Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 (DC)

Batmanga

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 5/5 – A Different Take on the Dark Knight.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

One topic some of my comic-loving brethren and I enjoy having is the notion that every Batman fan has “their” version of Batman. Often, it’s the one they read the most growing up or when they started to take an interest in the character. For some, Neal Adams’ version is “their” Batman. For others, it’s Frank Miller. In my case, it’s Jim Aparo. Not only do these three examples have very different looks for the caped crusader, but the stories that surrounded them (either due to the writer or the decade in which they were written) were often dramatically different as well. The bottom line is that the Dark Knight has undergone a number of different looks and re-imaginings throughout his long career.

Finally coming to light is a Japanese publication of Batman tales by manga creator Jiro Kuwata during the late 60s. This was an era of Batman appearing on television in campy tales with as much humor as action, while in the comics there had been a movement to bring Batman back to his scientific detective roots. According to an afterword in the book by Kosei Ono, this was considered the “New Look” Batman, and it’s from this template that Kuwata crafted his tales. Each of the six tales contained in this first volume involve a scientist of some sort, and a result Batman and Robin are forced to use their brains as much as their brawn to overcome the bad guys.

If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the heavy-handedness of most Bat-stories from the past few decades, these tales might be a welcome breath of fresh air. When we’ve got the Joker ripping his own face off and a grim dark knight scaring the heck out of the bad guys, it’s great to see him go up against more “fun” villains like Lord Death Man, Go-Go the Magician, and Professor Gorilla. While the stories are still action-packed and the Dynamic Duo are defying death at every turn, they also come from an era where there was still little doubt they’d pull through unscathed and with very little angst involved.

DC wisely kept the right-to-left format of the original manga, which might be off-putting to some readers, but preserves the original art and flow of the panels as the creator drew them. In addition, these stories were created in black and white (though a few color pages are inset throughout the book), and have a definitive style to them that newer readers may find simplistic in light of our modern era of computerized coloring and the intense and gritty line-work we see in many books today. These should be minor hurdles for any Bat-fan to easily overcome, however, to enjoy this slice of comic book history, as well as a reminder of an era when Batman was allowed to tell great stories without taking himself quite so seriously.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
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