any DC books no matter how grisly they got in an attempt to ape Batman's visions. It didn't matter to them that during the Silver Age, there were times when Namor would communicate with fish and other sea creatures, they just wanted to lead a huge double standard, and all the while, evidently, nobody at DC ever thought to point out that Namor's seen plenty of stories where he went through ideas similar to Curry's depictions, and nobody complained.

The article only gets much worse with the following:
This is “the Aquaman problem”, as DC’s very own executive editor Dan Didio called it. “I have a running joke,” he once said. “In all my dinners with the talent at conventions, I get three or four writers who will lean into me and say, ‘I know how to fix Aquaman’. Everybody says that. It’s become a cause celebre.” Robot Chicken has made a whole series of skits detailing Aquaman’s failures, such as his impotence in the face of oil spills. On Family Guy, Aquaman fails to prevent a sexual assault because he refuses to leave the water, while a crossover cameo saw him saved by the Powerpuff Girls because: “My ability to talk with fish is of no help!” On South Park, Kanye West rages at being mistaken for Aquaman, while on Entourage, awful actor Vince is desperate to play him (“Aquaman 2 is going to make Speed 2 look like Citizen Kane”).
Despite his statement later down the line that Aquaman's interesting, it doesn't it sound to me like the dummy who wrote this insulting farrago has any criticism to raise over how some brainless baboons in Hollywood took it all from worse to hopeless by putting down Aquaman at every turn. The Family Guy cartoon is one of the most unappealing attempts to mimic the Simpsons, which I later found increasingly alienating after it's first decade in broadcast, and their putdown is easily the lowest, crudest, sickest of them all.
Originally depicted taking on Nazis in submarines and pirates at sea in the 40s and 50s, Hanna-Barbera’s TV cartoon Super Friends cemented Aquaman’s reputation as a joke in the 70s. Seen as pathetically wholesome, a sort of Ned Flanders who rode dolphins like jetskis, it didn’t matter how seriously he was treated by DC. Now, more than 70 years since the character first appeared on the page, ribbing Aquaman has become more popular than reading him.
Oh right, judge everything by a TV cartoon that obviously differs from most of the source material renditions considerably. What about Superman and the Silver Age Flash? Weren't they also depicted as wholesome? More to the point, what's wrong with that? Many fictional star characters are created to serve as examples real people can't expect to emulate, but simply try. If it's "popular" to rib Aquaman, they're not doing enough to improve upon that, seeing how they distort history, not looking at any of the upsides, or dismissing them as seemingly nothing. This is evident from their otherwise disinterested reference to the Sea King's early stories where he fought against fascists in WW2. It's just like a paper as revolting as the Guardian is to pull something as reprehensible as that.
Which is a shame, because he’s actually an interesting character. Like so many superheroes in the DC universe, Aquaman has undergone a process of transformation in comics. These days, in DC’s Rebirth series, Aquaman is a head of a foreign power – Atlantis – that is busily unsettling America as a new military force, with an embassy uncomfortably close to Massachusetts coast. As an individual, Aquaman has a charmingly domestic relationship with his fiancee, Mera and an amusing self-awareness that, no matter what he might do, a lot of people just think he talks to fish.
Yes, he's an interesting character, but that's if he's written well, which, in fact, he was by writers up to the late 90s who did have a better grip on him than those who came after the turn of the century. He even had more talented artists like Nick Cardy, who did a wonderful job with Mera's character design. And since when didn't he undergo transformation in the early decades? That he got married to otherworldly Mera was something new, wasn't it?

On the other hand, there was the time in the 1990s when, courtesy of dreadful editor Kevin Dooley, Arthur's hand was gnawed off by piranhas after one of his adversaries led to a situation where they turned on him, and he had to get it replaced by some kind of prosthetic. That was one more recent incident that was decidedly too much, just like the time when 90s Green Lantern Kyle Rayner's girlfriend Alex deWitt was murdered and stuffed in a fridge by Major Force.
“Aquaman has never been as spectacularly famous as Batman or Superman, but he deserves to be,” says Rebirth writer Dan Abnett, who has written the character several times for DC over the last 20 years. “He really carries a stigma. He is a pop culture joke, the epitome of the silly superhero. I quite enjoyed the idea of writing a character who is incredibly proficient but hugely misunderstood, as both a nemesis of the deep and a superhero who isn’t quite up to scratch.”

Despite the jokes, Aquaman attracts writers, Abnett says, because he is not as famous as his Justice League colleagues: there is a certain flexibility left in his character that does not remain with Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman. “He’s well known but he’s not iconic, which is appealing [from] a writer’s point of view. You can do things with him because he’s not cemented in the public’s minds. And any writer who takes on an old character these days inherits a legacy – so if you write Batman today, you are as aware of Christian Bale’s Batman as you are of Adam West’s.”
Oh please, that's not why I would want to write Aquaman. It's because of if I had the confidence and belief that I could write a story that's entertaining and absorbing, not whether a certain character is famous or iconic. Besides, didn't Greg Rucka once do something with Wonder Woman? Something very degrading, in fact - he stuck her in a story where Maxwell Lord, suddenly a sick villain out of nowhere, mind-controls Superman and she has to break Max's neck to get Superman out of it, and what happens next? The Man of Steel condemns her for saving Supes from getting blood on his hands. Predictably, they have nothing to say about that.

At least Abnett's right about one thing - Aquaman deserves to be as popular as the leading trio in the DCU, but that's if the editors and writers allow for storytelling that's based on the reader's ability to judge the finished product on its own merits.
But while Batman eventually got to brooding Christian Bale, Aquaman has been perennially stuck in the Adam West mould. Various attempts to explain why Aquaman exists at all have fallen between the mundane and the ridiculous. He’s the son of a mermaid. He’s the son of a wizard. He’s a premature baby who had a freak accident. But DC has gone back to the drawing board in Rebirth, reducing all focus on where he came from and instead asking, as Abnett does: “What would a man do if he could influence everything under the water and wasn’t just chatting to turbot? How would the world react?”
Now they're getting even more hilarious with their superficial coverage. What about the time in the late 1970s when Black Manta, who became a variation on the Black Panthers gang by then, murdered his son in the Adventure Comics anthology? And now that I think of it, are they suggesting even the slightest sense of humor is inherently bad for the Sea King? That's what this farrago is beginning to suggest. Also, wasn't prince Namor the son of a mermaid? Again, the blatancy of the UK Guardian's writers knows no bounds. In fact, neither does Abnett himself:
Instead of treating him like their beloved Superman, the White House in Rebirth views Aquaman as the face of a despised, pariah state. Atlantis’s sudden visibility sees TV pundits fretting over its scaly citizens just as they would over other alarmingly “foreign” states. “As an individual, he is extremely potent. He is biologically designed to withstand huge amounts of pressure, which makes him very agile and strong,” Abnett says. “But his superpowers are incidental to his responsibilities of governing a country, and that country is not necessarily on America’s side.”

One element of DC’s latest incarnation that helps his credibility is how politically prescient his latest storyline has become; with its take on a panicked US administration and how it treats alien neighbours, Abnett says DC joked about calling it The Wet Wing. “More than once, I went back and looked at a script I’d written two months before and tweaked things slightly because it really looks like I am being overtly critical, when I had not intended to be,” he says. “Even though I was dealing with a fictional America, I wanted their reaction to Atlantis to be something like what the real America’s reaction would be to a hostile state.”
Gee, this is what their storytelling's come down to? Oh wait, of course, and it's been like that for over a decade. If Abnett's trying to make Atlantis into a metaphor for Russia, that's ludicrous (and if he's making it a stand-in for Iran, that's horrific). The premise certainly does sound like it was planned for whether Trump would be elected to office.

The reason Aquaman's never risen above tide of popularity determination is because consecutive writers have been making the same mistake made with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four: they're always trying to "fix" what doesn't need to be, in desperate attempts to make Arthur Curry more than just the cypher they perceive him as, and worse, they keep drowning out the impact that could've been with political metaphors. It's their failure to look at their marketing approach - excluded to monthly pamphlets that're all but relegated to specialty stores - that keeps 3rd tier heroes like Aquaman way below the waves of recognition along with the colorful supporting cast he had in the Silver Age, and which, save for Mera, they don't even say anything about. Aquaman will never become a true success as a comic book figure if they keep this up, and the Guardian's only compounding the damage.

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