With the launch of a new, twice-monthly Aquaman series for "Rebirth," writer Dan Abnett has not only brought back the character's classic nemesis Black Manta, but the villain has meddled enough to send Aquaman reluctantly to war.
But this war doesn't involve aliens or supervillains. During "The Deluge," the new Aquaman storyline that launches this month, the war is between the United States of America and Aquaman's kingdom of Atlantis.
Following up on the first installment of our two-part interview with Abnett about Aquaman, Newsarama sat down with the writer to discuss his changes to Black Manta, his use of political intrigue in the series, and how "The Deluge" and other stories in Aquaman will lead the character into DC's upcoming "Rebirth" events.
Newsarama: Dan, as you relaunched Aquaman for "Rebirth," you've featured a classic Aquaman villain, yet you've given Black Manta a more rounded-out motivation. Can you talk about how you approached that character for "Rebirth?"
Dan Abnett: I wanted to establish Manta as a really cool villain who was doing more than just being what the character had been in the past. Manta's always been just a figure of revenge. He's really cool, but he's always single-mindedly going after revenge.
I thought, wouldn't it be really interesting to have him come back and do that, because that's what he does, but actually, in thwarting him, Aquaman shows him the futility of revenge. And inadvertently, Aquaman sort of opens the door — by saying to Manta, what are you doing? Why are you consuming your life with revenge? It's made Manta go, oh, that is a bit daft. And suddenly, he's gone evil on a much bigger scope.
So he's no longer this single-minded figure of vengeance. He's got this huge agenda that he's enthusiastically pursuing. I like the idea of Aquaman, in trying to be kind and good to someone who's out to get him, ends up making that person worse and someone who becomes an even greater problem.
Nrama: This threat you're building has been interesting to watch, because although the reader knows what's going on, the characters still don't, particularly Aquaman.
Abnett: True. In Arthur's mind, he's going through a series of adventures or incidents, and the reader is going, "Aquaman! They're all joined! They're all connected! When are you going to come on to that?"
I think it's often quite fun when the reader has a greater insight than the character, not because the character is stupid, but because the character simply doesn't have information the reader does. And the reader can see that the hero is doing really good, positive things for the right reason, which are still going to backfire, because the reader knows there's a bigger picture that the hero isn't aware of yet.
And I quite like playing around with all of that.
Nrama: Of course, all of this is leading toward "The Deluge," the big war. After issue #10's Mera-focused story, you kick off "The Deluge" in Aquaman #11. What can you tell us about this storyline?
Abnett: "The Deluge" is the execution of Black Manta's plan. This is an enormous global threat with Atlantis right in the firing line. And "The Deluge" is a catastrophic story which really plays off the things we've already seen — the existing tensions between America and Atlantis. When Manta realizes that doing things like unleashing the Shaggy Man isn't enough to get Arthur off his back, he decides to actually go ahead and trigger an all-out war between Atlantis and America.
Nobody knows who N.E.M.O. is, so they can act as provocateurs and basically cause a war. So this is really, really, really big stuff.
But during this story, all the way through, Aquaman will be desperately trying to tell everyone that it's not Atlantis. That it's not him doing this. If only we can work together, we can solve this.
So this involves the elements we've already seen — Black Manta, N.E.M.O., the relationship with America, the relationship with the JLA, his relationship with Mera — all those things come to a head in this story in the most hugely, explosive way.
And although it has very big superheroics, it's also very political. It's huge action, but I think it's also very real world. Some of the characters wear superhero costumes, but what happens to Arthur as a head of state, he might as well be wearing a business suit or a uniform.
"The Deluge" is a very, very big, self-contained, conclusive arc, but it won't finalize everything. There will still be all sorts of ongoing story beats that will be explored after that.
Nrama: I know you're writing Titans right now, and therefore you know things about what's happening with "Rebirth" and the greater mysteries we learned about when Wally returned.
Nrama: But how much does Aquaman tie into all that?
Abnett: I think with Aquaman, because we have two books a month, we're getting to tell a lot of story. But for now anyway, although he's tied into the greater DCU, we're getting to tell stories that are very much Aquaman stories. There's a lot of freedom with him to tell a very robust story that focuses on Aquaman and Atlantis.
Whereas the Titans, I think, are much more closely connected to the epicenter of the "Rebirth" thing, Aquaman isn't right now.
Having said that, however, we have plans. There are certain things we know are coming in the next year or so that will connect Aquaman to the very big stories that are going on.
And there are certain things I'm working toward that I'm holding for a tie-in with certain story beats that are going on in the wider DCU. You know, things that will work better after a "Rebirth" narrative moment.
So although Titans might be a little more close to the center, and Aquaman is a little more free to explore stories focused on the nation of Atlantis and the wider influence of Arthur, both books are working to the same destination with "Rebirth."