Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

February 22, 2015

Why I’m Not Happier about Aquaman

Filed under: geekery,things to get mad about — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:16 pm

So this image of hunky action superstar Jason Momoa has been doing the rounds of social media in the last day or so:

Brooding action superstar seen here posing with trident and self-important caption

Positives up front. I think Jason Momoa’s a great piece of casting: he’s good looking and cut in the right shape for a superhero movie, and he’s got a great sly wit and natural charm about him that sneaks through even dull or downright terrible productions (I’m looking at you, unnecessary Conan remake!). I’ve never seen him be the worst thing about a scene he’s in. And despite the best version of Aquaman in decades being the boisterous, over-the-top adventurer and singing enthusiast from the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon of a few years ago, I’m pretty happy about this sea-swept brooding King of the Oceans look.

I had several Twitter conversations about the plausibility of an aquatic civilisation developing tattoo technology, which basically came down to “eh, it’s probably sea urchin quills and squid ink”, but other than that I think this is probably the best possible look for a live-action Aquaman. If you were to go the route of making him less than 100% badass, you’d run straight into jokes about talking to fish.

But – oh jeez, there is just no getting around the fact that the architects of the upcoming  Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [1] , Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer, are not my favourite film makers. They contrived through a series of deliberate choices to make the worst possible version of Superman in Man of Steel. One where Superman does not take the slightest joy in being Superman, one where Superman makes a choice not to save someone (his own father!) because it might compromise his secret identity, and one where, after utterly demolishing his adopted city in a battle with a super-villain, kills the same super-villain because he has no choice.

Ugh. No. Superman always has a choice. Superman is Superman because he makes the choice to do the better thing, every time. He always –

You know what, forget it. The point is, if you are going to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars making a movie starring a character called Clark Kent who is secretly an alien from the planet Krypton who flies around in a (sort of) blue and red costume and then you change everything else about the character, well, you haven’t really made a Superman movie, have you? You can give a guy laser eyes and the ability to punch holes in the moon – that doesn’t make him a hero. And gratuitous destruction and a neck-snap finisher is the climax of a crappy eighties action movie with Dolph Lundgren, not a Superman story. Ugh.

But apparently everybody involved was happy to conflate the idea of a superhero adventure with hardcore war-porn in spandex. I don’t really trust that the same people who think Superman should be a mope who doesn’t know how to take the fight outside can make a Justice League movie I will care about.

Man of Steel gave us one dour, humourless arse with a colour-leached costume design and nearly forty minutes of harrowing disaster simulations as entertainment. BvS: DoJ is going to feature up to seven of them (that ‘Unite the Seven’ catchphrase refers, one presumes, to the seven original members of DC Comics’ all-star superhero team, the Justice League). Right there in the title, we are promised a throwdown between two characters who have been best friends for about 70 of their 75+ years of existence.

Yeah, no thanks.

Make the obvious comparison: The Avengers had a collection of serious people in fanciful outfits scowling at each other for more than an hour before an alien invasion trashed dozens of city blocks in an orgy of violence. Why am I cutting that movie some slack when I could just as easily have been describing Man of Steel then and probably Batman/Superman to come?

Because The Avengers included some jokes, that’s why. And characters capable of finding the humour in their often terrible lives. Even Bruce Banner – whose life basically consists of the crushing certainty that sooner or later he will Hulk out and be responsible for deaths in the hundreds or thousands, and who openly talked about his own suicide attempt, and whose every scene involved self-recriminating misery – even that guy was allowed to have a sense of humour and some funny lines. Nobody in Man of Steel so much as cracked a wry smile. (Okay, maybe Russell Crowe did, but I am doing my best to forget everything that happened with Papa Krypton).

So how does this all tie back to Aquaman?

Hands down the best version of Aquaman in any medium in the last decade or so (arguably ever) is this guy from Batman: the Brave and the Bold. He’s loud, boisterous and overbearing. He’s the undisputed ruler of Atlantis. And every Tuesday he takes the night off from being the king of his undersea empire to go and have crime-fighting adventures with Batman because that’s how he loves to unwind. (He also breaks into song at the least excuse, but that’s kind of a thing with everyone on that show).


Seriously, I love this guy. He doesn’t care if people think talking to fish is kind of stupid, because he can lift an oil tanker and ride bareback on killer whales and he’s the king of three-quarters of the planet. He’s happily married, loved by his people and Batman is more or less his best buddy. Why wouldn’t he be the happiest guy on Earth?

The problem with the upcoming DC Justice League tie-in films is that nobody is allowed to be happy in them. Superman mopes. Batman broods. It’s not just that they aren’t going to give us the happy-go-lucky Aquaman of the BBatB cartoons, it’s that it’s obviously a choice that was never in contention. If we’re lucky, they’ll pick out a character to be the wise-cracking rookie who gets a few witty zingers (I’ll bet Green Lantern, but Flash is also a possibility) but I’m predicting they will also make that character a mostly-unlikeable arsehole at the same time.

And Aquaman will be brooding, and serious, and almost certainly the butt of at least one joke about talking to fish.

Screw that.


[1] A shoe-in for the ‘Most Pompous Title of 2016’ award at next year’s Oscars



  1. I just have to say, though I was only really into comics in a big way for about 2 years in the early 80s, and I was always more Marvel than DC, I found this post most excellent. I’m now hoping your new novel is thinly-disguised Aquaman fanfic. ‘A Flash of Black Fins’, wasn’t it?

    Comment by Chris — February 24, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

  2. I’m more Marvel than DC these days as well, by a long shot (and not just because their movies are better, with the notable exception of The Dark Knight). I guess there’s a market for stories about glum, self-important sociopaths with the power to break planets open, but I’m not it.

    I have to cut DC a bit of slack – at least on the comics front. They are starting to get over their regressive, whiny-teenager phase that began in earnest with the New 52 reboot a few years ago. Nowadays they are at least beginning to recognise that their audience isn’t just maladjusted thirty-plus ex-college bros with a shitload of disposable income and uncomfortably limited tastes in tone and colour palettes (Think drab. Think muted. Think drained of all hope and joy).

    These days they are at least trying to expand to encompass other tastes, with stuff like Gotham Academy (teenage boarding school kids in mysterious adventures with secret passages, sinister secrets and barely-disguised supervillains on the teaching staff) and Grayson (Robin grown up and retired from superheroics so that he can concentrate on being the world’s most cheerful secret agent) and a few other titles that dare to entertain the possibilities of humour and characters whose limbs remain intact from one issue to the next. More light-hearted fare is still the exception more than the rule, but it leavens the hyperserious grimfest across the rest of the range. A little bit, anyway.

    If the movies would at least sprinkle a little of that attitude in, I might care more. But it will never happen with self-important mooks like Goyer and Snyder in charge.

    Comment by lexifab — February 24, 2015 @ 10:22 pm

  3. I’m with you regarding Man of Steel. What a thoroughly depressing and heartless movie. I honestly wondered what Lois Lane saw in Superman (other than his biceps). And the poster for Aquaman certainly doesn’t inspire confidence it will be any better.

    As an aside, not being a comic aficionado, I took ‘Unite the Seven’ to be a reference to the Seven Seas *shrugs*

    Comment by Elizabeth @ Earl Grey Editing — March 2, 2015 @ 10:05 am

  4. Lois Lane is by far the most interesting character in the movie, right up until she crosses paths with Superman. After that she stops being fearlessly curious and driven to unconver the truth (because the plot doesn’t need her for that any more) at which point she becomes tedious. Dammit. Lois Lane done right would be one of the greatest characters in cinema, but the movies keep on buggering it up. (For whatever it’s worth, I think Teri Hatcher got closest on Lois and Clark, but I also didn’t watch all of Smallville, so that version might have been okay too)

    One of the big criticisms of the ‘Unite the Seven’ slogan is that whatever interpretation you get out of it, it’s still not actually interesting. But my assumption was based on the fact that the promo picture is for the Batman/Superman movie – a solo Aquaman movie is still a few years away.

    Comment by lexifab — March 2, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

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