Warning! Spoilers ahead for Aquaman 80th Anniversary #1, “Father’s Day”
In DC’s special Aquaman 80th Anniversary issue, it’s revealed that Black Manta is being rewritten as DC Comics’ version of Darth Vader. While David Hyde and his son Jackson have long been estranged, it seems as though Black Manta is undergoing some re-characterization in the comics, potentially being offered a path to redemption by his son, mirroring Darth Vader’s arc in the Star Wars galaxy with his own son who managed to bring him back to the light.
In recent comics like in Aquaman #62-63 from Jordan Clark and Marco Santucci, Black Manta has been characterized as a pretty standard and dark villain, and this includes his interactions with his own son Jackson. In their most recent meeting, Black Manta manipulates Aqualad by threatening to hurt his mom, but when Jackson ultimately refuses to do what he wants, Black Manta responds by saying that while “blood may be thicker than water, they still run the same.” Clearly, Jackson and his father are at odds with one another as much as any hero or villain could be. However, things are depicted differently in this new story from DC Comics.
In the “Father’s Day” story from writer Geoff Johns and artist Paul Pelletier featured in Aquaman 80th Anniversary #1, it’s revealed that David and his son meet every year on Father’s Day. In the story, readers see a pretty different version of Black Manta than the one who last spoke with Jackson. Rather than threatening him and his mother or swearing to spill his blood, this David is concerned with how his son is doing in school, wanting to know what’s happening in his life and revealing that he keeps tabs on Jackson, even outright saying that he loves and would die for Jackson. However, he stops short of turning himself in, resulting in his and Jackson’s annual impasse where they fight and Manta is inevitably revealed to be a robot decoy piloted by David who’s not actually there. Regardless, this version of Manta is now a lot like Darth Vader, being a villain with the potential for possible redemption through his more heroic son.
While it seems as though Manta would like nothing more than for Jackson to join him in his work as an oceanic mercenary, the very fact that he cares and even admits to loving Jackson is a pretty strong deviation from the Black Manta that was depicted in their last meeting. However, that’s not to say that this new version is bad. In actuality, the fact that David loves his son combined with Jackson’s continued hope that he could one day do the right thing is far more dynamic, especially as it now mirrors the epic journey of Darth Vader himself, who was eventually redeemed by his son Luke.
In any case, it’s going to be really interesting to see where Aqualad and Black Manta’s relationship goes next, especially with the two of them getting their own respective and interlocking miniseries this September. Having Black Manta love Jackson yet still choosing to remain in his own darkness is quite compelling, and the possibility that he might one day make his son proud with through a redemption like Darth Vader‘s is an exciting prospect for the classic DC villain.