Tony Bedard Plunders the Depths with BLACK MANTA & OCEAN MASTER for DC’s Villains Month

This September, Tony Bedard and Geoff Johns employ the buddy system as they brave the turbulent waters of DC’s Villains Month. Two of Aquaman’s most bitter rivals turn the tide with single issues showcases for Black Manta and Ocean Master.

We spoke to Tony Bedard about capturing Black Manta’s unfathomable hatred and what awaits at the darkest depths of the ocean.

Aquaman 23.1 cover by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons

Aquaman 23.1 cover by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons

iFanboy: Black Manta’s hatred for Aquaman runs deeper than the Marianas Trench. It’s practically a nautical Hatfield & McCoy saga. Recent efforts to annihilate both Aquaman and everything he holds dear landed Black Manta in shackles. Has his thirst for revenge diminished in any way? Has his brush with death and defeat changed him?

Tony Bedard: Black Manta’s hatred for Aquaman remains THE driving force in Manta’s life. It’s the sun around which his existence orbits. There are other great enmities in the DCU, but this one might just be the deepest. So, no, Black Manta’s hatred for Aquaman hasn’t diminished one iota while he’s sat rotting in Belle Reve Prison. However, this BLACK MANTA Villain’s Month one-shot presents Black Manta with an existential dilemma: what does he have to live for aside from revenge? Killing Aquaman has been his sole motivation for years, but is that really enough to build your life on? Manta is either going to hang up his creepy red-eyed helmet, or he’s going to have to find a greater purpose to fill his black heart.

Now, I’ve been a big Black Manta fan since I used to watch the old Superfriends cartoon as a kid. Manta didn’t do all that much, but he looked cooler than any other villain and he talked like Darth Vader. That’s really all it took to make me love him. So now we’re setting him up for a very MAJOR role in the events of Villain’s Month. I can’t give much in the way of details, but the DCU’s most underrated villain is finally getting his star turn.

Y’know, it’s funny but 15 years ago if you’d asked me for a list of favorite underutilized characters in the DCU, Green Lantern, Sinestro, Black Adam, Aquaman and Black Manta would all have been on that list. God bless Geoff Johns for having the same taste as me! He has realized the untapped potential in all of them and Black Manta is on deck for a major moment in DC history. And I’m lucky enough to play along.

iFanboy: Does Black Manta see himself as the hero in his own story, or, given the name and affectations, has he fully embraced the role of a villain?

TB: Black Manta definitely sees himself as someone who was wronged by Aquaman, but that’s not quite the same as seeing himself as a hero. He is a cold blooded killer and he’s worked hard to become one. But the thing is, Aquaman DID murder Black Manta’s daddy — pretty much right in front of him. Mistaken identity, yes, but can you blame the guy for hating his father’s murderer? In a way, Black Manta is more like Batman than anyone else. both are out to avenge their parents’ murder, both are normal humans using advanced equipment and sheer will to punch WAY above their weight class. Evil underwater Batman. That’s Black Manta. And if you never bet against Batman, you might want to give Black Manta the same respect.

iFanboy: You’ve written anti-heroes before, notably in R.E.B.E.L.S. with Brainiac’s descendant Vril Dox. Do you perceive the challenge of writing an all-out villain like Black Manta any differently? How important is likability or even commiseration for you as a writer? As a reader?

TB: the approach is different for every villain, but when you consider that even someone like Hannibal Lecter can be “likable” you know there’s always some admirable trait you can mine in a villain. And when you get the reader liking someone so loathsome, that’s one of the best tricks in storytelling. In the case of Black Manta, he looks cool for starters, and that’s a huge part of it. I can still remember being 10 and watching Star Wars for the first time. The millisecond Darth Vader walked out of the blaster smoke, he looked like something I’d seen in dreams my whole life — like he existed before the movie was ever made. And I loved him on sight. I get the same reaction to Black Manta.

I also think Manta’s devotion to family is admirable. He will stop at nothing to avenge his father. That’s honorable and understandable. He is, perversely, motivated by Love to gut folks like fishes. And his quiet willpower, his willingness to go toe to toe with beings far more powerful than himself — those are also admirable qualities. The question for this BLACK MANTA Villains Month issue is if he can expand his horizons beyond mere vengeance. Can he find a higher, darker calling?

Aquaman 23.2 cover by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons

Aquaman 23.2 cover by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons

iFanboy: Earth’s oceans might not be as vast as outer space, but those waters seem just as infinite once we venture deep enough. Is it an attractive setting? Does it present any unique challenges or opportunities?

TB: I think the ocean does present as much opportunity for crazy, otherworldly storytelling as space does. I mean, I never feel limited by stories set on land, and there’s so much more of our planet to explore beneath the waves. You can put anything down there. Geoff came out of the gate on AQUAMAN by introducing the Trench just to show that we can populate the ocean with pretty much whatever we want. And the ocean has great symbolic value. It’s the cradle of life, whereas space is cold and sterile and dead. I could happily tell ocean stories all day, every day.

iFanboy: How is Aquaman portrayed in your story? Is this an opportunity to look at this feud from another perspective? Tables turned, does his character withstand moral scrutiny?

TB: This is a truly villain-centric story, so Aquaman’s role is mainly about how he affects Black Manta. We’re totally seeing this feud from Black Manta’s point of view. But I don’t think Black Manta withstands moral scrutiny — not as we know it. He’s a very dark character and he knows it. Someone like Ocean Master is more of a fit for a villain who feels heroic in his own right. Black Manta crossed over to the dark side long ago and now he lives there and he likes it just fine. But when all that fills you black heart is vengeance, what do you do when you can no longer go after the object of your hatred? Black Manta is going to have to undergo some inner growth here, no matter how many throats he has to cut to do so.

iFanboy: How do you feel about fish puns? Too easy? Unavoidable? Indispensable?

TB: Too easy. And Kip Adotta had the last word regarding fish puns many years ago in his classic song “Wet Dream.” YouTube it. I was glad Geoff got the whole “guy-who-talks-to-fishes” thing out of the way in AQUAMAN #1 and then moved on. Aquaman has always been a first-rate hero to me and Black Manta is his shadow — a dark enigma that will take center stage when the world descends into criminal chaos this September.

 AQUAMAN #23.1: BLACK MANTA
Written by GEOFF JOHNS and TONY BEDARD
Art by CLAUDE ST. AUBIN
3-D motion cover by PAUL PELLETIER and SEAN PARSONS
On sale SEPTEMBER 11 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Set loose as the Secret Society’s plan unfolds, Black Manta is shocked to learn that Aquaman may be
dead! Without the object of his hatred, how will Manta claim his final vengeance against the man who killed his father? Where will one of the most lethal villains alive turn his rage when he begins a new mission?

AQUAMAN #23.2: OCEAN MASTER
Written by GEOFF JOHNS and TONY BEDARD
Art by GERALDO BORGES
3-D motion cover by PAUL PELLETIER and SEAN PARSONS
On sale SEPTEMBER 25 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Ocean Master is freed from Belle Reve and wants no part of the Secret Society—he just wants to go home to Atlantis. But he has a long bloody journey across the surface world in front of him, and he might not make it back!

Comments

  1. JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

    This interview got be pretty interested in this Black Manta story. I might just have to pick this up even though I haven’t been reading Aquaman.

  2. sitara119 sitara119 says:

    Aquaman has been incredible the last couple of years so I will definitely be picking these up. Villains month sounds like a lot of fun.

  3. Invincipal Invincipal says:

    Both look interesting. Johns definitely knows how to write a sympathetic and relatable villain, his Ocean Master during Throne of Atlantis was astounding. How many books will Johns be writing monthly when Sep begins? JLA, Justice League, Aquaman and the Forever Evil Event? I hope he doesn’t drop Aquaman in the near future.

  4. cosmo cosmo says:

    Um, that numbering system looks suspiciously familiar from another company — are multiple DC titles shipping extra issues for this villains event . . ? I like these two characters, especially Ocean Master, but am worried about my budget.

    • Invincipal Invincipal says:

      Batman has four announced Villain titles being released, Batman 23.1-23.4, and that is not including Detective Comics, Batman and Robin or other related Bat Family books. September will be very expensive if you are into the Villains one shots. I’m thinking ill pick up both Aquaman ones and be more restrictive with my Batman books.

    • cosmo cosmo says:

      Thanks, Invincipal. Are most of the books using the regular writers or fill-ins? Either way, it sounds like I’ll sitting out most of them . . .

    • Invincipal Invincipal says:

      It looks like most of them have the regular writer writing at least one of them, if there are multiple issues for that comic series. Snyder only looks to be writing one batman one and the rest are fill in artists and writers. 3 issues were announced for The Flash and I think the regular writer is co-writing two of them and the regular artist is drawing one of them. They also announced 4 issues of Batman and Robin (killer croc, Ra’s/League of Assasins, Court of Owls and Two Face). Even though I’m not gonna pick up most of them it will give some new writer/artist pairs a shot. DC definitely needs more great creative teams. I love DC but I think Marvel has a larger group of awesome creators.

    • cosmo cosmo says:

      Thanks again. I suppose this is DC’s response to last year’s compliant that the zero issues were a rude interruption of the regular ongoing storylines. Still, this sounds like way too much for my budget to handle. I’ll pick and chose based on creators/characters. Honestly, though, except for Two Face, none of those Batman and Robin villains are among my favorites (am I the only one a little tired of Ra’s at this point?).

  5. I guess since there’s no article for them, yet, I’ll just say that I am not real interest in this Villains month. Especially if all the books I read are going to have 2-4 issues to come out. That’s just outrageously expensive and if anything I’ll pick and choose what I want to buy. In this case I will buy the Black Manta issue because it reunites the team of REBELS (and Geoff Johns) and that interests me.

  6. Francisco Francisco says:

    Not only was DC using ’90s Marvel “talent” but now gimmick covers and $4 multiple issues of the same series in the same month?!?! That’s it, I’m done. To think I was picking up upwards of 40 titles when The New 52 started. Bye, bye DC.

    • cosmo cosmo says:

      Wait, I didn’t think to check the pricing — $3.99 for regular length? I guess, I won’t be picking these up after all. Oh well, more money for indies . . .