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How The New Gay Aquaman Is Being Reintroduced By A Black SoCal Writer

Jackson Hyde floats in the sea, hand through his dreadlocks and wearing a dark orange uniform. The logo reads AQUAMAN: THE BECOMING with DC, 1 of 6, PRIDE on the left side with pride rainbow colors in the background. The names of the creative team are below.
Jackson Hyde on the cover to Aquaman: The Becoming #1
(Courtesy DC Comics)
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DC Comics superhero Aquaman has been subject to generations of easy jokes — he’s the superhero that (allegedly) talks to fish. But he’s been getting a new evaluation with blockbuster movies, animated appearances, and now a reintroduction of a younger version of the character. Aquaman: The Becoming features Jackson Hyde, a young Black gay superhero currently known as Aqualad. He’s part of DC Comics' efforts to diversify their publishing line, creating a new generation of diverse heroes, from a Black Batman to a queer Superman.

While the Jackson Hyde character has been around for a while, including a version of him playing a major role in the popular Young Justice cartoon Southern California writer Brandon Thomas had the chance to play with him for the first time as part of DC’s Future State crossover. That was meant as a look at potential futures for DC’s characters. But it wasn’t always in the works for the comics to start directly setting up those possibilities, or for Thomas to be the one getting to write that. Now he’s guiding the current version of the character toward that future in The Becoming with the art team of Diego Olortegui, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Adriano Lucas.

Thomas had freedom in writing Jackson Hyde for Future State because no one had done much with him as an adult. Now he gets to set up that potential future that he created with an opportunity he never imagined. Thomas is Black, and while he isn’t part of the LGBTQ+ community himself, he felt connected with Jackson Hyde emotionally.

“There’s a way that I always feel that Black and brown characters should be depicted that they sometimes aren’t in comics, so that’s a big thing for me. There’s something about Jackson that’s not happy, but there’s something joyous and appreciative — and I want that to come through in the artwork too,” Thomas told LAist. “There are things about Jackson that I don’t personally have experience with, but I try to be always very mindful and very careful of the emotions, and whether or not it feels honest.”

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A series of Pride parade marchers fly rainbow flags, with some flags showing other patterns. A man with pink hair and a pink mustache and beard, in a light purple shirt, is on the left. A woman in glasses with a green shirt with a purple heart on it is on the far right. And in the middle is a man with a green crop top with a butterfly on it, a green fanny pack, and bracelets, next to Jackson in a more civilian version of his superhero uniform, with a red shirt and jeans.
Jackson in the DC Pride comic earlier this year.
(Courtesy DC Comics)

That attention to honesty came up in a discussion about a scene in an upcoming issue. In an earlier draft, Jackson and another character kissed.

“During the process of it, it was just like, this is not right — emotionally, it just doesn’t make sense for this moment,” Thomas said. “You want to do things because the story demands it. Personally, I’m very kind of defiant by nature sometimes. And that leads to, is this here because the story dictates it needs to be here or this is an emotionally honest moment, or is this here because I’m just trying to prove to people that we’re not afraid to do it?”

Jackson Hyde punches a parademon, another behind him. The punch has a WHAM sound effect, with the creature's facial features quickly disfigured from the impact.
Jackson Hyde lets a parademon know how he feels.
(Courtesy DC Comics)

While Thomas is excited for Black queer representation, he’s not sticking moments showing a character’s sexuality in when it doesn’t feel true to him. When Thomas wrote Jackson in Future State, he also wrote the traditional Aquaman’s daughter Andy, aka Aqualass, as a queer teen. But in the present timeline, she’s just a tyke, yet to discover her sexuality. Thomas promises she still has a big role to play alongside her mother Mera, even as a tiny tot.

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There are 4 vertical comic book panels. Panel 1: Jackson dives into the water, with the sound effect KA-PLOOSH above him. Panel 2: Jackson dives deeper, followed by 2 Parademons. Panel 3: Jackson continues getting smaller as we see he is even deeper, with more parademons behind him. Panel 4: Jackson is VERY far down and very tiny, with Parademons behind him as he dives into the blackness, a bright light at the bottom.
Jackson Hyde dives to escape Parademons.
(Courtesy DC Comics)

The first issue is a day-in-the-life of the someday Aquaman from big action and training with the current Aquaman and his wife Mera, to his relationships with his town, his family, his superhero team, and Atlantis. The art in The Becoming is dynamic, filled with movement, bright colors, and a use of water giving spectacular views and letting the artists explore the characters' physicality in unique ways.

“I always want it to feel like it’s worth [the artists'] time. Because I know that, just physically, it takes a lot longer to illustrate comic books than it does to write them — even though writing them is not easy,” Thomas said. “The time investment is different. I always want the scripts to be well thought out, and developed, and for it to be like, ‘Can you give me six weeks of your time to make something amazing?’”

For most of the issue, everything’s turning up Jackson.

“The question of deserving — and what does Jackson deserve, what do any of us deserve — is a big thing in that book going forward,” Thomas said. “For me, him feeling like a slight outsider, feeling like maybe he doesn’t deserve some of the things he has in his life — that’s a very personal emotion for me. So I really try to lean into the similarities that I have with Jackson.”

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A two-page splash image from Aquaman: The Becoming #1. The large panel shows the older Aquaman with Jackson Hyde, surrounded by dead members of the Justice League including Flash, one of the Hawks, Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, and an injured Black Canary. Aquaman says "THE LEAGUE IS DOWN. DARKSEID IS. AND IT'S ONLY YOU LEFT STANDING." Jackson looks on with horror. In the next panel, Aquaman points to the horizon and says, "THERE'S A MOTHER BOX AT THE BOTTOM OF THAT RAVINE. IT'LL BRING YOU BACK TO EARTH TO WARN OF WHAT'S COMING. AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RAVINE IS A LAKE. STAY IN LONGER THAN A FEW MINUTES AND THE ACID WATER BURNS THROUGH YOUR SKIN." The next panel shows Jackson's face in front of Aquaman's stomach and belt. Aquaman says, "AND THE NEXT SWARM IS HERE ALREADY." The red sky behind is filled with parademons, green humanoid creatures with giant wings. In the next panel, Jackson says, "COME ON, THAT'S-- THAT'S WAY TOO MUCH, MAN. I CAN'T DO ALL THAT, ARTHUR..." In the next panel, a closeup on Aquaman: "AQUAMAN CAN." The final panel shows Jackson looking off at the swarm of Parademons.
A two-page splash from Aquaman: The Becoming #1, featuring Jackson Hyde against a horde of Parademons that have defeated the Justice League.
(Courtesy DC Comics)

Jackson Hyde’s dad is Aquaman arch nemesis Black Manta, with the character always feeling like he has to make up for what his father has done. The traditional Aquaman was already an outsider, half-human and half-Atlantean. But Thomas sees Hyde as being that times ten, because of his race, his father, his sexuality, and more. And this story will also see Hyde having to come to terms with his father, even embracing some of his methods.

“This story is about this whole idea of, my dad was bad, and that is my defining trait — that is the thing that is constantly pushing me forward,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, I have an… interesting relationship with my own father,” Thomas said. “So a lot of these feelings unfortunately are mine, too.”

Jackson tries to avoid those feelings that he doesn’t want to feel, or acknowledge. But Thomas promises that, as he deals with those, the book will be about him not just fully becoming Aquaman, but fully becoming Jackson Hyde.

Bringing Back A Black Comics Icon And Exploring Yet Another Aquaman

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A page from the Hardware comic showing Hardware, a Black man in a metal superhero suit.
From Hardware: Season One #1.
(Courtesy DC Comics)

Beyond Aquaman: The Becoming, Thomas also relaunched the character Hardware last month. Hardware, aka Curtis Metcalf, holds an important place in comic book history — the character came from Milestone Comics, a group found by African-American writers and artists in 1993. The line is best known for creating the character Static, which led to popular cartoon series Static Shock and is now on the way to the big screen.

Like The Becoming, Hardware: Season One features a lead character dealing with a dark father figure. Hardware has a mentor who tries to capitalize on the young man’s genius — Edward Alva — without sharing the profits. Then when Metcalf asks for his fair share, that mentor turns on him.

“When I pitched for it, I said that Curtis Metcalf is the same Curtis Metcalf, but the world around him has changed exponentially,” Thomas said.

That includes not just the technology, but the media, social media, and more. Characters' private lives versus their public ones is a big theme of the book, as well as how social media can be weaponized against people. The ubiquity of social media also led to the decision not to try to give Hardware a secret identity — once he’s out there, people know it’s Curtis.

“Celebrities can’t even go to the grocery store or go to the gym without being photographed constantly. Do we really think if there was a superhero… it would be like Paris Hilton back in the day,” Thomas said. “I wanted the kind of violence and the violations to be a lot more intimate in nature.”

Thomas said that he’s been in business relationships with a dynamic like the one between Alva and Curtis, working with someone who only accepts the relationship when they’re the dominant member who’s benefiting the most. He relates to Curtis’s feelings of rage.

“It was very easy to get back into that mode,” Thomas said. “It’s similar to the original, but there was something that was just much more kind of horrible when everything is said out loud. In the original, it’s all there, but it’s subtext and kind of understood.”

The Hardware idea was one that came out of Black creators who felt like that was happening to them in the comic book industry, as well as the entertainment industry as large, and it’s a theme Thomas is continuing to explore here. He also promises that the character will face his mentor gaslighting him, publicly supporting him while turning against him in his private life.

“This is one of the richest, most powerful men in the world, who has literally everything at his disposal. He can make up stories, he can fabricate evidence, he can lean on the power structures. He is a rich white man — there is literally nothing he cannot do,” Thomas said. “There is an apparatus that you can use to destroy someone, to destroy their reputation, to destroy people’s sense of them.”

Milestone Comics co-founder Denys Cowan is among the artists working on the book, alongside comic book legend Bill Sienkiewicz inking Cowan’s artwork. Their art gives the book a vital, rough, real world feel.

Thomas also has another book on the way, a team-up between a young Aquaman — closer to the more traditional version — and Green Arrow. It’s called Aquaman/Green Arrow: Deep Target, a name ripped straight from the subconscious of a '90s action movie writer.

“I always think of action movies. Deep Target, it’s like Die Hard, Back To The Future, and Bad Boys. Those are the three movies, the three vibes that series it trying to navigate — all at the same time,” Thomas said. And that title — “Doesn’t it just sound like a '90s movie? Deep Target, that doesn’t even make sense.”

One of the key differences between the older Aquaman character who mentors Jackson in The Becoming, and this one who’s in no position yet to be a mentor? His wife.

“This is this guy before he met the woman who would change his life in so many interesting and unexpected ways,” Thomas said. “Both of them are convinced that they have the right answer at any possible moment, in any possible situation, and this is the clash of those ideas — and those kinds of personalities,” Thomas said.

That younger version of the character also lets Thomas play with the archetypes they represent, sticking to the core of who these characters are rather than getting caught up in their convoluted comic book histories.

“We want to tell a story that will resonate and make sense to people that have the bare kind of understanding of who Aquaman is,” Thomas said, “Not the very comics version of like, ‘Then he met Mera, and everything changed, and then he lost his hand, and then he lost his memory like six times, and then he had a kid.’”

And the version of Green Arrow that Thomas plays with here draws a big inspiration from the version on the CW series Arrow.

“There’s a lot of that kind of attitude. The way Stephen Amell played Oliver Queen — he didn’t play him like he was the son of a millionaire,” Thomas said. “It just always felt like there was much more coming off of him, that he was much deeper inside. So that’s the version of Oliver Queen that I like.”

Aquaman: The Becoming #1 and Hardware: Season One #1 are in stores now. Aquaman/Green Arrow: Deep Target #1 comes out next month. And these series will likely be collected in trade paperback next year.

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