The oceans will boil with brotherly hatred when the Aquaman movie hits theatres. The war between Arthur Curry and his conniving brother Orm, the Ocean Master, for the Throne of Atlantis has long been a staple of the legend of Aquaman. It’s a Shakespearean struggle that is perfect for the big screen.
We already covered the history of one undersea baddie in Black Manta, so let’s take a look at the other film villain, King Orm, the Ocean Master. We’ve said it before, prior to the Silver Age, Aquaman never really had an A-list rogues gallery, but that all changed with the arrival of Ocean Master. So let’s take a look at this homicidal, regicidal, fratricidal madman, the would be king… Orm, the Ocean Master!
The Early Days
Ocean Master first appeared in Aquaman #29 (1966) and was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, the same legendary creators that dreamt up Black Manta. In this classic tale, the cover blurb asks, “Aquaman a coward?” as Haney and Cardy unfold the Sea King’s first battle with Black Manta. Over the course of the debut, Aquaman keeps running (swimming) away from Ocean Master every time the new baddie rears his finny head. Aqualad looks on aghast as the always brave Aquaman tucks his gills, pees himself a little, and flees from the freshly debuted Ocean Master again and again. In his first appearance Ocean Master tries to blackmail the world’s navies by trapping a ship in an iceberg and implanting a whale with a device that causes disaster wherever the whale goes. Wait, really? Whoah. I love you, comics.
Anyway, as Ocean Master bedevils the world with his killer icebergs and dickhead whales, it is revealed that the villain is actually his half-brother Orm! Gasp! Aquaman tells a shocked Aqualad that the Sea King’s human father remarried after his Atlantean wife, Aquaman’s mom, died. The two humans had a son together and, for some reason, named him Orm. Orm longed for the sea, and when he was hit in the head with a rock, he contracted amnesia and went mad. Still longing for the sea, Orm built himself a high-tech suit and set plans into motion to become an underwater dictator and all around shitheel.
From robbery to visions of monarchy, after his first appearance, Ocean Master decided he would use his technological mastery to take the throne of Atlantis from his brother. In these subsequent battles in the Silver Age, Ocean Master had no memory of his past, but Aquaman knew, making each battle with Orm a personal struggle. Finally, after being possessed by Deadman, Ocean Master regained his memory, and much to his regal brother’s horror, Orm still desired to usurp and destroy Aquaman.
The Revised Origin
In writer Peter David’s early ’90s absolutely must read run on Aquaman, King Arthur of Atlantis discovers that Tom Curry was not actually his father. Instead, David revealed that Aquaman was the son of an Atlantaen wizard named Atlan. Atlan, the ol’ sea smoothie, got around and had another son with an Inuit woman. So in the post-Crisis era of the DCU, Orm and Arthur were still siblings and Orm was still a fratricidal dick.
The post-Crisis Ocean Master was much more front and center in the DC Universe. In 1995’s Underworld Unleashed event, Ocean Master sells his soul to the devil Neron in return for a power boosting trident. Orm also joins Lex Luthor’s Injustice Gang in the pages of Justice League. This team of evildoers was all considered each of the “Big Seven” Justice League’s perfect foes. This shunted Orm to the big time of DC villainy where he has remained ever since.
The most important post-Crisis Orm revelation (Ormvelation?) came in The Atlantis Chronicles (1990). In this mini-series (which has some of the best fantasy world building this side of Tolkien), it is revealed that the idea of brothers struggling for the throne of Atlantis has been a constant in Atlantaen history. This reveal gives the battle between Orm and Arthur a grand and epic feel. They are each filling the role of an ancient underwater struggle which is all sorts of tragic.
When the DC Universe rebooted in 2011 with the New 52 so did the origin of Orm (Ormigin?). In the new DC continuity, the future Ocean Master was the son of Aquaman’s mother and a member of the Atlantis Elite Guard. When his parents died, Orm found himself as King of Atlantis…until his half-brother Arthur arrived from the surface to take back the throne. This whole bit of high fantasy awesomeness was the brainchild of writer Geoff Johns and it’s no coincidence that this is the one inspiring the Aquaman movie version, where Patrick Wilson will wear the stylish Ocean Master helmet.
Throne of Atlantis
Orm’s next major appearance was in the modern classic Throne of Atlantis. In this tale, a surface vessel unwittingly attacks Atlantis. In retaliation, Ocean Master tries to attack Boston and comes face to face with the Justice League. Not knowing the details of the surface attack on Atlantis, Aquaman sides with his brother against the League. During the struggle, Orm tries to flood Boston which if you think about it, would have prevented the Red Sox from winning two World Series and kept the Patriots out of the Super Bowl, so maybe this isn’t such a terrible idea. Anyway, by story’s end, Ocean Master is arrested and Aquaman retakes the throne.
Ocean Master escapes prison in the 2013 Forever Evil storyline, but in a delicious twist, instead of reverting to his evil ways, Ocean Master meets and settles down with a single mother named Erin. Orm becomes a father to Erin’s son Tommy, but during the events of the 2018 Mera, Queen of Atlantis mini-series by Dan Abnett (it’s a hidden gem, kids, check it out), Orm is drawn back to the depths to become Ocean Master once again.
As for his powers, Orm’s abilities change with the ages of the character. During the Silver Age, Ocean Master uses high tech weapons to challenge Aquaman. In the post-Crisis DCU, Orm was also powerless until his deal with Neron which gave him the ability to manipulate magical energy through his demonic trident. In the New 52 continuity, Orm has the same powers as Aquaman (minus the talking to fish stuff). The modern Orm uses his trident to control lightning and his crown to summon tsunamis and control water. Pretty badass.
But it is his place as Aquaman’s brother that makes Ocean Master so great. Orm could have been a hero, an adventuring king, but instead, he is a bitter recluse always in his brother’s shadow. And that’s the kind of characterization that makes for great drama.