Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Manga: Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan


More than any other superhero, Batman is the most diverse in his many incarnations. Whether it's the dark, brooding Dark Knight, or the Gothic guardian of Gotham, to the campy caped crusader of the '60s TV series, Batman has seen it all. But most fans haven't seen him in Japan! This week I'm digging into the quirky, but fun, pages of the Batman manga...

In retrospect, 1966 was a stand-out year for the Dynamic Duo; Batman and Robin not only appeared in their hit television show (starring Adam West and Burt Ward) but had graduated from simply being American icons to achieving international recognition. When the show was brought over to Japan, manga publisher Shonen King struck a deal with DC Comics to publish their own series of Batman stories. This adaptation would fall into the capable hands of Jiro Kuwata, the creator of 8 Man, who would work on the Japanese Batman run from ’66 to’67 when it ceased to be published. Over the years, despite all the Batman merchandise and reprinted material, the Batman manga has never seen a single reprint, until recently. 

 Fortunately, Chip Kidd has changed that by collecting various chapters from Kuwata’s manga series in Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Story wise, Batman’s exploits found in the manga version are quite tame and lack the depth of the modern era of comics—but this shouldn’t prevent anyone from checking Kidd’s book out. Considering that the Batman manga was a product of the ‘60s, it’s startling to observe the differences between the Japanese and American art styles. The sense of movement and action are far more palpable in Kuwata’s work, and the extra hints of stylization are very welcome in comparison to some of the static mid ‘60s American artwork.

Manga reprints are far from the only delight found in the pages of Kidd’s book. Full-color photos of Japanese Batman collectibles are a great addition, including rare examples of Batman-themed ray guns, puzzles, vehicles, watches, and even a Batman tank! There’s even a very informative interview with Kuwata, discussing how he came to be involved with the series and his artistic decisions in adapting it for Japanese readers (it’s quite obvious that Kuwata’s Batmobile was inspired the 1960’s TV show version). 

The only downside is that many of the stories included here are incomplete, so we may enter a story half-way through or never see the proper conclusion. This was due to what was available to Kidd at the time. Fortunately, since 2015 DC Comics has started to release complete volumes of the Batman manga, which are well worth the cover price. 

In conclusion, Bat-Manga is a tome to be treasured by any self-respecting Batman fan, especially those interested in a short-lived and somewhat obscure era of the Caped Crusader’s history. The manga collected here is presented in the correct right-to-left Japanese format and has been superbly translated into English. It’s a great sampling of Batman's bizarre adventures as he takes on the likes of Lord Death Man, Professor Gorilla, and Go-Go the Magician! Highly recommended.  

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