How Aquaman's Communication With Fish Has Changed Over the Years

In Abandoned an' Forsaked, we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically "overturned" by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent).

This week, based on a suggestion by longtime pal, Fraser S., we look at the surprisingly complicated history of how Aquaman has communicated with fish over the years.

Here's the thing, our society and culture has changed dramatically since the Silver Age. If you're familiar with the early days of the X-Men, Professor X regularly uses his power to mess with people's minds. I mean, it's like every other issue of the X-Men in the early 1960s (including a number of back-to-back issues) ends with Professor X using his powers to save the day. Mind-wipe this guy, mind-wipe that guy, make that guy do whatever you say, it was all sorts of power madness. But because he was a "good guy," it was totally okay. That was sort of the trade-off - so long as you were clearly a "good guy," then your ethics were beyond reproach, so whatever you did was inherently okay.

Similarly, because Aquaman is a good guy, then no one can ever really question him, right? If he is making fish do stuff, then he must have a good reason. Therefore, in the early Aquaman years, he used his so-called fish telepathy to make the fish of the ocean do whatever he tells them to do. This was made especially clear in Adventure Comics #260 (by Robert Bernstein and Ramona Fradon), where we learned Aquaman's origin and saw that he was born to tell all of the fish in the ocean what to do...

So that's really it in a nutshell and it was the case for decades. Aquaman had telepathic powers that allowed him to control fish and make them do whatever he wants. Pretty simply stuff.

That changed dramatically, though, in Peter David's Aquaman series in the mid-1990s.

The opening storyline involved a villain capturing Aquaman as he wanted to try to transfer Aquaman's powers to himself, but is shocked when a tank filled with piranhas will not listen to him. He berates Aquaman for not giving him his full power and Aquaman reveals that his powers don't work the way that people think that they do. He does not actually CONTROL fish, per se, but he just communicates with them and respects them enough that they will typically do what he asks of them...

Note that this was during a version of Aquaman's origin that involved him being raised by dolphins, ya know? So there was a much different approach on how Aquaman relates to fish at this point in time.

Anyhow, the second issue (by Peter David, Martin Egeland and Howard Shum) demonstrates how communication doesn't always work, as a pile of piranhas tear apart Aquaman's hand...

What's interesting is that even back in the days when Aquaman DID just outright command fish to do stuff, fish would sometimes ignore him when they were distressed, so that part isn't even necessarily a retcon.

What comes next, though, was a major, major change...

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