The iconic superhero has been revitalized into a sales success during the New 52 era thanks to Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier. But the Paul Norris/Mort Weisinger-created hero still has more depths to be discovered as Parker joins Pelletier with December’s issue #26 for a run which will tackle the sea king with an eye towards expanding the world already built up by Johns
CBR News spoke with Parker about his latest ongoing gig, and the “Batman ’66” scribe explained how the conflicted king of Atlantis will find new tensions between the surface world and his ocean home, why Aquaman is set to have a bigger, deadlier rogues gallery than ever before, which members of the supporting cast from Mera on down will play a big role in his stories and what new tricks he and Pelletier will bring to the table to keep “Aquaman” afloat.
CBR News: It seems that every few years, DC ends up returning to the “classic” Aquaman character and cast, but with some slight wrinkles in how it’s presented. Mera and Vulko, for example, are always a little different, and Aquaman’s status as king of Atlantis shifts with each new telling. Do you have a first version of the character that you encountered, and does that version feed into how you’ll develop your work on the series?
Jeff Parker: Obviously, as a kid I read a lot of the Steve Skeates/Jim Aparo “Aquaman,” and later, when I could find the issues, I went for all the cool stuff that Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon drew. So I really have a big fondness for that — partially because I just love the art so much. But in the ’60s, they always had cool big ideas. I’ve got to admit, I cared nothing for Aquaman with a hook and/or water hand. That’s just not my thing. And as a kid, I watched the cartoon of course, which was always a silly thing. I mean, why does that walrus never go up to the surface for air? [Laughter]
But I’ve always had a big fondness for Aquaman. I love ocean stuff, and he always had a cool identity that really separated him from other superheroes. They all tend to get into the same kind of stories eventually, but with Aquaman, he was really singled out from everybody else. His whole thing is that he’s torn between two worlds and trying to appease both at any given time. He’s a superhero king! Those two things don’t really go together that great as far as being two roles that match. Kings are supposed to stay still and make decisions, but Arthur always wants to go out himself and fight the menace. He’s not one for sending armies out. He wants to be out in front of them.
The character is always at conflict with himself in some fashion. When Geoff Johns came on this new series, he played that up in terms of the silly “talks to fish” reputation, but there are also plenty of past Aquaman stories where he abandons his duties as king to follow his own path. Do you think there’s something to that so far in this modern take?
Yeah, and I’m going to follow up with that directly. Geoff has set up a lot of story threads I can pick up, and I like that Arthur’s in conflict with his position. To me, it makes perfect sense that he’s the go-between. He’s the only person who really understands both worlds. Everyone in the ocean sees him as the chosen one, and they don’t like having to share him with the surface.
Historically though, I think readers tune out if he spends too much time under the water. If it’s constantly “kingly intrigue under the sea” and he never pops up to see Batman, you don’t relate to what really works for him. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in having the kind of conflict that he can’t relax in. I think that’s generally good for characters. I’m going to delve into it pretty hard with the fact that he has duties to the ocean but he’s not always the best king in the world. At the same time, he’s a pretty awesome hero. That figures in quite a bit. And, of course, Mera is awesome. There will be plenty of stories for her to figure into coming up.
The opening salvo for your run seems to involve a kind of ecological tale, which is another unique element to Aquaman as a character. Is part of the idea here that he’s the world’s superhero too?
We’re going to touch on that. You’ll see Aquaman in different places around the globe. But I should say that some of the stuff in the initial solicit, I’m moving to another part of the story. As my editor and I were talking, we realized, “We should establish some of this other stuff first.” It’s all still a part of the story, but everything’s been shifted around a bit in the telling.
But there is a pretty cool monster fight coming up right off the bat! [Laughs] I felt like that was a natural for him. With Aquaman, you can do big, fantastic stuff — big sci-fi or big fantasy. For some reason, it all works with him. So I want to take advantage of as much of that as I can.
There are still a few issues of Geoff’s big Atlantis intrigue story to go, but what can you say about where your run picks up?
It’s hard for me to talk about some of the stuff because Geoff still has things he’s yet to tell. I don’t want to spoil what he’s got coming up. But what I will say is that coming out of the Atlantean conflict with the United States, a lot of the concerns have come up on the surface that there’s a threat under water, and there’s possibly even more that people don’t know about. They don’t know much about the ocean. All they know is that it’s an enormous territory that none of them are in control of. One group who we won’t reveal just yet starts to establish a beachhead in the ocean. They want to have a deep sea presence, too, and that’s going to kick off a lot of conflicts for Aquaman.
I’m dancing around the particulars because I don’t want to spoil what Geoff has coming, but what I am super excited about is that Paul Pelletier is staying on!
You two were working on the Hulk books around the same time, and you got to collaborate a little there, right?
We did the “World War Hulks: Alpha,” which had all the villains like M.O.D.O.K. and the Intelligencia. That issue did really well and got a ton of good feedback, so it’s cool to work with Paul again because we both felt like we worked well together but never got to do it again. When I was reading his “Aquaman” stuff after he came on the book, I thought, “Wow! His art has gotten even better, somehow.” I mean, the guy is a powerhouse, and it strikes me that he has a kind of Alan Davis feel to him, which I mean as a high compliment. I think he really gets everyone as a character. I didn’t want to do a clean start on the book where DC brings in a whole new crew. I’d rather work with somebody I have experience with because we can pull of more cool things that way. The art here couldn’t have worked out better.
But per Paul’s request, we are going to have some interesting DC characters guest-starring that you would not expect to show up in “Aquaman.” Be warned!
Aquaman is a character with a wide world behind him. With each new iteration, those pieces seem to get built back up. So far we’ve seen Mera, Vulko and a new take on Tula, but we haven’t seen an Aqualad of any kind or some of the old school villains. Are you planning on continuing to build up Aquaman canon in new ways?
Yeah! I can’t spoil it yet, but I am going to be retooling some characters and bringing them back. I’ve always felt that Aquaman could have a pretty awesome rogues gallery, and I want to play into that pretty heavily. From my take, Geoff really just went back to the ’60s with a lot of his reinventions, and I’m fine with that. I like that stuff too. To bring that into a modern storytelling approach works really well. Like I said, “Aquman” had great big ideas in the ’60s.
And I love Geoff’s handle on Mera. There was no way she wasn’t going to be in this book moving forward. I love how they’re an active couple, and she takes a major role in a lot of the action. She’s a fun, somewhat chaotic character that can drive stories. You need her in the book.
As for Aqualad, at this moment there are no Aqualad-ish plans. Nor are there any for Aquababy.
Well, Aquababy comes with some pretty heavy baggage.
[Laughter] Exactly. Announcing Aquababy just means there’s this huge lit fuse. I think everybody would come to that idea with preconceptions about what would happen next.
I assume that means Paul will get to design some crazy underwater outfits to flesh out the visual side of the series. Are those characters coming down to meet Arthur or vice versa?
Both! Paul’s an excellent designer, so I’m going to lean on that as much as he’ll let me do it. He’s great at coming up with stuff like that, and he and I had M.O.D.O.K. in scuba gear once. If he can pull that off, there’s nothing he can’t do.
One of the things I think we’ve got working for us — probably because of the proliferation of “National Geographic” style programming over the years — is that people have a better understanding of sea stuff now. I may just be projecting on everyone else, but I feel like we can do some interesting stuff in the world.
Perhaps a special Shark Week issue is in the offing!
I’ll tell you this much: There’s a fair amount of shark punching happening in this book! [Laughter] When I was announced on the title, someone on Twitter asked, “Mr. Parker, will Aquaman be swimming in your book?” Yes, there will be swimming. And we’ll be exploring a lot of ways for Aquaman and Mera to use their abilities that haven’t been seen before. I want to try and do a lot of that.
One thing Paul mentioned to me when he started drawing the book was that he was excited to work on a series that really focused on one character he could develop over a long run. Are you coming to this series with a similar goal?
Yeah. Just like him, I was glad to be working on a “one person” book. I write a lot of team books, so this is an incredible amount of quality time to spend with one character and a small supporting cast. I’m very excited about that. But I also think Geoff did a perfect job of meta-stating people’s problems with Aquaman as the joke of “He just talks to fish” before changing that status quo. I want to keep going with that. Not only will people understand Aquaman differently than they did before, they’re going to be in a zone now where they fear him a bit. Atlantis to the general world is scary because there is a whole navy under water that can jump up and attack at any minute, and we don’t even know where they are. The fact that they’re unseen only makes it worse. So part of Aquaman’s role is that he’s got to start reaching out in order to make the two worlds in his life know more about each other. He wants people to stop coming at all this with weird preconceptions and fears, and that’s harder than it sounds on the surface. That’s where I think he’s going to start making some interesting choices about how to best pull that off.
Jeff Parker joins Paul Pelletier on “Aquaman” with December’s issue #26.