He’s battled sea kings and shark gods. Now, Aquaman faces his most potent foe yet: ridicule.
The half-human, half-Atlantean king of the seas has been around just as long as Batman, Wonder Woman and many of the other classic superheroes. Yet for some reason, he has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the spandex crowd. No respect.
The new movie “Aquaman” hopes to change all that.
“My job was to kind of come in and make this guy cool,” star Jason Momoa told “Entertainment Weekly” over the summer.
It remains to be seen if anything can make a character subject to so much ridicule cool again. (Although the $200 million the studio reportedly spent on the flick is a good start.)
Aquaman, who can breathe underwater and has super strength, has become a walking — and swimming — punch line. He’s been mocked on “Entourage,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Family Guy.”
He’s been slammed by generations of comedians, including Dave Chappelle, who wondered, “Who would want to be Aquaman? The powers are only good underwater. And you can talk to the fish? What the hell would you want to say to a fish?”
“Even in nerd circles, if you’re a fan of Batman or Superman, no one will question that,” says Rob Kelly, a New Jersey superfan who co-hosts “The Fire and Water Podcast” about the character. “If you say you’re fan of Aquaman, you get a ‘What?!’ ”
So how did this happen? Sure, Aquaman is ridiculous but so is nearly every superhero, especially those from the ’30s and ’40s. Green Lantern once mailed himself in a giant envelope to surprise a group of villains. But you can probably blame the long-running ’70s era “Super Friends” cartoon for Aquaman’s bad rep.
The underwater hero was originally created for DC Comics in 1941 and soon became a staple at the newsstand. He was so popular that he earned his own cartoon in 1967. But that show, as well as Aquaman’s comic book series, were soon discontinued.
Then, along came “Super Friends” in 1973. The Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon teamed Superman, Batman, Robin and other heroes to fight evil. The show’s makers were under pressure from Action for Children’s Television, a newish advocacy group that worked to clean up children’s programs. As a result, the action in “Super Friends” was neutered and its tone made too juvenile for comic-book fans.
Aquaman and his underwater powers did not fit easily into the storylines.
“He spent a lot of time sitting in Wonder Woman’s invisible jet until he could get out to sea,” says John Schwirian, a Maryland-based English professor who used to published fanzine “The Aquaman Chronicles.” “It quickly became a joke that all Aquaman did was talk to fish. ‘Call me if you need a whale’ was a popular punch line used against him.”
Aquaman’s reputation was deep-fried.
“By the time I wrote Aquaman in 1978, everyone was making jokes,” says Paul Kupperberg, a Connecticut-based comic-book writer and editor. “I still wonder if he can communicate with Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.”
Fans have had their fins crossed that the new movie won’t be as critically reviled as other recent DC movies and, after four decades, will finally bring Aquaman respect.
“His fans don’t go around openly displaying their love for fear of the stupid remarks that inevitably follow,” Schwirian says. “With any luck, the movie will give us bragging rights again.”
It’s off to a good start. “Aquaman” has already grossed more than $200 million in China alone, where it opened earlier this month.
“Batman and Superman, no matter how poorly their comics sell, they’ll never go away,” Kelly says. “When Aquaman gets canceled, there’s a chance he won’t come back. But now that DC has established him as this valuable IP [intellectual property], thanks to the movie and the toy line, he will never go away and that’s what I really want — that future generations will have this character to enjoy.”
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