29 January 2010

January Challenge #29:
In Defense of Aquaman

Aquaman don't get no respect. I mean it. Pop culture has been relentlessly unkind to this poor guy. And frankly, he deserves better.

Yeah yeah, I hear you snickering to yourself. Water breathing and talking to fish, you think, Spongebob Squarepants can do that. Maybe he should be a superhero.

And you're not to blame for thinking that. You've been on a steady diet of anti-Aquaman propaganda for decades. He's been seriously dissed since the Super Friends in the 1970s. You can't be expected to examine his backstory and depiction and think about the implications. Nope, just go ahead and take the surface story at face value.

I suppose I really shouldn't blame the writers either. After all, coming up wth contrived situations to use a character you don't understand is hard when you have the writing skill of a dead mollusk.

So with no further blamestorming, here's a rundown of Aquaman's capabilities and why he deserves better than he gets.

Super Strength. Maybe you didn't realize it, but Aquaman is super strong. It's an extension of being able to survive the crushing depths of the ocean and swim at super speeds at that depth. In the Super Friends, the most referenced source when dissing him, Aquaman hefts a bulldozer blade and cooperates with Superman to break up a tidal wave. Yeah, it's unrealistic to begin with, stopping a tidal wave with two bulldozer blades, but the implication is clear. It's unlikely that Superman is just barely not strong enough to stop the tidal wave himself and Aquaman contributes the tiny bit extra to get the job done. I'm not saying he's Superman-strong, but he's definitely no pushover.

Durability. And about that surviving the crushing depths of the world's oceans. Maybe you just don't understand what that means. Aquaman has been protrayed as having no depth limit. At the bottom of the Hadalpelagic Zone, deep in the oceanic trenches, ocean pressure is an incredible eight tons per square inch. I'm not sure if you're bouncing bullets at that level of resilience, but it's nothing to sneeze at. While we're down in the trenches, the temperature is just above freezing. Consult any decent marine survival guide about the dangers of staying too long in 50° water. From the United States Search and Rescue Task Force, "Normal body temperature of course, is 98.6. Shivering and the sensation of cold can begin when the body temperature lowers to approximately 96.5. Amnesia can begin to set in at approximately 94, unconsciousness at 86 and death at approximately 79 degrees. [...] Cold water robs the body's heat 32 times faster than cold air."

Supermove. Can you say hypersonic? Underwater? Aquaman can. Drag in water is about 1,000 times as great as in air. Suddenly, the Flash ain't all that. As nearly as we can figure by modern science, the only way to accomplish this is by supercavitation. Plainly, there's yet more to Aquaman than meets the eye.

Animal Control. Don't start getting smug yet. Yes, this is the "talks to fish" power, but again I don't think you get it. He doesn't just talk to fish, he compels them to action. He causes them to perform complex actions in large numbers. Ichthyoids, mammals, crustaceans, if they live in the oceans, they are his loyal subjects. Imagine tens of thousands of crab claws engaged in concert to a single task in Boston Harbor. And the communication is two-way. If it's in the ocean, it cannot hide from Aquaman. How many MacGuffin-based plotlines get circumvented by that little stunt? "OMG we have to find that sub!" It's Aquaman's turn to look smug.

Wealthy Sovereign. Think Batman's rich? Pocket change. Aquaman is the absolute monarch of an undersea nation, with ready access to resources that cost too much to exploit for surface nations, not to mention high tech artifacts and Atlantean-Freaking-Sorcery. I bet I know who's bankrolling the Justice League. Seriously, judging from the depictions of chests of sunken treasure in Aquaman stories, if he chose he could destabilize the world's gold market.

Marine Science. Go ahead and scoff, but there is no greater authority on oceanography and marine science than Aquaman. Batman gets big props for his mastery of criminal science and forensics. When it's the useful knowledge of the moment, being the authority is a superpower in itself.

So what do we have. On dry land, nowhere near an appropriate body of water, Aquaman is super strong, super durable, and super rich. That's not bad. Plenty of superheroes get by on less and take a lot less flak for it. Get him near or in the water, and he ramps up quickly in ability and resources.

How much of the Earth's surface is water again?

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