Evil Geek Book Report – Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 1
When I heard about this, I was floored. At the height of the Adam West Batman show Japan was given full license by DC to create a Batman Manga “adaption”. I use the term adaption loosely for reasons you’ll see shortly. Western audiences weren’t privy to much information about this until the 2008 publication of Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga!: The Secret History Of Batman in Japan book blew the lid off it. This gave the world some context and background and the first translations of artist Jiro Kuwata’s fabled Batmanga stories albeit incomplete.
DC got the hint though and have started a campaign to release the Batmanga across 3 trade paperbacks in its complete form for the first time. The first two have seen release with the third getting put out near the beginning of 2016. I recently sat down and took Volume 1 head on.
I wasn’t quite sure what to except really. I’m a fan of manga in the sense that I’ve dipped my toe into it, but almost all the things I’ve read were properties I’ve previously had exposure to because of its anime counterpart. My Batman experience on the other hand has left a lot to be desired with that character. Still, I was curious. This seemed interesting not to mention some of the art I had previewed made me want to get my hands on it.
The most interesting thing is this is set pretty much in the Batman ’66 world. It’s certainly campy, but less than the TV show and even a shade bit darker and more rough and tumble. Yet it’s basically equivalent to Silver Age American comics. There’s a lot of explaining what you’re seeing on the page and the villains confiding their motivations and how their traps or powers work to Batman during confrontations. Batman always figures out the next crime fairly simple sometimes with very little (if any) deductive reasoning.
The Villains themselves are stupidly amazing. Lord Death-Man, Dr. Faceless, The Human Ball, Professor Gorilla, Go-Go The Magician and the Governor…who becomes a mutant. I understand some of these are based on old obscure villains from earlier American comics, but I’m not qualified to speak on that. What I can tell you though is that Lord Death-Man has an amazing visual look and was one of the reasons I decided to check out this manga.
Some of the strangeness is completely invented which is fun, like when one of the villains is going to deface Batman’s gigantic head sculpture on Mount Gotham or Commissioner Gordon always being referred to as Chief Gordon or Inspector. Whether it was intentional or not it made me crack a smile. Batman and Robin use the ’66 Batmobile yet the Batwing looks like an insane UFO with a retractable arm. Science Fiction plays a very strong element in almost all of these stories, with scientists being omnipresent in each arc. I guess it was a reflection of society still in the grasp of the atomic age Twilight Zone paranoia.
Jiro Kuwata’s art throughout the story is gorgeous. It’s very clean with distinct lines and of course a manga feel. Manga artwork has the ability to capture motion far better than western artists ever could. It’s in black and white but as is the tradition of manga some pages are colored using a limited palette and those particular pages are to die for. Simply put, Kuwata draws a magnificent Batman. Almost all of the people outside of Bruce, Dick and Gordon all look the same though. Bruce and Dick are unrecognizable as themselves (especially if measured against the U.S. comics or the TV show) but have their own sense of flare regardless.Volume 1 covers the first 19 chapters of the manga with each story arc ending up being roughly about 3 or 4 chapters long. If you’re interested in a different and bizarre take on Batman give this a look. Just know that what you’re getting into is pretty fucking whacky. I found it a little too goofy for my tastes but it’s an important document of an unearthed period in Batman’s history. So for that alone it may require you to take some time to experience it.
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