The Origin Story of one Black Manta
With a federal holiday giving me a day off, I decided to celebrate my Labor Day Eve by checking my movie shelf for things left unwatched. I wanted to start off with something short while I wrapped up things around my place so I grabbed the latest feature from the DC Animation unit, The Flashpoint Paradox.
I didn’t read the full comic arc, clearly I’m too busy hunting down issues of NFL SuperPro. I often will watch the feature and see what the changes were from comic to film. Noticing Black Manta had a slightly expanded role, I started thinking that he was a fairly significant villain that I know little about.
So I looked up his origin.
Black Manta first appeared in the 1960s, battling Aquaman in 1967’s Aquaman #35. Black Manta immediately became one of Aquaman’s main foes and he appeared in some of the Filmation Aquaman cartoons as voiced by Ted Knight.
Much like key Batman foe The Joker, for decades the origin, alias and everything about Black Manta remained unknown. That was all fine.
But during one of the several Aquaman re-launches came about, authors of the book decided to give Black Manta an origin story.
And just take a look at when Manta’s mask comes off.
Yup. 1993. Have you never known why he was called BLACK Manta…
That isn’t all though. They went ahead and told us how he came about.
As a child, the Boy Who Would Be Manta lived in Baltimore, Maryland. Maryland, famous for its plentiful crabs was right by the sea and this boy loved playing in the Chesapeake Bay.
One day, while playing by the sea, the boy was kidnapped. His kidnappers took to the sea and held the boy hostage for several days. All the while sexually abusing him.
Trapped in a boat and in between rapes, the boy caught a glimpse of the ocean and happened to see Aquaman hanging out in the water with some dolphins. The boy made signals, he called to Aquaman but Aquaman never knew the boy was trapped on the boat.
He would eventually get hold of a knife on the ship and when faced with his captors, fight his way to freedom and get his revenge by slaughtering the rapists.
Once free, the boy hated the sea. He wasn’t safe there and he vowed to rule it as he saw the protector, Aquaman, not doing his job.
Oh, villainous villain! How dare you be influenced by being a victim of childhood rape!
Now, Manta had done some pretty awful things leading up to the unveiling and it can go back to the choices made after these life-altering events… but this one just seems extra harsh.
In the early 2000s, Aquaman gets another monthly series and in late 2003, they try to re-tell Manta’s origin in a different way.
This one can’t be as bad, right?
Aquaman #8. We once again get Black Manta as a child.
An autistic child.
Due to his autism, the child is sent to Arkham Asylum. Makes perfect sense. Autistic kid really deserves to be shipped to the holding pen for the criminally insane. The child struggled when they put him to bed. It was as if the sheets hurt him. So they would strap him down.
There was one time where the child was calm and relaxed.
When he was placed in freezing cold water.
But Arkham, mainly used to dealing with serial killers and the deranged, didn’t quite seem trained for a boy with autism. This could be a zany sitcom, right?
Nope. Just another depressing origin story for Manta.
But that’s not all!
How did the autistic boy become the villain we would all associate with the King of Atlantis?
The doctors of Arkham started experimenting on the boy. The experiments were able to help the boy not have many of the challenges associated with autism, however these experiments were not perfect. The boy would be more focused but gain a violent streak.
With this violent streak, the handicapped child who has been treated like a lab rat lashed out at the scientists performing the treatment, killed them and escaped from Arkham.
Once again, the origin is just too messed up to not be sympathetic to the villain.
You could probably name plenty of sympathetic villains. That was one thing that Batman: The Animated Series did so brilliantly. All the villains were painted to be such tragic figures yet still needed to be brought to justice.
None of them were raped.
While there were stories of experiments, I don’t remember much done to handicapped children.
Those two stories are regarded as the closest origins but every time we get a glimpse at the true Black Manta, he ends up being way more sympathetic than one would expect. One of his reasons for taking over the sea in recent years, was that he could move black people into the ocean to make up for all of the pain they suffered being oppressed on land.
I may have to get closer looks at the source material but I am rather hard-pressed to vilify the Black Manta from being a victim of childhood rape, a scientific lab rat or trying to fight centuries of oppression.
Manta has some disturbing roots. He may have been better off left like The Joker with no distinct origin. The sad part is as much as they went to shed a very disturbing image of the Manta’s past, the one element they still have yet to share is his true name.
The Black Manta, when not masked, has been referred to as David but nothing more than that. No last name, no other story other than the few really twisted and disturbing tales shared in 1993 and 2003. We can only hope in the few months left in 2013 we can get this decade’s twisted twist.