Aquaman: King of Atlantis takes a different path than most other recent incarnations of the legendary underwater hero — instead of turning him into a rough-and-ready badass in the vein of Jason Momoa’s Arthur, King of Atlantis’ Cooper Andrews gives us a lighter, sillier spin. And for series creators Victor Courtright and Marly Halpern-Graser, that was the key to having some fun with their new series.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, io9: Talk to me about where this Aquaman exists within the larger constellation of Aquamen that people are familiar with from other DC and Warner projects.
Marly Halpern-Graser: If you watch the episodes, you can see that this is definitely our own spin on the character, and our own sort of standalone continuity. The way we tried to think of it was, we are doing our own take on the character, but we’re using the James Wan movie as a starting place.
The Brave and the Bold’s Aquaman, and the Bruce Timm Justice League Aquaman were both great, but our idea was, instead of looking at all the decades and decades of comics or all of the other cartoons, let’s create a world where we can assume that the general beats of the movie happened. So, Aquaman challenged Ocean Master to a dual, Mera and Vulko helped him become king, he became king yesterday, annnd let’s go.
io9: Were there any specific things from the big screen you wanted to carry over into King of Atlantis?
Halpern-Graser: So elements that are from the movie — our Vulko looks a little bit like movie Vulko as opposed to comics Vulko — we remind people of them. We don’t explain them too much because we assume that those things are similar to what happened in the movie. Any new elements of Aquaman that we introduce, and classic Aquaman villains, we basically created them from scratch and tried to come up with a totally new idea for these characters and introduce them as if you’d never heard of them before.
io9: King of Atlantis comes at a time when DC’s really gone all in on revitalizing Aquaman’s image in terms of trying to make him cooler and a kind of sex symbol. How’d you go about balancing that overall project that the studio’s set in motion with your own fondness for that classic, kind of goofy take on Aquaman?
Victor Courtright: Our Aquaman kind of hopefully strikes a balance between that and some of the more classic Aquaman ideas. I think our story and world is pretty fun and light hearted, and our Aquaman certainly comes out of that movie seriousness a little bit more. One of the things that really pulled me from the classic lore was just how how fun and and outlandish the world could be sometimes.
But if you take that sort of more grounded, almost introverted Aquaman from the movie world, and you throw him into that more extreme and kind of classic Atlantis world, [it’s] this fun duality between, like how seriously he’s taking everything and how bonkers his world is.
Halpern-Graser: This probably wasn’t exactly how we were thinking of it, but I think that what ended up happening is, out of the larger constellation of Aquaman, that we sort of took the more modern, serious Aquaman, and put him in a more Silver Age-y kind of world, and bounced those ideas off each other.
io9: I want to shift to Mera for a moment because she’s also been going through something of a rebrand herself in terms of her level of prominence across DC’s comics, shows, and movies. Where’s this Mera at, existentially I guess, when we meet her, and what elements of her lore did you want to spotlight in King of Atlantis?
Halpern-Graser: Our Mera was born into this underwater world. She’s been a princess her whole life. She always eager to be queen of some kingdom, eventually … if she has a fault, it’s that she’s so comfortable with underwater life, and with just battling sea creatures, and using her water powers to solve problems, that she needs a little bit of perspective.
io9: What is it about the Silver Age in particular that works so well for Aquaman? Because I know what you’re saying, this Arthur definitely feels like the movie’s Aquaman, but he’s… not, and yet it all makes sense, somehow.
Halpern-Graser: I just think Aquaman lends himself so much to the stuff that can seem a little silly if if you’re insecure about that kind of thing. James Wan’s movie is awesome and it’s taking all the ideas very seriously, but there’s still a octopus playing the drums. People are still riding seahorses. They call them sea dragons, I think, but you know. That’s a seahorse.
io9: It’s a seahorse.
Halpern-Graser: You can take that seriously, and it’s cool, but if you did it without that stuff, it wouldn’t feel right. It’s kind of integral to what’s fun about Aquaman — that he’s not just a cool character with cool powers. He also opens up this world of all this interesting kind of out-there world building.
io9: Even though this story’s focused on Arthur settling into his role as king, it also does a lot more capital-A “Aquaman” world building that feels inspired by the Trench project that fell through. How much, if any of that project was specifically woven into King of Atlantis?
Halpern-Graser: Yeah, I think I’d have to say basically none. We don’t know what their plans were, but I hope they make it one day, so I can see it. I think what was happening there was we were taking cues from the first Aquaman movie, which were the cues that team was taking for its next project. Also, the comics, you know? I’ve read the Trench comics, and I think we were all pulling from the same source material with the same jumping-off point, and we wound up with some coincidental overlap.
io9: You said something earlier that I want to touch back on about this almost a sense of embarrassment that sometimes accompanies not just Aquaman himself, but fans talking about the character. What kinds of conversations did you have about what to do with the idea of Aquaman being categorically uncool?
Halpern-Graser: We took those conversations that happen in real life and put them in our story, like Aquaman in our story is a little insecure about how people see him and what kind of a hero or what kind of a king people think he is. But I think for us, I think people should have the confidence that these characters are cool and that they can stand on their own. The parts of them that some people worry about is also what makes them so great, and you shouldn’t run away from that. You should embrace it and lean into it because that’s what makes them not, like. interchangeable, generic, super strong men.
Aquaman: King of Atlantis’ first of three episodes hits HBO Max on October 14.