This week marks a pinnacle for Aquaman, who after spending years as a misunderstood superhero, is breaking out with his own DC Comics movie. For the on-and-off King of Atlantis, it’s been a slow climb towards relevance and purpose in the DC Universe.
Created in 1941, Aquaman has gone through several iterations, but Arthur Curry — the love child of lighthouse worker Tom Curry and Atlantis outcast Atlanna — has become the most popular version. In many of Aquaman’s origin stories, including the upcoming movie, Arthur uncovers his superhuman abilities at a young age as he struggles to find his place in the world. A formidable hero, Aquaman has super-strength, the ability to survive underwater, tremendous swimming prowess, almost unbreakable skin, and the ability to control sea life.
Despite going head to head with some of DC’s best, including Superman and Wonder Woman, Aquaman hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves until somewhat recently. In addition to his debut in the DCEU, DC heavy hitters including Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder have given the character a new life in recent years as Aquaman has tackled monsters from the Trench, challenged his brother Orm for the throne, and dealt with a Drowned Earth (DC’s newest crossover event.)
To get you caught up on how cool Aquaman really is, we’ve assembled several awesome adventures and story arcs from the comics that show off his best moments.
Aquaman: The Trench
Starting with a #0 issue expertly retreading the origin of Arthur Curry as Aquaman, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis delivered the modern-day Aquaman in late 2011. From the very first pages of "The Trench" arc, Aquaman’s revamped status in the DC Universe is on display.
As heckles fly from an escaping band of robbers, Aquaman flexes his muscles, gutting the getaway armored car and facing down a barrage of bullets. Johns’ lighthearted take on the character — a responding police officer asking the superhero if he needs a glass of water or Arthur’s ill-advised trip into a seafood restaurant for lunch — is a fun way to tackle the character’s mythos while outlining the new rules. Up until recently Aquaman was seen a joke character who just talked to fish and rode the occasional dolphin.
The New 52 reboot was a cornerstone in updating Aquaman for a new generation and paving the way for someone like Jason Momoa taking on the role in the DCEU. In this book you’ll find the humor, imaginative world building and incredible design that Aquaman director James Wan used for inspiration in making the movie.
Justice League (2012)
With the New 52 reboot, Geoff Johns also took on the Justice League on a ride across the DC Universe as the team faced off against everyone from Darkseid to Cheetah and even King Orm. Johns, along with artists Jim Lee and later Ivan Reis, ran the book as a slick take on the origin of the League, with big villains and bigger fights, all while examining the relationship dynamics between the most powerful superhumans on Earth.
Johns’ take on Arthur Curry shined in a way that had been lacking through the years, giving the aquatic superhero even more confidence and a devil-may-care attitude. It’s something that rears its head early on during a tussle with an army of Darkseid’s parademons in issue #4 and then culminates in the Throne of Atlantis story arc (issue #17.)
You can see an example of Aquaman’s might at the start as he summons an army of sharks and he later takes on the Ocean Master alone after the Justice League has been subdued. Johns’ use of Aquaman as part of the League Arthur’s mirrors his struggles among the larger DCU as he ascends to the throne, opening up a new set of problems for Atlantis’ new king.
Aquaman Vol. 2 (1986)
Rebooted and reimagined again by Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton, this four-issue miniseries takes all that came before and tries to produce a streamlined version of Aquaman. Set after the events of "Crisis on Infinite Earths," magic and mysticism are introduced as a major part of life in Atlantis. The first arc of the series, "Thicker Than Water," retold the origin of Ocean Master, reinventing him as a sorcerer and exploring his combative relationship with his half-brother.
When New Venice is destroyed by Ocean Master, Aquaman has to return to Atlantis, where he discovers that ancient talismans from an ancient time are missing. It’s a dramatic and compelling look at the hero thanks to Ponzer’s storytelling, Hamilton’s epic artwork and the exquisite color work of Joe Orlando.
Aquaman Vol. 5 (1994)
In Peter David's 1994 run of Aquaman, the hero was given a rougher and look thanks to a new beard, wild hair and the loss of his left hand. David's massive 75-issue run followed his excellent miniseries "Time and Tide" from the prior year, which again recapped Aquaman's origin story while pairing him up with the Flash to take down the Trickster.
David continued to revamp Arthur's look and story in the early issues playing off Aquaman's perceived ability to talk to fish. In issue #2, the villain Charybdis tries to force Arthur to use his ability to communicate with sea life by sticking his hand into a piranha-infested pool.
Arthur's loss of his left hand plays into David's plan as Aquaman soon attaches a harpoon to his arm with the goal of rebranding. Eventually, Aquaman gets a high-tech upgrade for his arm courtesy of S.T.A.R. labs. Throughout the Five Lost Cities of Atlantis arc in David's run, we get to see the new Aquaman's return to Atlantis as a warrior and a emerging political power as he struggles with his new role as a king.
JLA: Obsidian Age
In the early 2000s, Aquaman had kind of fallen off the DC map. He didn’t have his own series, but still, Arthur managed to provide one of the best parts of the ongoing JLA during the "Obsidian Age" story arc. Following the events of "Our World At War," Aquaman is missing in action after battling an Imperiex probe and the entire city of Poseidonis and all its residents have also vanished.
In the "Age of Obsidian" starting with JLA #68, Atlantis is restored to the surface and attacked by Egyptian would-be conqueror Scarab. The Justice League manages to locate Aquaman, who has been turned into a water wraith. By the end of the seven-part arc, it’s up to Aquaman to save the day again, as he takes control of the entire ocean and sinks Atlantis back into the water.
While the story is a bit convoluted thanks to a heavy time-traveling element and the use of alternate universes, it’s a great Aquaman story because he’s able to reflect on the history of Atlantis and Poseidonis as well as show off his ultimate control over water. Again, when the Justice League needs help, he’s there to take over at the right moment. It’s amazing to see, with the help of Zatanna and Firestorm, Arthur become a hulking version of Poseidon and save the day with water.
Aquaman: Death of a Prince
Collecting Adventure Comics #451-455 and Aquaman Vo.l 1 #57-63, by David Michelinie, Jim Aparo, Paul Kupperberg, Carl Potts, and Don Newton, the "Death of a Prince" storyline focuses on the mid-to-late-'70s Aquaman as he faces off against his longtime foe Black Manta and deals with an extended cast of Atlantean characters.
Aquaman again faces exile from Atlantis in this story but rather than reclaim his birthright, he decides to become a superhero full-time.
Things come to a head when Black Manta kidnaps Aquababy while Aquaman is forced to fight Aqualad to the death. Enraged and set on revenge, Aquaman is able to track down Black Manta but decides to spare his life, proving his superhero status, when he finally defeats the villain in hand-to-hand combat. This story arc marks a growing legitimacy in Aquaman’s history as he shed the jokey storylines from the '50s and '60s in favor of real problems, giving the character more appeal.
One of the best Aquaman storylines, "American Tidal" ran from Aquaman Vol. 6 issues #15 to #20 and followed the catastrophe as part of California was plunged into the sea. In this over-the-top story arc, half of San Diego sinks into the ocean and more than 4,000 people perish. Mysteriously though, many of the residents mutate and develop gills.
After Aquaman arrives and investigates “Sub Diego” he runs into an orphaned girl who begins to assist him in search and rescue efforts. Eventually, the two discover the cause of the destruction and Aquaman sets up shop in Sub Diego to patrol the now-underwater city for crime.
This story, written by Will Pfeifer and drawn by Patrick Gleason and Christian Alamy, provided new inspiration for the Aquaman series by taking placing the hero at the center of a major problem, its use of visually stunning art to depict a city and its inhabitants underwater and a maladjusted Aquaman as he grapples with a new horde of humans and their problems including drug trafficking, theft, and murder underneath the waves.
Meant to act as a prequel to Peter David’s mid-'90s Aquaman run, the "Atlantis Chronicles" were also written by David and provides an entirely new and epic history the mythical Atlantis.
In addition to its detailed mythos about Atlantis, the book also features inspired artwork from Spanish creator Esteban Maroto, which gave Aquaman a more refined look, another step away from the cartoonish version from his early years. In this book, David focuses on Aquaman's ancestors in the years following the Great Deluge. Elements of this the "Atlantis Chronicles" eventually become major plot threads for the David’s 1994 run.
Sword of Atlantis
Kurt Busiek and Jackson Guice created Arthur Joseph Curry — not to be confused with Arthur Curry — in the pages of the Aquaman series Sword of Atlantis in 2006 following the events of the "Infinite Crisis" storyline.
The arc provides an inspired retelling of the Aquaman tale including a new supporting cast and penchant for sword and sorcery–type fantasy elements. Tweaking Aquaman’s origin slightly, this Arthur's mother, Elaine, dies in childbirth and his father Dr. Tom Curry is forced to use a mutagenic serum on his son when he was born three months premature. Up until his escapee, Arthur lives his whole life in the main tank of his father's research facility at Avalon Cay, his only window to the outside world being television.
Even though this Aquaman story doesn’t follow any continuity, it’s a fun snapshot of the hero and pairs him with the equal parts terrifying and funny King Shark. That pairing alone makes the book worth a quick read.