Hugh Likes Comics: Batmanga

Leave a comment

Batman: The Juro Kuwata Batmanga Volunme 1
Written and Drawn by Juro Kuwata
Published by DC Comics

The Skinny: The Other ’60s Batman

During the height of the 1960s Batman TV show, Juro Kuwata a manga-ka who brought the Dynamic Duo to Japan with his own unique spin on the Caped Crusader.
 The resulting collection was not available in English in a complete format until 2014, but it is well worth your time and consideration. The art is a delightful mix of Golden Age DC and classic manga aesthetics, riding high on an international wave of the live-action Batman TV show’s success. The stories are all fairly straightforward and of their time, but also take some interesting swings. Eschewing the Dark Knight’s well-known rogues gallery, Kuwata turned his hand to making his own villains, opening with the very strong and exceptionally well-named “Lord Death Man” and setting Batman and Robin against a super-intelligent gorilla (not Gorilla Grodd) with a fun twist, a powerful mutant that echoes the creation of Marvel’s X-Men while looking like a weird space alien, and The Human Ball, which probably sounded less hilarious in the original Japanese.
 Kuwata’s art is striking and iconic, although the stories feel somewhat poorly served by manga’s black-and-white format. Several insert sections also include red tones for a deluxe feel, but one of the key clues for one of the villains includes the fact that his powers were color based. Which came out of left field in this black-and-white comic
Batman and Robin also have a distinct feel to them in this version, with Batman being much more of a man of action rather than a detective, and this Dick Grayson is delightfully sassy.
 While not exactly ground-breaking, this collection of ‘lost’ Batman comics feels both classic and astonishingly different. Kuwata’s style is distinct and iconic, while still highly recognizable, and Batman and Robin’s adventures don’t feel too far removed from his live-action TV Adventures. It is a curious little oddity that is well worth the time of fans of both anime and Batman, if only as a reminder of where the character has gone in his many years of publication history. Batmanga Volume 1 is available digitally from Comixology or in print from your local comics shop.

The Mountain’s Shadow is now available from Amazon and Smashwords!

Hugh Likes Comics: Chainsaw Man

Leave a comment

Chainsaw Man Volume 1: Dog and Chainsaw
Written & Drawn by Tatsuki Fujimoto
Published by Viz Media

The Skinny: Three chainsaws and one brain cell.

Chainsaw Man is a delight of a manga that is taking the world by storm, and I can see why. It follows Denji, a young man saddled by the Yakuza with his father’s debts. Forced to pay an impossible sum, Denji’s only companion and source of income is his pet Pochita, a dog-like devil with a chainsaw for a snout. Denji uses his monster pup to hunt other demons for cash. But when his yakuza debtors turn on him, Pochita sacrifices itself, merging with Denji to make him the eponymous Chainsaw Man, a powerful combination of human and devil.Chainsaw Man is one of those manga that sits squarely in the Venn diagram of a number of genres. It isn’t quite a horror comic, and it has a lot of comedic elements, and Denji sort of, but doesn’t quite fit into a superhero mould. The book sits somewhere uncomfortably between all three genres, allowing the tension of that placement to drive the story.In a world where devils walk the Earth, this is the type of story that examines the humanity, or lack thereof, of its characters. From the abusive Yakuza who hounded Denji’s father to suicide to his new boss Makijima, who threatens to have Denji executed if he doesn’t produce results, the humans take advantage of Denji’s situation as a half-devil for their own ends, leaving him to suffer. But Denji isn’t without flaws himself, as he uses his newfound freedom to support his one goal in life: To ever touch a boob. Largely the inhumanity of these characters is played for laughs or pathos rather than as a serious societal critique. Denji is a character raised outside of civilization, and becomes a lens to view civilization’s flaws, ramped up to eleven by the threat of marauding devils. Denji himself is so simple that he is played as a sort of a noble savage, alongside zombie-like devil girl Power. In other situations, this could be very uncomfortable, but Fujimoto pulls the trick off, for the most part.
Fujimoto’s art is detailed, and often grotesque without being overly complex or difficult to read. I read the manga on my tablet, and it came through very legibly, and is easy to follow. His monster designs are clever and unexpected, and manage to never cross the line into being too gross.
Part horror reflecting man’s inhumanity to man, part workplace comedy, part gristly spectacle, Chainsaw Man walks a thin line, but the fresh writing and fast pace propel it along fast enough that it never falls into any pits. If you’re looking for something new to read, it’s well worth your time.

Hugh Likes Comics: Rurouni Kenshin

Leave a comment


Written and Drawn by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Published in English by Viz Comics

Like “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Rurouni Kenshin” is a manga about a wandering swordsman, but tonally, the two could not be farther apart.  Set in Tokyo in the 1870’s, this is the story of Kenshin Himura, a former assassin and swordsman during the Bakumatsu period of civil wars who has vowed to never kill again, but cannot give up his sword.
One of the reasons I find this comic so interesting is that it is set in set in a dynamic and chaotic historical period that I knew very little about going in.  This story is set in a Tokyo that had been Edo not very long before, still healing from the open wounds of a civli war that toppled the established social order.  It’s a fascinating setting, as full of contradictions as the characters themselves.
Through a series of events, Kenshin settles as a guest of Kaoru Kamiya, a young woman running her deceased father’s kendo school, but lacking students.  From there, he meets a series of people, each of whom has been affected by the new era in a different way.  He meets Yahiko, a young orphan whose parents were Samurai, struggling to maintain what he things honor means in a modern world, and Sanosuke, a fighter whose mentor was betrayed and killed by the Revolutionary Army Kenshin supported.  He also meets Jin-E, a swordsman like himself who, unable to put down his weapon, turned into an assassin.
“Rurouni Kenshin” fascinates me because it is so full of contradictions, and those paradoxes are built right into the characters and setting.  It is most unlike “Lone Wolf and Cub,” and other Samurai stories in that rather than praising duty over life, it is a story of a swordsman struggling to put his past behind him.  Kenshin carries a “sakabato,” a katana with the edge of the blade reversed.  This allows him to fight with his sword without killing.  These are stories not about “Life in Death,” but life beyond it, and the struggle to atone for the lives already taken.
This comic originally ran in “Shonen Jump” magazine in Japan alongside boys’ adventure stories like “Dragon Ball” and “One Piece.”  It shares some of those series’ more kid-friendly aesthetic, both in the tone of the writing and the art.  Watsuki also is heavily influenced by American super-hero comics, particularly Jim Lee’s X-Men.  The result is that Kenshin’s skills often appear more like super powers than swordsmanship techniques.  This distracts from some of the more serious themes of the comic, but still allows for some entertaining and fascinating stories from a historical period many western readers know little about.
“Rurouni Kenshin” volume one is available through Amazon, or your local comics or book store.

Hugh Likes Comics: Lone Wolf and Cub

Leave a comment

Lone Wolf and Cub Volume One:  The Assassin’s Road

Written by Kazuo Koike

Drawn by Goseki Kojima

Published by Dark Horse Comics (English Version)

Originally published in Japan in 1970, “Lone Wolf and Cub” is a seminal document of Japanese Comics (Manga). The story of an executioner turned assassin in 16th century Japan was hugely popular, becoming a best-seller and spawning a series of films, two television series, and inspiring artists and writers in Japan and around the world. Partially translated and released in the US in the 1980’s, it was not fully collected in English until Dark Horse Comics began releasing volumes in 2000.

Ogami Itto was the Shogun’s chief executioner until the treachery of the rival Yagyu clan robbed him of his position and sentenced him to sepuku. In defiance of the Shogun, Ogami became an assassin living in “Meifumado,” the Way of Demons.” He takes his only living family member, his infant son Daigoro, with him in his quest for vengeance. As such, he is called “Lone Wolf and Cub,” a peerless killer who will take on any mission for five hundred Ryo.

“Lone Wolf and Cub” is an epic story collected over twenty-eight volumes, but each volume is picaresque, discribing specific assassinations or encounters Itto and Daigoro have on their journey. Deeply beautiful and starkly violent, these stories are quintessential Japanese pulp. Like Ogami himself, they are a paradox. At once noble and at the same time murderous, they celebrate Japan’s Zen Buddhist warrior traditions while standing apart from them.

Koike’s writing details the lives of noble samurai, struggling peasants, and suffering prostitutes with a historian’s careful eye. Kojima’s work evokes Japan’s greatest artistic traditions. This is a manga where ultra-violence and gratuitous nudity are positioned directly beside deep philosophical questions and breathtaking landscapes.

“Lone Wolf and Cub” is not a comic for kids, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Volume One features nine stories of samurai action that perfectly introduces the reader to the soul of Koike and Kojima’s groundbreaking work. It was an important step in my own appreciation of the medium, and it is a great place to start if you’d like something a bit more serious in your comics reading.

Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1 is available digitally, in print from Amazon, or from your local comics shop.