Who is Tim Schlattmann and why are we interviewing him on the Aquaman Shrine, you ask? Good question!
Tim is a writer and story editor for the Showtime's series Dexter(Sundays at 9pm), starring Michael C. Hall(Six Feet Under) as a serial killer who only kills other serial killers. A recent episode, titled "The Dark Defender", was partially set in a comic book shop and was going to feature a character bludgeoned to death by the Aquaman Water Globe from DC Direct.
Unfortunately, DC would not clear their character for such a use(spoilsports!) so the show's art department had to craft a new snow globe not featuring everyone's favorite Sea King. When, in a recent article on Comic Book Resources, Tim was quoted as saying "My favorite superhero is Aquaman", I knew I had to talk to this guy! Luckily, Tim was generous enough to take some time out from the picket lines(go writers!) to have a phone chat with me a few days ago:
Aquaman Shrine: So why are you such an Aquaman fan?
Tim Schlattmann: You know, it's really interesting, the character of Aquaman, is just one of those put-upon characters. If you found the right person who really gets it and really embraces it--its one of the coolest concepts ever, and I've always been struck by the physiology of it--what it would take to be that character.
If you could live a mile below the ocean, what that would mean from just a physiological standpoint--he would be the toughest thing ever. He would rival Superman just in terms of toughness--nothing could pierce your skin. When you were out of the water, you would move at lightning speed because you wouldn't have the resistance, the drag of the water. Your eyesight, your senses--everything is heightened.
I've always scratched my head--I think Peter David came the closest to really fully realizing this character's a bad-ass. And not just the attitude, but he'd be on the strongest heroes out there.
AMS: Why don't you write [an Aquaman proposal] up? DC is in love with TV writers writing their books now.
TS: Well, actually because of the "Dark Defender" episode, it's something that I want to pursue and I would love to have a crack at that character. I've been reading Aquaman since his back-up runs in Adventure Comics.
AMS: So it was back in the 70s when you first started reading him?
TS: Oh yeah, he started as the back-up and then they moved him to be the headliner. I've read every incarnation, every issue of the character since.
AMS: What's been your favorite one?
TS: I'll tell you what, the Peter David run was really good. I liked Marty Egeland, the artist, I thought really captured a dynamic and muscular...and, really, I thought, envisoned that underwater world very well. And just the way Peter approached the mythology, there were so many different layers to the character, a depth that maybe had been lacking.
Also, when they did him in the front of Adventure Comics, with the death of Arthur Jr., that stuff was cool. It was bi-monthly, so they only did like six episodes, but that Jim Aparo artwork...I thought, boy, they really had something there and for whatever reason it got shelved again.
Also, that "Search for Mera"--I actually had to get those issues at a comic book shop, I was too young. Again, it was Aparo, and Skeates, and that I thought was a great run.
But for me, Peter David really brought the character to the forefront in the DC universe. And then they relaunched the JLA with him as one of the big seven, which was really a shame they got away from that. But I thought Peter David knocked it out of the park and you could really tell he liked the character, he got the world, added to the mythology with the Atlantis Chronicles, tieing that in.
And I was one of those guys that never had a problem with, "oh, you're adding this extra layer to this character's origin that we all were familiar with" with the Silver Age--that was all well and good, but I didn't think Peter David took away from any of that; he in fact built upon it and made it better. Which is kind of hard to do when you're dealing with a character whose been around fifty years--suddently your take is "wow, this is really cool."
AMS: Are you the only guy on staff that reads comics or when you bring this stuff up do the other guys join in?
TS: It's interesting because on the picket line today, you know, the show Heroes shoots at the same studio that we do, and I know Michael Green, who's the co-Executive Producer. I met him when I was on Smallville that first season you know obviously he's been doing some work in comic books, and he just landed the feature version of Green Lantern.
It's interesting, because I've noticed on a lot of message boards that a lot of people who watch Heroes watch Dexter. Because Dexter, at his essence, is really a superhero-like character--he has the same staples you would find in any comic book character. He's got a Secret Origin, his background is born from tragedy and heartbreak--he lost his mother, just like Batman lost his parents.
So there are some interesting things that we tried to mine in my episodes of this season, "The Dark Defender", because I saw the parallels. So yeah, we have another writer on staff whose a big comic book fan. In fact, he did a mini-series called UTF. So he and I go back and forth about comics and stuff.
Its a world I would to get into, especially with Aquaman--I'm more of a DC guy, anyway. I read a couple of Marvel comics, but mostly DC. And to be honest, the thing that hooked me into Aquaman was The Super Friends. I would make the argument that that's really the Big Four--Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman; who are now the Trilogy, but I would add that fourth one, who is Aquaman, because of the popularity.
Yeah, he was of a fish out of water in most of those episodes, which probably didn't help the character, or people's perception of the character, but just the media visibility was something...and then I thought it out, and I started looking for that character in the comic books.
Y'know, there's a reason why these "Sea World" theme parks are so popular. And to have that ability, you know, it sounds stupid on its face--oh, you can only talk to fish?--but jeez, you've got three-quarters of the Earth covered in water, and you'd be able to telepathically command every sea creature underneath those waters, and I've always marveled how no one has embraced the sheer strength of this character and has been able to run with it, and not be someone who is a second- or third-banana. In my eyes, he's right at the top of the food chain.
AMS: From doing the Shrine, I've really come to see the reservoir of love people have for the character.
TS: Yeah, I think this Justice League movie is a really good sign. From the stuff I've been able to pick up, now that they've pulled Arthur Joseph from The Outsiders, I only think its a matter of time before they'll do a re-thinking[of the original Aquaman]--it just makes so much sense to go ahead and re-boot. For Tad [Williams] to kill Orin, without any reaction from the DC Universe, meant something to me like, ok, they plan to bring him back.
And clearly, because it wasn't a straight-out death--he's a pool of water in a coffin, to me, it leaves it so open to be able to bring that character back in a way. And it's not like I hated Arthur Joseph, it just wasn't "Aquaman."
AMS: It just makes sense, if you're going to have him be in this giant summer blockbuster movie, to have that version of Aquaman around.
TS: Clearly, from a marketing standpoint, and as a launching pad, they've put in all those characters, because if you compare DC to Marvel, in terms of how they have mined their individual libraries, Marvel's done an incredible job.
They've taken characters that would never be consdiered mainstream, and they've made them popular. DC, to me, has always had the more iconic characters, the better characters, the more well-known characters, and yet they've had such a hard time re-launching them.
AMS: There's been an Elektra movie but not a Wonder Woman movie.
TS:I was so hoping Joss Whedon's version of Wonder Woman was going to go through. I never saw the script, I just trust the guy, with what he's done in the past, and I know it would've been spectacular.
So maybe with this Justice League movie--a movie I never thought in a million years they'd pull off, just because of the iconic nature of so many of those characters, and then just the scale of the story.
AMS: How did you end up on Smallville? Did you pursuit it because you were a comic book fan?
TS: I was asked to come in and pitch for them, and I ended up selling one of my pitches to the show. A bunch of writers came in, and I was only one of two that pitched something they liked and then came on board to do that episode["Leech", season one].
It's amazing what they've been able to do with the show, because at the beginning they didn't really want to delve into the "Superboy"--you couldn't even use the name--they didn't want to go into the mythology because they thought that would be alienating to the audience at large. And then as the show went on, they've now fully embraced [it]--not only introducing other characters from the DCU, but other characters from the Superman mythology. Which to me, was always a goldmine.
AMS: How did you end up on Dexter?
TS: I did a family drama called Get Real--it was on Fox, and it starred Anne Hathaway, who has since gone on--it was her first TV gig. I worked with the executive producer on some other projects that didn't make it all the way to air, but we stayed in contact and he was the one who called me about Dexter.
He had just signed on to be the executive producer, to run the show, and he called me up and he sent me the book and the DVD of the pilot, and I was just blown away--it was so rich on so many levels.
I started out as a sitcom writer--my first writing credit is on Roseanne--and it's so interesting, because I use those comedy chops on Dexter. If I was to describe the show to someone, I'd say it's a dark comedy. It's much more a dark comedy than it is a crime procedural, or a murder-mystery--that's not the heart of the show.
It's really more of a character study, and I find its the humor that makes it powerful, makes you a co-conspirator with the character because you get inside Dexter's brain. You get to see his view of the world, and the comedy is always there. He sees us and all our foibles and insecurities because he's not one of us--its almost like having an alien among us, making commentary.
Clearly, the character has evolved. I love that we can do this show about this incredible character, and have the comedy, and play the horror, and play the procedural, it has so many elements to it that makes it unlike anything else on TV.
Its the kind of show that if I wasn't writing it, I'd be home watching it.
AMS: Did you always want to write for television, or did you just want to write, and you worked your way into television?
TS: Yeah, you know, I always fancied myself as a sitcom writer, and that's how I broke into the business. I was a production assistant, a P.A., which is basically a gopher, and then I moved up to being a writer's assistant, which is working primarily with the writers, being in the room with the writers, taking notes, making sure as the scripts come in, you format, you distribute--but it's really about being in the room.
It's being a secretary, for lack of a better word, because people are pitching ideas, and its your job, especially on a sitcom where its more about pitching jokes, you have to record everything, so in case someone forgot the joke that was pitched a half-hour ago--"oh, that was really good"--you flip back to your notes and bring it up.
And then from there I got my first credit on Roseanne, and then I did a couple of Fox sitcoms that went away pretty quickly, and then I wrote a movie called Extreme Close-Up--XCU--and the guy that bought it was Sean Cunningham.
AMS: The Friday the 13th guy?
TS: Yeah, and that kind of opened up a whole a new world for me, and I realized, wow, I'm not just a comedy writer. I can do other kinds of writing. And then after I sold XCU, then I got Get Real. And Get Real was a family drama, and it had some comedic elements, but I find almost everything I do has some comedy to it because I never--just from a personal point of view, I enjoy writing from a funny place.
AMS: Well, thanks for talking with me. The minute I saw that quote from you in the article--"Aquaman is my hero"--I knew I had to talk to you. Us Aquaman fans have to stick together!
TS: I was very happy Comic Book Resources got ahold of us, and we're just trying to get the word out[about Dexter], and most people wouldn't have even picked up on the Aquaman thing, unless they are familiar with your website or have seen the Aquaman globe.
That story[in the CBR article] is true--I was in my office, I have it on my shelf in my office--it's a cool little conversation piece--
AMS: It's a beautiful piece, really well done.
TS: I picked it up that one day and went "Wow, if you hit someone with this, you could probably really kill them." Strangely enough, that was the impetus for the murder weapon of that episode.
Obviously, DC was not going to clear the character and the snow globe for that particular use, so our art department went about and made their own version, and the character became "Mariner"--not "Sub-Mariner", just "Mariner"--and it actually cleared.
We had a whole bunch of names that wouldn't even clear, like something as bland as "Sea King", "King of the Seas", but strangely enough "Mariner" cleared, so---
AMS: They're like "Let Marvel worry about it, who cares?"
AMS: Well, thanks so much, Tim.
TS: You bet! I appreciate you getting ahold of me. I'm a big fan of the Shrine as well as the Aquaman website; hopefully all of us will not have to wait to long before he's back.
It's always great when I get to talk to other Aquaman fans, and it was a blast sitting around with Tim talking about our favorite hero and his adventures in Big Time TV. Thanks Tim!