From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Jennifer was a Navy brat. There was never any doubt that she when she grew up she would join the service. As a child, she proved to be an excellent swimmer and won many accolades & medals in competitive swimming & diving events. She did well in school, pushing herself fairly hard even in youth so that she could be sure to meet the requirements to be accepted at Annapolis.
Her interests in the Academy were primarily Ocean Engineering, Oceanography, and Midshipman Chris Smith. For the most part, her educational performance was not exceptional, but she remained among the top rated swimmers and divers. While there was some rumor that strings were pulled by her father, upon graduation she found herself immediately back “home” in Panama City, Florida – The Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC).
Jennifer had little difficulty with the extreme conditions training, performing well in the various underwater tasks ranging from underwater ship repair to underwater salvage. She easily qualified with most equipment, including saturation diving gear, and performed admirably in underwater explosive ordnance disposal. Her static apnea record was logged as 7 minutes, 54 seconds – just 6 seconds shy of the world record.
When breakthroughs in Project: Manta had developed enough for them to resume human trials, Jennifer was among the initial candidates approached. Her comfort with being underwater and her continued noteworthy performance levels with subsurface activities rated her quite highly with the selection panel. However, her physical capabilities were considered sub-par in comparison to many of the other candidates – mostly SEALS.
Project: Manta was the code-name for the aquatic branch of the US Military’s “Super Soldier Program.” The program was developed to adapt soldiers to better operate in various environmental extremes. These soldiers would require less equipment to operate, offer superior performance to ordinary soldiers, and be better capable of handling operations with limited or no supply lines. In addition, they would be ideal candidates for operations in many recently discovered parallel dimensions. Of the soldiers selected, only three Manta subjects were any sort of success. The most successful one of them was Jennifer Johnson.
Her body adapted for survival in the crushing depths of the sea. She was able to withstand the incredible weight, pressure & cold and her senses were honed to allow her to perceive as normal in the deafening darkness of the deep. On the surface, without the weight of the waves upon her, these abilities were even more pronounced along with her great strength & durability.
The testing and follow-ups were extensive and varied. Jennifer often lost patience with the scientists and all the poking and prodding. Unable to do much else in response, she began to develop a sarcastic streak and often found herself at odds with program directors. She was the program’s poster-girl, however, and was afforded some leniency.
On October 10, 2002, during the first Rikti War, the Manta team was put into action in response to the sinking of the USS Paragon off the Eastern Seaboard. Two hours, eighteen minutes into the operation contact was lost with the superhuman diving team. They were later declared Missing in Action (MIA).
In 2007, Commander Jennifer Johnson and Lieutenant Nick Fradon were recovered off the coast of North Carolina. In their debriefings, they claimed to have been held captive by the government of an undersea “kingdom” and that the third member of their team, Lieutenant Commander Karl van Bruggen lost his life during an escape attempt.
The two surviving members of the Manta Team were kept in quarantine and questioned continuously about their time away. Most of the information collected has been classified as Top Secret. Lower security level information lists that the team was released when they were better able to communicate with their captors and explain that their presence and the warfare on the surface was not intended as any sort of attack against the undersea peoples. The two divers were released in exchange for their cooperation in providing their captors with cultural information and updates on the governing statuses of the surface world.
Jennifer was eventually “discharged” and allowed to join the world’s heroes as the novice heroine, Manta. The All-Star Sentinels of America was chosen as her first application due to the ASA’s existing connections to the government and their time proven dedication to American ideals. She was quite pleased to be accepted.
During her heroing career, Manta has managed to accomplish quite a bit more than originally expected. She primarily focuses on the waterways and the coast around Paragon City, performing seek & destroy operations against smugglers and secret submarine pens. She’s known for volunteering time to promote swimming safety and CPR classes for youth groups, has made appearances at United States Navy recruiting functions, and is not at all shy about offering statements to the media against overly-violent crimefighters.
In her free time, she still enjoys underwater exploration and wreck diving.
Unless aware of its occurrence, telepathic contact results in “noise” or gibberish as the only thing received. If Jennifer is aware that such communication is occurring, it functions as normal for surface thoughts, but anything below the surface is the same noise. Jennifer, lacking any sort of psionic abilities, herself, is unaware of this and hasn’t yet put much weight to the occasional comments she receives concerning it.
Jennifer’s strength is proportionally adapted for surviving in the crushing depths of the ocean. While her upper limits have not been accurately tested, she is capable of lifting several tons.
Manta’s body has been completely adapted for survival and unhindered operation underwater. She can survive the extreme pressure of the ocean floor, does not suffer from rapid pressure changes of either decent or ascent, and is immune to related ill-effects such as decompression sickness (“the bends”). She is similarly immune to temperature extremes and reportedly can identify, but does not feel any discomfort from “cold.” Manta's skin naturally repels foreign substances, giving her limited protection from skin absorbed toxins, diseases and pollutants (Such as Weil's Disease, Bilharzia, and even large quantities of bacteria such as those found in sewers) and further prevents water saturation of her flesh. This has the benefit of preventing "pruning" and other forms of damage from prolonged exposure to chemicals (such as salt or chlorine) or submersion in various qualities of water.
Four of Manta’s senses are all extremely enhanced. She is able to utilize all of her senses underwater as if on dry land. As a result, when she is on the surface, all of her sensory abilities are superhuman. Depending on environmental conditions, she can track an individual by smell, see over three times as far as an ordinary human, hear with absolute pitch over a wider range of frequencies & at a greater distance (depending on the medium the sound vibration is carried on). Her sense of taste is not as enhanced as her smell, but it is considered superior to an average “supertaster” (approximately 25% of the human population).
Manta’s eyesight is enhanced to the point where she can see clearly even with the lack of light such as conditions on the ocean floor. As such, she claims to never see “dark.” While she is usually capable of seeing through dense smoke and fog, some sight-imparing agents, such as the “ink sprayers” of the Tintenfisch’s powered armor were able to blind her.
With her ability to function unhindered underwater, at over 8 tons per square inch of pressure (water being 750x denser than air), when she is on the surface she moves with speed and agility far outperforming the world’s greatest athletes.
Manta can maintain a swimming speed of 60 knots (@69 mph) indefinitely without tiring. She can easily reach 90 knots (@104 mph) while exerting herself to what she would compare to “walking effort.” Her best recorded “sprint” speed is 609 knots (@700 mph). This comes dangerously close to the “sound barrier” and creates a devastating wake. Although she can only maintain this speed in short bursts, Manta essentially refuses to travel this fast for fear of the harm it might cause. Her travel speed is most commonly between 100-150 knots, this prevents her from tiring herself out too much in transit.
Utilizing super-science techniques she learned while a guest of the undersea kingdom which allow them to survive the pressure of their home, Manta is able to survive far greater pressure than offered by Earth’s oceans. Without the weight of the ocean upon her, on dry land, these same techniques allow Manta to “swim” through the air, effectively giving her the power of flight.
Strangely, when Manta speaks under water, she can be easily understood without any distortion. Her own hearing allows her to hear others, as well. This does not appear to be telepathic in nature.
Lastly, Manta can talk to fish. However, this ability is no better than what anyone else can do. The fish don’t really understand her and never say anything back.
Jennifer is an excellent athlete, a strong swimmer, and excellent diver. She is an expert in explosive ordnance disposal and underwater engineering. She is also a skilled hand-to-hand combatant.
Contrary to common belief, Manta does not require submersion in water any more than an ordinary person. Her only real “limitation” is a desensitization to cold and darkness.
Manta commonly wears suits adapted from diving suit designs with advanced construction to withstand the wear and tear her abilities would normally put on attire. She maintains a number of devices in compartments in her belts that include her communication device, a receiver for her “pingers” (see below), emergency beacons, and a few first aid supplies.
Manta has placed a number of sonar “pingers” in and around the waterways of Paragon City. Designed with help from the more technologically minded members of the All-Star Sentinels of America, the pingers can notify Manta of most submarine craft or surface craft exceeding certain speeds (most notably go-fast boats) often used by smugglers and larger criminal organizations.
Manta occasionally uses a weapon commonly mistaken for a “Nemesis Staff” and sometimes improperly called a “trident.” Although it utilizes many of the same design principles as the Nemesis Staff, the weapon was designed by the undersea kingdom and given to her as a token of friendship. The weapon projects a high impact gravity wave, manipulating forces not unlike her “air swimming” does. She does not refer to the weapon often, and uses different names for it such as “Force Rod” or “Blasty Stick.” It is unknown what the device’s true designation is.
Manta was created, in part, because my original idea for the ASA was very close to an existing one of their members and I didn't want to create any overlap. So I tried to make a lesser-used concept for a higher concept, theme supergroup like the All-Star Sentinels of America. I had an aquatic character for many, many years in a Champions campaign and these were "comfortable shoes" for me.
While making her, I wanted to have a Marvel Silver Age feel, thus the Cockrum style shoulder flares (in lieu of any manta-like capes), and the more stripey design of the suit. I also wanted it to look like something a diver would wear and the blue & black colors seemed to pop up quite a bit.
Add a bit of (poorly done) Spidey-style wisecracking, and there she is, folks.