Black Manta’s second issue retains its breakneck pace as it takes time to flesh out the world and give readers a bit more foundation to stand upon while maintaining its visually distinct stylings. Books centered around villains can be a bit of a hard sale, and this series doesn’t shy away from that while also presenting enough to make it not quite so hard.
After a first issue that essentially dropped any new readers right into the deep end without even so much as a life-preserver to grasp onto, the second issue of DC Comics Black Manta gives the audience a bit of a reprieve while still moving things quickly forward.
This issue is a bit more straightforward one to follow as it dips into some action and begins to put together all the very separate seeming puzzle pieces from the opening issue. The woman awakened at the end of the last issue turns out to have awoken in the Underworld and emerges on Themyscira (where Queen Nubia and the Amazons speak with her before setting her on her way), Manta and Gallous get answers to what the rock is doing to him and others while taking on a classic villain, and the young man behind much of the incidents last issue gets a name (Devil Ray) and makes a huge move.
Using Aquaman semi-ally Doctor Shin and the Amazons in this issue as ways to help further the narrative and give information that was needed in two cases was a great move by Chuck Brown. Doctor Shin has the position within the Aquaman realm to be one who can credibly be an exposition machine as needed and seeing more of Nubia and the Amazons is always great and showcases how tied together the various kingdoms and realms really are if you go back far enough.
The opening scene with Manta’s captions about his understandably strained relationship with his son Jackson Hyde (the new Aquaman), juxtaposed against a scene of kids pretending to be heroes making the one kid playing Black Manta into their villain to beat. Black Manta is a character with a hard past, there are things the character has done that firmly place him into the villain role. Yet the kid playing him was one that was saved from the pirates in the last issue and his words about Black Manta saving them showcases how often the role of hero or villain is in the eye of the beholder.
The big plot twist that this rock is awakening ancient Atlantean DNA within surface dwellers, including potentially Manta himself, is a really nice touch. With how long Atlantis has existed in this world and with how far their reach extends now and in the past it makes sense that there would be those that have them as ancestors in some forgotten way. Especially with the rock, named Orichalcum, belonging to the so-called Lost Tribe of Atlantis.
Oh, and them going to a party and taking on Gentleman Ghost in order to get him to use his abilities to help with a little time jaunt was pretty cool. The villain is very underused and has quite an interesting visual. His using rich people to throw fancy parties where he controls everyone is pretty creepy but about what you would expect from someone of his nature and ability.
Speaking of the visuals, Valentine De Landro and Marissa Louise continue to really present an amazing set of visual language for this series. There is the roughness to the entire endeavor mentioned with the last issue review alongside the heavy use of duller but still bright color palates and shadows. This isn’t a bright superhero series, and they make sure that their work reflects this. At the same time, the panels with things like Themyscira or the party and the fight against Ghost still look really epic and gorgeous.
There are a great number of panels where we are given close-up detailed looks of characters and things where we can see the emotion and get a sense of what everything looks like. These are surrounded by other panels where faces and details are either obscured in shadows or are blurry like an out-of-focus camera. It’s a great combination because these out-of-focus pages are more about focusing on the overall ‘what is going on’ aspect as well as the dialogue that is being shared. We don’t have to see Nubia or Manta or others’ faces in detail every second to still the imposing nature or action or whatever feeling the scene needs to convey.
There is a panel where the mindless rich people at the party stumble at Manta and Gallous like zombies and it’s heavily shadowed where faces aren’t seen, and this adds to the utterly terrifying nature of the image. In fact, it’s way more spooky than it would be if we perfectly saw their faces in great detail. The unknown is often far more frightening than what is right before us.
Not only is there all the stuff said about Louise’s colors up above, but the heavy use of certain colors as background just looks fantastic. There are big splashes of purple at the party, both the blank and the detailed backgrounds, that are broken up by a panel of pure orange and shadow figures once Manta unleashes a blast upon them.
One is always going to see some great lettering work when they see Clayton Cowles’ name on a book, and that is the case here. Even the heavier dialogue pages don’t feel so heavy with the way it’s all been set out and arranged upon the page. Cowles is always great at making sure to slip in font changes to indicate yelling or emphasis, making it 100% clear what potential emotion might be behind a set of words. Not to mention all the various fun SFX dotting the pages from the more subtle ones like Manta cuing up his blasts to the bigger bolder right in your face ones like unleashing said blasts.
Also, the watery appearance of Devil Ray’s water form speech bubbles and caption boxes were just fantastic. It takes things up a notch, especially when “normal-looking” boxes would still have gotten the point across. But why go for ‘normal’ when you can go for something outside the box?
Black Manta #2 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.