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How Aquaman rose back to relevance in popular culture

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Aquaman has often had the reputation as the least cool superhero, with shows like Family Guy mocking his supposed uselessness. The recent 2018 stand-alone film, however, alongside Aquaman’s appearances in Batman v Superman and Justice League, have re-energised the character and given him a new lease of life as one of the most prominent superheroes in the DC Universe.

We look at the top reasons for Aquaman’s rise in popularity and how the character came to throw off his reputation as a comic book punchline.

Embracing his underdog status

The recent DC Universe films have made light of Aquaman’s cultural reputation by having the character himself keen to prove himself as worthy of respect within the context of the narratives themselves. Using this sense of being an outsider has brought a new dimension to the character and allowed the films to use his personal struggle with alienation to create pathos amongst the audience. The films, for instance, heavily focus on the clash between his heritage from Atlantis and the surface world and the way in which he feels disconnected from both. By emphasising his underdog status through humour and empathetic writing, the DC Universe films have created a more well-rounded and popular Aquaman.

Jason Momoa

Jason Momoa already had an established reputation as one of the industries go-to men for action heroes and fierce warriors – following his break-out role as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and as the successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the ultra-jacked role of Conan the Barbarian. This allowed the Aquaman character to benefit from a more buff physique, compared to the more stereotypical slender depiction of past comics, and a general air of dominant cool.

Momoa’s formidable presence and natural charisma have given the character wider appeal, which has led to the Aquaman property appearing in other media. He is repeatedly referenced in the hit TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and is a playable character in the 2019 video game LEGO DC Super-Villains. Indeed, Aquaman is the inspiration for a self-titled slot game available to play at William Hill’s casino online, which creates a new underwater adventure for the superhero with faithful recreations of iconic symbols like the trident. The new-found pop-culture prevalence of the character certainly owes a lot to the magnetic charm of Jason Momoa’s portrayal.

Celebrating its corny comic book heritage

The films also make sure to ‘own’ the corny elements of his original comic book depiction. Aquaman is shown, for instance, astride a giant seahorse as well as an octopus playing the drums being featured. This shows a commitment from the filmmakers to give a nod to the sillier influences upon the Aquaman character and therefore ensure his darker characterisation isn’t completely lost. This blend of fun with the more serious elements of Aquaman’s backstory helped to appeal to fans both old and new.

The gravitas brought by Jason Momoa and the delicate balancing act in the writing of Aquaman’s characterisation served to create the perfect platform for the rebirth of the superhero’s popularity and contemporary resonance. Appetite is certainly building for the planned Aquaman 2 film in 2022; watch this space.

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