When you take a punch from Superman you know your life is getting complicated. Add in being king of an entire culture, marital issues rising, and coming off a beating from an unstoppable force and that’s Aquaman’s life of late. Issue #12 comes out this week and had the opportunity to chat with writer Dan Abnett on all things Aquaman.
AiPT!: Who are your heroes?
Dan Abnett: Goodness me. Who are my heroes? I guess all my heroes are creative people so I would cite influences like Alan Moore and Chris Claremont and you know, people who I admired. One of my all time favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. I don’t know if it’s significant, but hanging out at my desk is a signed photo of William Shatner. I think Captain Kirk is one of my heroes. [laughs]
AiPT!: Does he inform your writing at all? Or the style of that character?
Abnett: Yeah, I find I write the best comics if I’m wearing a gold shirt with a rip across the chest. That seems to work very well. [laughs]
AiPT!: That’s good to know. There’s a Trekkie amongst us!
Abnett: Yeah, well, I’m an all denomination geek. Obviously a huge fan of Doctor Who and written Doctor Who novels as well. Somebody pointed out earlier today there’s a three foot Stormtrooper standing in my room.
AiPT!: Thank you for painting that picture for us.
Once fighting Superman, now they’re fighting each other. Image courtesy of DC Comics from Aquaman #12
AiPT!: In Aquaman #6, Mera and Aquaman go toe to toe with Superman and I’m wondering, do you think about how powerful Aquaman is now and in the past? He’s been a little powered up as of late in some respects.
Abnett: I’ve taken my lead from the way Geoff Johns depicted him and also the way he’s been shown to operate in Justice League. He’s not as powerful as Superman, but still much stronger and more powerful than we give him credit for. His entire power base is structured around that he’s physically capable of surviving ocean depths. Which makes him immensely strong and resilient. So yes, the fact that he went toe to toe with Superman, I don’t think Superman was particularly pulling his punches, but of course Mera helped out a little. I thought about it very very carefully and I think people underestimate quite how powerful Aquaman is; physically powerful. That makes him more interesting. I like it when–particularly Justice League stories–when the other members of the league treat him with a certain amount of caution because they know he is immensely powerful and slightly more unpredictable. That’s the spirit I want to capture.
AiPT!: Especially with the trident. I haven’t seen it in the latest story arc, do you plan on using it?
Abnett: Yes, in fact there is a story arc coming up where that is very important. But yes, his skillset in both in terms of the powers and trident and his aqua telepathy are things I want to play with more because they are very much unique to him.
AiPT!: What inspired the Widowhood? It kind of reminded of Game of Thrones or something.
Abnett: Yeah, probably a little bit more Dune than Game of Thrones. Really I wanted to create something that added to the texture of Atlantis. I want Atlantis to feel like a well-rounded complex society. It happens to be a nation of the world that is under water. I want it to feel like a very ancient society down there. Which is why I’ve staffed the book with increasing numbers of supporting cast who have different roles and personalities. The Widowhood was part of that. I didn’t want to give them an out and out religion but I liked the idea of a kind of matriarchal order. The fact that they’ve all lost people who have fallen defending Atlantis over the years and they are literally the widows of that and they therefore have taken the ongoing security and preservation of Atlantis as their cause. It makes them quite like…they’re slightly sinister, but they’re not out and out sinister.
There are many supporting characters during Abnett’s arc. Image courtesy of DC Comics from Aquaman #12
AiPT!: As king, he has more stake in protecting his corner of the DC universe, and by adding these supporting characters in it informs that.
Abnett: Absolutely. His role of king is one of the most important things that I’ve considered when writing Aquaman. He has many aspects: Superhero, Atlantean…there are many sides to Aquaman, but the key one is he’s a leader of a nation. A leader of a culture. It makes his own personality come through more because we get to see him off duty and not being a king in contrast to what he’s striving to achieve, but all that is meaningless if you don’t get a sense of what he’s trying to look after. Creating people, a population, customs, rituals, habits, needs, desires and wants–I hope makes it more identifiable.
Politics are key in Abnett’s series. Image courtesy of DC Comics from Aquaman #12
AiPT!: Culturally it’s a big joke that Aquaman is, well, a joke. Do you think about that while you’re writing or does that inform any of the stories you’re telling?
Abnett: Absolutely it is. I’m very aware of that. He’s one of the big six or seven in terms of the way the DC hierarchy is arranged. He’s become the butt of jokes thanks to Big Bang Theory and Robot Chicken. Stuff like that.
AiPT!: Right, right.
Abnett: He’s used as a gag character, and I think rather than trying to write the coolest possible Aquaman to overcome that prejudice I’ve thought the best thing I could do is incorporate it in the story. That is to say, to make the surface world in the DC universe feel about him like the way we do as a population. The idea that he’s an also ran, a hanger on, a joke, a novelty superhero with powers that are a bit weird, so that we see Arthur trying to undertake his mission as a king trying to find Atlantis a place in the world stage. That’s part of what I’m trying to do with this series, show him trying to educate the world about himself and Atlantis.
AiPT!: I’m very interested to see if the new Aquaman movie is going to change people’s perception of the character.
Abnett: Oh man.
AiPT!: I’m curious, what do you make of this trend of linking comics and movies. Do you think the movie might change how you or others write Aquaman?
Abnett: It’s possible. I only think it’s a good thing. Speaking for someone who has been reading comics for a long time, the years spent wishing some of my favorite comics were making the transition into movies or television because I wanted to see them in other forms. Now we live in what might be described as the Golden Age, but that’s actually happening and happening in many instances in superb ways, people taking it seriously, having an almost commercial weight so they are not only worthwhile doing but also spending enough money to make them spectacular. Inevitably, when you put a character on the screen no matter how you do it, it has a reaction in the way comics are produced. I certainly know that from Guardians of the Galaxy. I wrote that before they made the movie, they made it based on my version of it, but when I wrote Guardians of the Galaxy after the movie was there I found it was much more restrictive because the movie much more cemented what the Guardians were and a lot of the freedoms and throwaway ideas in the pre-movie Guardians comic that made people like it in the first place where basically I could get away with doing anything, yet after the movie it locks it down more tightly.
AiPT!: That film is very popular.
Abnett: I think it’s different when it’s an unknown property like Guardians. It consolidates things and makes them a formula more. Which is probably a good thing in terms of character IP for a big company. With an iconic character like Batman, Superman, Aquaman even, I think a movie is a very very good thing. Because it defines them in the public imagination. For Aquaman it’s overdue. He’s 75 years old, he ought to have a definitive version people know.
AiPT!: I was going to ask you about Guardians because the team in the movie is basically what you and Andy Lanning formulated. Is that like… are you pumped when you see the film?
Abnett: I was absolutely delighted. James Gunn made it very clear he was using my version of Guardians. We got invited to the set. Got invited to the premiere. Name in the credits, which in fact he didn’t tell me and when the credits rolled I thought, “That [film] is great” and then, “Oh god there’s my name!” I think it’s great, movie creators are understanding that although what they are doing is very different from the source material with the comic, they are at least acknowledging the reference. Because it goes both ways. If we do a good comic and it turns into a great movie then the success of that movie comes back to the comic. It’s not a one-sided, it’s not theft, it’s not like, “Well that was my idea and look what they’ve done with it!” It is a cross-platform holistic thing.
AiPT!: Have you been involved with the sequel at all? Have they shown you anything?
Abnett: Not as much. Although I believe my name appears in it, I am the name of one of the shops.
AiPT!: That’s very cool.
Abnett: I saw an on set photograph. [Laughs]
This team lineup owes a lot to Abnett.
AiPT!: I had the opportunity of reading Aquaman #12 and the ending, I don’t want to spoil anything and I won’t, but I get this feeling we’re going down this road like Mark Waid’s ‘Tower of Babel’ storyline where Batman defeats the Justice League. Would I be wrong in saying that or…
Abnett: I couldn’t possibly comment! I think this story arc, which you’ve read the first part of is a major one because it’s definitely a culmination of stories that have run up to this point since Rebirth. Obviously it’s Black Manta and his organization making a power play deceptively as ever and that will bring ahead these conflicts with Aquaman and indeed the Justice League. Whether the Justice League could trust him, we’ve already seen that. You mentioned his fight with Superman, that was ended with only Superman going, “Sort this out or else.” And although Aquaman has been given a stay of execution and the Justice League clearly still understand he’s doing his best, this new storyline really looks like Arthur dropped the ball and the wrath of his colleagues is going to follow. I can certainly promise this story is going to be very dramatic indeed.
AiPT!: Okay, I ask this question to everyone. What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Abnett: [Laughs] Deary me. My favorite form of procrastination is to do research. I’m sitting down to work on a story and I’ve gone through my shelves and gotten loads of trade paperbacks and comics to read because I think they’re on subject and I’ll inevitably wander off. Something I’ve picked up by accident–I’ll spend a half an hour reading something that has nothing to do with what I’m working on. It’s just something I want to read again or something I’m interested in doing, so yeah. Reading is a very healthy thing to do, you need to read lots to write lots. If I go several days without reading anything, not even a magazine or newspaper, I find it very difficult to write, like my fuel tank is empty. That’s probably my procrastination flaw.
AiPT!: One might argue you’re just tying yourself into the zeitgeist.
Abnett: Yes, and I do frequently. I found early on in my career I got my best ideas by sitting on a train. I used to commute to work and I could be struggling for hours to come up with an idea and there’s something about the world moving past and I’d come up with loads and loads of ideas. I exploit that ruthlessly. Whenever I’m stuck for an idea I’ll go for a walk or read something or deliberately do something different, so that the unconscious part of the brain responds to that inspiration and suddenly it will come up out of nowhere. All the best ideas come that way.
AiPT!: Do you go to the aquarium for inspiration for Aquaman?
Abnett: [laughs] Yes. I should do that more often.
AiPT!: Alright Dan, thanks so much for your time.
Abnett: Very nice to talk to you, hope to do it again sometime.