'Aquaman': Kelly Sue DeConnick's Comic Is a "Balancing Act" With the Movie

Starting with 'Aquaman' #43, Kelly Sue DeConnick is bringing "swagger" to the king of Atlantis.

Kelly Sue DeConnick, the acclaimed writer who reinvented Captain Marvel for a new generation, has a single word to describe her newest assignment: Aquaman for DC Comics.


“There is nothing more basic than water,” DeConnick tells Inverse. “So many of the world’s creation myths begin with water. A lot of apocalypses are floods too. It is the thing we come from. Aside from air, it is the source of life.”

In Aquaman #43, released on December 19, the ongoing comic book series hits the reset button on Arthur Curry’s story. In the aftermath of the recent DC crossover “Drowned Earth,” an amnesiac Aquaman washes ashore on a remote island populated by mysterious beings. By taking away Aquaman’s memory, DeConnick — taking over for previous writer Dan Abnett — hopes to reacquaint herself with the founding member of the Justice League.

“I wanted to learn who he was with him,” DeConnick explains, “I wanted to take him off the board a little bit so we could kind of reset.”

It’s a grand, epic story, one befitting the king of Atlantis. She uses the music of Led Zeppelin as shorthand to describe her grasp of Arthur Curry.

“I’m an aural thinker,” she says. “When I was thinking about Aquaman and how I wanted this character, this ocean champion, I asked, What would that sound like? Zeppelin is huge, it’s mythological lyrically, and in the scope of sound, the high vocals. It’s got this sensuality to it.”

Cover of 'Aquaman' #43. Illustrated by Sunny Gho, Daniel Henriques, and Robson Rocha.

DC Comics

But DeConnick isn’t above having some fun with (or at the expense of) the founding member of the Justice League, even when he’s enjoying unprecedented mainstream recognition thanks to James Wan’s well-received blockbuster movie, Aquaman, also out this month. Have we finally gotten over making fun of Aquaman, though? DeConnick isn’t sure.

“I think Geoff Johns’ run [on Aquaman] is the one in the modern era that was this sort of, Aquaman isn’t lame run,” DeConnick says. “I’m not sure we’re past it. I’ve been reading a lot Aquaman comics and there’s a lot of comics that make tongue in cheek references to the, ‘He’s the talk-to-fishes guy.’ It comes up.”

DeConnick has cracked the same jokes, too. In 2013, in a story for the Superman anthology Adventures of Superman, DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Matthew Wilson had Superman ask his Justice League pals to figure out the contents of his gift (wrapped in a lead-lined box) from Lois Lane. Aquaman helpfully tells Superman, “Well, it’s not a fish.”

From 'Adventures of Superman' #50, featuring DeConnick's story in which Aquaman (unhelpfully) assists Superman figure out his gift from Lois Lane.

DC Comics

“Even the comics grapple with him as a kind of camp hero.” DeConnick says, but she keeps honest faith in Aquaman as a serious character.

“I clearly feel strongly about it, or I wouldn’t have pitched on the book,” she says. “He’s strong, he can swim — none of those powers are defining and unique. But his ability to connect ocean life, that’s unique and special. It has to be important.”

Hence, elemental. For DeConnick, “It was important to me he be a myth-based character.” While the writer has nothing but kind words for her immediate predecessor, Dan Abnett, DeConnick wanted “to change it up a little bit and see what else we have to explore.”

Preview of 'Aquaman' #44, featuring a new character introduced to DC: Caille, a woman of mysterious origins.

DC Comics

Where Abnett had a “grounded” series rooted in Atlantean politics, DeConnick looked to fantasy. On the island Aquaman finds himself, he’s surrounded by ocean gods as imagined by cultures from around the world.

“Comic books have borrowed from mythology extensively, be it Norse or Greek,” she says, “but we limited it mostly to these western traditions. So I surround him with sea gods from from various cultures, who have different temperaments based on how those traditions see the water, whether they see it as a threat or a friend or both.”

With a movie in theaters that emerged from the same sandbox as her book, DeConnick is in an enviable, high-stakes situation unique to the comic book industry — and one she’s been near before. Her reinvention of Captain Marvel, with Jamie McKelvie, are the blueprints for the 2019 Captain Marvel film starring Brie Larson. (DeConnick contributed consultation to the film.)

DeConnick’s comics have led fans to movies, and now, a movie will lead fans to her comics.

Kelly Sue DeConnick. Photo courtesy of DC Comics.

DC Comics

“I think it’s incumbent upon me to do this balancing act,” DeConnick admits. “Because my run is coming out at the same time as the film, because the comic book characterization is so very different, I need to bring a whisper of the film to Aquaman without making him someone we don’t recognize. There’s a balancing act there.”

Jason Momoa’s beefy, brawny portrayal of Aquaman has left an impression on DeConnick that she’s bringing to her comic. “There’s a little bit of swagger there that I wanted to bring to our very regal king of the seven seas,” she says.

While the attention can be “anxiety-inducing” for any writer, DeConnick says she’s pulling through by thinking of a joke told to her by her husband, comic book writer Matt Fraction.

“There’s a little bit of swagger there that I wanted to bring to our very regal king of the seven seas,” she says.

“My husband makes the joke that it’s really kind of Hollywood to make these billion dollar advertisements for our books,” she says, laughing. “I hope I have something to say. I am trying to use the character to say something that is real, that elicits real thoughts and emotions. I may very well fail at that, but if I do, it won’t be because I didn’t take chances.”

Aquaman #43 is available now on Comixology or your local comic book shop. The next issue, Aquaman #44, will be released on January 23, 2019.

Related video: Aquaman meets Aquaman in hilarious Adult Swim trailer.

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