19 years ago - Kaldur'ahm is born, the son of Black Manta and Sha'lain'a, an Atlantean woman from the village of Shayeris. He is born with hybrid Atlantean biology, affected both by his half-Atlantean blood and by the experiments done on his father.
14 years ago - 5-year-old Kaldur'ahm's father Black Manta discovers his existence and kidnaps him, beginning his training.
12 years ago - 7-year-old Kaldur'ahm helps Arthur Curry & Garth escape Black Manta's forces, destroying their ships. He is reunited with his mother Sha'lain'a, but longs to join the fight to reclaim Atlantis.
11 years ago - 8-year-old Kaldur'ahm plays a vital role in defeating Black Manta's forces as they attack Atlantis. He earns the right to begin his training early with the Atlantean military, moving to Atlantis.
5 years ago - 14-year-old Kaldur'ahm becomes an apprentice Atlantean sorcerer.
3 years ago - 16-year-old Kaldur'ahm becomes a devoted pupil of Mera when she becomes and instructor to the Atlantean sorcerers, learning her watershaping techniques, developing ways to adapt them to his fighting style. With Arthur Curry joining the Watchtower & Garth working as the Atlantean ambassador to the surface, Kaldur begins working to defend Atlantis . Garth passes on his title as Aqualad.
1 year ago - 18-year-old Kaldur'ahm battles Nanaue outside of Atlantis, captures him and sends him to Belle Reve. He joins the Titans, and goes with them into space to save Donna.
now - 19-year-old Kaldur'ahm protects the people of San Diego in the chaos after it sinks in Thorne's experiments, accepting the help of Lorena Marquez.
One of the best things about creating a completely original DC timeline that draws from all our favorite versions of DC Continuity is that we are free to design it in such a way that characters who really struggle to fit into the regualad comic continuity can be built into the foundation of ours. Kaldur is one of the best examples of this. This character is an absolutely amazing creation, but is so thoroughly woven into the backstory of the alternate timeline of the Young Justice animated series that none of the attempts to squeeze him into the regular comics have been able to reproduce his singular awesomeness. Hopefully we can build a solid foundation that will allow this great character into our continuity.
Aqualad's Comic History
Kaldur'ahm, the modern version of Aqualad, was invented entirely for the Young Justice animated series. While the lead character designer is Phil Bourassa, there is likely a whole team of people responsible for developing an absolutely phenomenal new character who landed in the animated series in a way that felt like he was always meant to exist. He was calm, mature, rational and experienced, clearly a contrast against the more impetuous members on a team of teenagers. He had powers that were clearly influenced by his predecessors but implemented in innovative new ways; he could breathe and thrive underwater like Aquaman, but had visible gills and webbed hands and feet. He could shape water like Mera, but used that talent to shape weapons he could use in combat.
The comics have made two separate attempts to adapt Kaldur into mainstream continuity, once during the New 52, and again during Rebirth. Both times their version struggled because Kaldur was a character that clearly had vast experience as a hero, and their versions were always brand new heroes still discovering their powers. Still, for what they are, both takes on Jackson have a lot going for them and are worth reading on their own, but neither of them will ever be as awesome as the OG animated Aqualad.
Our Aqualad's Story
We attempted to adapt some of the comic book continuity for Jackson Hyde into our backstory for Kaldur, but ultimately the animated version of the character is just superior in almost every way. Perhaps the most important element in getting him right is making sure that he has lots of experience alongside Aquaman, tying his story into his mentors way, way back in the timeline, and keeping him active throughout.
We deliberately tried to find places where Kaldur could play a role in Aquaman's campaign for Atlantis. He's very young while this is happening, but it still made sense thanks to Kaldur's connection to Aquaman's nemesis; Black Manta. In the animated series he discovered who his father is after he'd already become Aqualad, but we chose to establish this much earlier, going so far as to have Black Manta kidnap him when he is very young and train him as a successor. This connection that makes Kaldur stand out among Atlantean warriors and makes him hungry to become a hero in his own right. We even used Kaldur in the Sub Diego storyline, giving him a heroic arc and a sidekick of his own in Lorena Marquez's Aquagirl. If any member of the Titans can handle that responsibility, it's Kaldur.
It's also really, really crucial to point out that EVERY version of Aqualad that we've seen, both Kaldur and the comics Jackson Hyde, has been depicted as queer. The importance of this sort of visibility really can't be overstated. While the classic Aqualad Garth has a history as an underground gay icon, there's also a more personal legacy to the character's role in the visiblity of queerness in comics.
Neal Pozner was a legendary creator in DC. He wrote the 1986 series that depicted Aquaman wearing a new blue camouflage suit. Neal was also a gay man, and was H.I.V. positive. Through DC he met Phil Jimenez, one of the most important writers in DC history, who became his partner and caretaker. When Neal passed away in 1994, Phil created the miniseries Tempest which revitalized the character and put him in a version of the costume Neal had invented. In the last issue's editorial page Phil dedicated the series to his lover, and came out publicly for the first time. Garth is, of course, cannonically straight, but Kaldur's depiction as visibly, openly queer feels like such an important legacy to these two legendary creators.
The initial design of Aqualad as seen in the animated series is one of those rare strokes of genius that happen occasionally in character design. There have been quite a few attempts to tweak it, but it's almost impossible to improve; It's simple and clean, and defines the character beautifully. Crucially, it also does something that is often overlooked but is so important in really nailing a character; it gives him a unique silhouette. His Water-Bearer weapons, as well as the dorsal fins on his calves and the unique structure of his physique all work together to make him stand out. When you compliment this with his specific color palate you get a character that feels both unique and iconic all at onces.
The attempts at recreating this in the pages of the comics have produced some interesting results. The first take during the New 52 added lots of gold details to the costume's color palette, but took away his signature blonde hair in favor of a mass of longer black hair. The second attempt in the pages of Damien Wayne's Teen Titans during the Rebirth era was much closer to the animated series giving him the correct hair and body type. Instead they used a simplified color scheme, taking away the costume's blue colors and changing the lines of the suit slightly. It looked pretty good, but the changes still paled in comparison to the original. The character of Kaldur'ahm, at least for now, remains at his best in the animated series.
The real strength of the Young Justice animated series (in addition to its great design, stellar character work, and just overall quality) is how well it adheres to its own internal continuity. It's character evolve and grow, and it follows them over the years as it's young cast actually goes on to achieve their own potential. We've seen that as time goes by, Arthur steps down from his role as Aquaman to focus on his duties as king. When that happens, Kaldur is the obvious candidate to step up and take on the mantle of Aquaman. In the third season of the series, He's become the leader of the Justice League. It's a role that seems natural for Kaldur, and if our timeline ever went on to include the eventual retirement of Arthur Curry, we could very easily do this as well.
In the meantime, Kaldur is a member of the Teen Titans. He gets to play the same role he does in the cartoon; the mature, level-headed tactician who is quite happy to give the leadership role to Tim & Cassie, but who is a fantastic leader in his own right. When the team relinquishes its place as the Titans and again becomes Young Justice, He will be right there with them.