Skip to content

DARK SIDE OF THE M.A.N.T.A FORCE

A guest post by Stephen Lee Naish

“Dawn on Earth’s twin planet. A mighty space
ship

hovers, dark and silent, above the battle
fortress"

"It’s the Black Barracuda!

One
Christmas in the late 1980s my Dad, as a gift to himself, purchased a hefty VHS
camcorder. With his new toy he recorded me and my elder sister excitedly
opening our presents. The footage is now far too painful and embarrassing for
me to ever watch again. In my childhood exuberance I unwrapped the largest
present and upon recognising the picture on the box loudly proclaimed to
my parents and sister "It’s the Black Baracuda!” I recall the moment
clearly, not from own perspective, but from my Dad’s camcorder footage of me,
which was rerun again and again with tears of mirth running down my family’s
face.

The Black Barracuda
was a space ship in a line of barely remembered toys called M.A.N.T.A
Force (though I’m convinced I always pronounced it Mantra, and I’m sure this
actually roles off the tongue better). The ship was black and it could split
into two vessels. It was designated as “a Prison ship, Robot factory and
multiple strike ship.” The ship’s captain was known as Mad Karnock, a
weird brain-like blob cocooned inside a mechanical shell – similar in fact to
the more popular Krang, the chief antagonist from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. According to Mantraforce.co.uk, “Mad Karnock was going to use the Humans as
slaves when he found us, but decided that his Karnoid robots worked better and
so decided that all we were good for was food, so he is trying to kill all
humans and eat them using his Gutz machine.” Slave labour and cannibalism:
pretty heavy stuff for a toy aimed at 8 year olds. A few years later The
Black Barracuda was decommissioned as the Manta enemy in favour was the even more
sinister Stinkhorn and his Stenchiods, who rode around in a ship called The Bog
Rocket, and squirted out a vile gunk (a variation of playdoh) that decomposed
their human victims’ bodies in slow agonising death. I recall that The Bog
Rocket even came with decomposed human figures with their legs, arms, and faces
half rotted off and their chest cavities exposed. Again, a pretty gruesome
reality for a child.

As a kid,
MANTA force was my obsession. I would save scraps of pocket money to buy the
little men that populated the ships, or if I’d received enough cash for
birthdays, buy a small assault vehicle to compliment my arsenal. I got
thinking of this line of toys recently when my four-year-old son, holding
a small Transformer toy, barreled round our apartment shouting
“Transformers! Bang! Crush!” At this point, Transformers is not on
his radar, It’s not a show he has (to my knowledge) ever watched, or a line of
toys he has ever shown interest in. This particular Autobot he was holding – Optimus Prime, if I’m not mistaken – came in a pack of other more suitable toys
purchased from a charity shop for 1$. I found it amazing, and somewhat
worrying, that he had some sort of preprogrammed definition of what an Autobot
might be.

I decided to
revisist my youth and find some details on Manta. I was shocked to learn that
Manta – which stands for Multiple-Air-Naval-Terrain-Assault Force – were an
imposing military force that used their enormous vessels, and weaponry to
colonize a planet and proclaim it a New Earth. Here is the Wikipedia entry that
explains their devious endeavour:

“By 2012, humans had colonised many planets
throughout the solar-system, including Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The
planet Earth however, had become polluted and over populated. In an attempt to
save mankind, President
Battaille ordered the creation of the M.A.N.T.A ship. M.A.N.T.A was an acronym for
Multiple-Air-Naval-Terrain-Assault Force and was the most advanced Earth ship
ever built. It was designed to work in any environment and its engine was fueled
by a substance called Thorium.

Then things take
a turn to the Dystopian.

Following the successful launch of the M.A.N.T.A
ship, the World Government created the Red Venom to help Manta Force colonise New Earth. On Saturn
however, many of the people had grown tired of living in plastic bubbles and
believed New Earth should belong to them. During its test runs therefore, the
Red Venom was hijacked by a group of highly skilled soldiers called the Viper Squad. Under the
command of Major Vex, the Viper Squad attempted to use the Red Venom to
hijack the M.A.N.T.A ship, so they could be the ones to colonise New
Earth.”

This
narrative of dystopia, human conquest, and colonization was not something that
registered with me in regards to Manta Force. Mostly the stories, and
situations I placed my figures in were acquired from episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. If that
week’s episode involved Commander Riker and Counselor Troi rekindling their
passion, it would become somewhat awkward and certainly hard to translate to
the Manta universe, as female characters were completely absent. If the TNG narrative was more existential, the
Enterprise trapped in a void, or a time loop, for example, then often the play
would become drawn out and epic. The play worked best when the Enterprise crew
were on a voyage of discovery: a new race of peaceful aliens, an unexplored
planet with tough terrain. Despite the militaristic narratives of Manta, my
focus was thankfully adapted to exploration, and resolving Human interactions and
relationships. Sounds boring; it wasn’t.

Reading Manta’s
history as an adult I can only think that I sided with the wrong team. Siding
with Manta over the rebellious Viper Squad was like cheering for the Empire
instead of the Rebel alliance. It was even suggested that their later opponent
Stinkhorn and his Stenchiods were native occupants of New Earth. Which offers a
new perspective of Manta’s oppression. From what I now know Manta was aggressively
combative, and colonial. Their insistence on taking up arms in order to secure a
new world for the Human race is frightful in its similarity to recent real
world military endeavours that came subsequently. In fact Manta’s excessive
military follies are somewhat summed up in this quotation from Marx: “Colonial system, public debts, heavy taxes,
protection, commercial wars, etc., these offshoots of the period of manufacture
swell to gigantic proportions during the period of infancy of large-scale
industry. The birth of the latter is celebrated by a vast, Hero-like slaughter
of the innocents.”

If
only I knew of Marx at the age of 8! But, indeed this is what the official
narrative of Manta did, preside over the manufacturing of immense war machines
in order to conquer and annihilate it’s opponents, or those who opposed its
dominance. Any child aware of this narrative might find justification in real
future military action, or oppression of innocents. The seeds of our perceived
righteousness and colonial impulses are planted in childhood toys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *