Heroes Of Manga

Previously, I had discussed the recent disdain I have found for both Marvel and DC; a disdain which led to my culling all of the titles from each publisher from my current pull list at my comic shop. I went on and into what I see as the inevitable future of the industry–an online-only model that replaces expensive and less profitable printed books with subscription services–but I lamented at the end that I droned on about that model too long and didn’t get into all of my thoughts.

But now I’m back!

Marvel and DC still have one edge over a lot of independent comics in my opinion: I may be outgrowing Marvel and DC’s storytelling conventions, but I am yet to outgrow superheroes. “Capes” or “Cape Books”, as they are sometimes derogatorily called, are still my jam. There’s just SO MUCH you can do with the genre, and so many allegories to make. My day to day life has problems with relationships and work. You know what my life doesn’t have? Laser vision! And whereas I do enjoy independent comics a great deal, it seems that they have, as a majority, left the Capes genre behind to focus on other topics [that, admittedly, comics as a medium haven’t focused on as well historically].

But let’s back up a bit.

Another big part of my falling away from Marvel and DC is my… I have no idea what is continuity anymore. I don’t know why there are approximately seven books in history called “Amazing Spider-Man #1″, I don’t know what from the past still “counts” in DC Comics, and I don’t know what war The Punisher fought in anymore. These books are constantly resetting and rebooting and sliding their timeline, and it is all wildly confusing. Since the X-Men are owned by MARVEL, and not Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the latter can be kicked off a book in favor of a new creative team that is free to work with, or not, their set plans. These are money-making characters that always have to exist, logic be damned!

I think what I’m starting to want as I get older is a story about super-powered individuals, but told with an adherence to canon… and also told with either an endgame in mind from the beginning or characters that age with the book.

As far as comics go, this explains why I have historically been a big fan of both The Savage Dragon and Invincible.

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Both of these Image Comics series dealt with fun and relatable stories gussied up in a superheroic exterior, but they didn’t lose their own plots or try to have a character live eternally at the most marketable age. Both books’ characters aged more-or-less with the reader. Savage Dragon, for instance, had a son back in issue #35 in the mid-90’s. Now in the issue #250 range, that son is the star of the book. It’s generational!

When Marvel or DC try to do generational things, it’s more like… “Wally is the Flash now…. and BART is the Flash NOW! Wait, never mind, we got bored and Barry is back, but somehow not, like, 60 years old, which he should be. How many Robins have their been and Bruce Wayne is still, like, 35? Shut up and ignore that”.

How does this relate to manga?

Well, my experience with manga is mostly middling. I have way more experience and knowledge than folks who have always written it off, but far, far less than any aficionado. I own a few series, in part or in full, and I have read some chunks of others. But there is so very much I’ve never gotten into. I’ve had friends say “Oh, Stew, here’s another person who likes manga, so you’ll get along”, and then that new person invariably comes away thinking I’m a schmuck when I’m like, “I like Dragon Ball”.

But you know what… I DO like Dragon Ball.

The nice thing about manga is that it’s typically not a company-owned property like, say, Spider-Man is. Manga is creator owned, and so it has all the benefits of most independent comics: a singular vision for the book and no eternal resetting of the clock to keep a character at one age forever. Also, while manga doesn’t have a lot of typical superheroes, it’s obviously inspired a lot by them, and it seems to more embrace the genre than try to pull the old “we’re not your basic Capes book!” that most indie comics wear proudly on their sleeve.

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SO DRAMATIC! I don’t yell at people enough.

Especially in the realm of Shonen Jump manga series, you will find a ton of titles that are clearly about super-powered folks and their struggles, with the powers and responsibilities thereof representing something different from book to book. There’s Dragon Ball, obviously, Bleach, Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin, and more. These are great hero-inspired tales that don’t fall into the modern trappings of your average Marvel or DC book. These are books that either have a short, definitive run OR take place over time with one vision for where the book goes.

And as you branch out from there, manga is just like U.S. indie comics; there are plenty of stories out there that have nothing to do with powers. There are down-to-earth romance titles. There are off-the-wall comedy series. There are gloriously intense action books. Manga is really the genre of something-for-everyone, and has been for years!

And you know where these titles consistently win out against American comics? PRICE! I lamented the $4-$5 range in which any single, 22-page comic book falls. That is some anti-value bullshit. A typical volume of manga, however, clocks in at about 200-ish pages, and it carries a cover price of $8-$13 dollars.

A lower-priced, $4 comic book is 5.5 pages of entertainment per dollar. Even a higher end manga–let’s go with $13 for 180 pages–is 13.8 pages per dollar. Manga is better than comics because MATH! You can’t argue with math.

Obviously a lot of that has to do with quality of the book. American comics are obsessed with flashy, high-sheen pages, while manga is still perfectly content to be printed in black and white and on newsprint pages. But I’m not reading books for the thick, shiny pages; I’m reading them for the STORY. I don’t care nearly as much about the format on which it comes. If you told me that comics would go back to being printed on pulp, but they would cost $1.50 per issue again, I’d be on that in a heartbeat.

I do often lament that I never got AS into manga as I would like. When I was in college, I worked in a bookstore where I spent a lot of time on breaks discovering these zany Japanese funnybooks. But after I left, I fell almost entirely out of them. What are some of the biggest series from the past few years? Sword Art Online? Attack on Titan? My Hero Academia? I’ve read a combined nothing from any of those. And those are the Spider-Man and Batman books of the genre these days! Such a shame.

I’m trying to put that behind me. In this new post-Marvel/DC universe in which I find myself, I endeavor to get more into manga again (as well as more independent comics, but again… value per page! People keep telling me about Something Is Killing The Children, and I’LL GET THERE, I’LL GET THERE). Is it… can I go to Barnes & Noble yet? Do they still have COVID there? Hmmm. Recommendations are tough to take if I can’t go pour over the books myself and see what I like. I know there were some Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney books I never got around to reading; I should start there.

As I start anew in my manga journey, I will be sure to keep you up to date on how it all goes. And, you know, I am still not done with this thought process that started in my previous article, so join me in time for Part 3 of this series: Why comics maybe shouldn’t even be COMICS anymore.

Until next time… take care!

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