Saturday, 22 November 2014

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 1 Review

1966 was a banner year for Batman fans. Adam West and Burt Ward debuted as Batman and Robin and won over millions of new fans around the world. Batman was never more popular and the show would become a pop culture landmark. 

In the wake of the show’s success, Jiro Kuwata was commissioned to create specially designed Batman comics for the Japanese fanbase - “Batmanga” - which, until this year, were uncollected and untranslated. Now for the first time Batman fans eager to read these stories can do so with this book: Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Volume 1. 

And I really wish I could say I loved this book - I love manga, I love Batman, I’m alright with Silver Age superhero comics - but Batmanga kinda bored me, unfortunately. 

Batman has the finest Rogues Gallery of all the superheroes but, interestingly, Kuwata eschewed the usual villains for a whole new batch of bad guys for the Japanese audience. Readers of Grant Morrison’s pre-New 52 Batman Inc. will recognise Lord Death Man who appears in the first story (Morrison also named his Batman of Japan Jiro, after Kuwata). 

Other villains include Doctor Faceless (who has a weird face), The Human Ball (who bounces everywhere using, um, “rubberised metal” that’s also the world’s most efficient shock absorber?), Professor Gorilla (love the name - he’s a gorilla with the brain of a professor making him brainy AND strong AND he wears a cape!), Go-Go the Magician (a dude if you’re wondering, not a scantily clad dancing lady), and some guy who became an evil mutant in the story, The Man Who Quit Being Human. 

The villains’ motives are very similar across the board and quite boring. They either want to destroy everything because that’s what bad guys do or they want tons of stolen valuables because that’s what bad guys want. Given that it’s Batman and Robin’s job to stop the bad guys, the stories become quite repetitious - the villains get away with it until the three-issue arc structure comes to an end. Batman usually figures out a solution and the story comes to a neat conclusion. It’s very rote. 

The exception would be Professor Gorilla who wanted revenge on those who imprisoned him for experiments but even the more interesting characters like the Mutant fall back on the “destroy everything for no reason” motive. If you were the next stage of human evolution, why would you instantly decide that all humanity who isn’t like you must be killed off - where’s the imagination? 

Kuwata’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is about the blandest version of the character I’ve ever read. He’s essentially a personality vacuum and his Batman is largely incompetent making Robin all the more valuable to pick up the slack. Kuwata’s Robin/Dick Grayson on the other hand might be my favourite version of the character. In his first scene he yells “HAG!” at an old lady who’s talking to Bruce and, when he’s not in Robin costume, he’s always wearing tuxedos everywhere! A 10 year old kid in a tux as casual wear! I was laughing so much at these scenes, I loved it! 

I suppose Kuwata does try to mimic the Adam West Batman show in part. The villains are hammy and always say things like “HAHAHA! You’ll never stop ME, Batman! AHAHAHA!” etc. and the odd joke thrown in here and there did make me chuckle - Robin: “Where is Go-Go?”, Batman: “Looks like he went-went”. They also drive the Batman ‘66 Batmobile which is awesome.

Along with the missing regular villains, a lot of Batman’s supporting cast are absent, notably Alfred. Gordon’s here though his rank keeps fluctuating - in some scenes he’s Inspector Gordon, in others Chief Gordon. Unless they’re variations of Chief Inspector Gordon? Except he’s Commissioner Gordon on the Adam West show and in most of the comics. 

Besides the obvious difference of structuring the comics so that they’re read right to left across the page, there’s nothing much to separate this Japanese Batman from most American Batman comics. But like a lot of manga from this time, the characters, especially Bruce and Dick, look like they’re drawn in the Osamu Tezuka style, so that’s the main noticeable Japanese quality to this book. And this book is set in Gotham in case you thought a Japanese Batman comic would transplant the characters to Tokyo or somewhere! 

The Batmanga stories are too dull, shallow and forgettable while the dialogue is too corny for me to recommend it. I guess if you like Silver Age comics, this is a lot like them and you might enjoy it, but Batmanga isn’t the lost classic I was hoping it’d be. I’m glad I got to read it though, if only for the novelty aspect, and that’s really the audience for this comic: Batman fans who’re curious to see a long-hidden side to the character.

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 1

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