I know, it’s shocking that a billionaire with a bodybuilder’s physique and genius intellect would have so many paramours. But you should sit down, because I have one more to show you. The superheroes Batman and Zatanna (real name Zatanna Zatara) didn’t officially become childhood friends until 2007. Paul Dini redefined their relationship to go back a few extra decades, skipping all that stuff like spending twenty issues with a will-they-won’t-they-show-vulnerability-or-kiss scenario. Nope, all the awkwardness disappeared as soon as its revealed their parents were chummy. So today, partially to answer all those curious Batman fans and partially because articles about superhero relationships tend to get more hits (and I’m shameless), we’ll take a look at their potential coupling from Detective Comics #833-834, written by Paul Dini and drawn by Don Kramer as well as Detective Comics #843-845, written by Dini and drawn by Dustin Nguyen.
First, here’s the pivotal childhood friendship thingie I mentioned earlier:
Which brings us to that panel above. Turns out when supervillain Dr. Light learned about the Justice League’s family members, Zatanna mind-wiped him. Batman tried to stop her and she mind-wiped him too. So the two aren’t on great terms right now. Unfortunately, there’s some magician causing crime in Gotham City, so Batman has to call his former buddy to help out. Luckily, since Batman has always been one to wear his heart on his sleeve and discuss problems with his teammates in a rational and open environment — sorry, I’m thinking of Superman. Batman continues to be a jerk:
So Zatanna can come along to stop a magician as long she uses no magic, essentially making her a liability instead of any sort of asset. It’s like saying, Flash, we want you to stop this murderer, but please don’t run. You know exactly how this is going to go. Zatanna doesn’t, but that’s because she’s a wizard and not a psychic.
I’m not showing you this to build suspense. Obviously Zatanna doesn’t die and Batman breaks free in an overly dramatic fashion. But I have to show you this scene, if only because their friendship can’t be mended until Batman realizes that hey, it turns out everyone makes mistakes now and then. Except for Superman — he’s as perfect as he is good looking.
Batman may be a jerk, but morally he’s on the right track. Also, this is a man who has difficulty coping with emotional trauma — y’know like how his parents died so he started an eternal quest for justice while dressed as a bat. But at least Zatanna can take joy in Batman’s admission that, yes, occasionally he may also make a tiny, insignificant oopsie. Like as in him not trusting her because of justified proof that he shouldn’t. I’m Team Batman when it comes to the mind-wipe debate. But it’s Zatanna that makes this next scene so great:
Unclasp that hand from your heart. Y’see, while Batman needed to learn he could trust his friend again, Zatanna beat him to the punch — no matter their relationship, she never lost her trust in him. Boom, take that Batman. So with their friendship appropriately healed, the actual romantic stuff can begin. You’d think it’d be the slow build up a monthly serial would do, but Dini knows how busy you are. He gets right to the issue on everyone’s mind — will these two attractive superheroes do it? By it, I mean sex.
Flirting always get interrupted by bullets in the comic book universe. It’s a great story involving the new Ventriloquist/Scarface that has been building for a good five or six issues now. I’m skipping it, but as for the two dating? It’s a simple idea, it’d be accepted by fans, and Batman could use a post-coital smile every now and then after spending every night ripping away robbers from their crying victims. But everything comes down to Batman’s one defining trait that Zatanna has to come to terms with: he’s a mess. A gigantic, horrific mess of a person.
Sorry, everything’s been a tease. They don’t actually date. But we all know Batman would eventually break her magical heart — it’s always going to be Catwoman in the end. Because she’s also a mess. Another gigantic, horrific mess of a person. Those two deserve each other. No, seriously:
Honestly? Zatanna can do better than Batman. She’s not broken, and deep down, Batman needs someone to fix.
It’s time for newly shaven, suave Aquaman to go reclaim his ex-wife. He rocks a bejeweled headband, a cool new vest, and enough bracelets sure enough for Mera to swoon over and fall back in love. That’s how relationships work. As we left off last time, Mera came back to normal Earth after an extended stay raising her son in the alternative dimension Netherworld ocean. But with her new man-elf squid-tree boyfriend Noble, Aquaman’s going to have to fight to win her back — and not his normal method of punching. Look, I love Aquaman, but he lacks a lot of useful traits that makes a women want to be with him (like say, charisma), so let’s see how his abs do.
Poor Aquaman. It’s not going to be very easy, or else I wouldn’t have needed a second part. I guess it makes sense that her wedding dress is a bikini/scarf combo, as I imagine a more ornate dress wouldn’t do well underwater, but we should admire Mera for as I’m now coining this brand-new phrase, “doing her own thing.” Mera’s a strong, independent woman, gosh darn it.
We all liked his beard. No matter what side you take in this Aquaman/Mera relationship drama, we can all agree on the beard. Luckily, because Aquaman has stuff like abs, royalty, superpowers, etc., he rebounds immediately. Like in the exact same issue Mera decides they should just be friends. And thus begins seven issues of Mera exclaiming “I’m in love with both of these men!” and Aquaman attempting to do normal stuff he’s not great at, like make jokes and not be super jealous.
I’m not joking about Mera voicing her dilemma for seven issues. I’ve included more of her soul searching below. But more importantly, Aquaman’s rebound girl doesn’t work out, and not just because the title of our article today gives away the spoiler that Aquaman and Mera get back together. No, there’s a good reason why. One that I never want you to forget as long as you live. Remember that for all of Aquaman’s accomplishments (ex. saving the world), he dated this woman:
In a plot twist I’m not going to properly explain, Aquaman’s mother comes back from the grave.
Look, I’ll be honest with you: their actual reconciliation is fairly anti-climactic. We all pretty much knew what was happening, but Aquaman, Noble, and Mera fight some water demons, Noble gets hurt, and Mera changes her mind. That’s it. You’ll be thinking I’m skipping some important pages, but I’m not. So for your information and eventual Aquaman fan site, I present to you the moment they became husband and wife for a second time. And have never broken up since.
When a couple gets remarried, it’s not official until that special moment the two bone in a palace while fish try to explain sex to each other. As we end today, I hope you once again believe in love again. That’s always been my primary goal. Talking about comics is a distant second. We’re not done with Aquaman yet! One more article on Monday!
It took nine years to get these two back together after their marriage imploded, not that Aquaman stayed chaste or faithful or didn’t nail hordes of beautiful sea-women. But in 1998, thus began the fifteen issue long will-they-or-won’t-they games that elevate comic books to essentially soap operas with punching. Don’t get angry — we love the drama (and the punching). So today we begin their journey back in love from various scenes in Aquaman #47-62, written by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Erik Larson, Chris Eliopoulos, & Gary Carlson and drawn by J. Calafiore, Eric Battle, & Mike Miller. Also note the massive amount of writers and artists if you detect any tone changes.
Currently, an Aquaman impostor has invaded Atlantis. I bring this up just to prove Mera’s old claim wrong. For this fake Aquaman to look exactly like younger, non-jaded Aquaman, our king’s genes must be overwhelmingly strong.
Talk about going into the family business. AJ, who is now definitely Aquaman and Mera’s son, can’t survive outside of his home dimension. It’s why you’ve never heard of him despite being an actual child of a famous superhero. I mean, you know Damian Wayne because he can do things like survive outside of an alien alternative dimension water world. Some kids get all the luck. Aquaman and his son head to the other dimension to rescue Mera. I’m skipping the two issue war stuff. Our hero hits spaceships with tridents.
And thus AJ never shows up in comics again. In the mid-2000s, a man named Arthur Joseph (AJ) Curry becomes the second Aquaman, but he’s unrelated to this one. Happy ending, right? Husband and wife are back together and I can end today satisfied. Except for one slight problem — something all the fish telepathy in the world can’t solve.
Turns out both of them cheated on each other, voiding their Atlantean marriage. On land, they’d still have to file some paperwork and stare bitterly at each other in court, but it’s much simpler underwater. As you expect, Aquaman doesn’t take this news well. He has anger issues. Even worse, Mera goes off and gets herself a new boyfriend named Noble, who sort of looks like a squid-tree man-elf. As Dolphin explains the reason why in the pages below — as writers attempt to overcompensate the world’s mockery by making Aquaman edgier and hairier, he lost all that charm he apparently once had. Most importantly, check out Noble and Mera’s idea of a wedding dress. For how cold the oceans are, how come no one ever puts on any clothes?
So what is Aquaman’s solution to his problem? Definitely not show her the dashing and heroic Aquaman of the past. No, that would take effort he’s not going to put forth to reclaim something (or someone) that was always his to begin with. Steal from the thief, so to say. You’re about to witness a pivotal moment in Aquaman’s history — tell your grandkids that you once read a story where Aquaman did this:
That’s right. He shaved off his beard. Will that be enough? We’ll find out next time!
Aquaman continues with his merry wet life after Mera accuses him of having weak genes, murdering their child, and then whirlpooling away from him forever and ever. And in the mid-1990s, because everything had to be extreme with lots of ‘tude, Aquaman received a makeover as well. He no longer wears a shirt, had one of his replaced hands with a hook, and grew a beard to show off his shirtless hook-hand ruggedness. But today in Aquaman #11-15, written by Peter David and drawn by Marty Egeland & J. Calafiore, that painful reminder of his past (Mera) returns once more for a weird story involving multiple dimensions and demons and alternative Aquamans. But first, this:
Meet Aquaman’s paramour Dolphin. Not the animal, you probably already know about those. That’s her only name too, by the way. She has all the normal Aquaman-like superpowers and eventually gets impregnated by Aquaman’s sidekick Aqualad. But because we’re reading a comic book, we save lengthy discussions for after the post-coital fistfight. Why explain when you can punch?
Of course this has to happen. Young boys read comics, and young boys want two women to headbutt each other fighting over their man. You’re probably wondering where she went these five years she’s been absent (well, real time for five years, DC universe time for a few months). Don’t you worry, she’ll tell you — after some more cattiness.
See? I told you this arc was strange. That’s an alternative dimension Aquaman-like dude called Thanatos. I’m telling you this mainly because I’m skipping over his entire storyline. He’s abusive, evil, and dating/stuck with Mera or whatever their alternative dimension relationship status is. Y’see, after Aquaman, Mera, and Dolphin travel to Mera’s current home, Aquaman fights in jungles, gladiator arenas, and the French Revolution. Seriously. You should buy this book if you want to see Aquaman on a guillotine.
It’s actually a place called the Netherworld, but close enough to Hell. I know the series sets up for a love triangle (though brief) between Aquaman, Dolphin, and Mera, but the back of our minds know the truth. Aquaman and Mera are meant for each other. Look, Spider-Man can date whoever he wants. It’s fun. It’s good for drama and story. But we all know the end result — he’ll eventually get back with Mary Jane because they’re meant for each other. So let Aquaman have his dalliances, his hook-hand mid-life crisis, and all the delightful soap opera that comes with Aquaman and Mera’s history — but we know the end result. Even if it takes years (and it does).
They find a way back to their own dimension through Aquaman’s wizard frenemy. Aquaman and Mera don’t get back together for another fifty-ish issues or so. After all, they have a Mariana Trench worth of problems and history to work out. Oh, and also this:
Next time, we begin the long road to reconciliation! Let’s all get excited for love!
In our previous part, Aquaman and Mera got back together again after their marriage tore apart from the death of their child. Now it gets torn apart again, because happy endings don’t bring in readers. So while today’s story is all about tragedy and political uprisings and revolutions and everything that makes a superhero story great — we’re here to complete our mission for Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. At the command of our leader Reid Vanier and Modern Mythologies, my job is to hopefully bring awareness on one of the injustices that comic books committed against their women — in this case the differences in emotional outbursts between the fish king and his fishie wife. And exactly like part two, Aquaman’s the picturesque self-confident do-gooder against Mera’s wild insane ramblings/attacks. And sure, it’s not totally fair that the writers portray Mera in this manner, but on the other hand, her child did die. So she has that excuse.
We’re in the late ’80s, eleven years after Part 2. Our story took a eleven year break — or the amount of time it took for Aquaman to get another solo series after his previous one wrapped up in 1978. Currently, underwater war:
I love this scene just for the brilliant notion of Aquaman screaming, “Nobody’s beating up on my woman!” Can we see how sweet it actually is, simply because of the “stable or not” comment? Our Atlantean king punches his own dudes (who are absolutely in the right) just because they’re trying to restrain his crazy wife. It’s romantic, right? Probably?
But now the comparisons arise once more: Mera says some really mean things in the next dozen pages while Aquaman works tirelessly to keep her from hurting herself and the man she loves.
Sure, Aquaman could use his manly hands to knock her out, but that’s not what superheroes do. Despite Mera being a superhero. So just like when Green Lantern killed the entire Green Lantern Corps during those few confusing years he became a supervillain, Mera’s attempt to murder her husband forever glues itself to Mera’s lists of faults and mistakes. Remember, some people still haven’t forgiven Hank Pym for backhanding his wife Wasp (who routinely gets injured ten times worse every issue or so in battle), and that happened almost thirty-five years ago.
But can we all agree that Mera’s biggest fault is her style? If mold shopped at Chico’s, we’d have Mera’s outfit.
By this point, Mera’s the full-on antagonist of this issue. Anyone who shouts lines like a bad Bond villain is definitely in the wrong here. Aquaman’s pleading and emasculating himself so he doesn’t have to lay a hand on his wife. What superheroics! But poor Mera, she crossed from irrational to evil. You all love melodrama, right? Get ready for this gem:
Here’s what makes this moment sad (and it’s not that she died, because y’know, comic books): Mera believes her craziness now. Her insane beliefs wrapped around her long enough to squeeze out any skeptical ideas from that distraught brain of hers. She spends the next few years of comics 100% understanding that Aquaman killed their kid and he’s the worst half-human/half-Atlantean that ever walked/swam this planet. If anything can relate to what Reid wants us to be aware of, it’s that this change in her personality serves only to add drama to Aquaman’s already pretty full plate of soap opera. Or to sum it up, a woman being hurt only to further a man’s story. Oh, and now comes the meanest line of the arc:
Weak genes, right? I’d call it a burn but they’re underwater, so that won’t work. Can’t you feel Professor X squirm uncomfortably as you read that line? And let’s be fair, while Mera’s not exactly Atlantean (she’s sort of a water alien?) Aquaman’s half-and-half genetics make him far stronger than both humans and Atlanteans, so what’s she complaining about?
As we wrap up today, hopefully with a larger understanding of treating female superheroes/supporting characters with the respect, love, and fairness they deserve (that was the goal, anyway), there’s only one way to properly end our week-long sad-fest: Aquaman collapsed in a heap of tears.
Mera may not, but I still love you, Aquaman.
As we left off last time, Aquaman and Mera’s son died in a horrible oxygen/reverse-drowning tragedy. Today, we get to see two parents adjust to the loss of their child, so spoiler alert: it’s going to be a bummer. But I want you to focus on why I bring this story up: the frustrating nature in which Aquaman’s coping skills vary tremendously with Mera’s — Aquaman’s proud kingly mourning versus the insane irrational rage Mera exhibits.
Look, I don’t do outrage very well. I don’t like any Facebook political statuses, I don’t chide anyone who says offensive stuff, and I try to live my life through a self-defeated wall of shrugging apathy. I’m doing this as a favor to Modern Mythologies just so I can further get their name out as one of my favorite (and enviable) comic book blogs. To be fair, I crave attention and I’ll do practically anything anyone e-mails me about, and while I don’t want to take any wind from the sail of Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign — which is deadly serious and absolutely needs proper awareness — this is not the type of article I’m particularly good at. So you and I are going to work together for the next two articles. I’ll do my best to point out the differences in Aquaman versus Mera and you’ll do your best to understand why Mera’s being unfairly portrayed, how this relates to women in comic book universes, and what you should do to solve this problem. I know I’m asking way more of you than me, but I already did my part a year ago in my article Nothing romantic about Harley Quinn & Joker. We’re even now, right? Please?
We jump to Aquaman’s solo series for a solo Mera story. Aquababy’s on life support.
Impossible mission cliché aside, Mera’s more powerful than Aquaman. She’s stronger than him, faster than him, tougher than him, and she can even make constructs of water (like a wet Green Lantern ring). What’s Vulko complaining about Mera not being able to handle it? She’s a superhero. She fights bad guys for a living — think of her more of Xena: Warrior Princess than Queen Elizabeth. Vulko’s just being rude. I mean, anything Aquaman can do, Mera can do better. Except peeing standing up. Or summon fish. Or join the Justice League.
The cover of Aquaman #62 is that super famous one I’m sure you’ve seen before. It’s when covers were not just pictures of the starring superhero lying unconscious in front of a sneering adversary. No, they had stuff like words on them to unnecessarily increase the melodrama to an uncomfortable level of disbelief. Also, this is the point where Mera starts to lose it. Watch the difference between her and her husband.
So why’s Mera the one going crazy and not Aquaman? Let’s knock out all the reasons. First, DC superheroes don’t have flaws (except Batman who has enough for the rest of them). Aquaman lacks the character weaknesses necessary for him to go emotionally off-the-wall. Seriously, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman — they don’t have the crippling personality issues that Marvel’s superheroes do, and DC (somewhat appropriately) places their superheroes high above both the morality and physicality of normal people. It’s the definition of a superhero. Second, imagine if Aquaman threatened to kill his wife. Blamed her for killing their child. Began to strangle her. His series would be cancelled overnight now much less in the 1970s. It has to be his supporting cast — and a female — if domestic abuse is to be tolerated by readers.
Now take that previous scene and compare it to Aquaman’s mourning method.
The only difference is that despite Aquaman’s incredible surge of emotions, he doesn’t lose control. Nope, he’s the Eminem of underwater ocean kings who dress like seaweed. For our ending today (everything goes to hell next time) — there’s only one thing that upsets me about their (brief) reconciliation: Aquaman never apologizes. He never so much as admits a fraction of regret that Aquababy’s death was his fault. That Mera’s fragile emotional state was somewhat caused by his actions. That he did anything but act as the most perfect superhero of all time. Even Superman feels guilt, and he’s practically a god.
I’m stopping here because so does Aquaman’s solo series (after the finale next issue) for eleven years. The divorce of Aquaman and Mera due to her irrational behavior takes a decade break between stories. Next time, we time warp to 1989, riding the dark gray flood of grit and misery that so defined that era of comics. Sorry for a second time.
While we read comic books for the punching as well as the relationships, rarely do the two mesh well together. November 25th through December 10th is Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s okay if you didn’t know — I’m going to assume that if you love superheroes you also subscribe to the basic morality of not physically, emotionally, or mentally abusing women. So to celebrate (that’s probably the wrong word) this awareness event, Reid Vanier, my favorite comic book academic and his website Modern Mythologies, is spearheading this campaign as it relates to comic books — the form of literature you and I are quite fond of And I don’t have to tell you that both DC and Marvel have a long history of being wildly unfair/cruel to their fictional women, right? I’ll leave it to smarter people than me to break down the more famous infractions (and once again, I urge you to visit Modern Mythologies), but there is one DC story that I think readers tend to gloss over.
I present to you, in promotion of Amnesty International, the unfair/cruel treatment of Aquaman’s wife Mera after their child died. I use the following issues in order:
Adventure Comics #451-452, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Jim Aparo
Aquaman #57-63, volume one, written by Michelinie & Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Aparo, Don Netwon, John Celardo, Bob McLeod, & Dave Hunt
Aquaman Special #1, written by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming and drawn by Curt Swan
Aquaman #1-5, volume three, written by Giffen & Fleming and drawn by Swan
We jump back to the late ’70s, deep in the Bronze Age of comics, which is like the Silver Age just with a slight shift in more “adult”/socially-aware plots. Not porn, but more like the writers and artists dipping their toes in the pool of dark grittiness before submerging and consequently drowning themselves in that pool during the late ’80 and early ’90s. And we start with the perfect example of the socially-relevant Bronze Age — Black Manta, Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, reveals his face for the first time in comics:
Yes, Black Manta wants the oceans to belong to African-Americans because of the mistreatment of them on the surface. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s quickly abandoned and his motivations are re-tooled in later issues. Most importantly, Black Manta has kidnapped Aquaman and Mera’s child Aquababy (not his official name). Like all fantastic villains, the only way Black Manta’ll release the child is if Aquaman and Aqualad needlessly and complicatedly battle to the death in an ocean gladiator arena.
Remember, Gwen Stacy’s death in 1973 broke everything comics held dear about the rules of death. Also, that’s another example of comic injustice to a woman that shouldn’t be forgotten, but that event’s already been covered to death (sorry, another bad choice of words). During the late 1970s, Aquaman got Daredevil’d before Daredevil ever did. His son dies, he’s dethroned by a supervillain, he’s forced into exile, and soon he has to fight his crazy distraught wife. But first things first: Black Manta killed his son, so Black Manta has to die. An eye for an eye. Oh, and want to see the most Aquaman-esque page you’ll ever see? Here he is fighting a giant squid:
You know what comes up next: that pivotal (clichéd) moment every superhero must face as their morality’s tested by their vengeance. And you also know how Aquaman’s going to respond. It hurts book sales to have the king of the ocean punch a hole in Black Manta’s face, or at least angers the readers’ mothers.
We end here today. I know Mera didn’t even show up, but she’s front and center for the next two parts. Spoiler alert: everything from this point on will be frustrating and sad. Sorry.