Recommendation — The Multi-Media Aquaman Defence Project

You may be wondering what sort of manifestos a Greatest Living Author writes in his free time. Well, how about a lengthy apology for a widely-misunderstood superhero?

To begin with, “apology” in this context, comes from the Latin “apologia“, itself the Latinised form of the Greek “ἀπολογία” and means something along the lines of “justification” or “speech in defence of.”

For example, both Plato and Xenophon have works called Apology, both of which are accounts of Socrates‘ speech in this own defence during his trial for, among other things, corrupting the youth of Athens.

Jacques-Louis David's "The Death of Socrates".
As might be gleaned from the fact this painting is called “The Death of Socrates”,
said speech was not particularly successful…

The Death of Socrates: Jacques-Louis David. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So, basically, “apology” used to mean exactly the opposite of what it means now…

But I bring this up because this post is meant to address one of the longest-standing misconceptions in Pop Culture.

Aquaman gets a bad rap.

See, people think Aquaman is lame because the Aquman they’re thinking of is usually Super Friends Aquaman.

No, Aquaman is not lame.

Yes, Super Friends Aquaman is lame. Super Friends everyone is lame. Don’t be too hard on them, though. It was the ’70s.

Regardless, thanks to Super Friends, Aquaman has gone down in pop culture as the useless dude who talks to fish while the cool superheroes do the real work.

Well, for a certain definition of “powers.”
From the entry on DC Database.

Which means that pretty much every single writer since has been doing their utmost to establish that no, Aquaman is not, in fact, lame. With varying degrees of success. Being the guy “who talks to fish” has proven to be something of a hurdle.

However, the good writers go beyond just the fish and take the fact that he’s basically king of the ocean to its logical conclusion to establish that Aquaman is a (Aqua)man not with which to be messed.

Being able to survive the crushing pressure of the depths of the ocean must mean he’s super-resilient. He’s the warrior-king of a warrior society. He controls the oceans on a planet that’s 70% ocean. And even if his only power is “talks to fish”, there are plenty of fish capable of ruining somebody’s day, not counting the fictional sea monsters that pop up from time to time.

Also, the Justice League cartoon gave him a grappling hook hand and a beard and. That was pretty cool.

Aquaman as depicted in the early 2000s "Justice League" cartoons.
Justice League: Warner Bros. Animation.
Image via DC Animated Universe Wiki.

As I mentioned in my recommendation for Shazam! (again, the exclamation point is part of the title…), despite the various shortcomings and stumblings of the DC live-action film universe and the mixed reception of the movie itself overall, Jason Momoa‘s performance as Aquaman is generally held as one of the high points of the live-action DC films.

Promotional art from the 2018 "Aquaman."
Aquaman: He’s cool now.
Aquaman: Warner Bros. Image via IMDB.

And, in fact, the live-action drew heavily from what I want to make the primary focus of this recommendation:

The title artwork from Aquaman Vol. 7 #15.
The Throne of Atlantis title artwork, from Aquaman Vol. 7 #15: DC Comics.
Image via DC Database.

Throne of Atlantis isn’t a standalone Aquaman story; it’s the third major story arc of the New 52-era Justice League series — it’s a Justice League story that focuses on Aquaman. The Atlantis storyline is primarily Aquaman’s concern and Aquaman is the central figure in the Atlantis storyline, but Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are the main characters of this version of the Justice League.

Incidentally, Throne of Atlantis can be read completely detached from the rest of the New 52 Justice League stories. In fact, it’s the only New 52 thing I’ve ever read.

In fact, the storyline actually starts with the Justice League fighting Cheetah, traditionally a Wonder Woman villain (and one of Wonder Woman’s major personal rivals) and Aquaman himself doesn’t appear at all until about ten pages in and doesn’t really do anything for about 30.

So, yeah, the actual Atlantis storyline takes a while to get going, but when it goes, man, does it go.

Throne of Atlantis also isn’t an origin story. Aquaman is both already a member of the Justice League and the King of Atlantis, whereas both the animated version of the story (more on that later) and the live-action Aquaman use the whole “Ocean Master usurps the throne, invades the surface” angle to kickstart Aquaman’s journey towards accepting his rightful place as King of Atlantis and encouraging him to join up with the Justice League.

It’s almost like recent DC writers have deliberately been going out of their way to overcome the whole “Aquaman is lame” thing by making Aquaman as badassful as possible. Notably, Throne of Atlantis-era Aquaman punches people (up to an including Superman) across the room.

See also, the Injustice video game series — especially Aquaman’s speech about the implications of controlling water on the planet that’s 70% water (technically, that’s in the comic, not the game).

Of course, the most meaningful aspect of this visible in Throne of Atlantis is Aquaman being the one guy with water powers fighting a bad guy with water powers.

Ocean Master‘s invasion of the surface literally is a Job for Aquaman

Ocean Master and Aquaman fighting on the cover art of "Aquaman Vol. 7 #15."
Aquaman Vol. 7 #15: DC Comics.
Image via DC Database.

The cover of the DVD of the animated adaptation of "Throne of Atlantis."
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis: Warner Brothers Animation.
Image via IMDB.

Clocking in at just(ice league) over an hour, the direct-to-video cartoon adaptation of Throne of Atlantis naturally has to abbreviate some of the source material: unlike the comic, this is Aquaman’s origin story; the rest of the League gets less focus than in the comics; various characters are either altered or excised entirely; Ocean Master gets less nuance and sympathetic qualities.

It’s not necessarily better or worse than the original comics and most of the changes make sense given the change in medium. Admittedly, it is one of the better direct-to-video DC movies I’ve watched and is definitely worth watching at least once.

The animation is pretty solid (not always true of the direct-to-video DC cartoons). There are some pretty big names — both in voice acting and live action acting — in the cast. Which is usually the case for the direct-to-video DC cartoons. They’ve caused a certain level of controversy among the fanbase for certain films by casting a big-name actor rather than the established voice actor for a character.

And while the Throne of Atlantis cartoon may seem like a cheap retread of the 2018 Aquaman movie actually predates the live-action movie and the comic storyline predates the entire DC Extended universe — the live action Aquaman was 2018, the Throne of Atlantis cartoon was 2015, Man of Steel was the summer of 2013, and the Throne of Atlantis comic storyline ended in early 2013.

That being said, the live action movie probably does have more in common with the cartoon than the comic — though by osmosis, at least, that does mean there’s an influence from the comic.

It’s an origin story. Aquaman is reluctantly coming into his own as both King of Atlantis and a superhero. That being said, the movie version of Ocean Master is more nuanced and sympathetic and more like the comic iteration than the cartoon iteration.

And, of course, again, Jason Momoa is awesome. Both as Aquaman and in general.

So, yeah, TL;DR: No, Aquaman is not lame.

Copyright 2023 J.B. Norman.
Based on a post originally written 2020.

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