Aquaman Has Undergone Several Sea-Changes On His Way To The Screen The Sea King has undergone a series of sea changes: once a generic fish-cop, then a widely shared joke, and now, finally, the star of his own blockbuster film, as the ultimate bro.

Aquaman, From Super Friend To Surfer Dude: The Bro-Ification Of A Hero

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Who is Aquaman? Well, the answer is more complicated than you might think. He is the star of a blockbuster film opening this week. But for most of his life, Aquaman has been strictly a D-list superhero, a benchwarmer, an also-ran. NPR's Glen Weldon reports that Aquaman has gone through a lot of changes.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Aquaman's been around since 1941 when his creators, Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris, established the basics. He protects the sea and its creatures, whom he controls through mental telepathy, wears an orange-and-green outfit. He's got this big poof of blond hair but jet-black eyebrows for some reason. Unlike his A-list buddies Superman and Batman, it took the guy 26 years to make his way off the comics page with a Saturday morning cartoon in the '60s.


TED KNIGHT: (As Narrator) Aquaman, swift and powerful monarch of the ocean with ability to summon and command all creatures of the deep.

WELDON: That's Ted Knight narrating there, by the way. In that cartoon, he was pretty much your standard, square do-gooder - a fish cop basically or maybe a fish sheriff because he and his sidekick rode around on giant seahorses and got into various maritime scrapes.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Uh oh, here comes the fisherman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Scatter. Great gastropods, I'm snagged.

WELDON: In the '70s and '80s on the cartoon "Super Friends," Aquaman remained a hero with niche powers only really useful when the threat that faced humanity was somehow water-related, which, you know, it often wasn't. But with the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, something changed. Those kids that had grown up on his cartoons were teens and adults now. They looked back on the cheesy aquatic hero of their youth who couldn't even fly unless you strapped flying fish to his feet and started making fun of him.

On message boards and web rings, he became a joke, a meme before memes were a thing. He just talks to fish, they said. He's useless, they said. By the early 2000s, some of those same kids started writing for TV themselves, and making fun of Aquaman became a cottage industry. On shows like Adult Swim's "Robot Chicken," he was the overeager hero always left behind while Superman saved the day.


SETH GREEN: (As Aquaman) Oh, someone say cruise ship like in the ocean? Why didn't you invite me?

BRECKIN MEYER: (As Superman) Oh, to tell the fish to get out of the way? No, they figured it out.

ALEX BORSTEIN: (As Wonder Woman, laughter) Nice one, Superman.

GREEN: (As Aquaman) Sorry, guys.

WELDON: Meanwhile, on HBO, Aquaman was about to face his biggest threat ever in terms of public perception, anyway - bros.


WELDON: The series "Entourage" about aspiring actor Vinny Chase and his band of meathead pals in Hollywood turned the notion that a blockbuster film could be made about Aquaman, of all characters, into an extended joke, a joke that stretched over several seasons beginning with Vinny reluctantly entertaining the pitch from his agent...


ADRIAN GRENIER: (As Vincent Chase) Ari, come on.

JEREMY PIVEN: (As Ari Gold) All right, you ready - Aquaman.

GRENIER: (As Vincent Chase) Aquaman?

PIVEN: (As Ari Gold) Aquaman, baby. It is Spider-Man underwater. Boom.

WELDON: ...Then rejecting the proposed Aquaman costume, which, in his defense, did look a little sparkly.


GRENIER: (As Vincent Chase) No way I'm going to be on a 70-foot screen looking like an underwater Elton John.

PIVEN: (As Ari Gold) Vinny, the suit will not look like that on film.

WELDON: Vinny did the Aquaman movie, and "Entourage" paid off that long-running joke with the ultimate punchline. It became the highest-grossing film of all time. Imagine - right? - useless, old Aquaman. Well, a lot can change in a decade, Aquaman especially. Since "Entourage" went off the air, he went from being the butt of bro-ey (ph) jokes to, well...


JASON MOMOA: (As Aquaman) My man.

WELDON: ...To a bro himself - a surfer bro specifically. As played by Jason Momoa in both "Justice League" and the new film "Aquaman," he's the kind of long-haired, tattooed, party animal dude you could imagine in Vinny Chase's "Entourage." The bros won. Aquaman became one of them.

Now, maybe that makes him more popular. The film's already broken records in China. But whenever a character like Aquaman changes this much this quickly, something is gained, and something is lost, something kind of cheesy and square. To some of us, no matter how hardcore, how gnarly, how extreme he becomes, we'll always remember him as just Aquaman, the undervalued, underestimated, undersea underdog, the hero who talks to fish. Glen Weldon, NPR News.


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