Let’s be real, we all know who Black Manta is. He’s without a doubt one of the best and most iconic super-villains to ever exist. Don’t @ me, you know it’s true.
But even if you already know that he’s a ruthless underwater pirate and mercenary, there’s a lot that you still don’t know (quick, what’s Black Manta’s real name?!?) and with Aquaman splashing into theatres this week, it’s about time you catch up to speed on Aquaman’s greatest and most menacing underwater foe.
Black Manta was created by writer Bob Haney and artist Nick Cardy in 1967 and made his first appearance in AQUAMAN #35. For quite a few decades following his introduction to the DC Universe, almost no backstory was provided for him. He was a very mysterious character acting upon unknown motives with the sole purpose of taking out Arthur Curry. It wasn’t until ten years after his introduction that he even unmasked himself for the first time, revealing to Aquaman that he was African American. Yet even after this, nobody knew anything more about him other than the damage he was capable of inflicting on Aquaman, the worst of which was undoubtedly the murder of Aquaman’s infant son, Arthur Curry, Jr.
But that changed in 1992, when Black Manta was given his first legitimate origin story in AQUAMAN #6, which also turned out to be one of the darkest iterations of his character. In this, Black Manta, whose real name still wasn’t known, was shown as a young child born in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. While playing outside by the ocean one day, he was kidnapped by pirates and became a slave serving them on their ship.
While forced to submit to horrendous forms of abuse by his captors, he caught a glimpse of Aquaman in the ocean swimming alongside dolphins. He signaled him for rescue, but Aquaman was entirely oblivious to his desperate pleas for help and was unable to save him. Manta eventually ended up saving himself by killing off his captors, but even with his successful escape, he harbored an undying grudge for the King of the Seven Seas who he believed left him for dead. From that point forward, Black Manta was born.
Well, kinda… While this technically was the very first origin story for him, it certainly wasn’t the only one, or even the most well-known one.
It’s not unusual for characters to have many different backstories over the years, and Black Manta has quite a few. There was a completely different origin created years later where he was revealed to be a troubled autistic child who grew up in Gotham and was admitted to Arkham Asylum. There he was subjected to experimental treatments meant to cure him that backfired and ended up making him extremely violent, eventually paving the way to him becoming the Black Manta.
The most recent Black Manta origin story (and probably the most important one to know) is the New 52 version that’s closest to the Aquaman film’s Black Manta. In this origin, Black Manta was a mercenary tasked by a scientist to obtain a sample of young Arthur Curry’s blood to determine if he truly was an Atlantean.
During his attempt to gather the sample, Arthur’s foster father, Thomas, intervened to protect his son, but ultimately died of a heart attack. Arthur later sought vengeance and attacked a boat he suspected Black Manta was on, but accidentally killed his father instead. In short, they basically ended up killing each other’s fathers which led to them becoming lifelong enemies fueled by mutual vengeance.
That’s pretty hardcore for someone who once rode a giant seahorse. (And, um…may do it again in the movie.)
Origins aside, I think the one thing that makes Black Manta so memorable is how effing cool his suit is! It’s absolutely terrifying and so beautifully crafted. He looks like a robotic extraterrestrial, and those glowing red eyes make him feel even more intimidating. But as aesthetically pleasing as it is, it’s also highly functional, giving him the ability to breathe underwater and survive extreme ocean temperatures and depths.
But why should that be enough for a badass like David Hyde? (Oh, that name? It wasn’t revealed until BRIGHTEST DAY, over 40 years after his debut!) The Manta suit also includes a jetpack, a telepathic scrambler (to block out Aquaman) and, most famously of all, a helmet that shoots powerful energy blasts out of the eyes. Other weapons he often carries include a trident, a harpoon gun and long knives (look for those in the movie). Without his suit, he still possesses enhanced strength, advanced martial art skills and a genius-level intellect.
It’s also worth noting that Black Manta has partnered with many villains over time and has been among other ranking members in almost every super-villain group out there, like the Injustice League, Suicide Squad, Secret Society of Super-Villains and the Legion of Doom to name a few.
Black Manta is one of the greats as far as comic villains go, but as one who hasn’t been seen much onscreen, he’s not as well-known as other iconic baddies like the Joker, Lex Luthor and the Reverse-Flash. But now that you know all of this stuff about Black Manta, you’ll be able to share this newly-acquired knowledge with your friends when you watch Aquaman this weekend.
Just, you know, wait until after the movie is over. Talking to fish is one thing, but talking in movies? That’s just plain rude.
Aquaman, directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, splashes into theaters tomorrow.
Lissete Gonzalez writes about film, TV and comics for DCComics.com and is a regular contributor to Couch Club, our weekly television column. Look for her on Twitter at @lissete74.