Black Manta stands out a mile this issue.
Black Manta is another example of that seemingly DC trait of villains being more interesting than the hero. He is very much the star of this issue, as we move on with a narrative that continues to improve.
Both Ivan Reis and Geoff Johns seem to be having a great time with Manta. In Johns hands he is a vicious and calculating villain. Manta outmanoeuvres Aquaman tactically and does so looking great thanks to Reis. Reis’ pencils yet again show a character whose every move looks calculated. From the opening double page splash to the panel of the two warriors fighting in the water, Reis infuses a brutality that makes this confrontation very personal. The personal nature of this battle is echoed in Johns’ script. This is the first time in the series that Johns’ over explaining of a situation actually works in the characters favour. Giving Black Manta a decisive reason for his hatred for Aquaman has added layers to the conflict. It may not be the most original vengeance idea, but it does one thing that moves Manta away from your typical villain characterization. It makes him a sympathetic character, well in his motivations at least. It brings a grey area into a series that has often traded on simplistic and unchallenging narratives. The reader doesn’t know who to route for and this makes for an exciting element in the book.
A shame then that the rest of the book doesn’t hit the heights of the Aquaman/Black Manta fight. Mera and Shin’s scene is there for Johns’ incessant need for scenes of people talking about everything that is going on. Although it was mentioned above that Johns’ over explanation of Manta’s motives works well for the character, it is still presented in a clunky way. It seems overwrought and breaks up the pace of the book. Granted it is used as a framing device for the fight but it is too heavy handed and for what it actually achieves takes up too many pages. Of course with focus heavily on the fight both Ya’Wara and The Prisoner are given nothing to work with and it may have benefited the book if they either had more to do with the fight or where not mentioned. But instead they are given a handful of panels that allow Johns to reinforce ideas we already know (Manta wanting the relics, Prisoner being suicidal) even if he manages to deliver said ideas in a succinct manner.
Also there is of course the beginning involving The Operative. Not only does his name lack originality, but his visual presence does as well. Playing out like some sort of espionage videogame, the opening scene is a fun and familiar way of introducing this new character. It doesn’t offend and of course it will be important later in the plot, but at the moment it feels like filler. Which is the big problem with this issue as the flashbacks and the Mera/Shin scene also feel like filler.
But Ivan Reis is still around to make the filler look great. There is a frenetic sense of pace to The Operative’s scene and Reis definitely knows how to create a cool entrance for a character. The characters themselves all look great as usual as Reis delivers defined people who at least visually exude emotions. The flashbacks are nicely rendered with colourist Rod Reis adding a suitable red tint to Aquaman’s murderous vengeance. But if anything stands out it is the well staged and choreographed fight between Aquaman and Manta.
So, Black Manta steals the show and Johns manages to give a sense of ambiguity to who we should side with in this battle. Add Reis into the mix and that part of the book soars. But as with many an issue of this series it becomes bogged down with narrative problems as the other aspects are seemingly designed to stall for time. It may come together in the trade paperback, but for now the issue has one excellent aspect surrounded by mediocrity. You may have noticed that this review has not yet commented on Aquaman himself and that is indicative of an inherent problem with this New 52 version. There is nothing there to really comment on as he merely goes through the motions. Even giving him a back story such as the one presented hasn’t made him more interesting. However the book is continuing to improve and with Black Manta on board it looks like this arc will be an entertaining one.
A COMIC BOOK BLOG RATING
|The art and Black Manta.||Everything else.|
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