Aquaman originated in The Golden Age of Comic Books. He first appeared in "More Fun Comics" #73 (November, 1941). He was created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger. In his earliest appearances, Aquaman was also strong and durable enough to deflect an artillery shell one-handed and outswim a torpedo. His powers were at first said to be the result of special training, but were later described as the result of his scientist father experimenting on him. Rather than communicating with sea creatures telepathically, he could speak with them "in their own language".He wasn't the first aquatic superhero (Namor the Sub-Mariner first appeared 2 years earlier), but he eventually came to be the most well-known.Aquaman continued in "More Fun Comics" until issue #107 (January, 1946). He was then transferred to "Adventure Comics", starting with its 103rd issue (April, 1946). During The Interregnum, Aquaman was one of the few Super Heroes who remained in publication, largely due to his status as the backup feature in Superboy's title.In the Silver Age, Aquaman's origins were revamped; now, he was a Half-Human Hybrid of Atlantean and surface human, raised by his father, a lighthouse-keeper, and unaware of his royal heritage until recently. He was super-strong and tough because his body was "adapted to the sea's depths", and he could telepathically control anything that lived on or near the sea. However, he was also given a Kryptonite Factor of sorts; he could only spend one hour out of the water before succumbing to potentially fatal weakness. Aquaman's career was, like Superman's, also retroactively extended back into his childhood as "Aquaboy," Superboy's sole contemporary hero.This version of Aquaman turned out to be more popular than the original. He continued appearing in "Adventure Comics " until issue #284 (April, 1961). He became one of the founding members of the Justice League of America in 1960, and was a regular there. In 1961, Aquaman's strip got transferred to "Detective Comics", he starred in a few "Showcase" issues, and he got several crossovers with Superman. All in preparation of his first solo title, "Aquaman " vol. 1 #1-63 (February, 1962-March, 1971, revived August, 1977-August, 1978).In the process Aquaman picked up a supporting cast, something which he had generally lacked (for a time in the late 40s he had been aided by a Ditzy Genius sidekick named the Sea-Sleuth but he had vanished without trace years earlier.) Most notable among them were sidekick Aqualad, and super-powered wife Mera. They even had a kid. The Bronze Age led to his comic being canceled, Un-Cancelled, and re-canceled repeatedly. His child was murdered in an effort to drum up interest and provide angst, and he became the leader of the Dork Age version of the Justice League (often referred to as "Justice League Detroit").After Crisis on Infinite Earths rolled around, Aquaman, like many DCU denizens, got a new origin. Now, he was the son of an immortal Atlantean wizard, abandoned to die for his blond hair and raised by dolphins before being found by the lighthouse-keeper. After this, Peter David became his main writer, and revamped him; his hand was eaten by piranhas and replaced with a hook, he grew out his beard, and moved toward epic, Barbarian Hero-style adventures. This led to a successful ongoing series for a time, but it slipped in popularity after David was removed, and was eventually canceled.This led to yet another revamp. Atlantis was sent back in time thousands of years, its citizens enslaved by their own ancestors, and Aquaman himself was imprisoned as living water. The JLA freed them in "The Obsidian Age" storyline, but Aquaman himself was cast out as a traitor. This led to him finding King Arthur's Lady of the Lake, gaining a magical hand of living water, and going back to his original appearance. This series also involved an underwater San Diego ("Sub Diego"), whose inhabitants had become water-breathers.This direction, while not wholly unpopular, didn't result in a high-selling series. Thus, during Infinite Crisis, Atlantis was destroyed. After the "One Year Later" Time Skip, Aquaman became Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis, going back to the Barbarian Hero adventures that had done well before. A new Aquaman was introduced, Arthur Joseph Curry, whose origin and powers were similar to the Golden Age Aquaman. He was guided by the "Dweller in the Depths", a tentacled humanoid who was implied to be Aquaman — most prominently, through having the magical water hand.The Dweller died at the end of the series, after being revealed as, yes, the original Aquaman, who had made a deal with the sea gods to bring Sub Diego back onto land, after the magic that allowed them to breathe underwater was revoked.In the Blackest NightCrisis Crossover, Orin came back as a zombified Black Lantern, determined to show people why you don't mess with the king of the seas. He got off to a hell of a start by ripping out a guy's heart and summoning a bunch of zombie sharks to kill people. At the end of the series, he was brought back to life with his classic appearance and no water hand due to his Black Lantern form repairing him. He then went on to play a significant part in Brightest Day, discovering a new Aqualad along the way.To make things more confusing, it appears that Orin came back with a version of his Silver Age origin - Arthur Curry once again, the Half-Human Hybrid of the lighthouse keeper and Atlantean. While he was cast out due to his blond hair, he eventually earned his people's trust and became King of Atlantis. Artie Joe is also now considered to be a multiversal equivalent of Aquaman who left Atlantis at the end of Final Crisis.He gets a new Geoff Johns-written ongoing as part of DC's New 52 relaunch. It really doesn't require knowing any of the above to jump on, and actually tackles the idea of Aquaman being a joke character in its first story arc. Later on, he gets his first ever additional title, team book Aquaman and the Others.His appearances in other media have been a mixed bag. The devastating legacy of Superfriends is discussed above, and probably the reason why the DCAU version of the Justice League did not include him as a regular. This turned out to be rather ironic - many think that series' portrayal of King Arthur as the regal Lord of Atlantis (not in exile, but actually ruling the place), who cut off his own hand in order to save his baby son, stormed the United Nations single-handedly to demand answers, and frequently antagonized the League until the (usually good) reasons for his actions came to light was one of the best, and deserved more attention. He also had a pretty cool animated cartoon in the 60s where he threw hard-water balls. He also appears in Batman: The Brave and the Bold where he was a Boisterous Bruiser (and slightly egotistical), could throw hard-water balls (including ones that looked like aqua-Hadokens), and turned water into swords. A version of the character has also appeared in Smallville a couple times. This Arthur Curry has some kind of water-controlling power allowing him to create kinetic balls of water that explode on impact, has some degree of superhuman strength and swims faster than Clark, but dehydrates easily. He wears orange and green like the comic book version, but only because that's his college's school colors.The character will make his live-action film debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, portrayed by former Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa.Aquaman now has a developing Character sheet.
Already Met Everyone: Superboy, anyway, in the Silver Age as "Aquaboy," Earth-One's sole other superpowered superhero during Superboy's time-era. Yes, the Silver Age Aquaman was an active hero longer than nearly everyone else, even Batman.
Animal-Themed Superbeing: Villains Black Manta and King Shark are examples of this trope, as is Dolphin, an occasional supporting character. Oddly enough, Aquaman himself does not fit despite his Animal Motifs.
Averted in Sword of Atlantis, as most of the series took place outside Atlantis, despite the title. In this series, Aquaman travels the undersea world having adventures that feel like they're out of a fantasy novel, and Atlantis is mostly ignored.
Heavily averted in 'Chronicles of Atlantis', which boots Aquaman almost entirely in favor of telling the history of Atlantis from it's beginnings up until Aquaman's birth. It is is anything but boring.
His series in the New 52 begins with Aquaman in exile.
Author Appeal: Peter David loves writing for Aquaman, and the joy practically spills off the page when he penned Aquaman and Namor's battle in DC Vs. Marvel.
Badass: Forget everything Super Friends ever taught you about Orin and face the facts, Aquaman is the King of the Seas,(that's 70% of the planet, folks), and he is a huge badass.
Badass Beard: Aquaman has one in nearly every incarnation in which he's an elderly King of Atlantis. Not only does he have a white beard to rival Poseidon's, but it makes him sufficiently Darker and Edgier to make the reader know that no one screws with him. Ever. Even Superman in Kingdom Come treats him with kid gloves.
This is played straight with Kordax (Atlanteans refer to blond hair as the "Curse of Kordax") and Atlan (Aquaman's father, Post-Crisis).
Going further back in time, Shalako and Orin I, first princes of Tritons and Atlantis. Orin I was dark-haired, Shalako was a blonde. Orin I was a good scientist, Shalako an evil wizard. On the next generation, Dardanus, Shalako's son, was blonde and every bit as twisted as his father, Cora, Orin's daughter, was a brunette and as good natured as her parents. Furthermore, Shalako and Dardanus did everything they could to make Orin and Cora's lives miserable.
Son'a, the kind natured mermaid queen of Tritons during McLaughlin's run, was forced to wear elaborate headdresses to hide her blonde hair, fearing to fall in this trope. During Atlantis' history many princes and princesses were rumored to shave their heads, dye their hair or wear headdresses for that purpose.
A recurring theme in the story of Atlantis, according to the Atlantis Chronicles.
Averted so far in the New 52 — Orm and Aquaman genuinely care for each other, but have radically opposing philosophies. Given that the fight between them has just begun, it may be played straight eventually.
Card-Carrying Villain: In Rick Veitch's early-2000s run, the titular hero confronts his archnemesis (and murderer of his son), Black Manta, and, after defeating him, uses his new magic powers to re-wire his brain and cure him of his autism; the painful and incompetent treatment he received as a child was part of why he'd become such an insane monster. He appears to turn himself around, but the apparent Freudian Excuse and Heel-Face Turn are subverted when, at a critical moment, Manta stabs Aquaman in the back and explains: "Y'see, deep down, in my most secret heart of hearts, I'm still a totally depraved sonuvabitch whose main goal in life is to watch you die. Slowly and painfully. Just like your kid."
Aquaman's life, after the Superfriends screwed his reputation, spiraled into a long series of blunders and humiliations. In order: he lost his beloved son, was left by his wife (who, by the way, started to openly loathe and hate him, berating him for A.J.'s death with every breath), was exiled again from Atlantis with no apparent reason, got his left hand eaten by piranhas, pursued a relationship with a Cute Mute aquatic girl who later became noticeably less mute and somewhat less cute (trying to kill him because of a major Mind Screw, leaving him for Tempest), became king again and got back Mera just to be later exiled, cursed and left to die by Atlantean Wizards, became the Champion of the Lady of the Lake and major of a city of modern waterbreathers just to be forced to trade his humanoid looks and sanity for keeping them alive, died while grooming his successor, was called back as a soulless corpse, was resurrected to have his hand lopped off (again) and was unwillingly turned into the new Water Elemental. He got better every time, but that's not the point.
Remember all the Superfriends jokes? During Geoff Johns' run, it's revealed that they exist even in-universe. And everyone in the DC Universe feels entitled to openly berate the "guy who speaks with fishes", married to "Aquawoman/Aquawife" (who may be a mermaid who turns into a woman when dry), broke because of a lack of employment, wearing a ridiculous shirt and useless if compared with the rest of the League. This despite, as mentioned elsewhere, the Superfriends portrayal being the exception to the rule and the character actually being quite Badass.
Later Aquaman's city is changed to Sub Diego, which is just what the name implies: it's San Diego, but underwater.
Class Reunion: Arthur attends his in the N52 Aquaman #28. He's reluctant about it, having bad memories of his time at school (like Power Incontinence, his father dying, and getting publicly outed), but all-in-all it turns out better than expected.
Colony Drop: Atlantis was originally sunk by a massive asteroid. Shalako and his followers believed it to be this, sent by the Goddess of the Sky to punish the Atlanteans for forsaking her. But most assume it was just a natural event. It turns out it was neither; it was a literal Colony Drop by the alien Annunake, who later attempted to destroy another city the same way; fortunately the second attempt was stopped.
Combat Pragmatist: "That's your weakness, Namor. You're too noble to cheat." (This battle scene took place during the 90's inter-company crossover).
Daddy Issues: Mera's current rendition is the poster girl for the trope, being raised since birth solely for enacting her father's revenge on Atlantis, then rejected upon falling in love with the then-current king.
Some renditions of Ocean Master tinge Cain and Abel with this trope, having Ocean Master direct some anger to Atlan.
Also, in the same renditions (where Aquaman is the full-Atlantean son of the Atlantean sorcerer Atlan and the Atlantean princess Atlanna) being absent from the entire Orin's life strained the relationship between son and father.
For the same reason Koryak, the unknown illegitimate son of Aquaman and taken back with his father only as a young adult, was always mistrustful and angry towards his absentee father.
Deadpan Snarker. Out of necessity during his Peter David run, or he'd go nuts with grief.
Depending on the Writer: Whether he outright controls fish, or if they just do as he says because he's the king of the ocean. For example, Geoff Johns explicitly states the former in the first issue of the New 52 series.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Constantly. Aquaman throws down with Gods and Lovecraftian Horrors on the reg. Starting in his teenage years, when he messed up Triton's attempts to, um, "claim" Wonder Woman, through Peter David's run where he threw down with Poseidon, Hades, Tiamat and others, all the way up to the more modern stories where he's "only" picking fights with Lovecraftian Horrors at the bottom of the Ocean, or the living embodiment of God's wrath.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: In the first issue of the New 52 run, it's stated outright that the population of the DC Universe consider him a joke just as much as comic book fandom does. Meaning he has to rebuild his reputation pretty much from scratch.
Eldritch Abomination: One Brave and the Bold story reveals that there is an ancient Lovecraftian demon which emerges at the bottom of the sea to destroy the Earth once a year. Aquaman and Etrigan have a standing pact to team up each year to drive it back to its own dimension. Yes, Aquaman not only punches out Cthulhu, he beats the ever loving crap out of him on an annual basis.
Enemy Without / The Heartless: This is the role which "The Thirst" plays to the Waterbearer. If a bearer uses their power to harm rather then heal then he will revive to drink life itself. His strength is based on the bearer's negative emotions and if they should wield their power against him as well, then the two will merge, leading to a particularly unusual Battle In The Center OF The Mind. Giving in is the only way to truly defeat him.
Enigmatic Empowering Entity: In the early 2000s Aquaman underwent yet another retooling, which involved him being named 'The Waterbearer' by The Lady of the Lake herself. Rather than a magic sword, he was given a magic hand made of water. It was Better Than It Sounds.
As a child, Aquaman was exiled from his home due to people with blonde hair being discriminated against in Atlantis.
DC Atlanteans in general have proven themselves to be superstitious, racist jerks, sometimes with humanoid Atlanteans even targeting non human, more fish-like Atlanteans for being impure.
Aqualad's origin involves being discriminated against for his purple eyes.
Frequently, Atlanteans are borderline genocidal against people living on the surface. It's telling that in New 52 continuity, Ocean Master's distaste for humans still makes him more tolerant than some of his followers. Though Ocean Master would grow to reconsider his prejudices after escaping a surface-world prison and taking residence with a human woman and her son.
Fish out of Water: Possibly the most literal example in history. Played for laughs in JLA: Year One.
Happily Married: Aquaman and Mera, to the point that in the New 52, it's the only hero marriage that is still intact.
Heart Is an Awesome Power: He can summon sea life. ALL sea life. Do you know how many living things exist within a cubic mile of ocean? That's not even taking into account the strength, durability and sheer force of will he possesses.
He commands all sea life, furthermore he's one of the most powerful telepaths in the entire DCU due to the fact that all life on earth (and several other planets) evolved from the sea and he can use his powers to tap into that part of the brain to control whatever the hell he wants.
Even if he only talks to current aquatic life, think of all the water-based horrors we fall victim to. Stinging jellyfish, killer whales, sharks.Oh yeah, and the page image for this trope has him riding Cthulhu!
Not to mention that, as has been pointed out elsewhere on this wiki, his skillset makes Aquaman effectively the ruler of over three quarters of our planet's surface. He's also not above pointing it out himself when people start giving him lip.
On occasion, his political powers as head of state of Atlantis also qualify - he not only commands an army, but it's also usually portrayed as being both magically and technologically superior to that of any surface nation: head to head, he could probably defeat the Green Lantern Corps if they decided to invade Earth.
Heroic Sacrifice: If Sword of Atlantis had not been canceled, Arthur Joseph would have given up the part of Orin's soul that had kept him alive in order to revive him so that the original Aquaman could save the world from an evil sea god.
However, the original Aquaman was revived as part of Brightest Day and no mention has been made of Artie Joe since.
Important Haircut: Most of the different interpretations of the character can be distinguished by their combination of beard and hairstyles. Classic Aquaman (short hair and no beard), stoic Aquaman who was a frequent guest star without a series of his own (long hair and no beard), Badass Barbarian Aquaman (long hair and long beard), Boisterous Bruiser Aquaman (short hair, short beard), and Joseph Curry (long hair and no beard).
The "real name" being used by Aquaman at the time also tends to reveal the orientation of the character. Classic Aquaman tends to be called Arthur, Barbarian Aquaman tends to be called Orin, and Joseph is . . . well, Joseph, the only one of the four different interpretations to literally be a totally different character.
In a Single Bound: Being fully adapted to live in the pressure of the deepest sea trenches, Aquaman and Mera, while on the surface, are both able to leap miles at times through the air, with Incredible Hulk-like jumps.
In-Series Nickname: While Mera found that amusing during the '60s run, and a slight annoyance in the '90s, she's now shown as completely fed up at the amount of people calling her Aquawife or Aquawoman, and ready to snap towards them whenever they use the unwanted fan nickname in her presence.
Kraken and Leviathan: He's been called on to fight these things a few times. For obvious reasons, Aquaman can deal with them on a much more level playing field.
Love Redeems: Mera, post Brightest Day. Raised as little more than an assassin, her only purpose in life enacting her people's revenge towards Atlantis, she was meant to get close to the then-current king of Atlantis and start tearing apart the undersea kingdom from behind. However, she found Aquaman noble, gentle and likable, becoming an affectionate wife and a heroine on her own.
Making a Splash: The 1960s Aquaman cartoons showed him hurling "hard water balls" at his enemies under water.
Mythology Gag: The New 52's Aquaman #10 features Black Manta's collection of nautical memorabilia, including Arthur's Hook Hand and the original Black Manta helmet. What makes it this is that as far as can be seen, Arthur never lost his hand in current continuity, and never met Manta before he wore his current helmet.
Hook Hand Arthur, complete with beard, shows up in an Imagine Spot of one of Arthur's classmates in Aquaman #28.
Aquaman #29 has Arthur borrowing his Batman: The Brave and the Bold's counterpart's catchphrase while berating himself for letting his trident be stolen: "Outrageous!"
Never Heard That One Before: You may not have heard about this, but he talks to fish! Lampshaded perfectly in the first Justice League team-up episode on Smallville, in which Green Arrow and Cyborg relate to Clark Kent how Green Arrow first met Aquaman when GA rescued him from a whaling vessel. GA snarks "I saved him from being canned," and Cyborg chimes in "At least he would have been dolphin safe!" An irritated Arthur rolls his eyes and says to Clark:
Arthur:Fish jokes. 'S'all I ever get are fish jokes.
Nineties Anti-Hero: The Peter David revamp was a version of this, but probably the most well-received implementation of the trope on a pre-existing character. The changes actually seemed to make sense to many readers, and was intended to undo some of the damage that Superfriends had done to the character's reputation.
And no one can forget Tusky the Walrus in the Filmation series (who even made a brief appearance in the New Titans comic) — though God knows we've tried.
Not-So-Harmless Villain: Black Manta. As some Belle Reve guards learned in the New 52's Aquaman #14, "the guy who loses to Aquaman" can kill you with his hands tied.
If thought about, it's the 'Aquaman is lame' joke taken to its furthest extreme. If one thinks that Aquaman is lame, then surely his villains must be even more lame. Except Aquaman is actually a very powerful hero, ergo anyone who can fight him, even if they lose, should NOT be underestimated, but 'everyone knows' Aquaman is lame, so...
Our Mermaids Are Different: There are pretty much three different distinct varieties of Atlantean in Aquaman's oceans. Poseidonians - the Apparently Human Merfolk like Aquaman and most of the other Atlanteans. Tritonaians - your mermaids and mermen like Lori Lemaris. And an unnamed race of Fish People like Lagoon Boy, the animated version of Triton, or the revamped Topo. In Superman #129, it was established that when scientists learned that Atlantis was sinking, they built a giant dome over the city, then later found a way to convert the populace into merfolk. As to why this has anything to do with Aquaman, Adventure Comics #280tells◊ that not everyone became merfolk successfully, thus a domed city remained necessary. This origin was later retconned in The Atlantis Chronicles, where is clearly stated that the aquatic serum was never meant to convert Atlanteans into merfolks, but rather to merely give them the ability to breathe water and thrive in the ocean. The merfolk came to be much later as an accident, when Shalako, a villainous wizard-prince of Atlantis, just to spite his scientist brother, tampered with the special serum used to achieve the transformation, turning his denizens into frog-legged humans, who later gave birth to the current merfolk. So, while every Atlantean city was originally domed, some of them got the domes dismantled for the benefit of the merfolks. Curiously, the Fish People of Atlantis have yet to be given either an official name or origin story in the entirety of the franchise's history.
Overshadowed by Awesome: For all the grief that pop culture gives him, Aquaman is by no means a lightweight - command over all sea-life, de-facto leader of the oceans and super-strength among other qualities. Problem is, he regularly hangs out with powerhouses like Superman and Wonder Woman. Back in his natural element he is king.
Papa Wolf: If you threaten his kid or any other member of his family, you're pretty much screwed.
Princeling Rivalry: Aquaman is the strong first born who, in most incarnations, is betrayed by his younger half brother Orm/Ocean Master. But this being a classic comic book character he escapes the peril and puts Orm behind aquatic bars.
In the Justice League version, Orm chains Aquaman and his newborn son to the side of a cliff that's falling into magma. Aquaman gets one arm free and uses it to chop off his other hand so he can get out in time, and then goes to attack Orm directly. See Papa Wolf above.
Psychic Powers: Usually only works on fish and other marine life... but since all life on Earth came from the ocean, Aquaman can telepathically stun even humans (though this takes a lot out of him).
One particularly silly Silver Age story had him defeat a villain who used land-based animals...because the enemy had brought along a water buffalo, which Aquaman could control.
When he gave an enemy a seizure though tapping into their basal ganglia◊, Aquaman does it fairly casually, and he even says for starters he can give a seizure to incapacitate, implying that's not even all he's got. And what's more, he did it to a Martian, who are naturally strong telepaths in the first place.
Sunken City: For a time, Aquaman was based in Sub Diego, a portion of San Diego that was submerged in an attempt to convert humans into subaquatic beings. The population consisted of a mix of these altered humans and Atlantean refugees.
Super Speed: Aquaman can swim at 150 knots - that's an incredible 175 mph. He exploited that ability against the slow-swimming Namor (til he got too gabby and got upper-cutted out of the water.)
Super Strength: His super-strength is often underestimated. The new Geoff Johns run even draws this visual parallel with his massive In a Single Bound jumps.
Just as a warming up, Aquaman lifts with ease an armored truck over his head after impaling it on his snazzy trident.
Mera grabs a would-to-be abuser's arm and gives him just a light squeeze. That's enough to cripple him for life.
Tame His Anger: Aquaman tries to get Black Manta to do this. It doesn't work.
To Hell and Back: Near the end of PAD's run, Triton has killed Poseidon and is kicking the crap out of Aquaman and friends. Aquaman lets Triton kill him, so he can get to the afterlife. Once there, he decks Charon, rallies the souls who didn't have boatfare, jacks Charon's boat, runs Charon over with his own boat, storms the literal Gates of Hell, cuts off one of Cerberus' heads, marches right up to Pluto and demands Poseidon back, ultimately convincing Hades with a very solid Batman Gambit. On his way out, Cerberus is back, and Aquaman has just one word for the titanic guardian of the underworld: Stay.
What Happened to the Mouse?: In Dan Jurgens' underappreciated run on the book, the tyrannical surface nation of Cerdia went to war with Atlantis. Arthur appealed to the U.N. for help, to no avail. So Arthur and his people fought back and won, conquering Cerdia—all nice and legal because it was a defensive war, and Arthur had gone to the United Nations first. Arthur swears to the Cerdians that he will be a better ruler than the tyrants he has deposed, and is optimistic that having territory on dry land will make Atlantis more of a "real country" in the eyes of the world. A Flash Forward story even confirms that that will happen. Then the book was canceled, and we never heard anything about Cerdia ever again.
The Sub Diego arc involved an evil organization having stolen Aquaman's DNA for sinister reasons. Then Day of Vengeance happened and it was pretty much forgotten.
As stated above, Geoff Johns has pushed this trope into a dichotomy: while the reader now knows how useful are Aquaman's powers, the DC Universe internal public, accustomed to people like Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, sees Aquaman as the Superfriends equivalent.