JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS Screenwriter Talks Aquaman’s Transformation

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Aquaman is finally getting his due and comes out swinging in Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, the latest animated movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Aquaman has suffered a lot of scrutiny over the years in the public eye as that “superhero who talks to fishes,” but Throne of Atlantis promises to set DC icon on a new path as a force to be reckoned with as a part of the Justice League in the New 52-era.

Throne of Atlantis adapts a comic arc that pits the undersea nation of Atlantis against the surface world. Unlike the comic, the movie will focus on how young Arthur Curry discovers his aquatic heritage. Raised by his human father, when the movie begins he doesn’t know that he is the heir to the throne of the watery kingdom.

I had the opportunity to participate in a round table interview with screenwriter Heath Corson at New York Comic Con who shared his thoughts on writing this new take on Aquaman, what attracted him to transforming the character into an edgy bad ass and how this compares to the other versions from over the years,

HEATH CORSON:  What’s new? What do we want to know? What’s happening?

QUESTION:  Aquaman. He’s kinda gotten a raw deal deep in a lot of ways.

HEATH CORSON:  I have no idea what you’re talking about.

QUESTION:  How do you do a movie about Aquaman? Well, he talks to fishes.

HEATH CORSON:  Right. Who’s this guy?

QUESTION:  So what can you do with that? ow did you sit down and approach the story?

HEATH CORSON:  Well, it’s interesting. We have a very different Aquaman. So we don’t have an Aquaman that talks to fish from the very beginning. We have Arthur Curry who grew up with his father in a lighthouse on a cove, who’s always been connected to the water but has no idea of his true Atlantian heritage. So he’s angry. He’s a guy who knows he’s different and alienated and special. But doesn’t know why and he’s mad about it. So we open right after his father’s funeral where Arthur Curry is drunk at a seafood restaurant pouring his heart out to a lobster in a tank.

QUESTION: (Group laughing)

HEATH CORSON:  And this is Aquaman Begins. You know. This is Arthur Curry realizing who he is and taking steps to become a hero. So that was my way of being able to do that. Because this is not the guy who shows up on land and in Justice League 4 going “Who should be in charge? I choose me.” He is not that guy yet. So we’re on the road there but they’re baby steps. So and that of course throws the entire movie into a completely different- we’re off the rails right away. So that’s really fun and really different.

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QUESTION:  So now you’re not, from my understanding, you guys are doing your own things rather than adapting the comics, The New 52. Are you aware of what they’re doing? Or kinda trying to stay a little bit away from it?

HEATH CORSON:  I think James is always aware of what they’re doing and what kind of stories they’re doing. And we want to tip our hat to the characters and what they’re doing and what the fans want. But we are also trying to give you a different experience. You know, James is very clear about saying if you want the comic experience read the comics. But we want to do something different. Because otherwise, there’s no reason to buy this movie and go watch it. And I’ll tell you this is different. And there is a reason to go get it. Because we’re telling a very different story.

QUESTION:   I want a new experience.

HEATH CORSON:  That’s right. Otherwise, I’ll come over; I’ll just read you the book. So you want something a little different.

QUESTION:  How close or different from you are you approaching this from other origins some people have already seen?

HEATH CORSON:  That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s completely different. I mean you’re not going to find out that he was abducted by aliens that give him the ability to breath under water.

QUESTION:  Parents murdered in a dark alley?

HEATH CORSON:  No. We’re not doing The Flash where, all of a sudden the mom’s now dead. It’s not that. You’ll still recognize what it is we’re doing.

QUESTION:  Same story beats.

HEATH CORSON:  Same story beats. The audience might be a little ahead of the character actually. Because fans will know where we’re going. But we try to get there and still have some fun along the way. Something that a real dude would do. When they go, “Hey put this on. This is your Atlantian heritage outfit.” He’s like, “Orange? Why would I wear this?” You know.

QUESTION: (Group laughs)

HEATH CORSON:  So we try to have a little fun with all the truth because we know we got to get there. But you gotta be realistic and grounded along the way. And I think that is really fun. There’s a moment in the trailer where at the end they go, “Hey, the dude needs a code name.” And they’re like, “Well, the internet is calling him Aquaman.” And he’s like, “I hate that.” And they’re like “Aquaman it is.

QUESTION: (Group laughs)

HEATH CORSON:   So I want to have fun with that sorta stuff. Because those are the things that would happen in today’s world, which is what The New 52 is trying to do.

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QUESTION: When you’re writing do you go for specific voice actors? Do you hear them in your head from previous movies?

HEATH CORSON:  Well I love the actors from the last movie. So I really had those voices in my head and I had just such a fun time sorta locking in the voices. And we’re in the world of Justice League War. So yeah I heard them in my head. Even the ones that didn’t come back they still were sorta there.

QUESTION:  In approaching this character-wise, how much did you want to put in for Arthur Curry? How much did you want to put in for Orm? And how much did you want to put in for Aquaman?

HEATH CORSON:  Interesting. Orm’s a really fascinating character. And one thing that happened with this movie and somebody else asked me who’s the villain of this piece? And I will tell you the thing that I was very excited about with this is nobody is clearly wrong. I mean, Black Manta is a bad guy.

QUESTION:  Ocean Master is in this too.

HEATH CORSON:  Ocean Master is in this. But again, Orm is not the Ocean Master in the beginning yet. He’s the prince who wants to protect his people. And he’s not wrong in wanting to protect his people. He’s making good decisions. He wants to avenge his father’s death from Darkseid at the end of Justice League War. His mother says, “Absolutely not! Our best thing to do is to stay hidden so that the surface world doesn’t even know we exist.” But he’s not wrong to want to do that. That’s what a good leader does. So I really like that notion that we took all of these voices and all these personalities and nobody is wrong. You can go, “Oh crap. That’s actually a really good point. I agree with that guy. And I agree with that guy. And I agree with that guy.” Oh yeah, they’re gonna fight. There’s gonna be a big fight.

QUESTION:  So do you find that since we’re talking about Ocean Master and Black Manta, do you feel like this is Aquaman’s sorta like bad ass coming out party?

HEATH CORSON:  Is this a bad ass Aquaman coming out? It’s Aquaman Begins.

QUESTION:  I mean it really looks like you guys are going for broke here. It’s cool because not to bring up the cinematic universe again, but it seems like he’s coming and this might be a way to get people really familiar with the character from just Family Guy jokes. You know what I mean?

HEATH CORSON:  Sure. Sure.

QUESTION:   You show him as this top level hero.

HEATH CORSON:  Or Entourage.

QUESTION:   Or Entourage, right. So keeping in going along with that what made you guys actually pursue Aquaman to be the next thing you guys really wanted to get into?

HEATH CORSON:  You know what, I can’t answer that. I know that when I was doing Justice League War the line up kept changing as I was doing the outline. And finally they told me no Aquaman because we’re saving him. And I was like ”Ooh,” I want to write that one. So then I got to that one. They sorta said ‘Hey, we were saving him for this. We couldn’t say anything but the plan was to give him his own movie. And give him a bad ass coming out party. Let’s get this guy a spotlight. Because you’re not going to get a spotlight with him anywhere else right now. You know? We’re not going to get a big screen adaptation. Mercy Reef didn’t get picked up so we’re not going to see him somewhere else. This is going to be cool.”

QUESTION:  Have you seen the fighting game [Injustice]?

HEATH CORSON:  Yeah, he’s cool in Injustice. They did him justice in that. They did a really good job with that.

QUESTION:  So what’s your approach to Aquaman or at least Arthur here. Because sometimes it’s basically King Arthur underwater.

HEATH CORSON:  Right.

QUESTION:  So what was your approach without going to grim to gritty, but at least give him a certain edge to where he’s, not as you say, a Family Guy joke.

HEATH CORSON:  He’s not a Family Guy joke. He’s angry. Because he’s lost and he’s angry. And he has no idea who he is or who he wants to be. And the core of that guy who’s a brawler who goes into a bar. Also don’t forget he’s a drinker. And when you’re half Atlantian and alcohol dehydrates you a little bit more than anybody else he gets drunk and he looks for a fight.

QUESTION: (Group laughs)

HEATH CORSON:  Because this is the only thing that’s going to make me feel better. And that guy is really interesting. And it’s an interested place to start. So we start with him drunk talking to a lobster. And the guy puts his hand in to grab the lobster and he’s like we’re talking. And of course that turns into a bar brawl, which is something that Arthur is kinda like “I needed that guys. Thanks so much.”

QUESTION:  So are we gonna see Mera or any part of the Aqua-family?

HEATH CORSON:  Yep. Mera is a major part of this. Yeah.

QUESTION:  Is there Garth by any chance?

HEATH CORSON:  No Garth in this one.

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QUESTION:  Can you talk about your relationship with Jay [Oliva]? I feel like you guys have become a permanent tag team.

HEATH CORSON:  I have a great relationship with Jay. I love writing for Jay because Jay’s action is just unbelievable. I mean his instincts are dead on every time. We don’t have anything on the books right now. But I would love to get back together with him.

QUESTION:  Now were you surprised in a sense when you were putting all the pieces together from the outset when you said do an Aquaman movie, but when it all started coming together layer by layer, surprised how bad ass you could make him?

HEATH CORSON:  No. Not even a little.

QUESTION: (Group laughing)

HEATH CORSON:  I knew I wanted to make him bad ass. I knew that this was a bad ass character. And I knew that was the take. But then it became “How do we back into that? Because he’s not King Arthur yet. That’s not his place yet.” So I was like okay, “So what else is that? What is the emotional core of that that allows us to get there and make him bad ass?”

QUESTION:   So did you guys have any other incarnations of Aquaman before you picked this up because you were so really gung-ho about doing this? Grant Morrison’s Justice League Aquaman is bad ass too.

HEATH CORSON:  I love the Grant Morrison. I like the Peter David run. I like the, who’s the one who gave him the hook hand?

QUESTION:  Peter David.

HEATH CORSON:  It was Peter David, right?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

HEATH CORSON:  And then who did the camouflage outfit?

QUESTION:  Also Peter David, like back in the 80’s.

HEATH CORSON:  It was Peter David as well, right?

QUESTION:  That was Craig Russell.

HEATH CORSON:  Ah, I don’t remember. But I was really influence by that sort of like warrior. We wanted to go brawler. We wanted to go warrior. So I really liked that idea.

QUESTION:  Was it a concerted effort by Warners and DC to make Aquaman past this, joke mantle into something that’s more like a brawler, a bad ass, and somebody you don’t want to mess with?

HEATH CORSON:  Yeah. I think they want all their characters to be cool. I don’t think anybody goes, “Okay cool. Let’s add this lame guy.”

QUESTION:  If you’re going to do Aqualad, are you going to go with Garth Tempest or are you going to go with the new Aqualad from the New Young Justice?

HEATH CORSON:  I’d love to go with Young Justice. But I don’t get a choice. But I would love it. That’s my guy.

HEATH CORSON:  Thanks guys.

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis hits Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on January 27th and also stars Jason O’Mara (Batman), Jerry O’Connell (Superman), Shemar Moore (Cyborg), Christopher Gorham (Flash), Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern), Sean Astin (Shazam), Rosario Dawson (Wonder Woman), Sam Witwer (Orm) and Sumalee Montano (Mera).

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Jim Kiernan
Founder and moderator of Nerdy Rotten Scoundrel. Steering this ship the best I can. Lifelong opinionated geek & pop culture enthusiast. Independent television & film professional. Born & raised New Yorker. My dog Nicholas is awesome.

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