Black Manta continues to be a stylishly gorgeous exploration of not just the title villainous character but also a variety of very pressing real-world issues told through the lens of superhero fantastical worlds. There aren’t many books on the stands like Black Manta coming from the big publishers, which makes it stand out even more and mean so much more. This is a must-read book.
There is a school of thought that talks about the idea that every good hero character is in some ways defined by the type of villains/antagonists that they have. The same can be said about villains because every character in some way is the hero of their own story. As Black Manta moves towards the series endgame, Manta’s very own villain, Devil Ray, gets an origin story that deeply connects the characters together.
Flashback origin stories are a tough thing to juggle, especially when done near the end of a story, but Chuck Brown makes it look easy here. That’s because of the route taken to do it and the way it brilliantly wraps back into the story at large. Having Devil Ray telling a story, that we see visuals too, and then having that story be something he sends to Black Manta right before appearing for their first face-to-face was so well done.
I’ve noted in previous reviews that making Manta the main character of a story comes with a lot of baggage and hurdles, because of just how many awful things the character has done in the past. Getting to see things through Devil Ray’s eyes about Manta though really helps. Sure, Manta is a villain, but the visual of a black man who was able to go toe to toe with god-like characters who had a mission is something that is sure to inspire as it did for Devil Ray. It really speaks to the ideas of representation and who or what those of us in marginalized groups can or have to look to for guidance in our communities/society.
There is also a heavy consideration of current events where the younger generation sees that despite the previous generations talking a big talk, far too often some of those revolutionary talks were set aside for conformity or some status quo. Manta was one of those, becoming much like a lot of the villains that just end up doing the same stuff against the heroes and leaving their mission behind for petty grudges. Yet, in a way Devil Ray is finding himself potentially teetering upon that same cliff with his actions at the moment.
This is just a gorgeous comic book, hands down. Valentine De Landro has returned to draw the issue with Marissa Louise still on colors and there are so many striking visuals that just stay with you long after finishing the issue. There is a unique sort of roughness to the artwork that fits the character that is Black Manta, and the colors shift brilliantly between a sort of sleeker brightness to a more dull palette sometimes on the same page. There is a flashback page early on with the Justice League and Legion that is just on a whole other level.
This isn’t a superhero series, and the art reflects that, with shadows and darkness and that aforementioned rough nature making it very clear. Yet, there are a lot of elements that are the same as you expect to find in books that play within this super realm. One of the aspects that stood out in the flashback/origin story was how the more fantastical elements and characters were striking bold colors in many of the scenes (especially in the flashbacks) while the more mundane background (including normal people or elements) were lacking in color. Befitting of the idea that it’s the important elements that stand out to us in memory, while the stuff that wasn’t truly part of the moment can be faded or fuzzy.
There is heavy use of red throughout the issue that is really intriguing. Not only does it pop against some of the lighter-colored backgrounds and just makes an impact by existing, it matches the helmet/eye beams of Manta and Devil Ray but also the orichalcum stone itself. A color that matches the raging emotions of these characters, speaking to so many layers of this story.
Part of making the flashback sort of journal entry work is how well the captions read like they are from someone dictating their life story, which Clayton Cowles pulls off masterfully. That read mentioned above carries over into the captions and dialogue too as the story captions as well as Devil Ray’s helmeted dialogue are a striking red with stark white letters across them. The same goes for a lot of the SFX that combines that stark white and striking red again. This is a series that has so much to say and every piece of the combined storytelling work showcases and screams those messages loudly and proudly.
Another school thought is one that states that there are no ‘bad’ characters and that any character if given the platform could be one that carries a story/series. This is the type of book that very much proves that this idea is the correct one.
Black Manta #5 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.