The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
DC Comics deep sixes Aquaman

July 19, 2001
By Franklin Harris

One of the world's most recognizable superheroes is sleeping with the fishes — at least for now.

He survived the Legion of Doom and no fewer than three cancellations, but Aquaman couldn't survive DC Comics' latest summer crossover event.

The seagoing superhero met his end in "JLA: Our Worlds At War," a one-shot comic that pits Superman and the rest of the Justice League of America against an extraterrestrial invasion force led by some guy named Imperiax.

(I gather that Imperiax has caused trouble for the Man of Steel before, but I can't be sure. I gave up on trying to follow Superman's adventures long ago, back when DC's Powers That Be linked all of the Superman titles, so that you have to buy four books a month just to follow one story.)

Aquaman talks to his fishy friends.
Aquaman talks to his fishy friends.
Despite being well known, Aquaman has never really been popular.

He first appeared in "More Fun Comics" No. 73 way back in 1941. Even then he was a second stringer. He starred in back-up strips in other characters' books. Meanwhile, over at Timely Comics (now Marvel Comics), the Sub-Mariner, who beat Aquaman out of the gate by two years, supported his own title and co-starred in several others.

Aquaman kept mostly to himself, confined to deep-sea adventures, until the '60s, when DC teamed him with Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter to form the first Justice League.

This led to his finally getting his own series. It lasted a few years before DC put it on a six-year hiatus. Then DC brought it back in 1977 and quickly cancelled it outright.

Still, DC gave Aquaman every chance. Aquaman had his own short-lived cartoon series (paired with Superman) in the '60s, and when "Superfriends" hit the airwaves in 1973, he was a charter member.

Unfortunately, he was also the butt of all the jokes.

While Superman could move planets with his bare hands and Batman and Robin had all their cool gadgets, all Aquaman ever did was talk to fish. He couldn't even get to the scene of a crime without bumming a ride in Wonder Woman's invisible jet.

Even Cartoon Network, which re-runs "Superfriends" on its sister station, Boomerang, can't resist taking shots at him.

In Cartoon Network's parody, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are prisoners of the Legion of Doom. As the two descend into a bubbling caldron, Aquaman says, "My ability to talk with fish is of no help, Wonder Woman!"

Wonder Woman just rolls her eyes.

After two mini-series in the '80s, another ongoing "Aquaman" series came and went during the early '90s. It lasted a grand total of 13 issues.

Then in 1994, Aquaman finally started to get some respect, thanks to writer Peter David, who proved he knows how to make something of loser superheroes during his long "Incredible Hulk" stint.

With David charting his course, Aquaman went through some tough times.

Prompted by a supervillain, some ill-tempered piranha ate off one of Aquaman's hands.

It could have been just another humiliation for the Sea King, but this one turned out to be character building.

Aquaman decided enough was enough. He adopted a new tough-guy attitude — symbolized by the harpoon he began wearing where his hand had been — and set out bringing order to his undersea kingdom.

To complete his royal look, he also grew a beard and let his hair grow out, which may have slowed his swimming but succeeded in making him look Arthurian.

By issue No. 50, editorial interference had forced David off the book, but by then "Aquaman" had lasted nearly five years, which was about four years longer than anyone would have guessed. And even without David at the helm, the title struggled on for another 25 issues, succumbing with No. 75 just a few months ago.

But now he's dead — vaporized by extraterrestrials as he tried to defend Atlantis from invasion.

Of course, nobody thinks DC will be long without an Aquaman. If Green Arrow can return from the grave, Aquaman certainly can.

And even if Aquaman really has joined DC's permanently deceased, like Barry Allen's Flash, a successor probably waits in the wings. It could be Tempest, who used to go by the name Aqualad back when he was Aquaman's sidekick. Or it could be someone totally new.

As for the old Aquaman, farewell, old friend. It's too bad you could never catch a break, even if you could catch fish.

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