Later this month, DC's underwater superhero Aquaman will headline a solo movie for the very first time. According to director James Wan, the film will also cover Aquaman's origin. For many casual comic book movie fans, this will be their first chance to learn about the rich backstory behind this iconic character.
However, Aquaman's mythology was far from fully formed when Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris created him in 1941. In fact, their ideas about Aquaman's origin barely resemble the hero we know today.
Aquaman's debut issue, More Fun Comics #73, barely spent a single page on his history. Aquaman was intentionally vague about the identity of his father, whom he called "a famous undersea explorer." In this version, Aquaman was a normal human who was able to learn how to breathe underwater thanks to his father's study of Atlantean science. But Aquaman himself wasn't of Atlantean descent.
It took almost two decades for Aquaman's origin to get fleshed out, and his previous history was wiped away in 1959's Adventure Comics #260. This was the issue that gave Aquaman his human name, Arthur Curry. It also revealed that his mother, Atlanna, was an outcast from Atlantis, who met an ordinary lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry. Atlanna fell in love with Tom, and Arthur was their child. He also inherited his mother's ability to breathe underwater and gained the power to communicate with underwater life.
Later stories firmly established Aquaman's royal lineage and his claim to the throne of Atlantis. Tom Curry's second son, Orm Curry, was also introduced as Aquaman's half-brother and sworn nemesis, Ocean Master. Orm and Arthur's rivalry has been one of the most enduring aspects of these Silver Age stories. However, Arthur's stint as "Aquaboy" has been largely ignored in the subsequent decades.
Things got a little weird in the '80s, largely because Crisis on Infinite Earths gave DC a way to revamp all of its heroes. In Aquaman Special #1 (1989), Robert Loren Fleming, Keith Giffen, and Curt Swan radically changed Aquaman's history and introduced mystical elements to his heritage. This time, Arthur was born as Orin, the prince of Atlantis and the son of Queen Atlanna. Tom Curry was no longer Arthur's biological father; instead, he was sired by a wizard named Atlan. Arthur's blond hair was considered to be a bad omen, so the Atlanteans abandoned him on a reef without informing his mother of his true fate. This was later expanded upon in the '90s during the Aquaman ongoing series.
From there, baby Aquaman lived among the sea creatures and he was ignorant to his true nature. In Aquaman: Time and Tide, young Arthur was adopted by a family of dolphins and lived among them under the assumption that they were his own kind. That led to an extremely awkward moment when Aquaman wanted to mate with a female dolphin.
This really happened, and you can see the evidence below. That's a moment in time that's probably best forgotten.
Some of Aquaman's Silver Age origin was retained, as Tom Curry was renamed Arthur Curry, and he served as Aquaman's surrogate father. Tom even gave Aquaman his human name, Arthur Curry Jr., before he was seemingly murdered off-page. Orm was still Arthur's half-brother, via Atlan. The conflict between Arthur and Orin was also prophesied to determine the fate of Atlantis.
After DC's line-wide New 52 reboot in 2011, Arthur was once again the son of Tom Curry and Atlanna, which firmly established Aquaman's link to both the surface world and Atlantis.
Orm/Ocean Master was given a new backstory that gave him a greater tie to Atlantis. Now, Orm's mother was Atlanna, which gave him a greater claim to the throne of Atlantis. It's essentially a streamlined version of Arthur and Orm's most compelling aspects. This is also the version of their history that will be adapted in the Aquaman film. That means it's about to become the definitive backstory in the minds of the public.
This may be where things stand today, but if the past is any indication, Aquaman's mythology will continue to be tweaked by future writers and artists. Ultimately, the story is never finished. There's always going to be someone who offers a fresh approach to the classic narrative. And Aquaman's adventures have no end in sight.