Black Manta Can Save the DCEU

first_imgStay on target Between the critical failures of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad as well as the ongoing production troubles of The Flash and the solo Batman movies, the DC Extended Universe of interconnected films isn’t doing so hot. Maybe Wonder Woman and Justice League will be good? Maybe something good can happen? As a DC fan I certainly hope so.Despite these hardships, the universe is still soldiering on. New casting news just dropped for James Wan’s Aquaman movie, starring Jason Momoa and slated for an October 2018 release. Famous wet man Patrick Wilson is playing Aquaman’s villainous brother Orm the Ocean Master. After passing on a role in Wonder Woman, Nicole Kidman might be playing Aquaman’s mother, Atlanna. And we already know Amber Heard has been cast as Aquaman’s wife, Mera.However, the most exciting news for me is the casting of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Aquaman’s nemesis Black Manta. Abdul-Mateen II is a relative unknown. He recently appeared on the Netflix’s period hip-hop show The Get Down. However, Black Manta is a fascinating character with tons of unused dramatic potential. DC just needs to realize it before they let him go to waste. So let me remind them.Black Manta’s origins have always been sketchy. In one timeline he’s a Baltimore native who hates the ocean and therefore Aquaman because he was molested by sailors. In another, he’s a violent mental patient who escaped from Arkham Asylum and only feels comfortable swimming in cold water. He killed Aquaman’s infant son, and even other villains thought he went too far. In yet another version of the DC universe, he’s a ruthless treasure hunter obsessed with revenge after Aquaman killed his father. Even his real name is up in the air. Right now it’s David maybe. Hell, because of the then-upcoming live-action Aquaman TV show, the Justice League Unlimited cartoon had to rename the character “Devil Ray.”However, two things remain constant when it comes to Black Manta. One, he’s a bad dude in a robot manta ray suit (except that time he was a man-manta mutant) who shoots lasers at Aquaman. Two, he’s Black.Adventure Comics Vol 1 #452. Published in August, 1977. Written by David Michelinie and illustrated by Jim Aparo.As Black Manta himself said after taking off his helmet and revealing his angry African-American identity, “Have you never wondered I’m called Black Manta?” The major storyline where Black Manta’s race came into play, and the storyline that got me so fascinated with the character for years, involved Manta recruiting disgruntled Black folks like Cal Durham as part of his plan for Black undersea supremacy. His very sympathetic reasoning stated that since white people dominated the land, it was only fair that Black people dominated the sea. Imagine their extreme disappointment when they discovered the sea was already dominated by the extremely white kingdom of Atlantis. White people ruled the ocean, too. Before Jason Momoa, superheroes didn’t get much whiter than Aquaman.Since then there have some good Black Manta storylines because he’s one of the few relatively recognizable Aquaman villains. The soon-to-be revived Young Justice cartoon featured a lot of Black Manta action considering his son Aqualad was a main hero. However, these racial elements have rarely if ever come into play again. That’s a real shame because with those social underpinnings could make Black Manta an incredibly compelling character.Imagine a race-fueled drama like Glory or Pride or the recent Hidden Figures, but instead of being an inspirational biopic it’s a morally ambiguous, socially conscious anti-hero yarn with superhero tropes. Or how about a Blaxploitation take like Luke Cage? Black Manta already has history with Baltimore. Imagine The Wire but in the DC Universe. I think DC tried to sweep the race story under the rug by saying Black Manta was only using Black liberation as an excuse to recruit followers. But that’s a dramatically rich story in and of itself, how someone can use noble identity politics to twist well-meaning people into serving villainous ends. Imagine Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison but with superheroes!A song from the soundtrack to my hypothetical Black Manta movie.Black Manta is a character loaded with potential, maybe too loaded. If I had to guess I’d say DC steers away from the racial element of the character to avoid controversy. Batman sleeping with Batgirl, meanwhile, is a totally acceptable controversy. But with the right (Black) writer and courage to confront the character head-on, I truly believe Black Manta could be reinvented into DC’s smart and literary counterpoint to Black Panther. Hopefully, James Wan’s Aquaman does well enough for us to get this spin-off as the cinematic version of Black Manta will likely define him for most mainstream audiences.DC, if you like the sound of this Black Manta pitch and need someone eager to write this comic, hit me up. Make it an Elseworlds one-shot. I’m serious. I have a history with undersea fiction. Watch These Movies Before ‘Don’t Let Go’‘Cannon Busters’ Is The Black Anime We’ve Been Waiting… last_img