The Coffee-Table Book that Launched a Thousand Snippy Blog Posts

The cover of 'Bat Manga'

Bat-Manga!: It's hard to say what's nuttier: these Batman adventures, or what happened when the book containing them was published. Random House hide caption

toggle caption Random House

Last week, NPR's Day to Day profiled Chip Kidd's newish book, Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Among other things, Kidd's great honkin' slab of a coffee-table book reprints and translates a handful of Japanese comics from 1966, which were themselves originally created to cash in on the success of the US-made Batman TV show.

Thomas Friedman was right: The World is Flat. Also, Geekier Than You Might Imagine.

To understand what makes Kidd's book such a compelling cross-cultural artifact/frickin' hoot, you have to understand what made those Japanese Bat-comics different from other Bat-comics. Very, very different.

And to understand why the comics blogosphere got their collective Captain America underoos in a bunch about Kidd's book, you have to understand ... well, not much really. Except maybe that the intimate apparel of the comic book geek exists in a perpetual state of pre-bunching.

After the jump: The terrifying menace of Lord Death Man, Go Go the Magician, and the comic book blogosphere.

Back in 1966, something happened that will never happen again, something unique in the long and storied history of funnybooks: DC Comics, licensors of all official Batman-related ephemera, agreed to lease the rights to use their characters — with no editorial strings attached.

No oversight whatsoever, no teams of intellectual property lawyers reviewing each panel for compliance with obscure codicils of 70-page licensing agreements — no: the creators of the Japanese manga magazine Shonen King were free to adapt Batman for a Japanese audience in whatever way they wished.

Shonen King hired the legendary (and prolific, and famously troubled) manga artist Jiro Kuwata for the task, and the result was: well, BANANAS, is what it was.

Gloriously so: All the familiar visual elements of the Bat-universe, dumped unceremoniously into a broth of classic manga iconography, and set to Liquefy.

In addition to giant robots (because it's manga, and that's the law), Batman faced off against such villains as Lord Death Man (skeleton costume, can't die); Go Go the Magician (weather terrorist, Ming-the-Merciless collar); Dr. Faceless (pretty much all right there in the name); and Karmak (super-intelligent gorilla in a black bodysuit and cape).

Bat-Manga! is a celebration of that flippy, trippy, freewheeling, strung-out-on-green-tea goodness, and Kuwata's work nicely fits Kidd's distinctive photo-collage sensibility (the book also features other deeply weird bits of Japanese Bat-memorabilia and some downright creepy Batman toy knock-offs.)

Last November, however, several comics bloggers noticed that although the cover of Kidd's book featured his own name, alongside those of the book's photographer and translator, it did not credit Jiro Kuwata — the man who, after all, created the material which makes up the bulk of the book.

A small matter, on the surface of it, but it turns out that not crediting creators is a sore spot for us comics types. The mini-controversy went on for another day or so, and managed — mostly — to remain above the usual level of discourse for which the internet is famous (i.e., more "How hard is it to put the man's name on the cover?", and less "KIDD SUXX! 4 SHAME!!!!!!").

It didn't reach a rolling boil, however, until — yep, you guessed it — Kidd decided to respond to his online critics.

(Full disclosure: I sorta kinda know Kidd, in a seen-him-a-few-times-at-parties-and-spent-whole-evenings-commiserating-over-the-vicissitudes-of-Burt-Ward's-career-path kind of way.)

Kidd pointed out that Kuwata is prominently credited on the bookflap as well as the foreword, and is even interviewed in the book. That he did so in a slightly waspish, wounded tone certainly didn't help matters, and things went on a bit longer.

It's all blown over now, all parties seeming to have realized independently that the fracas wasn't worth the bandwidth it took up. Publishers Weekly comics blogger Heidi MacDonald has a nice, link-filled overview of the whole online argle-bargle, if you're curious about how weirdly vituperative things like this can get.



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