Throwback Thursday: The "Aquaman" Pilot, aka "Mercy Reef"


"You can't run away from your true calling, Orin!" Oh, Mercy Reef, we hardly knew ye.

With the first look of Jason Momoa's Aquaman recently surfacing (there's going to be a lot of fish,water, nautical puns in this, so just enjoy), Aquaman seems to be in the middle of both a resurgence and being reintroduced to fans at the same time. The Aquaman bandwagon is coming around and it seems like it's going to get fuller by the time Dawn of Justice finally makes it to theaters, but it wasn't always so. Sure, Momoa's Arthur/Orin looks spectacular and portrays him as King Bad Ass, but remember the Aquaman pilot, aka Mercy Reef, with Justin Hartley, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Ving Rhames? See the trailer below.

That's right. Before Aquaman makes his splash into the DC Cinematic Universe, there was an idea to bring him to the small screen using the Smallville formula with an Aquaman TV series. Smallville creators Al Gough and Miles Millar brought the concept up after the ratings for the Aquaman-centric episode of Smallville (simply called "Aqua") had the highest rating of the season. "[Aquaman] was the first idea where we really thought we had a franchise where we could see 100 episodes," Millar said when talking about the greenlit project at the time. Even DC Entertainment President David Janollari then said that Aquaman is "one of the coolest characters in the DC Comics library." So everyone was ready to dive into the new project and the pilot was made for around $7 Million and things were looking up for ol' A.C..

Now remember, around this time Batman just had a mighty comeback with Batman Begins. Superman was about to set flight yet again with Superman Returns, and Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman movie had been greenlit and ready to go (two out of three ain't bad, right?). It seemed DC was prime to flank the small and silver screen for the next few years, but we all know how that worked out. Smallville went on for five more seasons, Batman Begins launched the Nolanverse and became one of the top movies of that year, and raised a whole slew of Hollywood buzz with the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker in July. Superman Returns provided pretty okay box office numbers, but nowhere near what the studio had hoped for and combined with the mixed reviews, made WB backtrack and end up with a reboot. Whedon's Wonder Woman never saw the light of day aside from a teaser poster made by legendary comic artist Adam Hughes. So where did that leave Aquaman? Well, pretty much like a mounted swordfish on your grandfather's wall.

Aquaman was scheduled to be released in the Fall 2006, but with the merging of the WB and UPN, creating the CW Network, the new entity chose not to pick it up. I guess the irony is that, the "Aqua" episode of Smallville was never really intended to be the diving board for an Aquaman series, it just picked up steam and went from there. The pilot was later released on iTunes and on DVD packaged along with seasons of Smallville. The thing is though, this would have affected so much of the Smallville mythology had the show taken off. Alan Ritchson who played Arthur Curry in the episode did not portray him in the pilot, which is odd considering Gough expressed interest in a crossover event at some point with Smallville, but left Hartley able to join the cast of Smallville as Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Which worked out to the show's advantage, I think, storywise, as it gave Clark a foil; a Batman that isn't Batman. Ritchson returned in later seasons where he joined the Justice League of that universe.


From there, the Green Arrow character was popular enough to get some traction for his own show, which would not star Hartley, but of course Stephen Amell. You might have heard of that one. Still, the Aquaman pilot shows us that even with immense popularity, sometimes it's just not the right time for some things. Aquaman wasn't that bad (aside from a now dated soundtrack and cliched wisecracks from Arthur), but it ran very closely to the Smallville plot structure and that might have been the deciding factor with the CW. Or perhaps just they shrugged Aquaman off as "Who?". Whatever the case may be, Aquaman, Arthur Curry, King Orin of Atlantis, whatever you want to call him is about to make some waves in the next few years, leaving this abandoned TV pilot washed up.

So what do you readers think? Do you think Aquaman could have worked in the long run, or maybe if they wanted to give it another shot today, would it stand a chance?