Profiles in Supervillainy: Lord Manga
What is a superhero without a supervillain? Not much. Some supervillains, however, are worth a lot more than others. I have therefore decided to spotlight some lesser-known villains. Are they underrated gems or irredeemable losers who deserve to be forgotten? You decide! Today’s subject: Lord Manga!
Let me disappoint you right off the bat: Lord Manga Khan has nothing to do with manga. He’s the “superior commander” of the Cluster. Housed in a planet-sized spaceship staffed by sarcastic robots, the Cluster is something like an intergalactic shopping mall where attendance is mandatory. They give each inhabited planet they encounter the choice to either barter with them or face destruction while the Cluster takes what they want anyway.
This is Manga’s main occupation, as shown in his debut in Justice League International #14-21. But he has dabbled in other areas, such as hosting a game show and opening the Manga Khan School of Melodrama.
While obviously not a good guy, he’s not a traditional supervillain either: he’s just a greedy opportunist — in his own words, an “interstellar barterer.” He only fights with the Justice League so long as it’s potentially profitable, and he turns tail and runs as soon as it hurts his bottom line. He also, unlike most villains, is aware that he monologues and shouts too much, though he later admits that he just likes shouting.
He is, however, stupid enough to try to force the hell planet Apokolips to bargain with him, which ends with him under arrest. To escape, he transforms himself into a cloud of energy — his natural form, as opposed to the robot body he uses most of the time. (He likes the robot body because it has a mouth, which he can use to drink warm milk at bedtime. And to shout.)
Unfortunately for him, he can’t get back into robot form without help, and he’s still stuck as an energy field after Apokolips’s normally merciless ruler Darkseid merely kicks him off the planet rather than incinerating him.
Manga Khan would continue to be a thorn in the side of the Justice League in general, and Mister Miracle, AKA Scott Free, in particular, as we saw in…
Mister Miracle #13-18
Manga joins forces with Funky Flashman — a “wetbrain huckster,” as one of Miracle’s friends puts it in Mister Miracle #21, who was based on an unflattering caricature of Stan Lee created by his disgruntled ex-collaborator Jack Kirby — to force Scott into performing his escapist act on various planets. As part of the tour, Miracle must hock the Mister Miracle Miracle Mister, a near-magical cleansing product that almost sparks a revolution on oppressed Apokolips.
Yes, Apokolips. Manga, despite his near-escape from that planet in JLI, has zero problem with rushing back there to try to sell soap.
Darkseid yet again steps in to stop all this nonsense, and yet again Manga Khan and company are allowed to escape, well, scot-free. Incredible. This guy’s robot body must be made of Teflon.
Justice League America #42
I mention this for the sole reason that it features Manga bartering away his head robot, L-Ron, to Maxwell Lord, then-head of the Justice League. This will be important later and also reinforces how Manga views the world: everything, including sentient beings, is either an item to be bartered or an individual to barter with.
Justice League Europe #28-30 and #32-34
Another guy Manga had treacherous and slightly ridiculous dealings with is Lobo, an alien mercenary. In JLI, he hired Lobo to kill the League. It didn’t work. In Mister Miracle, Lord Manga accidentally endangered two of Lobo’s space dolphins, which is about the only thing that can prompt Lobo, normally as profit-driven as Manga himself, to kill you for free.
Yet now, in Justice League Europe, Manga hires Lobo again, this time to retrieve some lost property. And when I say “property,” I mean the villain Despero, whom Manga tried and failed to mind control for his own ends. Manga clearly is not the type to learn too much from past mistakes, although he is wary enough of the League to approach cautiously before approaching them in…
Formerly Known as the Justice League #4-#6
When the old JLI line-up reunited as the Super Buddies in 2003, Lord Manga watched them fumble around for a few issues before sending one of his ‘bots to make an offer: he wants L-Ron back in exchange for a kidnapped G’Nort, the most incompetent Green Lantern. Trouble is, Maxwell Lord hates G’Nort with a passion and has no interest in trading away such an expert boot-licker…at first. Both Lords are pretty selfish in different ways, and I’m so glad we get to watch them haggle over poor L-Ron.
The League gets out of this by declaring that they are taking Manga hostage, and he just goes with it. Yep, it’s that kind of series. In exchange for his freedom, Manga grudgingly agrees to never barter with Earth or try to retrieve L-Ron ever again.
So why does he even want L-Ron back all of a sudden? The League never finds out, but we do: Manga is in love!
Y’know what, this isn’t even the weirdest gay villain pairing DC has given us, so I’ll take it. I’m not sure Manga Khan is capable of real love, though, given that everything we’ve seen of him indicates a self-obsessed, greedy personality. Even in his creeper shrine, the biggest photograph spotlights himself as much as L-Ron.
Since DC’s company-wide reboot in 2011, Manga’s only appearance has been in an extremely bizarro JLA/Doom Patrol crossover event, “Milk Wars.” His role is small: we see him bartering to acquire planet Earth, which he ultimately refuses to take because we’re a mess.
I’m not sure that fits in with the spirit of the contract he signed with Maxwell Lord, which stipulated that Earth was to be a “no-barter zone” from now on. But it may have followed the letter of said contract: Lord probably intended to keep him from offering merchandise to anyone on Earth, not to keep Earth itself from becoming merchandise.
I love him, Your Honor.
Manga Khan debuted in the late ’80s, which was a really funny and unconventional time for the Justice League. So it’s no surprise that Lord Manga himself is a really funny and unconventional villain. I love characters who are just out for themselves. No moral scruples whatsoever, no world-dominating agenda: they keep their eye on the prize, and that prize is cold hard cash.
While Manga does have a good reason for not returning to Earth for the past 20 years, that’s no excuse not to let him show up once in a while. Superheroes hang out in space all the time. Or maybe there’s another a loophole in the contract he can exploit. We still know so little about Manga’s species or history: he claims to be immortal and that his dad would be proud of him for his hyper-capitalist ways, but that could all be bombast for all we know.
So, come on, DC, give this guy a comeback that is worthy of someone as glorious and as garrulous as Lord Manga Khan!
Want to meet more overlooked villains? Check out my profiles on King Tut, the Matador, Peek-a-Boo, Man-Killer, Mad Mod, Big Wheel, KGBeast, the Living Monolith, Egg Fu, Mahkizmo, and my One-Shot Special!