Since becoming a DC exclusive writer in May, Dan Abnett has been influencing several corners of the DCU — from his current revamp of Earth 2: Society to his Wally West-focused Titans to the action- and intrigue-packed new direction on Aquaman.
With the "Rebirth" launch in June, DC made Aquaman a twice-a-month title, enlisting multiple artists to work with Abnett, including Philippe Briones, Scot Eaton and Brad Walker.
Since the relaunch, Aquaman has seen the title character attempting, in his position as king of Atlantis, to establish more effective foreign relations for his country. But his efforts have been thwarted by the secret organization known as N.E.M.O. and a revamped (but still very much the classic) version of Black Manta.
In this first installment of a two-part interview, Newsarama sat down with Abnett to talk about his run so far on Aquaman, what the end of this week's issue #9 means for the future of the character and whether the teased marriage of Mera and Aquaman will take place after her one-and-done story in issue #10.
Newsarama: Dan, things don't look so good for Aquaman after his battle with the Shaggy Man. Why did it take so long for him to ask for help? Why did he try to do it single-handedly?
Dan Abnett: Part of it is that he's trying to prove that he's a worthwhile hero and can do things on his own, with his relationship with the JLA — particularly Superman — having become strained. So he was sort of determined to show that he can do this.
I think it showed Aquaman's level of determination, and also his stubbornness, that he can do something even if people are telling him that he can't. He wants to protect his home, and he doesn't want to see people hurt, and the end result is rather shocking.
Nrama: He came up with a pretty ingenious game plan, which I don't think people might expect from Aquaman.
Abnett: Yeah, I think it shows that he's a thinking hero as well as a powerful, physical hero. He uses his brain instead of his brawn to finally beat Shaggy Man.
And I like the idea that it's the very emblematic thing that he keeps looking at, which reminds him of his estrangement to the JLA, which actually gives him the opportunity to save the day.
But the issue ends with him literally collapsing in a pool of blood, so you're right that things don't look so good.
Nrama: But in the next issue, you're doing a sort of one-issue story about Mera?
Abnett: Yes, Mera's such a fantastically strong character. And in issue #10, we'll see how Mera has to prove whether she's worthy of becoming the queen, whether she can go ahead and marry Arthur.
And this brings her into contact with the Widowhood, which is this sort of order of Atlantean nuns, essentially, who look after the welfare of Atlantis, the spiritual welfare. And ostensibly, they're going to try to train her and make sure she's a queenly specimen, which doesn't sit well with her at all.
One of the things we'll see in the course of this story, and in Mera's issue in particular, is the fact that there's actually an awfully lot more to that than she thinks or the reader thinks — that her potential unsuitability is not simply a case of the fact that she might not be the right sort of breeding or any of the other obvious things that Mera is expecting, but it's something much bigger and potentially much darker that they're worried about. And that's revealed in her issue.
And her issue also, because she's sequestered in the Widowhood tower at this point, she doesn't know what's going on with Aquaman and Shaggy Man. She doesn't know.
Nrama: Does Mera have no idea then, that Aquaman is dying?
Abnett: She knows that there's some emergency in Atlantis and she wants to go and help with it, and they say don't bother with that. You're here now. So she's completely oblivious to this horrific thing that's happening. She has no idea that we've last seen Arthur essentially dying in the street.
So the next issue is about her, and about her fate and destiny and about her dealing with things, but it also shows her slowly becoming aware of the bigger picture of what's going on.
Nrama: How does she become aware of the bigger picture? You mean the bigger threat?
Abnett: Yes. She gets a vital piece of information in the course of the story, almost by accident. She comes upon something that is crucially important, and she knows it's crucially important and is able to do something about it.
So although this is a Mera issue, incredibly important things happen in it that will set up what happens – tying into what has happened before and setting up what's about to happen.
It's lovely to do an important issue that has her as a focus.
Nrama: Let's back up and talk about the start of your "Rebirth" run on Aquaman. People were excited to see Mera and Aquaman get married, but you've thrown in a lot more of classic elements along with new concepts. You've been on the series for a while, but looking back at what you've done, how would you describe your goals for the "Rebirth" part of the series and what you've accomplished so far?
Abnett: Yeah, I came onto Aquaman before "Rebirth," and I'd already been exploring how Aquaman is many things — he is the king, he is the person caught between two worlds, he is the superhero. He has many different hats that he can wear as a character, and I think people quite often write Aquaman focusing on one of those in particular. And I wanted to broadly remember all of those things and cover everything — but particularly the aspect of him being a king, leading a nation. And it's a nation that's always been terrified of the world and vice versa.
I wanted to show how Aquaman wanted to make Atlantis more accepted and part of the world community, which sounds very big and political and potentially dry, but I thought there were some really interesting, possibly very exciting things to doing that.
That was beginning to happen in the last few issues of the New 52 run, and I've re-committed to that in the "Rebirth" launch and onwards, with the idea of them opening an embassy and trying to do very good and positive things.
Nrama: It hasn't worked out that well, though. It's all kind of backfired, hasn't it?
Abnett: Well, no story is good without conflict and drama. So yes, that goes horribly wrong and backfires, and they end up in a worse position.
The first six issues, plus the "Rebirth" issue, were really about Arthur's attempt to do that positive thing and how horribly it backfires on him.
But it's not backfiring because of anything he's doing. We are aware — the reader is aware — that in the background, Black Manta is pulling the strings and is doing terrible things, out to destroy Atlantis and everything that Atlantis has got going on for it. And he's working with N.E.M.O., this sinister and completely unknown organization that also have very good reasons for discrediting Atlantis. It helps their overall efforts.
So that opening arc was an effort to establish Arthur and Atlantis and Mera and their ongoing efforts, and to thwart it and produce plenty of drama, and to have a proper political clash between him and the U.S., which also led to his conflict with Superman.
In issue #7 and #8, we returned to Atlantis to establish with Atlantis is like and to try to increase the cast there, the supporting cast — to show the way the Atlanteans live and work. And through the entire series, we've wanted to make sure that Mera has a very strong role to play.
And although we've had individual stories — we had a six-parter opening, and three parts of the Shaggy Man, and then the Mera story, and then the bigger "Deluge" story after that — they're all tied together. It's all part of one big story, and there's a lot more to come into the future.
Check back with Newsarama when we talk with Abnett about his plans for "The Deluge," this fall's Aquaman event that takes the character and his fellow Atlanteans into war with the United States, as well as the series' ties with DC's bigger "Rebirth" plans.