Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #343: Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 1

A few years back, the general comics world learned that there was a mid-60s manga Batman series written and drawn by Jiro (8 Man) Kuwata -- launched to ride the popularity of the campy American TV show, and running in Shonen King for a few dozen episodes -- through a book called Bat-Manga! That book, edited by Chip Kidd and giving nearly as large a credit to the guy who provided the Shonen King collection, presented the Kuwata stories as oddities and pop-culture artifacts, alongside tight closeups of Japanese Batman toys of a similar vintage and not necessarily presenting complete stories.

It was all quirky and interesting and odd, made doubly so by the aged paper and other intrusive artifacts of Kidd's design, but that was the point: all of Kidd's collections of old comics are primarily about his viewpoint, about what it is to be Chip Kidd looking at these old things. Kuwata's credit was deeply secondary, since he was just the guy who made the old pop-culture thing.

Well, it took six years, but there's now a better edition of that Kuwata Batman material -- they're being released digitally as individual "issues," each with one installment of the serialized stories, and then the serials will be collected in what's planned to be three books of about 350 pages each. The first one, Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1, releases today.

This release comes directly from DC Comics itself, and strips out all of the post-modernism of the Kidd edition: DC's expertise is in reprinting comics stories clearly and fully, so that's what they do here. It contains the first nineteen installments, six complete stories -- most of them in three parts, and all coming in at around 50-60 pages. So what we get is those Kuwata stories, more-or-less as the original Japanese audience got them (absent translation issues): stories of Batman of Gotham City for a Japanese audience that knew him best from Adam West in ill-fitting tights.

Without the distancing affects of the Kidd presentation, Kuwata's stories are still a bit odd, but not as much so -- they're crisp action manga stories in the then-contemporary style, full of chattery dialogue and a lot of faces and panels influenced by early Tezuka. His Batman is firmly on-model, though his Bruce Wayne looks like a standard adult shonen hero of the day rather than anything drawn by Jerry Robinson or Dick Sprang. And this is from well before the era when Grant Morrison declared that Batman was always prepared for anything, so the strange villains in these stories -- Lord Death Man, who steals jewels and then dies when captured, repeatedly; Go-Go the Magician with his weather control wand; the post-human Mutant, with the full panoply of strange-talent powers; or Professor Gorilla, with the mentality of a brilliant scientist and the urge to destroy all mankind -- do stymie Batman and Robin for the first few parts of each story, only to be finally defeated by the last page.

To approach these stories, a triangulation action is best. Leave aside any ideas based on the modern Batman; Kuwata's take on the character is nearly fifty years old now. And then start from 8 Man on one side and the giant-props era of American Batman on the other -- take the superscience of '60s manga and the what-the-hell random concepts that gave us Ace the Bat-Hound, keeping them both in mind -- and then sit down to read Jiro Kuwata's Batman stories. They're fun and exciting and adventurous and provide something American Batman comics ran out of long ago: a sense of the unexpected and strange.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment