Saturday, May 15, 2021

College Days: Aquaman

Verdict: Aquaman went to college and has a degree.

I'm assuming that my decision on this one may surprise some of you, particular those most familiar with Jason Momoa's Aquaman.

No one can be blamed for being as familiar with Jason Momoa's Aquaman as possible.

It's true; even before Momoa's earthy version of the aquatic hero, Aquaman had always had a more plebeian bent.  He is often seen in working-class maritime milieux, the son of a lighthouse keeper, often disguised as sailor or longshoreman.  We are more accustomed to associating him with trawlers and warships than yachts and cruise ships. 

Unlike Dr. Grace Balin, who's definitely a 'yacht person'.

It's all part of the "princess fantasy" at the heart of modern versions of Aquaman: "despite being raised in humble normal circumstances, I learn that I am special, just as always felt inside, and I'm actually a PRINCE(cess)!"  Aquaman is aquatic Amethyst; it's The Princess Diaries, but Genovia's underwater.

No disrespect to Momoa, but I'd still have enjoyed seeing Anne Hathaway's take on the role.

But Aquaman's original origin is rather different.  His father was an explorer and scientist who found a trove of ancient knowledge from Atlantis (although the city is never named) and with the aid of 'training' and 'a hundred scientific secrets' TAUGHT his son to be Aquaman.  Which, by the way, was his NAME.

His REAL dad was Magnum, P.I.

The Golden Age was one of gumption, moxie, and bootstrapping. None of this modern metagene nonsense; you made YOURSELF a superhero, often through arcane knowledge. The Golden Age came down quite squarely on the side of Nurture over Nature.  If Black Condor could learn to fly simply by being raised by birds, then Aquaman could learn to be a water-breather.  

Golden Age writers didn't DO decompression, particularly with Aquaman, who's immune to the bends anyway.

Aquaman (again, no other name) carried on his studies in the sea-bottom city.  Aquaman became Aquaman by STUDYING.  Sure, he lives in a hole in the ocean; he ain't socially elite, but he's highly self-educated. And he needs to be, because...

the ocean is dangerous and ignorance there can kill you quickly, even if you are a water-breather.  And it's not like he's got anyone down there to consult with.

It's not like you can have an Octopus Teacher.

So it makes sense when Aquaman decides he needs to go to college simply to protect himself.

I'd rather like the idea that Aquaman CAN'T 'talk to fish' but does so anyway. After all, it's lonely down there, and you talk to your dog, don't you?

Through some mysterious process that requires no ID, school records, or money, Aquaman enrolls at Weston College for a degree in marine biology, studying under his mentor, Professor Hatcher.  This adventure gives us Aquaman's best pseudonym ever:

M I S T E R   W A T E R M A N.
No first name needed, because Weston is old school.

Note that he uses clothes to hide his 'familiar figure', which (since hardly anyone knows who Aquaman is) I read as "to hide the fact that's he built like Jason Momoa". 

Momoa has a hard time with it, too.

Why didn't he just learn from his father and the ancient seafloor lore?  Because this is the Golden Age, meaning his father is dead, whether we are told that or not.  Golden Age parents were like mother octopuses; having served their narrative purpose, they die as soon as their children are ready to fend for themselves.

No wonder they're so clingy!

I conclude also that the ancient lore of knowledge he was raised on contains no information about FISH.  In the version of Aquaman I'll never be asked to write, Professor Hatcher is still around and he's Aquaman's go-to guy on piscine matters. Of course, my version of Aquaman also has Henry Limpet as his super-pet, so you won't being seeing it on shelves any time soon.

Henry Limpet, your name will live forever;
America owes everything to you.

While at Weston College, Aquaman spends THREE ENTIRE PANELS studying.

You too, can get a degree from Montage College!

That's all he needs to get his degree, I guess.  The Golden Age has no patience for boring stuff; Peter Parker may be willing to stay in college for 40 years, but Aquaman's got aqua-stuff to do.  If Bruce Wayne can become Batman in two panels, Aquaman can certainly get a degree in marine biology in three,  He spends the rest of the story setting records for the swim team and saving lives at sea as a way of luring donations to the college from a sports-obsessed alum. Yes, really.

"I'm a bona fide student, enrolled under a fictitious name and false circumstances!"
"Well... there's nothing in the rulebook that says a dog can't play basketball!"

Golden Age heroes were VERY happy to kick your butt at sports at every opportunity.  None of this "Incredibles" nonsense, they just Ayn-Randed over your face to the applause of the crowd.

So, we have actually seen Aquaman go to college. Even if this story isn't repeated in later versions, frankly, it makes sense: Aquaman needs to know a lot about the ocean simply to live there, let alone do his Aquaman stuff.  It's not really unrealistic; Poseidon knows, we all love Aquaman, but it's not like there are THAT many demands on his time.   And if you are having trouble reconciling this with your modern Jason Momoa version of Aquaman, just remember Jason Momoa went to college.  And majored in Marine Biology.


John C said...

I do find the college story less likely over time, but the Golden Age version was special. As time goes on, though, and especially with the introduction of him as an Atlantean prince, it seems like he increasingly jumps from living secluded in a lighthouse (increasingly further from civilization) to needing to claim the sword in the stone (trident in the puddle; whatever).

Loosely related, I stupidly didn't copy the original URL at the time, and at least a decade has made the post and everything it refers to (other than Laura's timeless Aquaman reviews) vanish from the Internet. But when talking about Golden Age Aquaman's father, I often go back to a post from Arthur Lortie on the research that he did. I only have a quick text dump, so now it's sitting on GitLab. That might give an indication of the quality of the notes that Aquaman received.

Bryan L said...

It's definitely going to depend on the version of Aquaman you select. The "only one hour out of water" Aquaman wouldn't have been able to make it through a class without belly-flopping into koi pond or something.

The more recent version, though, had him actually growing up in Amnesty Bay and doesn't have the hour time limit (which I applaud because it's stupid). Growing up could easily include college.

Redforce said...

Hey, I got the Octopus Teacher AND the Henry Limpet references! Haven't seen that movie since I was a kid.

Scipio said...

His name will live forever.