Cheat Sheet: Understanding The Characters of Aquaman
Aquaman is in a unique position this week. For the first time ever, DC’s King of Atlantis is headlining his own film. Thanks to nearly eight decades of comics and a few animated appearances, Aquaman’s got some amazing name recognition as well. However, Aquaman’s mythology is still largely unknown to the vast majority of casual comic book movie fans. That’s why some viewers may find the film to be disorienting or even confusing as it attempts to drop all of its info and tell a good story at the same time.
Despite a long held PR problem (thanks, Super Friends), Aquaman has a deep well of characters and stories to draw upon. But for the benefit of anyone who’s coming into this movie without reading the comics, Superhero Hype has put together a cheat sheet for Aquaman and his supporting cast.
In terms of comic books, the Aquaman movie largely draws inspiration from the New 52 version of the mythos. If you know what we’re talking about then you probably don’t need our help. But if the words “New 52” made no sense to you, then you’re in the right place. Without further adieu, here’s the primer for the main characters of Aquaman.
Even though audiences were slowly introduced to Jason Momoa’s version of Arthur Curry in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Aquaman is the first chance that fans will really get to know the ruler of the seven seas. While we’ve already done a deep dive into Aquaman’s origins, it’s likely that the film will follow the more modern interpretations of the character.
Arthur is the half-human/half-Atlantean son of Tom Curry and Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis (more on that down below). As a boy, Arthur grappled with his emerging powers – which include super-human strength and the ability to telepathically communicate with sea life. When his father died, Arthur learned about his true heritage. From there, he began a life-long struggle to accept the weight of his birthright as the real heir to Atlantis’ crown. The film will show us Arthur as an outcast in both worlds as he strives to become the king of Atlantis and save the Earth and its oceans. Along the way, he’ll even wear his classic comic outfit.
Princess Mera (Amber Heard) has been a staple of Aquaman lore since the Silver Age of comics. She was Arthur’s long-time partner, lover, and wife. While Mera was originally depicted as Aquaman’s love interest, her portrayal in recent years has become much more complex and equitable. In the current continuity, Mera is a warrior princess from Xebel – an aquatic kingdom that is located in another dimension. In the film, Xebel will be one of the seven kingdoms of Atlantis, and it will leave out the otherworldly aspects of Mera’s life. Mera was originally sent to assassinate Arthur, but she eventually fell in love with him. She also came to resent her own family for using her as a pawn in their larger game.
It’s still unclear exactly how Mera’s backstory will play out, but certain parts of her history will likely be intact. We do know that she remains the daughter of Xebel’s king. Intriguingly, Mera will be unwillingly betrothed to King Orm, which is a departure from her comic book origins.
Although Willem Dafoe’s Nuidis Vulko was originally slated to make a cameo appearance in Justice League, Aquaman marks the character’s first live-action incarnation. Vulko has had many different interpretations throughout the years. Most notably, Vulko has been portrayed as an Atlantean science adviser. His role has varied in the comics, but Vulko has often been one of Atlantis’ most instrumental political figures.
In the film, Vulko takes on a slightly more pivotal role as Arthur’s mentor. We also know that he trains Arthur to become a skilled warrior early in his life, before ultimately informing him of his lineage. Somehow, Vulko has also established himself as King Orm’s most trusted adviser as well.
King Orm/Ocean Master
As portrayed by Patrick Wilson, King Orm – also known as Ocean Master – is Arthur’s half-brother and the current ruler of Atlantis. Orm’s backstory has wildly varied throughout the years, but this is nearly an exact translation from the most recent version of the character. In the Throne of Atlantis storyline, Aquaman had renounced the crown under the condition that Orm keep the peace with the surface world. While Orm initially wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with his half-brother, he eventually decided to backtrack on their agreement. The result was a devastating war on the surface world. Although there’s more to glean from that tale, this is pretty much all that you need to know about Orm going into the movie.
Nereus (Dolph Lundgen) has undergone perhaps the most drastic changes from his comic book counterpart. Nerus is the King of Xebel and Mera’s father. However, Nereus was actually a very different character in the comics. He was one of Xebel’s fiercest warriors and a suitor to Mera. Eventually, he became Xebel’s king. King Ryus was Mera’s father in the comics, but considering that she’s already engaged to Orm, it’s easy to see why things were simplified for the film. Either way, Nereus will play a critical role in Orm’s plans for the seven kingdoms.
David Kane/Black Manta
For several decades, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has remained one of Aquaman’s most feared and hated foes. Although the character originally appeared in the Silver Age, it took nearly thirty years for Black Manta to receive his first origin story. In the New 52 reboot – once again the likely inspiration for the film – we learned that Aquaman accidentally killed David Hyde’s father, which caused him to vow revenge against the Atlantean King. Much like Orm, Black Manta’s big screen incarnation is largely true to his comic book counterpart. However, his last name has been changed from Hyde to Kane. David Kane will have a secondary role in Aquaman. But perhaps he’ll get a larger role in the inevitable sequel.
Arthur’s mother and Queen of Atlantis, Atlanna is played by Nicole Kidman in Aquaman. Since the Silver Age, Atlanna has always remained Arthur’s crucial connection to Atlantis. This remains true in the movie. In her New 52 incarnation, Atlanna saved a humble lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry from drowning during a terrible storm. As a result, they fell in love and had a son named Arthur. While she intended to abdicate her royal duties to be with Tom, Atlanna was eventually forced to return to Atlantis.
She regretfully married the captain of the Atlantean guard in an imperial wedding. Atlanna’s new husband impregnated her, and she gave birth to their son, Orm. The rest of Atlanna’s history could be considered potential spoilers for the film. But suffice to say that there will be some minor alterations from the comics.
Thomas Curry – as we’ve established – is Arthur’s human father and a lighthouse keeper in the coastal town of Amnesty Bay, Maine. When Atlanna returned to the ocean, Tom was forced to raise Arthur in seclusion, hiding his identity from the world out of fear that Atlanna’s enemies might endanger their son.
He taught Arthur to connect with his human side and to appreciate the surface word. Unfortunately, all of Thomas’ comic book interpretations end in his eventual death before his son comes of age. Fortunately, Aquaman doesn’t retread that territory. Temeura Morrison (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones) plays Arthur’s father in the film.
Dr. Stephen Shin
Finally, we have Dr. Stephen Shin, as portrayed by Randall Park. Out of the characters on this list, Stephen Shin’s role is perhaps the most enigmatic. The Aquaman comics tell us that Shin was a friend of Thomas and Arthur. In the New 52 continuity, Thomas saved Shin after his boat went down near his lighthouse. Shin turned out to be the world’s foremost expert on Atlantis, and he had made it his lifelong mission to discover the hidden civilization. When Arthur’s abilities began to manifest, Shin helped him develop his powers. Later, Shin decided to go public with his discoveries. This naturally created a rift between Tom and Shin, one that would ultimately never be reconciled.
Which members of Aquaman’s supporting cast are you eager to see in the film? Let us know in the comment section below!