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Who is Black Manta? The Origins of Aquaman’s iconic villain

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Black Manta is one of the most fearless supervillains in the DC Universe, and one of the pettiest there is – next to Eobard Thawne aka Reverse Flash. He just hates Aquaman, pure and simple, and wants to destroy the Atlantean world.

Why Black Manta is so fixated on making Arthur Curry’s life hell? That’s the question you could ask yourself. And one that didn’t find an answer for a long time in the comic book pages of the DC Universe.

Black Manta was created by Bob Harney and Nick Cardy and made his debut in Aquaman #35 in September 1967. Though Aquaman’s nemesis made his first appearance here, it was not the first time the two characters fought, as the story made it clear they clashed before – in untold stories. But Manta was not given clear motivation at all.

The readers would have to wait more than 25 years to discover Black Manta’s first proper origin story and more so to discover his real name. His complete name, David Milton Hyde, was given only in 2020 in Aquaman Vol. 8 #62. Proof that you don’t need a (solid) backstory to ruin the life of a superhero and become an iconic villain!

Black Manta, The Modern Age Origin Stories

Black Manta stayed a mysterious character for a long time. This ruthless character only unmasked himself for the first time ten years after his introduction, in Adventure Comics #452 (August 1977) – an issue famous for being the one in which Aquababy dies.

His first proper origin was revealed way later, in the 90s, by writer Shaun McLauglin in Aquaman Vol. 4 #6. Little Black Manta (his real name is still a secret at this stage) was kidnapped from his Baltimore home and forced to work aboard a pirate ship. During this time on the boat, he was abused regularly by his captors.

So you can imagine how seeing Aquaman swimming with a shoal of dolphins gave him hope, and he tried to signal for help, to no avail. In the end, Black Manta freed himself by killing one of his captors. Following this harrowing experience, he swore to destroy Aquaman for not helping him.

Years later, DC decided to revisit Black Manta’s past to give him a new and more grim origin story in Aquaman Vol. 6 #8, written by Rick Veitch. This time, Little Black Manta was sent, of all places, to Arkham Asylum, for his autism. This is where the boy developed a fascination for Aquaman after seeing him on TV.

The doctors at Arkham had no idea how to treat his autism so they chose, instead, to experiment and torture Little Black Manta. This abusive treatment had unforeseen consequences: it made him violent and created Black Manta.

Then Brightest Day happens. We are in 2010 and writer Geoff Johns quickly rewrote Manta’s past when he revealed that Black Manta was exploring the Bermuda Triangle with his pregnant wife when they were captured by the people of Xebel. They were experimented on, leading to the death of Manta’s wife but her child survived. Aquaman’s Queen Mera took the baby to land, where he would grow up in a normal family before destiny called to make him the latest Aqualad! Of course, father and son were not on the same side of this fight.

It was also during that story (in Brightest Day #9) that we also learned that Manta’s name was David.

Black Manta in Rebirth, a more definitive origin story

Following DC’s reboot with New 52, Geoff Johns decided to write a more comprehensive and solid origin story for Black Manta, 45 years after his first appearance! David was a mercenary and treasure hunter working alongside his father. They were hired by Stephen Shin, an old friend of the Curry family who lost all credibility when he tried to reveal to the world the real nature of Arthur. Shin wanted Manta to collect a sample of Arthur Curry’s blood to prove to the world he was an Atlantean (in Aquaman Vol.7 #10).

During the attack, Thomas Curry, Arthur’s father, suffered a heart attack. He died three days later at the hospital. Following this tragedy, Arthur tracked down Manta, blaming him for the death of his father. Arthur found his boat in the middle of the night. But he thought Manta was alone and he was wrong. He killed Manta’s father by mistake. Since then, the two men are lifelong enemies, as Manta abandoned his career seeking revenge against Aquaman after that.

Many conflicts between Atlantis and the surface world can be attributed to Black Manta who, over the years, allied himself with Lex Luthor and has been part of different groups of supervillains (Legion of Doom, Injustice League, etc). He was also a member of the Suicide Squad for a time

So despite not having a real name until 2009 and what we can call a noticeable origin story until New 52, Black Manta’s vendetta against Aquaman and his cool suit has always been enough to make him stand out among DC villains.

Last Updated on March 15, 2024.

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