While many of DC's biggest heroes are getting major overhauls this month as part of the publisher's line-wide Rebirth initiative, Aquaman is...not changing very much.
Aside from having recently become engaged to Mera, Aquaman as a character and Aquaman as a title are more or less exactly the same as they've been for the last couple of months, since writer Dan Abnett took over the title.
Granted, Abnett's turn on Aquaman was itself a bit of a course-correction after the fan- and critically-lambasted run by Cullen Bunn...but on the whole, Aquaman has been one of the great success stories of DC's post-Flashpoint publishing histories, with popular runs by Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker taking the character to new heights.
Abnett and artist Brad Walker, who draws tomorrow's Aquaman: Rebirth #1, joined ComicBook.com to discuss this week's one-shot and the book's direction.
Aquaman: Rebirth #1 is available at your local comic shop tomorrow, or you can preorder it on ComiXology.
First off: Is it a little bit difficult to engender the same kind of feeling of radical change that a lot of the other Rebirth books have when...well, this is a book that wasn't broken?
Dan Abnett: No, I think that's quite nice, though. I think there is a perhaps an unnatural expectation when a company - and I'm not specifically speaking about DC - but when a company relaunches a book in any way, shape, or form, it's got to be a revolutionarily different approach in order to justify them doing it. Whereas, as you point out, Aquaman wasn't broken.
It's been set into a very good position by Geoff Johns, an amazing run at the beginning of The New 52. When I came on board on #49, it was very much to sort of deliver that kind of feeling of the book, which was spot on.
Because Rebirth is happening, and obviously we want to be part of that, then the notion is to carry that over. It was more a case of finding a hopefully suitably dramatic way of staging the Rebirth issue and the opening arc to mark the occasion without actually disrupting what's happened before.
I hope that it therefore provides a wonderful opportunity for new readers to come in and go, "Wow, Aquaman is cool, he's really exciting, I like what's happening," and for existing Aquaman readers to go, "Thank God, they haven't broken what was going on," and to continue to enjoy it. I think there's a secret revolutionary twist in what we're doing with Aquaman is that, for once, we're not twisting it.
Brad Walker: I was just going to say, visually and also as a reader, that was kind of the nice thing is that I discovered, after getting the job, I didn't know how different the thrust of the book would be.
It was kind of nice that it's a relaunch that doesn't have that as a mandate. The only real mandate going forward was bring everything in about the character that everybody loves. Whether that's something new, whether that's business as usual, just make great stories business as usual if you're in a good place to begin with. I was really thrilled when I sort of got that idea to go forward.
Abnett: I think Brad is doing himself a disservice there, because obviously one of the wonderful things about this book as it moves forward is that he's bringing his own look and detail of design to the way things work and operate and everything like that. It's sort, not redefining, but clarifying the things that have been established before, in wonderful ways. The book has a tremendous, fresh feel, even if it is presenting things that we have seen before. It's got that going for it as well.
Walker: I was just going to say that was sort of my thinking. I guess, to clarify what I said before, I assumed when I heard re-launch, I assumed this could be wildly different. Then they were like, "No, no, no, we want to try to keep this pretty classic."
I kind of tried to look at the world and look at it as classic as I could think of it and maybe just tweak things here and there. Look at textures, look at shapes, of the visual of it and present it a little bit new, but making sure it looks very much like classic Aquaman. For whatever phase of Aquaman you love.
Abnett: I absolutely think it works. You found some very, very clever ways of doing that.
Walker: Oh, thank you. Good.
Now, one of the things I think is really cool about Aquaman in general is that, as Dan Jurgens used to say when he worked on the character, the whole world that he exists in is just so visually entertaining. There's so many cool little bits of business that you get to do as just kind of being in that environment. I love the armor on the Deluge soldiers in the Rebirth issue.
Walker: We should credit Scot Eaton for those Deluge designs. There are going to be several artists on all these series, probably going forward. It's been fun to sort of back and worth with everybody and everybody discuss the designs.
I felt the whole time like everybody was really on the same page and we all are looking for the same thing. In terms of incorporating the world, Atlantis, and the idea of characters from under the sea into superhero design work, which is super fun. Like I said, everybody is really of one mind about it.
Stuff like that is super exciting to get to do on a really established character, and to think about all these things. To think about, "Well, what would their tech look like?"
Superhero armor is such a constant in superhero comics, but what would it be like for characters that have lived under the sea for millennia. Things like that are so exciting. I've been on science fiction books a great deal over the course of my career so far, and this has kind of a similar mindset to it, but with more familiarity. Like you said with Jurgens's run and what he had talked about, you can do anything under there. It's like an outer space book, but it's just water.
Absolutely, for me, that's always been one of my favorite things about the character and I read Aquaman for years. It's almost like a sci-fi fantasy book, but you have elements of superhero, you have elements of nature, which I loved growing up. All those things combine into one. This is a cringe worthy pun, but the sky's the limit.
Is there a difference in the approach between this and, say, Titans, where you're doing a major overhaul, Dan? Or really, at this point after however many years as a storyteller, is it kind of all the same to you?
Abnett: Not at all. I think there is. When you're embarking upon a book when you remit is not to change the status quo anymore than necessary, there is also a way of looking at what is already there and seeing how far you can go with that. How interestingly you can develop and explore those things. We already know who Aquaman is, we know what he does, we know what his role is in the world. We know that he's not only a superhero, but he's also a man of dry land and of sea and he's also a king, and therefore has the responsibilities of a nation. That nation is in a sort of state of permanent tension with the surface world. Those elements are already established.
One of the things we're doing right off the bat is to see how far we can go with that and actually turn our focus. Rather than make that part of the landscape existing, to make that part of the driver of the story, so that those things are issues that he wants to get his hands on and deal with and grapple with. In purely logistical terms, for instance, we worked out that Aquaman actually seems to be a much more popular character when he is - to use a terrible pun - a fish out of water. That is to say, put into a dry land situation where he is encountering the real world. Somehow that makes him more impressive than when he is in his oceanic surroundings where we expect to see him.
We'll see that sort of thing happening a lot as he tries to broker better relationships with America in particular, but with dry land. Also, therefore, when we take him to his Atlantean setting which, as you say, is wonderfully ... huge possibilities there. It's a matter of going, what are the possibilities? We sort of know what Atlantis looks like, but how far can we take that culture? What haven't we seen there yet? What more can we explore? How can we make that feel like a really rounded alien thing?
As Brad mentions, both of us, independently and together, have had plenty of experience doing cosmic comics. To bring that sort of alien reality, the authentic feel of a culture to what's going on, is a wonderful challenge.
I think it will make the undersea elements of it feel less like a kind of archetypal, always Atlantis, therefore it's just the end of the sea, we don't need to know much more about it than that. To actually give it a really distinct flavor and a vibe, so whether he's on land on in the sea, his adventures become very distinctive. Just from that very basic level, onward, upwards through the story about who he is, what he does, why he does it, is going to carry the story forward. It's not a matter of finding new things for him to do, it's finding ways of pushing what he's already doing into new places.
The opening story arc is very much about that. It's about his huge ambition to achieve a much more peaceful relationships with the surface world. To metaphorically raise Atlantis, and make it a nation of the world. The opposition that he faces from all sorts of different parties to doing that. That's not a new thing for him to do, but it's a new thing for him to do with such proactive vigor. That's where the drama comes from.
As you've said, you've dealt with a lot of cosmic things, and you come to Aquaman, you have this idea of the alien, undersea world and often monsters and things that come with that. How cool and creative is it to turn your brain off, when you're doing this sort of story and be like, you don't have to have any inhibitions, you can basically do whatever the hell you want because we have no idea what's out there?
Abnett: To a certain extent, but that same thing applies to Aquaman and to cosmic comics. It's not a matter of turning your brain off, I often find it's a matter of turning your brain on even more. To make science fiction or fantasy element, or alien elements, or even as is the case with Aquaman, there's a sort of very strong strand of SF horror in there as well. To make those things really work and to really crackle, you've got to try to make them as authentic as possible.
I always find the best way of doing that is to actually look at the real world. To see the things in it that are scary or horrible or impressive or extraordinary, and then translate them sideways into the fantasy setting.
It worked extremely well in cosmic stories, because you make the alien races echo certain things that we recognize, culturally. Then you take them further than that. It's the same with Aquaman. To use Brad's pun, the sky is the limit, when it comes to Atlantis and what happens under the ocean. There are certain things that you can do that will have a much more visceral impact because they have a degree of authenticity, than if you just go crazy and invent wholesale. I think there's a matter of channeling that imagination into exactly the right place.
Walker: Yeah, I think whether it translates or not to the reader - and I almost hope that it doesn't - I'm over-thinking every visual element that goes into a page and into a design. I feel like the most impressive or the creepiest looking monster is going to be the one that looks like that might exist. That if you swim deep enough, you might find that thing.
I think, in comparison to most of the cosmic stuff that we've done, the nice tool that we have here is going to be contrast. It's going to be the fact that the majority of the first arc takes place on land, so then when you see Atlantis and you see the architecture of that, and you see an underwater creature that looks like the body of an eel and the head of a catfish, whatever we end up coming up with. Because you've been watching a real US military, and because you've been seeing real environments and situations, that's going to be that much more arresting as a reader.
Looking at the Rebirth special, I got echoes of Geoff Johns' Aquaman #1. You had the fight scene that was set against the very quiet moments of him in the restaurant and also quite a lot of discussion of the idea of Aquaman as a joke. Was that kind of a conscious thing where you tried to call back to what was a - no pun intended - watershed moment in the character's recent history, or was it just two writers hitting on the same idea?
Abnett: To be honest, it was a bit both. I certainly wanted the Rebirth issue to sort of cover all the big beat points that one should associate with Aquaman, so we knew where we stood with him and we know what his direction was.
One of the key things about Aquaman, that I would indeed say any good strong comic is, is that it's character driven. Aquaman and Mera -- who I think is a massively underrated character in terms of famous comic book characters. Their relationship, their personalities, are extraordinarily important. Any comic can show 20 pages of people hitting each other, but it's actually really, really refreshing and interesting to see that connection between people, the way they interact with each other. Moments of humor, moments of happiness or sadness are always, to me, the things that make me want to come back and read some more of it. You attach to those characters.
In terms of things like harking back to the notion of Aquaman as a joke, I think that was very wise embracing that Geoff did originally and it's certainly something I don't want to let go of. For better or for worse, though Aquaman is sort of one of DC's big six heroes, and is one the key characters in the universe and an incredibly powerful one in terms of his global influence, he is the one that has transcended the DC universe in publishing into popular culture as being the archetypal funny superhero. He's the silly superhero. He's used as emblematic as such, in all sorts of pop culture. Not the least of which is things like The Big Bang Theory, where that becomes the standing joke.
I think it's much more useful to address that, than to pretend it's not true. In terms of the comic itself, I think it's much more useful to address that head-on, and actually have it part of his world too so he's aware of it. I think fans fight against that to show that he is something considerably different, and the point is made in the Rebirth issue. It would be too easy just to pretend that Aquaman is regarded in the real world as cool as Batman and therefore, we've got nothing to say about. To have that being part of his palette is really interesting.
All right, anything you wanted to add, Brad?
Walker: Yes, I can just throw in one thing and I run the risk of speaking for Dan here, but just having read the first arc, I also don't feel like we're treating him in this arc as a joke either. Aquaman's perception of that perception, if you will, is treated really interestingly. His reaction to it is not quite the way that I remember it being treated in Geoff's run, which I think is a nice way to touch on it, by looking at it a little differently.
There's a visceral reaction to it later on that really sort of took me back. I was like, that's a really cool way to acknowledge that, without it being sort of a nudge, nudge, wink, wink to the audience. Dealing with it in story in a cool and different way.0comments