Super manga!


POSTED: Sunday, November 22, 2009

American superheroes are, with a few exceptions, rather colorful characters by nature.

That last sentence isn't meant as a commentary on the emotional depth and diversity of comic book characters, though it certainly would be an accurate description. But it also describes how many superhero comics are rendered: in glossy, glorious color.

Much has been made of the rise of manga in the English-speaking world in recent years and how publishers have been lining up to grab their share of the market. One result of that has been the marriage of American superheroes and manga: Pantheon Books' “;Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Manga in Japan”; imports and translates a “;Batman”; series from Japan, while “;X-Men: Misfits,”; a Del Rey/Marvel collaboration, is an original English-language manga. While the color might be drained in favor of manga's shades of gray, both series have their charms.





Chip Kidd's book, featuring pages of a “;Batman”; manga drawn by Jiro Kuwata between 1966 and 1967 interspersed with full-color pictures of Japanese “;Batman”; memorabilia, doesn't pretend to be a complete series anthology. Kidd admits in his introduction that the manga pages were compiled piecemeal over a decade; as a result, the majority of the story arcs featured, save two, are incomplete. What this book does contain, though, is a fascinating look at a pair of American superheroes as seen through a Japanese filter.

Not much changes on the fundamental level; Batman is still the alter ego of millionaire Bruce Wayne and Gotham City's caped crusader, and Robin remains his faithful ward.

But with the exception of Clayface, Batman and Robin fight villains unknown in the U.S. rogues' gallery. Forget stalwarts like the Joker, Riddler and Two-Face; prepare instead for Go-Go the Magician (a weather-manipulating wizard), Professor Gorilla (a gorilla infused with a professor's intellect in an experiment gone wrong) and Lord Death-Man (with the power to ... umm ... die).

There's a nostalgic appeal to this collection. Sure, the art might look dated by modern standards, but the stories hold up remarkably well. It's the superhero comic in its purest form, really—villain cackles about having the upper hand; hero tries to find a way to outwit and overpower the villain—but depicted in the cinematic sequential-art style for which manga is known.




'X-Men: Misfits'

The name of Marvel Comics' merry mutant group might be on the cover, but perhaps the real title ought to be “;Professor Xavier High School Hellfire Club.”;

The story that Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman have crafted is thematically similar to Viz's popular shojo (girls' manga) series “;Ouran High School Host Club,”; after all. Both “;Ouran”; and “;Misfits”; are recent examples of “;reverse harem”; series—while the harem series features a male lead surrounded by a group of attractive females, the reverse harem features a female surrounded by a group of attractive males.

Suffice it to say that this is not your garden-variety “;X-Men”; comic. The conflict between humans and mutants still exists, but taking precedence here is teen romance.

Kitty Pryde, struggling to find her place at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters as a new enrollee—and, conveniently enough, the only female student enrolled, at least for this first volume—is immediately embraced by the school's resident group of hot boys, the Hellfire Club. But while one of the club's members, Pyro, makes the first moves on her, she's actually smitten with another boy—Bobby Drake, playing the role of “;token aloof emo teen”; here to perfection.

Artist Anzu's drawings reflect this strong shojo manga influence. The males are all drawn as bishonen, pretty, lanky boys with androgynous looks that tend to attract female readers. Kitty is sometimes depicted in a cutesy, deformed style with cat ears and a tail. Beast and Colossus, drawn in the U.S. comics as rather imposing figures, look more like characters from whimsical Hayao Miyazaki or Osamu Tezuka productions here.

What emerges from all this is an odd hybrid that raises the question of which audiences will embrace this series. The art and storytelling style could be off-putting to hard-core “;X-Men”; fans, while hard-core shojo manga fans might turn up their noses at anything stamped with the “;X-Men”; name.

The ideal reader would be someone who enjoys reading shojo manga yet is well versed enough in the “;X-Men”; universe to fully appreciate the “;Misfits”; spin on the characters—a rare commodity, perhaps, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.