Black Manta #1 – Chuck Brown, Writer; Valentine De Landro, Artist; Marissa Louise, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Ray: It’s pretty common with comics to read a book that feels like it’s striving for something great but doesn’t quite get there—at least with the first issue. That’s the case with Bitter Root co-creator Chuck Brown’s DC writing debut, which has some heavy lifting to do. Not only is it a villain-led miniseries, but it’s one of the company’s most ruthless villains. Black Manta has been associated with some of the worst atrocities in Aquaman’s history, and I don’t think he was on anyone’s short list for a solo run. Well, Brown passes the first test of this book—he makes Manta a compelling protagonist without sanding down his rough edges too much. He even doesn’t fall back on the easiest approach of pairing him against his son yet, instead showing his standards (he will not tolerate slavers) and giving him a complex relationship with his partner and protege Gallous the Goat. He’s a villain, but one with a few extra layers.
What doesn’t work quite as well right out of the gate is the central plot he’s mired in. We saw him chase after a mysterious ancient stone in the Aquaman 80th anniversary special, and that’s still his focus now as he reclaims it from the aforementioned slave ship. But it seems to be causing him mysterious side effects, including splitting headaches that are spreading to specific people around the world. And at the same time, a new magic-using villain is preying on low-level crooks, stealing their abilities to carve himself an enchanted weapon. And then there’s the ancient warrior trapped in stone who awakens by the end of the issue. There is a lot going on here, and much of it is completely original stuff Brown is adding to the character’s mythology. Valentine De Landro’s gritty art is a highlight, and the story is a little scattered but more than compelling enough for me to want to see where the heck Brown is going with this.
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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.