Black Manta, with the powers of N.E.M.O. At his command, will wreak havoc on the life of Aquaman and everything he loves. Arthur, still injured from his devastating battle with the Shaggy Man, has now been drawn into a war with the United States, though neither Atlantis or the United States started it. With the help of Mera, Arthur knows that a mysterious secret world power is behind all of this, but he has no way to prove their innocence. Who will believe him? And what is to stop the war from spreading across the world?
Things are looking pretty grim for Aquaman as “The Deluge” begins in Aquaman #12.
I got a chance to talk to writer Dan Abnett about this new arc and all of the politics we’ve seen so far in the series.
Graphic Policy: I’ve been a fan of what you’ve been doing with the series. Since we deal with politics on this site that idea of Aquaman being the leader of a sovereign leader is something that really interests me as a reader. For you, though, who is Aquaman? He’s clearly more than a superhero, but also a leader of a nation.
Dan Abnett: Right. I’m not the first writer to look at that aspect of Aquaman but to me it’s essential. It’s something that marks him out from the other members of the Justice League. He’s a superhero. He’s a man. He’s a surface dweller. He’s an Atlantian. But he’s also a head of state and that’s something that I thought was one of the most interesting aspects to pursue in the Rebirth run, to look at that. Not to look at it in a political way, but to see what would the responsibility of state leadership, to be a king, what affect would that have on him as a person? Also, what are his ambitions?
It’s not just that he’ll look after Atlantis but that very proactive effort he’s making to find a place for Atlantis on the world stage and to get the world to take it seriously. It’s not just a case of convincing the surface countries that Atlantis is ok and not a threat, but there’s also the convincing of his own people that the surface world is ok to deal with.
I’ve really enjoyed that. We’re seeing a very rocky road and his problems and the complications are coming from all directions. It feels like a very fruitful thing to do as a source of drama.
GP: The other thing I noticed that you’ve been emphasizing with the character is the lack of confidence within himself. We’ve seen him in other versions of his being a bit stubborn, but we see him expressing how he feels like he’s a second tier hero and a joke.
DA: He knows he’s not a joke and Aquaman fans know he’s not a joke. He’s extremely powerful as a superhero. He has an extremely significant responsibility looking after a nation of people, an entire culture. But, I was aware fairly early on recognizing that Aquaman in popular culture is the go-to joke character. He is that joke, he can talk to fish. Well, I thought we could combat that perception which exists beyond the audience of devoted Aquaman fans, the comic fans who don’t aren’t fans and beyond that in the audience worldwide. I could to try to write him as amazing as possible and we just say “he’s amazing,” or I could embrace it and actually make what we feel in the real world about Aquaman and make it how the world feels about Aquaman in the DC Universe. That to me makes me feel it has much more potential. The idea that they’d regard him as a second tier member of the Justice League. Not a proper superhero. A bit of a gimmick, a bit of a novelty. And a bit of the unknown in that he represents the strangeness of the ocean, something that’s a bit creepy. All of that is stacked against him.
I wanted to really show Aquaman trying to do something about that. Trying to change the world’s perception of him. But, also having to deal with that perception, every time he tries to do a bold political move being thwarted by that reputation. I wanted to embrace it and put it in the book.
GP: There’s a big emphasis on politics in the book with how nation-states interact like his being arrested as the head of a nation as a terrorist. What type of research are you doing concerning that as a writer?
DA: I certainly am, yeah. I’m thinking very much about that nitty gritty. I’m doing lots of research. I’m not doing research in any specific research, just general research. Writing about Aquaman. Writing about Atlantis. Setting this in the DC Universe. It’s a fantasy idea, it’s a city undersea. The best science fiction works most effectively when it feels authentic, when you can really believe it’s genuine. I thought one of the ways to make Aquaman and Atlantis feel sort of authentic to imagine what it’d be like if it really existed, what would the world do about it, and what would be the interaction with the world be. Every step of the way in the story I think about what the real world interaction would be and research what that real world reaction would be and then slide that sideways into a parallel format.
A lot of the research I do doesn’t get there on the page, it just informs the tone of the story. Otherwise, it’d be pretty bogged down in detail. A good example is going to the White House and being dealt with by the Chief of Staff and not the President was a nice touch and I think that whole idea of the world reacting to a nation that’s considered a rogue nation, it’s almost like to get the readers to forget that Atlantis is underwater and get it to imagine it as any other nation in the world where it’s trying to make its way and the response is it’s a rogue state, it’s dangerous, it’s out of control. That to me makes it much more credible.
And part of that process for me is trying to make Atlantis feel as credible as possible by making sure there’s texture and character and lots of people around him so that you can feel there is genuinely an Atlantis to care about and identify with.
GP: Another thing that stood to me was in issue eleven Black Manta using the term “false flag” which is a term that’s really been used a lot in recent years. Did you explicitly use that term due to that?
DA: Oh yeah. Absolutely. A lot of the terminology that I’ve used is meant to resonate with things you hear being talked about on the news and global events. I wanted to make it genuinely feel like a global event that these things are happening.
Aquaman is quite clearly a superhero book. There’s no pretending he isn’t. It’s part of the DC Universe. He’s a member of the Justice League. All the trappings of a larger aspect of being a part of a superhero book. Part of my brief when beginning to write the book was that the Aquaman as a comic works best when it leans towards the realistic aspect and horror angle science fiction as opposed to too far overtly superheroic angle. To deal with much more of the X-Files, Fringe, aspect of science fiction suits Aquaman and the adventures he has tonally than the brightly colored over the top superheroic like Batman with his iconic villains or Superman as a hero. I’ve leaned into that heavily which means having the real world respond to him in that realistic term. Buzzwords from the news, media terms, makes it feel that much more credible.
GP: With Rebirth a lot of it was bringing back the old and the new and setting a different tone. Black Manta is front and center. N.E.M.O. I think is new…
DA: N.E.M.O. is new, yeah.
GP: Right there with the villain you’ve done that with the old and the new. What is it about Black Manta that you think epitomizes the Aquaman villain?
DA: Aquaman doesn’t have the hugest Rogues Gallery to be fair. There are several villains, but when it comes down to it his chief villains are Black Manta and Ocean Master and to me it was time for Black Manta’s turn to be the main antagonist. I was also intrigued by Black Manta’s potential to be a cool character but he’s so singular in his motivation. He wants to get his revenge on Aquaman. I wanted Manta to be the villain right in the opening issues. For Aquaman to defeat him and try to break that curse that this is a cycle of violence we’re stuck in. It’s ruining both their lives. He breaks him psychologically. I really like the irony by making Manta feel so stupid in singularly seeking revenge that Aquaman makes is own arch-nemesis worse. He creates his own monster. Manta goes away and gets recruited by N.E.M.O., which is a brand new invention but is layered into the story as if it’s been there forever. They recruit him and Manta says he can be more than he was before. Manta says he can be more than he was before. He becomes much more a potent villain with a much greater range of ambition which is quite nice.
It may take Aquaman quite a while to realize all of that. That he’s empowered his own enemy into something that was much worse than he was before. I’m a big fan of irony and that’s about as ironic as you can get.
GP: Speaking of new, you introduce the Aquamarines in issue twelve. Where did the idea come from and how vital are they going to be going forward? I can see them becoming a pretty solid villain going forward years down the line.
DA: I hope so, yes. They certainly have potential. It goes back to a moment ago when we were talking about the real world flavor of things. It did occur to me in this set of circumstances that if you were to regard Atlantis as a rogue state and you needed to deal with the leader of that country, that the US would have a contingency treat him like a Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden and need to take him out. They’d need people to do that and it wouldn’t be a case of sending in the Navy SEALS because this is comics. So the Aquamarines are sort of purpose built US military created to stop the threat of Atlantis. That’s going to lead to an interesting place in the comic. Certainly for this story, but I’ve got ideas for other things we can do with the Aquamarines. And yes if they were to become a part of Aquaman’s rogues gallery in the future I’d be delighted.
GP: How long does the “Deluge” storyline go on for and any hints as to what happens after?
DA: Yes, the story is four parts and is pretty major and dramatic. Immediately afterward we get a very different story, a different change of pace to make sure nobody is getting bored. We do something very different with a brand new villain we introduce. This story will have repercussions. There will be fallout for what will be a war that will impact things to come often in unexpected ways. There’s lots of consequence but we’ll also deliver fresh stories that are part of it to make sure Aquaman doesn’t get stuck in a rut. There’s really nice big things with some old villains and new ones and some guest stars.
GP: Thanks so much and can’t wait to read the rest of the story!