The Aquaman Predicament: A Geek's Solution

Poor Aquaman.  Despite being one of the few superheroes who were published continuously through the Golden & Silver Ages, he's often dismissed as "swims fast, talks to fish" (and yet, no one ever dismisses Flash as "runs fast", or Green Arrow as "shoots arrows").  He's remembered more for his portrayal on the Super Friends over 30 years ago, than for the decades of stories before or since.

And now, Geoff Johns has announced he's relaunching the character with a new series, post-Flashpoint.  And before he reveals his take, I thought I'd take a shot at my version.  Why?  Because I'm a geek, that's why. :)

The Hero

Various authors (most famously, Peter David in 1994) have attempted to break Aquaman free of his TV-derived image by making the character darker, and more "cool". But here's the thing:

Aquaman doesn't NEED to be cool.

He needs to be FUN.

At his heart, Aquaman is an oceanic adventurer, exploring one of the last great frontiers.  In my opinion, he needs to get back to that.  I see him as someone who has been through a tremendously transformative experience, and has rethought his priorities.  He wants to live life, and not just swim from day to day.

So what does he do?  He sets things up so Atlantis can take care of itself, and that his friends on the surface can get the aid they need (see below), packs his trident, and goes exploring with his wife.  And our story begins.

(As a side note, while I enjoy his Batman: The Brave and the Bold portrayal, I think it best to turn it down a few notches.  Aquaman needs to be taken seriously, even if he's not particularly solemn)

The Costume

As much as we'd like to think otherwise, appearances matter in comics, and a costume design can make (or break) a book. And while Aquaman has tried other looks in the past, he always goes back to the orange & green.

So let's think about this. He's part of an undersea culture. They wouldn't bother with loose, flowing garments (except, perhaps, for artistic reasons), and if they bothered to wear clothes at all, it would be for protection from the elements and predators.

So what if the shirt wasn't orange cloth... but a form of armor, specifically the ancient alloy orichalcum (believed to be a combination of gold &; copper). It's a very fine mesh, not only to save weight, but to protect against punctures. Orin also has the "Sword of Atlantis" armor, for ceremonial occasions (the plates are actually a variety of abalone, not metal).

I also see nothing wrong with the traditional short hair and cleanshaven look. Long hair simply gets in the way, underwater, and he doesn't need to look like Conan anymore.

Certainly, the outfit can be tweaked a bit.  Over at Project Rooftop, there was a recent Aquaman redesign contest, and there are a few nice outfits among the winners.  I particularly like these:

But those are really just minor details.

The Powers

Superpowers are the joy and the bane of any comicbook character. A sizeable portion of the fandom is less interested in messy details like plot & characterization, so long as the character kicks tail regularly. And Aquaman, in all his incarnations, has had a tougher time than most.

The way I figure it, all Atlanteans are capable of breathing underwater (but not in air) and projective telepathy (i.e. they can send thoughts, but not read them). It's a necessity for an aquatic species. Furthermore, because of the whole "ocean depths" thing, they are all stronger, faster, and have better night vision than surface dwellers.  Some have learned to use their ability to "call" animals, but it requires a bit of effort, especially with larger creatures.

Orin, as Atlan's son, is stronger than the average Atlantean, allowing him to not only summon them, but even influence them. As king, he wields the trident of Poseidon, a mystical artifact which allows him to tap into the Clear (a subset of the field Animal Man uses) allowing true communication with (and dominion over) all that live in the ocean. He's also physically stronger, and purely amphibous.

For the stories I would want to tell, that's really all he needs.  He doesn't need the water hand (while it was an intriguing idea, and I liked the Arthurian mythology, it was never strongly defined, and ended up a deus ex manus), and he certainly doesn't need a harpoon.  Oh, I could see him using the "sword" from the Busiek/Williams era, but not as a usual thing.

The Setting

Aquaman, for much of his history, has been intimately linked with Atlantis (aka Poseidonis, but that's a minor issue). While various writers have tried more modern settings (New Venice, Sub Diego) they never seem to last long.

So if we want to use Aquaman, we have to address the setting. First, though, we have to throw away some misconceptions.

1. There's NOTHING WRONG with limiting our stories to underwater, any more than limiting Batman to Gotham City or Blue Beetle to El Paso. Those settings work because they are not merely backdrops. The cities have a character all to themselves. The same can be done to Atlantis.

2. A city doesn't have to be modern to be interesting. While there may be a criminal element, it won't be the Mafia, and we won't need stories about drug dealers or street gangs. Especially without streets.

Another problem with Atlantis is the aforementioned instability. If it's not being destroyed from without, it's suffering coups d'etat. While I can certainly empathize with a desire for drama, things can be made much more interesting if you toss in some Byzantine politics.

But how can you do  adventure stories while having Orin deal with court intrigue?  At first, I thought of having Aquaman stay on the throne and have someone else have the adventures, but I recently had a much better idea.

Why not turn Atlantis into a federal constitutional monarchy?  In that form of government, the king is the head of state with specific powers (such as commander-in-chief of the military), but actual governing is handled by a parliament (the Chamber of Speakers) and the First Speaker/Prime Minister (probably Vulko, unless he's still a ghost).

There's still plenty of room for intrigue, as the Chamber can have a subset composed of noble houses from all over the ocean, some loyal to the house of Atlan, some not so.  Amusingly, perhaps the best model for what I'm thinking of would actually be the "Landsraad", from Frank Herbert's Dune.

As for Atlantis itself, I think making things too magical can turn people off.  But the idea that they've invented/rediscovered organic technology has potential, so long as it isn't the veiny bulbous tech we've seen so many times before.  I'd like to see biotech with an art noveau flair, sort of a cross between Rivendell and Davies-era Doctor Who

Of course, the ocean is HUGE. While Vulko deals with court intrigue, Orin & Mera can be having all sorts of underwater adventures. Most of the cities that have already been named (Poseidonis, Tritonis, Thierna Na Oge, Basilia, Shayeris) are all in the Atlantic. Who's to say that deep in the Pacific, where the pressures warp life into strange forms, there isn't another culture? An older one? Maybe even an Elder one?

The Supporting Cast

Aquaman has always had supporting cast members, but some writers have had difficulty finding things for them all to do. Here are a few thoughts.

Mera: I see her and Orin as having a "Scott Free & Big Barda" relationship. Aquaman, due to his powers and nature, tends to approach challenges more thoughtfully, while Mera prefers the direct approach. Not that Aquaman isn't capable of slugging it out himself, but more that with Mera, that's often plan A.

Vulko: If he's not still dead, I see him as playing the political role. If he is, we'd need to find someone else to play that part (Garth would have been choice, but he's dead too. Perhaps Nuada Silverarm?)

Lorena & Kaldur’ahm: While they can certainly join with the couple on occasion, I see them as representing Atlantis on the surface, both as goodwill ambassadors and heroes (probably Titans). It amuses me to give them a more adversarial "Hepburn & Tracy" relationship.

There's plenty of room for new characters, both in Atlantis and elsewhere in the ocean. For example:
  • The House of Danu, a Celtic-derived undersea realm that wants to return to a more mystical society.
  • Chang Lung, the dragon protector of China.
  • The TRUE Dweller in the Depths.
You get the idea.  Two characters I refuse to use are Manta & Ocean Master. Overused, the both of them.

The Wrap-Up

The key to Aquaman's success, in my opinion, is that he has to move FORWARD.  The more stories re-writing his origin, or revisiting old foes, the less likely he is to succeed.  But that's my approach... let's see how Johns does it.

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