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