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Monday, September 2, 2019

Holy Bat-Manga! - a Review

Bat-Manga! (2008)
"Clayface Encounter" (also found in Batman - the Jiro Kuwata Batmanga #46)
Jiro Kuwata

Are you a manga reader? Not this guy. In fact, I'll offer this confession: today's fare is the first and only (so far) manga I've laid eyes on. It's just generally not my thing. I don't do the anime stuff, either, outside of Speed Racer or Gatchaman (known to me as a kid as Battle of the Planets). But years and years ago, when I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, I picked up Chip Kidd's Bat-Manga. It has sat on the shelf in the comic room since. It was cracked open for the very first time about a month ago, in preparation for today's review. Shall we proceed?

100-Word Review:
As the Ferris gang breaks from jail, their leader hides out in a cave. With the Dynamic Duo hot on his trail, Ferris submerges himself in a pool. Unbeknownst to him, the pool contains a bioplasm that has… side effects. Emerging from the pool, Ferris felt his body melt into a pile of clay. Moments later, however, he discovered that he could will his body to take any shape of which he could think. Thus was born Clayface. Now fully devoted to crime, Ferris attempts to rob a bank and to make off with millions of dollars of art. But not if Batman and Robin have anything to say about it!
The Good: In a goofy sort of way, this was fun. I actually read four stories in the Bat-Manga book. Later, I found out that all of them have actually been reprinted by DC (see above), so if this is something you take a shine to I am sure you can track them down. I found the stories somewhat simple, yet very accessible. I guess it seemed to me that these were "comics for kids", but I'm unsure if that was the intent in Japan. Coming off the Bat-craze of the mid-1960s here in the States, Japanese children would have gained access to all that fuss. Chip Kidd's heavy trade also includes tons of photos of toys and other memorabilia that would have been for sale in Japan at the time - it's a wonderful time capsule of Batmania, but on the other side of the world.

Culturally, I enjoyed learning how to read manga. For the previously initiated, you may think that sounds dumb. But as I said above, I'd had no experience. I was happy that each panel was numbered to keep my eyeballs flowing in the right direction. It also seemed odd at first that the person on the right side of the panel was speaking first. But I quickly got the hang of it and was able to walk on my own two feet!

The plot was simple throughout the story, with no real curveballs. If you've read a Clayface story before, you pretty much got what you'd expect. That was fine - I guess I didn't have high expectations going in, so was pleased that it didn't fall below my goals for the reading experience. As to characterization, this was a printed slice-of-life from the TV show. Missing were Alfred and Aunt Harriet, but the interactions between Bruce/Batman and Dick/Robin sounded as they should for the era.

The Bad: If I have a beef, it would be that the art was pretty crude. I have no background with Jiro Kuwata, so am unqualified to say if this is among his best or worst work. But to my tastes, this had a bit of Golden Age mojo, rather than the more refined look of the pages Carmine Infantino was turning in here in the U.S. It's not the worst thing I've laid eyes on, and didn't hamper my overall enjoyment. In fact, there are certain panels that are quite well done (for example - the top two panels in the last page sample, below right). But I don't think I'd seek out this style to spend gobs of money on.

The Ugly: Nothing today. Will I return to some more Bat-manga? I'd never say never, but I can guess it's going to be close to never. Again - not a bad time, I enjoyed it for what it is. Just not my Dark Knight. Your mileage may vary!


  1. Thanks for the review, Doug. This is a facet of comics that I know very little about, by that I mean not only Bat-manga but manga in general. But it's so important and so globally popular, to be honest. The only manga book I own is the first digest book of Lone Wolf & Cub published by Dark Horse - but I haven't read it yet.
    This Bat-manga material you've shown looks like it would be fun to read, but I'm not sure I'd actually go seek it out and pay serious money for it. If I do ever get around to seriously reading any manga, besides Lone Wolf & Cub, I think I'll probably try to read some of the 'classics,' like Akira or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

    1. I can guarantee you this was the first manga I've read. So you are ahead of me with any experience you might have. As I said in the review, I didn't hate it - but I don't think I liked it enough to get very excited about seeking more.


  2. Interesting change of pace today, Doug! Like you and Edo, my exposure to manga is pretty limited. There are a few Simpsons comics which featured guest stories by manga artists/writers; intriguing in the differences in visual style and dialogue. Also, I have a comic by Keiji Nakazawa called "I Saw It: the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima". Full manga style, at least in terms of artwork. The panel arrangement must have been adjusted for western readers in the volume I have. Anyway, it tells the story of a first-hand survivor account of the bombing. Kind of like "Maus", it is mind and gut-wrenching reading.

    Long way around of saying that the manga style is appealing, obviously, to millions worldwide. I find it enjoyable, but not as much as a good Romita page. The book you feature seems a fun read and a cool piece of history. As for manga in general, I should check out more of it. I have seem some samples of art that are really quite nice; there seems a fair bit of stylistic variance within the confines of manga tradition. Something else to look into further; maybe I need to quit working and devote all my time to reading...

    1. Red, re: "(...) maybe I need to quit working and devote all my time to reading..."
      Wait, is that an option? Why didn't anybody tell me about that?

    2. My list of both real books and comics that I want to read continues to grow. I've made reading an almost daily habit these past few years yet I don't feel like I've scratched the surface on all that I'd like to experience. But I'm sure going to keep pushing!


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