In difficult times people revert to nostalgia and reminisce over antiquated ideals, such as the character of a hero or the memory of a late great leader. Comic books have long been a chapel that amalgamates the ethics of a society and mirrors them back, so we can reflect on the totality of a civilization. And in this chapel, one comic book superhero stands alone as the embodiment of a modern utopian hero: Aquaman. This may be an odd choice, or a contrarian’s choice, especially when considering the abundance of comic book superheroes, such as Batman, Superman, and Spiderman, so why Aquaman?
Rich back story and environmental protection aside, Aquaman is very much a hero unlike any other. He is brooding and mysterious without being petulant and cynical. He possesses a unique self-awareness that causes him to be acutely cognisant of his failings. As a man Aquaman is flawed, fragile, and often forgotten; his heroic character lies in his devotion to the health of the oceans and the relics of a lost city. Aquaman true to our times is always distrusting of power and those who seek it. He once rejected the throne of Atlantis fearing it will corrupt him. Aquaman is uncompromising in his beliefs and principles; and he pays the price for his commitments repeatedly. Unlike Batman or Spiderman he is not a vigilante that stops criminals roaming the streets; and unlike Superman he is not alien to this planet. He is tied to human history and aims to better the state of the ocean along with the underwater cities. In one example of how Aquaman is a modern evolving hero, he debates the merits of pulling Atlantis out of the depths of the ocean, and he attempts for the newly risen city-state to join the United Nations. Later he sinks the city again in order to end the damage rout by mainstream tourists on a fragile marine ecosystem.
Aquaman is constantly being reinvented by DC Comics for the purposes of adapting him to the times; whereas Superman will always be the same and contain certain keystones to his mythology. Aquaman is not a saint calling for redemption; he is a conflicted figure seeking answers to his moral confusion. And when he finds answers he upholds them with complete devotion. In the context of the other mainstream superheroes, Batman demands of the people vigilance. Superman demands of the people respect for the law and the American way. Yet, Aquaman demands nothing, instead he provides for the people a sense of awareness; awareness of our history, our environment, and each other. Batman represents the social tools needed for a democracy to succeed: vigilance and tolerance in lieu of violence. Superman represents the emotional need for a messianic figure. Whereas Aquaman represents the nature of humanity: painfully complex, passionately resilient, and perpetually evolving.