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Going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters: Chuck Brown on writing 'Black Manta'

Comic Books

Going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters: Chuck Brown on writing ‘Black Manta’

We dive deep into this exciting mini-series exploring the sea-faring outlaw.

Move over, Aquaman: out today is a brand-new series focused entirely on Black Manta. From acclaimed writer Chuck Brown, and rising artist Valentine De Landro, the titular series aims to keep the character villainous but nonetheless relatable. Along with Black Manta, Brown and De Landro are also introducing new villains like Devil Ray and Torrid while thoroughly grounding the story in a realistic depiction of the sea-faring outlaw.

Black Manta #1 is the start of a six-issue series that Brown has spent ample time building and developing. In the lead-up to the book, I got the chance (as part of a group roundtable) to interview Brown. We addressed how he approached Black Manta having developed a decades-long fondness. We also get into the creation of new villains, how Black Manta stands apart from other villains, who would win in a fight between Black Manta and Jack Sparrow, and many more tidbits.

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These are edited excerpts from the larger conversation.

DC Preview: Black Manta Chuck BrownAIPT: What is it about Black Manta that makes him so iconic and resilient as a character?

Chuck Brown: I think it’s just his amazing costume you know and the look of the character and beyond that it’s just his overwhelming hate for Aquaman. He’s one of those iconic villains that you know you kind of want to see in the book rather than Aquaman sometimes. He is one of those characters like Batman, you know, he looks like that deadly villain. And then later on you found out his own tragic backstory which kind of kept him going as well.

AIPT: Working with Valentine De Landro, do you approach scripting differently?

CB: I approach it differently with everyone. You know, I gave him a call and found out what he likes in the script. Did he like little description or more, splash pages…what would make him happy. That’s kind of how I follow all my projects. It wasn’t really much different when I worked on Bitter Root or On the Stump. He’s an amazing artist. You give them the script and he and Marissa [Louise] give you back these amazing pages and they just make the job very easy. He loves action. He loves the emotion in the characters. And we just got a really good match.

AIPT: What was your first exposure to Black Manta? And how does that prior experience influence or inform this series?

CB: For the longest time, I didn’t love the character. But I was maybe in my 20s when I realized he was actually a Black man. And that was when I really got fascinated with him in my younger days. And from there, I was just really curious about you know, this Black assassin of the sea, Aquaman’s greatest foe with no superpowers. That’s taking on this god of the sea.

And we don’t have a whole lot of characters, villains, or otherwise heroes that are Black. And it is one of those characters I kind of gravitated towards and I just kind of became obsessed with over the years. And eventually, I was able to get that short in Aquaman 80th. And I was given an opportunity to kind of add some mythos to the character and its world.

DC Preview: Black Manta #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Manta appears to be going through an identity crisis of sorts at the beginning of the first issue. Will this struggle with identity be a recurring theme of the series?

CB: Absolutely. He’s definitely a villain, you know. But he’s also a human being. And there are certain characters in the story, that somewhat act as his moral compass, and he’s trying to deal with his own heritage and his own mission in life and the things that he’s done to people in the world and how it’s affected himself and his current situation now.

AIPT: What aspects of Black Manta do you find to be the most interesting?

CB: I just love a grounded villain and hero, you know, a human being that can just go toe to toe with this word of God’s and monsters. Even though he’s villainous at most times the fact that he can stand toe to toe with these people and still come out on top. That’s just what fascinates me. And again, he’s a brother doing it all at the same time. That’s, that’s another thing.

AIPT: What do you feel is the most misunderstood aspect of Black Manta as a character that you wanted to highlight?

CB: So definitely didn’t want to take away the fact that he does have a villainous nature, but I wanted people to know that he doesn’t have a black heart in the sense where he’ll kill for the sake of killing. I want to slowly take people away from that and show another side of him to show people can change, and people don’t have to be totally murderous and villainous all the time, and kind of elevate the character beyond that, yet still maintaining his edge and his viciousness and his fury.

DC Preview: Black Manta #1

Courtesy of DC Comics. 

AIPT: As a writer, is that an easy thing for you to do?

CB: Not really. No. I mean, I love villains. I do love villains. And sometimes when I’m writing the scripts, I may go a little too far. And then, thank God for supporting character, because when you start writing the supporting characters, you put yourself in their shoes, and they kind of bring that part of Black Manta back and bring me back from making things a little too raw and too dark. In a sense, you know? I think that’s, that’s a huge part of what Gallous and Torrid are about. Keeping that balance of the character.

AIPT: Will Jackson Hyde and Manta’s relationship play a role in this series?

CB: Yes. In the first issue, it’s actually an open letter to Jackson, Jackson Hyde, which is why he’s questioning his whole life. He wants to be in his son’s life more. He realizes he’s dying, so he wants to make amends with his son. It won’t be a direct correlation, he won’t actually appear in the books. But there’s a letter to his son in the opening up of issue one. And Aquaman and that relationship will also pop up as a theme in the book as well.

AIPT: What can you tease about Gallous’ arc in the story and what she brings out of Black Manta?

CB: She’s like the daughter he never had. She’s very aware that you know, she’s a pirate. She works for a supervillain. She’s his broker. But he’s also aware that on some level, Black Manta has saved her life and molded her into the person that she is. And almost on some level in her mind, she’s trying to repay him by trying to keep him from the total edge of darkness in the sense.

And I really love this character. She’s so fun to write, great for a punch line. I did not want her to be just a henchman to him. And I think he knows that as well. But yeah, she’s definitely one of my favorite characters in the book.

DC Preview: Black Manta #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: I love the plotting of the first issue, because we did different scenes keeping up your interest and the story here is layered, which plot did you start with when scripting?

CB: I started with Black Manta’s evolution to where he will end up at the end of the story. And I kind of use that as a roadmap of how I will start writing issue 1. I definitely want people to see him as his true, villainous nature.

Also, I kind of paralleled Black Manta and our main villain when I was doing the plot ’cause their journey is somewhat parallel as I write the story.

AIPT: What is one moment from the scene or the series that you can’t wait for fans to see?

CB: I can’t wait for people to see the villains’ origin story which comes much later in the book. To kind of see why he is who he is in his motivations. I think that’s gonna shine a lot of light onto the series. And again, I love a good villain so you will hopefully sympathize with them, no matter what horrible things they may do.

AIPT: When introducing new villains like Devil Ray, Torrid, and Gallous, does knowing these characters could exist for all time in serial storytelling affect how you approach writing them?

CB: Well, I think any characters I write, no matter how big the book or small the book, I’d like to think they will exist in some shape, or fashion, for all time. To add to the DC mythos, or the DC characters was an amazing honor. We’re very proud of that. But it does not affect how I write a script. That would just drive me nuts if I think about that too much. I kind of just write and flow with it and kind of put the rest of that stuff you know, in the back of my mind.

DC Preview: Black Manta #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: How important is it to capture a Black Manta’s pirate side?

CB: That’s very important. I didn’t dwell on it too much. I couldn’t do six issues in the water. I think issue 1 was a great opening to his roots and him being a pirate and the core of the character. We do kinda revisit that a couple of times throughout the issues on him being a pirate, but mostly it’s about his journey.

AIPT: There seems to be a pattern in the pop culture zeitgeist when it comes to villains getting redemption stories, like Cruella Deville. Is this a redemption story for Black Manta?

CB: No, I don’t think it’s a redemption story. It’s just showing evolution. People can change. Change for the worse or change for the good or, new people come into your lives and it affects you in ways you had no idea it would. That’s just real life.

Again, like I said, I was fascinated with the character for a long time. I wasn’t looking for just a villain to redeem but it’s more about a reflection of our own lives. None of us are who we are when we started our journey in life. And that’s kind of what I’m doing with Black Manta, just trying to show that change and that pain and what life can do and where can take you.

AIPT: When it comes to the deep bench of villains at DC how do you see Black Manta stacking up against others?

CB: He’s number one on my list right now. To me, it’s all those grounded characters. Black Manta, Joker, Lex Luthor. Those kinds of characters. They don’t need a lot to bring these guys to their knees. Black Manta is number one in my book.

DC Preview: Black Manta #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Black Manta versus Jack Sparrow who you got?

CB: Black Manta all day, man. And then they’d have a drink together afterward when it’s all said and done.

AIPT: Chuck, what did you think of the Aquaman movie and how Black Manta was depicted?

CB: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I was honestly a little apprehensive at the beginning going into the Aquaman film period. But it was done so well. Black Manta and his father were amazing. And I think the story about his great grandfather or grandfather, I can’t remember which, about escaped slaves who became pirates surviving in the sea. That just blew my mind I loved I love that aspect of it. I thought it was amazing. Which fueled my obsession even more.

Issue #1 is out in comic book shops on September 7!

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