Release the Karaqan! How does Aquaman’s latest foe stack up against real ocean giants?

Aquaman #27. DC Comics.

Aquaman #27. DC Comics.

It’s been more than 2 months since we last discussed the patron saint of Southern Fried Science, the one and only Aquaman. The Atlantean übermensch has a new lead writer, Jeff Parker, who’s teamed up with Aquaman veteran Paul Pelletier to produce an engaging and visually stunning story. After the epic conclusion to Throne of Atlantis, Aquaman is off on an entirely new adventure. Unfortunately, this new quest puts our hero in the path of a gargantuan guardian of ancient Atlantis, the Karaqan!

The Karaqan is big, but just how big is it? How does the Karaqan stack up against living sea creatures? Could an arthropod ever get as big as the Karaqan? Most important, if Aquaman does successfully slay the Karaqan, just how much Old Bay would we need to steam it?

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A deep-sea ecologist over-analyzes Aquaman #25

Today marks the end of Geoff Johns’ 25-issue run as lead writer  for Aquaman. It is not hyperbole to say that he revitalized the king of Atlantis and helped cast off the stigma of the Superfriends. Aquaman was no longer a one-trick hero floundering about for relevance, trying to find his plaice in the DC Universe. Johns’ Aquaman had depth. The characters were compelling, the stories engaging. And, after more than 2 years, it was clear that this new Aquaman wasn’t just a fluke.

All puns are most definitely intended.

In honor of Johns’ 25 issue run, it’s time to plumb the depths of his ultimate issue and do what I do best: over-analyze a comic book and dredge up as much tenuous symbolism as possible. This is Southern Fried Science and I’m talking about Aquaman, what else would you expect?

The anglerfish symbolize Aquaman’s relationship with Mera

Aquaman and Anglerfish, Aquaman #25, DC Comics

Aquaman and Anglerfish, Aquaman #25, DC Comics

Here we find Aquaman diving deep into the Trench, searching for an army of lost Atlanteans to command. During the course of his dive, we discover that, though Aquaman is fighting to reclaim Atlantis, his one overarching goal is to find his wife, Mera. It is not a coincidence that we see him surrounded by deep-sea anglerfish — Melanocetus johnsonii to be precise. In many ways, the life-history of the anglerfish mimics Aquaman’s relationship to Mera.

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Eleven Marine Organisms that would make Amazing Aquaman Villains

Physalia_physalis1

Physalia physalis. Public domain.

Black Manta. Ocean Master. The Trench. Scavenger. King Shark. Toxin. The Fisherman. Aquaman has had some pretty memorable villains over the last 80 years. Also, the Fisherman. This is Southern Fried Science, a blog famous for two things – inspiring the world with our unique blend of marine science and conservation and doing horrible, horrible things to Aquaman.

Catch me flounder for I have finned. It has been 98 days since my last Aquaman is Awesome post.

Sure, Black Manta has some pretty sweet gear, a compelling back story that justifies his hatred of the Atlantean king, and he looks like he’s poised for some serious awesome during DC’s Villains Month. The Trench even appear to be able to utilize chemosynthesis, when they’re not trapping dogs in cocoons. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

That’s right. No matter how ridiculous Aquaman’s comic book foes become, you can bet all your clams I’ll find real marine organisms that would make equally amazing villains. Here’s eleven of them.

Meet Man-o-War, the colonial killer that understands the value of teamwork.

Imagine a super villain composed of thousand of individual organisms that form one giant super-organism. Rather than a body filled with vital organs, this villain can take massive damage without a loss of ‘self’, only to spawn new minions to replaced the damaged parts. Now give this deadly foe 60-foot long venom-filled tentacles whose sting brings excruciating pain. Such a villain would certainly assume the identity ‘Man-o-War’.

The Portuguese Man-o-War (Physalia physalis), arguably the best known of the siphonophores (it is a cnidarian, but it is not a jellyfish) possess tentacles that unleash an unbelievably painful sting, the weapon of choice for our newest menace. But the weapon does’t make the man (o-war), and our villain has a strategic secret. Man-o-Wars are not singular animals, they are a colony of highly specialized polyps — each one an individual animal that combines to form a deadly super-organism.

The pneumatophore is a polyp the creates a gas-filled bladder for flotation. This produces the distinctive ‘sail’ of the Man-o-War, a bilaterally symmetric air sac that allows the colonial to remain at the surface and provides some propulsion by catching the wind. The sail is not just a sac of air, it also has defensive capabilities. When attacked, the sail is able to deflate, allowing the colony to sink below the surface and avoid predators. The gonozooids, which occur in tight clusters, are responsible for reproduction. Man-o-Wars engage in both asexual and sexual reproduction. Young colonies can reproduce clonally by budding, but as the colony becomes more mature, that gonozooids become sexually differentiated and release eggs and sperm to form new colonies. The gastrozooid takes care of all the digestion-related needs and surround the dastardly dactylozooids. Finally, the dactylozooids produce 10-meter (or longer!) tentacles that capture prey and drag them towards the gastrozooids. This is some serious teamwork.

Man-o-War even has minions. The shepherd fish is immune t the stinging tentacles and hangs out within the tentacles. The fish gains the protection of its lethal ally while the Man-o-War gets to use the shepherd fish as bait to lure other fish into its deadly trap.

Imagine Aquaman facing off against a colony of polyps that combine to form a deadly super-organism with massive stinging tentacles. Siphonophores have no nervous system, so Aquaman’s fish-talking power are useless. No matter how many dactylozooids, gatrozooids, and pneumatophores he destroyed, the gonozooids are there, churning out more.

But Man-o-Wars are not without their own predators, the largest of which is the enormous, cnidarian nom nom-ing Leatherback Turtle. Despite their size, leatherbacks are the largest live sea turtle, they survive exclusively on large numbers of jelly-like organisms — to the tune of the equivalent of eating 16 cucumbers per day. Leatherbacks aren’t the only animals that prey on Man-o-War, the salacious siphonophore has many foes, two of which join this list as super-villains in their own right.

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Was Aquaman quietly saving the world during Man of Steel?

Man of Steel was a thoroughly entertaining superhero movie and a serviceable Superman movie. Fortunately, the last son of Krypton was not the only super-powered being saving the world, as the king of Atlantis was hanging out, cleaning up ol’ Kal-El’s mess.

It has been 98 days since our last Aquaman is Awesome post. We’re due.

Arthur Curry’s presence is first felt near the beginning, while a scruffy Clark is trying his best impression of Jack Kerouac auditioning for Deadliest Catch. Pre-Supes can’t help but hurl himself at a burning oil rig, rescue the roughnecks, and then keep derrick from collapsing on a hapless helicopter. Explosion. We cut to some Kansas flashbacks. Mr. Soupy floats in the water. Pan up and, inexplicably, there’s a couple of humpback whales just chilling, amidst the carnage of a collapsing oil rig,  having a casual sing-in. No doubt those whales are having a chat with a rogue Atlantean, swimming somewhere off screen. He’s probably making sure that the Caped Clam Chowder doesn’t ruin his handy work.

Because, obviously, Aquaman was the one who knocked out that oil rig. I said he was saving the world, not saving humanity. That’s Crab Bisque’s gig.

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Aquaman is back!

headshot-thalerSMALLLong-time readers know that I am a dedicated fan of the one true king of Atlantis, Arthur Curry–Aquaman. Since his reboot in DC Comic’s New 52 series, Aquaman has risen above the Justice League pantheon, casually crushing his critics with humor, style, and pure, aquatic power. My original plan was to review the marine science in Aquaman, but, since the Trench, our hero has spent relatively little time in the sea. We can forgive that. Between protecting his old gang, the Others, from arch-nemesis Black Manta, and saving the surface dwellers while reclaiming his crown in Throne of Atlantis, Mr. Curry has been quite busy.

Now, with Aquaman #17, it looks like things are about to change.

littleaqua

“I won’t fail you again.” Aquaman #17. DC Comics.

So, this is pretty much my all time favorite piece of comic book art. I love that so many invertebrates get starring roles–colossal squid, octopuses, crustaceans of all sorts. I love that whales are relegated to the background, dolphins are barely more than shadows, and elasmobranchs other than sharks are prominently featured. Artists Paul Pelletier and Art Thebert did a fantastic job creating an ocean biodiversity tableau that shuns the Wyland-esque tropes characteristic of the genre. This is a tough, gritty Aquaman. His ocean is not all sunsets and dolphins.

This also settles the longstanding debate about Aquaman’s telepathy. Aquaman talks to fish. Whether they talk back is a different story.

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Epilogue to the Return of the Science of Aquaman: Costume Palettes at Depth

In response to yesterday’s review of Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench, Al Dove made a simple request via twitter:

Your next post should be "What would aquaman look like at different depths?"

Your next post should be “What would aquaman look like at different depths?”

This question is more complex than it first appears, and needs a little unpacking. Water is denser than air. When light passes through, the water acts as a filter, absorbing visible light in a predictable pattern from longest wavelengths (infrareds and reds) to shortest wavelengths (purples and ultraviolets). As Aquaman dives deeper, the brilliant colors of his orange and green costume will begin to fade.

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Return of the Science of Aquaman: Welcome to the Trench

Seriously, is no one else bothered by the fact that his trident has five points? Aquaman: The Trench. From DC Comics.

Seriously, is no one else bothered by the fact that his trident has five points? Aquaman: The Trench. From DC Comics.

After reducing Aquaman to a hypothermic, hyposmotic, constantly famished, case study in psychological trauma, I figure that I owe the king of Atlantis a second chance. After all, Aquaman was and still remains the most interesting hero in the DC universe. A generous fan sent me a copy of Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench, arguing that the New 52 version of everybody’s favorite aquatic hero is even more compelling than previous incarnations, with a stronger backstory, powers that make sense, and plenty of humor.

Last time I paid the hapless mariner a visit, many readers interpreted my incisive criticism of the science behind Aquaman as evidence that I had it out for our scale-clad hero. Since you all know that I’m going to take the misguided marine science in this volume to task, let’s start with all of the good stuff in this reimagination of DC’s oft-mocked champion.

The central conceit of New 52 Aquaman is that the comic book world has the same perception of Arthur Curry that we do–a hero with oddly specific and mostly useless powers that talks to fish. In addition, the citizens of the DC Universe believe that Atlantis is a fairy tale, so Aquaman’s kingly status is meaningless to the surface dwellers. The hybrid of a human father and Atlantean mother, Aquaman feels out of place in Atlantis and chooses to return to the surface with his wife, Mera. Comparing himself to his lighthouse-keeper father, he explains that even though he loves the sea, someone must protect the shore.

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The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate

Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1

Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1 DC Comics.

Two weeks ago, I challenged the world to consider how the greatest hero in the DC Universe would fair if forced to survive in the real world. The result was a hypothermic, brain-dead lump of jerky with brittle bones forced to suffer through constant screams of agony even as he consumes sea life at a rate that would impress Galactus. In short, the ocean is a rough place, even for Aquaman.

Since that post made its way across the internet, several people have asked me to discuss what adaptations Aquaman would need to survive in this, science-based, ocean. So I went back to my comic books and my textbooks to assemble an Aquaman with a suite of evolutionary adaptations that would allow a largely humanoid organism to rule the waves, trident triumphantly raised.

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The horrifying physiological and psychological consequences of being Aquaman

Aquaman. DC Comics.

Aquaman. DC Comics. A rational response to seal poaching is to lob a polar bear at the aggressors.

Aquaman may not be everybody’s favorite superhero, but since his creation in 1941, he has been among DC’s most enduring icons. During the Golden Age of comic books, he held his own against Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Silver Age Aquaman was a founding member of the Justice League. His powers, tied to the ocean, forced writers to create a compelling, complex hero with explicit limitations. In the early days, when Superman’s strength was practically infinite, and Batman’s brilliance was unmatched, Aquaman had to become more than just a superhero, he had to be a person.

If Superman existed to show us how high the human spirit could fly, and Batman to show us the darkness within even our most noble, Aquaman is here to show us the world that triumphs in our absence. The ocean is not ours, and no matter how great our technology, we will never master it as we have mastered land, but Aquaman has. Through this lonely ocean wanderer, we can experience a world that we can never truly command. In many ways, Aquaman was stronger than the Man of Steel and darker than the Dark Knight. He knew loneliness that the orphan and the alien exile never could.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean – roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin – his control
Stops with the shore; — upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, not does remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown.

Byron

Even though Aquaman had to fight harder, endure the jokes of other, less limited heroes, and find relevance in an ecosystem hostile to the humans that had to empathize with him, Aquaman was never forced to confront the truly horrifying consequences of life in the ocean.

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