Black Manta was the scourge of the Seven Seas, and Aquaman’s greatest foe, for decades before any information was revealed about who he really was. Even when he committed his greatest act of villainy—killing Aquaman’s infant son, Arthur Jr.—his motivations for such an act were very much a mystery. Hidden behind a menacing black helmet, no one knew anything about the high-tech undersea pirate, except that he was not to be underestimated.
Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths
The young child who would take the name Black Manta was born in Baltimore, Maryland, near the Chesapeake Bay. One day, while playing by the water as a boy, he was kidnapped by pirates and forced to work as a slave on one of their ships. Abused by his captors for an unspecified amount of time, he spotted a young Aquaman and a group of dolphins in the ocean. He signaled for rescue, but was not seen. He subsequently killed one of his captors, but never forgot how, in his eyes, the King of the Seven Seas had rejected his plea for help. From that day forward, Aquaman was his enemy.
It should be noted that, during this time, Manta had given a different account of his troubled childhood. Instead of coming from Baltimore, he was said to have grown up in Gotham City. An autistic child, he was, for reasons unknown, placed in Arkham Asylum. There, he preferred to be immersed in cold water rather than a comfortable bed.
The staff at Arkham, not knowing how to cope with his autism, chose to administer an experimental treatment that would cure him. While it seems his autism was cured, the treatments made him excessively violent. Not long after, he killed the scientist who administered the procedure and escaped Arkham, beginning a life of crime.
At some point, Manta would gain significant technical knowledge and he designed his infamous helmet, which allowed him to survive underwater depths no surface-dwelling human could, and which could shoot out deadly plasma beams. He also designed for himself an advanced submersible vehicle based on the deadly manta ray, his namesake.
At one point, Manta discovered he had a son. And it turned out there was another wrinkle to his backstory that had been kept a secret: prior to becoming a villain, Manta was a treasure hunter near the Bermuda Triangle. He was also married. While treasure hunting, Manta and his wife were captured by the water-breathing inhabitants of Xebel, another dimension.
The pair was tortured horribly by the Xebel. Experiments were performed on Manta’s pregnant wife, resulting in her son being born with the power to breathe underwater and to create hard-water constructs. The princess of Xebel (Aquaman’s future paramour, Mera), fearing her people would use the infant for evil purposes, took him to Earth. There, the child was raised in the surface world, and Manta had no idea what became of him. Eventually, Manta escaped Xebel and returned to Earth, but his wife died. His son, Jackson Hyde, would grow up to become the second Aqualad.
The New 52 (2011-2016)
Following the events of Flashpoint, Black Manta’s history was altered. The new Manta was given a much more understandable reason for his hatred of Aquaman. Manta’s father was tasked by a scientist to procure a sample of young Arthur Curry’s blood, to prove whether he was truly Atlantean. During the attempt, Curry’s foster father, Thomas, leapt to his son’s defense, but died of a heart attack. Vowing revenge, young Arthur attacked the boat of the man whom he felt was responsible, accidentally killing Manta’s father. With both their fathers gone, the two young men became blood enemies.