Last month saw the debut of "Aquaman" #35, the first chapter of a new story arc entitled "The Maelstrom." The stormy tale represents the biggest challenge the sea king has faced since Parker joined artist Paul Pelletier on the series early this year. And aside from crafting the stories inside the book, the writer/artist has also been contributing to the design of the "Maelstrom" by prepping its cover dress to draw readers eyes toward the revelations held within.
Since he assumed leadership of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, Aquaman has been having a rocky time ruling in the New 52. And lately things have gotten worse with the duel threats of separatists challenging his Queen Mera and a mysterious series of earthquakes that could both shake the continent to rubble and reveal that Arthur may not be as pure-blooded a king as he once thought. "The Maelstrom" kicked off with the revelation that Aquaman's mother Queen Atlanna wasn't entirely honest with him about her life... or her death.
CBR News spoke to Parker about where the story goes from here. Below, the writer explains that "The Maelstrom" finds Aquaman on a quest for information about his mother that will have him crossing paths with the likes of Martian Manhunter and Gorilla Grodd, shows why the hero is ready for an international spotlight and shares his thoughts on how the impending "Aquaman" movie starring Jason Momoa is shedding light on a whole new way to view the character.
CBR News: Jeff, when you took over "Aquaman," you didn't immediately play the "an even that will change Aquaman's life... FOREVER!" card. Instead it feels like you deliberately went into straight Aquaman adventures. What made now the time to do a bigger, more personally revealing arc for the character?
Jeff Parker: It actually kind of came together as I was telling the other stories. I wanted to do short, mostly standalone stories -- even though they were all ultimately connected. But I felt like we'd just come off a big storyline [at the end of Geoff Johns' run] and it's better to go small for a bit before you rush into another one like that. I wanted everybody to trust me before I took them on this journey.
And it was great to get back into working with Paul Pelletier, which was great. We'd worked together on "Fall of the Hulks" over at Marvel, and we wanted to get to the point where we were really gelling as a team before we could do this big story about whatever happened to Aquaman's mom.
Much of your run has been about exploring what the modern world of Atlantis is all about. You've had drama with ancient beasts and separatist armies and everything in between, and now this story of Arthur's mother seems the culmination of all of that.
Yeah. I felt like Atlantis needs to be really fleshed out, and that world building had to happen. Now it's connected to the overall DC Universe better, and you'll see coming up that it has more connections of the rest of the world. I mean, it used to be above water. At the same time as I was building up that world, I didn't want to spend a tremendous amount of time underwater. I do believe that readers lose interest when you stay down there too much. And I know some people may go, "But it's Aquaman!" But he's also from the land, and he's no welterweight up there. He's pretty strong, even though he's always kind of hugging the coastline. [Laughs] It seems to work for him to be "the hero of the beach."
That strikes upon this idea with Aquaman that he's a character from two worlds, but he's not really at home in either of them. Is that something you've wanted to focus on in your stories?
Yeah. I feel like you always get to the core of a character when you remind everybody of that idea that he both fits and he doesn't fit wherever he goes. When he's in one world, he's wanting to go back to the other, and it keeps going like that no matter what. Anyone who comes from two different cultures can probably relate to Aquaman. Sure, it happens to him on this huge scale, but it's quite a bit relatable. He's raised in a quiet lighthouse with a guy whose job it is to protect people. With that as his upbringing, it makes sense that he'd become a superhero, and when he's made a king, it's hard for him because that's not what a king's job is. Kings are supposed to sit back and send other people on missions and just call the shots. Arthur can't bring himself to do that. He's got to go out and do it himself.
Luckily, we've also got Mera there who provides a great balance. She plays a big role in the "Maelstrom" arc -- coming through and being supportive and giving advice on things that are more from her world than from his. I'm so glad we have this book with a healthy relationship where the couple actually works. Aquaman doesn't just worry about her all the time. If anything, he probably worries about the people who have to deal with her. He's like, "Man, they probably didn't deserve to get beat that bad." [Laughs]
I do. She's just a great character. She almost steers that thing where it doesn't feel that you're putting the words in her mouth. The hallmark of a great character is when they almost write themselves, and I just like the way Mera is very much her own person. She doesn't always make the right choices, but you can't hold it against her either. She just does what she's going to do. The nice thing is that Arthur has accepted that and he doesn't argue with her about it. What's the point? She always backs him up too.
Aquaman does some things in this storyline that get pretty reckless, and that's part of the reason Mera wants to be there. She's forced into being the cool head, which she's not always used to.
While Aquman's origin has been tweaked and revised a number of times over the years, one of the elements it always contains is a woman who comes from the sea and tells this lighthouse keeper she's fallen for that she's the queen of an undersea kingdom. I wonder if this arc tests the logic of trusting her on that.
Well, maybe. But Aquaman's dad was a very classic Maine guy who didn't give up a whole lot. He didn't really tell his son what he did know, and he didn't know a lot to begin with. He just kind of accepted, "There's this beautiful woman who seems interested in me. I don't really care where she comes from." [Laughs] They really do seem to have that love at first sight thing going. All of their history has barely been alluded to -- especially in the New 52. So I thought that would be a great area to explain not only what happened but a lot of other things you'll find out about Atlantis and how Aquaman himself functions. It all ties together, and you learn a lot in this journey. And he brings in some odd characters from the DC Universe on his way to get there.
That's right. The part of this arc beyond the mysteries from home is a kind of world tour where Aquaman has to hit a bunch of different locales and clash and/or team-up with some familiar faces.
He fits right into that adventuring mode.
So did you assemble a list of characters you wanted to use in the book, or did you set the path he's on and look for faces that would resonate with the beats of the story?
It was the latter. I was thinking Martian Manhunter would work really well into this particular story. And after a while, they got back to me and said, "Okay, you can use Martian Manhunter." Then the next issue I thought Gorilla Grodd would work really well, and they let me use him too! They've been great about getting me all the info I need so these guys will be consistent with how they've appeared in the other books. But I'd read a lot of them anyway.
But this story was much more intuitive than it was "We need to use Martian Manhunter at some point." I do love that character, though, and it was great to bring him in in a natural way. It kind of plays on his classic detective background. That's not always the focus on him these days, but it works really well as the focus here.
One of the biggest changes to J'onn J'onzz with the New 52 was that he was kind of placed on the outs with the original Justice League members, and that includes Aquaman. Is there some conflict from there that you'll be playing with?
Not really. You will see in this arc that Aquaman is all about getting the job done. You saw that in the last issue. He goes and gets two guys that have given him a lot of trouble [including Dr. Shin], but he knows that these are the right two guys to put on the case. He wants people who can help him figure out what's going on, and in that way he is being a good king and doing the right thing. You have to put your emotions aside and be logical about it. He's making a lot of big calls all of the sudden, which has people in Atlantis excited. Even if they don't always like what he's doing, they like that he's doing something. I mean, you always want your boss to look like he has a plan. [Laughs]
It's the same with the Martian Manhunter. Aquaman knows that it's risky to bring the Manhunter around because he's known for collecting people's secrets. It's unclear how much Aquaman knows about him or his time with Stormwatch, but it's obvious that Manhunter has wanted access to this place for a long time. So Arthur is taking some risks, but at the same time we're playing up the idea that he knows Atlantis can't be a secret empire anymore. Everyone knows about it. Everybody's worried about it since the big fight [in "Throne of Atlantis"]. So he's got to make some more contacts on the surface world, and he's dragging them kicking and screaming into it.
Is there more attention on this book now because right as you're getting on a role, there's all this movie news surrounding the casting of Jason Momoa.
Yeah, that was good timing! [Laughter]
So you've felt the effect of that with fans?
A lot of people have come up at conventions and saying things like, "Did you hear about Jason Momoa?" Of course I did! [Laughs] Everybody seems very excited about it. And it kind of connects to the way "Batman '66" functioned for a long time. For a while there, it was the embarrassment for people. Then they finally got to a point where people felt it was cool again. They understood that this thing can exist as its own version and be a unique take on the idea. The same is true of Aquaman. A couple of comedians who grew up watching "Super Friends" picked the lazy joke of making fun of him, and then it became everyone's lazy joke. Now it's finally gone beyond that where people say, "I don't want to be the one who makes the stupid joke. I want to be the one who likes Aquaman!" He's almost the hipster superhero now. Everyone talks about him getting the beard back, but what about a 'stache? [Laughter]
"Aquaman" #36 -- part 2 of "The Maelstrom" -- ships on November 26 from DC Comics.