Perhaps I had best clarify: the only time that I have ever paid any attention to Aquaman was in the Superfriends. In the Superfriends, he was infinitely pathetic and his contribution to the team was mostly as somebody to be rescued or bailed out by his teammates.
I’ve never read his comics, so I don’t really know if he’s cool at all in there.
I’ll be the first to admit that he’s suffered from poor writing many times throughout the years. During the 60s I think he hit his heyday in fighting wave upon wave of chthonic cthulhu-esque horrors. One of the last writers to bring him widespread fame was Peter David. I love Peter David’s writing style, but even he had problems realizing his vision of Aquaman. I’ll give you two examples. Aquaman is pissed that he’s being blocked from questioning some military type (by Superboy as well as the military) so he leaves and comes back with an armada of blue whales who displace so much water they create a tidal wave that drowns an entire naval base while Aquaman beats the crap out of junior under the water. Freaking awesome. Later, some guy in a power suit tries to kill Aquaman and being out of the water doesn’t have any of his natural advantages; Aquaman knocks the guy through the street (kinda cool, right?) into a sewer… “Now you’re in my element,” he says.
NOOOOOOOO!! WHY?! I’m yelling this at a ten or twelve year old comic book.
And the old days were a little weird. I remember once Aquaman tried to swim around the world in a short span of time so these gangster nuke the ocean… not where he’s at mind you, but where he’s going to be, just to poison the water and deter him when they could have easily killed him instead. That and despite his water-limitation he also had a one-hour limit for being outside of the water or he’d basically suffocate.
He’s had a lot of potential for a very long time but it’s very rare that it gets tapped into in a very well-rounded fashion. I view him as being the kingly equivalent of MacGuyver, kind of an Aragorn of the sea, but something always gets lost in translation. I had a brain trust of friends once who would all discuss his awesomeness potential, which was quite high in our esteem and indeed we thought often on how we would write the man, but alas, nay.
Oh, one thing Aquaman does have going for him is the most brutal deathtrap experience of early comic book history. His infant son was trapped in an air bubble, cut off from breathable water, while the villain Black Manta forced Aquaman to fight his sidekick Aqualad gladiator-style. Aqualad was like his adopted son, but in order to try to save his biological child he tried to kill Aqualad thusly shattering their trust for all time and yet still failing to save his son from drowning. It was pretty hardcore.
By the way, check out the Justice League cartoon for some pretty awesome Aquaman exploits. I request it with fervor and such.