Under the watch of writer Jeff Parker and artist Paul Pelletier, DC Comics’ ongoing “Aquaman” has grown in size, expanding the world of Atlantis, the book’s cast of characters and the threats that face Arthur and Mera both externally and within. With July’s “Aquaman Annual” and the main book’s new arc, the creative team is at it again, adding Wonder Woman, Hercules and reinventing an old Aquaman villain to add to the chaos waiting for the King of Atlantis.
Beginning his run after writer Geoff Johns left the book last year, Parker’s “Aquaman” saw Arthur and Mera dividing up their time between battling monsters and threats on the surface world with political struggles in Atlantis. With the menacing sci-fi Triton Base involved, both the “Aquaman Annual” and the main story in the ongoing series are ramping up to even bigger action as Mera tries to discover who is behind her assassination attempt, and Arthur faces off against the New 52 version of the Creature King, Chimera.
With team-ups lined up from Swamp Thing to the Amazing Amazon, Parker spoke with CBR about his Wonder Woman-heavy “Aquaman Annual,” Mera and Arthur’s division of labor and how “True Detective” has influenced his take on “Aquaman.”
CBR News: We’ve seen the first part of the Aquaman/Swamp Thing team-up, and you mentioned that part of the reason you wanted to cross those two over was because Paul really wanted to draw him. What was the inspiration for the Wonder Woman team-up in the “Aquaman Annual” #2?
Jeff Parker: That was more pure story reason, because once we did the thing where we had a Pandora’s box-type situation — Aquaman was used to release all these giant-born creatures from ancient mythology — it instantly connected into Wonder Woman’s world. So it’s like, okay, they’re both in the Justice League, who else would he call to start tracking these things down? It just was story logic and we wanted to follow that through the end. The artist on it won’t be Paul because he has to cover the main title, but it is a former “Aquaman” series artist, Yvel Guichet, and it’s gorgeous. He does a good, strong Wonder Woman that everyone’s going to like; it’s more monster fighting fun, but with Wonder Woman.
What else can you say about the story in the Annual? Is Hercules involved as well?
Yeah, I’m trying to warm up the idea that Hercules is probably going to return and maybe be a little different than we saw him in his ranting, frothing mad state. Aquaman’s solution was to stick him in a labyrinth! [Laughs] But you can escape from labyrinths, and I think that was one of Hercules’ major feats in the past, so it stands to reason he’ll be back. But then he’s almost certainly going to be Wonder Woman’s problem; I think maybe the whole thing is Aquaman getting her used to the idea, “Sorry you’re going to have to deal with this — good luck, Wonder Woman!”
There’s only so many labyrinths he can put people in.
Yeah! [Laughs] It’s fun to have Wonder Woman in the mix, and it’s weird, it starts off kind of like a horror story. Really actually it is a horror story most of the way through, but with these two super heroes. At the time I wrote it I was watching “True Detective” and without meaning to that kind of came through in the tone — so suddenly Woody and McConaughey are Aquaman and Wonder Woman! [Laughs]
So Wonder Woman is telling Aquaman that time’s a flat circle?
[Laughter] Exactly! And we kind of do get some of that stuff in there, so there’s a little extra layer for anyone who watches that show.
It’s interesting thinking of the two in those terms, as pre-New 52 Wonder Woman and Aquaman’s relationship was always more based on the fact that they are both royals, they both have similar backgrounds.
I think that’s still a big element and I think they are both reluctantly in that role. If Aquaman thought someone else could rule Atlantis better he would happily step aside because he would rather be out rescuing people; that’s what he grew up watching his father do as a lighthouse keeper. He didn’t grow up in Atlantis so we wasn’t trained to be royalty, so it’s all very different for him. It’s not his natural inclination, even though he is pretty good at it, and it seems like to me they’re going through that in “Wonder Woman.” She has to reluctantly embrace her role as the connection between humans and gods. Reluctant heroes are always more fun anyway, you kind of don’t trust people who are too into grabbing power, you know? Being hesitant makes you feel better about it, so I do think they’re similar that way.
It seems like the idea that if Arthur could pass this onto someone else he would is manifesting in the book as he’s dealing with monsters and the surface world, while Mera’s the one who is involved in the political intrigue and the actual ruling decisions going on under the waves. Is this division something that works to their strengths, or is this a decision that might come back to bite them in this story arc?
The way I see it is, on a grand scale, it’s simply a version of what happens with real couples in a household where you end up doing what you can do in what time you have to deal with it. Mera is not a shrinking violet; she rises to the occasion in a big way and when someone tries to kill her. In the few seconds she has to communicate with Arthur on the surface in that one issue she doesn’t even tell him about it! All the royal council of Atlantis think, “We let the queen get attacked by assassins, we are totally going to jail if he doesn’t beat us to death first!” [Laughs] But she doesn’t tell him and instantly she starts to change in their eyes, because she did them a huge solid in by not bringing that up. Then she proceeds to start to deal with it and someone else who has been in the book before, Tula, starts to figure in, and she starts helping Mera. And that becomes another type of buddy-cop thing where these two women go around and start kicking butt! It really works well with this book, I feel everybody is getting a chance to shine and do what they do; I think it’s too hard to be a superhero and king of a country at the same time, they’re both big jobs, and who wouldn’t kill to have a mate like Mera who can pop up and possibly do a better job than you at it?
The nice thing I want to show, too, is Aquaman is never in a role where he has to save Mera and he’s not really worried about her because she’s powerful on her own. I do want to show a relationship where they have a lot of faith in each other; it just doesn’t make sense to me that they would be worried and distrustful. They completely trust each other, and going back to the annual you’ll see there’s a back-up story where Mera shows up instead of him, and that’s because, even as deadly as the giant-born are, Arthur knew Mera could handle it. It’ll make a neat thing because suddenly Wonder Woman takes over this book, Wonder Woman stays in the story so she’s the one teamed up with Mera.
So it’s Wonder Woman and Aquaman and then Wonder Woman in Mera in the backup?
You have a buddy-cop thing with Tula and Mera — is the relationship with her and Wonder Woman similar?
Sort of. It’s in a different location, because we established in the first story that those creatures bounced all over Europe, they kind of broke up into two big sections, they didn’t all hang out together. You get the impression that Wonder Woman’s been hunting them this whole time and probably so has Aquaman when he’s had time. In this we’re just connecting to what’s going on in the real story and suddenly Aquaman is pulled in another direction and once again Mera has to come in and take up the slack, which she is great at. In a way it’s as much her book as it is his.
It definitely feels like the book has two different parts with Mera taking care of business below the waves and Arthur taking care of it above. Obviously we’ve got people trying to kill Mera and many Atlanteans are not happy about this arrangement, but do you think Atlantis is in better hands now that Mera and Arthur are in charge?
Oh yeah, I do, and that’s sort of Tula’s rational for helping Mera. Her brother is Orm, the Ocean Master, so she’s not Arthur’s sister but she is the sister of him from a different marriage. The tendency is to think, because she does care about her brother and has tried to help him in the past, you assume she’s against them. But you find out she appreciates the fact that they are trying to keep law and make Atlantis a safer place, even though she doesn’t like Aquaman; she appreciates the role they’re doing and she’s very loyal in her job, she’s all business. So when Mera goes out to do the right thing, she feels like she’s the one to help her. And that’s a good thing, because she’s one of the greatest warriors they have down there. And they have to go into the Underrealm, which is a section of Atlantis that hasn’t quite warmed up to the rest of Atlantis! [Laughs] They still have even older beliefs and they’re very xenophobic and unlike other Atlanteans who will go on the surface these people don’t even believe they should, they don’t even use their lungs.
With the expansion of Atlantis and its politics and various subcultures in the main series, are there fantasy worlds or ideas you’re basing this on?
There’s more coming up where I’ll go into the whole history of Atlantis, and I’m trying to leak some of that out a bit at a time instead of just unloading it in one big issue, because it would be a lot of information, and also you’re just going to learn it better by visiting it a bit at a time. I just try to spend a lot of time, based off of what Geoff had written, thinking about how things had gone over the years and how this whole society must work. I think sometimes in the past before the New 52 people played too fast and loose with the concept and when you’re talking about a society it can’t be a simple concept, you have to really think about it. That’s what I’m hoping to show; there’s a lot to Atlantis, it’s not an island it’s a real country under the water and everybody doesn’t think alike. It’s more like our country where some people support the king, some people think there shouldn’t even be a king, they’re all over the place. I think it’s more interesting if we can relate to it that way. The whole thing I’m trying to do with the book is make the characters relatable, even when it’s a very different situation.
On the art side, when you’re developing this world how much physical description is in the script versus what Paul brings to the table as an artist and designer?
Luckily since he had already been the artist before I came on, he was already going in a great direction and as soon as I saw it I was like, “That’s fine, I’m really happy with how this is.” One addition I made was the Arthur decided to have a dry room where they swim in through this membrane that keeps out water and they go into this one room where they’re breathing air and talking — which I figure, even though they’re breathing water it’s still easier to talk with air! [Laughs] Some of the Atlantean people don’t like it, some are fine with it — again, they split depending on how conservative or liberal they are, but it’s that kind of weird sci-fi thing that gives a nice edge to it, and Paul drew it perfectly. You see people swimming in through this membrane and we don’t need to explain it, you just look at the art to figure out what’s going on.
To touch on the other big plot point happening in your book we’ve got Chimera and his ties to Triton Base. What was the inspiration and idea behind Triton? Are you hitting an “Island Of Doctor Moreau” feeling with it?
Exactly! That is definitely part of it, as you say, and even though he’s called Chimera he’s connected to a really old character called the Creature King. I just thought it would be a neat balance to have this one character who’s kind of better at being Aquaman than Aquaman is. As you’ll see, once he starts controlling sea life Aquaman can’t rule him out. He’s better at it, he’s got all kinds of strange abilities because he’s a literal chimera, he’s made of various types of sea creatures, including the brain tissue of this giant creature Aquaman fought at the beginning of the run as well as, and the thing that makes him a little different and not just a straight villain, he’s also combined with this one scuba diver that Aquaman saved. So kind of built in, a little of his brain tissue survived. So it’s hard to know what Chimera thinks because at once he was killed by Aquaman and rescued by Aquaman! [Laughs] To his mind, Aquaman is extremely important, but he’s conflicted about what he wants to do with him, which makes him very chaotic. But he’s easily one of the most deadly characters I’ve ever created because almost every scene he’s in people are dying. It’s just kind of his characteristic.
Wrapping up, is there anything else readers should really pay attention to in the next couple of issues?
I hope everybody picked up the “Secret Origins” #2 that has Aquaman’s secret origin in it. That just came out and it connects to some of the stuff we showed, like when we showed the high school reunion you see some of Aquaman’s friends when they were teenagers in that, and we hint at some things with that and an upcoming “Secret Origins” that’s all about Mera for some storylines coming up because there’s more in his past that hasn’t even been scraped yet, and that’s what we’re going to start heading to. We found out all you need to find out about his dad but we don’t really know that much about his mother and I think it’s about time to explore what happened to the queen.
“Aquaman” #32 is out June 25; “Aquaman Annual” #2 hits shelves July 30.