Aquaman is one of the comic book medium’s most iconic characters, and is the only non-Batman DC superhero to headline a film that made a billion dollars. (Having Jason Momoa play him didn’t hurt.) Yet, his comic book history has been hit and miss. He debuted in 1941, as a back-up feature in More Fun Comics. He wasn’t even popular enough to get his own series, or even join the Justice Society of America.
But the tenacious undersea hero clung on when many other superheroes faded, and thanks to the boost of Justice League membership, he became popular enough to finally get his own comic in 1962, a full two decades after his debut. Since then, he’s more or less been a DC Comics mainstay, with a few years off here and there. Some comic book runs were forgettable, but some were truly great. Here are our choices for the best Aquaman comic book runs of all time.
7. Sword of Aquaman by Kurt Busiek, Tad Williams
with Jackson Guice, Shawn McManus
In 2006, after the big Infinite Crisis event, DC took a gamble on this oddball Aquaman title. This came after recent interpretations of the character were not really clicking with readers. DC went for a bold new take from writer Kurt Busiek, famous for his work on Avengers. Busiek’s Aquaman, was not the ruler of Atlantis as we’d known him for years. Instead, he was the similarly named Arthur Joseph Curry, a younger man who gained water-breathing powers thanks to experiments performed by his scientist father. This series renamed Aquaman vol. 6 as Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis.
This was all a callback to the 1940s Aquaman, who, costume and powers aside, was an almost totally different hero than the one we know today. Arthur’s adventures were more fantasy-oriented in nature, hence the “sword” in the title, and beautifully illustrated by Jackson Guice. Writer Tad Williams and artist Shawn McManus continued the Busiek/Guice story until the end of this run. This weird version of Aquaman only lasted for 18 issues, after which the original Arthur Curry returned from the dead. But it’s one of the more interesting takes on a hero named “Aquaman” that’s out there.
Issues in Kurt Busiek and Tad Williams’ Aquaman run:
Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40-57 (2006-2007)
6. Aquaman (Vol.3) by Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming
with Curt Swan, Al Vey
After the more radical reinvention of Aquaman in 1986 didn’t make a big enough splash sales-wise, the King of the Seas lay low for several more years, only appearing as a guest star in various series. Then in 1989, DC brought in Justice League International writer Keith Giffen and classic Superman artist Curt Swan. Writer Robert Loren Fleming helped with the writing duties as well. They first teamed up for the Legend of Aquaman special. This one-shot was more retro in style, mainly thanks to Swan’s art. However, it did add some new elements to the Aquaman lore.
One of those new elements was that Arthur Curry was now abandoned as an infant on the reef by his own people for his “cursed” blonde hair, later adopted by the human lighthouse keeper. This replaced the origin where he was the product of a human/Atlantean union. The same creative team reunited for a five-part mini-series that same year. This story focuses on an invasion of Atlantis from sentient squid, while Aquaman must deal with his deteriorating marriage to Mera. After this run, we got a new ongoing series by another creative team, although that book only lasted one year. Nothing breaks the mold here, but it’s still a fun read.
Issues in Keith Giffen’s Aquaman run:
Aquaman, Vol.3, #1-5, The Legend of Aquaman Special #1, (1989)
5. Aquaman (Vol.2) by Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton
Despite consistently appearing in Justice League, and on Super Friends on TV, by 1986, Aquaman had not headlined his own series in eight years. Then, after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics gave Arthur a bit of a modern facelift. This took place in an exciting four-part mini-series by writer (and former DC production designer) Neal Pozner, that updated his costume into something quite stylish, and gave the Sea King a unique adventure. This series really tied in with ancient Atlantean history, as seen in DC’s fantasy series Arion. It was an Aquaman we’d never really seen before.
This mid-’80s mini-series also elevated Aquaman’s sibling Ocean Master into a real menace for our hero at last. One who wields sorcery and isn’t just another water-themed techno-pirate. Artist Craig Hamilton’s art is simply incredible for this series, and remains underrated. DC hoped this series might boost the character in the way John Byrne and Frank Miller gave Superman and Batman a boost, respectively, that same year. But Clark and Bruce overshadowed him again (jerks). But it’s still a truly memorable run, and DC should collect it in some form. And that cool, new Aquaman costume? Arthur never wore it again. Years later, artist Phil Jimenez repurposed it for Aquaman’s former sidekick Aqualad, now Tempest. So its legacy lived on.
Issues in Neal Pozner’s Aquaman run:
Aquaman, Vol.2, #1-4 (1986)
4. Adventure Comics and Aquaman (Vol.1) by David Michelinie
with Jim Aparo, Don Newton
In the early ‘70s, DC canceled Aquaman’s solo series after a decade. But a few years later, new solo stories appeared in the pages of the anthology Adventure Comics. Starting in 1977, future Spider-Man writer David Michelinie and longtime Aquaman artist Jim Aparo began a multi-part epic that wound up as one of Aquaman’s defining storylines. In Adventure #450, Michelinie began a storyline that explored Aqualad’s mysterious past, but also saw the return of Black Manta on a mission of vengeance. Retribution that saw Manta do the unthinkable, and murder Aquaman’s baby son, Arthur Jr.
This storyline so shocked and enraptured readers, DC revived Aquaman’s solo comic thanks to Adventure Comics’ high sales. The revived Aquaman series, continued the story of Arthur Curry’s revenge quest against Black Manta, and its emotional fallout. David Michelinie and Jim Aparo continued to work together, with Don Newton ultimately taking over for Aparo. The revived Aquaman series then ended again with issue #63 in 1978, but DC has since collected the “Death of a Prince” story, marking this run as a very significant chapter in the Sea King’s career.
Issues in David Michelinie’s Aquaman run:
Adventure Comics #441, 443, 445, 450–452, Aquaman, Vol.1, #57–61 (1977–1978)
3. Aquaman (Vol.1) by Bob Haney with Nick Cardy
In 1962, thanks to years as a back-up feature for more popular superheroes and a slot on the Justice League of America, Aquaman finally got his own series as a headliner. The first issue of Aquaman hit in 1962, with stories largely written by Jack Miller and drawn by artist Nick Cardy. Most of these one-off stories had Aquaman and his kid sidekick Aqualad fight off random aliens and undersea despots. Silly fun, but unmemorable. Towards the end of the Miller run, DC had Aquaman marry Mera, and take the throne of Atlantis. However, all this provided excellent opportunities for the new series writer.
In 1965, writer Bob Haney, co-creator of the Teen Titans and the Doom Patrol, took over Aquaman with issue #25. He expanded the lore of the newly crowned King of Atlantis, adding in elements like Aquagirl, Arthur’s son Aquababy, and Aquaman’s two most iconic villains, Ocean Master and Black Manta. Unlike the perpetually single Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Haney had a blast exploring what it would be like to be a “married with children” superhero, while also juggling ruling a kingdom. By today’s standards, these stories remain quite dated, but they lay the foundation for so much future Aquaman lore, it is hard to deny its importance.
Issues in Bob Haney and Nick Cardy’s Aquaman run:
Aquaman, Vol.1, #25-39 (1965-1968)
2. Aquaman (Vol.7) by Geoff Johns
with Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier
After a very celebrated run in the ‘90s, DC sidelined the character of Aquaman again. Despite some interesting takes on the King of the Seven Seas, nothing really clicked with comics fans in a big way. That is, until the 2011 New 52 reboot, when writer Geoff Johns reinvigorated the character in a new ongoing series which made him cool again. Although this time, he’d be cool while retaining his classic costume and Silver Age origin story. Illustrated by Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier, during two years and 25 issues on the book, Johns was quick to shatter the “my power is just talking to fish” perception Aquaman had with the mainstream. In Johns’ view, Arthur Curry was a true force of nature, not a Super Friends punchline.
In Geoff Johns’ Aquaman run, he introduced many new concepts. There were the Others, new heroes who wielded ancient Atlantean weapons, and the Lovecraftian horrors of the Trench. He also reimagined Atlantis as a more multifaceted kingdom, with many different undersea tribes. Ocean Master and Black Manta received major upgrades. Their new personalities and backstories became a big influence on their big-screen interpretations. And after decades where DC treated Mera like a hysterical ex-wife, Geoff Johns made her a hero in her own right. Something that has stuck to this day. Aquaman was so popular at this time, that he even received a spin-off series, Aquaman and the Others. For only a 25-issue run, Geoff Johns really left his mark on the hero of Amnesty Bay.
Issues in Geoff Johns’ Aquaman run
Aquaman, Vol.7, #1-25 (2011-2013)
1. Aquaman (Vol.5) by Peter David
with Brad Vancata, Kirk Jarvinen, Marty Egeland, Jim Calafiore
When writer Peter David took over Aquaman in 1994, he was already a comics superstar. This was in large part to Marvel work on The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man 2099. He actually began the seeds of his Aquaman run years before, in his seven-part series The Atlantis Chronicles. That series chronicled thousands of years of Atlantean history. It provided the foundation for what David would do with Arthur Curry for a nearly five-year run on the character.
David began with the mini-series Aquaman: Time and Tide, which updated Aquaman’s origins for the modern age. David made a big change to the mythology, making Aquaman the product of the Atlantean Queen Atlanna, and the ancient sorcerer Atlan. By issue three of the new Aquaman ongoing series, David “went there,” by having a villain amputate Arthur’s hand via Piranha. But instead of being sidelined by the injury, he replaced his hand with a giant hook. He also took on a long-haired, almost barbarian look. A complete 180 from his classic. Silver Age appearance. Fans ate it all up.
David’s Aquaman stories revealed that Arthur was just his adopted human name, his Atlantean name was Orin. This run also reunited him with his long-lost son Koryak, enter into a new romantic relationship with seafaring heroine Dolphin, and transformed into a warrior badass. Although DC produced this during the grim n’ gritty era of the ‘90s, David always brought humor to his comics. Aquaman was no different, often being quite funny. A lot of David retcons to Aquaman’s origins were undone by subsequent runs. However, the attitude and overall feel of Peter David’s Aquaman remains, seen most evidently in Jason Momoa’s big screen version.
Issues in Peter David’s Aquaman run:
The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7 (1990), Aquaman: Time and Tide #1-4 (1994), Aquaman Vol. 5 #0-46 (1994-1998)