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Black Manta AKA Aquaman’s Joker

Written by Dustin Molina

Throughout comics, the arch nemesis is often as important the superhero themselves. They provide the antithesis to everything we love about the hero, and more importantly, they provide the driving force for our hero to be his/her best. More often than not, the arch nemesis often shares similarities with our, making the pair not disparate enemies on completely different sides of an argument, but merely different sides of the same coin.

Mostly everyone knows Batman has The Joker and Superman has Lex Luthor, but far fewer know of the epic rivalry under the sea: Aquaman and Black Manta. As recently revealed, Black Manta will be the main antagonist in the upcoming Aquaman, so let’s take a look into the torrid history between these two underwater foes.

Before delving into the relationship between the two, it is important to dispel the age-old adage (or at least as old as the age of the television program, Super Friends) that nothing is interesting about Aquaman. The Aquaman story at its core is a very dark one involving a whole lot of murder (mostly familial) and an endless cycle of revenge. Hell, the Aquaman story starts with the hero being abandoned by his parents as a baby because he had blonde hair. Tie this in with Black Manta’s backstory of being an autistic child who was experimented on at Arkham Asylum until he was driven mad, and you have something closer to a horror story than a superhero story.

In short, Aquaman is anything but wholesome. And it’s abundantly clear that the DCEU is trying to make this point as well, or else they wouldn’t have cast Khal Drogo to be play Aquaman.

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Call him wholesome, see what happens.

Black Manta is a man obsessed with killing Aquaman, but his hatred differs from other arch villains. While most villains have some half-assed reasoning for their killing obsession (e.g. Lex Luthor believing that Superman is holding society back), Black Manta’s intense hatred for Aquaman is different for two reasons: it is wholly justified (eventually), and Aquaman equally wants to kill Black Manta.

Like I mentioned before, familial murder is a large part of the Aquaman lore, and both Aquaman and Black Manta have blood on their hands (fins?). Though Black Manta first began as just an evil underwater pirate for Aquaman to deal with, he secured his role as Aquaman’s number one foe when he murdered Aquaman’s two year old child. From this point on, Aquaman sought out revenge.

Pictured: not best friends

Pictured: not best friends

And revenge he got, though unintentionally, when he murdered Black Manta’s father thinking that it was Black Manta himself. From this point on, Aquaman and Black Manta have been in a cycle of death and revenge with no end in sight. Aquaman himself has stated that it won’t end until one of them kills the other.

So with this heaviness to the story and character, an actor of equal gravitas must be put into the Black Manta role. While it’s easy to shout out Idris Elba and be done for the day, I feel he is too busy with half a dozen other projects, not to to mention already being the MCU’s Heimdall. Instead my bets goes with two actors whose past roles have exemplified the cool, cruel, and calculate demeanor that is Black Manta. Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that Giancarlo Esposito or Michael Kenneth Williams will be cast as Black Manta within the next year. Whoever is cast in the role, I assure you, they will bring a realism and grittiness to the character that will have you yearning for more from the Aquaman story.

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It will probably come down to a scowl-off.

This Aquaman/Black Manta rivalry is only a fraction of the larger Aquaman story, but even so, it is enough for an excellent film. And with James Wan and Geoff Johns behind the camera and script, we are in safe hands. Hopefully come 2018, we will see that Aquaman gets the appreciation deserve. The guy has been working for years, let’s finally give him some respect.

What do you think of Black Manta as the villain? Who would you cast in the role? And what about Ocean Master, the baddest brother out there, should he make an appearance? Sound of in the comments and on Twitter!

About the author

Dustin Molina