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Bat-Manga! (Limited Hardcover Edition): The Secret History of Batman in Japan (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – October 28, 2008
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From The New Yorker
The campy, Pop-art-infused Batman television series that d�buted in 1966 was not just a hit in the U.S.; it also set off an international wave of Batmania. A Tokyo publisher licensed the comic-book rights and new weekly Batman adventures appeared for more than a year, drawn by Jiro Kuwata, a manga prodigy who co-created the popular cyborg superhero 8-Man. His work, never reprinted and previously untranslated, was so little known here that, until its rediscovery by Kidd and Ferris, even DC Comics, �Batman� �s publisher, was unaware of its existence. Kuwata, an action virtuoso, employed hypnotic geometrical motifs within his panels, incorporating realistic Batman and Robin figures into an exaggeratedly cartoonish style. His Batman fights villains like the shape-shifting Clayface and Go-Go the Magician, as well as typically Japanese oversized robots, insects, and dinosaurs.
About the Author
Chip Kidd is a graphic designer and writer in New York City. His two previous books about comics for Pantheon were Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz and Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross. Both won the Eisner Award and were national bestsellers.
Geoff Spear is a photographer, living and working in lower Manhattan. For over two decades he has shot hundreds of images for a wide range of book covers, by such authors as Haruki Murakami, John Burdett, Augusten Burroughs, Oliver Sacks and Daniel Gilbert, among many others.
Saul Ferris is a founding partner in the law office of Ferris, Thompson and Zweig, in Gurnee, Illinois. During the last twenty years, he has amassed the most comprehensive collection of vintage Japanese Batman toys and memorabilia in the world.
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I have enjoyed DC Comics for as long as I can remember but oddly enough Batman has never been one of my big favorites. In the last few years, however, I've learned to appreciate the Dark Knight particularly since of all the DC characters he tends to have the highest quality comics and movies. Jiro Kuwata's Batman has more in common with the U.S. comic from the 1940's rather than one from the Mid 1960's but they are easily distinguishable from American Batman comics regardless of the era. The stories are extremely shallow and the artwork is drawn in a very cartoony Japanese style reminiscent of the era. This is not a complaint but readers should be prepared. No one is going to mistake these books for Batman Year One or Frank Miller's Dark Knight in terms of story depth. Imagine it more as if Batman was living in the world of Speed Racer.
Chip Kidd states right up front that these stories are incomplete. The story with `Go Go the Magician' ends with Batman trapped behind a wall of ice suffocating. Still `Go Go' fares better than Dr. Faceless who gets neither a beginning nor an ending. What kind of irks me about this is that Mr. Kidd collected an equal amount of additional material to what's presented after he began preparing this collection for publishing. According to Mr. Kidd this additional material will be published if Bat-Manga sells well enough. But this sounds like a real problem because in order to complete the stories the next book would need to have the beginning of the Dr. Faceless story and the conclusion and the reader would have to go back to this book for the middle portion. Yikes.
So let me get down to brass tacks and tell you exactly what's in this book. There are five stories spanning multiple issues. The first one features Clayface (the only actual Batman villain to put in an appearance. This story is missing its ending. Next up is Lord Death Man, a character with no apparent counterpart in DC Comics. This story is complete. Following Lord Death Man is `Go Go the Magician', a near clone of the Weather Wizard including WW's "weather wand", physical appearance and origin. As mentioned earlier Go Go is absent an ending. Dr. Faceless is vaguely similar to Two-Face if both sides of Harvey Dent's face had been destroyed. Poor Faceless gets neither a beginning nor an ending. Perhaps as a homage to Gorilla Grodd, Karmak is an ape who temporarily gets the intelligence of a brilliant scientist. This one is missing its beginning but it's pretty easy to get the gist of what's going on. The final story, about a politician who transforms into a hyper powerful mutant, is entirely complete. So 40% of the stories are complete and one story has enough that most readers won't miss the beginning. Not so bad. Also, there are no breaks in the stories so except for beginnings and endings the continuity is complete.
I suspect the reason the publishers pushed this collection to market before collecting all the material is because they were so anxious for people to see it. This is one of those products that feels like a labor of love more than an opportunity to turn a quick dollar. It's nicely sized for the material with all sorts of images of quirky Japanese toys and art of Batman spread throughout the book. They even produced the book in its original Japanese right to left layout. It's a really neat book that someone could stick on their coffee table without feeling silly. I just wish they could have waited to collect more material.
The real story, of course, isn't the manga itself, but rather the work Chip Kidd put into this. His collection of material was clearly painstaking; this is comics research at its finest, and it's clearly the proverbial "labor of love". The result is a marginally complete (some chapters are missing, leaving gaps in the story or, in one very notable case, leaving it completely unclear how Batman escapes death by asphyxiation in a giant block of ice) tour of some really strange stuff. And the giant oversized hardcover format certainly makes this a candidate for the single-most attractive book published this year in any genre. Any fan of Batman, manga, or the history of pop culture would be extremely well-served by this book.