The Unknown Aquatic Terrorist
Black Manta: [monologuing] “No obstacle is insurmountable if the desire to surmount it is great enough — and so I’ve recruited enough of my own people to serve that purpose quite adequately.”
Aquaman: “Your people? You mean… surface dwellers?”
Black Manta: “No, I mean exactly what I said: “my people.” Or have you never wondered why I’m called [removes his helmet to reveal dark skin] Black Manta?” – Adventure Comics #452
A cruise ship sails through international waters. It shakes as something rams the ship. Heavily armed mercenaries pour out of a rising submarine onto the ship. They aim guns at the passengers and demand all their possessions. A guard panics and aims a gun at a merc.
A beam of light strikes the gun, melting it and mangling the guard’s hand. Screaming, he looks up and sees a man in a dark wetsuit and wide helmet. The helmet’s eyes glow a hellish red. Beams fly from Black Manta’s helmet, incinerating the helpless guard.
Black Manta is one of DC Comics’ most sadistic villains. He’s killed scores of people, waged war on Atlantis, and even killed Aquaman’s son. So who is he? Why does he hate Aquaman? What is his connection to Aquaman’s sidekick? Let’s find out.
Cycle of Vengeance: Black Manta’s Backstory
Black Manta: “Y’see, deep down, in my most secret heart of hearts, I’m still a totally depraved sonofabitch whose main goal in life is to watch you die. Slowly and painfully. Just like your kid.” – Aquaman #11
Black Manta debuted in Aquaman #35 in 1967. He was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy.
David Hyde was a treasure hunter and modern day pirate nicknamed Black Manta. He created a high tech wetsuit that made him dangerous on land and unstoppable underwater. A morally bankrupt scientist hired Black Manta to obtain a sample of Aquaman’s blood. Manta broke into Aquaman’s home and attacked him. Aquaman’s dad tried to intervene, but died from a heart attack mid-fight.
An enraged Aquaman hunted down Black Manta and found him on a boat without his armor. Aquaman beat the man to death only to learn that he had murdered Black Manta’s father. Black Manta swore to kill Aquaman and everything he held dear.
He assembled a mercenary force that he trained in underwater combat. They attacked Atlantis several times before infiltrating the palace, where Manta kidnapped Aquaman’s infant son and deprived him of the water he needed to breathe. Aquaman managed to drive away Manta, but couldn’t defeat him before his son suffocated.
Sins of the Father: Black Manta’s History
Jackson Hyde: “I will stand against you.”
Black Manta: “It seems I have been too permissive. Clearly, boy, you are in need of [charges laser] discipline.” – Young Justice, “Summit” (Season 2, Episode 19)
Black Manta and Aquaman clashed for years although both were shaken when Player 3 entered their battle. Aquaman discovered a teenager named Jackson Hyde who had the ability to control water. Aquaman reached out to the boy, thinking he had Atlantean heritage. Jackson was hesitant to join him, but the issue was forced when Black Manta arrived.
In a twist ripped straight from Star Wars, Black Manta revealed that he was Jackson’s father. He had slept with an unknown Atlantean woman who was heavily implied to be Aquaman’s sister-in-law. Aquaman’s wife kidnapped the baby, then named Kaldur’ahm, and hid him on the surface to protect him from Black Manta.
Black Manta planned to use Kaldur’ahm as a weapon against Aquaman, but the brat decided to become the new Aqualad and oppose his own father. This really is just Underwater Star Wars by this point.
Drowning in Hatred: Black Manta’s Powers and Personality
Black Manta: “Ignorant boy! This is not a world, a universe, in which a free man can afford to be soft! I will teach you to be ruthless, Kaldur’ahm, even if I must beat that lesson into your skull!” – Young Justice, “Summit”, (Season 2, Episode 19)
Black Manta created the Dark Suit, a heavily armed wetsuit that provides superhuman strength and durability. The Dark Suit is equipped with hidden missile launchers, a jetpack for maneuverability, miniature harpoon launchers, and a collapsible trident. His deadliest weapons are heat beams called, ugh, Manta Rays that are fired from the helmet’s eyes.
Black Manta is dangerous even without the Dark Suit. He is an expert tactician, martial artist, and assassin. He leads an army of well equipped mercenaries that are skilled in guerilla warfare . Black Manta has also taken control of N.E.M.O., an ancient secret society that has ties across the world.
Unlike most villains, Black Manta has no redeeming qualities. He was a ruthless monster before, but his war with Aquaman focuses him. He now only lives to make Aquaman suffer as long as possible before finally ending him.
The Actors who play Black Manta
Black Manta is powerful and ruthless, but in uninspired casting, has been voiced by Lurch and the guy from Caddyshack. Black Manta made his television debut in 1967’s The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. He was voiced by 6-time Emmy winner Ted Knight, of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame. Character actor Ted Cassidy voiced Black Manta in Challenge of the Super Friends.
Michael Beach voiced the character in Justice League: Unlimited. Black Manta was renamed Devil Ray for legal reasons involving an unmade Aquaman pilot. Black Manta was played by Emmy nominee Kevin Michael Richardson in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Finally Khary Payton voiced both Black Manta and his son Aqualad in Young Justice.
Black Manta makes his film debut in 2018’s Aquaman. He is played by The Get Down’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
Didya Get All That?
An aquatic terrorist with a mad-on for Aquaman.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.