Bedard on VILLAINS MONTH: BLACK MANTA=Batman, OCEAN MASTER=War on Terror

DC Villains month - Aquaman group
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Tony Bedard must really like Ocean Master and Black Manta. After all, he compares them to traditionally good concepts like Batman (Black Manta) and the battle against terrorism (Ocean Master).

Sound like a stretch? Bedard will get to make his case for both perspectives in September in two Villains Month issues that he's writing with plot assistance from Geoff Johns. And according to Bedard, both stories tie directly into the Forever Evil mini-series that Johns is launching the same month.

Bedard helped launch the current New 52 universe back in September 2011 as the writer on two of the publisher's new #1 issues. Most recently, he was the writer on the series Green Lantern: New Guardians — and has been involved with the Green Lantern universe since 2010.

While he's not working on a DC book right now — after leaving Guardians with an acclaimed, emotionally charged issue in May — Bedard is a big presence in DC's Villains Month event.

In September, Bedard is co-writing Aquaman #23.1: Black Manta and Aquaman #23.2: Ocean Master, and Superman #23.2: Brainiac. Newsarama talked to him about all three issues, although in this "part one" of the interview, we stuck to the Aquaman villains he's writing with Johns.

Newsarama: First off Tony, I have to be honest. When I saw you listed on two Aquaman books, I thought to myself, "Oh, he must be writing an Aquaman-related title soon." I'm sure you wouldn't be able to answer a direct question about that (although, if you want to, feel free), but can you at least say if there's a chance you'll be writing an Aquaman story in the near future?

Tony Bedard: No, that's not the plan, but I am a huge Aquaman fan — have been for years — and thanks to Geoff, Ivan Reis, and my old friend Paul Pelletier, we're currently enjoying a golden age for the King of the Seven Seas. The guy who talks to fishes is finally getting the respect he deserves.

Nrama: OK, then let's back up and come at that question from another direction.... how did the opportunity to write two Aquaman-related books come about?

Bedard: : I suspect the good folks at DC already know how much I love Aquaman. My personal sketchbook is all Aquaman. The action figures on my work desk are all Aquaman related. It might be why I got to write the Emperor Aquaman series a couple years ago [for Flashpoint]. So now I get to have fun with Black Manta and Ocean Master.

Nrama: What was your first exposure to these two villains (and Aquaman, for that matter), and does that relate to your approach to these issues?

Bedard: Ages ago when I was a kid there was a Superman/Aquaman Adventure Hour cartoon that I used to love. And I always figured if Aquaman got equal billing with Superman then he was a just as heavy hitter. I'd go to the swimming pool and pretend I was Aquaman. That was the start of loving the character.

Then I'd see Black Manta among the Legion of Doom on Superfriends, wearing that cool helmet and talking like Darth Vader, and I just figured he was too cool for words. Ocean Master I didn't learn about until later, but he's turned out to be fascinating and complex in his New 52 incarnation.

Nrama: What's unique about both villains in their New 52 incarnations?

Bedard: : Anyone who's been reading DC comics in the past decade knows that Geoff has an amazing talent for drilling down to the essence of a character, especially underappreciated villains like Sinestro and Black Adam. (Yeah, they're A-listers now, but it wasn't so long ago that they weren't). With Black Manta, we have a real mystery man driven by revenge, and the big surprise there is that he has a legitimate beef with Aquaman, who really did kill Black Manta's father. Sure, it was a mistake, but that doesn't make a difference to Manta. He's just an ordinary human, but he's put together all the gear he needs to take on a super-strong titan.

In a way, Black Manta is like an underwater villain version of Batman. I like to think of him that way — a man whose iron will, cunning and awesome equipment puts him on equal footing with godlike beings.

As for Ocean Master, here's a guy who only assumed the throne of Atlantis so he could save his brother Aquaman from the "horrors" of the surface world. Then Atlantis gets attacked and he leads his army against what he thinks is the source, only to find it's a trick. But Ocean Master's attack on the surface world was as well-intentioned as our response to 9-11. And for that Aquaman throws him in jail? Ocean Master has just as legitimate a beef with Aquaman as Black Manta does!

Credit: DC Comics

You can totally identify with both of these guys and their motivation, even if they are a bit excessive about what they do.

Nrama: What is it about Black Manta that appeals to you as a writer as you take on his Villains Month issue?

Bedard: To begin with, Black Manta is one of the coolest-looking villains in comics, period. That costume and that helmet are awesome. Plus, he's a man of few words. Very few. There are lots of silent scenes in the script I've written for Villain's Month.

But the thing I really love about him is how far above his weight class this guy can punch! Again, the Batman comparison comes to mind. He's a man out to avenge an injustice against his family, dressed all in black, armed with an arsenal of cool-themed weapons and vehicles. He's basically the flip side of the Dark Knight.

And no matter who he's up against, you don't bet against Batman, right? Black Manta is dangerous, no matter who you are.

Nrama: Can you give us a set-up for this issue? Where do we first find Black Manta, and what sets the story in motion?

Bedard: Black Manta is languishing in Belle Reve prison for supervillains. Amanda Waller wants him for her Suicide Squad because she recognizes what a badass he is. But then something happens (and you have got to read

Forever Evil #1 or you will kick yourself!) that turns the world upside down. And Manta has to reexamine his whole reason for being. Is it enough to live only for revenge against Aquaman? Or can Black Manta find a bigger purpose?

Nrama: What part of his personality and motivation will we see in this story?

Bedard: This story is all about his motivation. Waller questions it in the opening and by the end of the book her question has been answered and Black Manta is set on a new path that will play out in Forever Evil.

Seriously, he is going to emerge as a major star among DCU villains and this is where it all starts.

Nrama: Wow, that's quite a prediction. But let's talk about the Ocean Master issue. He's in jail as

the story starts, right?

Bedard: Ocean Master is actually in the same jail as Black Manta, but under quite different circumstances. Following the Atlantean invasion of Boston, Metropolis and Gotham (in the Throne of Atlantis storyline), Ocean

Master is awaiting trial for war crimes. Lots of innocents were drowned by his tsunami attack. Nobody's asking him to join the Suicide Squad. He's basically viewed as an amphibious bin Laden or Saddam.

Nrama: We've been told that Ocean Master wants no part of the Secret Society. What's his state of mind as this event starts?

Bedard: Despite the fact that he's facing death row, Orm of Atlantis, former King of the Seven Seas and brother of Aquaman, couldn't care less about the surface world. All he wants is to return to the ocean — to go home. Being trapped on the surface is a living nightmare for him.

And when the opportunity comes for freedom, the first thing he does is make a beeline for the coast. Let the Secret Society have the surface world. Who cares, right?

But Orm's a strangely complex personality for a villain, and the things he sees on his way to the Gulf of Mexico will test his ability to look the other way.

Nrama: What facets of the villain will you be exploring in this comic?

Bedard: I think Geoff has set up Ocean Master to be as gray a character as Sinestro — someone you can understand and even root for. He cares deeply for Atlantis and for his brother, and he feels deeply betrayed that after all the trouble he dealt with to restore his brother to the throne, he gets thrown in jail?!

Like Black Manta, Ocean Master is at a personal crossroads. He needs to decide what's important to him, and this issue

marks the beginning of a new life for him that will play out later in the pages of Aquaman.

Nrama: You've worked pretty closely with Geoff over the years. How would you describe the experience of working with him, and what does it offer to you as a writer on these two villains?

Bedard: : Geoff and I are actually co-plotting these two issues because both of them have major implications for Aquaman and for Forever Evil. I think readers who miss either book will kick themselves once they realize what pivot points they are for both of Aquaman's greatest enemies.

I'm used to collaborating with Geoff from my years on Green Lantern Corps and New Guardians. It's a pleasure — the guy is not only insanely talented but a very generous collaborator. I'm in awe of the way he's raised up so many of my favorite characters and franchises, unleashing potential that other creators hardly scratched.

Geoff always focuses like a laser on the emotional core of a story, and after 20 years of making comics for a living,

I feel like I learn something new every time we get on the phone and talk through a story.

So I'm psyched that he's letting me play along with his master plan. And I can't stress enough how much you have to read Forever Evil #1. That script had me saying "Oh, $#it!" every other scene!

Nrama: Then before we talk about your other Villains Month issue, is there anything else you want to tell fans about these two villain comics?

Bedard: Aquaman's two biggest enemies are about to broaden their horizons and find new reasons to live...and to kill.

Check back with Newsarama when we talk to Bedard more about Villains Month and get the scoop on his September one-shot, Superman #23.2: Brainiac.

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