Who the Hell is: Black Manta?!

The Biggest, Blackest Manta of All

Welcome back to another article, and a big one at that! Thanks to gangler52 submitting three characters that are animal themed with the word “black” in their name (take from that what you will), this week I get to tackle the nemesis of the one and only king of the seas! Needless to say, I’m very, very excited about this one. Mostly because I genuinely love  the character, but also because maybe a semi-big name like his will get me some more readers again.

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Pictured: my vast legions of readers and followers.

But hey, enough about me, let’s just dive right on in to this one!

Salty Language Ahead, Landlubbers

SCENARIO: Look, we all know how much people (read: filthy god damn casuals) like to shit all over Aquaman. That’s hardly a secret. And you know what, maybe you could sell those people on Aquaman as a character by telling them how fucking dope Black Manta is. But you know what? Fuck those people. They can get theirs when I talk about Aquaman, because today is about Black Manta, and you’re gonna fucking like it. So let’s say someone is curious why Aquaman, the half-Atlantean king of the sea, gets underwater Batman as his nemesis. It’s a fair thing to be confused about, after all, Orm makes way more sense as a main villain to good ‘ol Arthur. Perhaps you could tell them about how Black Manta makes up a core half of Aquaman’s villains physically incarnating the eternal torment in Arthur’s soul between his ties to land and sea, thereby broadening their horizons and genuinely starting some interesting discourse on comic books. And yeah, sure, we’ll get to that. But first, FUCK THAT, you’re gonna tell them how god damn cool Black Manta is, because Black Manta is the single coolest marine character in comic books. Fuck Namor, fuck Aquaman, fuck Mera, fuck the Fisherman. Black Manta is a man whose spite was so strong that it drove him to almost completely eschew life on the surface so that he could deliver emotional crotchpunches to the king of all the oceans, and before the New 52, Aquaman didn’t even really do anything to deserve it. Black Manta just decided fuck Aquaman, and if that isn’t the most true to life villain motivation of all time, than I don’t know what is.

DISCLAIMER: I actually really like all the characters listed above, even the Fisherman.

Step One: Manta Begins

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Truly, the only man to make a dumb oval helmet look badass.

Black Manta’s first appearance was in 1967, in the thirty-fifth issue of Aquaman ever published, which is kind of bizarrely far into a series before a definitive nemesis would take form, but whatever, it’s fine. So cool and intimidating was he that he didn’t receive a definitive origin until 1993, almost thirty years after his inception. One of the only other main antagonists besides the Joker to ever receive so much mysterious nothing for their backstory for so long, his image as a remorseless, potentially not even human dick-punching machine was almost ruined by the reveal of his origin. However, surprisingly, there was a  remarkable degree of restraint shown, and we didn’t get every single detail of his god damned life, preserving at least some amount of mystery. As a young boy, Black Manta loved to play near the Chesapeake Bay, but because he was destined to become the hardest motherfucker under the sea, he was eventually kidnapped and forced to work on a Crime Boat, where he was routinely sexually abused by his captors. One day, he saw Aquaman screwing around with some dolphins off in the distance, and desperately signaled for help, attempting to escape the aquatic hellscape that his life had become. Unfortunately, because Aquaman does not have super senses, the boy’s cries went unheeded, and he eventually got a knife and powermurdered his way through the boat. Possibly due to the mental trauma that he no doubt underwent, but in all likelihood more due to the clinical mental disorder known as “fuck Aquaman”, the boy who would be the Manta blamed both Aquaman and the ocean itself for his misfortune, and decided that he would dedicate the rest of his life to perpetually wrecking shit below the waves.

An alternate origin was later given to Black Manta in 2003, which revealed that Manta was an autistic child confined to Arkham in his youth. Arkham, being the shittiest mental health institution in the known multiverse, had no clue how to even begin to approach autism, so they just kind of tied the kid down to his bed all day. This sucked for Manta, because part of his disorder involved the fact that he found chilly water extremely comfortable and freaked out at the touch of soft objects like, say, the sheets on his bed. Naturally, he went a little bonkers. His only recourse was a fascination he had with seeing Aquaman on TV. Eventually, he was subjected to an experimental treatment which seemed to cure his autism, but left him extremely cold and violent, resulting in Manta murdering the doctors who operated on him and escaping into the night. Pick whatever version of his origin you want to, they barely matter. All that matters is that somehow, some way, Black Manta eventually came into the possession of vast resources and technology, allowing him to become a serious threat to Aquaman, who is, in terms of power level, a Superman that is kind of okay with murder and can sick a Kraken on you. I cannot stress enough how gigantic Black Manta’s balls are for choosing to fight Aquaman on the regular. It would be like an average person getting into a boxing match with an armed gunman, starting from thirty feet away.

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Also, he has his own army, who are presumably also in it just for the sweet, sweet thrill of making the ocean your bitch.

It’s still kind of astounding to me how little information was ever revealed about this guy. Hell, we didn’t even see his face for years. Black Manta wasn’t revealed to be, you know, black, for decades, which is kind of interesting, but more importantly, his goal changed from “fuck Aquaman” to “black people deserve to rule the oceans away from everybody else”, which turned out to be a ruse, but holy shit, could you imagine if they had stuck with that? Would Black Manta have wound up with an island nation of black people akin to Magneto’s creation of Genosha? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.

Step Two: The Dark Manta

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Somehow, someway, the universe will always converge in such a way that Aquaman loses a hand. It is inevitable.

Most of Manta’s history is simply him clashing with Aquaman, with varying degrees of intensity. Sometimes he led coordinated military campaigns on Atlantis, sometimes he worked with Orm, sometimes he just kind of blew shit up and cut dudes. Honestly, it depended on what the story arc at hand called for, and it still kind of does. Black Manta can fit into a lot of roles, so long as they involve screwing with Aquaman. Of course, eventually there had to be some sort of escalation. After all, what kind of nemesis would Manta be if he simply showed up to inconvenience the hero every now and again? He had to make a more lasting impression. The Silver Age was over, and with it, the era of simple characters and harmless villains. So, while every other comic book villain was gradually getting darker and more fucked, Black Manta stepped shit up as hard as it possibly could be stepped up. First, he led an assault on Atlantis’ agricultural system, as well as attempting to destroy the dome supporting the city, throwing the Atlanteans into disarray. This went hand in hand with a plot that Aqualad and Aquagirl (who should seriously have just been called Aqualass for consistency’s sake) discovered in Mississippi, where Black Manta was revealed to be running guns to a jabroni named King Karshon, who had dethroned and exiled Aquaman. After a series of even more circuitous and dickish military operations (including the aforementioned “underwater black people civilization” thing), Manta eventually conquered the City of the Lost Tribes, a peaceful civilization, as well as kidnapping Mera and Aquababy. Yes, Aquaman had a kid named Aquababy. Aquaman comics were really lame for a while, I don’t know what else to tell you.

This series of dick moves culminated in what is arguably one of the biggest dick moves in the history of comics. You see, Black Manta hates Aquaman so, so very much. Within his twisted heart, there dwells enough hate to outlast the universe, so it’s no surprise that he was prepared to force Aquaman and Aqualad to fight to the death. However, building a chamber designed to suffocate Aquababy until one of the older members of the Aquafamily murdered each other was… significantly more hardcore than anything in an Aquaman story up to that point. And what’s more, it fucking worked. Sure, Aquaman and Aqualad got out okay, but Black Manta had already murdered a god damn baby, cementing himself as such a monumental asshole that even being paired with Aquaman hasn’t really done any harm to his reputation. Of course, comic books being the way they are, Aquaman caught him and managed to prevent himself from murdering the guy who killed his infant son (which would have been totally justified, but whatever). Black Manta returned to some fairly normal appearances after that, eventually reemerging during the Underworld Unleashed event as this unholy pile of bullshit:

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Proof that DC was perfectly capable of ruining something prior to the New 52.

Granted, this is almost cool. Giant animal/monster men are inherently kind of cool, that’s just a fact of life. However, there’s a couple things wrong with this picture. For one, manta rays don’t have god damn Wolverine claws. For another, I am almost positive that they don’t actually have stingers, and that they’re gentle filter feeders, but whatever I guess. Also, making Black Manta turn from a sick-ass underwater evil Batman into a dumb magic manta man is really, really lame, especially when all he did with his newfound Manta power was run drugs in Star City, which you might recognize as that city Oliver Queen keeps failing on TV. This transformation was, of course, the result of a shitty crossover event, known as Underworld Unleashed, where various DC villains sold their souls to Neron for an upper hand against their nemeses. Eventually, Aquaman undid this transformation and healed Manta’s brain, making him relatively normal for the first time in his life, depending on which origin you believe. Of course, because Black Manta’s hatred is just that strong, he remained a violent criminal, and returned to a life of trying to murder Aquaman.

Black Manta didn’t really get up to anything that special for a while after his stint as a dumb ray-man. He mostly just got up to shenanigans in Sub-Diego, which, yes, is also a real thing. After severely injuring a friend of Aquaman’s, he was left for dead surrounded by aquatic predators, who he drove off, only surviving to have King Shark (the undisputed king of dumb animal men) later bite his face off, driving him back into hiding. After Aquaman’s apparent death, Manta joined the Secret Society of Supervillains, but quit after the group revealed that they were just helping Darkseid conquer the Earth. In summation, Manta had a couple of rough years after killing Aquababy, so he left the game for a while to run a little fish shop in a seaside town. In a way, Black Manta is almost the Joker to Aquaman’s Batman, only existing as long as Aquaman does. The whole coin analogy doesn’t quite work here, because Manta and Arthur aren’t as diametrically opposed as Bats and Mr. J., but they’re definitely tied to one another to the point where each one’s existence defines the other’s. I suppose you could make the coin thing work if you had Manta and Orm as the “chaos” side of the coin with Aquaman on “order”, but that would be a stretch. The truth of it is that Manta only needs to exist to remind Aquaman of his struggles with both the surface world and with his own morality. Without Arthur to torment, Manta need not exist.

Step Three: A Ray in the Sun

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I mean… not all of them.

But of course, because Aquaman has exactly two marketable villains, Black Manta had to return some day, and when he did, he made a splash. Remaining absent for the entirety of Aquaman’s time as a corpse, Manta would eventually resurface at around the same time as Arthur’s resurrection at the end of Blackest Night, becoming one of the antagonists of the Brightest Day storyline. Turns out that almost immediately after quitting the super villain game, Manta had taken up a career at a nice little fish market by the seaside. Also, turns out his name is David, but it’s entirely possible that he just made that name up because no one would give him the capital on a fish market with Black Manta representing it. After seeing news coverage on Aquaman’s resurrection, Manta immediately murders everyone in the market, burns the building down, and somehow manages to get the entirety of his equipment on by running into the ocean, implying that it was just kind of floating around, waiting for him to return.

Soon after donning his dumb (but like, in a cool way) outfit, Manta is approached by Siren and her squad of assassins, who are a whole other thing that I’ll get to someday. To put things short, she’s like evil Mera. After a brief kerfuffle, Siren and Manta agree to team up in order to find Manta’s estranged son Jackson Hyde, who was about to become the new Aqualad. Manta almost murders Jackson’s foster father, but is cockblocked by Aquaman’s timely arrival, forcing his retreat. Later, however, when Siren rallies the forces of Xebel (an underwater penal colony in another dimension that can only be accessed through the Bermuda Triangle, because of course that’s how you get there) to wage war on both Atlantis and the surface world, Manta gets another shot at both Jackson and Aquaman, which, considering that he was up against the king of the oceans and a kid who could control water, went almost absurdly well. Manta managed to cut off Arthur’s hand and thoroughly kick Jackson’s shit in, only failing in murdering the pair due to the timely arrival of Mera and the current Aquagirl, who stopped him through the ancient Atlantean technique of “kicking you in the fucking face”. Vowing revenge, Manta promptly vanished for the rest of the time leading up to the New 52 reboot, proving that it would literally take the end of the universe to stop him from getting what he wants.

Step Four: A Semi-Positive New 52 Thing, For Once

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I don’t really have anything to say here, I just love this page.

Astonishingly, Aquaman canon managed to emerge from the fetid, effluvial primordial ooze of the New 52 relatively unharmed, and arguably stronger than before it went in. Of course, there were some stumbles, but it never quite face planted on the level of, say, Hawk and Dove. Notably, Manta was barely overhauled at all, save for receiving a concrete origin and some neat little gill things on his costume. In the new continuity, Manta was an intrepid treasure hunter who had created his armor to explore the ocean and hunt for a local cryptid known as the Amnesty Bay Merman, a name that young Aquaman had earned from his few appearances before his foray into super heroism. Unfortunately, his greed and ambition would lead to him accidentally murdering Aquaman’s dad, because the DC universe demands a blood sacrifice in the form of parents before anything cool or interesting is allowed to happen. This enraged Arthur, who found Manta’s houseboat and murdered the first person he found aboard. Unfortunately, this person was not Manta, but Manta’s father, creating a lifelong feud and some nice symmetry between the new incarnations of these characters.

Eventually, Manta would come to harass and/or murder Aquaman’s superteam, the Others, who you may remember as “wait, who?”. You see, the team all possessed one of six ancient Atlantean relics taken from a dead king’s tomb, which gave them mystical powers. After a huge amount of back and forth chases and murders, Manta eventually discovered that there was a secret seventh relic, and managed to steal it and deliver it to a mysterious Atlantean traitor, who I’m pretty sure turned out to be Vulko, but not sure enough to make an actual statement on it. The arc ended with Aquaman curbing his murderous urges and refusing to kill Manta, dealing him the most crushing defeat of all by refusing to grant him a respectable death, resulting in Manta being transferred to Belle Reve, making Aquaman indirectly responsible for Manta being a part of New 52 Suicide Squad, a comic which can be used as a fair substitute for a cyanide capsule in a pinch.

Apart from his shenanigans on the Hot Topic Squad, Manta still kind of remained in the background for a good deal of time. Shit, even before he joined the Squad, he managed to keep quiet in prison for a while, refusing to go to a death not at the hands of Aquaman. However, he was a key player during the events of Forever Evil, becoming one of the core members of Lex Luthor’s team during the Justice League’s absence. After helping the team of villains defeat the Crime Syndicate (an evil Justice League from Earth-3), Manta was granted a full pardon for his past transgressions alongside the rest of the group, however, he and the majority of the group immediately returned to their villainous ways. Notably, Manta managed to restrain himself from murdering anyone during his escape back to the ocean, leaving several submarine guards alive to tell Aquaman that Manta was glad he wasn’t dead, which is supposed to come off a little threatening, but really just helps create a headcanon of mine where Manta is super tsundere for Arthur.

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“I WILL HUNT YOU AND YOUR BRETHREN TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, IDIOT BAKA!”

He also showed up in the first arc of Aquaman Rebirth, but apart from a single fight scene that ended in crying and hugging it out, he hasn’t really done all that much. Like almost all of Rebirth so far though, it was a great read, and I encourage you to get on the Rebirth train with the rest of us if you haven’t already.

In Conclusion:

Look, when you’ve had a character who’s been carried almost exclusively by his appearance and his seething, unending hatred for Aquaman, you know you’ve got something special. Among a vast collection of shitty, vaguely aquatically themed baddies, Black Manta really stands out, proving that big dumb helmets and being paired with the general public’s least favorite superhero will do nothing to slow you down if you’re super fucking metal. Even beyond his superficial baditude, Manta is a surprisingly complex character despite his one note motivations, and the relationship he shares with Aquaman is just brimming with great moments.

Plus he can shoot lasers out of his head, so that’s pretty cool.

That’s all for this week folks! See you all next time!

 

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