[WARNING: This article contains minor story SPOILERS for Justice League]
The time for rumors has passed, DC Comics fans: Justice League is upon us. And this time around, the producers have thrown (most of) the doors open, revealing in our recent set visit the major villains of the movie, the new themes and message director Zack Snyder is after, and much, much more. As if the villainous New God Steppenwolf wasn’t enough of an injection of new DC mythology, the producers also confirmed that the movie will head to the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, introducing key figures ahead of Aquaman.
The early characters and story beats teased or outright announced may promise big things for the solo Aquaman movie (and may even hint at the plot of that film altogether), but there’s a good chance that the less time the movie focuses on explaining the history and fiction behind the realm, the more confused audiences might be. So we’re breaking down everything we now know about the cast of the Aquaman side of the DCEU, from star Jason Momoa to his right-hand woman, his most trusted advisor, and even the first king of the fictional race.
It’s still director James Wan’s story to tell once the cameras start rolling, but it’s Zack Snyder who has set the wheels in motion. So sit back, relax, and prepare to learn the major plot points you’ll take into Justice League: Aquaman & Atlantean Characters Explained.
Atlan, King of Atlantis
We’ll be outlining and explaining the strange prologue that begins the film soon, but the story of Atlantis in Justice League begins thousands, or tens of thousands of years in the past. At the time, the realms of mankind, the women known as the Amazons, and the sparkling jewel of the planet’s civilizations, Atlantis, all banded together against a common – but as yet, unknown – enemy. Assuming that Zack Snyder is keeping to the DC Comics mythology – a safe bet – and focusing particularly on writer Geoff Johns’ most recent origin story for Aquaman – also a safe bet, considering both he and James Wan have praised it heavily – then we already know a great deal about the man leading the mighty nation into battle.
He is known as Atlan – the first king of Atlantis, and the man whose vision of a united society saw him bring the peoples of seven different kingdoms – also know as the Seven Seas – together under one banner. In the comics, it was Atlan who helped raise Atlantis into the city of ancient myth: a shining, incredibly advanced and peaceful utopia that existed above land… until the king’s desire to mix races and peoples was opposed by his brother, Orin. After being betrayed and seeing his family slain before him, Atlan fled, crafting magical items the likes of which the world had never seen. And with them, he returned to the civilization he had helped build – and shattered it, sinking it into the sea, killing nearly every inhabitant along with it.
Most were killed, but some survived. Those who lived turned Atlantis into the underwater kingdom most comic book readers will recognize, and divided into two tribes: the Atlanteans, and the Xebelians. As for Atlan? His story ends with the sinking of the city, until a young man by the name of Arthur Curry took what he believed to be his rightful place as King of Atlantis, waking the Dead King (reduced to a skeleton over the millenia) to unite his kingdoms once again.
As we said above, that’s the comic book version of the story. And, to be clear, this added Justice League twist of Man, Amazon and Atlantean banding together in prehistory is something completely new. But the evidence we saw among a host of concept art gives us reason to believe that Atlan’s story could be a launching point for the solo Aquaman film.
For starters, there’s the fact that the concept art features the underwater city of Atlantis, along with an ornate throne upon which sits – you guessed it – the skeleton of a king. Although he isn’t named, the other concept art depicting the aforementioned ‘Ancient King’ from the brightest days of Atlantis suggests that the filmmakers are looking to tie past and present together through a single monarch (fun fact: the concept art drew the Ancient King/Atlan to clearly resemble that of Game of Thrones‘ Kristofer Hivju).
It’s possible that it’s a cameo and nothing else. But assuming that Snyder and Wan are looking to Geoff Johns’ “Aquaman” series for inspiration, the return of the Ancient King through unknown magic – and the revelations about Arthur’s past, just as he had finally accepted his royal fate – would be a strong place to start a solo film series. Not to mention one that would tie both hero and villain of the movie to the Justice League mythology.
Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman
In broad strokes, the origin story of Aquaman is about as formulaic and mythic as it gets. A boy grows up as an everyday human, until he reaches adulthood, realizing he is actually the descendant of a mystical race (in this case, half-human, half-Atlantean) who must not only return to his people, but accept the role of leader that he is destined to become. But when the solo Aquaman movie was announced to be coming after Justice League, some wondered how Warner Bros. and DC would tell the hero’s origin after he had already appeared in his final, iconic form.
Our time on set didn’t include an appearance from Momoa, or explicit answers about how he fits into the story. But knowing that Atlantis holds a powerful Apokoliptian relic (teased in a Batman V Superman deleted scene), having seen the concept art of it being removed from the underwater city by Aquaman, and having gotten a look at the armor he’ll wear in battle with the rest of the Justice League, a rough chain of events can be assumed.
In the New 52 origin of the Justice League, it wasn’t until an invading army of Parademons – advance troops of Darkseid – started terrorizing Earth that Aquaman showed himself to the League, and the world. While we know the Parademons will have a more subtle approach this time around, if it’s the Mother Box in Atlantis that the villains are after, then it isn’t hard to imagine why Aquaman decides this is his fight, too.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re skipping an origin altogether. Among the concept art were images of Momoa in street clothes, sporting his full body tattoos with jeans, not Atlantean armor. Does it mean that the arrival of the Parademons is what forces Arthur to return to his (underwater) home and become the king his people need? The tattoos suggest he’s aware of his relationship to the sea and its deities and creatures – directly pulling from Polynesian/Hawaiian myth and tradition – by the time we meet him, so he may have already decided that a life on the throne isn’t something he’s after.
In the New 52 comics, Aquaman is also introduced having already vacated the throne, realizing that if neither humans nor Atlanteans will accept him due to his mixed heritage, then a life in isolation is best. He leaves Atlantis in the hands of his half-brother Orm, finally claiming the throne once he has earned it, becoming a leader alongside Earth’s strongest heroes.
We may not know where Momoa’s Aquaman fits into Justice League‘s running time, but Ben Affleck did explain why Arthur in particular may not be the kind of hero who’s eager to join a team:
“You know, Aquaman’s a very strong character, played by a very strong actor with a very strong personality, so I don’t think he’s the sort of guy who at any point in his life takes orders from people. Jason Momoa, he’s got a very strong, stubborn, independent, powerful energy. So it’s not like any of these characters show up and immediately go like, “yes sir, what should I do, Mr. Wayne?”
It’s about trying to get a lot of disparate people who are used to being very powerful and independent to try to work together. And it’s about how hard it is for them to all get along. And there are some characters who really hit it off with each other, some that don’t hit it off with each other, almost come to blows, and it’s about trying to contain that. So it’s not an easy ride trying to get this group to come together.”
Like most female counterparts or otherworldly love interests to classic heroes, the origin story of Mera has been drastically changed over the years, but a few key points have remained the same (and been doubled down on or clarified in the New 52). Having been raised among the Xebelians – believed to be an outcast group of Atlanteans, until the returned Atlan informed them they were actually one of the Sven Seas/peoples who had formed Atlantis – Mera was taught to be a fierce, angry, and bitter enemy of the Atlanteans. But when she was sent to the underwater city on a mission to assassinate its king, the young half-human Arthur, she realized that much of what she had learned about its people was propaganda – and nobody defied expectations more than Aquaman himself.
Interest soon turned to romance, and ever since, Mera and Arthur have been varying degrees of inseparable, whether in or out of the water. But if Arthur has shown an aversion to large crowds or land-dwellers, then he seems downright charming by comparison to Mera. Having little interest, respect, or time for humanity’s laws or practices, it’s Arthur she relies upon to stay out of trouble among humans, and Mera whom Arthur relies on in a fight.
While Arthur can force sea creatures to do his bidding, and swim at incredible speeds (along with all the superhuman-level skills that come with being Atlantean), Mera is capable of controlling water itself, bending and weaponizing it at will. Stopping a tidal wave or cracking skulls with a flick of her hands could make for some incredible action scenes in Justice League and Aquaman, but the fact that Mera can, and has removed the water from a human body and she’s infinitely more dangerous than her royal lover.
Unfortunately, the role to be played by actress Amber Heard in Justice League is still a total mystery, be it a cameo or supporting role in the movie’s Atlantis scenes. We did get a chance to see the costume being designed for the character, clearly drawn from the comic book source material. Where Aquaman’s full suit resembles actual armor, Mera’s costume is more form fitting, mainly glittering greens and golds, with layered heavy scales around the shoulders. And before anyone assumes this is a case of dressing a leading lady in a revealing costume while the hero dons impressive armor, we don’t yet know if Mera will sport a heavier duty costume of her own – meaning this bodysuit may be a counterpart to Momoa’s shirtless look.
Finally, we arrive at Vulko, the most morally ambiguous character we’re likely to encounter in the story. Officially, the Atlantean Vulko has acted as the trusted advisor/regent/mentor/friend to Aquaman as both human and Atlantean, having known his mother. And as the years have gone by, and Arthur having found his path to the throne, Vulko tends to be there to help him. But in the New 52, Geoff Johns came up with a far darker, but no less loyal version. When the relics of Atlantis had been gathered, and a war between the Justice League and the Atlanteans (under command of King Orm) seeking to wipe out the mainland for a perceived attack, Vulko revealed himself as the mastermind of it all.
He was willing to kill, and allow to be killed hundreds, if not thousands of humans and soldiers, so long as it forced Arthur onto the throne that Vulko believed was his destiny. Not his birthright, since Vulko, the one man in Atlantis who knows all their is to learn about history, legend, and world events, knew that the stories told of Atlan’s courageous death were lies. Atlan died a monster. And Arthur was not his descendant, but the descendant of the brother who betrayed that king.
It’s impossible to know where Snyder is taking his influence, since those character twists, if planned, are clearly more at home in the Aquaman solo movie. Still, the willful villainy of Vulko makes the casting of actor Willem Dafoe, no stranger to villain roles, seem telling. The concept art and costume for Vulko reinforce his role as a seasoned, wise advisor, downright oozing elegance and tradition. Which means it’s probably best to simply assume Vulko remains on Aquaman’s side. Even at his worst, he still wanted to best for the would-be king, meaning any story that sees Aquaman return to Atlantis, or take a hands-on role in its fate, will rely on Vulko to ly the foundations for this film and his own.
That’s all we know about the Ancient King, new leader and supporting cast of the DCEU’s Atlantis, and what ties to the comics we’ve been able to see so far. As more details arrive, we’ll keep you updated, but don’t hesitate to offer your own theories or suspicions in the comments.
Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.