Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Aquaman’s Aquatic Apparel
Fish scales are so in this year!
Last week, we got to see an image of how Jason Mamoa will appear when he portrays Aquaman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The largely monochromatic image has largely been met with approval for showing Momoa’s Aquaman to be someone who most of us would not want to fight, one who is ready to unite the seven seas or seven core members of the Justice League or the seven Horcruxes perhaps. Plus, after a career that’s spanned the Conan, Stargate, and Games of Thrones franchises, geeks simply love Jason Momoa.
This look ain’t bad at all. I like the bracers, I dig Momoa’s hair and beard. Keeping one arm armored is good as long as it’s the other arm he’s using to hold his trident. I don’t like the monochromatic look of the picture, but that’s Zack Snyder’s style (which I don’t care for in general anyway), so I get it. I think the tattoo of fish scales on the arm is a bit much and comes off as an attempt to reference the costume without needing it (I’m also not sure how you tattoo a guy underwater). I’d rather he just be shirtless, except for some real armor.
But I also can’t judge this look too harshly because I simply don’t have the context. I don’t know what kind of personality this Aquaman will have or what world he’ll inhabit. Momoa has said that the tattoos will reference the culture he comes from, so once I see that happen I’ll likely change my opinion.
But how does this look compare to the outfits Aquaman has adorned in the comics? What does it draw from? Let’s take a look at Arthur Curry’s aquatic apparel. In this piece I’ll focus on what acted as his standard uniform rather than special suits he was only meant to wear for specific missions, as well as outfits worn by alternate realities counterparts and/or in adaptations.
THE GOLDEN AGE
Aquaman debuted in late 1941 in More Fun Comics #73. His stories were one of many features in the More Fun Comics anthology series and, as implied by the series title, these tales were meant to be fun romps that appealed to kids. So Aquaman was a brightly colored adventurer, one who lived underwater and literally spoke to fish (similar to how Tarzan was often seen speaking to jungle animals). He could command fish sometimes but only for about a minute before their natural instincts took over. Some sea life regarded Aquaman as a pal, such as Topo, an octopus who was skilled at carpentry, cooking, archery and playing multiple musical instruments at once.
This Golden Age version of Aquaman, who was fighting Nazis months before the US entered World War II, had no real name and there seemed to be no one like him. His origin was that his father had been a scientist who had dedicated himself to the secrets of the ocean following the death of Aquaman’s mother. The scientist (implied to be a very famous one) discovered the ruins of a city which he believed to be Atlantis. According to Aquaman, “He made himself a water-tight home in one of the palaces and lived there, studying the records and devices of the race’s marvelous wisdom. From the books and records, he learned ways of teaching me to live under the ocean, drawing oxygen from the water and using all the power of the sea to make me wonderfully strong and swift.” Aquaman would switch between using the ruins of Atlantis or a sunken fishing boat as his base. There were no Atlanteans around, it was just him.
Now about the Golden Age Aquaman’s uniform. During this time, many heroes dressed in primary colors and many would also don costumes inspired by the American flag. Aquaman’s secondary color scheme not only makes him stand out from such heroes, it makes some practical sense for someone who operates underwater. At a depth of about 30 feet and below, the human eye sees things with a blue or gray tone because of how light filters through water. Aquaman’s uniform of bright orange and green makes it easier for him to be seen.
During these early stories, the fins on his trousers (which were decorated and not a part of him) were colored yellow. His gloves were often yellow in the stories, resembling the cleaning gloves you keep under the sink (though some artists would color them green). This isn’t a bad costume, but it’s not quite there yet. The strongest quality of it is that the shirt implies fish scales but also scale mail body armor. I don’t think Aquaman should have too much armor because visually it often looks like it would weigh him down (even though we know he has superhuman strength), but I’m not against a touch of armor because hey, the dude is a tough guy. He was nice to nice people but had no problem trash-talking enemies, firing harpoons at pirates or throwing a polar bear at poachers.
Years ago, I mentioned the fact that there was perhaps no greater proof of Aquaman being a bad-ass than the time he threw a polar bear at criminals. I’m happy to see that this became a meme for some and is now often mentioned in similar “why Aquaman is a bad-ass” lists. Because seriously, people. You’re a criminal who’s made fun of this guy in an orange shirt who talks to fish and he responds by throwing a bear at you? That is beyond gangster!
THE SILVER AGE CLASSIC
While many superheroes vanished from comics in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Aquaman was one of the few who remained in publication. The Silver Age of Comics began in 1958. Several heroes were rebooted from scratch. In many cases, mystical origins were replaced with science fiction ones. The Green Lantern, for instance, went from being a man with a magic ring to being a man recruited by an intergalactic volunteer police force. Aquaman already had a science fiction origin and now got one with a more fairy tale quality.
In 1959, Adventure Comics #260 said Aquaman was Arthur Curry, son of a lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry and Atlanna, a woman from the undersea nation of Atlantis, whose inhabitants had learned how to breathe water. Following Atlanna’s death from illness, Tom Curry spent years helping his son train in the best use of his abilities. He became the hero Aquaman, a founding member of the Justice League, and years later met the people of Atlantis, who then elected him to be their king.
Arthur had inherited the abilities of Atlanteans and could telepathically communicate with marine life. He also got the new weakness of only being able to operate on dry land for about an hour before he started to take ill and risk dying from weakness, leading to several stories where he used clever methods to rehydrate from different sources, including from blood on one occasion. Along with this, he sometimes exhibited other aquatic powers that were not seen or discussed again, such as the time he blew himself up like a lighter-than-air puffer fish.
The Silver Age Aquaman wore what we now consider to be the classic costume. The trouser fins and gloves were colored green and I think this gives the uniform a more balanced look. The letter “A” on his belt also became stylized, more like an arrow head. Aquaman deserves a unique symbol rather than a simple letter which could be mistaken for the one on Captain America’s mask. By the 1980s, most artists stopped drawing the shorts and just let Aquaman have solid green trousers, which I also think is an improvement. Aquaman is a swimmer and this outfit looks sleek.
Interestingly, the very same month that Aquaman got his new origin in 1959, DC readers discovered that Superman had dated a mermaid during college. Her name was Lori Lemaris and in her story she revealed the same basic origin, that people of Atlantis had survived by learning to breathe underwater. But in her version of the story, they turned themselves into fish-tailed merpeople too. Later comics explained that Atlanna was from the Atlantean city of Poseidonis, who kept their legs, and Lori was from the neighboring city of Tritonis, where people had altered into fish-human hybrids. You gotta love comics.
1980s BLUE CAMO LOOK
During the 1980s, DC was changing up a lot of things to appeal to new readers and draw some away from the major competitor, Marvel Comics. In 1986, the same year DC Comics rebooted its universe yet again, Aquaman starred in a four-issue miniseries which featured a new blue costume. Written by Neal Pozner and illustrated by Craig Hamilton, this mini re-established the basics of Aquaman’s fairy tale like origin (an Atlantean and a lighthouse keeper finding each other and falling in love), introduced a stronger mystical atmosphere to Atlantis, and made Arthur’s half-brother Orm AKA Ocean Master a bigger threat. A sequel mini-series was in the works but sadly never came to fruition. There were artistic delays and DC insisted on certain things returning to the status quo, such as Aquaman’s costume, so things just fell apart.
This is a rather nice costume. I don’t think I’d want it as Arthur’s standard look, but it would be fun to see him take this out for certain missions where stealth is a priority. Batman and Wonder Woman have special suits for different scenarios, why not Aquaman too? In later comics, one of Aquaman’s enemies wore this costume. In the cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Arthur’s son Arthur Jr. wore the suit.
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