It’s Black Manta’s turn in the spotlight. The iconic Aquaman villain has been a thorn in the aquatic superhero’s side for over fifty years, and next month for the first time Black Manta will star in his own solo title. The six-issue miniseries written by Chuck Brown, illustrated by Valentine De Landro, colored by Marissa Louise, and lettered by Clayton Cowles will see Black Manta encounter new allies and new enemies in his search for a rare metal that’s deadly to Atlanteans.
Black Manta is the first full-length DC project for Chuck Brown, whose previous work includes titles like Bitter Root with co-writer David F. Walker and artist Sanford Greene, On The Stump with artist Francesco Chiappara, and The Quiet Kind with artists Jeremy Treece and Kelly Williams. The series kicks off with a prelude tale from the creative team in the pages of this month’s Aquaman 80th Anniversary Special.
The Beat had the opportunity to chat with Brown about the forthcoming Black Manta series, the trio of new and reimagined characters who’ll be appearing alongside the classic Aquaman villain, and how the title connects to the miniseries starring Manta’s son, Brandon Thomas and Diego Olortegui‘s Aquaman: The Becoming. Check that out, along with an unlettered preview of the first issue of the series, below.
Joe Grunenwald: Black Manta has been a lot of things over the years. What to you are the essential elements that make him who he is?
Chuck Brown: I think any good villain, in his head, he thinks he’s doing good. He’s not the villain of his own story. He really does believe in acquiring power for the people in a sense, but his selfishness, his grudge against Aquaman kind of got in the way. He’s a really cool character visually. He can go toe-to-toe with a character such as Aquaman. And for ages I found the character interesting, but it wasn’t until recently, maybe in my mid-20s, where I realized the character was Black. Even though he was in things, I had no idea he was a Black character. From there, I’ve kind of gravitated towards him [and been] really curious about who he is and what made him tick.
Grunenwald: Black Manta is your first full series work for DC. How do you think this book is an extension of themes you’ve been exploring in your creator-owned work?
Brown: In Bitter Root one of the things we played around with was Black empowerment, and knowing your roots and your origins, and finding out who you are, and how you fit into the world. I’m really bringing that aspect of things to Black Manta as well. [He’s a] very popular character, but not a lot is known about his roots, and where he came from, and giving deeper meaning to his motivation. In everything I write recently, race is definitely going to be something that I’m going to touch on. It’s important, and it’s just a part of me, it’s always in my writing. So that will definitely be a thing in Black Manta.
When I was writing On the Stump, my creator-owned property, and also another book I did, The Quiet Kind, those are very dark, violent books. Bitter Root was a bit more PG, but some of my other books are a bit darker, a bit bloodier. Dealing with a character like Black Manta, blood’s gonna spill. So that’s definitely going to be a theme carrying over, not holding back on the gore and the violence, as much as DC will allow of course.
Grunenwald: I was going to say, it’s not a Black Label book.
Brown: Trust me, I’ve gotten some emails about, you know, ‘can’t do that, you know, we can show a shadow, but we can’t quite do that.’ He is a supervillain, you know, he is an assassin. And that does stay true to his character. Definitely in the first issue that comes up.
Grunenwald: You’re introducing a few new characters in Black Manta in Gallous, Torrid, and Devil Ray. What can you tell us about them and their relationship to Black Manta?
Brown: Well, Devil Ray actually already existed in the animated world. It’s kind of a nod to Dwayne McDuffie. I think he created Devil Ray because at the time, they couldn’t use Black Manta [on Justice League Unlimited], so they used this character called Devil Ray. I pulled him out of the archives and put him in Black Manta and kind of repurposed him.
Black Manta’s son [Jackson Hyde, aka Aquaman] is very important to him. He’ll never really actually say it, but it’s definitely gonna be a factor in this miniseries. And the Devil Ray character is a younger man, a younger African-American male, and Black Manta’s actions in the past directly affected this young man, and set him on an even darker path than Black Manta’s. So that’s how he kind of connects to Manta.
There’s two new female characters. There’s Torrid, and there’s also Gallous, Gallous the GOAT. Gallous is what Black Manta hoped Jackson would be. She’s almost like a daughter to him. She looks up to him, that’s her mentor. And she’s also somewhat of a moral compass for him in the book, in a sense. Her hands definitely aren’t clean, but she has somewhat of a code, you know, where she kind of tries to bring Black Manta back from the darkness every now and again.
And Torrid is a new character that, I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but she kind of rivals Black Manta, as far as being ruthless, and getting the job done by any means necessary. And there may be somewhat of a budding relationship between him and Torrid, but only time will tell about that.
Grunenwald: You mentioned Jackson, is he going to play a role in the series as well?
Brown: Um, he’ll pop up, he’ll definitely pop up.
Grunenwald: Any crossover between this and his series?
Brown: Um… [long pause] yes. The short answer is yes. Basically, I think what I’m doing and what Brandon is doing will definitely have some effects on the Aquaman universe as a whole.
Grunenwald: What has working with Valentine de Landro brought to these stories? Has his work elevated yours?
Brown: I’ve just been extremely lucky when it comes to working with different artists and colorists and letterers, and Val and I just clicked. I always contact an artist and say, ‘You know, do you like a lot of description, do you want me to hold back, do you want to do your own thing or do you want me to give you more direction,’ and Val was just like, ‘It’s all good. You know, it’s all good, do whatever makes you feel comfortable.’ And then when he turns in these pages, I’m just blown away. Really cool guy, really laid back, you know, his work in Bitch Planet was amazing. So I’m just really glad to be working with him, and looking forward to doing this project and many more.
Grunenwald: How does the story in the Aquaman 80th Anniversary Special lead in to the miniseries? Is that an essential chapter of the miniseries?
Brown: It is. You could definitely enjoy the miniseries without reading the short, but I would highly recommend it. One, it’s a really fun story. It’s a great introduction to Gallous. That’s her first appearance in the Aquaman universe. And we kind of hint at the overall threat that’s coming in the miniseries. I would definitely pick it up, just to kind of bridge that gap between the two stories.
Grunenwald: Anything else you’d like to add to get readers excited for Black Manta?
Brown: Of course we’ve got Val on board, and Sanford Greene, he’s doing six variant covers for the book. You will also definitely see a side of David Hyde that you’ve never seen before. especially seeing him interact with Torrid, and Gallous and these other characters. You’ll see a new side of him, but you’ll also see some of your old favorites where he’s just doing his thing and being an assassin and being ruthless and cold and calculating. We’re also going to show a deeper side to him and give him a deeper purpose in this world beyond fighting Aquaman.
I would definitely say, as you pick up Black Manta #1, definitely pick up Brandon Thomas’s book Aquaman: The Becoming. The stories do intertwine in the future, in both of those books, and I’m just really looking forward to people checking it out.
The Aquaman 80th Anniversary Special featuring the prelude tale starring Black Manta and Gallous arrives in stores on Tuesday, August 31st. Black Manta #1 (of 6) surfaces on Tuesday, September 7th; the final order cut-off date for the debut issue of the series is this Sunday, August 15th.