12 Reasons Why It’s Time to Retire This “Aquaman is the Weak Link in the Justice League” Nonsense Once and For All
1. Because three-fourths of the world’ s surface, people. Just sayin’.
There is — and has been for quite some time now — a noisy group of fans who insist on casting Aquaman as the weak link within the Justice League’s ranks. “Oh, he swims and talks to fish, big whoop” is the kind of thing you might hear them say, pointing to 40-year-old Super Friends episodes to prove their point. I submit that anyone who does advance this idea should be politely reprimanded for showing disrespect towards the Sovereign of the Seven Seas. Because let’s not forget he is a monarch, with the entire ocean as his realm. That’s 7/10ths of the world’s surface, or about 360 million sq. km. of the surface of the planet, with a total volume of about 1.35 billion cubic kilometres going down to an average depth of 12,100 ft. Sure, Superman can hold his breath for a long time, Batman could pay someone to build him a kick-ass submarine, and Green Lantern can easily construct a proper diving bell with his power ring if he needed one. But every other hero is literally out of his or her element if they ever try to police the oceans without help from this fellow. Simply put, you have no business calling yourselves “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes” if you cede jurisdiction over three-fourths of said world. Period.
2. Because the ocean is a place that breeds them tough.
Here’s a fun fact: our atmosphere has weight and presses down on everything you see. At sea level, there is 1 atmosphere of pressure pushing down on you, but you don’t feel it because the pressure inside your lungs is the same as the pressure of the air around you (1.033 kg. per square centimetre). Go higher in the atmosphere and the air pressure decreases; go lower and it increases. Go underwater and the atmospheric pressure continues to increase, and that’s on top of the weight of the water that’s pushing down on you. The general rule is the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere for every 10 meters you go down; at 2,500 meters below the surface, there are 250 atmospheres of pressure pushing down on you, the equivalent of an elephant standing on your big toe. And I haven’t even mentioned the hostile sea creatures, frigid temperatures, lack of sunlight, jagged rocks, unpredictable currents and other risks to marine life and limb. My point? Anyone bred to survive in place like that is not someone who will go down easy in a fight, and definitely not someone you want to mess with.
3. Because that talking-to-fish thing you’re laughing about? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
At the start of 2005’s Justice, Aquaman is kidnapped by Lex Luthor and Black Manta and taken to a secret location to be studied by Brainiac. The Justice League locates him by noticing he telepathically instructed ocean creatures to move into position across two oceans, forming cross-hairs that point to his precise location. “Must be nice to have a psychic rapport with two-thirds of all life on Earth,” muses Red Tornado. And… well, exactly. What some people want to laugh off as “talking to fish” is exactly that: a psychic rapport with the vast majority of animal life on the planet. That’s nothing to sneeze at, people, and that’s not just me saying that; the very reason the Legion kidnapped Aquaman is because they saw the potential in possessing that kind of power and wanted to harvest it for their own nefarious schemes. You want to tell Luthor and Black Manta they were wasting their time, you go right ahead.
4. Because if that whole “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” thing is true, then he’s one of the strongest heroes you’ll ever meet.
If there’s one quality that separates true heroes from the rest, it’s their resilience — their ability to get back up after life has knocked them down. Look at any great superhero and you’ll find at least one big tragedy in their past: a dead loved one, perhaps, or a physical injury they had to overcome. But I submit no hero can hold a candle to the king of Atlantis in the Hard Luck Sweepstakes. What other hero, for instance…
…was abandoned to die at birth by his superstitious people simply for the crime of having blond hair…
…discovered that one of his two greatest arch-enemies was none other than his own brother…
…was forced to watch helplessly as his infant son was outright murdered before his eyes by the other of his two greatest arch-enemies…
…was stunned into near immobility (and nearly killed as a result) when his beloved wife not only divorces him after the death of their child but attempts to outright kill him…
…had his hand gnawed down to the bare bone by ravenous piranhas while he was still conscious enough to feel it happening…
…watched helplessly as many of his people, including his most trusted adviser and a second son he never knew he had, were killed off in yet another of DC’s crossover events…
… and, well, you get the idea. Point being, anyone who can endure all of this and rise to fight another day is someone who should never, ever be written off as weak.
5. Because he’s richer than you, and rich people are simply better than the rest of us.
Every team needs someone to bankroll the operation. Without Bruce Wayne’s billions, the Justice League would still be hanging out in a Rhode Island cave; without Tony Stark, the Avengers would be calling meetings to order in the corner booth at their favorite shawarma place. If needed, Aquaman can quite handily fill that role because his day job as Sovereign of the Seven Seas means, technically, anything he finds lying around in the ocean is his to keep… and us humans have lost a lot of neat stuff down there through the ages. This was illustrated in an early issue of 1999’s The Titans, when Garth (a.k.a. Aqualad) answers someone’s question about funding with a giant chest of pearls, doubloons and other bits of treasure. Multiply that chest by a few thousand sunken ships, give or take a golden goblet or two, and you start to see how Aquaman can afford to keep himself in chain-mail shirts.
6. Because he’s a brilliant tactician, which you have to be just to survive in a place like the ocean.
I’m a big believer in the environment; specifically, in how the environment you’re raised in shapes the way you think and perceive the world. Someone raised in a jungle environment, for instance, is better able to conceive and execute guerrilla tactics than, say, someone raised on a flat grassy plain. Now imagine you live in a place where an attack could come at you from any angle — not just from behind or in front of you, but from above, from below, and from every other direction around you. You’re not just moving pieces on a chessboard; you’re playing several 3-D chessboards all at once just to survive. Adapting to that kind of environment, especially while being a leader whose every decision has an enormous impact on the welfare of your people, is going to either break you or make you one of the most formidable tacticians on the planet. And since Arthur is still swimming along, I’m going with Option B.
7. Because he’s smart enough to use disinformation to his advantage.
One of the goofier aspects of the Silver Age Aquaman was the notion that he and his fellow Atlanteans could only survive out of water for exactly one hour. This arbitrary time limit was often taken to comically ludicrous extremes for cheap dramatic purposes (see above), as if every Atlantean was born with an internal egg timer counting down from the second they’re removed from water. It was just how heroes rolled back then: Superman had umpteen forms of kryptonite to worry about, Green Lantern had that thing with the color yellow, Martian Manhunter had an aversion to fire, Aquaman had this. It didn’t make sense from a physiological standpoint, but it was handy for inserting instant tension when needed. When writer Peter David took over Aquaman’s book in the 1990s, he wrote a scene in Aquaman’s 1997 annual issue in which a pair of bad guys, believing the one-hour rule, try to coerce information out of Aquaman. Playing along, Aquaman pretends to suffocate in front of them, then quietly chuckles after they toss his supposedly dead body back in the ocean. Bottom line: for all his regal bearing and honour, this is a guy who’s not above using disinformation and other peoples’ gullibility against them — and that’s a good thing.
8. Because the ocean is a vast and unknown place, making it a blank canvas on which we can create any story we want.
When it comes to knowing what’s really out there in the ocean, we might as well all change our names to Jon Snow, because we know nothing — or at least, very close to nothing. Consider: (1) We have more detailed maps of the surface on Mars than we do of the ocean floor. (2) Despite centuries of ocean exploration, we’ve only really covered about 5% of the ocean’s depths. (3) The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range with thousands of peaks taller than the Alps, is the longest mountain range in the world (40,000 km long compared to the second-longest Andes at 7,000 km), and it’s only barely been studied by scientists. That is a lot of unexplored territory that we can populate with any number of fantastical creatures and civilizations for our storytelling purposes. Think Ka-Zar’s Savage Land, Turok’s Hidden Valley, the Warlord’s Skartaris, and John Carter’s Mars all in the same place… with room left over for who knows what other undersea wonders to find. The sky — or the sea — is the limit.
9. Because his wife is no slouch in the don’t-mess-with-me department, either.
I don’t keep up with Aquaman’s current adventures, so I don’t know if he’s currently married, single, divorced or what. What I do know is this: for most of his career, Mera has been right by his side, and she is just as — if not more than — powerful as he is. First appearing in 1963, she was introduced as a queen on the run from a water-based dimension, and only seven issues later she and our hero were getting hitched. But lest you think she’s the nautical equivalent of a doting wife, her own nothing-to-sneeze-at powers include aquakinesis (able to move liquids with her mind) and the ability to increase the density of water to form solid constructs. True, the two of them have had their issues over the years (see “tried to kill him once” above), but they have always found their way back to each other, creating one of the most enduring relationships in the comics. And I think it’s worth noting he’s not in the least bit threatened by having a very strong and independent woman at his side, the way some weaker fellows might be.
10. Because the pilot for his TV show was actually pretty awesome.
Fresh off Aquaman’s 2005 introduction on Smallville, the CW television network announced a live-action spin-off series titled, naturally, Aquaman. Sadly, the series didn’t get picked up for the 2006/07 line-up, and only the pilot episode was ever produced. On the bright side, that episode quickly became iTune’s most-downloaded TV show when Apple secured the rights to distribute it online (it made its television debut on Canada’s YTV in June 2007). Starring Justin Hartley as a young Arthur Curry unraveling secrets about his past, the show also featured great supporting performances by Ving Rhames, Lou Diamond Phillips and Adrianne Palicki (long before her career as a kick-ass S.H.I.E.L.D. agent). Why the CW passed on the series is a mystery — perhaps the underwater scenes and special effects were seen as too costly to produce, or maybe they thought Aquaman wasn’t a big enough name to carry a TV series. Or maybe it was just too far ahead of its time: the success of shows like Flash and Arrow would suggest there’s an audience for TV shows starring B-level superheroes, as long as they’re written by people who care about the characters and know what makes them work.
11. Because now more than ever, we need heroes who keep the oceans front and centre on our list of priorities.
Every hero can be boiled down to one word that describes their basic essence. For Superman, that word is “hope.” For Batman, it’s “justice,” Wonder Woman gets “empowerment” and Spider-Man “responsibility.” I submit the word that best describes why we need an Aquaman is “stewardship.” Some more fun ocean facts: it produces 70% of the world’s oxygen and 20% of the world’s protein supply, and three billion people rely on the oceans for their livelihood. For these reasons and more, we have a pretty huge stake in ensuring our oceans stay healthy and productive, and making people aware of how much we depend on the ocean for our survival is a good place to start. I’m not saying that every Aquaman story has to get all Captain Planet in our faces with pro-environmental messages on every page. But I can’t think of a better way to excite young minds about the beauty and the wonders of the deep than by giving them someone who can serve as their guide to what lies beneath.
12. Because damn, the man knows how to make an entrance.
“Superman might not say much, but he can fly and juggle trucks. The Flash is the fastest man alive. Wonder Woman can slice through an army. And me? I can do anything with this ring. So, really, what can you do that we can’t?”
[One shark-abetted alien smashdown later]
That’s right, Mr. Jordan. Just keep walking. Preferably not out on the pier, if you know what’s good for you.