In With the Tide, Part VIII

Last time, in COMICS 101: Last time, in our seemingly endless coverage of DC Comics’ AQUAMAN, we took a look at what still stands as the most traumatic issue of the feature ever, the murder of Aquaman’s young son. What’s happened to the character since? In our concluding chapter, we’ll find out…

After the shocking murder of Arthur, Jr., AQUAMAN was spun off into his own series once more from the pages of ADVENTURE COMICS, but this new revival only lasted seven months, ending in the fall of 1978. From there, Aquaman briefly hopped around as a backup feature in series like ADVENTURE, WORLD’S FINEST and ACTION.

However, Aquaman’s widest exposure continued to be his membership in the Justice League of America, which blossomed into a starring and leadership role when the series was drastically shaken up in 1984 with the debut of the “JLA: Detroit” era. Discussed in these pages previously, the gist of it went like this, after the League took a serious ass-kicking at the hands of an army of unruly Martians (due to the fact that the team’s many heavy hitters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern elected not to show up), Aquaman exercised his previously unknown power as a founding member of the JLA to dissolve the League, reforming it with the caveat that only those members who agreed to devote themselves to it full time would be allowed to remain.

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With remaining members J’onn J’onzz, Zatanna and the Elongated Man (the only Leaguers to knuckle under to Aquaman’s whiny emotional blackmail, presumably because they had nothing else going on in their own lives), Aquaman recruited new members Vibe, Gypsy, Steel and Vixen, and set up shop in a bunker in Detroit, Michigan (the perfect base of operations for someone like Aquaman who needs to be close to the ocean…)

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As much as this made Aquaman look like the ultimate in needy boyfriends, at least it was proactive and put him front and center in the League, right? Not so fast. After being the one to throw this huge hissy fit about members needing to devote themselves to the League, Aquaman leaves after barely a year. Why? He decided he couldn’t devote himself full-time to the League. I wanted Batman to re-join the League just long enough to smack him one…

Following his less than dramatic departure from the JLA, Aquaman was next seen in a four-issue miniseries in 1986, remembered mostly for Aquaman’s new costume, a deep-blue undersea camouflage number that never really caught on with readers and didn’t last very long (although, curiously, there was once an action figure available featuring that very costume. Who’d a’ thunk it?).

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I’ll give DC this much credit: they certainly weren’t giving up on the character. Next up in 1989 was THE LEGEND OF AQUAMAN SPECIAL by Robert Loren Fleming, Keith Giffen and Curt Swan, which slightly revised the character’s origin, and was followed up by another short-lived attempt to give Aquaman his own series, this time lasting only 13 issues before once more getting the axe.

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The beginning of Aquaman’s most creatively fertile period began in 1990, with a criminally underrated and underread miniseries entitled THE ATLANTIS CHRONICLES, written by Peter David and illustrated by Esteban Maroto. Detailing the history of Atlantis and its people over the centuries, the series was both a beautiful captivating book in its own right and created a rich backstory for future AQUAMAN stories David clearly hoped to tell.

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He got his chance in 1993, in the 4-issue miniseries AQUAMAN: TIME AND TIDE, which revised and refined Aquaman’s constantly shifting origin story, now firmly placing him as a full-blooded Atlantean (with the Atlantean birth name of Orin) superstitiously abandoned as an infant by his people due to his blonde hair, and found and raised by lighthouse keeper Arthur Curry.

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Ocean Master was given much more emphasis as well, with the introduction of the notion of an ancient prophecy about “two brothers battling for control of Atlantis.”

Reception to the miniseries was strong enough that David was given the reins to an all-new AQUAMAN ongoing series in 1994. David radically overhauled the character, replacing the clean-cut cheerful king in the orange shirt with an angry brooding barbarian king with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. David also got readers’ attention very early on when he had Aquaman’s left hand devoured by piranhas, and replaced with a harpoon, in a shocking move clearly designed to get readers’ attention.

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Guess what? It worked. Although some decried the bit as an overly grim-and-gritty “stunt,” it clearly sent the message that this was not your father’s Aquaman, and David settled in for a nearly four-year run on the series, probably the most consistently satisfying run the character has ever seen.

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Unfortunately, disagreements with editorial led to David’s departure from the series with issue #46. The series lasted for another 29 issues under various writers, none of which were able to capture the newfound drama and excitement David had brought to the character. Aquaman’s new look and character had crossed over firmly into the rest of the DCU, though, particularly in the pages of Grant Morrison’s JLA. Morrison keenly carried over David’s new characterization, portraying Aquaman as a monarch first, who often resented being pulled away from his kingdom to deal with the League, and only really felt comfortable around Wonder Woman, whom he considered fellow “royalty.”

Aquaman has foundered with revamp after revamp ever since, at one point being given a new hand made of water during Rick Veitch’s more mystical-oriented run, dealing with a submerged city of San Diego during Will Pfeiffer’s stint, and being transformed into an amnesiac sorcerer known as the Dweller in the Depths during Kurt Busiek’s series AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS, which introduced a new, young Aquaman to the DC Universe. Followigng that,  the Dweller version was killed off, and a new, more classic-looking Aquaman made his return/debut/who-the-hell-knows? in the pages of the final issue of Grant Morrison’s FINAL CRISIS. Was this the real Aquaman, returned from heaven knows where?

Turns out it didn’t much matter, as the character got a much ballyhooed relaunch along with everyone else with DC’s New 52 initiative, which saw Geoff Johns raise the character to new levels of popularity and badassery, only to sink reliably back into the midcard as soon as Johns left the book.

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Will Aquaman return to the A-list? One supposes we’ll find out in the months and years to come. If we’ve learned anything from this trip through Aquaman’s storied past, it’s that he never stays gone for too long…

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