For the first time ever, manga legend Jiro Kuwata's complete run of original "Batman" stories has been translated into English. Repackaged as "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga," DC Comics is releasing one chapter a week as a Digital First series.
In keeping with the original intent and design of the masterful work, the pages are presented in the traditional Japanese right-to-left reading order. Every chapter in "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga" varies in length from 15-32 pages, and the series kicked off earlier this month with Kuwata's most famous story arc, "Lord Death Man."
Lord Death Man was originally created as Death-Man by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Sheldon Moldoff for "Batman" #180 in the 1960s and Jim Chadwick, Senior Editor for DC Entertainment's Integrated Publishing division, says he's surprised that the skeletal supervillain never became a major player in Batman's rogues gallery. Though he admits Kuwata's creepy take on the character heightens the coolness factor quicker than Mr. Freeze.
With the first two chapters of "Lord Death Man" available now, DC provided an exclusive preview of the story's third and final chapter, which will be available this Saturday, July 19.
CBR News also spoke to Chadwick about delivering the complete "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga" series to English readers for the first time, got his thoughts on Kuwata's Robin, which he equates to a modern day Damian Wayne. While familiar villains The Joker and The Penguin will not appear, Chadwick did tease the inclusion of Clayface in a coming storyline.
CBR News: It's awesome to see "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga" re-issued as DC Comics' newest Digital First series. Like the Adam West TV series, was there demand from fans to re-release this property or was there a champion or two within the walls of DC Entertainment that led to this decision?
Jim Chadwick: A series of fortuitous events happened around the same time to bring this together. Many people in America were first exposed to Jiro Kuwata's original Japanese Batman stories through Chip Kidd's "Bat-Manga!" book, published by Pantheon in 2008. But Chip's book was only a sampling, which whetted the appetite for more.
Last year, DC worked out a deal with Japanese publisher Shogakukan Creative to reprint the entire Jiro Kuwata "Batman" run. They collected all 1,000 pages of material and released them in a three-volume set in Japan. Also in 2013, we launched our "Batman '66" comic series, which tells new stories based around the 1960s television series. With licensing agreements in place for products based on the TV series and with the "Batman '66" comic debuting, interest in the 1960s version of Batman just seemed to snowball. Presenting another vision of the character from that same time period seemed to be a natural. Since Shogakukan Creative had done all the heavy lifting of finding, gathering and cleaning up all the materials, it was just a matter of getting the materials from them and then having a complete English language translation done for the American market.
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I know "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga" is being collected as a trade paperback later this year, but why the decision to start with a digital release? I'm showing my lack of knowledge on the subject here, but is there a large traditional market for manga online?
I can't speak of how well manga sells in the digital market for other publishers, but for us this seemed like a natural fit. I'm Senior Editor for DC's Integrated Publishing division, which, among other things, currently produces all of DC's Digital First titles. So if there's something utilizing our characters that doesn't necessarily fit the main DCU continuity like out of continuity stories, series based upon video game versions of our characters, etc., we tend to do them as Digital First titles. The Batman manga certainly fits that description. As a bonus, I used to edit manga for DC's CMX line, so it was a natural fit. Digital seemed to be a good way to get the product out there and give it some attention. And you may be surprised to see how well this 50-year-old series works as a digital comic, particularly in our Guided View format. It's almost as if it were made for it.
Jiro Kuwata is a legendary manga artist with titles like "8 Man" and "Maboroshi Tantei" to his name. Why do Batman and his world work as manga, and what is it about Jiro Kuwata's work specifically that allows it to hold its relevance some 50 years later?
With the renewed public interest in the American "Batman" TV series, I think the timing for Kuwata-san's take on the character is better now than it would have been say, 10 or 20 years ago. People seem to be open to more varied interpretations of the Dark Knight, something that the "Batman '66" comic series has shown us. The animated "The Brave and the Bold" series was well accepted and fondly remembered and that opened up public acceptance of a more light-hearted take on Batman. He's a character who seems to be adaptable to a wide variety of creative interpretations. And you can almost view Kuwata's Batman as a parallel earth version of "Batman '66."
So would you say Batman and Robin, and their relationship, have a more Adam West/Burt Ward vibe in this series than how they appeared in "Batman" and "Detective Comics" in the 1960s?
No. I think it's neither. Kuwata has admitted to not being able to understand English when he did these, so he was just able to glean what he could from the material he was given and just took off from there. And what he had was basically a stack of 1960s' Batman comics to work with. So I guess if anything, it was more infused by the 1960s' comic books. I have to say this may be my favorite version of Robin ever. He's a bit of brat and isn't all that reverential to Batman or Bruce. Their relationship seems to be much more informal. He's opinionated and isn't afraid to be blunt with Bruce or anyone else. He's kind of a 1960s' manga version of Damian Wayne, if you will. [Laughs] Many times as I read these I laughed out loud at things Robin says, although I'm not sure if Kuwata meant them to be that funny.
Have you connected with Jiro Kuwata about the re-release and what, if any, reaction did you receive?
I have not. However, he did write a short piece for the Japanese collection in 2013 and in it he says he's grateful to have this material finally collected and he hopes now that more people will read and enjoy his version of Batman.
The entire run of "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga" is more than 1,000 pages or roughly 50 issues. Is the story told as one long story or are there multiple arcs and adventures?
There are multiple story arcs of varying lengths. The longest are four and the shortest are two and there's one standalone story. I can't quite figure out how they originally decided their page counts. The majority of chapters are around 15 pages. The longest is 32, and that happens to be the first one, which is part one of the "Lord Death Man" story. We just decided to price all the digital chapters the same, so in the case of some like this first chapter, you get a real bargain for your buck.
Glad you mentioned Lord Death Man. Can we expect to see more established, classic rogues like The Joker, The Penguin and The Riddler too? And do any original super villains arrive on the scene?
I think it's interesting that the original Lord Death Man was never a major player in Batman's rogues gallery. I'm sure most would have forgotten him by now. Yet he became the best remembered bad guy from Kuwata's run and you have to give much credit to him for coming up with such a creepy take on him. You won't see The Joker or The Penguin in these. The majority of the villains are Kuwata creations, though Clayface appears in two different stories.
I know Grant Morrison used Lord Death Man in "Batman Incorporated" in 2010, but why do you think the character works so well in this story? Obviously, his look is very cool.
Japanese creators seem to handle horror particularly well, don't you think? There's a creepy element to Lord Death Man that seems to have a vibe that's right at home in some horror manga. He's just so weird and disturbing and in the story, he seems almost invincible. Batman is genuinely creeped out by him himself and starts to have nightmares about him and can't sleep. Batman's the one who is supposed to be giving bad guys nightmares, not the other way around!
Do we see Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and the rest of Gotham's supporting cast too?
Yes, Gordon appears although Kuwata calls him "Chief" Gordon instead of Commissioner. Alfred only appears in one story, oddly enough.
If this series is well received, would DC Entertainment consider a new manga series by Japanese artists featuring Batman and other DCU characters?
We've actually experimented with this in the not-too-distant past. There was an original Batman manga by Kia Asamiya called "Batman: Child of Dreams," which was published back in 2000, first in Japan by Kodansha and then an English language translation came out from DC in English a couple of years later. Back in 2008, I had the pleasure of editing Yoshinori Natsume when he created "Batman: Death Mask." So it seems as if every once in a while, the time feels right for a new, original Batman manga series. I guess we'll see what sort of response the public has to Jiro Kuwata's "Batmanga."
The Digital First "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga" arrives each Saturday, with chapter 3 available tomorrow.