10. The Enemy Below
When Justice League was first announced, Aquaman was conspicuously absent from the roster. Timm and Co. knew they had to provide an answer quickly for why the Atlantian King wasn’t involved. The third episode of the series, “The Enemy Below,” explored Aquaman’s opposition to the surface world, and the politics of the Atlantian Dynasty.
The episode richly navigates Atlantis as a culture, revealing an ancient royal lineage less like modern democracies and more akin to the old monarchies of Great Britain and France. This included a deadly plot orchestrated by Aquaman’s brother Orm to kill Aquaman, his wife Mera, and their baby boy. The episode’s standout sequence is when Aquaman is trapped and unable to reach his boy as he’s about to be crushed to death. Aquaman severs his own hand in order to reach his baby on time, demonstrating his ferocity and making him a total badass.
The episode’s brother vs. brother storyline is not exactly groundbreaking, but it’s a classic storytelling model for a reason. Orm’s betrayal fuels the battle with incredible dramatic tension. More importantly, their conflict creates a wonderful character arc for Aquaman, and proves beyond a doubt why he can’t fit in with the Justice League. He’s loyal to a fault, but way too temperamental to work with a team. He does show up in a supporting role in later episodes, but none defined Aquaman as well and as completely as “The Enemy Below.”