By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
To be honest, I imagined I was going to write so many more articles about Justice League. It is the first cinematic appearance from comic’s first superhero team, featuring an absurdly troubled production and released in theaters as a stitched together mess. How could I not talk about it? And yet, I just can’t muster up the energy or interest in breaking it down. What can I say that hasn’t already?
So instead, I will focus on one aspect of the film that has caught my ire for literal years now: Jason Momoa’s Aquaman.
The Pop Culture Scene of the 90’s and 00’s has not been kind to everyone’s favorite Aquatic hero. The Family Guy/South Park-style, too-cool-for-the-room, cynicism shaped his image from one of the most signature and present members of the DC canon into a punch-line. “All he can do is talk to fish!” “Look how silly he looks!” “Isn’t he so dandy??”
As a result, there has been a concerted effort to try and reimagine the character as ‘Cool.’ Giving him a hook for a hand, having him regularly call sharks and use a trident, emphasizing the struggles of being part human.
And these efforts are best encapsulated by the casting of the “Game of Thrones” star as the character. This hulky, ripped, ‘broish’ guy with a rockstar swagger, Momoa was a sort of ‘final form’ for the last few decades of the character’s evolution. Other than the ability to breath under water and the existence of Atlantis, there is very little of classic ‘Aquaman’ in this version of the character. This version character chugs whisky, is adorn in tattoos, swaggers around with a grizzled, low tone, rides on top of cars and enemies like surf boards, and uses phrases like, “My Man!”
This final choice has made it clear that for Warner Bros, the problem with Aquaman wasn’t that he was ‘lame’ or ‘cool,’ but he didn’t fit the definition of ‘cool’ for a very specific demographic. More accurately, he wasn’t a ‘Bad Ass’ or ‘Radical’ or ‘Awesome’ or ‘Insert Corporate Culture’s Attempt to Appeal to 80/90’s Kids’ Buzzword Here.’
Because Aquaman is always ‘cool’ in the way most superheroes are cool, in that they capture some kind of wish fulfillment. How cool is it to talk to an entire ocean of creatures? Or swim endlessly without hear of drowning or being crushed by pressure? Or being the King of a Lost City? And literally every version of Arthur Curry’s origin story is something creative and cool, spanning both science fiction, myth and fantasy. The son of a widowed marine biologist who spent years studying and teaching his son how to basically water-bend? Awesome. The son of a human man and Atlantian woman? Iconic. Altering that backstory to make him the lost heir to the Atlantian Throne? Also awesome.
The push back against Aquaman as ‘lame’ is, at least in large part, and aesthetic. There was a push in the 80’s and 90’s to make comics darker, more gritty and ‘mature’ to cater to a niche audience, and what could be done with Aquaman? His vibrant orange shirt, his fabulous blonde hair, his obnoxiously green tights. No wonder he was torn apart by every hacky comedian.
There is one modern depiction of the character that I feel finds a strong middle ground between classical, cool, and badass, and it is from the grossly underappreciated “Batman: The Brave and The Bold.” Here, the creative team took the basic mold of Superman – classically heroic, a little hokey, and wholesome—and gave him a swashbuckling, old sailor energy to him. The result is a character who feels like Aquaman while still having a fun new vibe.
There are so many problems with Justice League, and Momoa’s Aquaman is a culmination of many long term industry problems. In a desperate attempt to make a character ‘cool’ based on the whims of niche markets, focus groups, and cultural trends, they created someone who feels both dated and incredibly silly. He isn’t the first character to be given this treatment, but he is one of the most upsetting, because it seems to come from a place with Warner Bros of being embarrassed by their own creation. And if the company is embarrassed by their own creation, how can we trust them to make something good if their gut reaction is something needs fixing?