Aquaman, like most heroes, has always emerged victorious in his battles with his costumed foes. But, moreso than almost any other hero, Aquamn's victories have been pyrrhic; he has paid dearly for his triumphs. His battle with Charybdis cost him his hand; his contest with the Shark cost him the throne of Atlantis; his ongoing struggle with the Ocean Master, his own brother, continually costs him his peace of mind. But no other villain has cost Aquaman more than the engimatic Black Manta.
In the Black Manta's first recorded battle with Aquaman, in the 35th issue of the first run of Aquaman's own comic, he was already a foe known to Aquaman. In that issue, Black Manta and the Ocean Master fought for the right to kill their common foe. One wonders why they did not combine forces; after all, the Sea King would have been just as dead. But their squabble allowed Aquaman to triumph over them both.
Aquaman next encountered Black Manta during the year-long storyline where Mera had been kidnapped by unknown assailants, and Aquaman undertook a quest to find her. His search led him to a strange undersea civilization where Black Manta was worshipped as a kind of "wise man". Manta had nothing to do with Mera's abduction, but he responded to Aquaman's intrusion by ordering his worshippers to destroy Aquaman. The peaceful denizens failed to do so; Aquaman continued his quest. (AQUAMAN #42)
Aquaman battled the Black Manta briefly during the time when his place on the throne of Atlantis was usurped by Karshon, who was secretly the Shark in disguise. The Shark enlisted the aid of several of Aquaman's old enemies to discredit him in the eyes of the Atlanteans, among them Ocean Master and the Fisherman as well as Manta. But when next the Sea King and the Black Manta met in battle, it cost Aquaman dearly.
It was in this adventure that Black Manta revealed his true face to Aquaman, and the fact that he was indeed black. Most of his henchmen were also African-Americans. Racism was not his motive--there is no profit in prejudice--but Manta felt that blacks, oppressed on the surface for so long, would fight well for the chance to rule below the waves. During this battle, Manta captured Aquaman's year-old son and imprisoned him in a bubble of air, forcing Aquaman and Aqualad to fight like gladiators for the boy's life. Seeing no alternative, Aquaman truly fought to kill Aqualad to save his son. The duo soon overpowered Manta's guards and defeated the villain, but too late to save Arthur Jr; the boy had suffocated in his bubble of air. Aqualad's confidence and friendship in Aquaman were shaken to their foundations by his efforts to kill him to save his son; and the tragic death of their child marked the beginning of the end of Aquaman and Mera's marriage. But in spite of all this, Aquaman could not bring himself to exact the ultimate penalty on Black Manta. (ADVENTURE COMICS #452/AQUAMAN #57)
The real Black Manta did not appear in the comics for many years afterward--although a robot in his image, created by the Ocean Master, battled Aquaman in ADVENTURE COMICS #477-478. This robot was a testament to Ocean Master's robotic talents; Aquaman could not tell it from the real murderer of his son.
Black Manta's next appearance was, of all places, CAPTAIN ATOM #29. Manta had found some alien weaponry left over from the Invasion and captured ships to test it out on before unleashing it on Aquaman. Captain Atom soon put an end to these plans.
Black Manta was the antagonist in the first six issues of Aquaman's 1991-92 series, operating behind the scenes for the first four issues and attacking Aquaman directly in the next two. He attempted to destroy everything Aquaman embraced, all the while taunting him with the fact that Manta had slain Aquaman's son. They met in final battle aboard Manta's ship; Manta stabbed Aquaman vitally and fled the ship, only to be attacked by surgeon fish whose razor-sharp fins opened his containment suit and let the sea in.
It has not been revealed how Manta survived this encounter; but it is suspected that, as he floated in the depths on the verge of death, he was approached by a certain demon and made an offer he could not refuse. He next appeared in SUPERBOY (current series) #20, in a new and horrible form, more manta than man. While this new Manta did not come out and say so, he hinted that he had been transformed by Neron, the demon who empowered DC villains in the UNDERWORLD: UNLEASHED series.
Black Manta next appeared in AQUAMAN (current series) #29-30. In his new, mutated form, he set himself up as guardian of the deepest trench on the ocean floor. When the Sea Devils discovered this trench, they asked Aquaman to investigate it. Doing so, Aquaman was drawn into battle with Black Manta; their struggle took them to the very bottom of the trench, where they found the corpse of an antedilluvian leviathan--a corpse not vacated by its soul, and longing for company. Aquaman left Manta there, and returned to the surface.
It is also worthy of note that Black Manta, of all Aquaman's villains, has enjoyed the most exposure on television. He was a regular villain on the "Aquaman" cartoon series of the late 1960s; and appeared in three different incarnations of the popular "Super Friends" program.