For decades he was the butt of jokes. Low hanging fruit for pop culture commentators like Seth Mcfarlane (Family Guy) and Doug Ellin (Entourage) and just about anyone with access to a meme generator. Even his own adventures were not above the odd moment of self-referential humor. Yet, to a dedicated subset of DC fandom, Aquaman was never funny. Since his first appearance in 1941's More Fun Comics #73, Arthur Curry has engaged in a deluge of epic underwater adventures. His exploits have ranged from typical superhero shenanigans to legendary battles of Arthurian (pun intended) proportions. Aquaman may not be the most compelling concept for a superhero. But when he is allowed to be a more mythic character walking the path trodden by the likes of Hercules, Odysseus or Izanagi... that's when he really comes alive!
Just as Tim Burton's Batman brought pop culture legitimacy to a character who was (outside of comic fandom) considered a campy throwback, so too has Jason Momoa's turn as Aquaman opened the popular consciousness' eyes to what this oft-underappreciated character has to offer. We saw hints of it in Batman V Superman, we saw it in Justice League last year, and this season we will wee it writ large on screens all over the world when the Aquaman solo movie hits. Like many of his contemporaries, DC Aquaman has undergone near-constant re-invention and reinterpretation. From cosmetic flourishes to character changes and even the loss of limbs. Let's take a look at some of this epic character's most iconic costumes across 77 years and numerous media platforms...
From Kid Flash to Cyborg to The Man of Steel himself, Smallville never, ever met a character it didn't want to put a hoodie on! While we may berate the trope now, it was fairly common across superhero media of the early '00s. After all, the memory of Batman & Robin was fresh in many minds and the notion of comic book silliness was once again ingrained in the popular consciousness.
Visual media's response? To tone down the visual excesses of costuming and make everyone dress in garb that could more easily pass as civilian garb. And if it involved a hoodie or a black trenchcoat, so much the better!
20 SUPER FRIENDS
For better or for worse, the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends TV show of the '70s and '80s TV show was many young fan's first exposure to the DC Universe. Yet, while the comics of the '70s were beginning to grow more mature and sophisticated both in terms of subject matter and content, the cartoon is a shining example of the silliness inherent in kids' programming of the era.
Nonetheless, at least the characters' appearances were closely modeled on the comic books of the time. Aquaman's was even, dare we say, an improvement over the comics. The costume retained the familiar orange top but replaced the traditional pea green tights and gloves with a more aquatic-feeling viridian coloring.
19 POST-CRISIS BLUES
We all know that the '80s had a lot to answer for, from Reaganomics to Day-glo socks. While the era brought us some of the greatest comic books of all time, there were certainly a great many misfires, too. Following 1985-1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC Universe received its first of many reboots. While some aspects of the DC mythology remained visually unchanged, some characters were not so lucky.
This swirling blue leotard Arthur wore in the ensuing comics may represent a noble effort. It can't be easy to re-envisage a classic character with such an iconic look. But if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The character sported a similar costume recently in Justice League #39 but it was, thankfully, a fleeting homage.
18 BLACK LANTERN
Geoff Johns' run on Green Lantern didn't just give us some great stories that moved a stagnating series forward. It didn't just take a messy continuity and make it cohesive. It didn't just introduce legions of fans to the cosmic mythology. It also brought us one of the best crossover events of recent years in "Blackest Night".
In the story arc, deceased superheroes (or superheroes who had passed away previously like Superman) were reborn as the malevolent and undead Black Lantern Corps. Aquaman's monochromatic redesign here takes a familiar design concept yet subtly tweaks it to make it into something strange and unsettling.
17 KINGDOM COME
Many comic book fans don't look back on the '90s with great fondness. Yet, while certainly in many ways the era learned all the wrong lessons from the gritty and adult-orientated decade of comics that preceded it, it still gave birth to some classics. Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Ales Ross still ranks as one of the greatest DC Universe stories of all time.
Aquaman makes a brief, but powerful appearance here, looking not like a superhero but as a weary king. His armor and sash have a very medieval feel and his haggard expression shows us that even when under water, heavy lies the crown!
16 CLASSIC (PRE-CRISIS)
There are some superheroes whose look is constantly updated and reinterpreted over the years (we're looking at you, Batman). And then there are some whose aesthetics may take a few twists and turns, but always revert to their original classic appearances. Spider-Man is one of them, Superman is another, and so is Aquaman.
Aquaman's costume remains a tried and true classic, although it does have a curious origin. In 1989's Legend of Aquaman written by Kieth Giffen with pencils by the legendary Curt Swan, it is revealed that Aquaman's green and orange ensemble is actually Atlantean prison garb. Guess orange really is the new black!
15 BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
If you didn't check out Batman: The Brave And The Bold, it's a show with a lot to offer adult fans and their kids alike. It combines the self-awareness of Batman '66 or Teen Titans Go! with the sincerity of Batman: The Animated Series. For kids it's a great gateway to the DC Universe. For adults, a loving homage to the Silver Age comics.
Like its comic book namesake, the show paired Batman with various DC characters. This version of Aquaman owes much of his image to his Silver Age incarnation along with the beard that he's sported on and off since the '90s and a belt that looks like he won it in pro wrestling. Outrageous!
Proving that he knew nothing of the butterfly effect, in 2011 The Flash traveled back in time to try and prevent the murder of his mother. While he succeeded in saving her life, he returned to a very different DC Universe. Batman was now a gun-toting Thomas Wayne, Superman was a prisoner of the US Government and Aquaman and Wonder Woman were engaged in a war that had decimated the planet.
This version of Aquaman is a dark mirror of his former self, with a more grizzled aesthetic. The orange mail is now blood red, his gloves and leggings are black and he bears the scar of a violent encounter with Wonder Woman (who took out his beloved wife Mera). All hail Emperor Aquaman!
13 YOUNG JUSTICE
DC fans clamoring for Zack Snyder's extended cut of last year's Justice League can learn a lesson in patience from Young Justice. The fan favorite animated series was tragically cancelled after two seasons, but resurrected five years later for a third season on the DC Universe app. The show centers around a team of young superheroes who would often interact with their mentors in the Justice League throughout the series.
The team's leader Kaldur/Aqualad was a new character who proved so popular he was even integrated into the comics, and a protege of Aquaman. Aquaman's look here is sleeker and more muted than his comic book counterpart with a cool golden belt and gold gauntlets instead of green gloves.
The New 52 was controversial among long-time DC fans, not least for some of the liberties taken in the costuming of major superheroes. By contrast, the redesigns of the Rebirth era fared much better with fans. Curiously, many stylistic flourishes from the DCEU movies were incorporated into the comic book costumes.
While this was less apparent for Aquaman than for Batman, Wonder Woman or Superman, Arthur sports a look in the (pre-Rebirth) "Exiled" storyline that owes a clear debt to Michael Wilkinson's design for the Justice League movie. Just take a look at the detailing on the belt and the shark tooth motif on the chest and the belt line. It's a short-lived look for the character, but very cool!
11 STEAMPUNK AQUAMAN
Steampunk is a literary phenomenon which became an art form and even a fashion statement. As the name implies, it is a form of retro-futurism with a decidedly Victorian aesthetic. Many a superhero has been given a steampunk makeover; if not by comic book illustrators, then by ambitious fans on DeviantArt.
Some steampunk re-imaginings work, some don't. This steampunk variant for Aquaman #28 may not be to everyone's taste, but it works for us. From the clockwork metal hand t0 the H.G. Wells-esque armor and the big, beefy sideburns it's quintessentially steampunk while staying true to the character's history and legacy.
10 FUTURE'S END
It's the end of the universe as we know it! Conceived towards the end of the New 52, the "Future's End" story line was an 11 month weekly miniseries set five years in the future and starring a time-travelling Terry McGinnis (of Batman Beyond fame) who is tasked with preventing a war which could destroy the multiverse.
This version of Aquaman is alienated from the people of Atlantis (and even his wife Mera), who blame him for a battle which toxified the oceans and forced the Atlanteans above ground once more. Still, at least he gets this cool, sleek costume and a new team of Others!
9 THE WATERBEARER
There have been many Aquaman stories which have showcased the character's power set, addressed the complexity of his character and leaned heavily into the mix of Arthurian legend and Greek mythology that is the DC Universe's Atlantis. While the New 52 era of Aquaman was probably the highest profile run to do this, the "Waterbearer" story line deserves an honorable mention.
In this story, Arthur is cast out not just from Atlantis, but from the ocean. And yup, he forgot to take his shirt with him! Still, he has the traditional green leggings with an almost exoskeletal detailing. Not to mention the amorphous water hand (replacing the hook he had previously) which can transform itself into a range of weapons and tools.
8 INJUSTICE 2
NetherRealm's Injustice games deserve credit not only for being extremely enjoyable beat-em-ups but for creating a highly popular and engaging corner of the DC Multiverse. The games' story modes are way more enthralling than one would expect from a beat-em-up while the spin-off comics rank as some of the best of recent years.
The second game clearly eschews the traditional comic inspired look of the first game for something more DCEU in feel. Arthur is shirtless here although his look can be upgraded by unlocking various Atlantean trinkets in the game. The tattoos are also a clear homage to those worn by Jason Momoa (whose Aquaman tattoos in the DCEU were extrapolated from his own Polynesian-inspired tattoos).
7 SEA KING
While it could be argued that The Sea King isn't Aquaman in the strictest sense, but his Earth 3 counterpart, his look is so awesome that he simply deserves a place on the list. And he deserves to be ranked highly too! The great thing about this aesthetic is that it's a mish-mash of familiar elements presented in a new and visually appealing way.
The design has purple scale mail much like that worn by Ocean Master, and the crustacean pauldron is a possible nod to the Injustice Aquaman. However, the long hair, beard, harpoon hand and generally grizzled appearance are a clear homage to Peter David's seminal redesign of the '90s.
When is a reboot not a reboot? When it's DC's Rebirth! The event remains less a reboot and more a reorganization of the DC Universe. While many of the DC heroes' aesthetics were tweaked slightly to more closely resemble their cinematic counterparts, Aquaman's costume changes from the New 52 are relatively subtle and vary depending on who's drawing him.
The man behind the costume, however, has clearly been re-envisioned to more closely resemble Jason Momoa. Aquaman now sports a full beard and a mane of flowing hair. While this upgrade certainly makes him look extremely formidable, it can also make him look a little too much like Nickelback front man Chad Kroeger in some panels.
5 '90S REDESIGN
There are few comic book writers more prolific than Peter David. While he is perhaps best known for his seminal run on The Incredible Hulk in the '80s he has left an indelible impression on a number of comic books over the years. His redesign of Aquaman in the '90s heralded a new, grittier era for the King of Atlantis.
Gone was the familiar orange scale mail. Gone was his left hand (it got eaten by piranhas). Aquaman got a more mature reinvention both in terms of his appearance and the subject matter of his title. The look stuck as well, with clear influence on the Justice League animated series' Aquaman. It's unlikely that we would have got Jason Momoa as Aquaman without this redesign.
4 INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
The first Injustice game was a huge boon for DC fandom. Aside from Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, the DC pantheon was a relatively unknown commodity for non-comic book fans. Injustice: Gods Among Us, however, brought lesser known characters to mainstream attention inside and outside the gaming community. The game brought the DC Universe alive with intriguing takes on the character and fascinating redesigns.
This design takes the classic look from the comics and runs with it, incorporating some elements that make it truly unique. The gauntlets, belt and boots look stately yet functional while the chest armor combines metal with an almost Lovecraftian octopoid motif. He looks regal yet alien like the King of Atlantis should!
3 JUSTICE LEAGUE MOVIE
Whatever your opinion on last year's Justice League it remains a masterpiece of costume design. Michael Wilkinson is a phenomenal costume designer and his work on the Worlds Of DC represents some of the best production design in superhero cinema. The Aquaman costume for Justice League is a triumph of costuming that's just fascinating to look at.
Just like Wilkinson's design for Wonder Woman before it, it has a ceremonial feel and looks steeped in Atlantean culture. The fact that the shark tooth motif is extrapolated from similar designs seen in various Polynesian cultures make Atlantis feel much more real and tangible.
2 AQUAMAN MOVIE
They did it. Somehow, they did it! Conventional wisdom dictates that the traditional Aquaman costume couldn't, shouldn't work on the big screen. Yet somehow Aquaman costume designer Kym Barrett pulled it off! She took a costume design that for decades has been a joke, and made it as regal and impressive as it deserves to be.
Barrett's design looks comic book accurate and presents us with a design that's unlike what we're used to seeing in superhero cinema. At the same time, however, it still looks and feels very much of the Worlds Of DC. The film has already enjoyed a hugely successful opening night in China. It's only a matter of time until Aquaman takes the world by storm (or tsunami).
1 NEW 52
How do you replace a classic? You don't! You take everything that worked about the original and refine it. The New 52 Aquaman costume represents a triumph of evolution over revolution. On the face of it, it looks near-identical to Arthur's golden age attire but the devil, as they say, is in the details.
Geoff Johns' New 52 deserves a whole lot of credit for breathing new life into the Aquaman title and bringing the character's mythology to new prominence in the DC Universe. A subtle refinement of a classic aesthetic, it honors the character's history while masking it feel fresh and new. Long live the king!