While I’d like to leave the work of defending Aquaman to those who have spent far more time doing it [see Aquaman Shrine], there are a few thoughts I want to share on the matter. As others have said elsewhere, Aquaman was killed by animation; it happened in his series of shorts and extended into the Super Friends. What might prove to be irreparable damage has befallen the King of the Seven Seas.
It’s not the fault of the character. The elements of a truly prodigious hero are evident in his makeup; an extraordinary birth, a royal lineage, a ruler over 2/3 of the earth, tremendous strength and abilities, the capability of surviving this planet’s most hostile environment, and a concern for those who shun him and his people. His character transcends mere costumed hero into the realms of fantasy and even story book settings.
What I really don't understand is how environmentalists haven't co-opted Aquaman. A hero who is in complete communion with the earth's motion and movement, who commands her sea life, and is directly affected by the destruction of polution seems to me a perfect advocate for this "green movement." I guess even tree (or whale) huggers have seen the old Super Friends cartoons.
But bad writing is the weakness of every hero. As a member of the team in the Super Friends Aquaman’s role was reduced to water-based “back-up.” If somehow a plane crashed in the ocean or a villainous hideout was near a swamp, Aquaman was there to summon he creatures of the deep to float the plane or help invade the bad guys’ lair. No further thought was invested into the character, which makes sense really; he was but one small piece of the larger framework of the show.
But a simple voice over, so popular in the Super Friends, could have done much to counteract this.
“Summoning his great strength, honed by living in the great pressures of the deep, Aquaman hurls the robotic menace into the atmosphere.”
“Unleashing the power of the superhuman swimmer’s might, Aquaman hurls himself skyward and intercepts the helicopter.”
Sound too lofty? Remember the Super Friends showed Flash flying once. And this wouldn’t be a case of the animators misunderstanding the character’s abilities. Written to his full potential any of those feats are in Aquaman’s forte. So in essence in Aquaman you have a super strong, super fast, king who, while adaptable to any circumstance, has total dominion over the oceans and waters.
In his series of animated shorts Aquaman had it worse, even though he was in his own backyard. Here again, whenever the character was in trouble the writers had Aquaman calling in the creatures of the deep to not just lend a hand, but do the majority of the heavy lifting. All that separated him from Aqualad was his outfit and his fish talking ability.
Now a few provisos, I have referred only to Aquaman’s early animated exploits because I have little exposure to his silver age comic book past. I’ve only read from Peter David’s work on till now, and even that has been partial. What was portrayed in these shows may well have been an accurate reflection of who the character was in print, as the 60’s Batman show was of the Dark Knight (sorry Batman fans). Also, I think Aquaman’s sheer power should stem from more than living in the ocean depths, otherwise all Atlantians would equal in might. Arthur’s supremacy should be based in his magical origins and unique royal lineage.
There are other more superficial reasons for my appreciation of this character. I have a soft spot for the second tier DC heroes, I always have. Few of us are the hero quarter back of our school (i.e. the BMOC characters like Supes and Batman), so you can relate to the underdog quality of Green Arrow and Aquaman. And I like the idea of breathing underwater. Imagine that universal human fear and weakness taken away; there is an unappreciated freedom that would emerge from this ability.
Plus, look at his costume, which is often the point of derision. He’s wearing the Irish colors, how do you not like that?!