In late April 1998, I got a surprise e-mail from former Aquaman writer Shaun McLaughlin. He offered to clear up the remaining mysteries that were left when Peter David took over the series. For this information, I must thank him from the bottom of my heart. These plotlines have been unscratched itches for nearly as long as I've been a comic book collector, and it is very nice to at last see their resolution, even if it is only in the form of simple text explanations...
As you read this, please remember that these quotes were taken from several e-mail messages. For the most part, I am quoting complete paragraphs of Shaun's e-mail, though I may have changed the order slightly for my own aesthetic sense. So, without further ado, Shaun McLaughlin's recollections of the 1991 Aquaman series:
If you'd like to read my overviews of the issues before reading the resolution notes, please follow these links:
Where to start? I'm not sure how many fans I still have out there, but thanks for your consideration. If you (or anyone) have any specific questions, please feel free to ask. I don't have any of my notes for the series anymore and I've changed computers and programs at least three times since I worked on Aquaman, so even if I did have them, I'm not sure I could still decode them. Also, I find it painful to look back at my own work, even the stuff I did last week.
I really am surprised that people remember at all, let alone with such detailed questions. Since the book was cancelled, all I ever heard was "No one remembers the book". "It didn't do well." While I had the royalty checks to prove that it actually did do well, I never heard such from anyone.
I'm very gratified in the interest in what I thought was a "forgotten" series.
You might be interested in knowing that the original pitch for the series was: "HUSBAND, FATHER, KING, HERO" (with everything except "HERO" being crossed out) and the tag: "It's all he has left". (Wow. Even I'm surprised that I remember that.)
Eco-Wars, and the Sea Devils
The Eco-Wars storyline was the first story in my original proposal. The scene with Aquaman at Merrevale Oil was going to be the first scene in the series. DC felt the series needed a stronger first issue and it was pushed back. I don't recall how the Sea-Devils got involved, but I know that I liked writing them a lot, especially Biff. I think I had a friend who was a big Sea-Devils fan and was pushing me to put them in the book somehow and I thought that a semi-Greenpeace thing was a good idea for them.
What seems to be the big mystery: F'ancha was Orm, the Ocean Master. That's how he knew Crane/Scarecrow and was immune to the fear gas aimed at the Posiedians. Always jealous of Aquaman, and one of his arch-enemies, I wanted to have Orm be one of the few really smart villains in comics. Tired of having his half-brother take his head off in every physical battle, Orm took a less direct approach. He was going to destroy Aquaman by turning Posiedonis against him. This way Orm would get away scott free and still achieve his goal.
I believe that we had worked out a plot-line where Orm had undergone a synthetic gill-transplant and then inserted himself into Poseidonis politics as an advisor to King Thesily. I'm sorry that I don't remember the exact process, but I know that we were, at one point, talking about Queequeg undergoing a similar process. I know that I (and probably I alone) was toying the idea of bringing Queequeg back as an even sillier villain than he was the first time, calling himself "Queequeg, The Human Submarine". He wasn't going to be half as dangerous as he was annoying.
The Nature of Villains
As you may infer, I didn't always go for villains who trumpeted themselves. I find the guys who work behind the scenes infinitely more evil and thought letting readers in on it only made things tougher for the hero. the readers generally had more knowldge of what was going on than Aquaman did.
The Mystery of Wylie
Continuing on this line was Wylie. Wylie was going to be revealed as the head of O.G.R.E. But this wasn't the O.G.R.E. of the '60s. Instead, it stood for Ocean Going Resource Exchange, a consortium of industries that either transported things, used the sea's recources, or in some way were connected to it. I seem to recall that one of the member companies was an arms firm and that they were responsible for arming Queequeg. O.G.R.E. saw Aquaman as a major threat, especially after his ascention into world politics with his appointment to the U.N. They were going to continue working behind the scenes and become a major force in, I think, the third year of the series.
Things were pretty well planned out on that series, which accounts for the dangling plot threads. Evidence to the contrary, we pretty much knew where we were going at all times, or at least had a direction. I remember that we were going to do 4 issues examining all the origins and putting them into a context, and then there was going to be at leat 2 issues of Aquaman basically on land trying to find the rest of the Curry family (including a special surprise from DC's past as his long-lost Uncle). I know for a fact that we were going to have him come to terms with the fact that he doesn't belong in our world and he doesn't belong in Atlantis and come to peace with the fact that he is unique and a part of both worlds.
A New Origin for Aquaman
The battle in #12 was supposed to go on 2 issues and lead into the 4-part origin. The origin was going to be an amalgam of the existing origins with Atlan moving behind the scenes to bring Atlanna and the Lighthouse keeper together. The lighthouse keeper was to be later revealed to have a black-sheep brother, disowned by the family in the 1940's when he forged papers to go off to war: Capt. Storm of the old DC war books. He was going to be Aquaman's rather cranky conscience. (I was also going to bring the scientist father origin into continuity as the product of a tabloid reporters imagination).
Manta's death was not the death we had originally planned --- but he was always going to die.
In the first draft of the Revenge storyline, Aquaman almost beat Manta to death and then left him in the sinking Manta ship. For my money, Manta is just about the most successful villain in the DC Universe. He did a pretty good emotional job on Aquaman, committed a really heinous crime and I felt an ugly death was justified. I also thought it would be a good B-plot to bring in later when the world took a "You did WHAT?" stance on this. My editor did not agree on this issue.
Notes on Specific Issues
Issue #11 was done because Ken Hooper was begging to draw a dinosaur.
#13 was originally written as an out-of-continuity fill-in issue that would be kept in a drawer in case we ever got behind. The only change in #13 was that in the original script, it was clear that Tony had AIDS. I was told that this was not a topic for a DC comic.
BTW: My favorite issues are #8 (NKVDemon) and #13. #13 is the only issue that didn't get a heavy editor hand and I feel it came the closest to what I wanted. It was originally intended as a fill-in and was pencilled right from a first draft script.
"Who was the child with Mera?"
The child with Mera was, as I recall, a construct of Thanatos's. I thought Artie was dead and should remain dead, but what better victory for a villain than to steal the hero's wife away and set her up in a fantasy world where she thought everything was fine? The constuct Artie was more of a way to get to Aquaman, something that would tear at the very fabric of what Aquaman thought himself to be.
"How did Oumland know where Atlantis was?"
It had been established in the 60s that surface people knew where Atlantis was. Manta had once attacked the dome and this was why Oumland was able to get there.
"How did Aquaman sense that NKVDemon was shooting at him in issue #8?"
I was playing games with Aquaman's telepathy, which is hinted at in several places (the fish in the river are going crazy, the surgeon fish that violates Manta's suit, Peli in issue #11). Early on (#3) we set up that his telepathy didn't always work as we thought it had. Aquaman himself didn't understand this ability very well. Since it was something that had always been with him, he just accepted it. My idea was that he was more of a two-way empath who could make strong suggestions to sea life or play on their instincts. Because of this, I was going to stretch his powers to the point where he could pick up almost any strong emotion, even human. I could never figure out why, if he was a telepath, he could only communicate with sea life. I also had a pretty hard and fast rule that the only sea-creatures he could communicate with directly were the dolphins, like Porm. I remember some letters taking me to task for this, and for the violation of the 1-hour limit. There were even some people upset that I had Aquaman able to control sea-birds, but it seems to me that this was something I had picked up earlier in the continuity.
Note: Aquaman does control sea-birds repeatedly in the Silver Age series -LG
"What were your plans for Aqualad in the series?"
We were told early-on that he was a Titans property and we were to be pretty hands off. I found out that Titans didn't have any plans for him late in my run and never had a chance to figure out what to do with him. The Aqualad/Crastinus scenes were done to fit in with Titans continuity at the time.
I don't know what I would have done with Aqualad. I like the character a lot, but I probably would have kept him a minor character. Early in the series I was playing a lot with what people's perceptions of Aquaman were from both the old book and the TV series Aquaman appeared in. There is the dialogue around the Aquacave in, I think, #3 that also plays with this. He's a hero from a more innocent time trying to catch up with the world and it's usually a world that hasn't treated him very well. If I used Aqualad, it probably would have been playing into this. I know I would have had to do something about the name. In my mind, he was at least in his early 20s since we were treating Aquaman as about 35 years old.
"What was the deal with the Russian Ambassador?"
The Russian ambassador was going to develop into a romance for Aquaman that was going to be complicated when Mera escaped Thanatos so that Aquaman's land/water dichotomy was going to be mirrored in his love-life.
I know there have been rumors that I hate Peter David. Simply untrue. Every time I've met or talked to him, he's been very complimentary and a perfect gentleman. I never looked at his Aquaman just because I didn't think I would be able to look at it with an balanced eye.
As to what I've been doing since: I continued working in comics until last year. I did a lot of publicity work for Mailbu and was a contributing editor for their promotional books. This was an excellent opportunity and I made a lot of long-lasting friendships through it. I wrote a fill-in issue of HAWKMAN, did several issues of THE REAL ADVENTURES OF JONNY QUEST, and PINKY AND THE BRAIN. Out of all of these, my favorite was the 8-pager Jeff Johnson and I did for, I think JONNY QUEST #8 which kind of reflected the Thanatos AQUAMAN story as it had two Race Bannon's duking it out (but with a much different plot device).
In 1994 I went to work at Warner Bros. TV Animation for what I thought was going to be a temporary position as a Production Assistant on ANIMANIACS. I have been there ever since with the best day job a writer ever had. After 6 months I became Prodcution Coordinator on both ANIMANICS and PINKY AND THE BRAIN, then became Senior Production Coordinator onthese shows. In 1997 I became Production Manager on SUPERMAN, a position I've continued with BATMAN and the new BATMAN BEYOND (formerly BATMAN TOMORROW) series.
There are now a couple of people trying to woo me back to comics. I don't know if I take the gigs, but they'd be for mini-series. One's a superhero thing and the other's a comedy.
I've done episodes of PINKY AND THE BRAIN, THE REAL ADVENTURES OF JONNY QUEST and THE BROTHERS FLUB (for Nickelodeon this fall). I also developed and wrote the pilot for a live-action televison series "The Accidental P.I." which was optioned and shopped around. The rights have now reverted to me and my agent's trying to see what can be done with it. I'm trying more and more to move into live-action.
I'm in pre-production to make a short film that I have written and will direct this fall called THE KERNE. Even if this comes out great it probably won't be anything that anyone sees, but it's nice to let people know. If it come sout well, I plan on entering it into festivals. I have enough extra money to finance it out of my own pocket and that's not something that's going to come along too often, so I have to take the chance now.
My wife and I have a two-year old daughter and I'm about as busy as a guy can be. This is my first weekend without a deadline since January.
-Shuan McLaughlin (SMICK818@aol.com) - April 26-28th and July 6, 1998