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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Story To Warm Any AquaFan's Heart - 11/24/07

So Darlin' Tracy and I took her nephew Alex out last Saturday for his birthday. It's a tradition we've been practicing the last few years for him and his sister--for each year's birthday, they get a day out with us where they can do whatever it is they want.

Alex is always a bit more reserved about asking for stuff, so we have to do a little more prodding, but this year he very specifically asked to go to "that comic book store", which meant
All Things Fun, my favorite comics store ever.

So we took him there, and let him wander around to see what interested him. He likes Star Wars(A. Lot.) so I pointed out the rack of Dark Horse TPBs they had. He picked out two of them and then made his way over to the display of Mini-Mates. He recognized a few characters(Batman, The Penguin, Superman) and then picked up one package, looking at the back of it, where there are pics of other sets.

He pointed to one of them, and asked "Do they have this one?" I looked, they did, and I handed it to him. He stared at it for a moment and said simply, "This is cool."

Which one did he pick? I think you're all ahead of me on this:

I showed Tracy, stating with all the earnestness I could muster that I in no way directed his choice. She didn't believe me, and neither did Dee, one of ATF's owners, but I swear--this was all Alex.

On the ride home, he ripped open the package, asking me who the other guy was, and I got to give him a Castle Films-style version of The Aquaman Story, explaining Aquaman was from Atlantis, Ocean Master was Aquaman's half-brother, who was evil and hates Aquaman, etc...

After he asked me a few more questions, I repeated who Orm was, slipping up once and calling him Aquaman's brother.

"Half-brother", Alex corrected me.

(...and that's why you shouldn't mess with Aquaman's origin and basic set-up. After just a minute or two of quick explanation, an eight-year-old immediately grasped it and committed it to memory. It's so basic, it's like a fairy tale.)

Later, we went to Target and of course headed for the toy aisle. Alex and I were looking through the pathetic assortment of JLU figures, and looking at one near the back he exclaimed "Aquaman!"

It was the JLU die-cast metal mini-figurine of Aquaman, so I asked him if he wanted it. He said no(this is Aquaman in his pirate look, and he didn't want it. Coincidence?), he was just telling me it was there to see if I wanted it. What a pal!


Damian said...

This is a great story!

A nice follow up would be why it is that I can get a Ma Hunkel minimate, but not a Ray Palmer. I actually don't even have a problem with Hunkel. I have a problem with tentacled Green Lanterns...

I'm extraordinarily harsh on the JLA tv movie, but with the atom getting so few chances in the spotlight, I just hate that it was one of them.

And I suspect you may have enjoyed the show because you know if they had put Aquaman on it he would have been an over weight swim instructor with an irrational fear of the water.

Anonymous said...


I see YOU have the power to mentally control smallfry, TOO!

You're a great "Unc."

Happy Holidays,
-Craig W.

Diabolu Frank said...

I got three sizes of Ray Palmer out of the DC Direct figure pack, one approximately actual size. It's very likely a Tim Bruckner scupt. That's all the Atom love I need.

The CBS Justice League pilot was awful, but seen by so few people that I can allow myself to be amused by it. David Ogden Stiers could have been a great voice actor for J'Onn J'Onzz, and could have even pulled off John Jones, but that chest/gut piece? Shudder.

I think Rob's putting too much stock in origins. The kid responded to colors, design, and accessories. Aquaman fares well in that department, both bright and distinctive. Beyond that, I think what the character does is more important than how he came to be. Water cannonballs are cool. Telepathy is cool. Tridents are cool. Giant seahorses are cool. Family issues and lighthouses are not cool. Introduction to the birds and bees via an explanation of sorcerous infidelity is not cool. Save that stuff for later.

One of the most popular characters in recent memory is Wolverine, and it took fifteen years for anyone to get around to the origin. Cool costume. Bad attitude. Claws. that's all the guy needed. I liked Spider-Man romance with his bad girl partner Black Cat as a kid, but every time Aunt May or Flash Thompson showed up, I tuned out. Kids don't care about that stuff. As you say, keep it simple.

rob! said...


oh, definitely, it was the colors and look that drew his attention. i just found it funny that only after a minute of explanation as to his basic origin, Alex had it committed to memory enough to correct me.

it only solidifies my belief that the original origins of these characters--superman, batman, ww, aquaman--are so iconic that they read like ancient legends, and later attempts to re-do them only muddied the water. (so to speak)

Anonymous said...

Charming story! I've already gotten one of those Mattel Super Friends Aquamans to send to my friend's son. Gotta get 'em when they're young! :-)

Anonymous said...

Ahh that's it, we've got to get them hooked young. Haha, we've got to raise a new generation of Aqua fans, and hope that there will be some decent books for them one day.

Rob, you made me laugh man, you said that the "original origins" of these characters are like legend....but the origin you told him wasn't the original. I agree, the original ones ARE legendary. A romance that defies boundaries, a prince torn between two worlds....ohh yeah, that's legendary.

rob! said...


oops, youre right of course, the whole lighthouse thing is not the origin of the GA Aquaman!

since Aquaman never reached solo star/headliner status until 1960, you could argue(and i will, so i dont feel so stupid) that this is the Aquaman that really made it into pop culture, with the JLA, the cartoon series, etc, so its that origin that sticks so well with people, because it is so iconic.

Anonymous said...

I was actually referring to the Silver Age origin, where Arthur was the son of the lighthouse keeper. You're right, of course, the ORIGINAL origin is the Golden Age one. Still, my favorite will always be the one that covered the lion's share of his publication history. It's the one that was immortalized by Alex Ross in Secret Origins.

Plaidstallions said...

Great story Rob, it's one of those "nobody will ever believe this" types.
I was looking through the new mego book with my two year old daughter and she kept saying "Aquaman, Aquaman, Aquaman" I wanted to tape it and send it to you.

Diabolu Frank said...

See Rob, this is a sticking point I was trying to avoid. You mentioned Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman's origins in the same breath with Aquaman's. The problem is, Aquaman's on his fourth origin now, because they're all... let's just say... underwhelming. His was one of the last origins I ever learned of the mainstream heroes, and I was only exposed to it through the carrying case for Super Powers action figures. As a kid, it had me scratching my head.

The first (and I guess latest) origin was plain weak. His dad experimented on him, so he became a patrolman of the sea. Why? Cuz.

The second is less an origin than a set of circumstances, since it fails to explain why Aquaman exists, only roughly how he physically came into being. In my youth, the image of an Aqua toddler stuck with me, but failed to impress. When you think about it, Ocean Master's the only one who got an actual origin out of that deal, and I don't recall it coming up on my initial exposure.

My favorite origin was Giffen and Fleming's "Tarzan of the Porpoise," but besides being a derivative hybrid of other legends, it's just plain over-complicated, and STILL doesn't explain why Aquaman exists. The deeper you dig, the more frustrating his motivation becomes.

If there's ever been an obstacle to Aquaman's popularity (after being forced by concept into having adventures in or near water,) its that you can't explain his purpose in a simple yet impactful way. Or actually, you especially could, but his writers haven't reflected that in a strong origin story yet. It makes him the odd man out in comparison with nearly any other major super-hero known outside comics, and is to my mind the biggest reason he lacks a hook (beyond his environment) when it comes to new audiences. You don't know where he's coming from without an investment of time most aren't willing to make without there being something immediately relatable about the character's personality. Lots of characters share the problem, but I can't think of any near Aquaman's level of accomplishment.

rob! said...

even tho its not factually correct, i think of Aquaman's 1960s origin as "the" origin, since its the one he had in place when he broke into the mainstream culture with merchandising, the cartoon, JLA appearances, etc. if any non comics fan might know it, that'd be the one they know.

and i think a kid can grasp the basic elements of that story--mom was atlantean, dad was a lighthouse keeper, he's a man of two worlds--and it doesnt require further explanation. even i cant keep straight all thats come afterwards, and i read lots of comics!

all the times theyve tried to revise it since to me has just made it more convoluted and less iconic and classic.

Alex Ross once said in an interview(with TCJ?) that the 50s versions of the Flash, Gl, Hawkman, Atom, etc are the "truest" versions of these concepts--the most easily recognizable ideas, and i can't say he's wrong--Barry Allen and Hal Jordan's origins are WAY cooler than their Golden Age counterpart's.

even tho Schwartz wasnt involved(i dont think) with the partial reinvention of Aquaman at the time, he benefited from the pixie dust in the air at the time. me, this/that version simply IS Aquaman, and i sort of ignore all the rest.

Diabolu Frank said...

I've definately come to the conclusion that it's wrong to stray heavily from any character's primary origin and personality, not only because of the disrespect it shows to the creators and fans (not to mention confusion,) but also because a new origin should be given to a new character. That way you don't divide that fanbase and water down vital new concepts. Doesn't it make more sense to revive a completely moribund concept (like the Freedom Fighters, but hopefully better) than to take a character like Blue Beetle, raise his profile with a bestselling mini-series and special, only to kill and replace him? Pretty inorganic, and does no favors to sales nine times out of ten.

On the other hand, some characters never quite worked to begin with, like m'boy J'Onn J'Onzz, and benefit from major tweaks. I like Alex Ross, but he's bad about speaking in prejudiced absolutes. His attention seems to have been arrested at the state of comics upon his initial exposure, and asinine statements like the one you quoted are example A. The Prince Khufu/reincarnation angle has always worked better for Hawkman without the sci-fi shoehorned in, for instance, while the Batman of the 50's was painfully divergent from what made the character work. Wonder Woman took a beating she never recovered from in those years, as well.

Comics have to evolve with time, I believe, but you have to respect what came before as well. I'd have no problem with a return to either the Golden or Silver Age Aquaman origin, for instance. I just think thay need to be re-explored and improved in ways, say, Kurt Busiek failed to accomplish.