Aquaman has been a member of the Justice League since the very beginning. He has stood alongside Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as a shining beacon of everything right in the world. But in the cinematic and, more important to me, the toy world, he’s always gotten the short end of the fish stick. When it comes to super powers, Superman has always been the top of the heap with the ability to fly, withstand almost any enemy and, occasionally, use the “S” on his chest as a weapon, thank you very much Superman 2. Batman is a ninja with the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes and Wonder Woman can not only deflect bullets but make you tell the truth with her golden lasso (not to mention take you on the flight of a lifetime in her invisible jet). But when you get to Aquaman things get a little fuzzy – sure, he has super strength and can swim the oceans better than Michael Phelps can even dream of, but when it comes to actual super powers, being able to talk to the fish is not something that comes up in every day conversation…
“Nice guppies, Bill.”
“Thanks, Phil; I talk to them every day.”
No, Aquaman has always been the least liked and least collected in toy form of the Justice League team. Not that he hasn’t had his fair share of toys, quite the opposite, there’s always a yellow and green Aquaman alongside the familiar black and yellow Bat and Red and Blue Supes. It’s just that his toys may take a little longer to find a home. Most kids push past the aquatic hero in favor of batarangs and golden wrist cuffs. In the toy collecting world that can mean only thing: rarity! You see, when toys sell well the companies make more and more to meet demand. But Aquaman has always been what they call the short-packed character in the assortment. For every 4-5 Superman figures they make 1 Aquaman. The most famous Aquaman figure is the first Mego World’s Greatest Heroes version – complete with cloth outfit and golden blonde hair. This was a staple in any superhero figure collection. He may not have gotten as much play as the bigger guys but Aquaman was always in the mix somewhere. Hey, the earth is mostly ocean and he’s the king – that’s gotta count for something!
The Mego figure set the standard of the day for superhero toys with great sculpts and nicely tailored costumes. And like with any other successful toy line – Mego launched a line of accessories, vehicles and playsets to go with the figures. Most of the Mego accessories were common like the Batmobile based on the hit 1960’s television show and even the oddball Spider-Car featured in the Marvel Comics series. Some of the Mego sets are quite rare due to the high price point at the time – like the very hard to find Wayne Foundation, bigger than the Batcave and almost impossible to track down. The incredibly rare Aquaman Vs. the Great White Shark playset is elusive for a completely different reason.
It all goes back to Aquaman being perceived as one of the lesser heroes in the line –up. Even though the set came with a standard issue Aquaman and a very cool battery operated Great White Shark capable of actually swimming in the bathtub, the Aquaman playset rotted on toy shelves and was put on clearance just about everywhere. There are very few boxes examples of the shark set in existence today – something that’s even harder to comprehend when you factor in that the Mego set of Aquaman and a battery operated Great White Shark hit the toy shelves at around the same time as a certain Great White Shark named Bruce was tearing up the box office in a little film called “Jaws.” Sadly, the playset simply didn’t sell and finding today is like finding the Holy Grail for Mego collectors. It was recently re-issued in an anniversary edition and it sold out immediately, proving that time certainly has been kind to the hero who talks to the fishes. Mego also produced a smaller Pocket Heroes version of Aquaman that sold quite well due to its smaller price point.
Sadly, there was no smaller version of the shark set to put under the 1979 Christmas tree.
The Justice League Cartoon in all of its different variations has always featured Aquaman and there has always been a toy presence of the character even though sales have never been what you could call brisk. The finest, in this author’s opinion, toy representation for the character came in the 1980’s Super Powers toy line from Kenner.
Long hailed as the finest superhero toy line of all time, Kenner’s Super Powers line-up included Aquaman in his current costume, complete with trident and leg kicking action to simulate swimming. Gone were the goofy mitten gloves featured in the Mego line! Gone was the unpainted face in the Pocket Heroes line! Here was the quintessential Aquaman figure that you could display proudly with your superhero figures. I know I tend to gush when it comes to the Super Powers line and that’s with good reason – each figure was completely accurate with hidden action features and a Hall of Justice playset. Even Superman’s Justice Jogger can’t taint the good feeling of the Kenner line. Mattel’s Secret Wars line attempted to duplicate what Kenner had done. Even though they had red hot characters like Black Symbiote costume Spider-Man and Wolverine, too many reused sculpts and lame flicker shield pack-ins never seemed to measure up to the more accurate Kenner line. When the Super Powers line ended, Aquaman, along with most of the DC heroes went missing from the toy aisle until the 1989 Tim Burton Batman sparked resurgence. Batman was so successful and demand for his toys was so great that Toy Biz, a relatively small company, managed to procure the Super Powers molds to reissue some of the DC characters. Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern showed up on Toy Biz cards. Aquaman eventually joined them alongside such rarities as The Riddler and Bob The Joker’s Goon! Toy Biz wasn’t as slick as Kenner and these figures featured visible metal rivets holding the figures together and sloppy paint applications. Still, for a toy collector to see such iconic figures back on the market was a real kick.
Burton’s Batman caused a huge uptick in superhero merchandise across the board – comics were selling in large quantities and the ’90s ushered in a whole new golden age of toys and collectibles. With the Dark Knight leading the way, DC Comics upended the status quo of their heroes – during this time Superman died at the hands of Doomsday, Bane broke Batman’s back and Aquaman had his hand eaten by piranhas!
Yes, all of this happened and the toys reflected the changes. Kenner created the Total Justice action figure line and we collectors went wild. There were new sculpts of Green Lantern, Superman with long hair, Huntress and, yes, Aquaman now with a harpoon where his hand used to be. Gone was the clean cut King of the Seas – here was a 90’s grunge inspired hulking hero with long hair, a beard and that gleaming hook hand that eventually morphed into a weapon that could shoot out and snare prey. This wasn’t your daddy’s Aquaman.
The Total Justice line sold well but all good things have to come to an end. Aquaman swam out of the toy aisle for quite a while.
But every hero has his day and Aquaman’s is yet to come. The classic character can currently be found in a multitude of Lego sets. The popular HBO show “Entourage” did an entire storyline featuring the lead character starring in a big budget Aquaman movie directed by James Cameron. There was talk for years of the fictional storyline actually becoming truth with even Cameron himself mulling over sitting in the real director’s chair. Sadly, this never came to be and Aquaman has been holding his breath for a long time. But it’s time to surface and fill your lungs, King of Atlantis – Aquaman made a brief appearance in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The long wait is over and the Aquaman movie is in production right now. Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame is bringing the character to life in a massive Warner Bros. release. There are already a few toys of the character on the toy aisle right now – a sure sign that oceans of new figures and playsets are in the works. Maybe they’ll even release a playset with the new Aquaman battling a Great White Shark in homage to the Mego one that launched the character into toy boxes and imaginations so many years ago.