There are few DC characters as misunderstood as Arthur Curry. Sure, folks sometimes hate on Batman’s lack of superpowers, but that’s nothing compared to how often someone throws shade at Aquaman. That misunderstanding stems from a couple of things. The first is that somewhere along the line (Super Friends. It was definitely Super Friends), Aquaman got labeled as the silly superhero, the one to never take seriously. For some reason, that has evolved into a stereotype never that’s never really died. The second is the fact that the hero’s been around for so long and has so many different origins that no one’s really sure what’s canon in any given story arc. The guy’s name isn’t even Arthur Curry all the time. Hell, sometimes it’s not even Arthur!
Aquaman’s Past Has Been A Little Goofy
Before we dive into the multiple origin stories issue, let’s talk about Aquaman being viewed as that goofy or otherwise lame character. As I mentioned above, back in the ’70s there was a little Saturday morning cartoon called Super Friends. That show featured members of the Justice League doing what they do. Saving people, high fiving and just generally being depicted as happy-go-lucky superheroes. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that all the other characters have evolved out of the lighter, cheesy tone that came with their past depictions. Aquaman? Not so much.
Other characters have had the benefit of film and television that have helped the average viewer see them mature past their older portrayals, but not Aquaman. Yet, he has as rich a comic book history as his other DC counterparts, if not richer. The silly stereotypes surrounding the hero are so prevalent in the fandom that DC went so far as to poke fun at them in The New 52’s Aquaman #1, putting Arthur in a café with a couple of bros who think they know a thing or two about being the King of Atlantis. Aquaman calmly points out that he doesn’t speak to fish (their brains are too small), eating them isn’t cannibalism (because he is not a fish), and proceeds to tip his waitress with a piece of Atlantian gold. That’s enough to put her kid through college, for those who don’t know the current exchange rate.
So, yeah, jokes about Aquaman are fun and all, but let’s not forget that the guy’s practically a god. He might have had a couple of goofy runs in the past, but what superhero hasn’t had an incredibly cheesy story in their past? That was then and this is now. And the “now” Arthur Curry can literally throw the ocean at someone who rubs him the wrong way. Which takes us to the King of the Ocean’s other problem: so many origins, so little time.
But Seriously, What IS Aquaman’s Origin Story?
Let’s start at the beginning. The origin of origins. The age was golden, the comics were cheap, and basically, every superhero around was punching Hitler (or at least a bunch of Nazis). Introduced in 1941, the original Aquaman wasn’t born of the ocean at all. His father was an ocean explorer, and his mother died in childbirth. Good ol’ dad found what he believed was Atlantis and built a house for him and his boy. Obsessed with Atlantian culture, Aquaman’s father spent much of his time poring over their texts. Those texts would be what helped him teach his son how to survive underwater, and to use the ocean to give himself magnificent powers. He would then use those powers to battle Nazis, other members of the Axis, and anyone else who put his world at risk.
Along with his deeply different origin, Golden Age Aquaman’s powers were also quite different. He could still control the water and communicate with his oceanic friends, but only for about sixty seconds at a time and in close range. Like a lot of stories back in the forties, Aquaman’s original origin story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Then again, we’re willing to accept him as King of Atlantis. Guess everything’s a little silly when you strip it down to its bare bones.
Aquaman’s Best-Known Origin Story Came In The Silver Age
The Silver Age came next, and with it, Aquaman’s more popular origin story. In it, his name became Arthur Curry, and his parentage changed considerably. His mother didn’t die in childbirth but was Atlanna, daughter of the city of Atlantis and an outcast. In a similar change, his father wasn’t a scientist, but a lighthouse keeper who found Atlanna on the shore after a hurricane nearly killed her. Though she loved her husband, Atlanna kept her aquatic life a secret until she was on her deathbed. Arthur was only a child at the time of her death, but he quickly started discovering the powers that came with his lineage.
These powers vary slightly from Golden Age Aquaman, but not by much. Really, it’s the same power set with fewer limitations. As Arthur grew, he took the responsibility of protecting the ocean into his own hands, much to the chagrin of his bitter half-brother. That’s right, Aquaman has a brother. After Atlanna’s death, Tom Curry remarried and had a second son, Orm. Arthur loved his brother, but Orm always felt neglected and in Arthur’s shadow, convinced their father would never love him the way he loved his firstborn. A very Thor-Loki situation, if you will. Eventually, Orm lost his memory and became one of Aquaman’s greatest foes: Ocean Master. He’s basically a high-tech pirate…but we’re here to talk about Arthur.
The Modern Age Updated His Story Once Again
Aquaman would get a couple additional retellings in what was known as the Modern Age. Crisis on Infinite Earths would broaden both Arthur’s story as well as Orm’s, deepening his power set and making Orm a sorcerer for…reasons? Seriously, we really must get him and Loki together to work through their sibling issues. Later would come The Legend of Aquaman, which would change Arthur’s name to Orin, make Atlanna a queen rather than an outcast, and change his father to a wizard named Atlan. See how people might have difficulty following just what the heck is going on with this guy’s backstory? We might have had to watch Martha Wayne’s pearls bounce off the concrete ten too many times in just as many Batman stories, but at least they’re consistent!
Though there would be many more stories after in the Modern Age, there were thankfully no additional revamps to Aquaman’s origins. When the New 52 run hit comic book shelves in 2011, Arthur’s origins were reverted back to half human, half Atlantian, and (most of) the Silver Age story returned to canon just as Poseidon intended. Yes, DC has rebooted its comics once again since, but Rebirth’s focus is more on relationships and less on a complete retooling of origin stories and power sets, so Aquaman’s backstory is, for now, as set as anything can be in comic books.
All of this is to say that, yes, Aquaman might have been a little goofy back in the day. Luckily, the current DC films have managed to lean away from the goofy and into the happy-go-lucky aspect while still making him formidable. But, goofy or not, it’s probably best not to forget that that surfer bro with the tribal tats can throw a shark at you. Or a submarine. Or the freaking ocean. There have been and will be weirder story arcs in comic books, and Arthur Curry’s story is pretty interesting if you give it a shot. Then, if you don’t like the one you pick up first, switch it up to one of the four others. Crisis on Infinite Origin Stories might be difficult to follow, but at least there’s something there for everyone!
Aquaman is in theaters on December 21st. You can buy advance tickets here.
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