Saturday, November 02, 2013

Comic Book Beards: DC Comics' Aquaman

Top: Aquaman (Volume 2, 1991) #1 by Kevin Maguire,
Bottom: Aquaman (Volume 3, 1994) #0 by Martin Egeland.
If one superhero exemplifies the Jean Cocteau quote that "There is always a period when a man with a beard shaves it off. This period does not last. He returns headlong to his beard," it would be DC Comics Aquaman. Following many decades of perceived wimpy-ness (due in large part to his telepathic-fish appearances on Super Friends, the mid-Nineties saw an effort to "toughen" up the character.

Bearded Aquaman (Vol 3) Issue 4
cover by Hellboy
creator Mike Mignola.
To this end, writer Peter David and artist Martin Egeland collaborated on two significant aesthetic changes to the Aquaman character in the first few issues of his solo 1994 comic book series: by the fourth issue Aquaman would both lose his left hand to a school of a piranha and grow a crazy blonde beard. Though the first few images of this premiere issue keep Arthur Curry's (Aquaman's "real" name) countenance in the shadows--it is only in his dream that he is baby-faced--by the ninth page (see below) the new, edgier look is revealed.

As seems to often be the case (see Fantastic Four's Reed Richards, for example), the sudden facial hair growth was used to signal a jarring shift in characterization reflective of Aquaman's then unstable state of mind. Even his sidekick Garth (aka side-kick Aqualad) noted upon the initial reveal of the Aqua-beard that, "You [Aquaman] look like hell." Unlike other characters that have let their hair down (and out) while in reflective states of mind, the newly unkempt Aquaman did not clean himself up after returning to the world following his sojourn at the bottom of the seas.

During the next 20(!) years of continuity, Aquaman would occasionally shave and then re-grow his whiskers, returning headlong to his bearded, fiercer state. This "look" has seems to have settled into a consistently used one as evidenced by its use in Aquaman's recent appearances in Batman: Brave and Bold. Even issue 24 of the current Aquaman series--part of DC's New 52--recently had a previously clean-shaven sea king depicted with trim beard in place intact. In the iconic pantheon of DC characters, where in the past Aquaman's blond hair was perhaps enough to visually differentiate him from more popular heroes such as Superman, or even Batman's alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, the beard effectively points out some key differences. While Superman is an alien, and Wayne a millionaire playboy, Curry is an off-again-on-again King of Atlantis and a warrior to boot.

And who but the most bad-a** underwater super-warriors can stylistically pull off that crazy beard?

From Aquaman (Volume 3) Issue 1 (1994).

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