James Wan’s Aquaman — which arrives this December — isn’t an origin story, though there will be moments during which we learn how Arthur Curry became the liquor-swilling, fish-protecting, water-loving superhero during flashbacks and training montages. But for a more cohesive tale of Curry's transformation into a hero, fans might want to turn to the film’s tie-in book.
Steve Behling’s novel Aquaman: Undertow (with illustrations from Dan Burgess), hitting bookstores on Nov. 6, is set in the DCEU and acts as a prequel to the hero’s first solo film. And we’ve got a sneak peek. Aquaman is 13, confused, and ready to embrace his lineage — or at least know about it.
Put on your glasses and prepare yourself for superheroes (and pet octopi) in the best way possible: reading. (As for the film, it hits U.S. theaters on Dec. 21)
From Aquaman: Undertow by Steve Behling, published by HarperCollins
“You know what your problem is? You just sit there, waiting for life to happen. You have to go out and make it happen. Pretty wise words, right?”
The water was warm for this time of year, but it barely registered with Arthur Curry as he dipped a foot into the ocean. He was too deep in conversation to really care about the temperature of the water. Not that he ever really cared about things like that, anyway.
To a person who could survive the crushing pressures of the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, a little thing like warm or cold water was exactly that—little.
“I know what you’re going to say. ‘Well, what have you done?’ That’s a fair question. But I have done a lot. So much. I’ve gotten so much done. Even this morning, before breakfast.”
Arthur looked down at the dock as he sat, his legs dangling over the side. Staring into the water, his eyes met another set of eyes, breaking just above the ocean’s surface.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Arthur said, dismissing the eyes in the water with a wave of his hand. “Are you giving me side eye? Really?” He looked behind him and saw the lighthouse. He had called it home for as long as he could remember.
Until the day he left.
“Okay, so it’s gonna be like that, huh?” Arthur huffed. “Well, I’ve saved the world, for starters. That’s pretty good, right? That’s doing something. Have you saved the world? Have you?”
Arthur paused for a moment, as if awaiting a response that would never come.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
His attention turned back to the lighthouse, and the memories of childhood flooded his mind. Happy memories, for the most part. But there was always a cloud hanging over even the happiest of those memories. He loved his father to the ends of the earth and back, from its highest peak to its greatest depths, deep down in the ocean. The ocean...
“Why am I telling you all this? Killing time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to see you, but I’m waiting for my dad.”
Tom Curry, the lighthouse keeper. Ever since Arthur could remember, that was Tom’s job: to keep the shores free of shipwrecks. He had to maintain the beacon and make sure it was in working order every day. More and more lighthouses were automated these days, but the Amnesty Bay lighthouse still required a human operator. It was a job he took seriously, but he himself was not a serious man. Tom had a sense of humor, one which he instilled in his son. Humor was a key commodity in the Curry household.
Sometimes, laughter was all they had. It was that sense of humor that had helped Arthur through some pretty tough moments in his childhood.
“He should be here any minute,” Arthur said, looking into the water as the eyes bobbed up and down. “I know, I know. It’s weird that I’m the one who showed up early.”
He stood, picked up a piece of driftwood from the dock, and lifted it in the air.
“Go get the stick, boy! Go! Fetch!”
Then he hurled the driftwood right over the octopus’s head. It sailed for maybe a hundred feet, then landed in the ocean with a distant plop.
The octopus didn’t budge. It didn’t blink. It didn’t do anything.
“We gotta work on that, buddy,” Arthur said.
He stood up and felt the warm sun beating down upon his tattooed torso and arms. Then he scratched his beard and stared at the octopus, which was now sitting on a rock in the water.
“Anyway, good talk, Topo,” Arthur said, waving at the octopus.
The memory was without color, just shades of black and gray and pure, shimmering white.
It began as it always did. There was the sun. A great arc of white, it had just started to peek out from the horizon. There was a chill in the air, and even though he was bundled up, he was cold.
He remembered that much.
They say you don’t start forming memories until you’re three years old. Or, at least, you can’t remember anything that happened before you were three. That’s how it was with Arthur Curry. The earliest memory of his mother—his only memory of her, really— came from when he was three years old.
He was on a dock.
Then there was the woman. Her hair was long, and he could see her face. But the features remained elusive, like clay that had yet to be sculpted. The expression was there— that much he could see. She was smiling at him. There was kindness in the smile; he could feel that. But he could feel something else, too.
Yes, sadness. For there was crying, too. Mournful crying, the sound of someone doing something they don’t want to do but know they must.
But he wasn’t the one crying, and they weren’t his tears.
It was the woman. She was crying.
And the man standing next to her.
The man in the memory, Arthur knew very well. The face belonged to his father, Tom.
Arthur remembered the woman holding him tightly, their faces pressed close together. A trickle of tears ran from her cheek and onto Arthur’s.
Words were spoken, by both the mysterious woman and his father. He couldn’t remember what they said. They weren’t talking to him, Arthur knew that much. He looked at them both, curious. They looked sad, and even the sound of their words evoked sorrow.
The ocean waves lapped the dock beneath his feet, the sea spraying up on the weather-worn wood. Even at a young age, he had been fascinated by the water. By the ocean. He could remember how it felt on his feet.
More sorrowful words.
The woman, holding Arthur so tight he thought he might burst.
The man, plaintive.
And then, a kiss on his forehead, her lips cool. A hand touched his cheek, gently brushing away a lock of hair. Then the woman kissed his father. And she turned away from them, looking out toward the vast ocean before her. To his surprise, the woman didn’t turn around to look at father or son. She dived into the water, never to be seen again.
“Did she like French fries?”
The man laughed as he picked up a smooth stone from the sandy beach. “Yeah, she liked French fries.”
“With ketchup?” Arthur asked. It was the kind of question a six-year-old would ask. This was important stuff, and Arthur wanted to file the information away for future reference.
The man, Tom Curry, looked at the rock in his right hand, grasped between his thumb and index finger. Then he drew the arm back,
and whipped it forward, releasing the rock. The stone sailed through the air, very low, then hit the surface of the water, glancing off once, then twice, then three times, before it finally landed with a satisfying plop in the ocean.
“With ketchup,” Tom said. “And mayonnaise.”
“Mayonnaise?” Arthur gasped in legitimate horror. “That’s gross! Why would she ruin French fries?”
Tom laughed again. “I don’t think she was trying to ruin them, kid. She just liked them that way, is all.”
Arthur thought about this for a minute and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I guess that’s possible. Then he picked up a rock. “I bet I can skip it more times than you,” Arthur said to his father.
Tom nodded. “Maybe so. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
The boy held the stone just like his father had shown him. Then he started to walk toward the water, and then he started to run, the sand beneath his feet going from grainy and dry to wet and clumpy.
“Arthur! You’re in the water!”
But the boy wasn’t listening, and before he knew it, his feet were in the shallows, water around his ankles. He released the rock from his right hand and watched hopefully as it hit the ocean surface once, then promptly sank. Dejected, he turned around, looking at his rock-throwing mentor.
“You’ll get the hang of it, kid,” Tom said, walking toward his son. “And next time, don’t run into the water. Just stay on the sand, like I did.”