The Aquaman writer dries off long enough for a MIGHTY Q&A about his love for the world’s most underrated superhero, Filmation, the Silver Age — and the secret of Arthur Curry’s mother …
I know, I know. I write about Batman a lot. But he’s not the ONLY superhero I dig.
I also happen to really like the swift and powerful monarch of the ocean, Aquaman.
That’s not always been the case. Loved the Filmation cartoons as a kid, liked him well enough in Super Friends. But of course he eventually developed into a punch line best put into words by the band Ookla the Mok, in their song Arthur Curry.
Anyway, I think it was the Brave and the Bold TV version that made me embrace Aquaman’s inherent ludicrousness. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to this website: His comic became my favorite non-Batbook of the New 52.
Geoff Johns set things up and Jeff Parker has kept the tide high with his stories of adventure and intrigue. I look forward to every new issue and like to take my time settling in with it.
Turns out Parker’s not just a talented writer. He’s also an affable guy who was really game to talk about the King of the Seven Seas when we met up at New York Comic Con:
(And if you wanna check out an EXCLUSIVE preview of Aquaman #35, out 10/22, click here.)
Dan Greenfield: I’d like to talk to you about your approach to Aquaman, why you like the character, why you decided you wanted to work on the character and what are some of the things that you’ve read about him in the past. So tell me how you even got involved with Aquaman to begin with.
Jeff Parker: When I was a kid, I read the comics and I loved them. For whatever reason, somebody in my house left the older ones around so I had some of those where it had Ramona Fradon drawing and stuff like that. I just loved that stuff. I always thought it was cool. I used to go to the beach all the time. I loved pretending I could breathe underwater and talk to fish. (Laughs)
So I was really happy when they contacted me. I was like, “OK, they’re gonna ask me to write something. What will it be?” And when they mentioned Aquaman, I was, like, “Wait a minute!” It looked like Geoff and Ivan put him back to normal and he’s what I think of as Aquaman! I went back and re-read the stuff. I was, like, “This is great!” Yeah, I was completely on board with that.
I always assumed I was going to make it an adventure book but then I started thinking about, OK, what’re the things that have hurt Aquaman as a title in the past and what can I avoid and where can I take it?
And I thought sometimes when they get into too much underwater intrigue, people start to tune out. I was fairly convinced of that and I was happy that a lot of editorial was, too. Obviously he’s still got to go to Atlantis and everything but let’s try to keep some stuff on the surface so it doesn’t become Game of Thrones underwater, which people say they want … but the numbers prove that they do not want that.
So we were trying to get in some of that but still keep it relevant because, you know, you and I breathe AIR. (Both laugh) And run around on the ground and stuff. So naturally we’re going to relate to him a little more. And also it makes him a little more special if he’s not always in his element.
That’s actually what I like about it. He seems never in his element, even when he’s in Atlantis, he’s — pardon the phrase — a fish out of water. When he’s on land, he’s a fish out of water.
Yeah, well, any really good character like that you should be able to relate to on some level. It’s the same if you’re from the West Coast or you move to the East Coast and you miss that, but then when you’re there, you miss the East Coast. You’re always, like, “Gosh, I wanna be in the other thing!” And he’s kind of that way. He sort of feels like he needs to be in both of them but you can’t be in both at the same time.
By the same thing, he’s raised by his dad, a very solitary life in a lighthouse and it’s all about rescuing people. So he grows up thinking, “That’s what I DO! I rescue people.” Then when he’s kinda handed the title of king, you know, that’s not really what a king does. The king doesn’t run out and rescue everybody. They send somebody else. That’s not who he is. So he’s always conflicted with that, too. He riles the Atlanteans a lot. They think he’s shirking his duties. He’s running off saving everybody. “Aquaman!” (Both laugh)
The other thing I wanted to do, I really wanted to build up his rogues’ gallery. I feel like he’s never had a very good one. There are a couple of villains you can name. OK, everybody’s seen Ocean Master and Black Manta to death now. Let’s go just straight make up some good ones, revive some old ones in a new way that’s interesting because that always kind of works out really good with DC characters in particular.
So that’s the other thing. We’re reviving and dusting off and making new some things that I think could be brought to fuller potential.
Now, when you think back to some of the stories that you read when you were younger, did you watch the Filmation cartoons?
When was the last time you watched them?
Oh, it was a long time ago but I still remember even as a kid thinking, “How does Tusky stay underwater? Doesn’t he breathe AIR? I mean, he is a walrus. He can’t be swimming too deep. They stick near the top.” Stuff like that always bugged me a little bit. (Dan laughs) Also a seahorse can’t move that fast and they kind of only go up and down. Now if you ever get one in a fish tank, all they do is bob up and down all day. But we still have ‘em in the comics because they look super-cool. But they’re never fast. They’re more like if the royals are doing a slow parade around Atlantis. That’s what they’re on. They just drift around.
What about bringing sea monkeys into it? If that’s not the most meta thing you can do with a comic book — bring sea monkeys into an Aquaman book …
I’ll do that. No problem.
Please. If I see it, then I’ll know that I got it in there.
In an almost connection, I AM bringing Gorilla Grodd into it in a few issues.
Oh! So he leaves behind a bunch of sea monkeys and … (Both laugh)
Now, when the New 52 came around and they relaunched it and the whole bit, everyone was saying, “How long is this gonna last?” You touched on it before. There’s almost a flip side now with Aquaman being cool again, or cooler than he ever was. They’re talking a movie, they’re talking about Jason Momoa. To what do you attribute that turnabout with Aquaman’s character?
It’s just like the way — remember how they couldn’t stand the Batman ’66 show forever? Everybody was like, “This is embarrassing. This made Batman a joke.” Then you finally get to a point with that where a generation comes along and goes, you know, that is actually cool. You need to grow up and realize that this is an OK thing to do.
And I think people finally hit that point with Aquaman and they’re, like, this is actually pretty cool. You can quit basing somebody’s standup routine from the ‘80s lazily using this joke because you don’t actually read these comics. Once you’re attacked by sharks, who do you want on the scene? Do you want Batman? No. You don’t want Batman, you want Aquaman.
Some people would say you WANT Batman — with his spray.
(Both laugh) How much spray, though? What if it’s a LOT of sharks! No, I’d definitely want Aquaman in that situation.
And I’m also trying to play up the fact that there are some things you can do with Aquaman that you can’t do with other heroes because it’s a public identity. Everybody knows who he is and that’s why I could have him go to his high school reunion in that issue.
That was a great issue.
Thank you. I was trying to think, specifically, what can Aquaman do that Superman and Batman and everybody else can’t? He can go to his high school reunion! And this ought to be pretty funny because it’s that weird thing where he’s the big success from there and it’s really awkward talking about everybody else who works in the cannery. “What is it YOU do?” “I’m uh…King of the Sea.” So everybody just stands around sipping their punch and everything and looking awkward. I love it. I need to get something similar to the reunion in there before too long.
Those are always good in between arc-type stories. When I was a kid, I used to read The New Teen Titans stories and they would have that “Day in the Life” thing in between these big adventures and it would show all the different characters doing different things and that’s it. They all had little mini-stories. It might be two people going on a date and then they get back to the big thing. So I always liked that as a reader.
When was the last time you took a look at some of the old Silver Age stuff? You mentioned Ramona Fradon before. I’ve been going back and getting a lot of the Nick Cardy stuff…
Nick Cardy was amazing!
Have you read any of that stuff of late?
Oh, yeah. I’ve got those collections. And the great thing is I’ll buy ‘em and leave ‘em around and then my son, who’s 9 years old, goes, “Hey, Aquaman.” He doesn’t know. He reads it just like it’s the new thing. He’ll read my issue, he’ll read that. It’s all of a piece to him.
See, that’s all still good stuff. It doesn’t really date when it’s done well and when Nick Cardy worked on it, it was done well. I love that stuff! I mean, there’s some silly things like seeing Aquaman holding a cup of coffee underwater and he’s drinking and all that but I love that stuff. I’m such a sucker for it.
Now a couple last things: Are you familiar with the song Arthur Curry by Ookla the Mok?
Yeah, I’ve heard of it but I’ve actually never heard the song.
You should hear the song. I think you’ll get a kick out of it with everything you’ve said. Check it out on iTunes. Download it. 99 cents well spent.
Now how much longer are you going to be on the book?
Uhhh … until they pry me off of it! Because I’m having a great time. Paul Pelletier and I have a really big arc coming up called Maelstrom, where we finally examine what really happened to Arthur Curry’s mom because we haven’t really touched on it.
I started thinking about it and I sort of worked the story out going through Johns’ stuff with all the details that he gave. He just gave a few bits of intrigue here and there and I just kind of let my mind go, like, “What could have happened?” And I went, “Oh, wait. This could be great.”
You’ve got to extrapolate from the kind of person that Aquaman is. He still has a very adventurous side to him and that wasn’t who his dad was, so where does that come from? So now we start to examine Atlanta (Dan laughs) Let’s call her Atlanta. She’s in Georgia.
Right. (Both laugh)
And what kind of person she was and if she really died. So that’s her big story.
Aquaman #35 comes out 10/22.