email thomas


















By Thomas Wheeler

You know, despite the fact that he's got super-strength, has been ruler of Atlantis and laid some claim to being king of all the oceans, and has certainly fared well in animated media in the past, having his own animated program in the 1960's and being a significant part of the "Super Friends" series in the 1970's and 1980's, and despite a considerable longevity in the comics world, it seems to me that Aquaman doesn't quite get the respect all of that history warrants.

Granted, the character has been overhauled more times in recent history and I believe that's cost him considerably. But it still seems that when someone thinks of the big names in the DC Universe, Aquaman isn't always there. Oh, he made it into the popular incarnation of the JLA that started off in the mid 1990's, but he's not in the most recent incarnation of the team. And when the Justice League was brought to television for its legendary animated series, Aquaman got bumped from the team in favor of Hawkgirl so there'd be a second female on the team. He turned up in the show from time to time, and was generally an ally, but it was still a very sporadic role at best.

So when Aquaman was announced as part of the second series of Mattel's DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line of action figures, I knew I wanted to add him to my collection. He deserved it, as far as I was concerned. Technically, there are two versions of Aquaman available. The classic, original Aquaman, and his newest incarnation, who is technically a different individual altogether. Obviously, I wanted the original.

Let's consider the origin and history, to a point, of the original, classic AQUAMAN:

The character debuted in More Fun Comics #73 (Nov. 1941). Aquaman's origin has been reworked more times than is easily related. Since back in the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics, origins were generally less detailed than they are today, I think it best if in this case I relate the most up-to-date history of the classic Aquaman, as moderately contradictory as that may sound.

In 1989, the Legend of Aquaman Special rewrote the Sea King's mythos and origin, though keeping most of his Silver Age history intact. The special was by writer Robert Loren Fleming, with plots/breakdown art by Keith Giffen and full pencil art by artist Curt Swan.

The Modern Age Aquaman was born as Orin to Queen Atlanna and the mysterious wizard Atlan in the Atlantean city of Poseidonis, was abandoned on Mercy Reef as a baby because of his blond hair, which was seen by the superstitious Atlanteans as a sign of a curse they called "the Mark of Kordax." The only individual who spoke up on Orin's behalf was Vulko, a scientist who had no patience for myth or superstition. While his pleas were to no avail, Vulko would later become a close friend and advisor to the young Orin.

As a feral child who raised himself in the wilds of the ocean with only sea creatures to keep him company, Orin was found and taken in by a lighthouse keeper named Arthur Curry who named Orin "Arthur Curry" after himself. One day Orin returned home and found that his adoptive father had disappeared, so he set off on his own. In his early teens, Orin ventured to the far north, where he met and fell in love with an Inupiat girl named Kako. He also first earned the hatred of Orm, the future Ocean Master who was later revealed to be Arthur's half-brother by Atlan and an Inupiat woman.

Orin then returned to the seas, mostly staying out of humanity's sight, until he discovered Poseidonis. He was captured by the city's then-dictatorial government and placed in a prison camp, where he met Vulko, also a prisoner of the state, who taught Orin the language and ways of the Atlanteans. While Orin was there he realized that his mother was also being held captive, but after her death he broke out and fled. Eventually, he made his way to the surface world, where under the name of "Aquaman" he became one of several superheroes emerging into the public view at the time. Upon his return to Poseidonis he was made the king, and sometime later he met and married Mera.

The publication of writer Peter David's The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7 (Mar-Sep 1990), which told the story of Atlantis from antediluvian times to Aquaman's birth, successfully revived interest in the character. Significantly, it was in this limited series that the ancient Atlantean characters Orin (whose name was given as Aquaman's Atlantean name) and Atlan (who was revealed to be Aquaman's father) were introduced.

A new Aquaman ongoing series thereafter ran from December 1991 to December 1992, which portrayed Aquaman reluctantly deciding to remain in Poseidonis as its protector once again. For a time, he served as Atlantis' representative to the United Nations but always found himself thrust back into the superhero role. Becoming more and more of a workaholic and solitary figure, Aquaman eventually returned to the oceans.

Peter David returned to the character in another limited series, Aquaman: Time and Tide, a 1993/1994 four-issue series which further explained Aquaman's origins as he finally learned all about the history of his people through the Atlantis Chronicles (presented as historical texts passed down and updated through the centuries). Aquaman learned that his birth name was Orin and that he and his enemy Ocean Master shared the same father, "an ancient Atlantean wizard" called Atlan. This revelation set the stage for later confrontations between the two, as it was said that "two brothers will also battle for control of Atlantis" (the Silver Age Aquaman had always known that the Ocean Master was his half-brother Orm, although Orm's amnesia prevented him from remembering that fact for some time).

It is at this point that Aquaman's history deviates from anything familiar in this action figure. He received his own ongoing series that had a run of some 75 issues. It was during this time that he lost his left hand, adopting a number of replacements, the best known of which was a hooked hand that could be shot along a retractable cable like a harpoon. At this point in time, Aquaman had grown his hair long, and a beard, and wore partial body armor over his chest, and was, for the most part, a pretty grim customer. This portrayal of the character became decidedly well-known due to animated media presentations in the 1990's and 2000's, and because of his presence on the revitalized and decidedly popular JLA comics title. There were also several action figures of this version of the character.

In 2003, a new Aquaman comic series was started up, and Aquaman was given a new replacement hand composed of "mystic water", and he regained a more classic look, including an orange shirt, green leggings, and he went out and got a haircut and shave while he was at it.

During this time, Aquaman went to San Diego after a massive earthquake plunged half the city into the Pacific Ocean. He soon discovered that the survivors of the catastrophe were able to breathe underwater and began helping them to rebuild the submerged portion of the city they now called "Sub Diego".

Aquaman met a rather unpleasant fate during the time of Infinite Crisis and the subsequent Countdown story, culminating in the 50th issue of his own title. Given that I feel that this was a horrible mistreatment of a classic character, and since it doesn't really pertain to the action figure, I won't relate the details here.

As to his powers and abilities, Aquaman has a number of superhuman powers, most of which derive from the fact that he is adapted to live in the depths of the ocean. Primary among his powers is the ability to extract oxygen from water, allowing him to 'breathe' while submerged. He is unaffected by the immense pressure and the cold temperature of the ocean depths; further, he possesses an enhanced resistance to injury and superhuman strength (he can easily throw a car hundreds of feet). He is likewise able to swim at very high speeds. He can see in near total darkness and has enhanced hearing. Although he can remain underwater indefinitely without suffering any ill effects, Aquaman grows weak if he remains on land for extended periods.

Aquaman's most notable power is the telepathic ability to communicate with and command oceanic life. The range of this power is unclear; certainly he can summon sea life from vast distances. Although this power is most often and most easily used on marine life, Aquaman has on multiple occasions demonstrated the capacity to affect other beings, including humans, albeit on a more limited level.

Aquaman's telepathic abilities are otherwise unrefined but it has been demonstrated on multiple occasions that he can use his abilities to supplement other more skilled telepaths such as Martian Manhunter's.

Aquaman has taken something of a ribbing over the years given that his powers predominantly relate to marine life, while, especially during his times with the Justice League, most of his adventures have nothing to do with the ocean. I tend to think that people who mock his powers as such forget that Aquaman is easily one of the physically strongest beings in the DC Universe, perhaps not to Superman levels, but not somebody you want to pick a fight with. That alone warrants a better measure of respect than he tends to get.

Early animated incarnations of the character from the 1960's show him able to manipulate water, as well. This has not been reflected in the comics character, which should be regarded as more canonical, although both Mera and Tempest, the former Aqualad, have demonstrated this ability to great effect.

Let's consider the figure. For starters, Aquaman has a visual appearance to him that tends to set him apart from a lot of prominent characters, especially in the DC Universe. Let's put him on the same level, for a moment, as Batman, Superman, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman, arguably DC's "Big Four" powerhouses. Put Aquaman in there. He tends to stand out. For starters, he's blonde. The others all have black hair -- even Batman, although it's hidden under his cowl. And although Batman tends to dress in dark colors of black, dark grey, dark blue, the other three tend to have costumes that use mostly primary colors -- red, yellow, blue. Okay, you've got Cap's white cape. Aquaman's classic costume is an orange shirt and green leggings with green gloves. Orange isn't a color that tends to turn up much in superhero costumes at all, really, and yet here it is. So Aquaman, visually tends to be a standout.

That shirt creates an interesting dilemma, from the standpoint of an action figure. It's always been drawn as scaled. Now, that's easy enough to draw. You just put some little bunches of curved lines on the shirt at various locations, and the shirt looks scaled. But it's another matter to turn that design into an action figure.

If the figure is wearing a cloth costume, which this one isn't, you pretty much have the option of ignoring it entirely, which is what Mego did in the 1970's, or printing the scales on the uniform, which is what Ideal did for Captain Action's Aquaman costume in the 1960's, or coming up with some sort of fabric for the figure that itself somehow looks scaled, which is what DC Direct did for their 13" Aquaman a couple of years back.

If the figure is not wearing a cloth costume, but rather has the uniform sculpted as part of its body, you have a couple of options. You can imprint scales on the plastic parts that comprise the upper body, which is what Mattel did for the preschool-ish Super Friends line, you can sculpt a limited number of scales on the upper body, or you can go all out and try to sculpt the entire shirt as scaled. The Aquaman in the Super Powers line from Kenner in the mid-1980's came pretty close to this.

The DC Universe Classics Aquaman figure really went all out on the scales, and did they ever get it right.

I would like to think that after all the years I have collected action figures and, on occasion, have customized a few here and there, read any number of articles in magazine about the design and sculpting of action figures, that I have a reasonable, if not direct, knowledge of at least some of what it takes to design and sculpt an action figure. But I take a look at the intricacy, the precision, and the entirety of the scales on this Aquaman's shirt, and I don't have the slightest idea how they got away with this one. I would think it would be almost humanly impossible to individually sculpt every single little curved scale.

Multiple parts were involved, too. The chest, abdomen, shoulders, upper arms, and lower arms to the glove tops. These scales had to be placed over a precise and detailed musculature. They even work across the molding seams! Hundreds of tiny little scales, all in precise order and fit. Possibly thousands. And no, I don't intend to count them.

Seriously, there's highly detailed action figures, which I think is a term that can be applied to just about everybody in this DC Universe Classics line, and then there's "Holy cow, do you believe that they actually DID all this!?" Aquaman's shirt fits into that latter description.

The shirt is, of course, molded in orange, and given a very slight wash of very slightly lighter orange over the scales, just to bring out their detail a bit better. While a wash of paint is normally something I don't agree with doing, in this case it really does serve to enhance the already astounding detail of this figure.

Okay, let's discuss the rest of the figure. The shirt has a wide collar at the top with a narrow gold border around it. Aquaman has an excellent headsculpt with an appropriately heroic expression, superbly sculpted wavy hair that manages to look just a bit wet somehow, and very precisely painted eyes that have been very nicely done.

The DC Universe Classics line swaps around some body sections as it is able to, and this is a workable strategy fairly often for standard tights-wearing super-heroes. But Aquaman can't really use a lot of those parts. Certainly his shirt is unique, and for that matter, so are the flared green gloves he wears. He has a unique belt, and black trunks. This is something that is almost a matter of artistic decision. I've seen Aquaman portrayed with black trunks, and I've seen him portrayed with green leggings that start at the belt and just proceed down. Here, they gave him the trunks, and I'm rather pleased they did. It adds a little more color.

Aquaman may share the same upper leg molds with some of the other figures in this line, but he certainly doesn't share the lower legs. Emerging from Aquaman's calves are two fins, certainly an aid in swimming. But they'd probably look pretty out of place with anyone else.

Aquaman stands about 6-1/2" in height, and is superbly well articulated. He is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid- torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

Aquaman's accessory is, as one might expect, his trident. This is a very ornate piece of work, molded in metallic gold plastic, with a certain amount of painted trim, and is about 8" in length. It's definitely no dinner fork, and if the King of the Seven Seas is coming at you with this thing and he's in a bad mood, you're in trouble.

I really believe that Mattel has created a truly exemplary and outstanding line of action figures with this DC Universe Classics line. About the worst thing I can say about it is that its distribution is pretty awful. This line needs to be better and more consistently carried and distributed.

My only other general DC Universe Classics complaint is with regard to figure assembly. I have had trouble with several figures where parts have been inadvertently (I hope!) assembled improperly, such as switched knee joints or arms, and given the detailed musculature of the figures, these parts are NOT interchangeable. Fortunately, Aquaman does not have any issues here, and I will address that matter in other DCUC figure reviews. I will only say here that it is a serious problem that Mattel needs to deal with and correct.

So what's my final word here? Seriously, the DC Universe Classics line from Mattel is as good an action figure line as anything else on the market from any manufacturer, and it's a darn sight better than the vast majority of it, for that matter. If Mattel can bring up the quality and distribution here, correct a few problems and get these figures into the stores in decent quantity, then hopefully this line will be around for many years to come, taking full advantage of the vast DC Universe to our enjoyment.

And certainly this AQUAMAN figure is one of the most impressive representatives of the line to date. I'm not saying he'll be easy to find, but if you can track him down, through whatever means, I guarantee you'll be glad you did. The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS AQUAMAN most definitely has my highest recommendation!