I give Geoff Johns and Tony Bedard full credit for the outstanding Black Manta story for hero’s month. Manta has long been one of my favorite villains and, like Sinestro, The Joker, and a few other favorites; his impact is always with the author of the story. Johns and Bedard came up with the story, Bedard crafted the script, and it is easily one of the best of Villains Month so far.
Last we saw Black Manta, he was rotting in prison. Aquaman #23.1 opens with Amanda Waller trying to convince Manta to join The Suicide Squad. As the two bandy back and forth with the positives and negatives of the squad, an attack by the Crime Syndicate creates a prison riot. King Shark, in one of the scariest versions of him I’ve seen, eats a few guards and frees Black Manta. In a nice bit of foreshadowing on future Aquaman issues, Manta retrieves his suit and weapons just as Ocean Master is leaving with his. Both are enemies of Aquaman, so there’s a nice moment of mutual respect.
After suiting back up, Manta stands with the rest of the villains listening to Ultraman (the bad Superman) as he spins his ideas on world domination and the villain work force. Manta has no desire to join a crew, so he slides off, heading to visit his father’s grave. The Crime Syndicate has announced the death of the Justice League. To Manta, it means the war is over, his enemy is gone. Sitting before his father’s grave, Manta weeps in joy that Aquaman, the man Manta saw as his father’s killer, had been slaughtered.
This is when it gets hairy. Ultraman, hating the sun, moves the moon in front of it. Know what that does? It screws with the tides. Suddenly, Manta is facing a huge wave that destroys his father’s grave and floats the body out to sea. Now Manta’s pissed, and he's going to bring his anger to the Crime Syndicate. Bedard does two things here; he further humanizes Black Manta and sets him up to be one of the most interesting aspects of Forever Evil.
Claude St. Aubin's art is solid, but a bit hit-or-miss. When it is on, like with the suited up Black Manta or the underwater scenes, the work is wonderful. Aubin has solid lines and colors, though he could stand to shade things a bit more. When his work is off, it is pretty off. Superwoman looks like a bad pinup model, and some of the panels are lazy with the detail work. Overall, St. Aubin is a solid performer, he just needs more consistency.
(5 Story, 3 Art)