Along with playing the titular hero’s sworn enemy in 2018’s Aquaman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has the distinction of playing another major DC Comics character. The actor played the omniscient Doctor Manhattan in the HBO series Watchmen. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Mateen came close to helming his own DC movie, though it wouldn’t have been as the blue-skinned Doctor Manhattan. Instead, James Wan — director of Aquaman and its upcoming sequel — says Mateen’s Black Manta was going to be the protagonist of his cancelled Aquaman spinoff The Trench.
Wan spilled the beans on his verified Instagram account in response to a fan question. The director had posted production photos from the set of Aquman and the Last Kingdom, including a couple of pictures of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in full supervillain attire. When one fan asked Wan if he would do a solo streaming series for Black Manta, the director responded, “I’ll let you in on a secret, the canceled Trench spin-off movie was really going to be a secret Black Manta movie.” You can see the post below.
In case this is the first time you’re hearing about it, The Trench was one of two planned DC movies — the other being New Gods — whose cancellation was announced back in April, per Deadline. We see a bit of the underwater region The Trench is named for in Aquaman, when its man-eating residents chase Jason Momoa‘s Aquaman and Amber Heard’s Mera. These monsters were actually once residents of Atlantis who were transformed into beasts after the kingdom’s fall. Wan didn’t give any more details about how Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s character would find himself there, much less why. One of the more likely scenarios is that he’d be there looking for something that could help him get vengeance on Aquaman, but unless the project is revived one day, we may never know.
The Trench and Watchmen aren’t the only non-Aquaman DC films Yahya Abdul-Mateen has shown interest in. At the 2019 Celebrity Fan Fest (via SuperBroMovies), Mateen said he wanted Black Manta to work alongside Harley Quinn in The Suicide Squad. In fact, after James Gunn announced the cast on Twitter, Mateen responded, claiming he’d auditioned for the movie and jokingly asking who he was playing. You can see the tweet below.
While Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ultimately didn’t get to show up in The Suicide Squad, there’s plenty of canonical basis for him to be on the team; at least according to the source material. He leads the team for much of New Suicide Squad — the second series of the franchise to launch after DC Comics’ New 52 line-wide reboot. Regardless, considering the epic body count of The Suicide Squad, it’s probably best for Aquaman fans that Black Manta stayed out of the Corto Maltese incursion. There’s always the sequels, of course.
Whether The Trench is ever revived or Yahya Abdul-Mateen finds his way into the Suicide Squad franchise, we know for sure the actor will reprise the role of Black Manta for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The rest of the returning cast includes Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Temuera Morrison, and Randall Park. New faces to the franchise include Vincent Regan as King Atlan, Jani Zhao as Stingray, and Pilou Asbæk in an undisclosed role. James Wan is directing the sequel with David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick returning to write the screenplay. The film surfaces in theaters December 16, 2022.