I’ll be the first to admit that before actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II put on the super fancy tech armor and battled Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman, I knew very little about Black Manta. For the longest time, I didn’t even know the character was Black. But when I heard that Eisner and Ringo award-winning comic writer Chuck Brown — the same Chuck Brown who wrote Bitter Root and On the Stump — would be helming a Black Manta solo series, my curiosity skyrocketed. Black Manta #1 quenched that curiosity with a solid first issue that embodies what most comic readers love about the Black Manta character, like his cunning, villainous nature, and begins a unique story that adds another level of depth, sure to elevate the Black Manta character to never-before-seen heights.
The Black Manta character goes back to the 1960s, which wasn’t the greatest time for African Americans. So when I started reading Black Manta #1 and the first-panel caption read, “What will my legacy be?” I was utterly blown away. Because although Black Manta is a villain, a pirate, an assassin, he’s a human being first. Unlike Aquaman, he wasn’t born with superpowers, but this Black man, Aquaman’s archnemesis, is still a worthy adversary.
He only had to work ten times harder to get to that level. And that says a lot about the Black Manta legacy and story before you even get started on anything else. Issue #1, appropriately titled “Assassin of the Sea,” is a layered story that looks to see Black Manta reflect back to everything he’s done and been through, and possibly an evolution of the character. The story still involves the ancient rock we saw him running after in the Aquaman 80th Anniversary issue.
It’ll be interesting to see what role this stone plays during this six-issue miniseries. One thing’s for sure: now is the perfect time to tell stories about villains with past DC successful films like Joker or the upcoming Black Adam film on the horizon. The book definitely has many things going on, and it may take more than one read-through to take it all in, but the pacing and dialogue are all on point. The only thing missing was a few more captions here and there that could have been utilized to keep the reader on track when the book transitions from one point to another in addition to the location. It’s not an action-packed issue, but does find a neutral balance of destruction, engagement, and wording that keeps you curious.
Artist Valentine De Landro’s gritty illustrations add a detailed and aggressive edge that flows nicely with the story Brown is trying to tell. It reads like a John Singleton film without the usual car chase. What I love most about Landro’s pencil work is the commanding nature he brings to the Black Manta character. It makes it feel like any time he shows up on the panel, you better pay attention to what he’s doing or saying.
Black Manta #1 is a great first entry into what’s shaping up to be an awesome addition to the mythos of Black Manta. There are a lot of characters coming, both old and new, and I can’t wait to see where this series is headed.
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