Vintage version of Aquaman, drawn by Neal Adams (DC Comics)Link
Aquaman should be riding a big wave this year — this is the 70th anniversary of the deep-sea character and his own title was relaunched in September with superstar writer Geoff Johns at the helm — but I have a sinking feeling that we’re watching the King of the Seven Seas truly become the punch line persona of the DC Universe.
We have an exclusive preview of the second issue above (and you can find larger versions of the images below) and, just like the first issue, every page drips with humor and all of it is aimed at Aquaman and his considerable character heritage, be it the orange shirt, the power to talk to fish or the second-string super-hero status. Clearly, Aquaman has been defeated by his greatest foe: “Entourage.”
In comics through the decades, the personality of Aquaman has veered widely; for years the hero was cheerful, easygoing and, yes, bland, but then he was reinvented as a fierce, haunted loner who eyes the surface world with disdain. Shifts in tone are not unusual for a character with so much publication history (compare Dick Sprang’s Batman to the one Frank Miller uncorked, for instance) but along with major costume changes it made him elusive enough that many comics fans just shrug when they see him. The fans that do like him, meanwhile, are divided based on which version they consider seaworthy.
Beyond comics, “The Super Friends” and other vintage Saturday morning shows gave the hero his most traction in the public imagination and his status as a seahorse-riding second banana to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman became the signature impression. That led eventually to the memorable “Entourage” season-long gag about a James Cameron-directed Aquaman movie as well as pointed parodies such as Mermaidman on “SpongeBob SquarePants” and the feckless version of the hero himself as portrayed on “The Family Guy.” The new DC cartoon series “The Brave and the Bold” has even jumped in to the game by presenting a vain, buffoonish (and singing?) version of Aquaman that, really, has nothing to do with any previous portrayal. A failed live-action version of Aquaman from the makers of “Smallville” didn’t help the overall public perception that Aquaman was the clown fish in superhero circles.
The one place where Aquaman was taken seriously, though, was in the pages of DC Comics. Until now. The new series has promise, but it’s clear that it will be ironic and self-aware and serve up its protagonist with some tartar sauce on the side. And consider what Johns told Paul Furfari of UGO: “He is the biggest underdog superhero in comics right? Probably in fiction. If you say ‘Who’s the worst superhero?’ most people will probably say Aquaman. … I think he just has a stigma against him, so I wanted him to have to deal with that as much as the writers and artists do.”
The worst superhero? That’s a sad appraisal to start a seventh decade of swimming against the tide of public indifference. There’s one thing this hero can be thankful for: underwater, no one can see you cry.
– Geoff Boucher
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