How Did Black Manta Get Over Being Transformed Into a Giant Manta Ray?

This is "Never Gonna Be the Same Again," a feature where I look at how bold, seemingly "permanent" changes were ultimately reversed. This is not a criticism, mind you, as obviously things are always going to eventually return to "normal." That's just how superhero comic books work. It's just fun to see how some of these rather major changes are reversed. This is differentiated from "Abandoned Love," which is when a new writer comes in and drops the plot of the previous writer. Here, we're talking about the writer who came up with the idea being the same one who resolved the change. This is also differentiated from "Death is Not the End," which is about how "dead" characters came back to life, since this is about stuff other than death.

Today, we look at how Black Manta got over that whole "mutated into a giant human/manta ray" deal.

When Black Manta debuted back in 1967, he had some so-called "Manta Men" working with him...

So it shouldn't be TOO surprising to see what direction the character went in in the mid-1990s....but okay, it's still pretty darn weird.

In 1995, Mark Waid and Howard Porter delivered the crossover event, Underworld Unleashed...

The high concept behind the event was that a demon by the name of Neron was trying to gain power by offering to upgrade DC villains in exchange for their souls. The general idea was that this would give DC's writers a chance to upgrade a number of their older villains to bring them more in line with the 1990s aesthetic. Of course, the end result was mostly a lot of "edgy" changes that would be hard-pressed to be called "upgrades." There were a few standouts, though, like the change to Blockbuster that led to him gaining his intelligence while maintaining his super strength. That made him into a major player in the Nightwing series. Plus, Neron was used to explain away Lex Luthor's whole deal at the time (where he had "died" and then come back as his own clone. Weird stuff).

However, one of the oddest things about the crossover is that the first villain who got an upgrade from the crossover got it a month AHEAD of the crossover!

Yes, in Superboy #20 (by Karl Kesel, Darryl Banks and Joe St. Pierre plus some inkers), Superboy and his cop friend travel to an underwater lab because there had been some murders down there. Green Lantern also shows up. Once there, they see that the Superboy villain known as the Scavenger was trying to steal a weapon from the lab, but also down there was an upgraded Black Manta, who was now a mutated manta ray like creature!

Black Manta thinks that Scavenger had also been upgraded by Neron, but he is blasted before he can finish saying "Neron"...

The cop tricks Scavenger into thinking that Black Manta IS the weapon that they had gone underwater to find, sending the two villains into conflict with each other...

We also learn that Black Manta had attacked the base, hoping that Aquaman would be lured here instead of Superboy and Green Lantern.

Anyhow, Black Manta was now officially a mutated manta guy. A couple of years later, he fought Aquaman for the first time in his new form in Aquaman #29 (by Peter David, Martin Egeland and Howard Shum)...

Sure seems like a permanent change, right?

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