Apparently, people don't want to spend their money on a superhero who spends all of his time looking wet and smelling of fish. That's one possible conclusion to be drawn from the fact that DC Comics can never manage to make Aquaman a sales success. This problem has spread to TV as well, if you consider the character's jokey existence in HBO's Entourage and his non-existent series on the CW. So what is it about the character that stops him hitting the big time? And can he ever break through the water ceiling?DC Executive Editor Dan Didio explained what he sees as "the Aquaman problem" to the LA Times' Geoff Boucher:
There have been so many twists and turns [in how we portray the character]. It's left the character confused; we try to build a strong foundation for the characters and Aquaman does not have that right now. We have to get him back to a core conceit so we can build him back up again. We need to build on what is recognizable and draw people back in. And everybody wants to try to take on the character. I have a running joke: In all my dinners with the talent at conventions, I get three or four writers who will lean into me and say, 'I know how to fix Aquaman.' Everybody says that. It's become a cause célèbre. It's a running joke but, really, it's not a joke because I know people do love the character. We're going to be very cautious from this point forward because I want to make sure it's perfect. I don't want to add to the confusion when we take another pass at him.
It's true; depending on how old you are, Aquaman is either Arthur Curry, son of a lighthouse keeper and a mermaid who likes to wear an orange sweater and green tights, or he's Orin, son of the Queen of Atlantis and a mysterious wizard who may or may not be the god of the sea, who happens to be missing a hand but has a scary-ass hook there instead... or, perhaps, he's Arthur Joseph Curry, the premature son of two humans who - because of a freak accident - can breathe water and happens to have some of Orin's soul attached to him, magically. Or something. You may be beginning to see DiDio's problem. And, yet, I don't think that that's really "the Aquaman problem," but a symptom of it. The real Aquaman problem is that... well, everyone thinks that he sucks. Admittedly, that whole "He talks to fish and can swim really fast" thing doesn't help his case; we all dig Michael Phelps - who, interestingly enough, can also talk to fish, although he likes to keep that quiet - but no-one really wants to see him in tights fighting crime, you know? The potential of Aquaman is entirely lost on his potential audience, leaving him open to be the butt of jokes on Entourage and having his show cancelled out from underneath him before it was even broadcast on the CW. But here's the thing: Aquaman should be awesome. No, really; no matter what version of Aquaman you want to look at - and, to be honest, my personal preference is that Atlantean Royalty one with the hook - there's all kinds of potential there. You could go all-out mystical with the "lost civilizations under the sea" angle, you could go scientific exploration considering how little we know what's going on in 70% of the planet. You could point out that, in order to be able to swim in the depths of the oceans, Aquaman has to be pretty strong, and that his sight must also be pretty keen to be able to make out things in all that murk. Add that to his telepathy, and he's a one-man X-Men... one that could, if you so choose, be at the very least a Prince of Atlantis. There's so much potential in the Aquaman concept, whichever one you choose, that it should be impossible to fail. There's just one thing that you'd have to do to make it work; one essential thing: Lose the name. There is, sadly, no way to get around it. "Aquaman" not only has such a weight of bad expectations and failure around it, but it's also, let's face it, a kind of shitty name. It doesn't have the iconic effect of "Superman" or "Batman," it's missing the descriptive qualities of a "Spider-Man," and the pizzaz of "The Flash." Who'd call himself "Aquaman" in this day and age? Someone who's sponsored by Aquafina? It just doesn't work anymore, so ditch it. Keep everything else - the backstory (or backstories), the powers, even the costume if you have to - the same, but give it another name, and just you wait; he'll be swimming to success in no time. And if you can get Michael Phelps to play him in the movie, that wouldn't hurt, either.