There was a Queen and she ruled over her kingdom well. Her kingdom flourished under her reign and times were good. On the opposite end of the land, there were a peasant people. The Queen didn’t interact with them much, not because she hated them, but the needs of her side of the kingdom were her focus. One day, the Queen needed to cross into the peasant side of the kingdom, for reasons unknown. When her highness and her royal guard went into the peasant kingdom, there was evil and looting and the Queen were very scared. Amidst the chaos, they were ambushed and the queen was left for dead. From out of nowhere, a kind peasant man saved her.
The kind peasant man nursed the Queen back to health and a passionate romance evolved between the two resulting in a son named Arthur. The Queen left Arthur in the man’s care and set out back to the kingdom she ruled. When she returned things were different. The people she once ruled so benevolently were now hostile. They instituted customs that were not the traditions of old. Due to these new customs, she had to marry a man she didn’t love and she conceived a second son named Orm. After the Queen dies, Orm takes the seat on the throne. Orm hates the peasant people and wants them dead. The only one to stop him is his half-brother, Arthur.
That’s the story of Arthur Curry except you replace peasants with humans and the Queen’s kingdom with Atlantis. In the really good Aquaman comics, there is a through line that has always resonated with me. The idea that Aquaman doesn’t want anything to do with Atlantis. Atlantis hates the surface world and wants nothing to do with it. Arthur constantly has to make a choice between the surface world and the world in the sea. That’s a very HUMAN thing to do. Wanting to choose the choice we like when the hard choice may be the right one. Aquaman chooses Atlantis not because he wants to but because he has to. He is the only way Atlantis can stop all the hate they have for the surface world and he can also stop the surface world from blowing Atlantis up.
It is those themes that run throughout some of the best Aquaman stories. He is a man caught between a rock and a hard place. While that’s great, these are comics we are talking about. There is an amazing panel in Aquaman number 1 by Geoff Johns in which Aquaman stops a robbery and as bullet ricochets and hit him in the face he gives the dirtiest look, ya know why? Because he has superpowers and he is not a chump. Aquaman has the power to control two-thirds of the planet. A majority of the planet is his domain. It’s not Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman, it’s Aquaman!!
Aquaman helped form the Justice League, at one point had his kid killed by his arch revival Black Manta, and also had his hand cut off to save his second son. The man has been through the ringer in his 70 plus years of existence. However, one attribute remains; he never gives up hope that one day the Humans and Atlanteans, by his hand or another’s, can bring peace. He can also summon a Kraken if he wanted. Can you summon a Kraken if you wanted? No, no you can’t, I rest my case.
In the world of DC Comics the members of the Justice League are like rock stars, and like how the Beatles had Ringo the Justice League has Aquaman.
While Aquaman certainly has his talents he doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Aquaman may be super strong but Superman has that along with flight, laser vision. He might be able to move quickly through the water but the Flash can move even quicker and across even more environments. While some extra muscle can always be helpful for superheroes Aquaman’s powers don’t travel well outside the ocean. When the Justice League needs to fight someone in outer space, being able to command the creatures of the sea isn’t a useful skill.
Comic book heroes are often only as good as their villains. With villains like Karla the woman with flaming hair, Fisherman an international smuggler, and Wackyman a professional clown who wore a copy of Aquaman’s suit and committed crimes with robotic fish. These ridiculous villains might not be a problem for a hero like Spiderman or Batman but Aquaman doesn’t have any villains with real name recognition so when he goes up against a silly character it’s less an exception and more the rule.
Aquaman’s character problems don’t end with lackluster powers and a disappointing rogues gallery, he has also had issues of consistency. Comic books often change things about a character’s past to either fit a story or adapt to the modern times, Aquaman has had his past changed a few times which have simply made his history more confusing. Initially, Aquaman was a normal human taught by his father how to survive underwater, after that he was half-human and half-atlantean and most recently he is fully atlantean and king of Atlantis. Whether he’s being the least useful member of the Justice League, showing off his disappointing rogues gallery or confusing fans with a constantly changing backstory it’s clear Aquaman is a bad fit for the Justice League and comic books.