This was the best Villain’s Month book yet for me. It managed to perfect balance of continuing the ongoing book’s plotlines, reflecting the events of Forever Evil and also giving more depth to the headlining villain. It makes sense that it would be good, given that it’s co-written by the man behind both Aquaman and Forever Evil, Geoff Johns, and it’s clear that he and Tony Bedard actually care about Black Manta and how he fits as Aquaman’s arch-nemesis. Even though Johns is leaving the title soon, he’s done a great job at not only making his hero respectable, but also the villain.
The issue opens with Amanda Waller attempting to recruit an imprisoned Black Manta into the Suicide Squad, but he’s having none of it, all he wants to do in life is to kill Aquaman (because Aquaman accidentally killed Black Manta’s father), he’s not interested in whatever Waller has going on. Then, as we saw in Forever Evil, the CSA attack Belle Reve, and Black Manta is allowed to escape (I loved the silent moment between Manta and Ocean Master, the other candidate for Aquaman’s arch-enemy, I bet we’ll see that scene from the other POV in Ocean Master’s issue). We then see the CSA’s speech in Forever Evil #1 from Manta’s perspective, and how he reacts when he discovers that Aquaman is ‘dead’ at the hands of the CSA. What does a villain do when his only motivation is taken away from him?
Manta heads to his father’s grave, and tells him that ‘it’s over’, and I have to say, I did feel a little sorry for him right there. Johns gets a lot of shit for seemingly caring about the villains more than the heroes in his books, but when done well, a complicated villain is a great thing, and in Black Manta, we have that. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for Manta, he doesn’t have to wait long for a new motivation, as Ultraman’s movement of the Moon to block out the sun causes a change in the tides (I loved Ultraman’s nonchalant reaction to this destruction, he’s such a dick) and since Manta’s dad is buried near the sea, his grave is washed away. So now Black Manta has a new mission… to kill the Crime Syndicate Of America, and he’s armed with Aquaman’s trident.
This was just a great issue, it brought Manta back to prominence for the Aquaman book, since it’s been in prison for a while, it really dove into his motivation and psychology, and gave us a really good reason for why he’s going to be a major player in Forever Evil and side with Lex Luthor. I wish all of the Villain’s Month books were like this, not meaningless fill-ins, but written (or at least co-written) by the ongoing writers and contributing to the big crossover and/or ongoing stories, this is what this month should have been, not a clusterfuck. Claude St. Aubin’s artwork was decent too, he managed to make Manta’s admittedly goody costume look really menacing, and the silent underwater scenes were very well-paced.
I can’t believe that Black Manta is one of the best villains DC has right now, but it’s true, and this is one of the best books they’ll do this month.