We’ve seen the Batman take many shapes and forms throughout his 76 years as a literature icon. However, this may be one of his most unique. Pantheon Publishing prides itself on being one of the major companies that translate foreign books and graphic novels into English. At one glance we knew that “Bat-Manga” was a must have. So is it good?
Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan
For only a matter of months, Japanese anthology Shonen King, and author Jiro Kuwata published a number of Batman stories after buying the rights in 1966. The individual issues were never collected until 2008 when designer Chip Kidd and photographer Geoff Spear put together this book that not only assembles all the stories into a complete volume, but also celebrates Batman’s short lived, but successful hype within Japan in the ’60s. The flashy collection includes glimpses of Batman related advertisements, toys, and illustrations that were rampant at the time when Adam West first hit the screen as the Caped Crusader.
True to the manga original, this work reads from right to left and for someone who is new to this form of novel (this guy) it’s definitely going to be odd at first, but the reading style parallels the given perspective of the dark knight. The stories center on both Batman and Robin, illustrated in that classic ’60s comic motif. Obviously the writing can be a bit cheesy at times, but to contemporize the language would defeat the whole point of this collection. Therefore, you’re going to see soliloquys from every character as they continuously think out loud as well as Clayface’s affinity for shape-shifting into a pterodactyl.
And that’s not to say the writing is bad, it’s just dated which makes it more accessible to a larger audience. There are some really good plot points within these issues, such as Batman confronted with the decision to kill a man or a villain that keeps coming back to life (which even had me seriously questioning how he was doing it.) I like to think of this as a period piece and should be respected as one.
The work features better known villains such as Clayface as well as those that never made it into the 21st century such as Go Go the Magician and Lord Death Man. However, as obscure as some of the characters are, Lord Death Man was actually featured in Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc run. Now does it surprise you that Grant Morrison would include a random fifty year old character that was prominently featured in the Japanese adaptation of Batman? No, but now you have an upper hand at Batman trivia with your friends.
While I’ve been focusing on the work original work which deserves a large portion of the credit, I also need to recognize Kidd and Spear for their efforts in bringing these comics to life. The works would be half as wonderful if it weren’t for the design and context of the book they’re bound in. The physical book itself is quite large and is covered in photographs of eclectic Batman “antiques.” As I said before, this book isn’t just translated comics, it’s a period piece that encompasses all mediums devoted to Batman at the time. The book really shows how much time was put into it, from the various Batman illustrations to the translated Japanese facts printed down the inner binding of the book.
Is It Good?
This is a book that transcends fandom as it would please both fans of Batman and fans of classic Manga independently. Chip Kidd does an excellent job at encapsulating an authentic look at a Batman within 1960’s Japan. It’s a must have for any reader that calls themselves a Batman fan and provides a unique twist on this iconic figure.