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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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On October 30, 2013, Japanese publisher Shogakukan released a complete 3-volume boxed set of all 53 weekly chapters of Jiro Kuwata's 1966-1967 Batman manga from SHONEN KING, entitled "The BatManga: Jiro Kuwata Edition" (this is the first time the stories have been released in Japan in book form). It also has Kuwata's essay on his Batman memories and commentary by manga critic Kōsei Ono. Shogakukan has posted an online preview of the collection at ( tameshiyo.me/9784778032555 ). Compare the crisp reproduction of Jiro Kuwata's art shown there with the same story included only in the hardcover edition of Bat-Manga! - The Secret History of Batman in Japan. As of this writing, there have been no plans announced for an English language edition of Shogakukan's collection, but given that Shogakukan owns Viz Media, an American company which publishes manga in English translation, and that Viz has partnered with Fantagraphics Books since 2010 for a line of manga books, and that Warner Entertainment has in the last year or so instituted a big merchandising push for all things related to the 1966 Batman TV series, including partnering with IDW to publish Batman: The Silver Age Newspaper Comics Volume 1 (1966-1967), all of these factors would tend to make it seem likely that an English language translation of the complete BatManga series is at least a good possibility, either published by DC Comics, Viz Media, Fantagraphics Books, IDW, or some co-publishing arrangement between DC and any of them. Should that happen, it would mean that Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear's book would quickly become obsolete. Mr. Kidd's book is photographed by Geoff Spear from the original printed comics (then manipulated in the computer to create the English translated word balloons), preserving all of the original magazines' poor printing quality and 40 years of pulp paper deterioration. This may have a certain charm, but it also seems to take the original artist's work at its face value somewhat less seriously than comparable work from American comics artists of the same period. Kidd and Spear can be forgiven that this was strictly a project generated by a couple of fans and collectors who didn't have the resources available to them of a DC Comics or a Shogakukan. The most important thing is that Kidd and Spear have cast a small spotlight on this formerly obscure (at least in the Western world) corner of the global Batmania phenomenon of 1966-67. Since Kidd & Spear's book has probably led directly to Shogakukan publishing this manga in a beautifully-printed (including the original color pages) edition that showcases Mr. Kuwata's artwork to its best advantage, we can only be grateful to them for getting the ball rolling.
In my opinion, Jiro Kuwata is highly underrated as one of the seminal geniuses of the manga artform during one of its most formative periods. When I first saw his work on the "8 Man" manga (the basis for the American-dubbed anime known as "8th Man"), I was stunned to realize that his style seemed to be influenced about equally by both Osamu Tezuka (understandably) and the early 1960s work of American comic book master Jack Kirby (with whom he shares the same initials). It was not too difficult to imagine a young Mr. Kuwata as a fan of American culture, even as the youthful generation of Americans today are influenced by Japanese pop culture. In any event, the fact that Kuwata seemed to have been the 'go-to' guy for manga adaptations of American culture (he later did manga based on 1960s TV series "The Time Tunnel" and "The Invaders") would seem to bear out this theory. Even before doing 8 Man and Batman, Kuwata was responsible for the manga "Moonlight Mask", a character who was the very first of a long line of tokusatsu (TV superheroes in Japan), and like Batman, Moonlight Mask was a masked but non-powered costumed hero. I would definitely like to see more of Mr. Kuwata's work translated and reprinted in English, the way much of Osamu Tezuka's has been recently. Another interesting point I notice is that Kuwata's Batman seems to take all of its inspiration from the 1960s American comics, and virtually none from the 1966 Adam West TV series (which was certainly dubbed into Japanese at the time), with the exception of the George Barris-designed TV Batmobile. Since the TV series was well known in Japan, one would have expected just the opposite, that a manga would be based strictly on the TV series, without consideration of the original American comics.
A few notes on the original American sources of some of Mr. Kuwata's Batman stories should be added (and I'm very surprised this isn't mentioned in the editorial text of the book):
THE TERRIBLE CLAYFACE ENCOUNTER is based on "The Challenge of Clayface" from DETECTIVE COMICS #298 (Dec. 1961). Written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris.
THE REVENGE OF CLAYFACE is based on "The Secret of Clayface's Power" from DETECTIVE COMICS #312 (Feb. 1963). Written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris.
LORD DEATH-MAN is based on "Death Knocks Three Times!" from BATMAN #180 (May 1966). Written by Robert Kanigher, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Joe Giella.
Jiro Kuwata's version of the character Lord Death-Man was adapted to animation in 2011 (closely modeled on Kuwata's cartooning style) as a segment of the BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD Season 2 episode "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!"
GO-GO THE MAGICIAN is based on "The Weather Wizard's Triple-Treasure Thefts!" from DETECTIVE COMICS #353 (July 1966). Written by Gardner Fox, penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Joe Giella.
DR. FACELESS is based on "The Fantastic Dr. No-Face" from DETECTIVE COMICS #319 (Sept. 1963). Written by Dave Wood, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris.
PROFESSOR GORILLA'S REVENGE is based (very loosely, I might add) on "Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!" from DETECTIVE COMICS #339 (May, 1965). Written by Gardner Fox, penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Joe Giella.
Some of the above-listed stories are available in various reprint collections of Batman stories from the 1960s issued by DC Comics. I leave it to the reader of this review to seek them out for him or herself, but a good place to start would be Showcase Presents: Batman, Vol. 2
THE MAN WHO QUIT BEING HUMAN!, and the final short untitled story fragment (included only in the hardcover edition of this book) featuring the 3 robots, both appear to be wholly original stories by Jiro Kuwata (or at least I could not discover any American stories that they seem to resemble). This is not to say that Mr. Kuwata merely copied the original American comics stories and redrew them in his own unique style. These are loose adaptations, and a side by side comparison of the stories makes for an interesting study for scholars of Batman history, as well as for those interested in comparing the techniques and styles of manga art compared to that of American comic art.
In summary, I can only echo the sentiments of the anonymous Japanese Batman fan who was quoted in the margin of a 1966 Shonen King manga:
"I love Kuwata's manga. All the frames are so cool, and the faces of the kids are especially good. Go, Mr. Kuwata!"
Finally, in a short Q&A conducted especially for this book, Chip Kidd posed the following question to the then 73-year-old Jiro Kuwata: "Would you consider drawing a new Batman story, now?" To which Kuwata-san replied, "Yes, I most certainly would." The mind boggles. DC and Shogakukan should definitely make this happen in conjunction with an American edition of the complete Shogakukan BatManga collection.
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.