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Aquaman is turning 80 years old and still doesn't get the respect he deserves
Later this summer, DC Comics will be celebrating Aquaman's 80th birthday with an 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular. The one-shot goes on sale Aug. 31 and will mark the character’s very first appearance way back in November 1941 in More Fun Comics #73.
It’s the same type of all-star anniversary anthology DC has gotten really good at in recent years, as so many of its characters celebrate milestones. I’m especially happy to hear that there are a bunch of cool variant covers accompanying the issue. Some of the artists doing covers representing various decades in Aquaman’s history include Walt Simonson, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Becky Cloonan, and the legendary Ramona Fradon.
So yes, it’s a very cool book that I’ll happily read. But I find it stunning that Aquaman, a character that has been almost continuously in print for eight decades, who’s not only got a movie sequel coming but an HBO Max animated show in the works, does not have a current ongoing series. Forget the anniversary special — how about giving Aquaman his own series?
This is all indicative of the same lack of respect the character has always had to deal with.
A few years ago, as I was in the process of writing my first book, The Art and Making of Aquaman, I was a bit stuck on how to begin the book. Arthur Curry, after all, had 75-plus years of history at that point, not all of it making much sense. After a few days of panic where I just stared blankly at my laptop screen, it hit me that explaining Aquaman’s long-storied comics history was the way to go.
My editor thought it made all the sense in the world. So I wrote about 2,000 words for the intro chapter. Only problem is, we hadn’t gotten the OK from Warner Bros., the owner of the license, to do that chapter. And they turned it down. Someone at the studio didn’t think people who would go see James Wan’s Aquaman movie would have any interest in reading about the character’s comic book origins.
I know. I was gobsmacked, too. How, I argued, can someone write about the film adaptation of a comic book character while ignoring those same comic book roots? But part of the gig when you do licensed projects is following the directives of the licensor. So I moved on, did all the interviews, wrote the rest of the book, blah blah.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the printer.
After I had turned in the second draft with revisions — when the author’s work is essentially done save for proofreading — I received a call from my editor who told me that WB had changed its mind and now wanted to include the character’s comic book history. Thankfully, my editor saves all his emails, so he took out his phone, dug up an email from me, forwarded it to the studio contact, and he said, “Is 2000 words OK?”
That’s a long-winded way of illustrating the lack of respect Arthur Curry has dealt with for all of his 80 years, and not just from fans who only knew him from the Super Friends cartoon. Not even the movie studio that was readying his eventual billion-dollar movie, part of the same corporate machine that owns DC Comics, thought enough of his comic book history to think it warranted inclusion in a book about Aquaman.
Of course, that movie did raise Aquaman’s profile quite a bit and helped erase much of the stigma from his Super Friends portrayal. However, true fans know that Aquaman has always been a compelling figure in the comics. During the 1960s, he was drawn by some of the greatest artists of the Silver Age: Ramona Fradon and Nick Cardy. Cardy’s Aquaman covers were so good, art collectors almost never part with them.
In the 1970s, Jim Aparo redefined the look of Arthur Curry and his supporting cast, and along with writers like Paul Levitz and David Michelinie, put out some incredibly intense and dark stories. Aquaman’s lone tenure as leader of the JLA during the Justice League of Detroit era holds up a lot better than you might remember. The various short-lived series through the end of the 20th century all made strong contributions to the Aqua-mythos, whether they’ve been retconned away or not.
Moving ahead to the 21st century, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis’ revamp of Aquaman was, outside of the Snyder-Capullo Batman run, the best book of the New 52 era. I didn’t think I’d read an Aquaman story as good as that one in my lifetime, and then Kelly Sue DeConnick came along and reinvigorated one of the great romances in the DC Universe. Together with artists Robson Rocha and Miguel Mendonca, DeConnick reminded everyone not just how good and hopeful a character Arthur Curry is; she also showed how great Mer is. She did all that while also making fundamental changes to the Aquaman mythos — namely, doing away with the Atlantean Monarchy. Aquaman #65 marked the end of her run, and the finale to the eighth Aquaman series.
That bugs me.
Aquaman is a foundational figure in the DCU. He’s a founding member of the Justice League, and a damn king. I have zero doubt that a number of talented writers and artists could have all sorts of ideas for reviving Aquaman as an ongoing book. They may choose to ignore how she changed his mythology, but if they didn’t, DeConnick left the character in great shape for a jump-off point.
Bottom line: A regular title is what Aquaman deserves as an 80th birthday present, not just an anthology one-shot.
C’mon, DC. Make this right.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.