Kelly Sue DeConnick has thought a lot about Aquaman.
Stepping in as the first new writer to the DC Comics hero since his solo movie proved a huge global hit, DeConnick had a hit list of goals for an Aquaman run that began earlier this year: Bring him back to the surface, back to his roots and back to his defining tragedy. To pull it all together, the writer, who's recently brought her reinvention-heavy skill set to DC, plans to send the hero in a new direction inspired by both the comics and films.
Aquaman #48 kicks off a new arc with artist Viktor Bogdanovic, and beyond introducing the gigantic ocean entity known as Mother Shark, the story sees Aquaman piecing together his forgotten history alongside his elder god allies, all while a burdened and stately Queen Mera waits in the choppy waters ahead. CBR spoke to DeConnick about the arc, and the writer shared her extensive character plan to return Aquaman to his mythological roots.
CBR: In the first arc of your Aquaman run, you set up the hero as an amnesiac before throwing him into a war with an elder god. The story played with the idea of Aquaman as both an Arthurian-style lost hero and as a protector of the ocean's ecology. What made you explore those the elements as the core of the character?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: I was thinking about him as a mythological character rather than the, forgive me, "fish out of water" model that's been played with. There's this mixed-race metaphor that's about him being half-human, half-Atlantean, and the idea is that he isn't at home in either place because of that. That works if you're doing stories in Atlantis, because you can buy that he pays a price for being human in Atlantis. But you can't really buy that he pays the price for being Atlantean on earth in the DC Universe – not when he's a member of the Justice League and is handsome and literally bullet-proof. What's the price? You can't say he's not at home on Earth when he has a dog. He lives in Amnesty Bay. He grew up there. If you have a dog there, that's where you live.
So the fish out of water idea only works in Atlantis, oddly enough. And I had been given the directive that they wanted him back in the DCU, on land, just because he'd spent a lot of time in Atlantis and was very separated from our world. I spent some time meditating on that and thinking about what would work as an engine in that way. So let's go back to basics. What is more basic than water? Nothing. Then I was thinking of all the creation myths that come from water, and how water is symbol of life. It all grew out of there.
One of the things that's also gone along with that mythological element is this idea of cosmic mothers. The first arc's villain was an elemental mother of gods, and this new story starts with a character called the Mother Shark. Did this idea of the ocean as a maternal force come out of that same plotting?
What it was is, I was looking for what his core wound was. Where does his pain come from? What's the hole he can never fill that works for our engine? And if "not being at home in either place" doesn't work, I had to look elsewhere. And [Geoff] Johns did this thing where Aquaman murders Manta's father – not intentionally, but he did intend to kill Manta. So it's still pretty unheroic. [Laughs] I thought I could do something with that because guilt is a pretty incredible engine, but that was just so dark. My take on this character is a more blue sky thing, and that's very dark. I didn't want to go there, and I also couldn't connect it to his power set.
But then there was this other moment in the Johns run that I was really struck by, which was that his mother is this Atlantean princess, and his father is a human lighthouse keeper. And mom has to leave him to return to her duties. I just thought, "Abandonment. That's a great core wound." His dad takes him to the shore in the morning to look for mom. That's really like child abuse! But a mother's abandonment was really something I could play with. And I could tie it to his power set, because he can basically call every creature back to him except his mom. That's nice. There's something there, and going from there the idea of good mothers and bad mothers grew out of that notion.
The other women in the book are really driving the plot. Aquaman has a new sidekick in the form of Caille, who for the moment knows him better than anyone. And then we have Mera, who's home at Atlantis, having assumed Arthur was gone for good. How did you want to set her up for this story? And tell me about that royal We.
Oh man, I'm not so sure about that choice. [Laughter] But I really wanted this sense of her as The Queen. I wanted it to feel like a big, heavy responsibility and a huge artifice. I asked for her to have a huge headpiece – a literal "heavy is the head that wears the crown." I also think it's interesting that she's, in some ways, such a better leader for Atlantis than he is. It's just because of the nature of who they are. I don't think I like the Atlanteans. I don't think there are a lot of them you could say, "Oh, he's such a nice guy." They're kind of dicks. At least that's the way they've been portrayed in their most recent history. They're like Klingons, almost. And Mera's much more hawk-like than Aquaman is. Having come from Xebel, she's less human. She seems like a better fit for a leader of Atlantis than him.
One thing I'm really scared about in this arc is that I fear the Aquaman readership doesn't know me well enough to trust me. In some sense, I'm going to have to hide from social media for a couple of issues. The relationship between Arthur and Mera is so important to people, and I don't disagree with that. I think they're a fascinating and wonder couple, and I want to play with that. I think they also have a very physical relationship as a couple. They have a very physical attraction to each other, and I want water to heat up when they are around each other. But I think relationships aren't easy. It's okay for us to see them have problems. It's okay for us to see them not work together beautifully. It's okay for us to see them make mistakes and the consequences of those mistakes. Human relationships are hard.
So I know I'm going to scare a lot of hardcore Aquaman fans with that. But I'm not trying to mess with them. I'm trying to examine and complicate this relationship in a way that's very human. I want to give Mera and Arthur an opportunity to overcome difficulties. There are people who are going to want them to never have any difficulties and always be happy, and they're going to be very mad at me. And I'm new to DC! [Laughs] So I don't know if they know me well enough to know that I won't mess with them just for fun. I promise. But I'm just going to hide. It's going to be great.
You may be the first person in 80 years to write Aquaman who isn't stepping in with the presumption that he's kind of silly. He's had this huge movie, and everyone is up on Aquaman as something that's finally cool. Does that change your approach or the way you think about the job at all?
It's really hard, because the Aquaman of the movies and the Aquaman of the books are so very different. Trying to nudge Aquaman towards the more contemporary DC cinematic universe version without there being a record scratch is hard. He needs to still feel like our Arthur, but if we can also give him a little bit of that Momoa twinkle in his eye, then that's a good thing. People coming in off the films should not find him unrecognizable. But people who have been reading for years also shouldn't find him unrecognizable. So trying to find the sweet spot between the two different versions in a way that makes sense and is also true to the core values of the character, yeah it's hard.
And I don't think he's silly. I don't think he's any sillier than any other character was on the Saturday morning cartoons. I have this thing about the whole, "Oooooooh, he's the guy that talks to fishes" thing. I think at some point there was this idea of, "He doesn't talk to fish. He controls fish." I don't like that. I reject that. I think it is not a heroic superpower to take over the will of other living creatures. That's a villainous superpower, and this is a very blue sky, very ethical character. Aquaman is not an "ends justify the means" kind of guy. So I think that he communicates with sea life. I think he straight up does it, and I think that's great. I don't think it's cheesy. I think it's fucking cool.
We have a hyper-masculine character – especially in the film portrayal where he looks like a fucking roadie for Megadeath. And by the way, I think that's hot like fire. But you get this hyper-masculine character who's distinguishing ability – because that he can breath underwater is not unique to him, or that he's super strong, or his body is hyper dense and impervious to bullets -- that's not unique to him. His unique ability is that he can ask for help. That is interesting. There's something to play with there.
And this notion, too, is almost a Thor-like thing. You can ask, but in order for these sea creatures to answer his ask and his mission, who he is has to be worthy. They're not going to risk their lives to help him out if his ask isn't important. So I call his telepathic ability "The Call," and I think it's really cool and not cheesy at all.
Aquaman #48 is on sale this week from DC Comics.