This article consists of nothing but Aquaman spoilers.
Aquaman sure got a lot of work done in its 150 minute runtime didn’t it? We not only got Arthur Curry’s origin story, but the introduction of two of his greatest villains with Ocean Master and Black Manta, and an entire undersea mythology for the DCEU. It even found time to give Black Manta an origin story of his own on screen. And while Ocean Master and his familial ties to Aquaman certainly make him the more important of the two baddies, Black Manta has long been the most recognizable, the most iconic, and the most popular, thanks in no small part to his starring role on the Challenge of the Super Friends animated series.
So it’s no surprise that the Aquaman post credits scene chooses to focus on Black Manta. And while it’s pretty straightforward, DC Comics fans might note the hints of how it could set up Aquaman 2 with a very specific set of goals.
Of course, there’s a problem here. As cool as Black Manta is, and as good as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is in the role, his origin story felt a little crammed in. Beginning with his odd “I’ve been waiting for this a long time” during his first encounter with Aquaman to how the rest of his origin felt like a detour from the movie’s main story, we never got to experience the full weight (and tragedy) of his enmity with Arthur Curry. Instead, it was a tool for Arthur to learn the value of mercy, an important lesson to be sure, but that lesson, and the events that lead to Black Manta embracing his villainous destiny, could have filled a movie all their own.
So while a beaten and battered Black Manta will certainly live to fight another day, to understand what shape his story might take if we ever get Aquaman 2, we need to take a look at the man who rescued him.
Who is Stephen Shin?
The vast majority of what’s on display in the Aquaman movie is directly inspired by the New 52 version of the character, steered primarily by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Paul Pelletier. Dr. Stephen Shin was created by that team, and while he’s portrayed mostly as a crackpot in the movie, there’s a history in the comics that would give context to his actions. You see, Stephen Shin isn’t just a conspiracy theorist who believes in Atlantis, he absolutely knows of its existence.
Why? Because he’s the guy that Tom Curry brought young Arthur to as his powers first began to manifest. Curry knew of Shin, having rescued him after a boating accident. This then leads to Shin’s absolute obsession with Atlantis, and ultimately causes a rift between him and the Curry family, as his quest for scientific legitimacy led him to exposing the young Arthur to public scrutiny. It didn’t work, and he was dismissed as a kook. Shin’s overwhelming desire to prove the existence of Atlantis led him to hire Black Manta to obtain a vial of Arthur’s blood, and in the confusion, Tom Curry died of a heart attack, which led Arthur to seek revenge, killing Manta’s father by mistake (not by neglect, as we see in the movie), and thus beginning the cycle of violence between them.
Now, it’s not at all clear if the movie version of Stephen Shin ever knew the Curry family, or studied Arthur as his powers developed. It’s possible that such a backstory could be grafted on to the character (it would explain why he’s all over TV seeking validation for his theories). Dr. Shin isn’t evil by any stretch, just selfish and misguided. It’s easy to see how the movie version of Shin could see working with Black Manta as a means to his ultimate goal, which is to see Atlantis with his own eyes. Manta, meanwhile, clearly recognizes Shin as an authority on Atlantis, and knows that his desire to see the underwater kingdom will make him easy to manipulate.
What Does it Mean for Aquaman 2?
Well, Black Manta is certainly going to head out on a quest for revenge. In Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others, which weaved Manta’s backstory in through flashbacks, he started by tracking and killing members of a superteam called The Others, a team of superpowered misfits that Arthur ran with in his late teenage years. There’s certainly enough blanks in Arthur’s movie backstory where he could have done some kind of DCEU equivalent, but that seems like a long shot. Far more likely, however, is that Temuera Morrison’s Tom Curry is in mortal danger, so that happy ending between Tom and Atlanna could turn out to be a short-lived one.
But Manta’s ultimate quest in that story was to find an Atlantean relic even more powerful than Aquaman’s trident, a magical scepter. And again, by pairing Manta’s quest for power and revenge with Shin’s quest to realize his own scientific obsessions, well…you can see how these two will work well together.
As for whether or not Aquaman 2 will happen? It’s a little early for that, but you can find the full schedule of DCEU superhero movies right here.