Fans of the erstwhile ABC show LOST certainly shared this irritation. So do sports fans. The irritation I speak of is that of a non-fan dispensing “expertise” and criticism toward a subject about which they have little or no knowledge.
“The Milwaukee Brewers suck, dude.”
“Oh yeah? Name 3 players.”
“LOST is the worst show; just find a way off the island, how hard can it be?”
“Not even remotely what the show is about. Ever seen an episode?”
Recently I was listening to the ESPN Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast (which I do daily). The show is expertly hosted by Nate Ravitz, Matthew Berry (ESPN’s “Talented Mr. Roto”), and their producer is lovingly referred to as Pod Vader. I obviously enjoy the show, since I listen daily, and they are the pinnacle of talent with regard to fantasy baseball expertise and advice. Berry’s column on ESPN always entertains, as he finds a way to mix pop culture references in with fantasy baseball and bring it all together. His recent Ten Lists of 10 column is a great read as always, and toward the end he lists the top 10 superheroes “in order of awesomeness”. I take no issue with the list. Berry is a self-admitted non-comic book guy, and for a fan whose knowledge comes primarily from movies and TV, this is a solid list. On the podcast, the guys were discussing Berry’s list, and Aquaman’s name came up. Predictably, they spent a few minutes crushing him and then moved on. It was then that I decided Aquaman deserves better. He deserves respect. If you aren’t a comic book fan, you shouldn’t bash Aquaman. Stick with me here.
The hierarchy of comic book superheroes is always a crowd-pleasing conversation. Even my wife, who has a fleeting interest and the most basic comic character knowledge base (although growing impressively, I can proudly say), will jump into a conversation ranking the best and worst among costumed heroes. Who’s the best? Batman! Wolverine! Superman! Spider-Man! While the same handful of do-gooders always seem to get the top votes, Aquaman is only brought up for a laugh. Well not today. I got you, Aquaman.
It is likely that 9 out of every 10 Aquaman haters know nothing about him. They know just what you can take from his name: he is aqua-based, so the rush to judgment is that “he has to be in water to be effective”. Not so.
Let’s dispel some myths:
1. Aquaman is only a hero when he’s in water.
The truth: He has superhuman durability and strength anywhere. Aquaman has adapted to live in the crushing depths of the ocean, so his body density is such that he can withstand close range machine gun fire. He has played vital roles in heroic missions on land and even in space. He has a healing factor (see: Wolverine). Due to a special suit Batman made for him, he suffers no ill-effects when he is on land.
2. OK, but what good do his powers do him on land?
He can see in total darkness and has advanced hearing similar to sonar (see: Superman).
3. But he can’t fly!
He CAN SWIM UP NIAGARA FALLS.
Capable of reaching speeds of 10,000 feet per second, he’s a strong swimmer. There’s more water than land on earth, so if you need to get somewhere fast, Aqua’s your guy.
4. No crimes are committed underwater.
That’s because he has psionic domination of all marine life. He telepathically tells them what to do. If one – JUST one – of the land based superheroes had the equivalent of that power on land, there would be no crime here either.
Ok, so maybe compiling a list of abilities and accomplishments is a silly way to defend Aquaman’s merit. Here’s the real reason we need Aquaman to be one of our top superheroes: diversity.
Ever notice that not very many brand new superheroes have been born recently? All the big ones were born in the 1960s or earlier. That’s because there are only so many people and places that need defending! Earth needed a protector of its seas, after all, they do take up 2/3 of its surface, and Aquaman was glad to oblige. At their core, superheroes are for kids to idolize and look up to. What the comic publishers have realized recently is that diversifying the heroes draws in a more diverse fan base and increases readership. John Stewart is an African-American Green Lantern. Jaime Reyes is a Latino teen and is DC’s current Blue Beetle. Kate Kane, the current Batgirl, (now called Batwoman) is a lesbian of Jewish descent. Kids naturally gravitate to a hero they can relate to. Peter Parker was the nerd, Bruce Wayne lost his parents, Clark Kent the outsider. Wolverine battles his past, Tony Stark (Iron Man) battles addictions, The Hulk battles himself. These vulnerabilities are what ultimately endear us to the character. We need our heroes to be flawed and imperfect, because we are. Aquaman is far from perfect, and that’s why we need him even more.