Thursday, November 16, 2006

Manga Review: Batman: Child Of Dreams

There have been a few attempts to meld the worlds of disparate worlds of manga and American comics. One of the more successful attempts to do so is Kia Asamiya's manga Batman: Child Of Dreams. First published in Japan in 2000 and making its way to the U.S. three years later, Child Of Dreams is not your typical take on the caped crusader. With its slightly surreal storyline and gorgeous artwork, Child Of Dreams proves that maybe the worlds of manga and American comics aren't so different.

The manga begins as a TV news crew from Japan comes to Gotham City to do a story on Batman. The crew is lead by reporter Yuko Yagi, an ambitious young woman who is a fan of the dark knight. Upon their arrival in Gotham City, Two-Face takes an office full of civilians hostage. The crew sneaks onto the scene and get caught. Batman makes his appearance and stops Two-Face, although something about him isn't quite right. He is supposedly locked up safely in Arkham Asylum but appears to do a seemingly random crime. After being thwarted by Batman, he cries. Things get even stranger when only hours after fighting Batman, this Two-Face dies, his body mummified.

The man who dies is later revealed to be a Two-Face impostor and more of Batman's rogues gallery suddenly make unusual, somewhat out-of-character appearances. A designer drug called fanatic is somehow related to these strange encounters. Who made this drug? What's their purpose? And why is Batman the target of these attacks?

This manga was created in part to introduce/reintroduce Batman to Japanese readers. In that respect, it does a good job. Asamiya keeps this Batman story pretty serious and grounded in reality. Not once does Batman (or anyone else) become “chibi” or anything like that. It is also devoid of such manga elements as the “sweatdrop” and the angry mark. The reporter Yuko Yagi is a welcome addition to the Batman universe. She's not a bitch but also not a pushover either. There's something appealingly normal about her, similar to the heroines of many a shojo manga.

The highlight of Child Of Dreams is Asamiya's artwork. Like most manga, the art is completely in black-and-white with no coloring whatsoever. Despite this, even the most ardent American comic fan will find something to love about this artwork. The Gotham City scenery in the manga is stunning. Asamiya visited New York for reference before drawing his version of Gotham and it shows. Gotham is appropriately dark and foreboding. One manga element not lost in Child Of Dreams is the dynamic panel layout. It is put to good use here, especially in the action sequences. Some may criticize the way Asamiya designs characters (their noses are “huge”), but his style is instantly recognizable and sometimes results in greatness. His version of The Joker is particularly good here. Asamiya's Joker manages to make that familiar grin look like the facade of a maniac instead of just a twisted smile.

There are two main issues with Child Of Dreams that keep it from becoming a quintessential Batman work. For one thing, it contains a lot of dialogue. This English version was adapted by Max Allen Collins of Road To Perdition fame. While the dialogue itself feels pretty natural, there is just way too much of it. You can see that Asamiya wants to underline the themes he presents in the manga, but at times, you wish he would have the characters express things a little more concisely. Also, the story itself, while intriguing, feels a little superficial.

Batman: Child Of Dreams is that rare beast that successfully merges manga with American comics. It stays true to a comic book icon while at the same time retaining the unique qualities of manga. It's a great for a comic book fan looking to try out manga or for a manga fan who wants something very different from what's out right now. It also shows that there is actually some common ground between these American and Japanese graphic artforms.

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