Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Aquaman are ahead!
For Arthur Curry’s first standalone story within the DC Extended Universe, Aquaman understandably threw the character’s two most well-known villains from the comics at him: Ocean Master and Black Manta. The former served as the main antagonist, the latter was billed as the secondary villain, and by the end of the movie, both men were in rough shape. However, while Ocean Master, a.k.a. Orm, was thrown in Atlantean prison after being defeated in combat, Black Manta, a.k.a. David Kane, was saved from death by Dr. Stephen Shin, who was seen sporadically throughout Aquaman. These two are now allies and expected to be Aquaman 2‘s villains, but there’s only so much they can accomplish together. To raise the stakes, Aquaman 2 should use the N.E.M.O. organization to make Black Manta and Shin even more dangerous.
Although N.E.M.O. (Nautical Enforcement of Macrocosmic Order) was introduced during Dan Abnett’s run on the Aquaman comic book series just two years ago, within the main DC Comics timeline, the organization has existed since 1872, though it would be another century and change before it finally consolidated its power, to the point that it controls the world economy. N.E.M.O.’s ultimate goal is to control the world through the oceans themselves, and one of the ways its members have managed to make progress with this is by acquiring Atlantean technology, allowing them to control aquatic life, create hybrid soldiers and even insert coral suicide implants into its operatives.
The person who leads N.E.M.O. is known as The Fisher King, although when Black Manta was recruited into the organization, he swiftly killed the current Fisher King, assumed control and later slaughtered every other high-ranking member who was dissatisfied with him being in command. N.E.M.O. was already planning on trying to discredit Aquaman in the eyes of the public, which would subsequently result in Atlantis being viewed as a hostile power and the surface world declaring war on the submerged kingdom. Despite his violent takeover of N.E.M.O., Black Manta decided to keep this plan in motion, and it was almost successful. But in the end, he was yet again defeated by Aquaman, and N.E.M.O. was seemingly destroyed, or at least temporarily neutralized.
Now let’s look back at Black Manta and Dr. Stephen Shin within the DCEU. Black Manta proved himself to be a formidable opponent in Aquaman, but even all that Atlantean technology Orm gave him, including that customized, laser-blasting helmet, he was defeated once again by Arthur Curry. We can reasonably assume that Black Manta will give Arthur another good fight in Aquaman 2, but now that Arthur leads his own nation, Black Manta is incredibly outmatched.
In Stephen Shin’s case, we don’t know that much about him since he was mainly shown failing to convince fellow TV panelists that Atlantis exists, but clearly, like his comic book counterpart, he’s accumulated a solid amount of knowledge about the underwater civilization. But even with that knowledge and Black Manta on his side, there isn’t that much he can make happen.
Together, the chances of Black Manta and Dr. Stephen Shin posing a real threat to Arthur Curry in Aquaman 2 are slim. But what if they weren’t alone? What if this partnership leads to the two men forming the DCEU’s version of N.E.M.O.? Yes, in order for this to work, N.E.M.O. would need to be a fresh creation rather than having existed for a long time, but it can still serve the same function overall. The world at large may not be aware of how close it was about being invaded by Orm’s forces, but if Shin can find likeminded individuals and convince them how close humanity came to being attacked by water-dwelling beings, he can then gather up support and resources, turning him from a crackpot conspiracist to leader of a cabal set on learning the secrets of what lies under the oceans and perhaps even control them.
Black Manta’s own knowledge of Atlanteans and their new king means he’s the perfect man to lead field operations for N.E.M.O., and while Stephen Shin might be content enough to simply learn about Atlantis, you can be sure that Black Manta has something more sinister in mind. He’s consumed with exacting revenge against Arthur for killing his father, and N.E.M.O. would be just another means to an end to make that happen. But why stop there? The organization could also pave the way for Black Manta to deliver a blow against Atlantis itself. N.E.M.O. wouldn’t be big enough to wage a large-scale war against Atlantis, but through subterfuge and sabotage, it could weaken the nation’s foundation, just like its comic book counterpart did.
Now that Jason Momoa‘s Aquaman has transitioned from loner to monarch, he has countless people watching his back. It would already be a challenging prospect for Black Manta to fight our intrepid hero a third time, but now it’ll be incredibly difficult for him to get anywhere near Arthur with all those soldiers protecting him. Having Stephen Shin on his side is welcome, but it’s going to take numbers and resources for Black Manta to stand a better chance of victory than he did in Aquaman. Through N.E.M.O., that can happen.
Stephen Shin, on the other hand, is the unknown factor. He has a conflicted relationship with Arthur Curry in the comics, but he never evolved into a full-blown super villain. Granted, we have no idea if he’s had any prior contact with Arthur in the DCEU, but even if he hasn’t, it’s hard to tell whether he simply wants to find Atlantis for academic purposes or if he also has malevolent intentions in mind. His new alliance with Black Manta suggests the latter is more likely, but either way, N.E.M.O. would be beneficial for him. However, if a time comes that Shin doesn’t agree with Black Manta’s goals for N.E.M.O., that could be the turning point that dissolves his alliance with the helmeted foe and lead him to seek help from Aquaman.
Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for any news regarding Aquaman 2, including whether or not N.E.M.O. is added to the proceedings. For more information about the future of the DCEU, look through our comprehensive guide.
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