Aquaman: Old Demons, New Hope, Chapter 1: A Man Called Curry

by Libbylawrence

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December, 1985:

The rain beat down on the lonely pier, and one man stood alone and unmoving. His beard was full, and his long blond hair streamed back down his broad shoulders. He wore a skintight costume emblazoned with stylized water currents in various shades of white, blue, purple, and black, providing him with a type of underwater camouflage as if he sought to become one with the sea itself, allowing it to hide him in its depths. The elements did not affect him, of course. Rain had little power over the King of the Seven Seas.

He scoffed at the old title. “King of Naught! Rejected failure — half-breed cast off by two worlds is more accurate.” He was bitter, and he pitied himself. He had been altered by the Crisis on Infinite Earths and tragedy, but beneath it all, this sorry figure was Arthur Curry, Aquaman.

Years ago he had lost his son to a murdering foe called Black Manta. (*) He had suffered marital strife ever since that crisis, as was natural. He had lost his intimate relationship with Queen Mera and now felt that she was a stranger to him. Her beauty was intact, but now she was hardened by loss and bitter in act and word. She had given him a stern ultimatum — return to their life in Poseidonis beneath the oceans, or she would depart this world entirely. And that was not an exaggerated threat.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams,” Adventure Comics #452 (July-August, 1977).]

She had come from an other-dimensional realm and had great powers over water there as well as here, but the shapely redhead did not love the life of a super-hero’s wife. (*) She had sought Arthur’s love and total commitment to her life and world since the loss of their small son, and his work as a hero as well as serving in the Justice League of America had always been a sore spot in their relationship.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Doom from Dimension Aqua,” Aquaman #11 (September-October, 1963) and “The Wife of Aquaman,” Aquaman #18 (November-December, 1964).]

“That Manta was a surface evildoer,” she had cried. “If you had never ventured to combat such killers above the waves, then all would be well. You would still be a king, a husband, and a father!”

That had hurt him. Was it true? Did the world above even need a fish-man? Not with Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern around.

Now he had tried to listen to her. He had abruptly quit the new, Detroit-based Justice League just before the Crisis. (*) And three of the youthful heroes who had joined that team under his command had subsequently disappeared without a trace at the end of that Crisis. (*) Understandably, given his failures, he had been reluctant to even think of rejoining the newly reunited team. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Storm Cloud,” Justice League of America #243 (October, 1985), The Suicide Squad: The Price of Redemption, Chapter 1: Formations, and Justice League of America: The Final Chapter.]

Arthur Curry once had a loyal partner in a young man named Garth, known as Aqualad, but even their relationship had suffered since Arthur had been forced to choose between the purple-eyed refugee and his own flesh and blood. Much had died with poor baby Arthur, Junior. Black Manta had a good deal to pay for in this life and beyond. More recently Garth had lost his lover Tula, alias Aquagirl, in the bloody Crisis and was adrift literally and emotionally now. (*) Perhaps, Aquaman thought, it was time for them all to renounce the surface world and its horrors for an ordered and serene life dedicated to remain beneath the ocean swells.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Death at the Dawn of Time,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 (January, 1986).]

Out of guilt he had given up his throne to loyal Vulko and now had nothing. The Atlantean city of Tritonis had been attacked by shadow demons in the Crisis, but it turned out that while the city was indeed laid to waste, it was merely now in ruins, and most of its mermen and mermaid citizens still lived. Unfortunately, Lori Lemaris had survived her city’s destruction only to be killed by a shadow demon herself. (*) The city of Poseidonis had been providing relief to the the survivors of Tritonis until a new city could be built.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]

As if to add insult to injury, mere weeks later his half-brother Orm set off explosives that nearly razed downtown New Venice, Florida, to the ground, then killed or maimed several Atlantean soldiers and injured King Vulko. It turned out that the self-styled Ocean Master had inexplicably mastered ancient Atlantean sorcery since he’d last seen him during the Crisis, and Orm had been goading Artie, as he called him, into unleashing his pent-up rage against him in order to power up six ancient Atlantean crystals that would grant Orm nigh-unstoppable power.

It was only after Aquaman’s new friend Nuada Silverhand of the lost underwater city of Thierna Na Oge helped him get in touch with his full range of emotions in order to take the battle to the astral realm that he was finally able to defeat Orm, whose sorcerous powers disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they’d come. But Arthur Curry’s triumph was short lived, for his efforts to stop Ocean Master’s plans had only estranged him further from his wife, who had remained distant and cold toward him ever since. He had to admit that he’d left her behind in the flaming ruins of New Venice to pick up the pieces of their life alone, so could he really blame her?

During that case Aquaman had also replaced his classic orange-scaled and green costume with the water-hued undersea camouflage outfit he now wore, and he hadn’t returned to his original costume since then. (*) Truthfully, he no longer felt worthy to wear it any longer. With everything that had happened these past few months, the Aquaman of times past appeared for all intents and purposes to be dead and buried.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Aquaman,” Aquaman v2 #1 (February, 1986), “Thierna Na Oge,” Aquaman v2 #2 (March, 1986), “Orm’s Scheme,” Aquaman v2 #3 (April, 1986), and “Thicker than Water,” Aquaman v2 #4 (May, 1986).]

A cry rang out down the pier, and Aquaman — no, Curry, as he thought of himself right now — turned to see a young man surrounded by thugs.

“Surface-world scum, preying upon the weak,” he said bitterly. “More moral decay everywhere I turn.”

It was odd how often lately he thought in terms of himself as one apart, not just by nature of his mixed ancestry, and not just because of his unique powers, but by deliberate choice. If he was not Arthur, king of Atlantis, and was unhappy of late as Aquaman, super-hero, then he could only be Curry, nothing else. Still, by any name and in any emotional state, this man was more. He was a hero. He saved lives. He performed under deadly crisis conditions. He made things right. And so he cursed under his breath and turned to restore the peace.

“Leave him alone,” he said coldly. “Stand away from him, you craven piranha!”

The storm raged, and the thugs turned to see this newcomer. He was in a long, dark coat, and he looked as if he was born to rule both men and the wild elements themselves. A thug, pulling a gun, quickly found himself slammed down to the straining boards of the old pier.

“Your crutch is as useless against me as your foul intent,” whispered the sullen Curry. “Surrender, or better yet — combat me, if you dare.”

He grabbed a second mugger and lifted him bodily off the ground. “Carrion filth!” he said. “I should let you take your chances in the sea! Try to impose your petty will upon Mother Ocean. Then, if she spares you, crawl back on shore.”

The thug trembled. This was no good-guy super-hero. This was a warrior — savage, relentless, dangerous. The last thug fled as Curry shook his friend with raw force.

“Thank you, sir! Perhaps… you could release him?” asked a musically voiced young man; it was the victim. He was handsome in a dandy way with long, flowing auburn locks and intelligent, quick eyes.

“Yes. Why not?” muttered Curry. “I would not advise you to take your strolls on this pier after dark,” he added. “I might not be here next time. Go home.”

“I see. Thank you,” he said. “I really didn’t intend to wander here, but I don’t know where home is. I have no memories before staggering from some conflict onto this pier.”

Curry frowned. Then something within spoke to him. The hero he was still lived. “Then come with me. I’ll help you.”


“What is your name?” asked Curry as he watched the man eat in a small, pier-side diner.

“Aaron? Yes. Aaron. That is all I recall,” he said. “That and this,” he said as he held forth a chart with marked locations across the ocean depths.

“An undersea treasure map,” said Curry. “You don’t have the look of a scavenger. More like a scholar.”

“I do love wisdom and the search for it,” said Aaron. “That I feel, but more than that all I know, all I feel, is that the secret to my life is hidden in this chart.”

Curry brooded over the chart, which displayed an Atlantean language. This was no ordinary map. Glyphs built within it indicated magic in its creation. What does this chart portray? mused Curry. A treasure? Cities? Ruins of old Atlantis? Any of the above could be true. How did this man come to carry it with no memory, and yet a path still led him unerringly to me when even I had no fixed purpose in my night’s wandering?

“Come,” he said. “Now that you have eaten, I’ll solve this riddle for you.”

Aaron smiled. “You will? But why? You’ve already been so kind.”

Curry smiled slightly. “That’s what I do.”

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