Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Charm of Aquaman: Limitations?

Art by Evan Shaner. Click the image to visit his blog and see the whole thing.

As you may have noticed, Aquaman's reputation is something that I spend time thinking about. He's a character who should be one of the coolest DC has, but the widespread conventional wisdom is that he's lame. I mostly blame Super Friends, but DC hasn't exactly known what to do with him either. There's evidence that they're trying to correct that through Brightest Day, but not everyone agrees about the success of that either.

On Brian Bendis' message board, one user complains about making Aquaman too powerful and self-sufficient. Power and the ability to take care of himself are traits that I'd think Aquaman should have in order to be a respected hero, but this person disagrees:
It seems to me that if you make him too powerful, he doesn't need the fish. And if he doesn't need the fish, or if he's full of too much gravitas to speak to them openly, then aren't you losing a lot of the charm of Aquaman?
I'm not going to make too much of one person's opinion, but it's a great illustration of how you can't please everyone. A major trait that people cite for Aquaman's lameness is that his only power is talking to fish. I agree with Peter David that that's not exactly a sucky power, but it's certainly limiting if that's all he's got going for him. Yet, here's a fan who enjoys that limitation and craves more of it to the point that he thinks the character is broken if it's not that way.

Which raises the question: how limited do superheroes need to be? In the Silver Age, everyone had a fatal weakness. Superman had kryptonite, Martian Manhunter had fire, Green Lantern had the color yellow, and Aquaman couldn't be out of the water for more than an hour or he'd die. As Snell once pointed out to me, even one hour and one second was supposed to be fatal. That strikes me as ridiculous, but that's the Silver Age for you.

It was full of ridiculous stuff, which may be what this Bendis board user misses. In the face of so much decadence in today's superhero comics, a lot of readers are longing for more innocent times. Or at least superhero comics that are more fun. I'm one of them; I just don't agree that strictly adhering to Silver Age versions of the characters is the answer.

But what about you guys? I don't believe there's a right or wrong answer here, but I'm curious to know if others feel the same way as the person on the Bendis board. Should Aquaman only be able to talk to fish? Should he die after an hour out of the water? Was it a mistake for Green Lantern to lose his weakness to yellow?
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