When is a spin-off not a spin-off? When there’s no mother book. Along with Ocean Master, Black Manta is Aquaman’s most famous opponent, and here he is with a six-issue mini-series. Black Manta’s son, Aqualad, is also getting a limited run. Meanwhile, the Sea King, who has a blockbuster movie sequel coming, hasn’t had so much as a back-up series for a year or something.
What’s up with the world, it’s like catfish and dogfish and lying down together. So no way was I buying two mini-series about characters I could care less about.
Then both Manta and Aqualad had lead-in strips in the Aquaman 80th Anniversary 100-page Super-Spectacular the other week (which is something, I suppose). And they were pretty good.
So here I am with the first mini to drop, and with the same creative team – writer Chuck Brown, artist Valentine do Landro, colourist Marissa Louise and letterer Clayton Cowles – at the helm, it’s a great book.
There’s a fair bit going on.
Black Manta tracks down minor Aquaman rogue Captain Demo to regain a magical artefact stolen from his partner.
An apparent associate is capturing the essences of supervillains and annexing their henchpeople.
All over the world people are suffering appalling head pain.
And in the Underworld, someone wakes.
What they have in common is pretty much explained by Aquaman frenemy Dr Steven Shin.
What the hoods whom the mystery wizard and weapons maker recruits have in common is that they’re both Black, which would link back to Manta’s old lies about wanting to establish a Black homeland under the sea. Then again, Manta tells Demo he’s going to grab those of his thugs he hasn’t killed, and we don’t know their backgrounds.
The only named person, apart from Manta, who gets magical migraine is named Cal – likely Cal Durham, Manta lieutenant turned Aquaman ally. Manta-motivated surgery gave him gills, so maybe that’s the specific link – if you’re a human who can breathe water, you’re in trouble.
Mind, the woman who wakes doesn’t look human… she’s likely a water deity, I have a feeling I should recognise her – any guesses?
And who’s the science wizard? I did wonder if it might be a disguised Tempest, the original Aqualad, pretending his learned magicks were artificial, but I doubt he could duplicate Dr Fate’s ankh spell signature. More importantly, Tempest – Garth – wouldn’t kill someone to gain the trust of bad people.
As a comics nerd, I love explanations for how powers work, however dubious. Magic science? God DNA? Tell me more.
See how intrigued I am? This book has me thinking – and the biggest mystery of all remains.
Why the heck is she called Gallous the Goat? ‘Gallous’ is a Scots term for ‘cheeky’, but that doesn’t quite fit. I do like that while far from an angel, the character stands up to Manta and his murderous nonsense.
People from Aquaman’s long history are always a bonus, so points for Cal Durham, Stephen Shin and Captain Demo (who I only now realised is likely a take on Captain Nemo, rather than being a villain who demonstrates things).
Chuck Brown’s framing device for this story is Black Manta pondering his legacy.
Let me help, Manta. You’re a bottom-feeding scumbag.
But I did enjoy reading about him. Brown manages to make Manta interesting company without underplaying his essential awfulness. Manta isn’t even the hero of his own story.
Valentine De Landro’s art is easy on the eyes and his storytelling serves Brown’s script well. He looks to be modelling Manta on Idris Elba rather than the actor who played him on the big screen. I could certainly see Elba play that scene with Gallous the Goat (I shall never tire of typing that), right down to the weary >sigh<. I may be wrong, but either way there’s an intensity to this character that sells the story.
I’m also very keen on the visual for the no-longer-imprisoned godly woman, Mrs Poseidon or whoever. Marissa Louise expertly colours the scene in which she rises to face a terrible foe, the background tones lending extra energy. I’m also impressed by the lighting when the weapons master enters his forge, and the pop of the splash page, but really, the whole book looks great.
Clayton Cowles’ letters are as excellent as we’ve come to expect; look, for example, at the headache scene, with the ever-increasing font size telling us of the rising levels of pain.
De Landro’s terrific full-colour cover is lifted by Kenny Lopez’s excellent logo design.
The only thing I’m not too keen on about this issue are the tweaks to Manta’s costume – what was slick is now clunky, perhaps in the name of ‘realism’. Well, I don’t need realism, just give me cool. The mad cool of classic Black Manta.
Whether this series will prove a mad cool showcase for Black Manta, time will tell, but certainly it’s off to a splendid start.