There was a time when Aquaman's best PR was a mention on the HBO comedy Entourage, but thankfully everything is turning around for Arthur Curry. Aquaman: Rage of Atlantis was a recent LEGO animated film released this past summer. On the horizon is the upcoming Aquaman: Undertow novel and, of course, the Aquaman film starring Jason Momoa. Not to be forgotten in all of this is the last two years that writer Dan Abnett has crafted one of the more compelling runs of Aquaman in years, culminating in an underwater civil war and vaulting Mera as the Queen of Atlantis as its sole ruler. The best is yet to come in the pages of Aquaman and Justice League.
Soon Kelly Sue Deconnick and Robson Rocha will begin an epic run on Aquaman, but first is an action-packed high-stakes story beginning Wednesday with Justice League / Aquaman Drowned Earth #1, written by James Tynion, with art by Howard Porter. SYFY WIRE spoke with Tynion about how big a story Drowned Earth will be for Aquaman, Black Manta, and the gods in the DCU.
No matter the treatment, Aquaman and his world have often felt separated from the rest of the DCU. This story encompasses everyone, and that pushes Arthur towards the front of the stage.
Aquaman can be a difficult character because huge aspects of his continuity has shifted. But the work that's been done in building Atlantis is so rich, there's so much story and pathos. The core figures – Arthur, Mera, Ocean Master, and Black Manta – are all so powerful as a unit, and they all attack different aspects of the mythology and make it stronger.
In building this story, we wanted to add to the mythos, to have a bigger cosmic sphere, and lean more into the gods of the DCU. We wanted to play some of those big pieces that aren't normally part of the Aquaman mythos but feel like they're greatly suited there.
Seeds were planted since Metal, but in Justice League #8 there's a scene in which Black Manta and Cheetah go after Poseidon. This was a great opportunity to begin bringing Black Manta to the front of the stage, too.
There's something so single-minded about him. He wants to kill Aquaman, and he has some bigger ambitions to him. The depths of his rage run deeper than Arthur, but there's something so pure about that. Luthor is promising the world to all of these players. Manta ultimately just wants to control over Atlantis, but it isn't in the city itself. Ocean Master is concerned with what Atlantis becomes. Manta is trying to tear it down because of this pit of darkness inside of him. There's a kind of power that's existed down there, that's been wielded by this incredible race of fantasy heroes with swords, tridents, giant fish, and seahorses and all of that [laughs], and he's saying, "I'm going to take all of it for myself."
There's no greater Legion of Doom he is aspiring to, he is seeing whether or not Luthor can deliver on what he's promising. If he can, Manta's going to take it, and once he gets it, he doesn't care what Luthor wants. That's something that we might see play out.
Through tie-ins, you've introducing the alien sea gods, the Triumvirate from planet Okkari, Commander Drogue, Captain Gall, and Admiral Tyyde, plus these insane space krakens. What can you reveal about them?
Rather than having the Legion of Doom face the Justice League in every single arc, what are the other ways they might set a chain of events in motion? That's to have someone else come at the league. One of the first ideas was to bring in these sea gods, to create a different force of nature. We wanted to create the sense for each of our heroes that their mythologies were bigger than they had an understanding of. Now in this more expansive world, they find themselves drowning in it. There are threats deep within that mythology that they've never seen before.
Drogue is the leader and can control the krakens. Tyyde's abilities are in controlling how power lapses and wanes. She can drain the life force from a living being, and also take abilities away from people and give them to others. Gall has control over the water, and the deep pressure of the ocean. We have these three incredibly dangerous sea-based villains, and they're going to cause some real damage.
How is Aquaman not only connected to the ocean of Earth and the threats of the Earth, but the oceans of the universe? What are the original founding sin of Atlantis that is still marking him, and what do these gods have to say about it, because they're angry gods? They were cast down by Arion and Poseidon when they first came to Earth into the Graveyard of the Gods, which is a horrifying place that we're going to find out more about over the course of this story. Now, we're really going to see them take their anger out on Earth and accomplish what they originally set out to do when they came here, thousands of years ago.
Does the Legion of Doom story step aside in Justice League, or will they be involved in Drowned Earth?
There is definitely one big thing that the Legion of Doom will set out to accomplish in the midst of this chaos, and we'll see the start of that in Justice League #11.
Most Aquaman stories feel isolated, but this feels much more like an event that everyone needs to tune in to.
We have three core members in deep space. Nobody knows where Aquaman and Wonder Woman are, and neither can be reached. Batman is in a wheelchair in the Hall of Justice. This invasion starts, and the Hall of Justice has to coordinate rescue efforts for all around the world. They are woefully underprepared for an attack of this magnitude.
We wanted to show the Justice League in a really dire situation, which is hard when you have characters this powerful; it's hard to create a situation that they can't fix their way out of. They're the best when they're together, but when they're split up, they can be pushed to their absolute limits, and that's what we wanted to do to up the stakes.
Could you talk about the tidal shift at the end of the first part?
One of the big pieces of the story is Aquaman's powers, you know, the one everyone makes fun of, that he can talk to fish [laughs], but his power is bigger than that. It means he has a connection to the life force for all aquatic life. We're going to see there's a twisted version of that power that's not about communication, but control. We're going to see Manta take that for himself with the help of the Triumvirate.
One of the things that steps up the stakes is a Black Manta with the powers of Aquaman, and Arthur without those powers. That's part of what makes this event so dangerous, because we're going to learn exactly how important those powers are.
Are you making a commentary about Arthur in what he has chosen to do with these powers?
Manta is definitely making a commentary, but we've seen Arthur as a king. Now that Mera has taken the throne, he's trying to figure out where he fits in the grand scheme of things. The fact that he's never wanted to use these powers to control and subjugate, it shows the monarch's role might have never been the right one for Arthur. The communicator is the role, the messenger, the explorer, and the explorer needs to be bigger and further than he's ever gone before. Staying in the same waters makes him restless. So yes, there is a statement in that Scott and I are trying to get to the heart of, some of that is directly on the page as we get further into the story.
You worked with primarily two artists on this story, Francis Manapul on Justice League and legendary JLA artist Howard Porter on Justice League/Aquaman Drowned Earth #1. Can you talk about working with each of them?
Right around the time we were finishing up the No Justice event, we knew that Francis Manapul would be on the Drowned Earth storyline, when it was originally just a story arc in Justice League. Scott was talking (to Francis and me) about the Triumvirate, and Francis started drawing them, and he's one of the best designers in the business. We might have had the idea of their personalities, but once we saw the sketches, we felt them and we knew, oh crap, these are going to be incredible villains.
As for Howard, when Scott and I started building everything we're doing on the Justice League books, the Grant Morrison-Howard Porter JLA run was a real touchstone for what we're trying to accomplish in this era of the Justice League. Its scale, the tone and connectiveness -- we saw the universe reflected in that book. So to tell a big Justice League story with the artist of that run is really special, and his work is just phenomenal. I'm extremely proud of this book.
The following is a schedule of all the Drowned Earth tie-ins and releases:
Prelude to Drowned Earth (Tie-Ins)
Aquaman #41 - Out now
Justice League #10 - Out now
Titans #28 - Out now
Drowned Earth Parts 1-5
Justice League / Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1 - October 31
Justice League #11 - November 7
Justice League #12 - November 21
Aquaman #42 - November 21
Aquaman / Justice League: Drowned Earth #2 - November 28