Manga Review: Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Volume 2 by Jiro Kuwata
To briefly recap: When the Batman television series was brought to Japan in the 1960s, it was decided to do a manga tie-in using the talents of Jiro Kuwata (creator of 8-Man). Rather than being based on the TV show directly, Mr. Kuwata was given a bunch of recent issues of the American comics (which were slightly more serious) and based his interpretation on those. Please see my review of Volume 1.
The first story in this second volume is the return of Clayface, a shape-shifting villain who gained his ability from a pool of water in a cave. The criminal is dismayed to find the cave has been collapsed with explosives, but is eavesdropping when Batman mentions that a scientist took some of the water to analyze it. He then apparently kills the scientist to get his hands on the transformation fluid and starts a crime wave again. A great moment is when Batman realizes that the person complaining of toothache is actually Clayface, as the real person wears dentures.
Next is a professional wrestling based story. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson witness a match between popular “face” (good guy) wrestler Apache Arrow, and despised “heel” (bad guy) wrestler the Hangman. Despite the Hangman using illegal moves, he wins the match handily. Afterwards, Batman and Robin go on patrol. They spot the Hangman robbing a jewelry store, but before they can catch up, another Hangman appears and defeats the robber!
Turns out that in this continuity, pro wrestling is real, but the Hangman is working an angle anyway. He and Batman engage in a mask-off match, where the loser has his true face revealed. Or does he?
The third story (each of these is told in several weekly chapters, by the way) is set at a masquerade carnival that moves from city to city, happening to be in Gotham City this week. Batman is looking for an escaped convict, which is a trifle more difficult when everyone in the fairgrounds is disguised. When the Dynamic Duo do catch up with the crook, he’s been murdered. Some clues are provided by photojournalist and sometime Batman love interest Vicki Vale, the best showing of a female character in the manga.
Next up is “The Mystery of the Outsider.” In the American comics, this was a plotline that went on for several months as the unseen but insanely powerful Outsider used his uncanny knowledge of Batman and Bruce Wayne to try to kill them. It’s considerably condensed here, and for the readers there is no mystery. U.S. readers might be shocked to see Alfred on the phone with Police Chief Gordon, casually mentioning that he’s Batman’s butler. This is explained later when we learn that in this continuity, Chief Gordon is fully aware of Batman’s double identity.
The storyline loses some of its impact here because this is the first time the person who is secretly the Outsider appears in the manga at all; we’re not as shocked as the original readers would have been.
This volume concludes with a complex tale of a missing scientist, a robbery gang, and the Monster of Gore Bay. Robin gets to be more of a teenager here, getting overenthused about investigating a sea monster, and dealing with the scientist’s tsundere (ill-tempered on the outside, sweet on the inside) daughter.
The writing is decent enough, remembering that this manga was aimed at elementary school boys, and there are some clever twists. The art is old-fashioned and looks stiff compared to many modern manga. Every so often there’s a great splash page where the artist cuts loose.
This volume is primarily for Batman completists, while casual Bat-fans may want to check it out at the library.