Arthur Curry has enjoyed a very interesting renaissance over the past few years. The classic blonde-haired monarch in orange and yellow is enjoying his moment on Justice League Action, Jason Mamoa slayed a new barbarian interpretation in the live action Justice League movie last year and looking down the pike at the upcoming Aquaman solo movie, DC has been so good to collect writer Peter David’s iconic comic book take on the character.
This series breathed newfound depth and importance into a character that so much of the world knew primarily as the fish guy from Super Friends that I was thrilled to get the opportunity to dive into it once again.
AQUAMAN BY PETER DAVID opens with a four-issue miniseries addressing some of the changes that the eponymous character has undergone in the scope of the larger DC Universe and sets the tone for the broody self-reflection that marks the entire rest of his run. David has penned a number of legendary comic book runs (including a really great Supergirl solo series), and it’s evident from the very first issue how he has been able to do this. Aquaman is immediately faced with the reality of what he is—an alien born on Earth—who has to serve two masters and doesn’t really know if he cares about either of them. At the time when this run was first being published, this was a new question and it’s a compelling one to explore.
David kick starts things with a revelation that Arthur’s father isn’t the man he had thought. For decades, Arthur had been the prodigal son of Queen Atlanna and a nice surface worlder. In David’s Aquaman, Arthur struggles to accept his Atlantean name—Orin—since it carries with it the knowledge that his father was an evil Atlantean sorcerer who was only focused on using his son to further his own plans for takeover.
These personal issues are the foundation on which Aquaman swims (pun intended—and it wasn’t even a good pun). There is also a heavy message surrounding the oceanographic setting that’s increasingly become a staple of Aquaman stories. The nice thing about the setting is that it gives David a simple shorthand for creating a diverse array of instantly despicable villains. Plus, it also allows for an expansion of animal sidekicks that I deeply, deeply enjoyed. There are plenty of dolphins on display and readers even get to dive into just how integral these favorite creatures of the sea were in shaping Orin’s original story.
This first volume of David’s Aquaman is the perfect storm of so many things that make Aquaman great, and it does all of them with tremendous aplomb. The real cherry on the top of the ice cream sundae that is this book arrives in the final third, when Arthur Curry suffers a terrible injury and he chooses a completely badass prosthetic in the shape of a golden harpoon. (As David makes clear in his introduction to the collection, it’s not a hook.)
On its own, the harpoon hand is iconic in the Aquaman canon. (If you want to disagree with me on this, I would kindly point you toward the cover image that spoils the incoming harpoon hand several issues before it actually arrives.) There is something about the viciousness, veracity and conviction that the harpoon instills in Arthur following the amputation. He ascends to his full potential and in the span of only a few panels, the Aquaman for a new generation of readers emerges, and I, for one, am living for it!
The edge that David brings to this character is definitely helped along by artists Martin Egeland, Kirk Jarvinen, Gene Gonzales, Jim Calafiore and Casey Jones, who each infuse a different type of kinetic energy that feeds the once and future King of Atlantis. Egeland tackles most of the art duty throughout this volume, and it’s very fun to watch how his approach to Arthur grows along with the character. Arthur’s body definitely picks up harder edges and more definition as the narrative throttles toward the harpoon hand! And once the barbarian king of the seven seas arrives, well, he looks scary as hell.
There is so much in this collection to be mined by modern Aquaman writers and in any adaptation of him moving forward. If his own eponymous movie is anywhere near as compelling, transformative and action-packed as this journey into self-realization is, then he might be on his way to newfound popularity and relevance that you might not expect from the guy who talks to fish.
If they’ll have me, I’ll be back to write about the second volume of this reprinted collection. I certainly hope that you find this perspective on Arthur Curry as thought-provoking and defining as I do. Either way, let me know your thoughts in the comments!