As the writer behind "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis," the latest DC Universe Animated Original Movie, longtime comics fan Corson -- who previously penned "Justice League: War" and "Batman: Assault On Arkham" -- knew the challenge ahead of him: how to demonstrate that the undersea hero, long-derided for the seeming lameness of his superpowers when set alongside flashier champions like Superman, Batman and Green Lantern, actually deserves to be as A-list as they come.
Working loosely from the original comics storyline "Throne of Atlantis" by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier, Corson also weaves in a tweaked origin story for the King of the Seas as well as several of the key supporting characters from his mythos -- including Mera, Ocean Master, Black Manta and Atlanna -- as well as the trademark sense of humor the screenwriter demonstrated in his previous forays into the DCU, as he reveals in a freewheeling conversation with CBR News.
CBR News: Before you got this project, where was your feeling about Aquaman?
Heath Corson: I was excited about Aquaman! I knew we had a hill to climb. "Family Guy" has been taking a shot at Aquaman. "Robot Chicken" has been taking a shot at Aquaman -- Aquaman is a pretty good joke. If you were going to make a shot at a superhero, Aquaman is low-hanging fruit. So I knew that we had our job, it was going to be hard in order to make this guy awesome. And that was the challenge: "Okay, we need to make this guy awesome. So that's what we wanted to set out to do, really. I was like, "Okay, how do we make Aquaman badass" -- and also, we don't have the "Aquaman of the Justice League" New 52 reboot, because he didn't show up in Issue #4.
We have it wide open to do whatever we want, so let's do "Aquaman Begins." Let's do this guy before he's the king of the sea, where he's got a foot in each world and he's troubled. He's got issues with it, and he's just lost his father and he's a little untethered. So you've got this guy who's angry because he doesn't fit anywhere: that became the crack for how we were really going to ground the character, and how we were going to make it an emotional journey.
As a comics fan, you'd figured out the coolness of Aquaman before, but the mainstream audience only knows him from "Super Friends," and they don't know the work so many great writers have done on him recently--
--Peter David, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison. One of my favorite moments is Aquaman versus the White Martians where he's versus ZÃ¼M, the guy who's the speedster, and he stimulates his reptilian brain and gives the guy a brain aneurysm. And I was like, that's the fucking coolest moment I've ever seen in a comic book. But yeah, the Peter David, the Geoff Johns, the Grant Morrison -- these are all versions of Aquaman that make the guy cool, that give him pathos, that really give him an emotional center and a place to go from. And that was something that I really worked hard to make sure we had.
Like the other DC-based animation projects you've done, you have some leeway with the adaptation. You get to play with the existing story template, crack it open any way you need to. Tell me about the bare bones stuff that you wanted to keep, and where you want it to zig and zag to make it its own thing.
We knew with "Throne of Atlantis" there're a lot of great bare bones. What I wanted to retain was the Machiavellian, "Game of Thrones," high-Shakespearian drama, which I think plays. That's what makes Atlantis awesome. We want that royal intrigue, and then to bring an outsider, the black sheep son, into that world was really exciting, because we could do a lot of stuff with the mother and her expectations and Orm and his expectations. And what do the people want? What are their expectations of their safety? And how are they going to be safe and what are they going to stand up and do? And are they willing to go to war? So playing all that became really interesting and important.
And then there were bumps that I knew I wanted: you have to have the "Shark Moment!" You've got to find a moment to do that Shark Moment, and I was like, "Where are we going to put that?" Because you need that. Because we missed it in "Justice League: War" So I really wanted to just reach into "Throne of Atlantis" and grab everything that we could. Those characters in that comic series really know each other very well. Orm and Arthur are very used to each other by then, and that's not the relationship we had. So I was able to go all the way back to the beginning and set the tone for all right. How do we begin? How do we start this relationship? How do we make it immediately on the wrong foot? And what's the most interesting dramatic way to portray it?
This was probably the most classically structured of the movies that you've done so far. Was that fun for you to hit those mythic themes but put the superheroes spin on it for a fresher take?
Incredibly fun! What was great was that with "Justice League: War," I loved because it allowed me to set the tone for the character dynamics, but there wasn't much plot other than, "Here comes Darkseid! We've got to stop Darkseid!" This really gave me a lot of air to do all the Machiavellian, high-Shakespearian drama. And I love sort of tearing into that -- almost to the extent where I didn't give the Justice League stuff enough room to breathe. Looking back at the film, I'm like, "I wish I had more Justice League in this." But I love all the time that we give to Arthur and Orm and Atlanta, and just Atlantis as a whole.
That said, I think the B-plots really stood out as well: the fact that you got to do some character development among the JLA: You got to push the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship forward, you got to further the story of Cyborg. You really showed that all these movies are taking place--
--In the same world.
So with the Cyborg storyline, how much of that was you wanting to spend some time on him, and how much of that was a bigger decision by everybody saying "We want to make sure the audience is getting acquainted with this character that we'd like to see more front and center in our universe?"
I think that was something I connected to -- that was my through-line. Because he had the responsibility where nobody else really did, because they were all off [on their own]. I think this was very influenced by just the comic books: that everybody had their own comic book and they're off having other adventures, but Cyborg doesn't have anything else so he's sort of stuck here. And that led me to that moment where he goes, "There really is no Justice League. Like, you're making a big deal about this, but we came together once and everyone's saying, 'Oh, they're a team now.' We're not a team. I've never seen anybody else come in."
So that also gave me an opportunity to do the putting-the-band-back-together moment, which I thought was really fun because I got to do the moment with Batman, who's like, "I'm not showing up." And we get to extend that dynamic between Batman and Lantern, where he's like, "Fuck it -- I'm going to go get that guy." And then of course, Batman's like, "You totally screwed up everything again."
But it allowed me to sort of shake up all the characters and do some new stuff. We get to do the investigative reporter and the world's greatest detective going on an adventure together, and this is the beginning of the World's Finest. I was like, "Oh, that's cool -- Clark's an investigative reporter, Batman's the world's greatest detective. What happens when these guys go and investigate a crime?" And Batman goes, "You know, journalism's dead." Which I thought was really funny.
You have too much fun with Batman and Green Lantern! I feel like that comedy dynamic must flow out of you easily.
I love it! It's so fun, and it comes from a good place. Even though it doesn't seem like it. It's Batman wants to make Lantern a better hero because he knows he can be. And he knows that he's a little lazy. So it's this weird whiplash relationship where he's driving him to be better because he knows it's in him. And Lantern's like, "Dude, I'm doing fine. I don't need you kicking me. Like, lay off." But it ends up being a really cool relationship because Lantern sees it as adversarial. Batman sees it as his version of a mentorship. Even though it's such an awkward, unhappy, frustrating mentorship.
This many movies in, how do you feel about what you guys have accomplished in establishing specifics of this animated universe?
I think it's really cool. I think it's really neat to have our own little world with our own continuity and our own voices, and be able to be a part of that and reboot those voices in "Justice League: War" and then be able to revisit them in "Throne of Atlantis" -- It's amazing. I didn't think I was going to be able to come back for the next movie. I thought that they were going to give me the tag, and then I wasn't going to be able to revisit these relationships that I sort of wound up and set into motion. So then when I did get a chance to revisit them, it was really a treat. It makes it feel more like a television show and less like a move every year. I get to revisit them and push everything forward, like the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship which then we throw a wrench in. Like, what if Lois shows up and she's got a little ownership over Clark Kent? Or just feels a little protective about him? Then Wonder Woman's hackles go up a little bit. So that's all really fun stuff to be able to play.
We won't talk in too spoiler-y specifics about the tag at the end of this one, but there is a juicy one. Are you yourself working on the threads that are going to get picked up?
They have not announced that I'm involved in anything else moving forward -- but I hope so! That's a character that I would love to get my hands on. You know, I love bad guys. And being a bald, bad guy -- no spoilers! [Laughs] -- that's one that I would love to get my hands on.
Given the reception that your take on the Suicide Squad got, how much would you love to do a JLA/Suicide Squad movie?
Oh my God, that would be amazing! Wouldn't that be amazing? I would love that. I would love to go back and revisit that version of the Suicide Squad. Although I've heard quite a bit about the movie, and it all sounds quite familiar.
Did you get a sense that maybe your animated project gave that live-action project a little push forward?
I don't know a modest way to say it. But it certainly looks as if whoever's working on those movies had seen this one, and it seems like they went, "Oh, that's a cool idea. And that's an influence." Having read the first draft of "The Suicide Squad," Joker's not in that. Harley Quinn's not in that. I am available to work on any future rewrites of "The Suicide Squad." [Laughs] I love those characters. I would love to revisit them.
In the extra features, your producer James Tucker says he would love to revive the animated shorts. Make your play for the characters you would love to get your hands on...
Okay. I would love to do Booster Gold/Blue Beetle. I would love to do a JLI. I would love to do Plastic Man. Oh my God,I would love to do a League of Substitute Heroes. Those guys are hilarious. Who else? I would love to do just a Secret Society of Super-Villains -- just basically do all the bad guys, sitting around, just having to deal with each other, like a Legion of Doom. The guy who has to basically run day-to-day of Legion of Doom. That would be hilarious. What else? No joke, you know what I think they should do? Captain Carrot. I would love to do, for kids, a Captain Carrot.
"Justice League: Throne of Atlantis" is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.