‘Aquaman’ director James Wan on balancing practicality with a “super cool” helmet for Black Manta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Batman News sister site, Superhero News.

One of the best character designs in the history of comics finally hits the big screen this December when Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) wreaks havoc in Aquaman. The character may not be a known commodity for general audiences, but his costume, which has been adapted faithfully by director James Wan, is sure to capture their imagination.

Black Manta’s costume is not the most realistic design for a diving suit. No one really needs a helmet that big, but this is a movie in which the heir to the throne of a sunken kingdom can communicate with sea life. If we can accept that, then a little excess in Black Manta’s costume can be forgiven, especially when it looks so freakin’ cool.

“Getting Black Manta right, for me, was a prime directive for me, very early on, with designing the whole look of the film,” Wan tells Superhero News and a select group of journalists inside the Aquaman edit bay. “Obviously, getting it right was super important for the fans, and obviously, for myself as well, and ultimately for the people that are not familiar with him ’cause he’s a pretty strange looking guy. It’s a very strange look.”

The key for Wan and the design team was balancing Black Manta’s comic book aesthetic with at least a bit of real-world application for the benefit of the uninitiated. “I know that I wanna stay true to what people are familiar with of him in the comic book,” he says, “but also for the non-fans. They can look at that, and kind of go, ‘Oh, he’s weird, but it’s practical.’ It’s somewhat of a diving suit, potentially, and stuff like that. We worked on him a lot at the pre-production, very early on, to try to get him right.”

The helmet, however, was always going to be a big part of Black Manta’s costume. That was one area where practicality did not win out, nor should it have. “It’s super cool,” the director says. “Keeping his head big, and his eyes big, was very important for me.”

Black Manta was impossible to miss in the Aquaman trailer. He had an even bigger part in the full Comic-Con sizzle reel, which Wan played for us again in the edit bay. The long tracking shot of Manta hunting down Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) wowed over 6,000 fans in Hall H, but Wan assures us, “What you saw in that piece, was only half of it.”

You will see the whole sequence and plenty more of Black Manta when Aquaman hits theaters December 21.