If Rodney Dangerfield had been a member of the Justice League of America, he would have been Aquaman.
There may be no other superhero with as long a history and as high a profile as the king of Atlantis who has gotten so little respect. The guy's name is easily recognizable and he stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the most iconic characters in the genre, but he always seems to be an afterthought or a punchline.
But when DC Comics (sort of) rebooted their entire line of comics last fall, Aquaman got the full star treatment, with writer Geoff Johns taking over the title. Johns is DC Entertainment's chief creative officer and headlining writer, having literally resurrected Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and Barry Allen as the Flash.
Those returns were thought unnecessary by some (myself included), but that didn't make them any less compelling.
Green Lantern and the Flash had been replaced by well-known and successful successors, but Aquaman (with the exception of a brief period where a young guy with a sword took up the mantle and the original had a squid beard; I didn't follow it that closely) essentially needed to step out of his own shadow. And Johns is accomplishing this not by ignoring the issues people have with the character but by putting them front and center.
Years ago, a Wizard magazine parody of the old "Super Friends" series had Aquaman announce his intention in an action sequence to stand around "useless as a paperweight" until water was somehow introduced into the plot. While it's true some of Aquaman's powers are most useful in an aquatic environment (he breathes underwater, he controls fish, etc.), he's also super strong and quite capable of throwing down on dry land. As writer Peter David once pointed out in the foreword to a collection of an Aquaman series he wrote, Batman and other superheroes would be at a distinct disadvantage at the bottom of the ocean, whereas Aquaman could do just fine in Gotham City, as long as he kept hydrated.
In the first issue of his new self-titled series, Aquaman stops a bank robbery. Instead of thanking him, the police, who were clearly out-matched, ask him what he's doing since the crime didn't take place near water.
Later in the issue, the unappreciated hero stops in a restaurant and the curious onlookers become horrified when he orders seafood. "How can you eat fish? You talk to fish!" Aquaman tries to explain how his powers work he's not pals with the fish, he can just influence their actions but it's no use.
In subsequent issues, we see the lack of respect people have for Aquaman and his wife, Mera, even as they try to protect a coastal town from horrific creatures emerging from the sea. They simply don't understand the duo, and it's presented in a believable way that possesses an extra layer of humor since so many people don't "get" Aquaman in the real world.
That's not the only thing that makes this series work though. Johns makes Aquaman and Mera relatable through their efforts to fit in with the human world and frustration at the obstacles they encounter. In addition, Aquaman's relationship with his late father and a mysterious scientist is a key subplot that hints at a painful origin story that is no laughing matter.
The first six issues will be released in a trade collection, "Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench" in September.
It's worth a read, and will provide some laughs, but hopefully afterward, you won't be laughing at Aquaman anymore.
Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic "Support Group" (www.supportgroupcomic.com)