Sunday, September 6, 2015

CBR Batmanga

Meanwhile, in Japan....

Comic title: Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 also known as the Bat-Manga!
Written & drawn by Jiro Kuwata   

Published by DC Comics 
From 1966-67 (2014 edition)
Lineup Batman series/Shōnen manga
Format: Omnibus-sized Tankōbon/Manga volume Batman: The Bat-Manga! chapters #1-19.

When you think about classic Batman, you either go back to the original Bob Kane's comics or the '66 live action Batman series. But did you know the caped crusader also ventured into mangas back in the 1960s?

In 1966 at the height of the Bat-Mania, the Batman craze also completely took Japan off guards. With the huge demand for more things Batman, DC Comics took upon themselves to produce an original Japanese shōnen manga (action-adventure series for boys) adaptation of the Batman series.

The manga was simply titled Batman (バットマン, "Battoman"), mangaka Jiro Kuwata was commissioned to write and illustrate these comics exclusive for the Japanese market. It ran from April 1966 to May 1967, for 53 chapters. It would be collected into 3 "tankôbon manga volumes.

The story would have been left here, only known in some hardcore fans and destined to be forgotten through the ages... until a 2008 English book brought the series back to the attention. The book was called Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, designed by long-time fan and author/editor/artist Chip Kidd. Chip Kidd had been looking in weird Batman oddities specially produced for Japan when he started putting a lot of effort into grabbing all the information he could regarding this manga series. "The Secret History of Batman in Japan" was the first time this manga was ever reprinted and translated in English. The book included various chapters from the manga reproduced as best as possible, several information around the series and the Batman mania in Japan, a special interview with the legendary mangaka, a look at Japan's exclusive Batman toys, a brand new chapter of the manga produced for the occasion and even a reprinted chapter from a rare Batman "manhua" (Chinese comics).

Due to the huge popularity and attention this "Batmanga" received,  DC started working on their own restoration of this manga series. For the first time ever they cleaned all the artwork, translated the series from scratch, collected the entire series for the first time and published the manga first through ComiXology as a digital issues before following with a complete modern 3-volume print run.

This here above is the first volume of Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga. A 360-page collection released in December 2014.

This is the chance to finally discover in its entirety a relatively obscure Batman series only properly completely translated recently. It's in black & white (of course) and it uses a reading order manga fans will be familiar with - from right-to-left.

This Batmanga - as DC officially retitled it - follows the adventures of Batman and Robin, much like its American counterpart. The execution is where it slightly differs from your traditional Batman comics.

The manga draws a lot of inspiration from the hit 1966 TV series, and I'm sure the author was a lot more familiar with the TV show than the original US comics. Once in costume, Batman and Robin sure do look a lot like their TV counterpart. Even the Batmobile is the same as the one from the show.

This book here collects the first nineteen chapters of the series. Most of the stories were told in 3 chapters, ending each episode on a cliffhanger just like the 1966 show.

Batman and Robin are presented here as adventurers, working with both the police and officials. Most stories involving a complicated scheme and introducing a new villain, which they confront a few times before finding a weakness to their evil scheme and exposing the bad guys.

Instead of using the usual Batman rogues, Jiro Kuwata instead came up with his own villains... as well as other sources. The series launched with a big bang, opening up with what is now considered the most iconic villain of the manga - the evil Lord Death Man! A man that couldn't die (apparently..). But soon Batman and Robin will have to face all kinds of other villains, such as the evil scientist Dr. Faceless - a man determined to wipe the face of every people in Gotham, the Human Ball - like his name implies he's a human bouncing ball, Karmak the intelligent super gorilla, the weather-controlling bandit Go Go The Magician and finally a tale unlike anything you've ever seen Batman in - this normal guy Governor Warner starts evolving into a powerful Mutant, only his daughter can reason with this now-deranged mind!!

This Batman was produced as a companion to the 1966 Adam West Batman TV series. It was published in the shōnen magazine Shōnen King and was published by Shōnen Gahōsha. DC licensed the rights to them to let Japan make their own Batman comics.

As you might expect, the comic was pretty zany.  The enemies are really different from the usual Bat-villains. Instead of the usual bank robbers and crazy psychopath bad guys faces in the US, in this manga they're always either extremely smart criminals with pretty complicated schemes that passes themselves as robbers first or super powerful unstoppable monsters. The former always make things appear one way on the surface until the big reveal, putting Batman in all kinds of tricky deadly situations. The later often end up regular folks pretending the extraordinary, in grand Scooby-Doo-style.

Strangely enough some enemies from The Flash's Rogue gallery appear to be reinterpreted as Batman villains here. The super intelligent gorilla is basically Flash villain Gorilla Grodd and Go Go The Magician is just the Weather Wizard with a different name - with the same costume and "magical" wand. Later episodes would finally draw some enemies from the actual Batman comics such as Clayface though.

Jiro Kuwata has a great art style. His Batman manga is classy and stylish. I like all the Japanese adaptations such as Inspector Gordon here simply looking like a funny looking guy out of the Lupin series. Batman himself appears closer to his original Golden Age persona, neither the later brooding vigilante we know from his American comics nor the campy Adam West figure from the serial. He's just a cleaner and simpler "good guy" hero.

There's a lot of science going on. Well, I mean "scifi" science mind you. It kind of reminded me of early Marvel comics. The stories a always 3-part tales, ending with a cliffhanger stinger just like in the TV show.

The Batmanga fell into relatively obscurity the following decades, Japan would know its own plethora of "super hero" characters with the likes of the Super Sentai or Kamen Rider. This Batman manga would finally be brought back into the spotlight thanks to Kidd's book on the subject, which brought this Japanese interpretation of Batman under the radar of much more prominent comic book author such as Grant Morrison.

The series has a really funny silly tone like the show. With snappy dialogues and increasingly zany plots.

The artwork is beautiful, with a great 70s-style, dynamic and action-packed.

It's a really fun interpretation of Batman at the peak of the short-lived but timeless Bat-mania of the 1960s, pretty close to the original Bob Kane Batman actually. Fascinating. Like a perfect blend of Silver Age superhero comics and Japanese mangas from the 60s.

Overall, Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga is a really fun read.

This Batmanga is loads of fun. It features great art that perfectly captured the costumes from the show. It's a fun All-Age book, with familiar characters taken outside the traditional box. A great re-interpretation of the character. The whole opening with Lord Death Man surely sets the bar high for the rest of the actual series. Clean art, a really fun series. It's no Dark Knight for sure, but in a way it's a probably better vision for the character, truer to his roots.

With stories that seem to fall in between Adam West Batman TV series and zany Silver Age Batman comics.

It left such a huge impression on fans when this manga was discovered that huge continuity lover and writer Grant Morrison would adapt some elements (and therefore make it canon) in his run on the book Batman Inc., making several references to this Batman manga and including an appearance of Lord Death Man himself! That first iconic chapter along Lord Death Man would also pop up in an episode from the cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Highly Recommended for any Bat-fans out there! Give it a look, believe me, it's well worth a read compared to most books DC publishes nowadays.

Different Batman! Same Bat-manga!

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Bobobos!

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