When DC Comics relaunched its entire universe as the New 52, DC Chief Creative Officer and writer Geoff Johns took on the task of revitalizing Arthur Curry A.K.A. Aquaman, writing the underwater hero in both “Justice League” and a solo series. Collaborating first with artist Ivan Reis and then Paul Pelletier, Johns reinvented the hero, keeping classic characters like Mera as part of the supporting cast while expanding Aquaman’s underwater world to include the Seven Seas, a vast underwater chain of kingdoms that have variously disappeared, fallen into decay or mutated into sea monsters over the course of centuries.
Johns’ time on the book ended last month when the “Death Of A King” arc wrapped up much of his three year run. With December’s Issue #26, “Batman ’66” scribe Jeff Parker steps into the batter’s box, kicking off his run with Mera and Arthur ruling underwater and a new threat looming on the horizon.
“Initially, we’re going back to basics with Arthur, really focusing on him and Mera. Those super threads Geoff has begun are going to play out by him over time,” Parker told CBR. “Our [run] begins with a new presence in the oceans that makes life harder for Aquaman, initially setting loose an ancient Atlantean protector: ‘Atlantic Rim.'”
As Parker explained, his first arc touches upon threads left over from Johns’ run while creating new villains and foes for the Atlantean King to tackle. And while Parker expressed previously feeling that readers “tune out if [Aquaman] spends too much time underwater,” with the end of Johns’ run clearly setting Arthur on the throne of Atlantis, Parker’s take on the character will pit the idea of Aquaman as a leader squarely against the idea of Aquaman as a hero.
“The big conflict is that a hero and a king are often very different roles — just read classic King Arthur stories. That Arthur had to make the switch from the role of adventuring hero to King, and let his new knights take that role,” Parker said. “But our Arthur isn’t ready to give that up. He grew up with the lessons of his father protecting and saving people; that’s what he feels compelled to do. His mother would have been the role model for running a kingdom, but he was deprived of her, which leaves all kinds of holes in his life. These are the conflicts that are always just under the surface with Arthur Curry, that shape him as a leader and a force.”
As for how Arthur will manage his superhero work/Atlantis responsibilities balance, “He’s realizing that he needs to make changes as king, and that Atlantis needs to learn to deal with the rest of the world and stop thinking of itself as so different,” Parker explained. “As one of the few people who understand both worlds, he’s the perfect person to be in that role — but it’s just too demanding a role.
“The surface world needs him, they [Atlantis] need him. He tries mightily to do it all, but you know what happens when you try to please everybody.”
And Aquaman won’t be the only one doing a balancing act. Parker promises to give readers plenty of the king fighting bad guys above the waves even as he contends with detractors below.
“We do continue to see him doing good work up on land, which doesn’t sit well with most Atlanteans,” Parker said. “They don’t seem to get that he functions as their ambassador to the surface, otherwise they’d be treated as a completely hostile nation.”
This tension between Atlantis and the land-lubbing world goes both ways as the U.S. government is also trying to reconcile the sudden emergence of Arthur Curry as sovereign king of a mysterious underwater nation with Aquaman the superhero.
“They don’t know what to make of him. By his very nature, many people can’t relate to him, and most people in charge assume he has an agenda,” Parker explained. “You don’t see the Atlanteans, you just know they’re down there with military forces able to surface at any time.”
But though Aquaman the King might represent a political and military threat, Arthur Curry is still, first and foremost, a hero. “Aquaman’s reputation is growing among regular folks, particularly those who have been rescued by him. They don’t care about the politics, they just know someone is looking out for them — much the way his dad did as a lighthouse keeper.”
While the “Seven Seas” story set up in the last pages of issue #25 will primarily cross over into Johns’ “Justice League” in 2014, Parker worked closely with the “Aquaman” editorial team on handling the December creative transition, coordinating exactly how involved the series will be in the larger story.
“Geoff’s juggling a lot of plates, so Matt Idelson and Chris Conroy have been helping me with that, mostly,'” Parker said. “They’re very proud of the book and want to keep the quality nice and high, so we’ve all been pretty thorough about staying on track. Keeping Paul Pelletier in the art seat does a lot, in my mind. He’s just perfect for ‘Aquaman.”
Praising Pelletier, who joined the book last year, the writer also promised readers will see more of Pelletier’s design work as the two create new and redesign returning classic characters.
“First, we’re going to bring in some new foes, reinvent some from the distant past. It feels like a perfect time to be experimental,” Parker said. “Paul is so incredibly pro, and very patient with me as I’m the one who has to synch up with the team. I love his designs. He envisions the best stuff and makes you want to create new characters all day. He also has that range from doing normal life scenarios to epic scale, all the kind of demanding skill a book like ‘Aquaman’ requires.”
Beyond simply picking up the threads of Johns’ run, Parker explained that his emphasis moving forward centers on the conflict between how Arthur is viewed by those on land and those under the sea — and the difference between being a hero and being a king.
“We build on that — one of things we show in this first issue is how Aquaman is regarded by the people of Amnesty Bay now. They don’t necessarily ‘get’ him much more than the rest of the world, but dammit, he’s one of theirs and they look out for him! When outsiders like reporters come snooping around asking about the sea hero, practically the whole town plays dumb, like if you go to Chagrin Falls, Ohio asking about Bill Watterson.
“We’ll also finally get to see some of the people he went to school with,” Parker continued. “That police officer Geoff introduced back in #18 was a great thread that I wanted to run with.”
As the writer for the television show-inspired “Batman ’66,” it should come as no surprise Parker named that time period as one of the most important to his concept of who Aquaman is. As far as his “Aquaman” era influences go, “Maybe — the entire ’60s, with a bit of ’50s and ’70s for good measure. I love [writer Steve] Skeates and [artist Jim] Aparo, and I can stare at [artist Nick] Cardy or [artist Ramona] Fradon’s issues all day — all full of stuff that works for Aquaman, keeps him iconic. To me, what doesn’t work, or rather works at the time but doesn’t stick, is when you alter him to fit other types of stories. Aquaman has to be the pivotal element that shapes the kinds of stories you tell, and it results in a book that doesn’t feel like so many others.”
But for all the threads left from Johns’ final issue, there is one major change the new “Aquaman” scribe stated he dared not allow, lest he incur the wrath of the sea king’s wife — having Arthur grow out his beard again.
“I really wouldn’t want to challenge Mera on one of her edicts like that,” Parker said. “Stay smooth, Arthur.”
Jeff Parker’s run begins with “Aquaman” issue #26, out December 31.