There’s a whole lot of comics out there. Unfortunately, with hundreds of releases every week, some hidden gems are bound to get swept under the rug. We’re here to bring you what we consider to be some of the best underrated comic runs.
Note: This is limited to material I own/have read, so if you feel like I’ve missed out on better stories, don’t get too hurt. Or better yet, tell me in the comments, and let me know about it!
What better way to start it, than with one of history’s most underrated characters, Aquaman? Scorned ever since his appearance in the ‘80s cartoon Super Friends, he’s often referred to as the joke of the Justice League, the ‘weird guy who talks to fish’. Aquaman takes a lot of flak from other writers. Luckily for him, he’s had some very dedicated talents over the years, working hard to expand his lore and help him reach his potential.
And he seems to be steeping back into the spotlight, too. With a guest appearance in Batman Vs. Superman, and a solo movie on the way, he’s more popular than ever. An image was dropped a few months ago of his appearance, as portrayed by Jason Momoa, and shocked more than a few used to the happy go-lucky fish talker.
It’s a little polarizing, right? Of course, this wasn’t the first appearance of this costume style. Which brings me back to the comic run in question. Written by veteran Peter David, this Aquaman was a drastic change from anything people had ever seen. Hardened, vicious, and battle ready, this Aquaman was fresh and ready for print.
There wasn’t any shortage of talent in the art department, either. Starting with the rotating, one-two punch of Martin Egeland and Joe St. Pierre, the imagery was full of energy and hardened characters. I especially enjoy Egeland’s depiction of the archaic, towering spires of Atlantis, a really refreshing change from the usual static backgrounds of the 90’s. Plus, there was a whole lot of special guest talent on cover work, including the great Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Walt Simonson (Thor).
Thankfully, it wasn’t sacrificing any substance for style. David’s Aquaman lore was expansive, with a rich history filled with war, politics, betrayal, and mysticism, enough to rival fiction giants like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. And how did it start? With Arthur Curry, the Aquaman himself, getting his hand chewed off by pirahnas.
And so began the era of the hook.
David developed his supporting cast pretty well, too, with a solid blend of classic characters and new ones. From the delightfully chirpy, yet arrogant Aqualad, to the enigmatic, yet charming Dolphin, our grim hero never felt lonely. David, who’s worked on successful team books like X-Factor before, was deft at giving everyone a distinct voice, and giving each one a memorable character arc with suitable closure.
It actually tied in pretty well with the rest of the DC universe, without feeling too forced. The most memorable, of course, is the early Superboy crossover. It’s a great look into both character’s psyches, and a brilliant display of how powerful, and how beautifully vicious Aquaman can be.
This worked especially well at giving him a more expansive rogues gallery. I mean, there’s definitely a few striking names like Ocean Master, Black Manta and Thanatos, but before this run, there wasn’t a huge amount worth using. Enter the likes of Lobo, The Deep Six, Swamp Thing and even the Justice League? David definitely put our undersea king in some pretty interesting positions. It all climaxed at a pretty intense, yet satisfying political drama, with lots of war and fantasy elements woven in.
Let’s look at some of the new characters and concepts that David came up with during his run. There was the Kako, a previous love of Arthur’s, who not only gave birth to his child after he left her, but in David’s run, becomes a fire elemental named Corona. She never hated him for leaving initially, as he wasn’t aware of her pregnancy, but David cleverly uses the Corona element to surface all the buried rage she had within her. On that note, her son Koryak is also a great addition to the story – a stubborn, arrogant and misled teen with more power than he knows what to do with. On top of that, he’s often very vocal about his hate for Aquaman, and hey, who could blame him? Guy leaves before he’s born, goes around prancing in a suit as a superhero not knowing his son’s even alive.
Of course, you can’t ignore David’s new love interest for Arthur, Dolphin. I won’t spoil anything, but she’s one of the more interesting characters developed during the course of the run. She’s perplexingly mysterious, yet caring and loyal, helping out Arthur and his team throughout his adventures. One of the best parts of the run is when David reintroduces Mera, Arthur’s original love, ramping the story’s tension to an all new level. The story gets it’s own feisty love triangle, and it made for some fun dialogue.
But really, what Peter David wanted to show was that Atlantis was, and is a really mysterious and intriguing place. It’s an ancient city with tons of history to draw upon, combining sorcery with science, and dramatic politics. It’s tossed and turned, ruled by tyrants, liars, and heroes, all wanting different things for the city. One of it’s cities, Poseidonis is even elevated back above sea level in one of the biggest twists for the series. This lore expansion influenced a whole bunch of writers from this point, including the recent Geoff Johns run, which has helped to push the character back into the spotlight.
It’s a great story for one of the DCU’s most humiliated characters, and has some of the best character development for it’s era. New runs may come and go, but Peter David’s hook-handed Aquaman deserves to be remembered for everything it did, even if it slipped under the radar for some.