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Monday, July 30, 2007

(Black) Manta Week, Part 1: Aquaman #35

sgHello everyone, and welcome to Part One of (Black) Manta Week! I figured if the Discovery Channel can rack up boffo ratings with their annual "Shark Week"(starting yesterday), I could--nay, should--do a week devoted to Aquaman's #1 foe, Black Manta!

Even though the Ocean Master is Arthur's brother and is usually the catalyst for most of the life-changing Aquaman stories, it's Black Manta, thanks to his appearance(and unforgettable voice)on Challenge of the Super-Friends, who is the only Aquaman villain known to the rest of the non-comics-reading world. Plus, of course, he dealt Aquaman a blow no other villain has ever dared, in a tale we'll talk about at the end of the week.

But for today I thought it only makes sense to start here, with Aquaman #35, the Oct. 1967 issue, where Manta first appeared, in a tale called "Between Two Dooms!" by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy.

It opens with a strange craft attacking Atlantis, and after an ad on page two(weird), we find our AquaFamily--Aquaman, Mera, Aqualad, and Arthur jr.--watching the prodceedings. Mera exclaims "No, darling, you're not going out there alone!" to which our hero replies "Easy, sweetheart--who's the guardian of Atlantis? You're looking at him...the guy you married--me!" Aquaman, Mack Daddy.

Aquaman reaches the ship, and finds himself stuck to it! He then realizes it was a decoy to get him away from Atlantis! We then get our first shot of Manta, who boasts:"The fool...he was lured so easily...he disappoints me!"

Manta attaches some sort of doohickey(courtesy LexCorp, no doubt) to Atlantis' dome, pumping a chemical into the city that turned the sea water inside deadly, so Vulko orders the water to be flushed out. While they try to figure out what to do next, each Atlantean is given a shot of Project X, a serum Vulko developed that allows Atlanteans to breathe air(!!). Bob Haney never met a deus ex machina he didn't like.

Black Manta runs into Mera, and kidnaps Arthur jr.(man, even in his first appearance, Manta was gunning for the kid). While Aquaman decides to surrender himself to Manta, in order to save his son, Ocean Master arrives! Great Neptune! Can this day get any friggin' worse?

Ocean Master is furious that it is Black Manta that has bested Aquaman, so as Arthur jr. is released, he kidnaps the little tyke! Manta thinks that he is someone trying to save the kid, so he attacks Ocean Master! Aquaman then breaks free of Manta's cage, and chases after him. Manta spears him once with his spear-gun, and is about to fire again when Orm tackles him, saving Aquaman's life!

As Aquaman lay unconcious, Orm finds Arthur jr. and delivers him to Aquaman, swimming of just as he wakes up. Mera wonders if it was a miracle that saved their child, but Aquaman tells her "A miracle? Perhaps--or maybe just a certain undersea menace finding he has something else in his heart besides hatred and a lust for power!" The end.

As a debut story, this issue is a pretty weak introduction to
Black Manta. Not only is Manta called "my old enemy" by Aquaman, even though we've never seen him before, but he is dispatched rather easily by another bad guy! The humiliation.

But I think comics writers back then, and Bob Haney especially, were so plot-driven that they didn't put a lot--or maybe any--of thought into long-term plans for characters. Haney probably didn't want to write an origin story for Manta, so, bang! He's Aquaman's old enemy who we just happened not to have seen before. Let's get on with it.

The fact that the story is more about Ocean Master suggests to me that DC didn't know what they had, in terms of a classic Aquaman villain. Much like the Joker, I think it wasn't until after the character had been introduced and then thrown away that they realized he could be brought back, again and again...

I assume it was Nick Cardy who designed Manta, and it was his unusual(to say the least!) look that I think helped keep him in reader's minds. Never seeing an inch of skin on this guy makes him seem more mysterious, his face never betraying a single emotion. It's a weird, yet classic design, one that has essentially lasted unchanged forty years later.

Tomorrow: some Black Manta merchandise!


Anonymous said...

Yeah, a Black Manta week is a great idea! I'll be sure to tune in!

Rick L. Phillips said...

Also, back in the 1960's DC was still thinking of comic books as just for the kids. They didn't seem to know that older kids and adults read the books and would want to know of other battles that Aquaman had with Black Manta.

chunky B said...

This should be a great week, I can't wait to see all the Black Manta goodies!

Plaidstallions said...

I was often the Black Manta is pool Aquaman games as a kid. My favourite villain for sure.

Anonymous said...

Black Manta has one of the most original designs in comics. That alone makes him cool. Add the black suit, scuba tank. laser eyes, and SF voice and you got a guy who makes mos tof Superman's rogues look like chumps.

Can't wait for more Manta!


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Dixon said...

Black Manta Week? I love it. Bravo, Rob!

Scurvy said...

Huzzah for Black Manta week!!