Aquaman’s protege; leader of the Young Justice team, and inspiration behind my username, Kaldur’ahm aka Aqualad restored my interest in D.C Comics.
To be completely transparent I’ve never been a huge fan of D.C Comics outside of following the Teen Titans and the Batman game series. Of course, I know who the characters are but I didn’t immerse myself into the D.C universe until I was introduced to Kaldur’ahm. When I first heard of a new series featuring the younger D.C heroes and sidekicks I was interested especially since I enjoyed Teen Titans but the day I saw Kaldur as I was mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr I was sold. The sight of the modelesque black man with shaved blond hair looking like a dark skinned Dudley O’Shaughnessy, with webbed feet, using water swords to fight, I knew then that I’d be tuning into Young Justice when it aired.
Kaldur’ahm was created by Greg Weisman, Brandon Vietti, and Phil Bourassa of D.C Comics. He joins the team as a founding member with Robin and Kid Flash, and then eventually Artemis, Superboy, and Miss Martian. Aqualad exists in two different incarnations within the D.C universe as a young black man, in the Young Justice series as Kaldur’ahm and as Jackson Hyde first appearing in the Brightest Day series. I’ll admit I’m not very familiar with this rendition of Kaldur, so for the purposes of this entry, I’ll be focused on this Young Justice incarnation.
Within the Young Justice world, Kaldur is given the name Aqualad after winning the honor of being Aquaman’s sidekick for his assistance in defeating Ocean Master. He then spends his time and effort defending Atlantis alongside Aquaman until the time the Young Justice team is assembled. As the team began to go on missions it came clear to everyone that Kaldur calm demeanor, fighting ability, and responsibility in dealing with consequences that he should lead the team. In times where the team faced a difficult task, Kaldur’s combat clarity becomes essential to the team’s success and recovery.
In the episode “Alpha Male” the team learns that Kaldur withheld information about a possible mole on the team, and out of angry splinters off into different groups. He decisions to keep that information secret was to keep them the team from doubting each other so he and Speedy could investigate quietly, but that didn’t matter when the team found out and their confidence in his was betrayed. Facing The Brain and Monsieur Mallah and the mutated animals he rallies the team to put their anger aside work together to finish their mission successfully. A few episodes later after a doomsday simulation exercise goes wrong and leaves the team traumatized, he shows remorse over who he sacrificed himself and left the team on their own. Even though he felt unfit to lead he remained willing to be the leader until someone could replace him. Kaldur’s level-headedness shows itself throughout the series, even in the darkest of situations.
All his calmness on the surface reflects Kaldur’s deep backstory. Kaldur is the biological son of Black Manta, Aquaman’s enemy which isn’t explored until the start of season two of Young Justice. The season brings with the knowledge that Kaldur defected and joined his father and the Light after discovering his who is the real father was and for his love, Tula’s death. It is later revealed that he is deep undercover with only Wally, Nightwing and Artemis knowing the truth. His mission is to infiltrate the Light using his father Black Manta and pass information to Nightwing directly about their intentions. Even after the truth is revealed and his loyalty to the team affirmed he steps back into the leadership role of the new team.
This new incarnation of Aqualad is a departure from the 1960s Aqualad or even the Aqualad from Teen Titans in 2005 being the slender white boy. Prior to the release of the series, many asked why Aqualad in this new rendition was black as people usually do whenever a white character is a change to black or POC. Aqualad being race changed or racebent to be black adds to the character whose previous whiteness was simply the defeat for comic characters (the American cultural norm) of the time period. In both Young Justice and the comic series Aqualad being black allowed from the connection of Black Manta being his father possible giving the character an interesting and complex story to navigate. The way I see Aqualad as Kaldur him being black add to what was previously empty (see invisible whiteness discourse).
Kaldur occupies a space that the previously white Aqualad never did. His position as a leader is tested and questioned almost constantly yet he always proves that he is more than capable in his ability to lead. As a 16 yo successfully lead a group of angsty teenagers against more powerful villains and would often succeed in their goal/manage to survive. And his strategic prowess continued in delicate undercover operation in his young adulthood. My excitement for the third season of Young Justice is in large part to see his character explored further. Seeing a black rendition of
Author: Kendall Bazemore
Editor: Han Angus
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.