Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nine things I liked about Bat-Manga!

Bat-Manga!  The Secret History of Batman in Japan
By Jiro Kuwata
Edited, created, and taken credit for by Chip Kidd

-The cool old cars:

Being from the 60s, the cars are all in the long-and-wide style of the day, and it's cool to see bad guys like Lord Death Man cruising around getting in car chases in them.

-Batman swinging from things on Bat-ropes:

He sure seems to do a lot of swinging; that page follows a panel in which he instructs Robin to "speed up and drive in circles, creating a centrifugal force."  And then he swings around behind the car, kicking a bunch of goons.  Sweet.  This scene is another good one:

And a wrecking ball is the best rope swing of all:

-Gotham city's Mount Rushmore-style monument to its hero:

-Inspector Gordon's awesome moustache:

-The moral debate involving human evolution:

That's from a story called "The Man who Quit Being Human", and it's about a man who mutates into a new life form.  It's like something out of X-Men comics.  The story ends up being kind of silly, but I did appreciate the philosophical debate.

-Batman wrestling with a gorilla in a mask and cape:

That one's another cool story, about a gorilla who gained human intelligence and then sets out to destroy human civilization.  As the story progresses, he ends up capturing Batman and leeching Batman's intelligence, while also giving Batman his gorilla strength, which leads to a big, awesome fight.  That's one of the best things about this volume; the stories are pretty simplistic, but they are constantly moving, delivering fun, exciting moments.

-The Batmobile being chased by a tornado:

-Jiro Kuwata appearing in the comic Tezuka-style to introduce a story:

-Speed lines, speed lines, speed lines:

Combining Western superhero stories with manga storytelling makes for an incredibly dynamic mix.  I love the sense of motion that you get from panels like those, and the placement of moving objects in the foreground really adds to the movement and excitement.

Overall, the book is very entertaining, even if it's pretty slight.  There's nothing of any depth here, but as mentioned, the stories move.  I don't know if I need to read anymore of this sort of thing, but one volume is a pretty good length.  For fans of older comics, especially those from Japan, it's a nice experience.  Check it out if you get the chance.

I can't really mention this book without commenting on the online controversy that spun out of Chip Kidd basically crediting himself as the author, but I don't have anything to add that hasn't already been said several times over.  So, I'll point anybody interested in commentary on the issue to J. Caleb Mozzocco and Tom Spurgeon for the best and funniest analysis, respectively.  Enjoy.


  1. I think this is the review of that book I've been waiting to see all along. Most of the attention has gone to the circumstances under which the stories were created or the controversy over those book credits...but you've gotten past all that to reach what really should matter most: these are some great looking comics! You've made me want to read the book not as a cultural artifact or as a nostalgic glimpse into Silver Age Batmania, but as some really good comics. Those samples you include are beautiful.

    (And boy, do I wish they'd been presented as such in the first place, not as some overdesigned art object to venerate the hypersensitive ego of a celebrity book jacket designer...ah, but that's getting back to the very thing I was just commending you for getting away from.)

    Anyway, now I really want to read this.

  2. Thanks, RAB! I didn't really get into the visual or presentational aspect of the book, but I would say that I would probably prefer if this was just a regular, black-ink-on-white-paper manga volume, rather than the fetishized reproduction of aged material that we get. It looks nice, but I don't think it adds anything to be able to see the grain of the original paper, and it probably even distracts from the stories, which are really the best part of the book. But I figured it was best to just focus on the stories themselves, which are tons of fun.