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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
a.k.a. Arthur Curry/Orin,
of the Justice League of America
Aquaman, a superhero and long-time member of the Justice League of America, is an Atlantean. As is the case with most Atlanteans, Aquaman can be classified as a Greco-Roman classical religionist who worships Neptune (also known as Poseidon), the Greco-Roman god of the ocean. Atlantean Neptune worship is essentially the "state religion" of Atlantis and the majority of Atlanteans are adherents, although as is the case with most state religions, religious observance varies among individuals, from nominal to devout.
|BELOW: Aquaman prays to Father Neptune
In this scene, reprinted in the Superman: Our Worlds at War trade paperback, Aquaman confronts an Imperiex drone. Imperiex is intent on installing equipment all over the Earth that will destroy the universe.
Dialogue from this scene:
Aquaman: Father Neptune! Grant me the strength to vanquish the foes of Atlantis! --And to protect the Kingdom of the Seven Seas! THY WILL BE DONE!
Religious observance is infrequently portrayed in most comic book stories, and most stories featuring Aquaman do not delve into the specifics of his religious beliefs and observance. One of the principle clues about Aquaman's religious affiliation, particularly in earlier stories, was his use of mildly profane (or mildly prayerful) utterances based on Greco-Roman religion. "Great Neptune!" was a favorite utterance of Aquaman's, comparable to Wonder Woman's use of "Great Hera!"
With the long publishing history of monthly comic book series starring Aquaman, as well as his appearances in Justice League of America and other comic book titles, ample material has been published revealing the considerable extent to which Greco-Roman-based religion centered on Neptune is an important part of Atlantean life in general and Aquaman's life specifically.
Aquaman has had first-hand expeience with Greco-Roman deities far more than other Atlanteans. He has even met some of, including Poseidon himself, the god his people actively worship. Aquaman has at times been severely disappointed or in disagreement with the actions of Greco-Roman deities, including Poseidon and Poseidon's son Triton. At times, Aquaman's attitude has hardened toward his gods and he has acted and spoken in a way that would seem to mean he is largely lapsed in his worship of Poseidon and other ocean deities.
In considering the actions of Greco-Roman deities, as portrayed in Wonder Woman, Aquaman and other DC Comics stories, it is important to remember that Greco-Roman classical religionists held a different view of deity than is commonplace in Judeo-Christian culture and other other contemporary religions. Whereas most contemporary people understand God as a being who is regarded by believers as perfect in morality or is, in fact, the very definer and source of moral behavior, the Greco-Roman deities were not viewed in the same way by their worshippers. The Greco-Roman view of deity does not hold that the gods are "good" or "evil," they simply are. The gods exhibit the same range of moral strenghts and weaknesses that humans exhibit, althought these characteristics are not always exhibited in ways that humans can fully comprehend.
It is not accurate to say that Aquaman is "lapsed" in his faith. The most tumultuous period in his relationship to his religion and its deities seems to be in the past and, in any case, was brief relative to the overall history of the character. Aquaman has, throughout the history of his character, been a Greco-Roman classical religionist with emphasis on the worship of Neptune. He has never been known to convert to any other religion. Nor is he known to have ever been portrayed as a secularist, atheist or materialist who rejected the possibility that his deities exist. Even when Aquaman has been angry with Greco-Roman deities, he retained a strong belief in their existence. Aquaman believes his gods are devine in a truly religious, spiritual sense. He does not regard Greco-Roman deities simply as "aliens" or "extra-dimensional beings" in the way that some dedicated materialists may view them (e.g., Batman).
On the other hand, it is not accurate to regard Aquaman as a completely faithful or commpletely orthodox follower of traditional Atlantean faith. Aquaman's attitudes toward the gods stands in stark contrast to the attitude of his fellow Justice League teammate Wonder Woman, who is deeply respectful of her patron Greco-Roman gods and actively worships them and prays to them. One could suggest that Aquaman's experiences with the patron Greco-Roman gods of Atlantis have been very different from Wonder Woman's experiences with the patron Greco-Roman gods of the Amazons. Yet, on balance, Wonder Woman has probably had as many bad experiences with various Greco-Roman deities (such as Ares the God of War and Hercules, the son of Zeus) as Aquaman has had. But Wonder Woman continues to see herself as an emmisary of her faith, a religion she exhibits active adherence to, while Aquaman has a more distanced relationship to the religion and rarely calls on the gods or exhibits worship in any meaningful way.
In summary, there is no argument that Aquaman is a Greco-Roman classical religionist of the Atlantean variety (with emphasis on Neptune worship). The precise degree of his devotion to his religion has varied over the years depending on his storylines and writers. In general, the character has probably never really been "apostate" or "lapsed" in any meaningful sense. He is more than a nominal adherent, but less than a devout follower.
Regardless of how closely Aquaman attends to specific religious obligations, he has always been portrayed as very "religious" in the sense that he has a strong moral and ethical compass and a strong sense of honor. He is rightly regarded as one of the Earth's greatest heroes due to his selfless willingness to sacrifice personal desires and safety in order to protect and serve others, particularly the denizens of the world's oceans.
Aquaman's devotion to the oceans and its inhabitants (Atlanteans as well as other races and even non-sentient animal life) is so strong, in fact, that he has on occasion actively opposed actions of "surface-dwellers," even when doing so has brought him into conflict with close friends in Earth's superhero community. Thankfully, such conflicts have been rare and have eventually been amicably resolved. In this respect, there are many parallels between Aquaman and Marvel's king of the seas, Namor the Sub-Mariner. But Aquaman has been a far more consistent friend to surface-dwelling humanity than Namor has ever been.
While he was still a young man, Aquaman dwelt for a time among the Inupiat (Inuit) Eskimos. During that time he fathered a son and followed many Inupiat ways.
From: Andy Hamerlinck and Laura Gjovaag, "The Aquaman FAQ v. 3.0", copyright 2002 (http://www.eskimo.com/~tegan/aqua/faq/faq.html#4.2; viewed 11 January 2006):
What's the Religion of Atlantis?
At the beginning of the Atlantis Chronicles, you could say there was an ongoing battle between the science of ORIN the first (the king) and the sorcery of SHALAKO (his brother). Shalako worshipped SUULA, the goddess of the sky. When Orin put a dome on the city to protect it from invaders, Shalako believed it angered Suula. The rest of Orin's advisors figured that Suula was a small threat, and saw no reason it would anger PALLAIS, the more powerful sea goodess. When the dome was completed, Shalako's sorcery no longer worked, so he turned to the DARK GODS to do his bidding. In the meantime, Suula apparently had her revenge, by sending a huge meteor down that sank the continent of Atlantis. After the sinking, the Atlanteans were split into two camps: those who believed in science, and those who followed Shalako not realizing he'd turned to dark gods. Eventually the religion of Atlantis became settled into the same pattern. Those who believed in science or had very little religion were followers of Orin. Those who wanted to have serious religion in their lives were followers of Shalako (called Shalakites). Both groups exist in the current Atlantis, with a little crossover and worship of other gods and ancestors.
Aquaman doesn't really worship any gods, because he's met a few, and had some problems with them. For instance:
- POSEIDON - God of the oceans. Isn't fond of Aquaman, but tolerates him. Is upset that Aquaman ursurped the love and worship of the creatures of the sea, as gods like Poseidon get some of their power from worship. Has given Aquaman tastes of his power to taunt him. He also opened up Aquaman's connection to "The Clear". Poseidon was killed by Triton, but Aquaman went to Hades to rescue him. Poseidon technically owes Aquaman, but isn't very likely to acknowledge it or offer help: Aquaman would have to demand it. Poseidon left Triton's trident in Aquaman's posession. It has a powerful corrupting influence on anyone who holds it for long, except for Aquaman.
- TRITON - The son of Poseidon. Jealous of Aquaman for a lot of reasons, mainly that he interrupted Triton's attempted rape of Diana before she became Wonder Woman. Aquaman defeated Triton in battle for the dominion over the creatures of the sea, but Triton returned and killed Aquaman (after killing Poseidon). Aquaman the stormed the gates of Hades and eventually returned with angry daddy Poseidon. Poseidon apparently killed Triton, but actually he took most of his powers and turned him into a sea demon. Triton then used Manta to kill some of Wonder Woman's sea scouts to lure her to him to finish some unfinished business, but Wonder Woman killed him.
- HADES - After storming the gates of Hades domain to rescue Poseidon, Aquaman got Hades to let them both go. Aquaman owes Hades a favor.
- NULIAJUK - Mother of sea beasts. A Northern godling. Aquaman defeated her when he was still just a boy. Doesn't go out of her way to torment him, but if he stumbles into her territory, he has to watch his step. She was last seen tormenting Supergirl. Only seen during the Peter David run (I don't think anyone else wants to spell her name).
- NAIAD - Water elemental of earth. Isn't fond of Aquaman, but they've never really fought. Protected Aquaman from Corona when she first turned into a fire elemental.
From: Andy Hamerlinck and Laura Gjovaag, "The Aquaman FAQ v. 3.0", copyright 2002 (http://www.eskimo.com/~tegan/aqua/faq/faq.html#4.2; viewed 11 January 2006):
Who is Aquaman?
In the current continuity, Aquaman was abandoned as a baby on Mercy Reef. He was expected to die. The reason was his blond hair, which according to Atlantean legend was the "sign of Kordax" - a bad omen. (Atlantis Chronicles #7) He fended for himself, and was raised by dolphins for a time. (Aquaman: Time and Tide #2) As a young man he found Arthur Curry, a lighthouse keeper, and learned a bit about surfacers, including the English language. (The Legend of Aquaman) He dwelt among the Inupiat eskimos [Inuit] for a bit (and fathered a son, as he found out much later). (Aquaman: Time and Tide #3) He eventually returned to Atlantis, and found his mother, but she died before he had learned enough of the language to talk with her. He later learned that she was the former Queen of Atlantis (deposed by a religious extremist). (The Legend of Aquaman) Much later he learned from the Atlantis Chronicles, last kept by his mother, that his father was the legendary wizard Atlan (and not King Trevis, who committed suicide right after Aquaman was born). (Aquaman: Time and Tide #4)
Wonder Woman versus Aquaman: Same religion, different levels of religiosity
Wonder Woman is portrayed as a devout Greco-Roman classical religionist in all media that we know of.
Wonder Woman's religiosity is particularly evident in the Justice League animated series produced for the Carton Network, beginning in 2001. The pilot episode shows Diana, the princess of Themyscira, meeting other major super-heroes for the first time, having just left her secluded island home for the first time. She is still new in "Man's World." Much of Wonder Woman's introduction focuses on the vast cultural differences between her home and the rest of the world. The 3-episode pilot features many overt references to Diana's religious beliefs.
Wonder Woman's Greco-Roman religious beliefs are still evident in later episodes, even when she is not the focus. An example is an incidental reference in Justice League Season 1, Episode 6 ("The Enemy Below - Part One") - an invocation of the goddess Hera in a story focusing on Aquaman. When Wonder Woman learns that Aquaman is missing and in danger, she exclaims, "Hera help him."
This exclamation, or perhaps brief prayer, is especially poignant given the fact that Aquaman himself is a follower of the Greco-Roman pantheon, as are nearly all Atlanteans, particularly those of the royal and noble classes. Diana is known for exclaiming "Hera help me" frequently in the comics. In this slight varation from that, calling on Hera to help somebody else, is Diana cognizant of the fact that the Greco-Roman pantheon (Neptune/Poseidon specifically) watches over Aquaman and his people?
Justice League Season 1, Episode 6: "The Enemy Below - Part One"
[Timecode: 19 minutes, 25 seconds. Scene: Metropolis. Members of the Justice League - Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter and Superman - have just apprehended Deadshot, after the assassin tried to kill Aquaman, king of Atlantis. The heroes learned that Deadshot was hired by somebody from Atlantis to kill Aquaman. These super-heroes are worred about Aquaman, who is now missing. Batman threatens Deadshot in order to make him tell the heroes wha the knows about the plan to kill Aquaman.]
Written by: Kevin Hopps
Original airdate: 3 Dec 2001
Batman: Who hired you?
Deadshot: I don't know. I don't ask questions.
Batman: Not good enough. How were you paid?
Deadshot: In gold. See?
[Deadshot points to the piles of gold coins that spilled from his getaway van.]
Batman: Spanish doublooms.
Wonder Woman: Where would they get coins like this?
Martian Manhunter: Atlantis.
Superman: We've got to warn Aquaman.
Green Lantern (John Stewart): [Landing next to the other heroes, arriving on the scene.] Too late. That royal pain in the neck's already gone. And I couldn't stop him.
[After rescuing Aquaman from being assassinated, the heroes brought him to a hospital. Green Lantern was keeping an eye on him after he recovered, but Aquaman sucker-punched him, knocking him out, and fled the scene.]
Wonder Woman: Hera help him.
[End of scene: Timecode: 19 minutes, 56 seconds.]
Interestingly enough, this Justice League episodes with Aquaman in them do not appear to acknowledge the Atlantean worship of Neptune. In the two-episode story "The Enemy Below" Aquaman's home of Atlantis is shown in great detal, along with his personal dwelling, his palace, members of the royal court, and numerous Atlantean soldiers. In none of this do we see any acknowledgement of Neptune or any other evidence of Greco-Roman classical religion. Yet the Justice League animated series openly portrays Wonder Woman's religiosity. This difference reflects how the religiosity of Wonder Woman and Aquaman are portrayed in DC Comics: with Wonder Woman being a far more devout follower of the pantheon that both she and Aquaman worship.
From: "Religious Themes in Comics" forum discussion page, started 21 May 2003 on "Sketchy Origins" website (http://www.sketchyorigins.com/comics/archive/index.php?t-1380.html; viewed 12 May 2006):
From: "Superman Wedding -- why a Christian ceremony?" newsgroup discussion started 11 October 1996 in rec.arts.comics.dc.universe (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/4d17a1ff0ee9c715/d141c36005b90ea4; viewed 5 June 2006):
05-29-2003, 07:14 AM
I was reading about Alex Ross in Wizard 141 last night and he said that he liked the DC characters so much because each one was like a "god" of his realm. Aquaman of the water, Batman of Gotham, Superman of Metropolis, J'Onn J'Onzz of Mars. Each one has the ultimate power in their given sphere of influence. So, he equated it to like the best of the best.
Well, I bring this up here not only because he mentions that they are gods, but also because it seems to me that they are often set up as saviors as well. Batman is to rid Gotham of crime. Superman protects humanity. Aquaman protects the oceans. J'Onn J'Onzz is the last of his kind from Mars and is supposed to save his civilization. These are all Christ-like attributes.
This doesn't just go for DC characters, but I only mention them because that's what Alex Ross talked about in the article. As I said earlier in this thread, I think that this "christian" influence on the character development and story creation could be more a reflection of that influence in our society and our popular mythos, more so than a direct allusion.
These are archetypes that we are looking at here. That's why we recognize similar traits among them.
From: "Any Christian Superheroes?" thread began 22 April 2004 on rec.arts.comics.dc.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/4e5839f075fecf76/394c4ad930a0e68c; viewed 20 June 2006):
From: Jon Ingersoll
Date: Wed, Oct 23 1996 12:00 am
re: "Just out of curiosity, is there any major character in the DC Universe definitely shown as being Jewish?"
For that matter, what characters have been portrayed as having any definite religion?
...Some others are, I would guess not followers of any religion found on our Earth. I'm thinking of any alien who came here after childhood like J'onn J'onzz, the pre-Crisis Hawkman, Starfire, etc. This also would apply to Aquaman depending on what his current continuity says about when he left Atlantis.
From: Gustavo Wombat
Date: Thurs, Apr 22 2004 12:03 pm
I can't think of any major superheroes that strongly believe in any real faith, and that surprises me. Certainly not in the DC Universe. I think there are more minority superheroes than religious ones...
Date: Fri, Apr 23 2004 2:12 am
Don't the Atlanteans still venerate the Greek gods in DC? I've gotten that impression anyway. (Aquaman didn't seem to have any problem interacting with the Greek gods)...
From: "Superhero Religious Views?" forum discussion, started 9 June 2007 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/archive/index.php/t-116001.html; viewed 13 July 2007):
06-13-2007, 01:43 AM
...Wonder Woman, Troia, and Wonder Girl obviously worship the Greek gods. So does Aquaman (primarily Poseidon)...
From: "Vegetarian Superheroes" forum discussion, started 18 March 2005 in Brian Michael Bendis section of "Jinxworld" website (http://www.606studios.com/bendisboard/archive/index.php/t-231.html; viewed 31 July 2007):
03-18-2005, 01:01 PM
So... out of curiousity are there vegetarian superheroes? I'm not talking about supporting characters, but the actual heroes who wear tights and a cape. And are any of them vegan?
03-18-2005, 01:09 PM
Aquaman. Oh, and Animal Man.
03-19-2005, 10:52 AM
Aquaman eats fish. A lot.
Webpage created 11 January 2006. Last modified 18 August 2007.
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