The Hero Of Our Own Stories: Reviewing ‘Black Manta’ #6
by Scott Redmond
Black Manta sails into its final issue keeping the same energy it’s had all along, adding new levels and insights to the rough around the edges title character without sacrificing who or what he is along the way. This series shows how to go about tackling a book that is about a pretty hardcore villain while also speaking to relevant topical issues with some superhero flair.
Stories that center around villains, especially super villains with very brutal pasts, are not always an easy sell. Getting people to connect with someone that has done heinous things takes a certain kind of touch or performance, making them sympathetic or charming in some way that draws the audience in. All the way back in the review for the first issue, I wrote about how it was a hard sell to focus a book on Black Manta.
As the series wraps with this sixth and final issue, I couldn’t be happier to have been proven quite wrong.
While the first issue had a lot to deal with in setting things up, and sort of dropping the audience in the deep end, Chuck Brown has quickly showcased what can make Black Manta interesting. In many ways, he sanded the rough edges of the character not by changing him but through those around Manta, from Gallous the Goat to the new character Torrid or even Dr. Mist and his assistant Belphegor who didn’t show up till halfway through the series. Even the backstory in the last issue of Devil Ray and how he looked up to Manta helped to flesh out the character.
At the end we don’t have a Manta who suddenly is a hero or even an anti-hero, he did what he had to in order to save himself and those like Gallous that he does care for, but come the end he is still mostly the same. That’s not saying there wasn’t growth as he does show Devil Ray mercy and lets him go and provides tech that will help save those affected by Orichalcum, but there wasn’t some grand change that altered the character in vast ways. Often there is a push in these types of stories to make the character go full hero or at least start working on the side of heroes, but Brown rightfully sidesteps that and just in a way makes the man a bit more relatable and sympathetic in small ways.
Matthew Dow Smith comes in to bring the series to a close after handling the art in the third and fourth issues. Black Manta is a character with rough edges and the artwork of this series reflects that as Dow Smith’s work has a nice roughness to it while also being beautifully detailed and full of energy. It dances right on that line between detailed and out of focus/blurry in order to direct the focus where it needs to be and it works well. It’s easy to focus and follow the paneling style because of the way they’re set up with the white space working as gap borders between the panels and helping frame it all.
Through all six issues, Marissa Louise has been handling the colors and bringing colorful shadowed darkness along that keeps the same tone across the issues, no matter who is drawing them. There is a solid mix of bright superhero-like popping color panels/pages right beside ones that are deeply shadowed or have colorful filters upon them (lots of great uses of red, cause Manta’s red-eye beams). Even when there are bright colors they are slightly dulled which keeps them more grounded in a way because even with the magic and other realms within the story Manta feels like a more grounded down to Earth character and it shows.
Clayton Cowles never misses with the lettering and gets to bring a lot of energy to this last issue. Having the bubbles and font change for characters talking over devices or changing the colors for Manta and Ray’s conversations when helmeted are just some of the great touches that he brings to the lettering. Alongside the normal powerful SFX that appear on the page, we get a lot of dialogue that is SFX-like in style, and there is never a chance that I won’t be giddy over the dialogue of someone screaming a character’s name in the form of their logo/title font.
At the end of the day, this series was a gorgeous and rough ride through an aspect of the Atlantean side of the publisher. It managed to make me look at Black Manta much differently, and I cannot wait to see the character appear in the upcoming Aquamen series that Brown is co-writing.
Black Manta #6 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.