Thursday, March 5, 2009

Characters I Want to Write: AQUAMAN!

Me, your mother, your great uncle, we all want to write Aquaman.

I think the character survives on Saturday Morning Cartoon nostalgia, for the 30 going on 40 generation who caught "Super Friends" on the television. That Aquaman had the cool sound effect when his little sonar concentric circles commanded the creatures of the sea to battle evil with (for) him. Thus was Aquaman coined as a passive character for all the generations to come, a character who needed to be in the ocean, who could only operate in that realm.

Aquaman in the comics when originally conceived wasn't an Atlantean, of half-Atlantean, but a regular kid whose scientist father acclimated him to the ocean. Arthur Curry could survive in the Deeps, and like Tarzan, developed the strength and stamina one would associate with a man able to operate under the ocean's crushing fathoms.

Soon this iteration gave way to the updated version, who had been the product of an Atlantean and a human. Unlike the other Atlanteans, Arthur didn't have blue skin. He had his water-bourne powers and his WASP features to get by on. The orange shirt and green fin pants are righteous, but worn by a generic bohunk. Not that there's anything wrong with a bohunk, at all, but Aquaman is too nonspecific in appearance.

Peter David, writer of the Aquaman comics of the 1990s, decided to "Namor-up" the character. Make him brutal and savage and gruff and dangerous, pretty much the formula for established character "revisions" across the board during the era. Aquaman had his hand eaten off by pirhana and arbitrarily rammed a vicious harpoon hook onto the stump, as his emblematic weapon. Arthur grew a beard and long hair, and turned into an undersea Conan the Barbarian. Aquaman wasn't boring, that was for sure, but something was lost in the translation. Arthur had been turned into an a**hole.

There's been more variations on Aquaman as a character than I've read, so I can't comment on them all. Tons of writers and artists in comics have failed to reenergize the character for the modern audience. Some say it cannot be done. And I think most people who are drawn to Aquaman sense the futility of the attempt. This is why they are so eager to try. Aquaman seems ripe to become an icon, and yet is sneered upon in the next breath by the fans who still welcome his presence as a guest star in some higher-profile mag.

There's several ideas I think would work, because I'm superficially drawn to the character...I don't like anything about Atlantis. The fabled city works better as ruins, and Arthur is no more a King than I am. Or, the connection is tenuous at best, as was first the case during the 1940s. Arthur discovered Atlantis as a dead city, seeming to perceive the possibility of a unique rapport with the underwater metropolis and its ancient artifacts.

An entire generation of stories has concerned themselves with Arthur's political problems, his King Arthur equivalency, but I reject them. Arthur is much better seeking out the answers to the secrets of Atlantis. So yes, Atlantis is not populated in this "new" Aquaman universe...or rather, it may be, but by isolated beings or outright monsters who aren't so friendly about their territory being invaded.

The other factors concern Arthur's personality, but good character writing in this case isn't really a problem. That is, Arthur is a survivalist of the ocean depths...he's not brutal because he's angry, he is violent as a response to death. If Arthur encounters a beast in the waters who wishes him ill, he will kill it and, depending, probably eat it. I mean, why waste the food?

In appearance, Arthur should look as if he's lived in the ocean all his life. That being the case, his skin is going to be tougher than leather, craggy and probably a sharkish gray. I think his costume would have more fin-like stuff on the arms and legs, made by Arthur to propel him more easily. His belt will hold stuff like squid ink to release into the ocean around him, throwing enemies into a darkness they may never emerge from.

I think, if you've noted large fish and sharks and manta rays and whatever else in aquariums, you'll note how curious they are. Always probing, moving and probing. I think Arthur does that too, he's inquisitive about a human world and the beings in it. He's not stupid, when on land, but he's about as comfortable there as a whore in church. He can live easily out of water, but psychologically he's attuned to the waves. His lungs grow tight on land from the same panic we experience when drowning. Arthur's adventures on land are driven by a need to conquer his fear. Meanwhile, being human requires more from him than he has ever learned. And on and on.

Also, forget calling the comic AQUAMAN. Seriously, it's a death-knell, and it doesn't even make much sense. He's not a man made of water. Still, the name is a "brand" and should remain with him. The comic itself should be called something else, but not Aquaman.

The best case? Revive the old SEA DEVILS comic with the "new" Aquaman and the team operating out of an island base in the Pacific. In fact, the Sea Devils probably are the first humans to actually encounter and communicate with Arthur. And after Arthur inadvertantly wounds one of them in the confusion of their first encounter, he has a lot of make up for. Something like that, you know?

No comments: