After spending the past several years in the Green Lantern sector of the DC Comics’ Universe, writer Tony Bedard literally dove into new waters as he and writer/ DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns teamed to take on Aquaman’s two greatest foes for September’s Villains Month event — Black Manta and Aquaman’s brother Orm, better known as Ocean Master.
While he’s no stranger to the New 52, it wasn’t until Bedard co-wrote “Aquaman: Black Manta” with Johns that the wrtier dipped his toe into Aquaman’s world. Featuring art by comic veteran Claude St. Aubin, who worked with Bedard before on the pre-New 52 Vril Dox-starring “R.E.B.E.L.S,” Bedard and Johns’ “Black Manta” story followed the villain as he declined a spot on the Suicide Squad, escaped from Belle Reve Penitentiary and tried to cope with the news of Aquaman’s (apparent) death.
Turning to Arthur Curry’s other regular nemesis — and incredibly estranged brother — in “Aquaman: Ocean Master,” Bedard, once again teamed with Johns and joined by artist Geraldo Borges, told Orm’s side of the Belle Reve breakout, illustrating how his priorities, much like Manta’s, have transformed in the face of the new “Forever Evil,” Crime Syndicate-run world.
With “Ocean Master” preparing to surface in stores this week, Bedard spoke with CBR about his take on the villain, including how Belle Reve has impacted the ex-Atlantean leader, Bedard’s sympathy for Orm and why now is the best time ever to be an Aquaman fan.
CBR News: From what we’ve seen of Orm in the New 52 so far, he seems to be less an outright evil plotter and more of a morally ambiguous leader. What interested you in taking on Ocean Master for Villains Month?
Tony Bedard: To begin with, I’m a huge Aquaman fan, and have been for years. My desk is lined with Aquaman figures, so it’s been a joy to watch Geoff breathe new life into one of the most overlooked comic book icons and give him a long overdue moment in the spotlight. When I was offered a chance to team up with Geoff on “Ocean Master,” I leapt at the chance.
What has it been like working on this issue with Geoff Johns, the writer responsible for reviving and reintroducing Aquaman for the New 52?
Well, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Geoff on the Green Lantern books for the past few years, along with my old friend Pete Tomasi. Geoff has a very clear, strong vision of who these characters are, but he also leaves me plenty of room to do my thing and find my own rhythm, so working with him is the best of both worlds.
In the case of “Black Manta,” we set up Manta’s major role for “Forever Evil.” In the case of “Ocean Master,” we’re giving Orm his first real taste of the surface world outside of an invasion and beyond prison walls. It’s not what he expects and it challenges his notions about the “air-breathers” he looks down on.
Staying with our hero for a moment, what is it about Aquaman, Atlantis and his villains that really captivates you as a reader and writer?
It began with the old “Aquaman” cartoon when I was a kid. He just seemed cool and regal to me; I never had that view of him as “the guy who talks to fish.” And then came “Super Friends,” with the Legion of Doom and Black Manta, who just looked and sounded like an underwater Darth Vader. Sometimes it’s just that simple. I think the undersea universe is as filled with potential as outer space.
You’re working with artist Geraldo Borges on the “Ocean Master” issue — what does Geraldo bring to the table in terms of depicting the ex-Atlantean leader?
It’s not the first time I’ve worked with Geraldo, and he is definitely an artist to watch! He totally knocks it out of the park from the start with an awesome double-page spread of Ocean Master leading the Atlantean invasion force. It’s the sort of thing Ivan Reis would be proud of. But then Geraldo turns around and captures a lot of Orm’s inner turmoil as a prisoner in Belle Reve. He visually conveys what a fish out of water Orm is, wandering the Louisiana back roads looking for the ocean. It’s a pretty masterful performance as an artist and I hope we get to work with Geraldo again soon.
Since the end of the big “Throne of Atlantis” storyline, Orm has been sitting in a surface world prison, Belle Reve. Has this experience fundamentally changed him? Will the Ocean Master we see in your issue be radically different than the man from Johns’ “Aquaman” series?
No, this is still the same guy, though he’s come to learn a bit more about what the surface world is like. Of course, prison isn’t the best place to form an impression of our society. Orm has tried to remain above it all in Belle Reve, but he’s formed some attachments in spite of himself. When the jailbreak comes, his loyalties are tested.
Does your issue play directly into “Forever Evil” or impact the main “Aquaman” series after September?
I think that’s up to Jeff Parker in “Aquaman.” We leave Orm at a very interesting place that could springboard a lot of story possibilities. Geoff’s turned Ocean Master into such an interesting villain. In some ways he’s a more sympathetic character than Aquaman himself, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeff picks up the Ocean Master thread at some point. Whatever he does, I’ll be enjoying it as a fan.
A lot of the Villains Month issues are getting into their characters origins and back stories; does your issue exploring Ocean Master’s past at all, or his motivations? “Aq
We spend a little time going over how Orm ended up in prison, then really delve into his current motivations and his feelings regarding the surface world. He has a different value system than we do, and a very dim view of our world and our society. But can he relate at all to us? Can he turn his back when chaos and inhumanity are raging all around him? Ocean Master has a real core of nobility that gets tested in this issue, and I think the fun in this character is realizing that you’re secretly rooting for him.
What, then, is it about Orm that makes him such a good foe and foil for Aquaman?
Maybe it comes down to the fact that he’s probably better suited to lead Atlantis than Aquaman is. Everything he’s done has been motivated by an honest devotion to Atlantis, and a desire to “rescue” Aquaman from the surface world. Many of the greatest villains have this sort of noble side, like Sinestro or Magneto. Ocean Master definitely belongs in that category.
Finally, do you have a favorite Aquaman or Ocean Master story? One that really captured your imagination, or influenced the way you look at the characters and Aquaman’s world?
I honestly think the current “Aquaman” run is the defining moment in this character’s history. Geoff’s taken some real chances, too — having Aquaman kill Black Manta’s father, making Ocean Master so sympathetic — and they’ve paid off.
“Throne of Atlantis” was a terrific storyline for both Aquaman and Ocean Master. When Ocean Master surrendered the throne, only to have his brother toss him in jail on land?! I totally felt for Orm as he cried out in disbelief, “You can’t be so cruel!” It was a moment that actually gave both Orm and Aquaman greater weight as characters. Yeah, it’s a good time to be an Aquaman fan.
“Aquaman: Ocean Master” #23.2 goes on sale September 25.