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Abnett & Walker Talk “Aquaman: Rebirth’s” ‘Endless’ World, an Integrated DCU

by  in Comic News Comment
Abnett & Walker Talk “Aquaman: Rebirth’s” ‘Endless’ World, an Integrated DCU

Aquaman is endless.

That’s part of the message touted by the incoming creators of the DC Comics hero’s latest series. Writer Dan Abnett and artist Brad Walker (who redesigned the character and alternates art chores on the twice-monthly series with Philippe Briones), helped kick off the sea king’s new era on June 8 with “Aquaman: Rebirth” #1 before their ongoing hits on June 22. And from that one-shot on down the line, the focus of the team’s creative energies will be exploring every aspect of the character’s (often misunderstood) catalog of genres, locales and villains.

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CBR News spoke with the pair of creators, and throughout the discussion Abnett and Walker both returned to the idea that Aquaman holds a unique place in the DC Comics hierarchy. Below, the pair dig in to the multifaceted world of the underwater hero, explore how his dueling arch foes will each get a turn in the spotlight and share how the history-focused, double-shipping nature of the Rebirth initiative plays to their character’s strengths.

CBR News: The “Aquaman” Rebirth run seems to be a fresh start in many ways, but at the same time, Dan, you came on to write the final issues of the New 52 take on the character. Those stories in some ways capped off what had come before under Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker, but did you view them as a start to your overall run, or does “Rebirth” necessitate you wiping the slate clean a bit?

Dan Abnett: To be perfectly fair, when I came on board for issue #49, I really relished the opportunity because I’d written Aquaman long ago for a few issues, and he’s always been a favorite of mine. But at the time I pitched a long sequence of stories without realizing that the book would end with #52 and then restart. And they let me get on with it and set things up. So the only problem I really had was to re-restart with “Rebirth” and find a way to kick off things there in a way that would be sufficiently powerful. But a lot of the groundwork — the Spindrift Station in particular — are things from the last series that we’re going to carry over. We’re not in any way wiping the slate clean. You don’t need to have read anything before to enjoy this — this is perfectly inviting for new readers — but if you’ve been reading “Aquaman” before, none of the threads are going to be dropped. It may take a while to return to a couple of them, but this is moving forward from that point. It just has a very dynamically fresh look because we’ve got a great art team here that is producing this. We’re defining this series for the new era. But I certainly didn’t want to lose sight of the things I thought would be good in “Aquaman” and really move forward with them.

Tell me each of you about your take on the character. The question that seems to be perpetually surrounding him is whether he can be as interesting as the other main DC heroes. Since the idea of “Rebirth” is returning the books to the core of what they’ve always been, how did you answer that for yourselves? What is at the heart of who Aquaman is?

Brad Walker: Well visually, we started doing design work as soon as I got involved, and I think it’s really interesting to phrase this in terms of whether he can be as interesting as the other corners of the DCU. I think he does have his own very specific visual world as all the big characters do. I always think of colors in my head whenever I think of the DC characters, which is part of what is so great about them. When I think of Flash, I see a character who is city-based but everything is bright. And Batman is Gotham City which is so dark. With Aquaman, the visual interest of nature and all the undersea kingdoms and the fantasy elements and the science fiction elements of that. I find that endlessly entertaining and beautiful to look at — or terrifying to look at. And I think he offers a wider range than Batman or the Flash in terms of the kind of stories you can do without it straying from his milieu. You can go very bright and optimistic or you can be geo-political. You can be horror-based or you can be very fantasy.

I’ve been reading since the Peter David run in the ’90s or perhaps a little earlier than that, and just in that 20-year period of time you see such a wide range of approaches to Aquaman from Dan Jurgens and Steve Epting to Kurt Busiek and Butch Guice. All these different creators have done so much different stuff, and to my mind, it all works. So you can really do all of that, and my wish working on this with Dan is “Let’s do all of it. Why pick one?” If you have a character that you can do any tone or direction with, then that makes him more well-rounded.

Abnett: I would agree with that completely in that if there’s any problem with Aquaman at all it’s that there are almost too many aspects to him. He isn’t a very focused, linear character like Batman. He has a great many facets to who he is — as a hero, as a surface dweller, as an Atlantean and as a king. And I think those are really interesting things that present all sorts of different opportunities to tell different stories. And each one of those types of stories is deeply connected to at least one aspect of him. And that, to me, was the really fun thing. I sat down at the very beginning and made a long list of all the things we could do. There were so many directions we could push him — so many different types of stories we could tell. And then it was a matter of choosing the order in which we’d do them and the manner in which we’d tell all these stories.

His role as a king and the leader of a nation is our starting point. I think that’s because it’s the aspect of Aquaman that a lot of the other DC heroes don’t have. That is to say, he’s political, and he is the representative of a group of people. He’s not just an individual hero looking after the world as a whole. That is a really strong thing to play with, particularly given the fact that his nation has this tension with the surface, and that’s something he wants to work on in a very proactive way.

It really was a matter of being able to use that variety as a strength and move between them rather than focusing on one particular aspect and feeling constrained by it. And that’s what we can do. I think visually this book in two issues alone is incredibly varied in really exciting ways. We’re doing some things you’ve never seen before in an Aquaman comic, but there are no reasons you’ve never seen before because they make perfect sense and are very true to him.

One of the things that stands about about the character in general that it seems you’ll be playing with is the fact that Aquaman has two arch nemeses. Most DC heroes have the one big bad villain you associate as their opposite, but Aquaman has both Ocean Master and Black Manta, who each appear on Brad’s cover to #1. How much did you talk about his rogues gallery playing a central role here, and did you want to put all that out in the first arc?

Abnett: I certainly think that Aquaman doesn’t have a classic rogues gallery in the same way that the Flash or Batman or, dare I say it, Spider-Man has. He doesn’t have that vast catalog of fascinating villains to go up against, but the ones he has got are really strong and potent and interesting. Ocean Master and Black Manta are the key ones there, and Black Manta in particular gets a key focus at the start of our series as we try to explore him in a story that runs parallel to Aquaman’s. So we’ll actually learn a lot more about him.

But overall, I think it was a two-fold thing. For one we wanted to define his classic villains and employ them with some storytelling that, just like Aquaman, would absolutely be true to the core of who they are but also take them to unexpected places. At the same time — and spoiler alert here — we want to supplement that by introducing some new threats and new nemeses which are going to be kept very mysterious. So it’s a mix of old and new as we’re trying to respect the canon as we play with it and add to it as we go along.

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Walker: I feel like his group of villains should be a lot more classic than they are — Ocean Master especially. I never understood why he’s not a Sinestro-level DC Universe villain. And it probably has just as much to do with him not making the cut for “Super Friends.” [Laughter] But his thrust and his motivations and his opposite number to Aquaman makes him “Aquaman’s Venom” to a certain extent. That’s such an archetypal formula for a villain that makes him work just as well outside the context of your hero’s story as it does within the context. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t broken out of Aquaman’s corner as much as he could have. So I’m really excited to eventually get to him when we get to that story. He’s such a cool character.

And obviously Black Manta has such a unique look for the DCU. There aren’t any other characters that ripped him off afterwards, which is the kind of thing we always see with comic characters. Black Manta still seems to be unique, visually-speaking, and every time I get to draw him on a panel it’s challenging and yet elegant and simple at the same time.

Abnett: He’s a very cool character, and he makes a great foil to Aquaman. Particularly, I think his individual, singular desire to take down Aquaman purely for revenge is a defining trait we play with as the story develops because we kind of have Aquaman trying to deal wit Manta’s singularity of vision and show him the error of his ways. And it’s not the error of his ways as a criminal but his drive to destroy Aquaman. And in doing so, we’re able to develop that in all sorts of interesting ways. Aquaman becomes instrumental in making Manta a bigger threat than he’s ever been — particularly when you read he successful he is at dealing with this situation to begin with. But he’s a great villain who I feel has a huge amount of potential, which is extraordinary after he’s been around so much time. He’s got a durability in the DCU, and after he’s been used so successfully before, I was excited that we could find something new to do with him. We’ve taken him in a direction that wouldn’t be a shocking twist and a upheaval of who he was.

The big “Rebirth” one-shot set up a bunch of different storylines for the individual books to pick up on, including yours, and I understand that Geoff Johns has met with a lot of the creative teams to brainstorm longterm story ideas. I know that there are lots of ideas swirling around Aquaman; we had the tease a while ago of Geoff doing another ocean-themed Justice League event. We’ve had the tease of the Jackson Hyde Aqualad making a return. What can you say about those bigger pieces and how they’ll factor into this series? Are there pieces you’re hoping to put back on the board in that sense?

Abnett: There absolutely are. I spent a long time on the phone discussing things with Geoff and sharing plans and ideas. That ideas of a large, Justice League-style event is definitely there and that we’re aware of and indeed something we’ll be a part of in terms of making that happen.

But one of the other things I think Geoff has done particularly well with “Rebirth” is seed a bunch of interesting elements back into the DCU as a place as much as in terms of book specifics. So the Aquaman-related elements you mention like Jackson Hyde or Garth showing up in “Titans” or Arthur proposing to Mera are all things that fall under our remit. Some of them we’ll be dealing with directly and some of them we’ll be dealing with indirectly, but we won’t be losing sight of any of them. Obviously I’m writing “Titans” as well, so the world of Garth and Atlantis is something that will be connected through me, and I’m working closely with Ben [Percy], the writer of “Teen Titans,” to make sure that Jackson is in the mix there.

It doesn’t mean you’ve got to read all these things to understand it all, but wherever you land in the DCU, you will see those story points Geoff set up reflected back. They won’t be very bright in some places and totally ignored some place else. There will be a proper continuity — a sort of horizontal continuity in addition to the ongoing continuity where certain things are common to all. And that’s exciting. It’s great to use that template as a launchpad to what we’re doing. And Geoff’s been great, and he’s been very supportive of what we’re doing. And I think whether you’re a reader who reads everything or just reads pieces, you’ll get that feeling of this place as a universe where a lot of history has returned and that richness and detail has returned.

Walker: I can’t speak as well to the long terms plans as Dan can, but that said, it doesn’t feel like you’re not understanding anything in our book if you’re just an Aquaman fan. All the titles are getting to have their own flavor and their own drive and their own storylines and subplots. A lot of that lends itself to the shipping schedule. The bi-weekly shipping schedule is going to afford a kind of storytelling you can’t get anywhere else because there’s going to be a lot of material out before anybody would get serious about threads crossing over. There are subplots that’ll be moving along before anybody can get bored with them — reader or creator. So I definitely feel like whatever focus there is on continuity, it’s not going to be a hinderance to what I’m working on.

Abnett: Absolutely not. I think you’re right, Brad, about the twice monthly shipping. That’s an incredibly powerful storytelling agent because we’re covering a lot of ground so fast that it keeps us on our toes. We’re able to deliver so much more. We can do stuff that we wouldn’t be able to in other circumstances because there wouldn’t have been the time for it or the real estate to do it on a monthly book — not because it wouldn’t be interesting but because there wouldn’t have been space. So to have that slightly discretionary opportunity to tell some interesting stories in that format is an opportunity I think will be terrific.

“Aquaman Rebirth” is on sale now from DC Comics. “Aquaman” #1 follows on June 22.

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