At any given moment in the history of DC Comics, the status of Aquaman as an A-list hero has been in doubt. Through constant relaunches and reboots across the decades, Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris' underwater hero has gone from Golden Ager to running gag and back again.
But since the launch of DC's New 52 line of titles, Aquaman has worked hard to prove himself worthy of a place in the publisher's prime pantheon. Under the guidance of DC CCO Geoff Johns and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, the sea king's self-titled monthly has been a consistent top-seller as Aquaman struggled with his pre-Justice League past and his place in the current DCU. And his world's collide in the upcoming "Throne of Atlantis" crossover between "Aquaman" and "Justice League" which starts up with a prelude next week in "Aquaman" #14 (drawn by Pete Woods) before the five-part serial sees Reis and Prado take on the premier team book while Paul Pelletier returns to DC for the aquatic hero's ongoing.
In advance of the story that pits the entire Justice League against the forces of Atlantis and Aquaman's brother Orm – AKA The Ocean Master – CBR News spoke with Johns about "Throne of Atlantis." Below, the writer talks about his long term plans to get the hero the respect he deserves, how making Ocean Master King of Atlantis flipped the script on classic Aquaman stories and how the big guns of the Justice League will see their personal stories intensify as they veer away from the incoming "Justice League of America" monthly.
CBR News: Geoff, you've had long term plans and plots running in both "Aquaman" and "Justice League," but at what point did you realize the mysteries of the former title would crash into the team book?
Geoff Johns: We really always knew. Since "Aquaman" #1, I wanted to build Atlantis into a bigger piece of the DC Universe and make it more of a mystery because the heart of the story really is the mystery of what this war is all about. It's an infolding mystery, and there are other things going on with the team around it that get pulled through the storyline with the battle between the Justice League and Atlantis being the backdrop of that.
But this really all goes back to Mera, actually. Introducing Mera in "Blackest Night" and having her be her own hero before Aquaman even came back – just that piece of that led to us knowing we were going to do more and launch an "Aquaman" book. So when issue #1 came out, it was to introduce new ideas like the Trench and the Others, but it would also lead to Atlantis and Ocean Master, his younger brother Orm, so we could explore him in a different way.
And that was always going to lead into a story between "Justice League" and "Aquman." I wanted those books to dovetail because the one started off as a world-building story for the DCU because it went back in the past. Catching it up to today in the second year of "Justice League" as Ivan Reis and Joe Prado came on board really made that book all about the team pushing their focus together so they can get to know more about each other and expand their ranks. By doing that, we wanted to do character-driven, epic stories – the biggest stories we could possibly tell with the League. And the very first one of those is "Throne of Atlantis." It will focus on Aquaman, but it will also change a lot of heroes outside the Justice League even. And it was always meant as the first story [for this phase]. The "Throne of Atlantis" storyline is the very first building block of those stories.
Let's talk about the literal throne. You've spoken in the past about your love of Peter David's "Aquaman," but you also really wanted to find a way to do a different thing with the franchise. And making Ocean Master King of Atlantis certainly does that. We don't know for sure yet that he was the villain who showed up at the end of "Aquaman" #13, but do know he's positioned himself at the top of Atlantean society. Why flip him from his classic outsider status and instead make him the power of that underwater nation?
First off, we haven't seen that before, but the important thing about it is that is speaks to Arthur's character. When you look at "Aquaman" as it's flashed back through the "Others" arc and in #0 revealing a big piece of it, you see Arthur's full timeline. He was raised here [on land]. He had these strange abilities that his father and Dr. Stephen Shin helped him learn about. And his father eventually told Arthur about who his mother really was and where he was really from. After his father died, Arthur went on a mission to find Atlantis and find his mother. He ultimately finds Vulko and learns that his mother died already. But he still returned to Atlantis with Vulko, who had been banished.
When he arrives, there's a celebration. He's there, and by law he was king. Even Orm back then said, "It's your throne, brother. You're the older brother, so this is yours by rights. Welcome back." And Orm was sincere about that. So Arthur takes the throne, and for a while he, Orm and all of Atlantean society started to take another look at what Atlantis is. As they get into it, Arthur starts to feel like an outsider. And that's because he is an outsider. He didn't grow up there, and so he doesn't understand their rules, their culture or their laws. They're very different, and that's something we'll explore in this story – the complexities of who they are and why they'd ever go to war.
But Arthur eventually meets the Justice League and meets Mera, and it gives him an opportunity to find a life that's more for him. It's a life back on the surface where he grew up and feels comfortable. So he's given up the throne, and his brother has taken it.
That's really his timeline, so Arthur's relationship with Atlantis is sketchy at best. He's never really felt comfortable there, and there were Atlanteans there who never embraced him either. They embraced him because it's what they had to do by law, but it's a city of unrest – of fear and of distrust. We'll learn why that city has cultivated that since the beginning. They were sank. It's not like they sank and everyone of them started breathing water. 90% of them died when the city sank. So these are survivors. They've adapted and changed, and they've done it by being insular and trying to keep their city protected as they've hid it from the world. All that fear and that violence will come out in the course of the story.
Looking at Arthur as a character, he's a bit more of an aggressive hero. He has a tendency to take things on his own shoulders too much and deny the help of others. Do you view that as part of his history with Atlantis or more of his natural personality?
I think it's a bit of both like every other character. It's part of who he is, but it's also driven by what he's experienced over his life. Shin's betrayal and his father's heart attack followed by Black Manta's attack and Arthur crossing a line all affected him greatly. It's pretty evident in "Aquaman" #13 where he says to Mera, "This orange shirt is just a costume. Aquaman is a costume. But this is who I really am." And Mera says, "Maybe at one point, yes. But you've grown beyond that. You're forgetting that." He's given in to the perception of Aquaman that everybody else has. He's not giving himself enough credit for all of the things he's accomplished with all he's had to go up against. That's what Aquaman is to me – a guy who just gets beat down but keeps going because it's the right thing to do. Even when people don't give him enough credit. Up here, he'll never be as cool as the rest of the Justice League, and down in the ocean, although he's the rightful King, it's not what he wants. There's something very interesting about a character like that to me.
You're also welcoming Paul Pelletier to "Aquaman" starting with issue #15. He told me that you two have wanted to work together for a while. What does he do to fit in with the milieu that Ivan and Joe established?
Paul's got such a great, clean style. It's a lot like Ivan and Joe. His stuff on "Hulk" and "Wolverine" has been great, and I've been a fan of his for a long, long time. He's got that touch of Alan Davis in him just like Ivan does. Their styles compliment each other really well. Whenever pages come in, everyone shares them with each other, and it inspires a lot of conversations about "Here's what's coming up in 'Aquaman'" or "Here's what happens next in 'Justice League.'" It gets everyone really jazzed to contribute together to this one big story. Paul's a great guy, and I think that he's an amazing artist.
On the other side of the coin, there has been no shortage of plotlines in "Justice League" from Superman and Wonder Woman's relationship to Cyborg's status as a hero to the gap left by Green Lantern's quitting the team. How does this war with Atlantis impact those developments?
You'll see a lot more on those. Superman and Wonder Woman are central to issue #15, and their plotline is at the very top of the issue. That character relationship, where its going and how it will evolve is central to this story. Cyborg actually sees his biggest role to date in this storyline, strangely enough. We'll see the evolution of where he's going. And also Batman and Aquaman have this relationship where their working partnership develops throughout this storyline. The whole team comes to a realization through this story about what the Justice League really needs to be and how to help one another, they have to create a team as strong as the world requires. If the first year was about world building, the second year is about embracing that theme of "World's Greatest Heroes." They've got to become those and be those. And that will include opening the ranks.
For a while, we've seen seeds sewn in "Justice League" that we know will lead to "Justice League of America" – Steve Trevor, Green Arrow and Shazam's parts come to mind. Now that "Throne of Atlantis" is taking ful reign of the team's adventures, are all those prelude threads wrapped before the new book's #1 ships?
"JLA" is set to be a very different book from "Justice League." What I wanted to do was create two different books with extremely different viewpoints. "Justice League" is all about the world's greatest heroes. They are established as the world's greatest heroes already and stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman, Batman and the rest are already there. They have a status. So "Sword of Atlantis" is about doing the biggest character story we can possibly do with them with the biggest possible threats. That's what that book will continue to be with Ivan and Joe.
On the flipside, you have "JLA" which is really about exploring potential that's not yet realized. It's all about exploring the potential of heroes who are underrated or undervalued and not quite perceived as the A-list. And it's about Steve Trevor's determination to turn them into that. Vibe gets called out a lot because he's a very unlikely character. And that's fine. We've also got the new Green Lantern and Hawkman and Katana. Where are these characters going to go? We know that at the end of the day, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are going to be around. But at the end of the day, we don't know what direction these guys will take. Are they going to make it on the team? What will they evolve into – or devolve into in the case of one of them? So "JLA" is really becoming it's own beast – a different thematic world of the B and C-List where as "Justice League" is strictly A.
"Throne of Atlantis" starts with a prelude in next week's "Aquaman" #14 before getting fully underway in "Justice League" #15 from DC Comics.