AQUAMAN #36 Spoilers: Why Magic Matters as ARTHUR Meets RATH

Credit: Stjepan Sejic (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Howard Porter (Marvel Comics)

This week's Aquaman #36 featured the violent and much-anticipated meeting between Aquaman and Corum Rath. But as the title begins the epic finale of the king's reign, the key to defeating Rath may surprisingly rely on the use of magic.

Written by Dan Abnett with art by Riccardo Federici, Aquaman is in the midst of the "Kingslayer" story arc that will end a multi-issue conflict that began with Rath taking over the throne and having Aquaman killed. Over the last few months, Aquaman has been presumed dead by Rath and the powers-that-be, but was secretly working in the shadows of Atlantis to begin a revolution.

Now that the revolution is in full swing, Rath has accessed dangerous magic to take the form of the "Abysmal Dark," making this final showdown with Aquaman particularly brutal as it continues into the next issue.

Newsarama talked to Abnett to find out more about the title's stunning artwork, who might take over the throne if Rath loses, and why Abnett brought magic into the mix as the storyline nears its conclusion.

Newsarama: Dan, I feel like the art in this comic book contributes so much to the story you’re writing, with that sense of being underwater such an important component of the story. Would you agree?

Credit: Joshua Middleton (Marvel Comics)

Dan Abnett: I would hope that’s true in any comic book, but yes that’s a really key issue here. We’re setting an epic story in the bounds of Atlantis, an undersea civilization.

No matter how clever the story and the concepts, that’s going to get boring fast unless it’s backed up by great visualizations of the environment, the characters, and the context. If it's too generic, or lacks any detail or distinctive imagery, it just becomes disposable.

So we’re talking about artistic world building to support the story’s conceptual world building.

Luckily, we’ve been blessed with some amazing artists throughout. Some really extraordinary work. I hope that many of the aspects we’ve established — the look of the city, its tone, characters, technology etc. – become part of the Aquaman canon moving forward. Nrama: As your epic story of King Rath heads toward its conclusion this summer, the key to the conflict now appears to be magical. Yet there’s a question of whether there’s any magic left in Atlantis which can combat the “Abyssal Dark.” Is the story, even with its magical turn, still basically about whether a little good can overcome a whole lotta evil?

Abnett: Yes, it is. From day one (indeed, before I ever came to the book), it’s been established that Atlantis was founded on strong measures of both science and magic. Indeed, those things blended. Atlantean technology is highly advanced, but it’s a sort of "arcano-technology," a technology enhanced by magic. Arthur C. Clarke would be proud… or confused.

When it comes down to it, what matters is who is using it and how. Whether it’s technology or magic, it’s the uses, and the responsibility of use.

Credit: Stjepan Sejic (Marvel Comics)

Given that Atlantis had magic, I wondered early on what sort of magic it was, if it all came from the same place, and if it came in good and bad "flavors." I also wondered why Atlantis didn’t use magic - really powerful magic - more.

I guess that took me back to the ancient idea that great power (especially arcane power) was inherently dangerous, that there was always a price to be paid for its use, that it demanded a tribute. The old “be careful what you wish for" kind of thing.

And also, that magic - even good magic - was powerful and hard to use responsibly, that it too easily consumed the user, so that the magic used the user rather than the other way around.

To me, that was why Atlantis utilized its magic sparingly and kept it locked away in the Silent School for emergencies only.

Corum Rath, our villain, broke those sensible rules when he came to power and started to use everything to make Atlantis strong. He went back to the very source, the nuclear option, the raw power that fires everything magical.

That’s the Abyssal Dark. And it’s alive and dangerous.

Credit: Stjepan Sejic (Marvel Comics)

Nuclear power is a good analogy - we know there’s nothing wrong with it in principle, and that it’s part of the very fabric of the universe, but we also know how supremely dangerous it can be if it’s misused, or runs out of control, or if its weaponized. Then it comes down to the good or bad nature of the people controlling it. ??Nrama: We’ve talked before about how you’ve pulled from real-world history (and perhaps even current events) to inform this story. Do you feel like Aquaman’s approach during his reign might have been too much too fast and contributed to the reaction from many of his court and kingdom?

Abnett: I think that’s a fair way to put it. I like the idea that we know he’s a truly good man, struggling to achieve good things, but that a civilization the size of Atlantis - a nation - might be alarmed if those changes were too fast and seemed to ignore genuine fears and anxieties about safety and the future.??Nrama: I know Aquaman talked about not coming back to the throne. But do you think Aquaman could be king soon again, or is this territory best left to Mera for the time being (if Rath is defeated of course)?

Abnett: Arthur doesn’t want the job back…come to that, Mera doesn’t want the job either. But that doesn't mean that either of them isn’t right for it. Provided they can deal with Rath, there’s a lot for them to sort out between them, in terms of their relationship and the duty of keeping Atlantis safe.??Nrama: Let's talk about what happens after this week's issue concludes. What can you tell readers about the next few issues of Aquaman?

Abnett: We are now in the climactic few issues. It’s huge and epic from here as we enter the final phase of the war. Huge action, epic fantasy war… and a number of gigantic shocks. I’ve seen some of the art. It’s a staggering conclusion to an epic story cycle.

Nrama: Will we see more references and tie-ins with the events of Metal, and maybe even Justice League: No Justice?

Abnett: Yes, I’m sure you will.

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Aquaman?

Abnett: Just to say that… to prove Aquaman isn’t all serious, epic and treacherous fantasy action, I’d like to mention the upcoming special I’ve worked on with the brilliant Paul Pelletier that mixes Aquaman with the Hanna Barbera character Jabberjaw.

I’ve enjoyed reading this DC/HB mash-ups a lot, and it was a real blast doing this one. It’s very silly, though I’ve tried to connect the Aquaman side of things to ongoing continuity.

And with Corum Rath chewing the scenery and tearing Atlantis apart, Aquaman and Jabberjaw will probably come as a welcome, light-hearted diversion!

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