Add one more Hollywood heavy hitter to the DCEU as Dolph Lundgren joins the Aquaman movie as the strong and fearsome King Nereus, leader of a somewhat rebellious faction of Atlanteans (whose real backstory is far more complicated). His casting confirms that director James Wan isn't shying away from the tone of a period epic set at the bottom of the ocean, with Lundgren carrying the reputation of shlocky, muscular, testosterone-fueled swagger wherever he goes. What to expect from his character, though, isn't as easy to narrow down.
It was a foregone conclusion that Jason Momoa's Aquaman would be joined by the likes of Mera (Amber Heard) his eventual queen, Orm (Patrick Wilson) his Atlantean half-brother and rival, and even Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). As the regular cast of characters, it would only make sense for them to appear. But King Nereus doesn't fit that description, being introduced as part of Geoff Johns's New 52 relaunch - suggesting the DCEU's Aquaman movie just might adapt a similar story...
But first, we're catching movie fans up to speed with everything they need to know about the Aquaman Movie's King Nereus & Xebel Explained.
Meet King Nereus
While some members of the Aquaman family go back decades in DC Comics history, King Nereus was introduced in Aquaman #13 back in 2013 by writer Geoff Johns and artist Paul Pelletier. His arrival came as a major shock, with Mera being returned to her home colony of Xebel (more on that later) and tossed at the feet of a mysterious figure. That figure was Nereus, claiming to be not only the King of Xebel, but husband to Mera, longtime lover of Aquaman.
Over the course of the story that followed (and later in Secret Origins) it was established that years earlier, when Mera's father was still the King of Xebel, Nereus distinguished himself as a proud and accomplished warrior. As the head of the military, the tradition of Xebel suggested that he would one day marry the royal daughter, becoming king, and gaining the ability to wield water as she could. But before that could all take place, Mera's father sent her on an official mission - the one that caused her to cross paths with the Atlanteans, and the destined king, Arthur Curry in the first place.
She had been sent to assassinate him as recompense for travesties wrought in the distant past. Obviously, she fell in love with Arthur, instead.
Eventually, Mera would explain to Arthur that she and Nereus were never actually married, but simply intended prior to her father's death. It may seem like a massive, romantically-charged bit of intrigue, but it was never truly expanded upon by Johns, or any succeeding writer. King Nereus gave a leader to Mera's people who was less of a villain, and more of a ruthlessly loyal follower of who he believed the true king of Atlantis and Xebel to be a different ruler... one already alluded to in Zack Snyder's leaked Aquaman footage.
To make that exceedingly long story a short one, we'll simply say that at one point in the history of Atlantis - the history likely to be shown in Justice League's opening scenes - both Atlantis and Xebel were joined under the same king and kingdom. Glory reigned everywhere, and the ancient King Atlan (the monarch who actually built the fictional Atlantis into a sprawling city of wonder before it sank) dreamed of a future when these separate tribes would intermarry, and join to create an even greater whole.
Obviously, things didn't play out as he hoped - either for his own life, the dream of harmonious coexistence and synergy, or his kingdom. Atlantis sank, Xebel was fractured, and the rest is history.
The Kingdom of Xebel
The history of Xebel is far more interesting, dating back decades to a time when it was introduced as an alternate, aquatic dimension (hence the "X" we presume). It was the land from which Mera hailed, arriving into the known DC Universe to seek aid from Aquaman before falling in love with him, marrying, and giving birth to Aquababy. In the modern era of DC Comics, a version of Xebel slightly more in keeping with the Atlantean mythology has been adopted. Xebel exists in a sealed, hidden space accessible only by shipwrecks... called the Bermuda Triangle.
That's the version of Xebel cemented in the same Aquaman run introducing Nereus as its ruler, having been described as a remote, isolated prison colony for those subjects Atlantis deemed too damaging to keep among them. Exactly when the story shifted from a splinter cell of true Atlantis to a separate, self-sufficient society isn't exactly clear, but that's where the story wound up. And as Mera explained in that same Geoff Johns-penned arc, the people of Xebel (known as both Xebellians and Xebelites) largely define themselves through hatred of Atlantis for the imagined slights mentioned earlier.
It was for that reason that Mera was sent out of the hidden society to track down and kill Aquaman (after which point, thanks to her mother's planning, she could pursue whatever life she chose). But when she met the famous hero and King of Atlantis, she soon learned that neither the king nor his people knew Xebel was a real, tangible civilization of their former kin.Which gave the Xebel forces an even greater advantage when they chose to strike.
Casual comic book fans may know that Mera, aside from possessing similar super-strength and durability of Aquaman, can also manipulate water into hard constructs. This ability to not just create weapons, allies, or defenses from any nearby water, but control the water in living things makes Mera potentially more dangerous than Aquaman. Yet it isn't a superpower unique to her, but one passed among the Xebel Royal Family - which, thanks to Nereus inheriting the role of ruler from Mera's father, includes him as well. How they developed it, and why the Atlanteans didn't is still a mystery.
It's unclear just how much of this Xebel mythology the Aquaman movie will be diving into (pun intended), since director James Wan may have more than enough story dealing with Arthur, Mera, Orm, Black Manta, and Nereus. But it's worth pointing out that when news of Lundgren's casting was revealed, Wan took to Twitter to address the idea that King Nereus would be the movie's "villain" directly:
Not quite villain, but thank you :) https://t.co/LtqpcSanFL
— James Wan (@creepypuppet) April 13, 2017
That distinction is an interesting one, but for those who read King Nereus's arc in the New 52, it really wouldn't be fair to call him a stereotypical 'villain.' He's essentially a rival to Aquaman, if anything, with his own commitments to Mera and his people that simply compel him to follow a different course. That's a hopeful point to make by James Wan, since the comic book movie genre has more than enough trope-y villains already. Add in Patrick Wilson's tease that Aquaman's villain Ocean Master is a new breed, and Black Manta might be the least of Arthur Curry's worries.
Source: James Wan
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