When writer Dan Abnett began considering the current storyline in Aquaman, he asked, "What if Aquaman was a proper, classic, Batman-style vigilante superhero with a secret identity? … And how would that work if you put it in Atlantis?"
What resulted is a run that feels both unique in the character's history and particularly relevant today, as Aquaman fights tyrannical rule from the shadows, but also discovers the worst side of the factions fighting beside him in the divided country.
Abnett's run is also spinning off a new limited series for Aquaman's betrothed, Mera: Queen of Atlantis. The title's story is being set up by the current situation in Aquaman.
Newsarama talked to Abnett, who's been guiding Aquaman since just before DC's "Rebirth" initiative, to find out more about why he likes the idea of making Aquaman more "Batman-esque" and what readers can expect next.
Newsarama: Dan, this has been an extensive storyline featuring King Rath in the throne as Aquaman fights his rule. Will we soon see the culmination of everything you've been building the last couple years?
Dan Abnett: Yes, it's several stories linked together into a bigger arc, and we're working toward a definitive conclusion, which is coming up in a few months. Having laid so much groundwork, we want to make sure that we spend enough time actually playing with all the cool toys we built.
We don't want to skimp on anything, basically.
So it's a big, strong storyline that connects all the threads we've been building up so far - it's an absolutely epic storyline we're playing out in different ways, in the Mera limited series as well.
And it seems to have been received extremely well. I'm very pleased with the reaction we're getting. So it seems to have worked to do that major build-up.
Nrama: Any idea what's made it work so well? A lot of things, probably...
Abnett: Yes, a lot of things. But I think the secret is not to do a lot of major build-up where nothing happens. One of the things we seem to have hit upon is each episode, an awful lot happens, even if it is still advancing an even bigger story.
I think some readers, quite obviously, get tired of a long storyline if it is all about the slow build toward something dramatic, whereas this is more an ongoing situation.
Nrama: With Arthur knocked off the throne.
Abnett: Yeah, we changed that status quo, and all the stories fit into that. Yet they're all building toward something. It's not just a temporary distraction. We've shaken everything up, which I think is a healthy thing to do every now and then.
Nrama: And it provided a way to make him almost a street-level superhero — I mean, even though it's in the ocean. The point is, he's coming at this from a completely different perspective.
Abnett: Yes, the biggest inversion was thinking about him as a superhero. When I started writing the book, which is a good few issues ago, but even before that, with him on the throne, he's primarily a king. He also happens to be a superhero when he enters the surface world. And therefore, those dynamics change that. He's a public figure, both in his own world and in the surface world.
But I really like the idea of thinking about him, for a change, as…what if he was a superhero first? Usually, "superhero" tends to come further down his CV. You know? He's a king and this and that, and he also happens to be a superhero.
And I thought, what would happen if the "superhero" was the first thing? And if he was a superhero, what if he was a proper, classic, Batman-style vigilante superhero with a secret identity? How would that work?
And how would that work if you put it in Atlantis?
What if he becomes Atlantis' version of Batman, sort of skulking in the shadows. No one knows who he is. All this kind of stuff.
And in order to do that, you need to get rid of all the public parts of that persona.
So it seemed an ideal opportunity to have a big, dramatic story about the conflict in Atlantis, which deprives him of the throne, and also for him to hit the shadows and be that very, very classic superhero - the Aquaman who lurks in the shadows and helps people.
We're playing with an integral part of his personality which isn't usually at the front of things.
That was one of the most fun things for me. I like the idea that he wasn't just a resistance hero and a usurped king, but he actually became this mysterious figure lurking around in the underworld and doing Batman-esque things.
Nrama: You've also built a new cast around him. Was that part of the plan all along?
Abnett: Yeah, that was deliberate. Aquaman has very, very strong immediate supporting characters, like Ocean Master and Mera. But it's actually a pretty small family of characters. He hasn't got a huge rogue's gallery, and he hasn't got a more extended supporting cast.
So that was part of what I was hoping to do when I had him as the king, to build the idea of a court around him with lots of people doing different things. And having got those characters in play, they of course then perform completely different roles once this storyline gets going, which means we can use people in really interesting ways. Everything's been turned on its head.
It gives a context and texture to Atlantis as a real place - not just this underworld city with a throne that the king sits on, and you have no idea who else lives there.
I guess the idea of intrigue and complexity that you get in a big, fancy novel or in Game of Thrones or something like that - just the idea that it's much more interesting if there's lots of people involved in it.
Nrama: You said this storyline is building toward a conclusion in a few months. Are you on Aquaman for a while?
Abnett: As far as I know, yes!
Nrama: And this all ties into the new Mera series, which we'll talk about next, right?
Abnett: Yes, it's all setting that up. The two series, essentially, run parallel.
This major crisis about the tyrant in Atlantis is having an effect on both characters, even though they're not necessarily directly together.
So you can read Aquaman without reading Mera, and you can read Mera without reading Aquaman, but if you're reading both, they relate to each other and give you a bigger overall picture.