Art by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons, and Rod Reis
Young Black Manta was an autistic boy only known as David. He lived in Baltimore and enjoyed the sea more than anything else. At an early age, he was taken by pirates and made a slave. After years of servitude, he once saw Aquaman swimming by and called out for help. Aquaman did not hear him, and David had to save himself. He killed his captors with a knife and swore to never be a slave to anything ever again. He armed himself with a black wet suit, a bug-eyed metal helmet, and an assortment of weapons. He was determined to become Black Manta, the master of the sea!
He recruited followers to his cause, and this goal led him to clash with Aquaman on many occasions, becoming his greatest enemy. He also joined many iterations of the Injustice League, a team founded with the goal of stopping the Justice League, of which Aquaman was a regular member.
One of Manta’s earliest and most vicious crusades against Aquaman was a siege against Atlantis’ infrastructure, including its agriculture and protective dome. He then trapped Aquagirl and Aqualad in a cave and Mera and Aquaman’s infant son. Aquaman tracked him down, and Manta question the hero about a place called the City of the Lost Tribes. Manta then revealed his plan to start an underwater colony for African Americans where they would no longer face persecution. He next put Aquaman and Aqualad in a chamber where they would be forced to fight to the death, or else Aquaman’s son would suffocate in a waterless bubble. The two heroes escaped, but it was too late. The child had died. Aquaman pursued Black Manta relentlessly with the intent to kill his foe. One of Black Manta’s followers betrayed him to the hero, but Aquaman decided against killing him.
After many more years of fighting the King of Atlantis, Black Manta was approached by the demon Neron. He offered Manta power in exchange for his soul, and Manta agreed. He was transformed into a hybrid of manta and man. He set up a drug smuggling operation in Star City until he was challenged by Aquaman and Green Arrow.
Aquaman would later use the Healing Hand of the Lady of the Lake to return Manta to his original form. The two established a temporary partnership, Aquaman believing Manta had reformed. Black Manta would later attempt to kill Aquaman, but he failed once again.
Black Manta was later given experimental water-breathers, and he returned to his undersea warpath.
Later, when a portion of San Diego was sunken and its citizens mutated to Atlantean-like beings, Black Manta turned his attentions to this realm. He almost killed a friend of Aquaman’s named Captain Marley, and Aquaman almost killed him with undersea predators in retaliation. He returned and attempted to usurp power over the newly-named Sub Diego (no joke), but he was driven away by the villain known as King Shark.
Aquaman was killed in an undersea earthquake, and Black Manta went dormant for some time. He apparently fathered and raised a child named Jackson Hyde. When Aquaman was resurrected in the event known as the Brightest Day, Manta was seen working at a fish market. He saw Aquaman’s return on the news, and he proceeded to kill everyone in the market. Black Manta was tracked down by a woman named Siren whom had the intent of killing Black Manta. Jackson, revealed to have water manipulation powers, defended him, and Aquaman came to their aid. Siren fought Aquaman, and Manta cut off one of Arthur’s hands. Jackson becomes enraged with his father, and he reveals that Siren killed his mother. Manta retaliates by attempting to kill Jackson, claiming to feel nothing for his son or his deceased wife. Mera and Aquagirl save Jackson and seal away Black Manta. He then vows to kill his son.
Believe it or not, I actually find the New 52 story of Black Manta far more compelling than the original.
The man who would become Black Manta was a treasure hunter with his father. After hearing of the “Amnesty Bay Merman,” the two went to find this legendary creature. Upon finding him, they accidentally killed Tom Curry, father of the merman. In revenge, that merman killed the father of Black Manta. That merman would later become the hero known as Aquaman. Black Manta swore to kill Aquaman and avenge his father. To this end, he adopted the high-tech scuba suit and weapons with which to hunt his prey.
After years of clashing, Black Manta targeted the allies of Aquaman known as the Others. He killed the member Kahina the Sheer and took an item known as the Golden Seal. He targeted the remaining of the Others to attempt to steal their mystical Atlantean artifacts. Aquaman took on Manta personally and, after a long and heated battle, Aquaman brought down Black Manta. He was immediately sent to prison. Amanda Waller offered him a membership on the Suicide Squad, but Manta declined.
When the Crime Syndicate came to Earth, they released all of the criminals locked away in prisons around the world. They also led the world to believe that the Justice League was dead, including Aquaman. Feeling lost, Black Manta visited the grave of his father. While he was there, Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate moved the moon to block out the sun, and the tidal shift caused the graveyard to flood, washing away the body of Black Manta’s father. This enraged Black Manta, and he vowed revenge on the Crime Syndicate.
He soon met up with Lex Luthor, and these two, along with Sinestro, Black Adam, Captain Cold, Deathstroke, and Bizarro, tracked down the Crime Syndicate and freed the Justice League. These seven rogues killed all members of the Crime Syndicate with the exception of Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman.
After this, Black Manta accepted Waller’s invitation to join the Suicide Squad. He led the team on a number of missions. Despite my best research, I genuinely cannot find out why he eventually left the team. All I know for sure is that he did.
Black Manta next resurfaced in an attack on Spindrift Station, the Atlantean embassy with the surface world. This led to another fight with Aquaman, and, after a lengthy battle, Aquaman convinced Black Manta to end the blood feud, if only briefly. Upon being arrested, his transport was attacked by an organization called N.E.M.O. He was met by a woman named Blackjack, and she convinced him to join the clandestine group. Upon meeting the leader, the Fisher King, Black Manta killed him and took control of the organization himself. He is now launched a new assault upon Atlantis with the ultra-powerful android known as the Shaggy Man.
Black Manta is a fascinating character study in what happens when a person becomes obsessed with a single moment of his life, namely his second origin where Aquaman kills his father. This is why I find the second version of the character so much more interesting; he is not a simple villain. He is obsessed with killing the man who murdered his father. Many people could easily sympathize with this motive. He will do anything to accomplish this goal, and, when he was believed to be dead, he didn’t know what to do with his life. This what truly happens when one allows a single moment to dominate the rest of his or her life. Since that moment, Black Manta has struggled to find meaning in his life, joining up with the Suicide Squad and N.E.M.O in an attempt to find new purpose. He is a vicious and ruthless man with a single life goal, and this is what earns Black Manta the positon of my 5th Favorite DC Villain of all time.