In the 45 years since his creation, Black Manta has been many things. An abused child driven to hate the sea after being trapped on a boat. An autistic man who found comfort in the texture of water while being tortured in Arkham Asylum by an incompetent psychiatrist. A Black Separatist who wanted to form a new nation, free of the White Man's oppression under the sea. And even a half-man/half-fish monstrosity. But despite all this, there's one thing Black Manta has never really been - threatening. Small wonder then that having established Aquaman as the badass as should be with his first story arc on this title, Geoff Johns should use his second story arc to build upon the background of both hero and villain and turn Black Manta into a villain worthy of the King of the Seven Seas.
These three issues move smoothly through four different story-lines. Two are set in the modern day DCU. Two are told in flashback. In the first storyline, we focus upon Black Manta himself as he hunts and kills a series of superheroes - all of whom apparently draw power from Atlantean artifacts and all of whom were once part of an unofficial super-group called "The Others".
The second arc focuses upon Aquaman, who was - not surprisingly - one of The Others. He joins forces with Ya'Wara - a jungle-queen style heroine who was also a member of The Others - and the two begin to track Black Manta. This greatly annoys Aquaman's wife Mera, who doesn't seem to wholly believe that the only connection Aquaman and Ya'Wara ever shared was a telepathic one.
The third arc, depicted in flashback, showcases the adventures of The Others in the past. We see exactly how Arthur and his fellow heroes used to work together and how they were all united in their efforts to stop Black Manta from exploiting the power of ancient Atlantis. We also see how much Aquaman has changed in six years times, becoming much less savage and kinder in aspect - a scary prospect for those who remember that Aquaman is one of the few who can out-gruff Batman.
In the fourth arc, Mera is told of Aquaman's life on the surface world as a child by Dr. Stephen Shin - a doctor to whom we have already been introduced. We learn a little more of his background with The Curry Family and how he came to be hated by Aquaman mixed up with Black Manta. I'll spare you any more details than that. Suffice it to say that those familiar with how Geoff Johns rebuilt the Green Lantern mythos from the ground-up will not be surprised at how well Johns is beginning to do the same for Aquaman.
Ivan Reis continues to impress with his pencils, fitting more fine detail into several single panels than many artists attempt over whole pages. He is ably assisted by inkers Joe Prado, Oclair Alber and Andy Lanning, whose work further refine Reis' pencils without becoming overly dark. Colorist Rod Reis also deserves special praise, particularly for the sequences where he uses a water-down palette in conjunction with lighter inks in the flashback scenes showing Aquaman's childhood. The effect seems to perfectly suggest the past without resorting to sepia tones or black-and-white imagery.
If you aren't already giving Aquaman a shot, now is the time to come on-board.
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