‘Aquaman: King of Atlantis’ Creators on His Royal Cartoon Adventure
He may not have Jason Momoa‘s raw Momoa-ism, but the newest Aquaman is just as colorful!
The three-part animated event series Aquaman: King of Atlantis surfaces on HBO Max this week, and it’s a family-friendly take on the royal who has finally earned the respect he deserves. For ages, the Atlantean land-dweller has been the laughingstock of the comic world (he does more than talk to fish, people!). But thanks to the massive success of Momoa’s big-screen turns in Aquaman and Justice League, paired with DC Comics’ investment in the 80-year-old character, he is finally having his moment.
In KoA, the newly crowned leader (voiced by Cooper Andrews) faces his first day on the job with as much befuddlement as you’d expect from someone who has never ruled an ocean before. Making matters worse, his prickly brother Ocean Master (Dana Snyder) wants to overthrow him, and a whole bunch of foes are lining up to make waves. Thankfully (or maybe unfortunately?), he has beloved Mera (Gillian Jacobs) and mentor Vulko (Thomas Lennon) around to help him keep his head above water.
We spoke with showrunners Marly Halpern-Graser and Victor Courtright (the pair who also brought us ThunderCats Roar) about animating this icon and using the feature film as a springboard into a whole new sea of stories for the king.
OK, I thought King of Atlantis was going to have an adult spin, but this is something kids can watch.
Marly Halpern-Graser: Oh, definitely. It is officially for the whole family.
So why Aquaman?
Victor Courtright: Aquaman is pretty frickin’ fun, if you ask me. And this world is just so big and so full of potential. Pretty much anything goes. There’s so much lore to either build from or be inspired by.
For the longest time, Aquaman fans had to endure so many jokes about him.
Halpern-Graser: Yes. As a comic fan myself, the thing that always bugged me was that it wasn’t “jokes” about Aquaman, it was the joke about Aquaman. I’m super into comic books and I’m super into comedy, so both of my sensibilities got tired of the one Aquaman joke.
Aquaman is cool. He’s always been cool. People are coming around to that these days, so we didn’t want to mess with that. Our idea was that this is a standalone take on the character and we’re our own continuity, but we wanted to take the starting point of the movie, which is Aquaman as a regular guy who wasn’t even sure he should be king of Atlantis. He is now and where does he go from there? So ours is a normal-guy Aquaman who’s put into this over-the-top, sometimes silly undersea world. And he’s basically reacting to it the way the audience would.
It’s almost a fish-out-of-water underwater story.
Halpern-Graser: Yes! [Laughs]
And he’s got more of a sense of humor than the film version, though he’s very funny also. But this guy is almost like a disgruntled employee, which I kind of love. And to have Mera and Vulko as his advisers…
Courtright: Yeah, I think we’ve definitely started with the movie and that perspective. Then when we put him in this awkward position on the throne, Mera and Vulko just immediately fell into these really fitting places. You have Vulko pushing him toward his classic sense of duty and then you have Mera pushing him more toward this aggressive almost warpath, essentially. She wants to go out there and interact with the world. And Vulko’s like, “Do your taxes.” [Laughs] But they’re both just as excited about it. Everybody’s having a great time with Aquaman’s job except for Aquaman.
Halpern-Graser: I think part of our idea for the series is that this is Aquaman’s first day as king and he is not sure what he should do to be a good king. And so we wanted to put people around him who would present ideas of “Well, a king would do this or a king should do this” and have the arc of the series being Aquaman figuring out what’s best for him.
Nice. And let’s talk about the animation style.
Courtright: We were rolling off of the ThunderCats Roar stuff. A lot of the creative power behind that came with us to make Aquaman, all the amazing, wonderfully talented people we worked with.
And how do you go about casting ? Did you want somebody who sounded like Jason Momoa, but not exactly?
Courtright: Not really. We had that image in our head early on, but as we started breaking down this story and were building animatics, I think we evolved toward something that was its own thing. And then essentially he became really, really difficult to cast. It took a long time to find the right voice, but Cooper Andrews killed it.
And Thomas Lennon, that man’s voice, as soon I heard him I was like, “Oh, my God.”
With the whole rest of the cast—Gillian Jacobs, Thomas Lennon, Dana Snyder—I mean, those are some of my favorite comedic people period. It was just such a dream to get to cast them.
Any chance of you two coming back with another trilogy featuring a different character? Should we put this out there?
Courtright: Would love to!
Halpern-Graser: Sure, this has been so much fun. And I’ll be honest, the format surprised me a little bit. I didn’t realize just how satisfying doing three interconnected mini-movies would be, and I really, really loved it. It was a great way to tell a lot more story than you normally would or could in that amount of minutes. The format was awesome. And yeah, I would sign up in a second to do more Aquaman or some other superhero.
Aquaman: King of Atlantis, Series Premiere, Thursday, October 14, HBO Max