Saturday, February 14, 2015

CBR Big Hero 6

Stop Whining. Woman Up!

Comic title: Big Hero 6: Brave New Heroes #1 subtitled "The Astonishing Return of Big Hero Six, Japan's Top Heroes!" also known as simply Big Hero 6 vol. 1 (2008)
Art by David Nakayama
Written by Chris Claremont

Published by Marvel Comics
From 2008/12
Lineup Marvel Universe/Big Hero 6 series
Format: One-shot special issue collecting the mini-series Big Hero 6 (2008) issues #1-5.

In the early 2000s Marvel Comics was still fighting their way through their near-bankrupty following the boom and downfall of the medium in the 90s. The company sold all their proprieties left and right for possible movie adaptations (which can still be witnessed nowadays through 20th Century Fox' ownership of the X-Men franchise, and Spider-Man at Sony Pictures).

To try to branch out and appeal to younger readers, Marvel decided to try opening up to the ever-growing manga audience that was spreading throughout the world around that time. Under Marvel's Editor-in Chief Joe Quesada they decided to launch a few specific initiatives for that matter.

Which resulted in the creation of another new alternate Marvel Universe, the Marvel Mangaverse lineup, alongside a few projects in the regular MU. Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways series proved to be the most successful of these, aimed at younger readers and featuring the children of various supervillains, mad scientists and other alien invaders, it would last well over 10 volumes-worth of trade paperback, over a few series (relaunched a few times, each lasting about 20 issues or so).

One of the lesser known attempts at this fusion-style (mixing comics and manga aesthetics) was this book here, Big Hero 6!

The Big Hero 6 characters and team originally first appeared in a 3-issue mini-series titled Sunfire & Big Hero 6 (in September 1998), by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Gus Vasquez. They were actually created by Steven T. Seagle and the very talented Duncan Rouleau as a side project and meant to make their first appearance in an issue of Alpha Flight, Alpha Flight #17, but due to some delays they actually got to appear in that first-mini before their proper introduction.

And due to their nature, they were perfect candidates for this project.

Taking place in a Marvel Universe that slightly follows our real history, following World War 2 Japan couldn't develop their own proper military forces and join the weapons race... but that doesn't mean they couldn't explore other means to defend itself in case of terrorist attacks (or from the nearby fictional Monster Island that resides in the MU, thanks to those old Godzilla comics back in the day).

To face these eventual threats, Japan put in place their very own secret government-funded super hero team! Big Hero 6!

Their members count Hiro Takachiho, a 13-year-old boy genius, the smartest boy in Japan and one of the most intelligent persons on Earth able to even copy and reverse-engineer stuff made by Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four! His trusty synthetic bodyguard Baymax, made from scratch by Hiro! The though athletic GoGo Tomago equipped by a power armor that allows her to zip through or somersault as an unstoppable energy ball (think Metroid). And finally Honey Lemon who owns this mysterious magical (?) scifi (?) purse that allows her to grab anything she wants from anywhere, which is much more useful than any real superpower!

In their previous appearance the four were joined by Silver Samurai, Sunfire and even Sunpyre at one point.

They're currently awaiting the arrival of two new proper members to join their side.

This five-issue miniseries was first published in September 2008, it would finally be collected in this lengthy floppy format, a 2012 one-shot special about 22-page worth of story under the title "Brave New Heroes!".

Our story starts in Tokyo.

Lately the entire Internet was having some problems, like the US have been cut off from the rest of the world. And since this is the Marvel Universe, this probably means that some new event was going on at the time (and due to timing, this was probably due to either Secret Invasion just kickin' in or the Messiah CompleX storylines). Hiro's been wandering if the American superheroes are looking into it - which he idolizes.

One day at school Hiro & co are attacked there by mysterious super-powered beings. He is quickly joined by his robot bodyguard Bayman who is never to far from Hiro, and his teammates Honey Lemon and GoGo Tomago.

The foes are identified as Brute, Gunsmith and Whiplash. After the fight they revert to simple civilians. Was someone manipulating them?

Lately someone's been spying on Hiro. He finds out it's someone called Ms. Furi Wamu. She works for the Japanese government, and she wants Big Hero 6 to look into something for her and bring them to the US on her investigation.

But first GoGo and Honey meet their latest recruit, Wasabi-No-Ginger! A trained chef who is actually pretty impressively skilled with a mere sword for a weapon!

Our heroes head to the States. Actually, to Southport, a few hundred miles from New York City. They can't get help from the Avengers and should stayed hidden from the authorities since their mission is not exactly "official". (Hiro's kinda bummed by this since he always dreamed to meet the American superheroes...)

The last member of the team joins Big Hero 6. Is name is Fred, he is actually a Ainu from the island of Hokkaido. He grew up in a SHIELD military base. And nobody seems to exactly get what is powers are or how they work...

Their mission - to protect Dr. Iosama, a head scientist operating in some secret laboratory. But the mysterious foe controlling people from the shadows is still after them. Turns out Ms. Wamu is as much responsible from all of this. And Japan wants now to take responsibility.

Anyway, Hiro gets pretty close to Iosama's daughter, a girl genius named Marys. GoGo kicks ass at school and she ends up joining the school team of Port Green along Wasabi for a match of Football.

But Honey Lemon gets turned into the new Whiplash-avatar! And Ms. Wamu and Iosama are also used as pawns by the villain!

Who is behind all this?! And why is (s)he doing all this??

Japan's first team superhero team's proper debut and first solo series!

The series was written by long-time classic X-Men writer Chris Claremont. Someone who perfectly knows his Marvel Universe inside and out, and is great at making use of the rich history of this fictional universe.

His character are fun, witty, and almost self-aware at times.

The series has fun playing with the various tropes of the manga genre. Making fun of a lot of anime stereotypes, including (and this here will be my only warning in this entire review) slightly sexualized female heroines. Nothing much, but in typical fashion of vintage animes.

The art was done by the very talented David Nakayama, a natural fit for the characters. He was tasked with redesigning a few of the characters as well as coming up with the new faces.

Once they learned they couldn't make use of Silver Samurai or Sunfire from Marvel, since they were being portrayed as villains in books at the time, they took this great opportunity to develop new characters to permanently join the roster of the team.

The entire Big Hero 6 cast is composed of Japanese characters. I like how Fred - aka "Fredzilla" - was made Ainu. A minority so rarely portrayed in fiction (Japanese or not). His powers are also pretty fun, he is able to summon a "Devil Dinosaur"-like avatar (Jack Kirby's forgotten old scifi red Tyrannosaur), sort of similarly to the character Reptil from Avengers Academy in a way. Probably the spirit of a Kaiju from Monster Island (a descendant of Devil Dinosaur?).

Overall, it is a pretty good, really fun book. The characters are fun and original.

I really enjoyed the witty dialogues and self-aware tone.

The Big Hero 6 would only receive a few appearances here and there over the years. A couple of minor isolated short appearances, most notably a brief cameo during Civil War, and finally a supporting role in the Ends of the Earth storyline in Spider-Man against Doctor Octopus.

Most impressively, this series inspired a pretty well received CGi animated film released last November, produced by Walt Disney Animation. Disney's first work based on a Marvel propriety without Marvel's involvement in the final product. The film made a good reception, probably due to the lack of any true "action film" produced through animation, most of these films being confined to purely comedy, parody or musical. While it it received a fantastic reaction from the audience, for a good reason, it also took out some of my favorite aspects from the comic series. Both the entire manga aesthetic and its part of the Marvel Universe were completely taken out. No more manga aspect, over-the-top plot, silly costumes and manga tropes. Our heroes are not even entirely Japanese like in the book anymore. And with the Disney logo front and center, it couldn't be part of the Marvel Universe anymore, which was a big part in the original comics. A fictional city took the place instead of Tokyo, Fred's connection to Jack Kirby's Devil Dinosaur entirely ditched, no more mentions of the Avengers presence (I kinda liked how Hiro admitted having "borrowed" a few ideas from Reed Richards...).

It all sort of came back full circle with a Japanese manga published by Yen Press based on Disney's version of the Big Hero 6.

Anyway, it is such a fun book! Highly Recommended for anyone looking for something different from your usual superhero books.

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Howards!

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