One of Aquaman’s greatest enemies throughout the years has been Black Manta, who first debuted in 1967 in Aquaman #35. Black Manta is most often seen sporting his black wetsuit and a bug-eyed helmet; the suit is what grants him his powers, which include superhuman strength, the ability to breathe normally underwater and a variety of weaponry.
Black Manta was around for almost 30 years before he was given a backstory, which finally was explained in 1993’s Aquaman series. This origin featured the boy who would become Black Manta as a child who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, around the Chesapeake Bay. However, he was kidnapped and forced to work on a ship and was subject to abuse from his kidnappers. He saw Aquaman one day and called out to him for help – but Aquaman did not see him, and the boy killed his abusers with a knife instead. He grew and intense hatred for what he saw as an emotionless sea, and by extension, the sea’s protector, Aquaman.
A different origin was given in the 2003 Aquaman series, which saw Black Manta as a young orphan who was placed in Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum. This origin showed that the boy was autistic, and the Asylum, not knowing how to deal with or treat autism, subjected him to experimental treatments. One of these cleared his head, but left him extremely violent as a result, leading to his transformation into the villain.
Black Manta has squared off with Aquaman dozens of times over the years, though he’s tried to give it all up before; during the “Brightest Day” storyline he attempts to make an honest living by opening a fish market, though he ends up donning the suit again once he hears Aquaman had been resurrected. He’s also allied himself with teams such as the Injustice League and the Suicide Squad over the years during his attempts to destroy Aquaman once and for all.
Black Manta might be Aquaman’s greatest foe, but his legacy stretches beyond that. He was also one of the earliest African-American characters introduced to DC Comics, and has maintained a significant presence in the DC universe. He’s appeared in a number of DC’s animated series, including Justice League, The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Young Justice, and has appeared in video games such as DC Universe Online and Lego Batman.