Black Manta & the Vietnam War

Posted By: Lonnie MF Allen

The other day I was feeling nostalgic (this is something us geeks are often mired in) remembering Black Manta from the “Challenge of the Superfriends” cartoon of my childhood. I looked up ‘Black Manta’ comics on a whim on eBay and was able to score his first appearance in Aquaman #35 for thirty bucks! I’ve since been reading most, if not all of the character’s comics appearances.

Most of the stories are completely hokey, or downright insipid, but paired with completely gorgeous artwork by the likes of Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams and many others. They’ve been completely enrapturing me. I’m sure part of this is an emotional retreat from all the horribleness that’s going on in the world: the devastation of hurricanes, our horrid commander-in-chief, the chaos in Venezuela, North Korean nuclear tests, the massacres in the Philippines and Myanmar, and on and on. There’s only so much a heart can take (or at least a privileged one living in America). In comics, the good guys win (mostly). Not that these silver age Aquaman comics are the pinnacle of goodness. Mera (Aquaman’s wife) is often portrayed as maudlin and ineffectual in her constant damsel in distress routine. Black Manta is later revealed to be *gasp* a black man!

I’ve made it all the way to the semi-current New 52 Aquaman and am surprised at how well written by Geoff Johns and beautifully drawn by Ivan Reich the issues are. They are my favorite by far (I know this is blasphemy for many of you comic nerds) judged from reading decades worth of Aquaman comics. Inspired by these comics, I made my own new piece for “Suspect Press” which will hit the shelves next month. Almost 50 years exactly to that first appearance of Black Manta I picked up. This was unintentional. Speaking of 50 years ago, the Vietnam War was still going strong. Ken Burns new documentary on PBS about Vietnam is very extensive and good. I can’t help think about the perpetual hubris of superpower nations believing they can save “less developed” countries and usher them into modernity. I also think about those silly silver age Aquaman stories that were going on in the middle of this. America was in turmoil, and this was what the kids of time read and watched while the world burned.

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