Nerd Factor: The Man Who Would Be (Sea) King
Dr Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
To me, Aquaman is not the kind Atlantis needs right now.
Before I defend my thesis, a few caveats. First, I’m not talking about any old Aquaman. Like Batman and James Bond, there have been a number of different versions of Aquaman. This particular superhero first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941 as essentially National Comics’ (now DC Comics) answer to Timely Comics’ (now Marvel Comics) Sub-Mariner. Over the years, Aquaman has been portrayed as a straight-laced superhero to an embittered regent who had to replace his hand with a hook after piranhas ate it off. While Aquaman did appear in a few cartoons, up until recently, he has lagged behind his Justice League colleagues in popularity.
All that has changed though now, is that Aquaman has ridden a movie box office tsunami to break the $1 billion mark worldwide. This Aquaman is the unqualified regent of whom I speak. Which brings up my second caveat. If you haven’t seen the movie and do not want it spoiled, stop now.
In the new DC Extended Universe films, Aquaman is portrayed by Jason Momoa. My problem is not that Momoa does not look like Aquaman. Nor is my problem that the DCEU essentially presents this version of Aquaman as a tattooed biker with a good heart. I never expected Momoa to wear the famous gold and green costume for as long as he did. My understanding is that many people prefer that he not wear much clothes at all anyway.
This movie presents Aquaman as a reluctant hero. He does not want to be involved when the water wielding Mera approaches him to stop his half-brother, King Orm, and his brewing war with the surface world.
Popular culture abounds with regal characters and royal intrigue has been a great premise for drama for at least as long as Shakespeare’s days. So it’s no surprise that we’ve had many royal superheroes. For example, violent circumstances forced Black Panther to assume the throne earlier than expected and then struggle against usurpers. Like Aquaman, Thor would rather not be king of Asgard, but he has to defend the lands against Loki and take over from Odin.
But unlike T’Challa and Thor, Aquaman did not get even a royal orientation. T’Chaka prepared his son for the throne and even advises him from beyond the grave. Odin tried to pass along some wisdom too, even if Thor might not have listened too well.
More importantly though, Aquaman does not strike me as the sort of guy who wants the job.
The movie makes it very clear that Aquaman is happier sharing a beer or twenty with friends and family. Again, nothing wrong with carousing. While Aquaman comes to understand his abilities better and recovers the trident confirming his heritage, we see nothing in terms of leadership that suggests he can do more than summon a mob of fish.
In other words, Aquaman defeated his overly ambitious half-brother Orm (who wasn’t all that wrong about the evil of the surface world) and turned around an army. Aquaman did so through melee combat and fish control. No political skill was involved. The next day, thousands of Atlanteans are going to wake up to discover this new king is not going to want to sit around listening to fish zoning disputes and aquatic rights of the way. He’ll swim back to the surface world to catch a brewski.
Good luck Atlantis, you’ll need it!