Comics on Film: Why James Wan Is a Great Choice to Direct 'Aquaman'

Comics on Film: Why James Wan Is a Great Choice to Direct 'Aquaman'

Jun 05, 2015

This week it was announced that Warner Bros. had found a director for their upcoming Aquaman film, and it's none other than James Wan -- the director of one of the year’s biggest films, Furious 7. Although he’s managed to make a name for himself by directing what’s become a billion-dollar blockbuster, Wan has a number of other great qualities that make him the perfect kind of director to take on one of DC Comics most fascinating icons.

Aquaman is unique in a sense because, unlike other Justice League members like The Flash or Batman, a lot of people don’t seem to “get” what makes him heroic and formidable. Often relegated to being the butt of jokes, the film has a tall order in convincing people why Aquaman may be the biggest bad ass on the League’s roster.

Here’s why we think James Wan is up to the task.


His Body of Work

Before he directed a massive film like Furious 7, James Wan got his start directing horror films that relied very well on the notion of suspense. As the writer and director of the original Saw film – which introduced the sadistic Jigsaw Killer to the world – Wan demonstrated a knack for getting under the skin of audiences everywhere, and created a franchise that would persist through six sequels, along with comics, a video game, and even theme park attractions.

Between 2010 and 2013, he would also help to create two new horror franchises: Insidious, and The Conjuring. Both of these efforts – especially the latter one – received positive reviews from critics, showing Wan’s cinematic flair and attention to detail, as well as his greater ability to give audiences some solid experiences on multiple levels.

After the second Insidious film, his next directing job was the massively successful and aforementioned Furious 7. Easily the most successful entry in that franchise thus far, critics praised the work of Wan for providing some really imaginative over-the-top thrills, and bringing an unexpected but welcome sense of narrative value as well.

He command suspense, he commands action, and he commands drama in the context of all of each genre’s craziness. Any superhero film would be lucky to have a director like James Wan on their project, and Warner Bros. is very fortunate to have him onboard a movie like Aquaman.


The Character

The other major element of this equation is, of course, the subject character himself. Contrary to popular belief, good comic book storytelling for Aquaman did not originate with Geoff Johns’ critically acclaimed run with the character at the beginning of “the New 52.” Some of the absolute best creative minds in the comic book industry, from Johns all the way through the likes of Grant Morrison, Peter David, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, and Joe Kelly have all contributed to the comic book legacy of the Sea King, either in his own titles or as a member of the Justice League.

Prior to Johns’ run, likely the most revered take on the character for comics fans came in the form of Peter David’s from the early-to-mid 1990s. In it, Aquaman loses his ability to commune with sea life and endures immense physical trauma by losing his hand, which causes him to become irate and even somewhat unhinged. In a battle with Lobo, his signature orange top gets shredded, and instead of replacing it he dons a classical Manica: an armguard most known for being used by Roman gladiators.

It’s here that Aquaman has a very mariner-esque beard and long hair, in addition to a harpoon where his hand used to be. It was during this run that a story concerning the Five Lost Cities of Atlantis was first told, where the underwater kingdom is threatened with invasion from an unearthly species. This spurs Aquaman to venture into the sea to unite the lost cities together, and it’s here that the character is firmly established as not just a king, but a capable warrior who both inspires and unites his people.


The Look of the Film

We’ve already had one glimpse at how Jason Momoa will look as Aquaman, and it definitely seems greatly inspired by the Peter David run on the character. Aquaman wears longer hair and the mariner’s beard, as well as gladiatorial armor pieces and what seem to be ceremonial tattoos, perhaps indicating his place as royalty in Atlantis. This we’ll see in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice next year, but what about for the solo film?

Another benefit of having James Wan as the director lies in his ability to scare, and when that’s coupled with the strange, frontier-like capability of the open ocean and the deep sea, it’s clear that Aquaman’s domain can be a terrifying place. James Wan’s experience with the horror genre will likely serve the Aquaman film very much, since the ocean has been depicted in multiple stories, especially beyond comics, to be a frightening place.

One such example from the comics themselves is the Trench, a race of carnivorous creatures that live deep inside the Marianas Trench that has to consume 20-30 times their own body weight to survive. They were the first foes that Aquaman encountered in the New 52 run, and had a terrifying visual that was enhanced by the artistic skill of the series’ penciler, Ivan Reis.

Wan also, obviously, has a command of action scenes, as demonstrated by the high-octane thrills of Furious 7. If anything, a film like Aquaman has the potential to put all of his skills as a filmmaker to the test, and that’s just one of many reasons why we can’t wait to see what he comes up with.


Be sure to keep an eye on for any new developments relating to the Aquaman film, and we’ll see you next week for a brand new edition of Comics on Film!

Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, the Junior Editor at, and a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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