Golden Age (1941-1956)
First introduced in a backup story in 1941’s MORE FUN COMICS #73, Aquaman was a very different character in his early years than the one we’ve come to know today. In his first appearance, he was the son of a famous marine scientist, who used his scientific knowledge to give his boy the ability to breathe underwater, along with a degree of super-strength. In his earliest adventures, those were his only known powers. Although he made a home for himself in the ruins of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, there was no indication he was anything other than an augmented human. Aquaman was even his real name.
The majority of his earliest adventures found Aquaman fighting pirates, smugglers and Nazis, as well as threats to sailors and undersea life. Despite being a contemporary of many famous Golden Age heroes, Aquaman did not join the Justice Society of America or any other wartime team (though it would be revealed decades later that he teamed up with the All-Star Squadron in one adventure). Despite the many changes he would undergo in subsequent decades, Aquaman’s original Golden Age costume—an orange tunic and green tights—remained intact for over 50 years, the only major change being a pair of green gloves for which he exchanged his original yellow ones.
The Silver Age (1956-1969)
In the 1950s, when the Silver Age of comics began, Aquaman underwent several radical changes. It was revealed that his real name was actually Arthur Curry, the son of a human lighthouse keeper named Thomas Curry and an exiled Atlantean queen named Atlanna, whom Thomas had rescued from a storm. Unaware of where Atlanna had come from, Thomas Curry married her, and not long afterward Arthur was born. At two years old, Arthur went missing in the ocean, and although his father was sure he had drowned, he was found alive—playing with undersea creatures on the ocean floor. Soon afterward, Atlanna, on her death bed, revealed the truth about her heritage to her husband, and explained that Arthur had inherited all of her Atlantean abilities.
Tom Curry spent the rest of his life training and preparing Arthur for what he knew was a special destiny. When Tom Curry died, Arthur took to the ocean to find it. It was then that he discovered Atlantis—and was crowned its king. As the defender of Atlantis and all of the oceans, Arthur took on the name Aquaman. Soon he befriended a young outcast Atlantean boy named Garth, who would become Aqualad. Together with their animal companions Topo the octopus, Tusky the walrus and their giant seahorses Storm and Imp, the duo’s fame spread even to the surface world.
At this time Aquaman became a founding member of the Justice League of America, and started a family when he married Mera, who came from the other-dimensional water world of Xebel. Together they had a son, Arthur Jr., who was nicknamed Aquababy.
Following the continuity-altering events of 1985’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, much of Aquaman’s history changed. His given name was now Orin, the son of Queen Atlanna and the ancient Atlantean wizard Atlan, born heir to the throne of Atlantis. Atlanna was married to King Trevis, but they could not conceive a child together. Atlan then came to Atlanna in a dream and impregnated her, resulting in Orin’s birth.
Trevis instantly realized Orin could not be his son because of his blond hair, which was also a sign of evil to the superstitious Atlanteans, due to a resemblance to the ancient, evil ruler Kordax. Trevis announced the newly born Orin as a miscarriage and left the infant to die on Mercy Reef, but his innate ability to communicate telepathically with sea life allowed him to survive. Eventually he was raised by dolphins, and his adopted dolphin mother Porm gave him the name Swimmer. He eventually left his dolphin family after fishermen killed his adopted brother Drin.
His next contact with surface-dwelling humans would be more positive, as Orin was taken in by kindly lighthouse keeper Tom Curry in Amnesty Bay, Maine, and raised as his son. Curry taught him language and how to live on the surface world. He also named the boy Arthur before his death. Arthur then found himself in Alaska, where he fell in love with a young Eskimo woman named Kako. Their affair was brief, but it resulted in Kako becoming pregnant. Before too long, a demon named Nuliajuk forced Arthur to leave before learning about the pregnancy.
Finally finding his people and returning to Atlantis, Arthur was arrested and sentenced to hard labor in a prison, where he was befriended by Vulko, a wise scholar who taught him to speak Atlantean and revealed his true parentage to him. Arthur then escaped and returned to the surface world, where he became a Super Hero. Upon meeting Barry Allen (a.k.a. the Flash), he was given the name Aquaman. When Aquaman finally returned to Atlantis, he discovered his old friend Vulko had led a revolution against the corrupt regime, and claimed his birthright as the King of Atlantis.
The New 52 (2011-2016)
Following 2011’s FLASHPOINT event, much of Aquaman’s history was again altered. He was once more the son of lighthouse keeper Tom Curry and Queen Atlanna of Atlantis, and he grew up in Amnesty Bay. When her father died, Atlanna returned to Atlantis to take the throne, so Tom was forced to raise Arthur alone. As a child Arthur developed powers, having inherited his mother’s abilities. To understand him better, Tom sought help from Dr. Stephen Shin, a scientist he had once saved from a storm.
Tom expected Shin would help train Arthur in the use of his powers. But Shin became obsessed with Atlantis, and attempted to release his findings to the public. Tom Curry managed to destroy all of Shin’s research except a vial of Arthur’s blood. Shin hired the bounty hunter Black Manta to steal the vial from the Curry home. But when Tom Curry encountered Manta, the stress from the ensuing fight caused Tom to suffer a heart attack. He died soon after. Arthur tracked Black Manta down and accidentally killed his father, believing he was Manta. Arthur was then brought to Atlantis by his mother’s royal adviser Vulko.
Arthur ruled over Atlantis for a brief time, until his half-brother Orm, the son of Atlanna and her second husband, took the throne. Arthur went on to form the Others, a team composed of outcasts, who traveled the world searching for ancient Atlantean weapons so they could be kept from those who would use them to do harm. Among these artifacts was the Trident of Neptune, which Aquaman kept before eventually parting ways with the Others. After leaving the Others, Aquaman became a founding member of the Justice League. And just as in the previous timeline, Arthur met and fell in love with Mera, a Xebellian princess sent to kill him. After Orm declared war on the surface world, Arthur defeated him and was crowned king.