Pragmatically, all superheroes are silly. A disdain for the bounds of reality is what being a superhero is all about. We’re talking about characters that can stick to walls, fly, teleport, and routinely violate the laws of physics. Even so called “normal” superheroes like Batman are always ignoring reality when it’s convenient. Unless you are foolish enough to believe all it takes is a few million dollars to become a master ninja / escape artist / detective / mechanic / jet fighter pilot / scientist / origami master / carpenter / master of disguise / etc. / etc. / etc.
For some reason though, some supers are considered sillier than others. Nobody suffers more from this than poor old Aquaman. We all know the jokes. Guy lives underwater and talks to fish. Why should any evil doer with his feet on dry land fear the King of Atlantis? Aquaman wasn’t always considered silly. His fall to one joke wonder came with that animated relic, The Superfriends. Yep, Aquaman was indeed lame on The Superfriends, but then again, so was everybody else. This was back when Green Lantern, space cop, could be flummoxed by a swarm of bees, and all you had to do to stop Batman and Robin was take away their utility belts. Then they’d just stare at you, holding up their pants. But while all the other characters were able to recover their heroic credibility, Aquaman has been trapped in that cultural quagmire ever since.
Let’s set the record straight once and for all. Aquaman lives deep in the ocean’s depths. He is far stronger, tougher, faster than any ordinary human. Even a skilled combatant like Batman. Aquaman is also a highly trained fighter. And, yeah, he can breathe underwater and talk to fish, both of which are rarely useful. But if you drop Aquaman on dry land, he remains pretty impressive. Teleport Bats to the bottom of the ocean, and it’s game over.
Even if Aquaman was useless out of water, I’d still like him. Anyone can be a superhero when they’re super strong, able to control the weather, or have a billion dollar crime computer in their basement. It’s the strange heroes that I root for. Folks like Ant-Man (shrinking / controlling ants) and Squirrel Girl (agility / talk to squirrels) are the ones I love because they’re out there fighting for justice, making the most of what they’ve got. Maybe most people see Hawkman as a shirtless dude with prosthetic wings. I see a dreamer. Where others dismiss Man-Thing as a shambling pile of vegetable matter, I see a worthy guardian of the Nexus of Realities. And Plastic Man will always be awesome.
The weird heroes are out there, fighting the good fight, saving the day. That they’re doing it with powers and abilities that don’t immediately send evil scurrying to the shadows only makes their efforts all the more laudable.
Except for Cyclops. That guy’s just dumb.
A. Lee Martinez is a writer you probably haven’t heard of but really should have. He is the author of Gil’s All Fright Diner, In the Company of Ogres, A Nameless Witch, The Automatic Detective, Too Many Curses, Monster, Divine Misfortune and Chasing the Moon. He credits comic books and Godzilla movies as his biggest influences, and thinks that every story is better with a dash of ninja.