Power creep is a loosely defined term mostly because it is subjective in its application. Generally speaking though, power creep can be roughly described as the general evolution of character’s powers over time. For the fickle readers and writers of comics, these powers becomes part of the character’s canon, and represent abilities and powers which should be perpetuated. In the golden age of comics, Wonder Woman once found herself trapped in outer space, and needing a source of oxygen, she ground her earrings to dust, somehow releasing enough oxygen that she could safely breathe. It did not matter that this was a throwaway occurrence or that it made very little sense, but all of a sudden Wonder Woman’s earrings had the ability to allow her to breathe in outer space. The same kind of runaway powers are prevalent in almost every hero, with debates over who can smash a planet, or a sun or a galaxy.
The advent of power creep is not always to an infinite degree. Sometimes the creep comes and then goes. Many fans either applauded or decried the post-Crisis Superman as written by John Byrne. Gone was the outlandishly powerful character who could scarcely be stopped by any theoretical angle. It seemed as though that anytime that he faced a threat that he developed a hitherto unseen power and that this power became another part of his canon. Fans might even look to the extreme such as in the movie Superman II when he throws his S-symbol from his chest and it becomes a giant cellophane trap for his enemies. In contrast Byrne created a character, that while still strong far beyond human capabilities, still had some limitations. The new more approachable and realistic character was what some wanted to see and what others did not. Regardless, this character did not last long either before returning to near omnipotent powers.
Among the core members of the Justice League and of the A-list of DC Comics characters, Aquaman is the one that has received the most negative attention in the years since his introduction. He was long thought of a running joke among those that looked at the medium from afar, with numerous comedic jabs at his unimpressive powers being a staple of social media and some paid professional comedians. The question is though, how did the character end up as a running gag for so long.The main problem it would seem is in the setting of the character. The undersea world is a great one for exploration, with the likes of Jacques Cousteau having made a career just out of underwater exploration. The appeal of the underwater world is there, but equally in terms of how comics tend to allow power creep onto characters, it also became one of a limitation. For DC characters with such ill-defined power or ability inspiration as “Super”, “Wonder” or “Bat” it is easy to expand their abilities beyond those of those words, as the words can be taken to mean different things, even in the case of “Bat” which might only be a creature to some, but to others represents the night or sneakiness or resourcefulness. “Aqua” it would seem is a limitation in terms of how comic writers thought of powers to develop for the character.
Some writers rightfully pointed to the fact that a character that can swim underwater and withstand the great depths and pressures of the oceans would be equally be superhumanly strong, maybe not the levels of Superman and Wonder Woman, but well beyond that of a normal human. While there were some sensical derivations of his powers, others were goofy. The ability to speak to or command marine life might have been a logical power to attach to the character, but equally this power was ill-defined and also generally useless, at least when it compared to the ability to move mountains or walk through walls. Equally so, when the character lost his hand in the 1990s during a reboot/darkening of the character, it was replaced by nothing other than a small harpoon, the writers once again unable to think of anything for the character beyond the aspect of the sea. His power creep did not occur to a great degree, but it seemed that when it did, that the character just became a bit more aquatic than he had before. Even compared to a pretty aquatic character in Namor, the Sub-Mariner, Aquaman’s powers were very sea based as Namor showed the ability to fly.
To be fair since the relaunch of the new 52, the character is one of the DC properties that has really taken off, now ostensibly holding down two separate series at DC, a capability that previously had only been able to be accomplished by Superman, Batman, sometimes Green Lantern and rarely Wonder Woman. It would seem that the serious tone for the character now is one which has aided him, at least in the public perception. As his own entourage of the Others provides his own superhero team, they fill out the slow creep into more powers that another character might have experienced since long ago. As to whether power creep is actually a good thing or not is up to the fans to decide, but for so long it seemed, at least until recent years that Aquaman was left behind in the balance of powers.