Bat-Manga: the lost Japanese Batman comics of 1966

In 1966, manga prodigy Jiro Kuwata was commissioned to do a regular Japanese manga version of Bob Kane's Batman comics, to tie in with the Japanese launch of the Batman TV show. Kuwata quickly decided that Kane's scripts wouldn't play to a Japanese audience, so he remade the Dark Knight for the expectations of a mid-sixties, manga-familiarized audience. The result was stunning: a weird blend of genius suspense and gonzo weirdness, as villains turn into dinosaurs, commit strange crimes, rise from the dead, and rampage through a mangified Gotham City that has the streamlined wonderfulness of space-age Japanese pop culture.

These comics were lost for decades, but they have resurfaced now, recovered from private collections and reprinted in Bat-Manga, a new anthology from Pantheon edited by Chip Kidd. Kidd has supplemented the material with fantastic photo spreads (by Geoff Spear) of collectible Japanese Batman toys from the era. The reproductions themselves are only minimally cleaned up, leaving intact the yellowing paper, the wildly variable print-quality, the strange nostalgic quirks of printing from that era.

Kidd's also included a delightful interview with Kuwata, production notes, and plenty of trivia for those who are as besotted with this as I am. I've taken a bunch of photos of the spread and stuck 'em in my Flickr stream -- they don't really do the interiors justice, but I hope you'll be intrigued enough to track down a copy and see it for yourself.

Holding the book is weirdly dissonant. All these imperfections give it the feeling of a vintage piece, something rare, much-loved, and fragile. But the book is also superbly made, on beautiful paper, well-bound, with flourishes from the end-papers to the binding, and so it also feels thoroughly modern and secure.

Rarely have I held a book so fondle-able, a book that delights so much on any random page. This is not like any other Batman book you've seen. If I had to choose between this and the formidable Frank Miller collections, I'd give up the Millers in a heartbeat. And that's saying something.
Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan , Bat-Manga in my Flickr stream


  1. That is quite awesome. This over the Miller BatMAn compilation though? Hm, well if DK Strikes Again and All BaTMan and Robin are in there…

  2. Just want to know; did you get a preview? Since this just came out yesterday, and you are publishing from the past…

  3. Jiro Kuwata is a prodigy of the first manga age. American kids watched his anime series 8 Man on TV in 1965– and this creation has been considered an influence on Robocop. Kuwata’s earlier manga series “Phantom Detective” (Maboroshi Tantei) also has some resonance with Batman. I’ve been wanting a collection like this for years—and yes, I’d take this over the Miller works anyday.

  4. “lost for decades, but they have resurfaced now, recovered from private collections” – How about: “Out of print for years and reprinted from copies from somebody’s attic” ?

  5. #9:

    Actually, reprinted from copies borrowed from Shonen King, the original publisher.

    (I went to Chip Kidd’s lecture at MoCCA Art Festival, where he talked about the book. Great stuff.)

  6. #10 – If they didn’t save the original artwork, and just worked from printed copies, they probably were stored in their attic, but they could have had them in their basement as well. These were promotional material for the Fuji TV broadcasts of the series. It’s pure hype to call it a “secret (Americans don’t know about it, therefore it is secret?) history” or “lost”.
    More like something you’d find in a Japanese version of this site: , where they have a lot of the same short run TV tie-in comics.
    The quality of the printing certainly is a lot better than 60s era DC comics, but that’s not saying a lot!

  7. Kuwata Jiro was one of my favorite artists when I was growing up in Japan. As Astromonster mentions, 8-Man and Maboroshi Tantei were also done by Kuwata. His drawing style was so dynamic and cinematic that when I first saw the Frank Miller Daredevils, I immediately thought of Kuwata’s work. Maboroshi Tantei, like Tetsuwan Atomu and Tetsujin 28-Go was broadcast as live-action TV in the early ’60s.

    There are many undiscovered Japanese comics that were excellent such as Saizensen (The Front Lines), about Japanese-American GIs in WW II and Dick Tantei (Detective Dick, get it?) about a Hawaiian-born Japanese cop, if I remember correctly. (It was over 40 years ago)

Comments are closed.