[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Aquaman]
Aquaman has finally splashed his way onto the big screen, and he's brought his arch-nemesis with him. One of DC Comics' most famous villains, Black Manta has been at odds with King Arthur of Atlantis since the Silver Age. Known for his ruthlessness and distinct appearance, Black Manta is the epitome of a comic book villain.
He uses outlandish skills and technology for selfish means, slaughtering innocents in technological, science-fictiony ways. As big fans of the Manta in Black, we decided to dig into his comic book origins and see just how much of his story made it into the film. Put on your helmets and sharpen those arm-blades, this is Black Manta: 5 Things Aquaman Changed (And 5 Things It Kept the Same).
10. Kept: His Look
The first “kept” item on this list is pretty obvious. It’s the comic-accurate, completely badass suit of armor Black Manta wears. Not only does this suit make Manta a threat even to the super-powered King of the Seas, it adapts Black Manta’s comic book appearance almost exactly. Aquaman could have gone with a Tony Stark-looking suit of underwater armor, narrowing the head and shrinking the eyes. But no. They went full-on Silver Age Black Manta, and for that, we applaud them.
9. Changed: His Name
Keeping the look was way more important, obviously, but it was curious that Aquaman chose to change Black Manta’s real name. Instead of David Hyde, like in the comics, the producers of the film went with David Kane. Why the change? Well, we don’t exactly know. However, the name change doesn’t affect the character’s personality at all, so it’s probably one that even die-hard fans won’t mind. And since Black Manta is a less well-known comic book character, the change will likely go unnoticed by most moviegoers. It’s not like they changed Batman’s name to Bruce Waid.
8. Kept: His Family Legacy
Black Manta comes from a line of mercenaries, and the film decided to keep that aspect of his character. This is important not only to the character’s actions later in the film, but to easily working him into the plot at the beginning. Manta has dealt with strange underwater adventures his whole life, we won’t have to waste time explaining to him who the Atlantans are or how their civilization works. We can cut right to the fighting, which is one of the strongest parts of this movie overall.
7. Changed: His Grandfather's Backstory
The little exposition Black Manta does get wrapped up involves a scene with his father, Jesse Kane. In the scene, we learn that David’s grandfather was a talented underwater soldier in WWII, but that his country abandoned him once he was done fighting. From the research we’ve done in the character, we can’t find a story about his grandfather’s WWII exploits in the comics, but that’s not to say this was a bad change. It made for a great character moment when David took and altered the nickname his grandfather’s fellow soldiers gave him, the Manta, and humanized David’s quest for revenge. It adds to the tragedy of a character, something that’s really useful in crafting a good villain.
6. Kept: Hates Aquaman for Father's Death
Aquaman and Black Manta aren’t just enemies because one is a good guy and one is a bad guy. That’s a rivalry for Joker and Batman, or Captain America and Red Skull. No, Black Manta hates Aquaman because he blames him for his father’s death. This personal vendetta is lifted directly from the source material, and it raises the stakes in his quest for revenge. Hatred is driving his character, and it can blind him to just how terrible his actions can be. Black Manta would wipe out all of Atlantis to take out Aquaman. In fact, with the sequel confirmed by Warner Bros late last year, this might be something we see him attempt.
5. Changed: How His Father Died
The Hamlet-esque blood rage that Black Manta feels for Arthur Curry comes right from the comics. But the specifics of his father’s death are slightly different. In the comics, Black Manta’s father is killed by accident, when Aquaman lashes out at Manta for attacking people he cares about. However, Jesse Kane’s death in the movie is very intentional. Aquaman leaves him to die when he could have saved him, looking David Kane in the eye and telling him to “ask the sea for mercy.” Aquaman comes to regret this choice later in the film, and it leads him to the final moral choice of sparing King Orm’s life. Still, Aquaman can’t escape that his choice made a powerful enemy, and that the consequences of that choice will haunt him for the rest of his life.
4. Kept: He Works with Dr. Stephen Shin
Stephen Shin is kind of like Charles Muntz from the Disney/Pixar film Up. Both characters start out as just scientists, but their obsessions with finding out more information lead them to become villains. Just like in the comics, Shin’s dark obsession with Atlantis leads him into a partnership with Black Manta, and the two make a deadly combo. Manta’s skill set and rage combined with Shin’s extensive Atlantean knowledge and resentment make for a threat that should scare even the True King of Atlantis. If DC is smart, their pairing will be the biggest danger in Aquaman 2.
3. Changed: The Circumstances of Their Meeting
A movie can only explain so much, so we understand having to simplify some characters backstories. This is the case for a lot of folks in Aquaman, Stephen Shin being one of them. I’m the comics, Shin has known Aquaman his whole life. His introduction to Black Manta is when Manta kidnaps him, thinking he is a friend of the Sea King. The two form a reluctant partnership after an act of violence from the mercenary, not after a chance encounter like in the movie. Despite its variation from the comics, this plot point is probably a good thing. Aquaman is already nearly two and a half hours long, taking time to work Shin into the main character’s backstory would’ve taken even longer.
2. Kept: Gets Orders from Orm
Speaking of connections with Atlantis, one of the things Aquaman adapted from the comics was the employment relationship between Manta and King Orm. In both comics and film, Black Manta acts as a kind of terrorist for hire, helping Orm stage attacks to make it look like the surface world has declared war on Atlantis. For anyone who starts to sympathize with Orm, this act puts him right back into the bad guy role. Yes, the surface world is polluting the ocean, but these actions are way too extreme of a response. Hiring a murderer to slay your own people, just to create a narrative? That's pretty dark. And it speaks to Manta's hatred that he'd go along with this, just to get back at Arthur.
1. Changed: Builds Armor for Himself
The changes that the Aquaman team made to Black Manta really aren't that bad. It's not like they took a committed non-killer and turned him into a serial murderer or anything. However, this one change might make fans a little bit angry, but only if they're really into the character. In the comics, Black Manta builds his armor himself. However, the film version of the character modifies some tech already developed by Atlanteans. You could take this as meaning that the movie Black Manta is slightly weaker than the comics version. After all, the comics version of the character could take on Aquaman with no help from his underwater enemies. Still, this change led to that Manta-armor-building montage, and if you didn't have an absolute blast watching that scene, maybe Aquaman wasn't for you anyway.
How do you feel about Aquaman's portrayal of Black Manta? Was it respectful of his comic book origins, or do you think they strayed from the source? Let us know in the comments section below!
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018