King of the Seas (and Stories)1 of 12
There’s an Aquaman movie flooding into theaters this month. But it might surprise you that Aquaman was not always the two-handed, long-haired hunk played by Baywatch’s Jason Momoa that you’ve seen on movie posters everywhere.
In fact, Aquaman has been a lot of different things depending on the decade - a long-haired, one harpoon handed hunk, a naked kid who bothered a lighthouse keeper into being his father, a guy just looking for his wife - point is, Arthur Curry has range.
So we decided that now might be a good time to list the top ten Aquaman stories of all time in case you’re looking for something to whet your appetite for more Atlantean Adonises.
10. The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7 (David/Maroto)2 of 12
Peter David’s impact on the legacy of Aquaman cannot be denied (his work appears three separate times on this very list.) and it all begins here. The Atlantis Chronicles doesn’t feature Arthur Curry but it deepens the mythology surrounding the watery depths of Atlantis.
David weaves the narrative between the perspectives of different characters - presenting Atlantis was living, breathing part of the DCU similar to Themyscira or Krypton. Esteban Maroto brings a background in horror and fantasy illustration to the table that is a gorgeous fit for this story. This is Atlantean Sword & Sorcery and Maroto’s combines those elements extremely well.
And while Aquaman isn’t a major player, the story ends with his birth kicking off a new era for Atlantis.
9. The Legend of Aquaman (Giffen/Fleming/Swan/Shanower)3 of 12
For a time, it seemed like Aquaman was defined solely by attempts to revamp his origins and history.
After Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton’s initial post-Crisis relaunch (we’ll get to that), Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming took a stab at the character bringing him closer to his pre-Crisis status quo while expanding on some details about him like his classic orange and green suit being a prison uniform.
Some of it might seem a bit saccharine by the time it wraps up but with art by legendary artist Curt Swan, you could do a lot worse.
8. Thicker Than Water - Aquaman #1-4 (Posner/Hamilton)4 of 12
Prior to Giffen and company, Ned Pozner and Craig Hamilton were tasked with putting together Aquaman’s first solo title in eight years and they really went for it.
Not only did they give Arthur some new duds (and appropriately 80s hairstyle to boot), they redefined one of his oldest foes (and half-brother), the Ocean Master, as a sorcerer and brought the history of Arion and Atlantis closer together.
The new direction wouldn’t last long but the “camouflage suit” and Pozner’s attempts to do something new resonated with fans who still hold this miniseries in high regard.
7. The Trench - Aquaman #1-4 (Johns/Reis)5 of 12
After Flashpoint changed the DC Universe forever, Geoff Johns decided to take on a nigh impossible task: making Aquaman cool.
People laughed at the idea until the first issue of Johns run dropped and the writer tackled Aquaman’s reputation head on. Illustrated by Ivan Reis, Aquaman in this era regained a sense of regality and quiet fury that had been missing from the character. Some might argue that lampshading the goofier parts of Aquaman isn’t an effective way to incorporate them but by acknowledging them, Johns enabled people to move past those elements to see the what Aquaman fans have known all along: Aquaman has always been cool.
6. Aquaman: Time & Tide #1-4 (David/Jarvinen)6 of 12
We aren’t done with origin stories yet. In Time & Tide Peter David gets to build on the foundation he started in The Atlantis Chronicles and provide a look at the early years of Aquaman’s career.
Through a series of different stories, David introduces different elements of Aquaman’s world - from the fins on the backs of his calves to how he got his name. Kirk Jarvinen provides art that’s atypical of most 90s comic book art. With its clean lines and expressive faces, it looks almost like Erik Larsen went to work for Disney animation and it’s a great fit for the tone of the book.
With the close of this chapter in his Aquaman career, David sets up what will be a 48 issue tenure on the character’s solo title.
5. Drowned Earth (Snyder/Tynion/Irving etc.)7 of 12
Drowned Earth has a sense of scale that dwarves many of the stories on this list and places Aquaman’s personal mythology in the same realm as some of the other heroes on the Justice League.
Scott Snyder and James Tynion continue the tradition of building up that mythos but they make an important distinction - this threat is much more farther reaching than what Aquaman and the League have dealt with before. And we’d be remiss not to mention artistic contributions from Francis Manapul and Frazer Irving. Manapul’s work has become definitive of the DCU as a whole in this era while Driving is really able to up the horror ante on this book. Drowned Earth isa modern classic already.
4. American Tidal - Aquaman #15-20 (Pfeiffer/Gleason)8 of 12
This era saw Aquaman pivot away from the “Warrior King” we saw in the 90s and embrace a gift from the Lady of the Lake: a hand made of water to replace his hook. Turn out that Arthur Curry has a little bit more in common with the King Arthur of Camelot than just a name.
Anton Geist sinks half the city of San Diego underwater and Aquaman rushes to save them but mysteriously, they can breathe underwater. Now banished from Atlantis, Aquaman adjusts to life in his new city, lovingly nicknamed “Sub Diego,” and helps the citizens there adjust as well. Will Pfeiffer crafts a story here that places the ever changing definition of heroism at its center while the mysterious nature of the plot is slowly unveiled.
Patrick Gleason turns in some of his earliest work here as well and it's clear from the silent opening that this is one for all time.
3. The Triton Saga - Aquaman Annual #1, Aquaman #34, 42-46 (David/Calafiore)9 of 12
Surly and brash, Peter David’s Aquaman had the confidence and bravado to take on literal gods and that’s exactly what he did - fighting Triton after the arriviste avatar dethrones Poseidon. It was high stakes on the high seas and a satisfying culmination of David’s work with the character.
And while Aquaman’s harpoon hand may seem like strange byproduct of comics most testosterone-fueled decade, reverberations of Peter David’s work with this character continues to echo through iterations of the character even today, most notably in the character design for Justice League Unlimited and the upcoming Aquaman live action film. (And let’s be honest: A harpoon hand might be the only way to make Jason Momoa’s Aquaman even cooler.)
2. The Search for Mera - Aquaman #40-4710 of 12
Jim Aparo is a legend in every sense of the world and his run on Aquaman begins here with writer Steve Skeates. The story follows Arthur as he searches for his missing queen while the political machinations of Atlantis go on without him.
And while the “Arthur and Mera get separated” storyline has been repeated seemingly ad infinitum at this point, there’s a reason that writers keep going back to this particular well. Aquaman has always had rich supporting characters and Mera has earned every right to stand next to the King of Atlantis.
These two tide-crossed lovers are part of the heart and soul of the legacy of Aquaman and this story helps solidify that.
1. Death of a Prince - Adventure Comics #451-455, Aquaman #57-6311 of 12
For a while there, Aquaman had it pretty good. He was King of Atlantis. He was married and had a child. Things were pretty positive for the seafaring superhero. So of course, it all had to come crashing down.
Running in Adventure Comics, “Death of a Prince” established Black Manta as the definitive Big Bad in Arthur’s waterlogged corner of the DCU. Character deaths are nothing new for even the most casual fans of superhero media but in the early 70s, Black Manta murdering Aquaman’s infant son was a big leap for audiences. But this storyline was so popular that it forced DC’s hand and they brought back the Aquaman solo series from cancellation just to finish it.
Fittingly, the effects of this story have never really gone away, keeping Arthur Curry a character as firmly entrenched in tragedy as the darkest DC heroes.
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