Aquaman #23.1 written by Tony Bedard (with series regular Geoff Johns helping with plots) and Claude St. Aubin on art duties is exactly what I want out of a Villains Month title. Using the Crime Syndicate’s destruction of the entire Justice League as a device to delve into the psyche of Black Manta really works in this issue and helps give insight into an iconic, yet often under-appreciated, DC villain.
Tony Bedard does an admirable job taking over the series from Geoff Johns for this standalone issue. Black Manta has always been kind of a joke character, just like his heroic counterpart in Aquaman. Most people look at him and probably just remember his stint in the Super Friends TV show. He was just that echo-voiced doofus with the garbage can on his head. This one-shot should dispel any of those preconceptions. The issue is framed by the Forever Evil event where the entire Justice League is “dead”. The Crime Syndicate is releasing all of the world’s villains from jail and inviting them to join their new world order. Black Manta is a character fueled by hate. Hate for Aquaman, who killed his father in an act of revenge. Killing Aquaman is Black Manta’s only mission in life. Now that the Justice League has been killed, what is Black Manta to do? That hate should have died with Aquaman’s death, but this isn’t the case for Manta. Bedard shows that hate is all Manta knows, but also sheds light on a more humanistic aspect of him. Visiting his father’s grave, we actually see Manta take off his helmet and show that his father was the only person that he ever cared for. Aquaman may have been the catalyst for his hate, but it does not end with his death. Now that Aquaman is gone, Black Manta has to focus his bloodlust towards the people that stole the glory of killing Arthur Curry from him: the Crime Syndicate. Bedard doesn’t try and make Black Manta a talkative and extroverted character. Manta is entirely in his head, focused and quiet. Bedard uses Black Manta’s voice very sparingly, but when he does speak it has impact. The lack of internal narrative, unlike many other Villains Month tie-ins, helps add to the mystery of the character. Another poignant moment sees Black Manta escaping Belle Reve and on his way out he passes Ocean Master, as they acknowledge each other silently. Bedard also nails Amanda Waller’s voice perfectly in the beginning of the issue. Bedard breaks into the mind of a dark and underdeveloped character, and only makes me hunger for more.
Claude St. Aubin does a decently good job in this issue as well. He does an excellent job giving Black Manta’s costume a sleek look. It looks intimidating and polished, but also looks like it could function in the real world. St. Aubin also knows how to draw an engaging action scene. The Belle Reve prison breakout is littered with dozens of guards and villains brawling throughout the jail, and the Crime Syndicate “party” is full of super villain cameos. One panel in particular shows Black Manta killing an armed guard with a quarter, which might be the most embarrassing way to die. On the negative side, some of St. Aubin’s character work, specifically a group shot of the Crime Syndicate, lacks any real detail. The way he draws clothing also seems very flat and almost looks plastic-like. The quieter character moments at Manta’s dad’s grave are done very well, and makes the reader actually care and root for Black Manta.
In the end, this is a solid issue. It lends some insight into a character that doesn’t really have much of a personality, and instead uses that stoic demeanor to its advantage to help build some character.
Special thanks to The Spider’s Web for providing my comics for the week. It’s a great shop, organized neatly, and has a friendly and knowledgeable staff. You can check them out on their Facebook page.
Tyler Olson is a writer and reviewer for PopCulture Galaxy. He is now afraid of handling quarters. You can contact him on Twitter @TylerSchmolson or email him at TylerOlson619@gmail.com
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