Last time, our examination of Aquaman’s canon answered the question I posed at the beginning of the month: When exactly did Aquaman become the badass that DC Comics is suggesting he has recently become? I got the sense that these gritty revivals of Aquaman were marketing ploys, and that the character had never really been the silly hero that many readers assume he has been prior to the New 52 relaunch. While the first two installments saw lighter and, yes, cornier stories, the last set of stories we examined told an incredibly dark story in which Aquaman loses his son and grapples with the weight of his heroism – because he’d really like to murder the Black Manta for what he did. Aquaman emerged a far more tortured hero but, because he showed mercy, a hero none-the-less.
So now we know exactly what Aquaman’s die-hard fans have been saying all along. A badass Aquaman is not new – the character has kinda always been an underwater rebel with a cause.
Now, just for fun, because what are comics for if not fun… let’s take one last trip down into the drink with our old pal Aquaman.
Since we last checked in with Aquaman, there has been only one thing rockier than his life – and that’s his publication status. His ongoing series was canceled at #63. Between then and the issue we’re currently covering, Aquaman received two miniseries and a short-lived second ongoing that was sunk after #13. That makes the issue preceding this one Aquaman’s fifth #1.
It’s always interesting to look back at the past and discover classic writers and artists, but I have to admit I was thrilled to see that Peter David was writing this issue – I’ve been a fan of his as long as I’ve been reading comics, so after reading through Aquaman’s canon, I’m glad to see a familiar name at journey’s end. In this issue, unfortunately titled Single Wet Female, Peter David is joined by Marty Egeland on pencils, Brad Vancata on inks, Tom McCraw on colors, and Dan Nakrosis on letters.
Welcome to the ‘90s, Aquaman!
Aquaman and another aquatic hero named Dolphin have been captured by a terrorist couple called Scylla and Charybdis, named after the the pair of monsters from Homer’s Odyssey. In an incredibly interesting and messed up twist, Charybdis begins ranting to Aquaman and Dolphin about how he was, in fact, abandoned by his wife Scylla, who held onto a detonating bomb too long. The woman standing among them, who had been going by Scylla, is revealed as an actress that Charybdis hired to dress like his late wife, who he then murders in order to punish Scylla once again for leaving him.
I’m getting the sense this isn’t the first time he did this. Messed. Up.
Aqualad comes to the rescue and blows up Charybdis’s facility, but the villain escapes. Aquaman chases him to land, where they have a showdown that ends in disaster. Having learned that piranha are vicious creatures that, unlike other fish, willfully ignore Aquaman’s commands, Charybdis plunges Aquaman’s hand into piranha-infested waters. Dolphin comes in at the last minute and shoots Charybdis in the chest, allowing Aquaman to knock him into the water… where he is promptly eaten by the piranha, who Aquaman encourages.
Whoa. I guess the long hair and grizzled beard aren’t the only things different about this Aquaman. Charybdis might have been mortally wounded by the gunshot wound, but Aquaman definitely murdered him… and the last time I checked, Aquaman wouldn’t even kill the man who slaughtered his son. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but the writing and characterization are so compelling that my biggest concern is finding out what happens next.
The aftermath of the battle reveals that Aquaman’s hand has been eaten to the bone. Even though I’m aware of the harpoon-armed Aquaman that is coming up later in this run, this scene was shocking for me. The creative team withholds the image of Aquaman’s skeletal hand until the final page, which is wildly effective. While I enjoyed the previous issues, this is the first one that made me want to seek out the entire run. I think it’s because while Aquaman has always been interesting, the villains I’ve seen up until now haven’t had the depth that the heroes have. Here, Charybdis is a minor character who is fully fleshed out (PUN, DON’T HATE ME!) with some stellar writing and, despite his small role, delivers a devastating blow to our hero in an incredibly unique way.
Alas, that brings us to the end of our Aquaman journey. We’ve seen Aquaman at his highest and lowest moments and have come to understand that no matter how many reboots the character gets, he’s always been a take-no-shit badass. Sometimes he kills villains, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he’s a happy-go-lucky pun-crackin’ guy in a wet-suit, and sometimes he’s a vicious one-handed anti-hero who gives his villains a run for their money. As DC Comics begins a new Aquaman series under their Rebirth banner at the same time as the DC Extended Universe introduces the character to the big screen with actor Jason Momoa, one thing is clear – Aquaman isn’t going anywhere.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Hellchild, Vampire Emmy and the Garbage Girl, Van Helsing), novels (Avengers, Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). You can find him this summer at Galactic Con, Flame Con, Monsters & Robots Convention, and Baltimore Comic-Con, where he is probably playing Pokémon Go whenever there aren’t any customers.