Lord Of The River Dance: Will Pfeifer talks 'Aquaman'

[Aquaman]DC Comics' "JLA" was re-launched years ago by writer Grant Morrison and included what was deemed the "Big 7" superheroes. One character who always stood out to fans was Aquaman, a character ridiculed in pop culture and ignored by many comic books fans. But come 2004, "HERO" writer Will Pfeifer will be taking a stab at updating the character and showing fans that Aquaman isn't some schmuck in tights. The writer spoke to CBR News about his upcoming run on the series and refreshed fans on the main concept of the series.

"Aquaman is a super-hero who straddles the worlds of land and water - with most of him leaning toward the watery side of things," explains Pfeifer. "He's the child of an Atlantean and a normal mortal air-breather. He also happens to be the on-again, off-again king of Atlantis, which gives him a sense of responsibility and duty that other super-heroes just don't have.

"I take over the writing of the book with issue 15, which arrives on the stands in early 2004. We're going to hit the ground running with something very different and very dramatic. A colossal disaster hits the west coast, and it's a disaster with some unique and disturbing ties to Aquaman. Plus, he's the hero closest to the action, and he's the one who tries to get to the bottom of things - and try to help those who need it the most. This is going to be his main focus - his only focus, as a matter of fact - for the first several issues."

But Aquaman will no doubt still be compared to other superheroes, and the question will be asked, "How is he any different?"

"He's a super-hero with a different perspective on matters because a) he lives in the ocean and views both the earth and humanity in a unique way and b) he's been the ruler of an entire people, and has skills in that area that remain largely untapped," replies the writer. "He also wears an orange shirt - and makes it look damn good."

No matter how much Pfeifer explains his own unique perspective on the ruler of Atlantis, he realizes that some people will always prefer the bustier Fathom (who also has oceanic origins) or the regal Namor from competitor Marvel Comics. Others may just continue to use the "Super Friends" television show to define the character, and that isn't surprising to Pfeifer.

"I know, I know, the guy was named one of the lamest super-heroes by 'Maxim Magazine' recently," Pfeifer says, "but when I want knowledgeable commentary on modern sequential art, I don't usually go to Maxim. (When I want almost-nude shots of Brooke Burke, well, that's another story.) You ask me, Aquaman's a pretty cool guy, orange shirt and all. He's got that whole 'mysterious loner' thing going for him, because even when he's hanging out with the JLA, he's quite different from the others, both mentally and physically. That 'one hour out of water' thing gives him a sense of urgency and purpose some other heroes don't have. But it's not all grim and gritty. He can explore the oceans like no one else, and there must be some inspiring and even transcendent moments for a guy like that. That's pretty cool, right? Right?"

Though Aquaman's amassed a sizeable supporting cast of late, don't expect them to be the focus; instead, Pfeifer wants to get fans "into" the Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, character first before hitting them over the head with everything else.

"At the beginning of this arc, we're taking things back to basics and focusing on the Man himself. Those supporting characters are interesting, but sometimes I think Aquaman gets overwhelmed by his surroundings and his supporting cast. It seems pretty crowded under the water, and I want to convey a sense of solitude and mystery to the undersea world. Sure, Atlantis is a happenin' town, but the ocean is fascinating all by itself - as any trip to an aquarium (or viewing of 'Finding Nemo') will prove.

"That said, I will add that Aquaman will not lack for human contact below the waves. Far from it in fact. In many ways, the ocean will be more crowded than ever.

"At this point, this book is focused on Aquaman, and almost no one else. We're stripping away the other supporting characters for now and focusing on the man himself. The old screenwriting rule of thumb is that characters reveal themselves when they're under pressure, and Aquaman is going to be under plenty of pressure in this series. How he copes will show readers who he is. I think they'll be surprised."

With Aquaman's membership in the Justice League of America, one might expect those do-gooders to show up in the series. Pfeifer says he won't ignore the King's spandex clad friends.

"The main focus will be on the undersea world and Aquaman, but the story does take place in the DCU, of course, and we'll see some guest appearances by Aquaman's JLA comrades and other familiar faces. We'll also learn some things about Aquaman's relationship with the land (and air)-based heroes, and how he really feels about being part of a club that has its HQ on the moon - which is pretty damn dry, after all."

When writing an iconic character like Aquaman, it would be safe to assume that there are two main mindsets when approaching the book- keep things as they are or turn them on their heads. In the case of "Aquaman," Pfeifer explains, "It's a combination. Obviously, I want to make my mark on the book and tell the sort of stories that interest me, but I don't see any point in making broad, controversial, dramatic changes just for the sake of change. Aquaman remains the same sort of hero he's always been - or at least as I've seen him - he's a brave, smart, resourceful guy who's seen some tough times, but still sees hope for the future. Also, thanks to his job experience as actual royalty, he's got political skills and a 'big picture' worldview that I haven't seen taken advantage of yet. Oh, and he wears an orange shirt. (Sometimes, that seems like the only thing people care about. It's just a shirt, people!)

"What I hope to do is put him in interesting and dramatic situations and see how he reacts. That, for me, is where the fun in writing comes from. Think up a problem for your hero, keep tightening the screws, then see how the heck he gets out of it. Then, of course, you think up another problem, and start the cycle all over again."

Though it's possible you may have discovered Pfeifer's work through his collaboration with Jill Thompson on the Vertigo mini-series "Finals," it's more likely that you've read his acclaimed work on "HERO." He's been praised for taking a psychological approach to super heroics and infusing relevance into his stories, which could lead some to wonder if that same approach will be used on "Aquaman."

"I suppose that, in a way, I'll take the same approach I do with 'HERO.' That is, I'll take dramatic, super-hero-type situations and try to figure out how they might really play out. I'm not shooting for 'realism' or anything so mundane as that - it's just that I think it makes the fantastic more interesting if you apply some real-world logic to the character motivations, plus it grounds the stories in human emotions that can hook the readers. For me, series that are all-cosmic, all-the-time are tough to get a grasp on. I need some emotional connection to the stories. Even if the fate of the entire universe is at stake, I'm most interested in how this affects people - not planets."

It's obvious that Pfeifer has his own take on the world of Aquaman and has passion for the character's series, but it doesn't explain how he was given the reins of the series. Fortunately, the scribe is happy to explain.

"Peter Tomasi, my editor on 'HERO,' told me that Rick Veitch was leaving the series and asked me if I'd be interested in coming up with some ideas for a fill-in issue or two. At first, I couldn't get a handle on the character. The guy spends almost all his time under the water where, let's face it, there's not a heckuva lot of crime. But then I talked to Peter again, and he told me two things: 1) I had a shot at being the regular writer on the book (which got those ol' creative juices flowing) and 2) He had a great premise to kick off our first issue that had the potential to revitalize the character and serve as a springboard for dozens of stories. Soon, using that idea, I wrote up a fairly detailed proposal for the first several issues. DC liked what they saw, and here we are."

But Pfeifer won't tackle this series alone and joining him for a romp down under the sea is an artist whose profile is steadily rising.

"Patrick Gleason is the artist, and I couldn't be happier. We worked together on issues 7 and 8 of 'HERO' (#7 hits the stands on Aug. 13, if you want to see what he can do) and did a bang-up, kick-ass job. He's got both a sense of the dramatic and an eye for detail that's a perfect fit for what we've got planned for 'Aquaman.' I gave him a lot of challenges in the first issue alone, and he took what I wrote and ran with it. The double-page spread on pages 2 and 3 of our first issue is going to knock the readers for a loop."

The duo have been allowed to do a lot, admits Pfeifer, and he says the words of encouragement he's received from his editor have been great.

"So far, the only thing I've been told is to push things a little further, which is the sort of editorial guidance any writer is grateful for. My first issue starts off with a bang, along with some pretty bizarre and disturbing imagery. When I came up with the visual for the first page, which sets the tone for the strange story about to be told, Peter loved it. I've seen what Patrick Gleason did with the opening, and he took the idea even further. I can safely say I've never seen a comic book with this sort of opening scene before."

While "Dial H For Hero" wasn't too obscure in the comic world before Pfeifer revamped it, the new job on "Aquaman" would have to be more daunting for him and he admits, there is pressure to perform.

"Definitely. While even with 'HERO' there were plenty of fans of the old 'Dial H For Hero' series who brought their own expectations and preconceived notions to the series, with 'Aquaman' that sort of thing is much more pronounced. For one thing, this isn't some obscure old series - I'm taking over for a popular veteran writer who brought some bold ideas of his own to the comic. Plus, this is 'Aquaman' after all. He was one of the Super Friends, for pete's sake. Even my friends who never read comic books know who Aquaman is!"

So if you'd rather stay out of the water and aren't sure about dipping your toes into the world of "Aquaman," Pfeifer closes things off with a final recommendation. "Think of it this way: We all loved 'Finding Nemo,' right? Sure we did. And if you've ever been snorkeling or skin diving, you know how interesting the ocean can be. Take all that fascinating undersea action, then combine it with one of the most unique super-heroes around. There's some tremendous potential here, and we're hoping to explore it as much as possible. And, as we explore the undersea world, we'll investigate the largely unexplored territory of Aquaman himself, as well. I've got a great hero, a great premise, a great artist and my well-thumbed copy of 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Oceanography.' How can we go wrong?"

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