Who's Black Manta?

Who's This? Aquaman's Legion of Doom homologue.

The facts: Created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, Black Manta's first appearance is Aquaman #35 (1967) and became the best known Aquaman villain by 1) appearing regularly in Challenge of the Super-Friends (that voice!), and 2) famously being responsible for the death of Aquaman and Mera's baby. Arguably, Aquaman's archnemesis is the Ocean Master (due to family ties), but Manta has an equivalent claim.
How you could have heard of him: He's still a concern in today's comics (perhaps more than ever), and was one of the villains in the recent Aquaman movie.
Example story: Aquaman #53 (September-October 1970) "Is California Sinking?" by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo
I wanted to check him out BEFORE he killed Aquababy, and Aquaman #53, his 5th appearance, is his last before he becomes a child killer. Well, maybe some kids died anyway. They play is as comedy, but that flood looks like it drowned a number of people.
Or maybe it's not his fault? There's this group called O.G.R.E. who con a billionaire into buying a nuclear sub and missile so they can nuke Atlantis is "prevent California from sinking". Rich dude agrees to save his seaside properties. Black Manta is more or less their decoy. They've given him a weapon with which to lure Aquaman to Atlantis so he can be there when it blows (Manta doesn't know this, of course). One thing the Who's Who entry should highlight is his manta ship. I mean, that thing looks more like a manta ray than he does and should feature more prominently.
Aquaman kind of laughs that Manta thinks he can defeat any fish army the Sea King thinks to throw at him with what looks like a fairly small raygun, but it packs quite a punch. A demotivating punch!
I sure hope this doesn't replace the cool red eye beams. Maybe if Aquaman goes out to fight him mano a aquamano (while Manta's band of terrorists attack the underwater city). Manta thinks a blast from his gun will scramble his neurons, but... could he have been betrayed?!
USE THE BEAMS! He doesn't but then Aquaman's not facing him for the first time and immediately goes behind him and puts him in an arm lock. Aqualad arrives to tout Atlantis's victory over... what looks like four guys in scuba gear. Then Arthur slaps Black Manta around to get some answer. USE THE BEAMS, MAN!
And still, no beams. Aquaman leaves Manta under guard by Aqualad (oh my God, he's been SOOOOO nerfed here) while he swims out to take care of business. Interestingly, Arthur is surprised Manta would be mixed up with O.G.R.E., which he calls petty. So he at least seems to recognize Manta's operations as a proper movement, if a misguided one. And yet, to this reader, in THIS story, Black Manta appears to be a petty revenge-seeker and a bigger threat's stooge. Back on shore, the O.G.R.E. agents are caught by the Feds, which only leaves their nuclear sub, piloted by someone who seems to think you need to get real close to the target for a nuclear missile to hit, but at leas it leads to the best image in the book.
They drop the bomb, the billionaire douchebag is aboard the sub crying about being too close and dying, Aquaman rushes for the it, and... it's a dud. Dude got screwed by his nuke broker. So okay, maybe it's not Black Manta's fault that he doesn't use every weapon in his arsenal. This thing is all deus ex machinae. There's a repeat of the drowning secretary at the end, so the story's not over. But Black Manta didn't do it.

He didn't do MUCH, honestly. Disappointing.

Who's Next? An everywoman.


Jonathan Linneman said...

I sometimes wonder how much we can thank Alex Ross for Black Manta becoming a somewhat mainstream DC character (and I do really like Black Manta). Am I wrong in remembering that Justice...seemingly anchored by Ross's love of the Bronze Age and the Superfriends...is the series that flipped BM from a character I hardly ever saw to a character I see all the time?

Siskoid said...

Hard to say. Certainly, Geoff Johns, also a Bronze Age obsessive, used him a lot in his Aquaman-related work, and then had something to do with him being in the Aquaman movie. I'd say it's a generational thing, brought on by creators who were raised on Superfriends.

Jonathan Linneman said...

Good call...I forgot about how much Johns' guidance probably affected things. It probably is more about the generation making decisions than who those people are.


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