In some fans’ eyes, Batman has exclusive rights to tragedy within the DC Universe. Known for his heartbreaking backstory and home city that’s in constant turmoil, the Dark Knight is no stranger to darkness. Nevertheless, he’s far from the only DC character who’s suffered throughout his career, and while it may surprise some fans, Aquaman shares his legacy of trauma.
While Aquaman is sometimes the butt of jokes in pop culture but he’s spent much of his career as a brooding, tortured figure. The same goes for his nemesis Black Manta, one of the most vengeful and hate-filled foes in DC Comics. These undersea rivals also have some of the darkest origins in mainstream comics, making it seem like even Batman’s lived a relatively happy life.
Aquaman’s Darkest Origin Stories
The modern origin for Aquaman, also used in the Silver Age of Comics, portrays him as the half-human son of an Atlantean named Atlanna and a human lighthouse keeper named Thomas Curry. In the modern versions of the tale, Atlanna was an outcast from Atlantis because of her son’s mixed heritage. This is the backstory given to Jason Momoa’s DC Extended Universe Aquaman. Of course, in the comics, when he made his way to Atlantis as an adult, Aquaman wasn’t exactly beloved by his people, who saw him as a half-breed at best and an interloper at worst.
The post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin story for Aquaman was even darker, as he was now fathered by a mysterious wizard named Arion. No longer half-human, he ended up on the surface world after being abandoned and left to die by the Atlantean people. This was due to his blond hair, tied to the Curse of Kordax in Atlantean legends. When he finally returned to the undersea kingdom as an adult, it was as a prisoner who was given no royal treatment. Likewise, his feud with half-brother Orm/Ocean Master was now part of the prophecy, recreating an eternal war that began in the ’90s series, The Atlantis Chronicles.
Black Manta Earned His Heart Full Of Hate
For much of his history, Black Manta didn’t have much of an origin and merely opposed Aquaman because of their nautical natures. During the Bronze Age of Comics, however, Manta was reinvented as a criminal working under the guise of a Black freedom fighter, seeking social justice and underwater dominance for Black Americans. Unfortunately, this was merely a ruse for Manta to consolidate power for himself. This still did little to explain his origins or his hatred of Aquaman, though this was quickly changed in the 6th issue of the hero’s fourth volume. It turned out that Black Manta loved the sea as a child, but this led to his being trafficked and abused by a vile captain. When Aquaman didn’t hear his cries for help,it ignited a burning hatred in him, for the sea and its king.
His next origin story portrayed him as being severely autistic as a child but cold water calmed him and put him at peace. However, this wasn’t enough to save him from an experimental treatment that filled him with fury and turned him into a killer. Manta’s current origin story from Geoff Johns’ Aquaman run explains that Black Manta hates Aquaman after the hero killed his father. Once again, this was used in the first DCEU Aquaman movie, and it seems to be propelling the villain’s actions in the sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, as well. It’s a more intimate connection than the one shared between Batman and The Joker in most continuities, and it’s not the only tragedy that has marked both the hero and the villain.
Aquaman Is One Of DC’s Most Tragic Heroes
Most infamously, Black Manta killed Aquaman’s infant son in the Bronze Age of Comics. This heinous act was dark even for an era that was known for tackling deeper, more mature issues, even if Superman and Wonder Woman were still largely confined by old-school “camp” during this era. However, Aquaman and Mera were deeply affected by this story and their marriage was never the same afterward. This eventually gave rise to Aquaman’s still darker interpretation in the 1990s, in Peter David’s Aquaman run, where he lost his hand to piranhas and replaced it with a hook.
Along with this edgier aesthetic, which did away with the hero’s orange shirt and gave him long, flowing facial hair, Aquaman also took on a moodier, more antisocial persona. His relationship with former sidekick Garth, who took on the name Tempest and stopped being Aqualad, grew incredibly distant, as did his romances with his estranged wife Mera and Dolphin. He was eventually removed as the king of Atlantis and even died before becoming a mystical “Dweller in the Depths.” In this continuity, erased by the Flashpoint reboot, Aquaman’s other son Koryak also died. While fans today complain about Spider-Man’s ongoing parade of tragedies, he has nothing on Aquaman in the Modern Age.
Black Manta is also beset by tragedy in every continuity and is never able to overlook his hatred of Aquaman. When he learned his enemy was alive and well again, Manta gave up his peaceful life as a civilian fishmonger simply to seek vengeance again. Stories in the past decade have made this even more ironic by having Black Manta’s son Jackson become the new Aqualad, cutting deep into the villain’s heart in the process. While the Dark Knight might be the subject of DC’s most iconic tragedy, Aquaman and Black Manta lives are darker than Arkham’s deepest cell.
Batman is known for being dark and brooding, but Aquaman and his rival Black Manta both live lives even more depressing than the Dark Knight’s. Read More