Saturday, November 30, 2002

Why Aquaman?

How is it that I'm an Aquaman fan? I get asked that a lot. "Why Aquaman?!?? Isn't he just the lamest of the Super Friends?" Well, obviously I don't think so. My usual answer is "Why not Aquaman?" along with something of a cold stare.

But, of course, that's not really an answer. That's just an angry evasion. After all, it does seem kind of odd that I would like Aquaman. He's just the guy that talks to fish, you know.

My active Aquaman fandom started in college. Once I was out on my own, there were a few things I wanted to try. One of them was comic books (hey, I'm really tame, ok?). I knew all about comics, of course. Everyone knows about comic books. I had even read some. My best friend growing up had a collection at her family's summer house on Hood Canal, and I would sit and read old Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics whenever I visited the place. There were no super-hero comics there, as I recall, but I really enjoyed the old Disney tales. I knew about super-heroes though, because of the campy Batman TV show and the Super Friends cartoon.

Anyway, in my second year of college, I learned that there was a comic shop downtown. I hadn't been to a pure comic shop before (one of my high school friends ran a sportscard and comic shop, but he dropped comics before I even left for college). So I tagged along with someone downtown one day, and visited the shop alone. It was a small place, upstairs in a mini-mall. I chatted with the owner a bit: I said I wanted to buy some comics, but I didn't know where to start. He asked what my interests were, and I said the first thing that came into my mind, "Well, I used to like Aquaman on the Super Friends a lot!" He told me I was in luck, a new Aquaman series had just started.

I have this vague recollection of him pulling the first issue off the shelf for me, but then, I also have a vague recollection of getting Spider-Man 2099 #1 before Aquaman #1 which is not possible from the dates on the books (I bought both series as they came out, starting with the first issue on both). My memory is a bit dodgy about it all a decade later. But what happened is that I started to pick up that Aquaman title, which was apparently my first comic book. It was only a dollar, and even a starving college student could afford that...

The Aquaman title was Shaun McLaughlin's 1991-92 run on Aquaman. After the end of that fantastic 13 issue run, I eagerly awaited the Peter David mini-series, then the series it led into. I kept collecting faithfully, and one day I decided I wanted to find out more about Aquaman. I searched the internet and was shocked to find just about nothing about Aquaman anywhere. Certainly there wasn't anything of substance. So I decided to make my own page in the hopes that people who actually knew about the character would come and correct me. They did, and I learned, and, better yet, I learned how to learn more. I started collecting back-issues, the page got bigger, and I slowly became identified with Aquaman.

I could stop here and say the rest is just natural progression... but I won't. There's more to the story.

I've told you how I got to where I am. I liked the McLaughlin run, and I liked what followed, but I wouldn't have become a raving lunatic of a fan unless there was something more to it, so I've spent a lot of time the last few years trying to figure out why Aquaman?

After all, any fan can tell you how they started collecting. But how many of them know, really know, why they like what they like? Eventually, I connected an old memory to my current obsession, and I think that I've finally figured out the reason I like Aquaman.

When I was very young, I used to go to my neighbors' house and swim in their pool a lot. It was an above-ground pool, you had to climb a ladder to get into it. My best friend lived next door, but she didn't like the pool much because she got cold too easily. So I often swam in it alone, usually watched by her older brother or her father.

One day, I don't recall the details, I was swimming alone. I remember sitting in an inner-tube on the surface, just floating along. Then suddenly I was on the bottom of the pool, looking up at the inner-tube, wondering what had happened. I vividly recall the sparkle of sunlight on the disturbed surface and the black shadow of the inner-tube. I don't recall holding my breath. In fact, I don't recall any fear or worry at all. And I realized that I really liked being at the bottom of the pool, being underwater looking up. I wanted to stay there.

I have no idea how I got back to the surface, or what happened after that. I'm sure that I came to my senses and realized that I had to breath sometime and so surfaced. I was an ok swimmer even as a child (for the longest time I had trouble putting my face in the water if the rest of my head was above water, so I couldn't swim well on the surface, but I could do all kinds of swimming if I was completely underwater). In any case, it's fairly evident that I didn't die (In fact, I suspect I started diving to the bottom and looking up in an effort to recapture the moment, that would be just like me).

And I think this memory is the connection. I think that I like Aquaman not because he can talk to fish, nor because of the King of Atlantis thing. I think I really like Aquaman because he can live underwater. He doesn't have to surface for air. His fingers don't prune up when he's been in the water too long. He can stay down there. And I can't.

Now, you'd think that this childhood experience would have led me to take up skin diving or something, but the opportunity never presented itself and I never remembered the experience clearly enough to make it a priority in my life. It's only when the fantasy of Aquaman began to sink in that the sense of wonder planted that day in the pool had a chance to grow and bloom. And while that experience in the pool has always been one of my most vivid memories, it never had any deeper meaning until I started searching for a reason why I like Aquaman so much.

The more I think of it, the more I believe that's probably it. Talking to fish? Funny, but I'm not interested in conversations with a tuna. Being a King? Gah, it's hard enough leading a small group, why would I want to lead a city? Being able to live underwater without need of air or any special equipment? Yeah, I would like that.

Oddly enough, when I first made the connection between my pool memory and Aquaman, I posted it to my Aquaman Mailing List. My friend Leah (are you reading, Leah?) was stunned, because she has a story very similar to mine, and perhaps the same connection to the water that I have. Trial by water, and we both came out of it as Aqua-fans.

So, it's not because Aquaman is so handsome in orange and green, nor because of his sexy voice on the Super Friends cartoon. It's not because he rides a seahorse, nor for his blue eyes and blond hair. It's not because he can talk with fish, nor because of his awesome Aqua-scooter.

I like Aquaman because he can live underwater, and because, somewhere deep inside, I wish I could live underwater too.