Four years ago, on a spooky October day, Warner Brothers announced that their chosen future king of Atlantis—Jason Momoa---was going to have his own feature solo film. Much to the confused and cautious wonder of the nerd community, the news of an Aquaman film made some waves. Though the company had previously attempted to breathe life into Arthur Curry with a Smallville spin-off, the series’ pilot took on water faster than it could ever gain syndication. However, despite the murky waters of live action drama, the Aquatic Ace was still a fan favorite with the much beloved Batman: The Brave & The Bold animated series.
So that, my dear ones, left us afloat and at the whim of DC & Warner Bros.
What would become of Aquaman?
Well, while Warner Bros.’s chance on the Justice League film was not a triumphant success in the grand scheme of things, it did paint a more positive look at the potential of DC heroes on the modern silver screen. We were introduced to Momoa’s charismatic, loveable jock portrayal of Arthur Curry for the first time. Affable, heroic and blunt, the possibility of Aquaman heading his own feature was not as baffling as it once was.
With the recent drops of trailers for the new film cresting the horizon, I hunkered down and began to tread the waters of Aquaman reading material.
I, much like many comic enthusiasts, am not a well of Aquaman knowledge, so, with director James Wan leading Jason Momoa, as Arthur Curry, and Amber Heard, returning as Mera from her brief stints in Justice League, I’ve rounded up two story arcs to properly get your feet wet for the Atlantian Half-Breed. Let’s dive in!
Aquaman: Sub Diego
Written by Will Pfeifer
Art by Patrick Gleason
Colors by Nathan Eyring
Pfeifer’s Aquaman is a splash from the more recent past. Collecting issues 15-22 of the ’04 run, Sub Diego paints Arthur as a reluctant ruler fresh from stepping down from his throne who is keen on helping people thrive in a new realm. A fantastic jumping on point, this trade collects the tale of what happens when a large portion of San Diego, California is struck with a tragic earthquake, sinking to the bottom of the Pacific Coast. Searching for survivors, Arthur finds no signs of life. Initially.
A month after the shocking events, as what is left of the city is in mourning, missing people (and pets!) begin to surface and… drown on land? Taking to action immediately, Aquaman searches what he once thought to be a watery grave yet again. While the death count is still high, many individuals of the event live and breathe in the ocean, trapped in the debris of their new watery surroundings.
Knowing he can understand these people the most, being of one world yet deemed to live in another, Arthur sets to adopting Sub Diego as its protector. Somehow befriending one of the first people he saves, a teenager named Lorena who will later go on to become Aquagirl, the pair try to crack the case on exactly how the survivors of Sub Diego came to be able to breathe under the sea.
This trade is fin-tastic.
Though the story is technically set in the middle of a comic run, as a new reader, you do not feel like a fish out of water while absorbing the story unfolding before you. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sub Diego helps to flesh out Aquaman’s sense of responsibility, honor and loyalty despite his differences with the people of land. Arthur is smart, kind and quite snarky as he does everything in his power to help any individual in need of help, even if they partook in some terrible misdeeds.
He just loves Sub Diego so mu-huh-huch.
Aquaman (New 52) Vol. 1: The Trench
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis (Pencils) & Joe Prado (Inks)
Colors by Rod Reis
Ok, so, yes, I am recommending a book from the New 52 line. Believe you me, it is surprising to me as well. But, take a chance on this one, Johns has a wonderful grip on an Aquaman who is actively choosing to abstain from the throne of Atlantis; a man who wants to be like his father before him and protect the coast in his own way. Arthur, and his new to all things on land girlfriend Mera, live in the old lighthouse his father once tended to, musing on how to thrive on land, away from Atlantis’ royalties.
When an alarming chunk of the population of a fishing town goes missing---some still around, scattered remains of an obvious attack—local authorities are reluctant to ask for Arthur and Mera’s assistance. It seems that some ancient humanoid fish species has risen from one of the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean… and they’re hungry. Mera is quickly on the side of “we must defeat them before they destroy us” where as Arthur wishes to understand them to stop this. In his thought process, they are clearly not of this part of the ocean, they’re searching for food and merely trying to survive just as he is. The internal struggle of not only wishing to do what is right and the responsible choice but also what would be the most compassionate is an interesting dynamic to see within Aquaman.
This story also handles the idea of a highly aware Aquaman. He knows the memes and the jokes, he understands that people ridicule his powers. (He doesn’t talk to fish, he mentally compels their emotions to assist him! Though he might talk to dolphins.) Arthur is even, quite rudely, faced with the fact that he is known as “no one’s favorite hero”. Like in Sub Diego, Arthur is mentally drowning on land but fights through with compassion and patience. He has an honor code he wants to hold himself to; to be himself and help others, the haters be damned.
Conversely, we are also privy to Mera learning how to cut her teeth on land. Being solely of Atlantis, even known as a mermaid to some people who didn’t even believe she had legs instead of fins, she struggles to understand people on land. They see her as simply “Aquawoman”, an extension of Aquaman, quickly judging her based on appearance and perceived understanding rather than her own wit. She is a strong person, full of fire and righteousness, who is willing to cut through the muck to do what is right. We are even shown the creative application of her Waterbender-like powers to appropriately flex how different her powers are from Arthur’s own abilities. Mera is, frankly, the HBIC of the Sea. And, whilst dealing with their neighbors finding them to be odd, Arthur and Mera adopt a dog. An officer jokes they should name him “Aquadog”. I would offer “Subwoofer” as a possibility.
The Trench is a wonderful starting line for understanding both Arthur and Mera going into the new film. Their desires to flex their individualities whilst also remaining true to their own beliefs is relatable and the stuff of modern heroes.
Doing this research and reading has certainly created ripples within my well of knowledge. It has opened my eyes to the delightfully ridiculous stories and heart swell of emotion for true honor codes within heroes. The Aquatic Ace has quickly raced into my list of respected and adored DC heroes. I… might love Aquaman? Yeah. I love Aquaman.
-Erminia ‘Minnie’ Saucedo, Dame Patrol Host