Aquaman’s arch-enemy gains his own series that throws readers into the deep end while hoping they can stay afloat to see what is next. It’s a series that has a dark and sharp edge to it, much like the character that is its main star.
The character of Black Manta has a quite long history at DC Comics, one of the most known of Aquaman’s relatively small stable of rogues. Yet, the character hasn’t really broken out in the same way that villains for Batman or Superman have. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s portrayal of the character in 2018’s Aquaman honesty might be the biggest spotlight the character has gotten outside of some of the DC animated shows over the years.
That looks to be changing in the comic book side of things, as the aquatic-themed mercenary has his own series now.
Right away, this is a series that basically throws you into the proverbial deep end right away. There are plot elements that were introduced elsewhere such as the recent Aquaman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Spectacular, that aren’t fully explained alongside unfamiliar characters that don’t get fleshed out as much. So this isn’t truly a 100% new reader-friendly first issue, but it’s a good story that thrusts you into Black Manta’s world.
Chuck Brown has a lot of heavy lifting to do with this book. It’s not only a villain-centric series but it’s centered on a pretty brutal and ruthless villain to boot. This was the same sort of thing that many felt might be an issue with the currently running Joker series, but that book dodged this by making Jim Gordon the main character and Joker is just the book’s namesake and a force of chaos in the story. Here though, Black Manta is the focus and it’s a hard sell.
To work against that, Brown does well to set the character up as one that has standards about things and introduces the relationship between him and his partner and protégé Gallous the Goat. This makes his edges a little less rough, but only time will tell if they remain that way.
Overall, the plot is intriguing but is slightly hard to follow as he’s chasing a mysterious rock (that he had in the 80th-anniversary special story but apparently lost before this issue) that is causing issues and seems to be tied to some magical villain that stole villain powers to forge something that brought back some ancient warrior. It’s a lot to throw out in the pages and it’s not all fully laid out but it has the right amount of intrigue to make one want to come back and see what happens next.
Manta being such a gritty villain it only makes sense that his book needs a gritty style of artwork which is delivered by Valentine De Landro and Marissa Louise. There is a kinetic and aggressive energy to de Landro’s work, which is more than fitting to the story that is being told within these pages. Every time Manta appears on the page, there is a dangerous imposing nature surrounding him in a way that makes you feel like he might just stroll off the page and come at you.
This is paired with the colorwork of Louise, which blends bright pops of color with more shadowed and darker tones. This shifts readily between the pages, brighter tones for some of the action scenes and then darker pages with only small bits of color for some of the smaller-scale close-up pages (like the van pages in Metropolis).
Clayton Cowles has lettered a great number of comics over the years and brings a wonderful presence with that lettering skill. There is that air of danger and imposing nature surrounding Manta and one of the things that help with that is the brutal SFX that hit home just dangerous and remorseless the character is. This is also clear in the styling given to the caption boxes, as they are sharp and reflect the black and red colors that dominate Manta’s presence.
Black Manta #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.