Comics on Film: The Rise of Aquaman as One of DC's Coolest Characters

Comics on Film: The Rise of Aquaman as One of DC's Coolest Characters

Aug 11, 2017

DC Comics' fabled Sea King, Aquaman, has been many different hings to fans over the years and not all of them have been good. For a lot of people who have less-than-accurate familiarity with the character, he's been something of a superheroic punching bag for more casual superhero observers, always held up as a reason by some more shortsighted fans about why DC has 'lamer' characters than Marvel.

About a decade ago, though, Aquaman's fortunes began to slowly turn around. Though Aquaman had apparently died in the comics in early 2007, a small but vocal element of the fanbase began to make some serious noise about bringing the character back to prominence in the DC Comics Universe. The crossover event series Final Crisis, published in 2008-09, looked like it may have brought Aquaman back, but it was a red herring.

It wasn't until the dead began to rise across the DC Universe that Aquaman started to make his biggest, most triumphant return to comics. This, coupled with some great appearances outside of the source material, all culminated in the casting of actor Jason Momoa to play the character in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this year's Justice League, and next year's long-awaited solo film: Aquaman.


Rising in the Comics

In 2007's Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #50, the original Aquaman was killed after trying to help a new Aquaman reach his full potential as the new King of Atlantis. This new Aquaman, though, overrun by the responsibilities that came with the throne, abandoned his duties and was never seen nor heard from again. It was right around the time of this disappearance that the DC Universe would be consumed by an event known as Blackest Night, a story which saw dead heroes and villains from across the DC Universe rise to combat the living in order to help death consume the universe as we knew it.

One of the characters used as a puppet by the Black Lantern Corps was none other than the original Aquaman. Commanding his wife to join him in death, the perversion of her husband's body causes Queen Mera's overriding rage to take hold, temporarily giving her the full destructive power of a Red Lantern ring. In the climax of the series, the mysterious "White Lantern Entity," which helped Hal Jordan, Superman, Barry Allen and others combat the forces of the Black Lanterns' master Nekron, restored 12 specific Black Lanterns back to life, with one of them being Aquaman. After fulfilling his purpose to the White Entity, Aquaman was able to make his resurrection permanent.

Soon after this, the DC Comics Universe was relaunched in the form of the "New 52" initiative, which saw the acclaimed Blackest Night creative team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis move to become the primary storytellers on a brand new Aquaman ongoing series. Now given a superstar treatment by DC Comics and telling a compelling opening story unleashing a dark secret of the ocean, Aquaman became one of DC's best selling titles, even outselling every single Marvel title on the market for six entire months. This opening arc, "The Trench," is the book we recommended in a previous edition of this column as a good story to familiarize new readers with the unique stakes present in Aquaman's stories.

At least in the source material, Aquaman had fully reasserted himself as one of DC Comics' heaviest hitters, now with an apparent level of popularity among comics fans to justify his place as a founding member of the Justice League. The campaign to make Aquaman cool didn't stop there, though. Far from it.


Rising in Video Games

About a year-and-a-half into Aquaman's reinvention in the comics came a highly anticipated video game called Injustice: Gods Among Us. Developed by the renowned creators of the popular Mortal Kombat series, Injustice was a fighting game featuring DC Comics characters that featured a story mode showing a highly interesting alternate world with twisted reflections of DC's most memorable icons.

In that world, Superman had taken forceful control over the planet after the Joker made him inadvertently murder his pregnant wife Lois Lane. This led him to establish an entity known as "the Regime," with several former Justice Leaguers joining his side. Always the contrarian, Batman took another group of former heroes and villains to create an insurgent group of rebels that directly challenged Superman's order.

In this altered world, Aquaman sided with Superman, with Atlantis serving as an ally to the Regime's government. When several heroes from "our" DC Universe arrived in the Regime's world, though, Aquaman faced off against himself, with the "real" King of Atlantis assisting Batman's regime. The Aquaman of Injustice was an entirely new exposure of the character to a different audience, and as one of the most formidable characters on the game's roster, it didn't take long before the Sea King became a favorite among gamers as a deft powerhouse. This vision of him, coupled with an awesome vocal performance by Phil LaMarr, made a lot of people see Aquaman in an entirely new light, one that was far more bad ass than it was silly.

Still, as popular and influential as video games have become, nothing manages to pierce the wider public consciousness quite like a major motion picture. With DC and Warner Bros. forging a new long-term commitment to their DC Comics IP, it was now time for a lot of previously untapped characters to begin to realize their potential. One of the first beyond Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to get this treatment is the King of Atlantis, Aquaman.


Rising on Film

Jason Momoa was cast as Aquaman in the summer of 2014, with the express intent being to introduce the character in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In addition to casting aside the character's traditional white, blonde-haired aesthetic from the comics, the decision made by WB and Zack Snyder made clear their intentions with the character right from the beginning. Momoa's most famous roles to date at the time of his casting had been as Khal Drogo in the popular HBO series Game of Thrones, as well as Conan the Barbarian in that character's 2011 film, two very powerful characters in their own rights. Momoa himself is a symbol of charismatic power, and with Batman v Superman helping to set up a status quo in which DC's premiere superhero team, the Justice League, exists, the filmmakers made sure that Aquaman would be one of the team's heaviest hitters from the moment that Momoa was cast.

While we only caught a brief glimpse of Aquaman in the final cut of Batman v Superman, what we saw was a unique and formidable conception of the character. Lashing out against some underwater drones with his trademark trident, Aquaman swims off with the force of a bullet from a railgun before disappearing into the dark depths of the ocean, visibly giving Bruce Wayne a sense of awe at what he was seeing.

What we've seen since the release of BvS has been limited to the trailers that have been made available for this November's Justice League. While Aquaman may seem a little different than he is in the comics at first glance, his power level and ability in a fight are both very true to recent comics, and Momoa's embodiment of everything Aquaman in making the role his own could remind someone of another actor who successfully took ownership of his part: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Justice League will be just the tip of the iceberg, since the following year, director James Wan will bring the character and his underwater kingdom to life in the form of the solo Aquaman film, which will take place after the events of Justice League.

If you're a longtime fan of the Sea King or are just now jumping on his bandwagon, it's definitely an exciting time to be an Aquaman fan. The truth is that he's a character who has been overlooked for so long that it will likely make the truth of his potential all the more surprising to the uninitiated, and this comic book fan can't wait for people to see how awesome Aquaman really is, with all the force of a trident hurling towards your face.

Welcome to the big leagues, my liege. It's been a long time coming.

Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts GeekPulse Radio and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Comics, Features, Geek, Editorials
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