Aquaman can do a lot of things, but if you can talk to fish, that's all people are going to remember you for. Though Jason Momoa has raised his standing a bit, for most of his existence Aquaman has been the most pathetic member of the Justice League, little more than a joke even in the comics themselves. Which isn't really fair. After all, in addition to being able to chat up tuna, he can also swim real fast, and punch real hard, and control people's minds... which, wait, what?
Yeah, turns out his fish powers work on those parts of brains that evolved from sea creatures. Okay, so maybe Aquaman isn't as sucky as he might seem. In fact, if you dig into those comics, you'll see that Arthur Curry has swung from joke character past cool character and into full-on gritty, hardcore character. Just check out stories like...
Black Manta is one of Aquaman's most famous villains, but he's probably best-known for wearing a huge fishbowl on his head. He might look a bit like Mysterio, but Black Manta is one of the most ruthless villains in the DC universe. Like many things associated with Aquaman, it seems like Black Manta wouldn't be that intimidating. After all, it seems like all you'd have to do to avoid him is go into the next room and watch him try to get his helmet through the doorway by scuttling sideways like a crab.
Of course, that's forgetting the part where Black Manta is a child murderer. See, a few decades back, Aquaman and his wife Mera have a newborn and, unlike his parents, the baby can't breathe outside of the sea. Black Manta uses this knowledge when building a deathtrap for Aquababy, containing the toddler in a sphere slowly filling with deadly oxygen.
The whole thing is a ploy to get Aquaman and Aqualad to fight each other to the death, with the stakes being the life of poor Arthur Jr. Usually with this kind of storyline -- especially in the 1970s -- you'd expect that the crew would find some way out of this jam with everyone intact, living to fight another day. But that's not what happens here.
That's it. No rescue in the nick of time. Aquababy is dead, and has remained dead for the last 40 years.
These events not only devastated Aquaman, leading him to almost kill Black Manta, but it was also what led to Aquaman and Mera splitting up. This tragic story was also what led DC to start republishing Aquaman in his own comics after a seven year absence from the stands. Can you imagine what it was like to be an Aquafan at the time? You got your favorite hero back, sure, but at what cost?
When you dig back into Aquaman history, you'll find there are several stories about Arthur Curry losing the throne -- because after you kill his son, what else can you really take away from a man? Recently, a guy called Ocean Master (which, wow, much better name than Aquaman) used an old Atlantean plan to attack the surface world, throwing tsunamis at cities across the world, and bringing Atlanteans -- who are much, much stronger than humans -- up to declare war on the world.
That's dark as it is, with Aquaman being trapped between his loyalty to Atlantis and his desire for the surface world not to get drowned. But as it turns out, "drown all the cities and then attack the remainders" was a plan that Aquaman himself came up with before taking the throne.
Man, what is it with heroes having their plans taken and turned against them? Should... should superheroes just not think anymore? That might be best.
The Blackest Night was a bit of a rough time for everyone in the DC Universe. The basic idea was that a necromancer named Black Hand got a ring that brought dead people back as malevolent zombies, and he used it to try and kill everyone in the entire universe (and then bring them back as his army, duh). The only people who could stand against him were Green Lanterns, so he got pretty far before getting beat back.
Black Hand enlisted dozens of superheroes to work for him -- granted, they were decomposing, moldy, zombie corpse versions of the heroes, but still. They were pretty tough. And since there were plenty of expired superheroes around at the time, that meant even the then-dead Aquaman wasn't safe.
And so we have Evil Zombie Aquaman, who can do everything regular Aquaman can except, you know, evil. Which means that instead of summoning aquatic life, Evil Zombie Aquaman can summon undead sharks.
Evil Zombie Aquaman even tries to drive his former wife, the still-living Mera, to suicide by telling her that if she accepts death, then they can be together with their son again. Yeah, zombie Aquaman uses the death of Aquababy to try and get his wife to kill herself. But Mera, under the influence of the rage-filled Red Lantern ring, isn't having any of it.
Hey, look, a story that wouldn't feel out of place in the DCEU!
Aquaman is a hero and, like all good heroes, he never kills... Ha, no, we're messing with you. Of course Aquaman kills. At one point, his hand was replaced with a hook. What do you think he used that for? Back rubs?
See, Aquaman -- despite being a jokey character in pop culture -- has a serious darkside. After all, you'd have to be pretty dark if you come up with a plan to drown the entire surface. Of course, he never went through with that. But around that time, he did do something else pretty heinous: Aquaman murdered a man in cold blood.
Flash back a few years. Aquaman's father was just attacked by a man from the surface. Aquaman, having about as much self-control as self-respect, went to the surface and confronted the man. Being the brash royal twerp that he was, he acted too hastily, accidentally killing a man like anyone else would miss a stair in the dark.
That's pretty bad in itself, but the man he killed turned out to be Black Manta's father. That's what led Black Manta down the path he took, becoming one of the most feared water terrorists ever, dedicating his life to ending Aquaman's, and even killing a little Aquababy. You could say that all of it, in a roundabout way, was Aquaman's fault. All in a day's work, right?
Arthur Curry has paired up with a bunch of superheroes over his 75+ years in comics, but one of the most surprising tag-team has to be his tag-team with the rhyming demon Etrigan. This isn't just a one-off thing, either. As told in the Brave and the Bold, Aquaman and Etrigan meet up once a year -- the fish man and the hello-I'm-a-literal-demon-from-hell-how-are-you -- to fight against an otherwordly monster attempting to break into Earth from the depths of the sea in order to destroy all that there is.
Despite this being a story straight out of Lovecraft, Aquaman doesn't seem to be stressed out too much about it. Since he apparently does this all the time, fighting aquatic Cthulhus is more or less the same as taking his car in to get a checkup or renewing his Entertainment Weekly subscription. He does this once every year and it doesn't even seem to stress him that much. It's the same for him as taking his car in to get a checkup or renewing his Entertainment Weekly subscription. Okay, it's a little more serious than that, but you get the idea.
This isn't even close to his experience with Cthulhu-esque creatures either. Besides the fact that he guards a literal gate to Hell alongside a firebreathing demon, more recently he's been dealing with unspeakable monsters that have been flooding in from a dark corner of the Earth only known as The Trench. Then there was time Aquaman himself made a bargain with Sea Gods to protect his people, and proceeded to be warped into a Cthulhu monster himself, only to mentor and later be murdered by his successor. Comic books are a lot.
Wait... he killed a man in cold blood, planned to destroy the surface world with floods, became Cthulhu and once commanded zombie sharks? Is... is Aquaman cool?