By: Geoff Johns & Tony Bedard (story), Claude St. Aubin (art), Blond (colors)

The Story: The enemy of Black Manta’s enemy is still his enemy.

The Review: As with all big changes, it’s hard to tell whether this personal history between Aquaman and Black Manta in this new DCU is for the better or worse.  On the one hand, it offers some much needed credibility to the enduring enmity between the two characters.  On the other hand, it sort of limits Manta’s motivations as a villain.  Where exactly does he turn his target if he doesn’t have Aquaman in his sights?

That’s exactly the question Waller asks prior to the destruction of Belle Reve, and despite the obviousness of her ulterior motives, she makes a good point.  An antagonist who’s completely defined by his hatred for the protagonist may have enough reason to participate in the plot, but he doesn’t have much of a purpose or personality that will get us attached to him on his own terms.  So you should be applauding Johns-Bedard for eliminating (albeit temporarily) the entire focus of Manta’s vendetta, leaving him searching, as Waller suggested, for new meaning.

That leads us to the potentially most interesting moment of the issue, when the apparent death of Aquaman sends Manta to his father’s grave in a bewildered disbelief that “it’s over.”  At this point, he has the opportunity to go in any direction, become anything, discover new facets to his life.  Unfortunately, before we can see what he really wants to do, Johns-Bedard merely transfer his thirst for revenge to someone else.  Not exactly the most inspired change in circumstances, but at least he’s aiming a lot higher in his choice of enemies now.

Perhaps I have the wrong idea about the purpose of this Villains Month campaign, but my understanding is that it’s supposed to serve not only as an introduction to DC’s great antagonists, but also to offer some further insight into them as well.  Otherwise, why would longtime readers care to participate?  But Johns-Bedard offer little about Manta that even passing fans don’t know already, and certainly nothing about his past relationship with his father.  You’d think, given how his father is at the root of all his actions, this bond would be explored a little more.

Instead we get a predictably chaotic and bloody prison break sequence and a chilly recognition between Manta and Orm.  Everything else in the issue basically poaches material, in some cases entire scenes, from Forever Evil #1.  I must say, it must’ve been pretty easy for Johns-Bedard to write the script, since only about half of it—if that—covers new ground.  For anyone who read Forever Evil, this is a tiresome retreading of events you’ve already seen, a lazy and inexcusable attempt to avoid the hard work of real storytelling.

It’s a bit of a surprise to discover St. Aubin’s artistic involvement on this title.  The visuals look like the product of another artist’s work altogether, especially if you compare this to his R.E.B.E.L.S. days.  Now, this is not to say that he’s suddenly leaped into a higher tier of artistry.  With a much slicker style of inking and Blond’s polished colors, St. Aubin’s art now feels more comfortably in line with DC’s house style, competent, straightforward, easily digestible.  At the same time, it’s not really remarkable, and it does have the unfortunate side-effect of robbing St. Aubin of his individuality.

Conclusion: A flat look at Aquaman’s biggest foe that makes almost no attempt to improve the character.  If that wasn’t disappointing enough, the issue also duplicates far too much material from Forever Evil without adding new spin.  It shouldn’t get credit for cloning another’s work.

Grade: D+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I do feel sorry for Manta’s dad, though.  The guy can’t catch a break: mistakenly murdered, and now he can’t even get any rest as a pile of bones.

– It’s a good thing Sea King of the Crime Syndicate is coming back from the dead after all.  Might give Manta a chance to find a rough facsimile of some closure.  He’s certainly not going to get it with the real Aquaman.