Warning: SPOILERS for Aquaman #50
The latest issue of Aquaman has seen an unlikely alliance form between Black Manta and Lex Luthor. While Luthor has been recruiting many villains to his banner as part of DC Comics's Year of the Villain event, it is surprising that he would approach Black Manta, with whom he had a falling out during a Justice League crossover event last year.
On the surface, Lex Luthor and Black Manta would seem like natural allies. Both are ordinary humans with a grudge against a much more powerful superhero, whom they still manage to humble with their superior intelligence and advanced technology. The chief differences between them, however, are the reasons for their grudge and how far they will go in pursuit of their chosen enemy's destruction. Luthor may despise Superman with every fiber of his being, but there are some lines he won't cross in the name of what he sees as the greater good. Black Manta, by contrast, has no illusions about being anything but a thief and a murderer and there's no depths to which he won't sink if it will let him kill Arthur Curry.
This difference was made plain during the Drowned Earth event, which built upon Luthor's plans to build a better universe with his answer to the Justice League - the Legion of Doom. Working with other villains, including Black Manta, Luthor released various trapped primordial energies, including a Still Force that counters the Speed Force which empowers The Flash. With Luthor's aid, Black Manta was able to acquire the Key of The Graveyard of the Gods - an artifact with which the Ancient Greek God Poseidon was able to imprison the rival sea gods of other worlds after luring them to Earth with a false truce. Freed from their prison, the sea gods set about flooding the Earth in retribution and rewarded Black Manta by taking Aquaman's powers and giving them to him.
This triumph was not enough for Black Manta, even after further augmenting his weapons with the Tear of Extinction - a magic artifact capable of killing divine beings. Black Manta betrayed his benefactors, now intent on crowning himself the uncontested ruler of the seas across the universe. This was not a part of Luthor's plans, which involved the Justice League rallying and saving the Earth while the Legion of Doom escaped with their newfound powers and weapons in the confusion. Black Manta ignored Luthor's command to teleport back to their base, until it became clear that he could not control the abyssal Space Kraken the old sea gods had summoned to destroy Earth. Black Manta desperately called Luthor begging for rescue, to which Luthor responded as Black Manta had earlier, claiming he couldn't hear him clearly and they must have a bad connection.
Somehow Black Manta escaped and remained in hiding until the final pages of Aquaman #50. It was here that he appeared on an abandoned submarine, apparently having answered a signal broadcast to his personal ship. The signal was delivered by a drone, which then projected a hologram of Lex Luthor, who recently faked his death after sending out a broadcast promising that he would use his fortune to finance the selfish dreams of anyone willing to give themselves over to the cause of Doom. To that end, Luthor offers Black Manta the submarine and all the weapons on it as payment for just hearing him out, before offering Manta the means to avenge his father's death at Aquaman's hands "in the most brutal and satisfying way imaginable."
Just what precisely these means are is anybody's guess at this point. Whatever Luthor's plan entails, it would be fair to say that both villains would be foolish to trust one another. Manta is too obsessive not to seek revenge on anyone who has gotten in the way of his plans for killing Aquaman no matter what he is promised in payment and Luthor is too practical to leave a wild card like Manta in play when he has an entire Justice League to plot against. Either way, The Year of the Villain just became much more interesting.
Aquman #50 is now available from DC Comics.