Black Manta continues to thread the needle in regards to presenting its title character as a flawed but interesting man on a mission, by surrounding him with a ton of interesting and diverse characters. A character with many rough edges needs an art team that can bring that to vivid accurate life and that’s just what this series has.
Within any sort of storytelling medium, there is a chance that the middle of the story might have to slow down compared to the beginning and the ending. Often this is because by that point there is generally a lot of story elements or plots that need to be revealed which can often be done with a lot of exposition. Making even that part of the story as interesting and hard-hitting as the rest is always the key.
Black Manta #4 achieves this goal.
Much like with the last issue there is a lot that happens within this one, yet it reads so smoothly that it almost feels like you blink and are at the finish line. There is a great energy to the way that Chuck Brown writes because he makes sure to give you what is needed and even a little more but doesn’t bog down the journey with anything that might be extraneous. It’s very streamlined and slimmed down but in a way that remains fun and allows the characters to really dominate the story rather than the other way around.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how this book would really work being centered around Black Manta, who has a very brutal and villainous past and present, but Brown is making it work. The addition of Gallous the Goat who fits a bit more of a neutral place than Black Manta really helps, and there are some humorous moments between Manta and the new character Torrid with Goat as the referee that land perfectly.
Between what Brown is doing here and what Brandon Thomas is doing in Aquaman: The Becoming, I’m very much excited to see what they do together in the new Aquamen series that is on the way.
Matthew Dow Smith has a very intriguing art style that very much fits this series, as it balances very well on the line between rough detailed and rough out of focus/blurry. There are moments where we get very solid detailed looks at the characters and the world, followed by moments that are a bit more out of focus as the focus is more on what is being explained or told there, and on the feeling/tone of the moment. At first, the pages with Arthur Curry Aquaman feel a bit off because he and the other Atlanteans are very much out of focus visually, but this isn’t their story in the long run so it actually works in its own way.
Complimenting this sort of rough and darker tone to the book are the colors of Marissa Louise, who brings some brightness that is dulled slightly alongside the heavy shadows. There are pages where the color is more muted and standard, followed by pages (like the magical battle later in the issue) where the colors take a sharper turn as flashes of purples and oranges and neon greens take over. It very much captures the point that Manta is a man that straddles various worlds, mostly between what we see as the ‘normal’ world and those that are far more fantastical in so many ways.
Lettering falls once more in the talented hands of Clayton Cowles. It’s always a very good thing when dialogue and captions have a lot of personality and uniqueness to them, rather than every character’s bubbles appearing just the same. Little changes in font help with that as do changing shapes and colors of said bubbles. Such as the perfectly done notion that Black Manta and the new antagonist Devil Ray’s bubbles change in color and tone depending on whether they are wearing their helmets or not.
It might seem like a small thing to worry about or spend time on, but these things are just part of making these worlds and moments stand out and feel more ‘real’ at times. It also makes their work stand out even more which is generally a pretty good thing to do in creative fields.
Black Manta #4 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.