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Judging by recent news, it’s time to meet the Aquaparents. Both Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison are in talks to play the parents of Jason Momoa in James Wan’s upcoming big screen take on the DC Entertainment undersea hero. But… what kind of a couple is responsible for bringing a half-human/half-merman into the world, anyway?
The stories of Tom Curry and Atlanna — a human and Atlantean, respectively — may not be as well known as those of Martha and Jonathan Kent, nor Thomas and Martha Wayne, but in terms of impact on the young Aquaman, they’re just as important (and, for Tom at least, just as fatal). Here are the basics of what you need to know.
If there’s one constant in the comic book mythology of Tom Curry, Aquaman’s human father, it’s that he’s a lighthouse keeper. Everything else — including whether or not he’s actually Aquaman’s father — has proven to be up for grabs in the decades since his debut in 1959’s Adventure Comics No. 260. In both the original and current versions of Aquaman’s backstory, he’s the biological father of the Justice Leaguer, a regular — but morally upright — man who just happened to fall in love with the exiled Queen of Atlantis. In between, there was a period where he was Aquaman’s foster father, who discovered the hero as an infant in the ocean and raised him as his own.
No matter the backstory, things don’t really work out too well for Tom. Prior to DC’s 2011 linewide relaunch, he was at least afforded a mysterious exit, disappearing forever while Aquaman was out for a swim — I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s actually what happened — but things got much worse in the current version of Aqua-canon: Tom was accidentally killed by the villain Black Manta in a moment now pivotal to the origin of both Manta and Aquaman. This shouldn’t be understated: the reason Aquaman became the hero he is today, according to the current comic book mythology, is because he was sent on a mission to find Atlantis by his father’s last words. Without the death of Tom Curry, there is no Aquaman as we know him today.
If Tom Curry’s history has become jumbled by the multiple re-writings of Aquaman’s comic book history, things have only been more complicated for Aquaman’s mother. Depending on which of three different backstories you choose to believe, she is either an outcast — on account of her blonde hair (rare amongst water-breathers); a scientist from Atlantis who was rescued by Tom Curry before the two fell in love; the queen of Atlantis who was exiled from her kingdom after her bastard son turned out to be blonde; or a warrior princess who rescued a human, fell in love with him and ultimately abandoned her family because of her royal obligations.
In every incarnation, two things about Atlanna remain true: First, unlike Tom Curry, she is always portrayed as Aquaman’s birth parent. She also remains alive to see Aquaman as an adult at least once, although the meeting traditionally occurs near the end of her life for the purposes of drama. The exception to that comes from the current, post-2011 version of Aquaman mythology, that has Atlanna exiled from Atlantis and ultimately forced into conflict with her own son as she goes to a war against the undersea kingdom. Although that storyline eventually ended with the declaration of peace and Atlanna reconciling with Aquaman, the two remained separated by a dimensional rift.
In an indirect way, that sums up Atlanna’s strange role in Aquaman mythology: although she’s the direct link between the hero and the undersea world he comes to defend, she’s traditionally an absent figure whose presence is defined by her absence. Narratively the more important of Aquaman’s parents — without her, he would just be “Dude who’s good at swimming but, you know, not superhumanly good” — Atlanna is nonetheless less present in Aquaman stories than the dead man who raised him as a kid. Sexism, apparently, isn’t just for air-breathers.
Aquaman, which stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard and Patrick Wilson, is scheduled to start shooting in April for an Oct. 5 2018 release.
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