Aquaman #23.1 Black Manta #1
Written by Geoff Johns and Tony Bedard
Art by Claude St. Aubin and Blond
The short of it:
At Belle Reve Penitentiary Amanda Waller is interviewing a new inmate to see how they would feel about joining her Suicide Squad, but all Black Manta wants is to kill Aquaman. Aquaman killed his father, believing him to be Manta, after Manta accidentally caused Aquaman’s fathers death. Waller wants to direct this missile of a man and points out that he has so much hate, but where will it go without Aquaman? Anyway, that’s when she’s interrupted by big booms as Power Ring and Deathstorm show up to light the place up. Waller wants him walked to where the Squad is held, but he quickly meets King Shark who ate his way to meet Manta and give him a Society coin. Manta crosses the riot, going to where his gear is held and has a quiet face to face with Ocean Master before taking his stuff and leaving.
Ten hours later he’s amongst the villains who gathered for the Crime Syndicate’s coming out party, in fact, he scored Aquaman’s trident in the “get the heroes gear before someone else does” contest. Manta is definitely interested at first, as they’ve shown him that his greatest foe is stoppable…but as soon as they claim to have killed the League, Manta quits caring. He walks off as Ultraman kills Monocle without even turning to look. He throws that Society coin right out in the water. They took his kill, they took his vengeance.
He goes to his father’s grave to say that it’s finally done, and to try and make peace with himself…but that’s when Ultraman goes and starts his eclipse. Now, science question, but what would happen if the moon were all of the sudden moved? The answer is “nothing good”, and this issue has the tides go up and smash down on the city Manta is in (and probably dozens of others). Manta is without his mask, and thus unable to breathe through the flood, but he does see his father’s casket ripped open and the skeleton ripped apart by the waves. The entire town is destroyed, and his father’s remains are gone. Manta has found a new outlet for his rage.
Ultraman and the Crime Syndicate.
What I liked:
Words cannot express how much of an improvement it is that Manta’s motivation now is getting revenge for his fathers death. So much better than “I want to talk over the oceans so black people can live in them”.
My first thought when I saw Ultraman create the eclipse in Forever Evil #1 is that it probably caused a lot of problems for people across the globe. It was very nice to see that actually happen in this issue, instead of it just being blown off.
Manta fully transition from ‘supervillain’ to ‘angry and slightly misunderstood’ throughout this issue. I mean, yes, his goal in life is “Kill Aquaman”, but when he thinks his mission is over he just goes to talk to his father’s tombstone and say that it’s over. He doesn’t immediately go seek a new place to funnel his rage, he seeks out peace. Sure, he winds up with a place to vent his rage, but he didn’t go seeking it out.
Manta with no powers, no gear, and a giant riot around him was great. He stays perfectly calm and goes and does what he needs to do. He doesn’t panic, or try to join in on the riot, he just wants his things so he can leave.
I can’t pretend to be overly familiar with the work Claude St. Aubin, but he’s on my radar after this issue. It’s not the most eye popping or gorgeous issue ever, but it looks REALLY good for the most part.
What I didn’t like:
How many times have I reread that Crime Syndicate reveal across all the Villains Month books I’ve read?
There are definitely some issues to the art too, and I did not like shot of the CSA. It just looked off to me.
Tony Bedard is the best kept secret in the big two. Whatever he writes is amazing, regardless of franchise, or genre, or even the kind of story. I mean, just from my personal collection, here’s some books where he’s kicked all kinds of ass. Exiles, Negation, Birds of Prey, Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes, Green Lantern Corps, New Guardians, R.E.B.E.L.S. I’m a fan of his and that is never going to change, I love good books way too much.
Geoff Johns made me care about Black Manta back in Brightest Day. True story. I never really read Aquaman when I was younger, and I was also a kid during the nineties, so Underworld Unleashed happened. This means Manta ditched his awesome classic look in favor of being some human fish monster that never looked badass. He just wasn’t a villain that I cared about at all, but then Geoff started writing him in Brightest Day, and then he redebuted in the New 52, and now Manta is a favorite of mine. I understand his motivations, and while he is truly the villain, it’s only out of his vengeance towards Aquaman. That’s the only thing about him that transcends bad guy into the realm of super villain; his desire to kill a superhero. Because other than that he really doesn’t come across as too bad of a guy.
The Geoff Johns school of villainy is something everyone should attend. Courses include “Flash”, “Green Lantern”, and “JSA”. Lessons include “making your villains better by making readers actually care” and “evil for the sake of evil is boring”. There’s also the expert level course of “Making your villains better than your heroes” which is also known as “How to write The Rogues”.
On further inspection (research!) I’ve discovered that I actually am familiar with the art of Claude St. Aubin, and I have always enjoyed it.
Why is this issue a success? Because when it’s all said and done, you want to see what Manta does to get his revenge on the Syndicate. He’s not some villain that you want to see get taken down at the end of the story, he’s the anti-hero you want to see take down the villain and the hero. He’s a character that I now want to see featured in another book soon because I really want to know what he does next.
Tags: Aquaman, Black Manta, DC Comics, forever evil, Geoff Johns, New 52 (DC Comics), Reviews, Tony Bedard, Villains Month