In the Limelight

One of Aquaman’s greatest and most persistent foes over the years has been Black Manta, who will celebrate his 50th anniversary in comics this September. The character first appeared in Aquaman #35 in September 1967; he was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy. Haney and Cardy were also known for helping to create the Teen Titans (along with Bruno Premiani), and Haney also went on to create Metamorpho, the Enchantress, and others.

Though Black Manta has been around in comic books for five full decades, he didn’t get a backstory until 1993. As a child, he grew up in Baltimore by the Chesapeake Bay, but was eventually kidnapped and forced to work on a ship. He eventually saw Aquaman and tried to call out for help, but Aquaman didn’t respond. Eventually killing his captors and escaping, the boy’s resentment of Aquaman drove him to become the master of the oceans.

Ten years later, an alternative story was given in 2003’s Aquaman #8: he was an autistic orphan who was left in Arkham Asylum, and was subjected to experimental treatment that, while it seemingly “cured” his autism, made him incredibly violent. Black Manta’s real first name, David, was revealed in 2010’s Brightest Day event, though his last name still has not been provided after all these years. In Brightest Day it is also revealed that he is the father of Jackson Hyde, also known as Aqualad.

Black Manta’s powers are derived from his powered wetsuit that allows him to shoot rays out of the large eyes; he also has a manta-inspired submarine. At one point he actually becomes able to breathe underwater on his own after being subjected to genetic testing. His suit is adapted to the harsh ocean as well, which allows him to face off on seemingly even ground against Aquaman. Black Manta called himself as such as he was actually a black man underneath his bug-eyed costume. He also once stated that he wanted to dominate the ocean for black people to rule it after having been oppressed on dry land.

As one of Aquaman’s primary foes, Black Manta has appeared in a number of DC shows and films in addition to the comic books. He actually started appearing on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure as a regular villain shortly after his comic book debut in 1967, and later showed up in The All-New Super Friends Hour; he was voiced by Ted Knight in both shows. More recent television appearances include Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where he is an occasional foe, and in Young Justice as a regular antagonist. There was a character named “Devil Ray” in Justice League Unlimited that was clearly based on Black Manta, but is considered a different character (a series writer once said the name change was due to the rights not being available for Black Manta, as they were in use elsewhere for the Aquaman TV pilot).

Film-wise he’s appeared in animated productions such as Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. He will make his first live-action appearance in the 2018 live-action Aquaman film, where he will be portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.