A Month of Wednesdays | 'Batmanga', 'Change-Bots' and 'Turtles in Time'

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 (DC Comics): It was so long ago at this point that it might as well have been the 1950s, as fast as Internet time moves, but I seem to recall Chip Kidd and company's 2008 book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan getting some static for its treatment of Jiro Kuwata's Batman manga. Kuwata's contribution was by far the most fascinating aspect of the book — and took up the bulk of the page count — but many thought he didn't get the credit he deserved (his name didn't appear on the cover alongside Kidd's and those of two others), while others felt weird about comics work being presented alongside photos of goofy Batman toys, as if it were just one more example of collectible kitsch.

Kuwata's contributions certainly proved to be the most influential element of the book, however, inspiring an almost beat-for-beat adaptation in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon and inspiring writer Grant Morrison's scripts for his critically-acclaimed Batman, Inc series. Now DC is giving Kuwata's Bat-Manga its due, packaged in a distraction-free all-manga format.

They've been serializing the comics, created in 1966 and '67 during the height of "Batmania," digitally, and are following up with hard-copy collections, the first of which is this hefty, 360-page brick.

Unlike Kia Asamiya's 2003 Batman: Child of Dreams, in which that eminent manga artist told a regular American Batman story in his style, Kuwata's Batman feature is a highly-strange, almost heady parallel take on Batman. The most basic elements of the story are there — millionaire Bruce Wayne and his young ward become Batman and Robin to fight crime in Gotham City, using the Batmobile, batarangs and other gadgets — but everything around the Dynamic Duo seems somewhat alien.

That is likely in large part to the simple fact that this was the Batman and Robin of the late Silver Age, when the characters spent so much of their time fighting science fiction-type threats rather that the colorful rogues' gallery the Dark Knight faces now, and the vast gulf in stylistic difference between the more wordy and pedantic American comics and the more visual-oriented, action-packed Japanese comics.

In the half-dozen stories collected here, several of which appeared in Kidd's packaging previously, Batman and Robin battle: Lord Death Man, a villain able to die and come back to life at will; Doctor Faceless, a seemingly insane criminal with an air-tight alibi; The Human Ball, a bad-guy with all the powers of a super-bouncy ball; Karmak, a gorilla with human intelligence who wears an incredibly creepy costume that includes a cape and mask (and dainty little boots that I can't imagine him stuffing his huge, hand-shaped feet into); Go-Go The Magician, with a "magic" wand that gives him powers like those of Flash villain The Weather Wizard (whom he also rather resembles); and, finally, a mutant quite unlike any of Marvel's.

Certainly some of the science borders on the super-silly, particularly in that last story, but the stories are full of action, incredible melodrama and some of the most bizarre foes Batman's ever faced. Unless you've read Kidd's Bat-Manga!, it's safe to say you've never read any Batman comics like this; and if you did, well, here it is in even greater quantity.

Incredible Change-Bots: Two Point Something Something (Top Shelf Productions): If you haven't read either of the previous volumes of Jeffrey Brown's lovingly crafted, nostalgia-soaked celebratory parody of the original Transformers toys and cartoons, this probably isn't the best place to start — but then, the subtitle says as much, doesn't it?

A collection of the rather incredible amount of Incredible Change-Bots supplementary material Brown has produced — it's more than 220 pages — it seems to be pretty much everything Change-Bot related he's drawn and/or written that wasn't included in 2008's Incredible Change-Bots or 2011's Incredible Change-Bots Two.

Or hell, maybe it's not such a bad place to start, as it does offer plenty of shorter pieces on the Change-Bots.

Here are the basics: Giant robot warriors from the faraway planet of Electronocybercircuitron have come to Earth, bringing their war with them. They can transform — er, incredible-change -- into Earth vehicles, weapons and appliances, and all have generic, sometimes unfortunate names (see garbage truck Stinky, or golf cart Balls). There are two warring factions among the Change-Bots, the heroic Awesomebots, led by the truck Big Rig, and the evil Fanasticons, led by the gun Shootertron.

So if you have pretty much any Transformers experience at all, you're golden.

This book, subtitled Odds, Ends and Missing Pieces, includes about 150 pages of comics, including a romance story featuring two characters, single-panel gag cartoons, minicomics Brown produced to packaged with Incredible Change-Bot action figures that almost got made and page-long "interviews" Brown conducts with each of the characters. Perhaps the most interesting of all of these, if the least polished, is a comic assembled from drawings Brown made and gave to anyone who signed up for the Incredible Change-Bot fan club. Brown drew what were essentially random panels from a comic, all of them featuring characters in dynamic action or dramatic poses and uttering lines of dialogue, and then later assembled them all into a pretty fantastic story, one with a joke per panel, although the narrative does tend to skip a little like an old record.

A recounting of the full contents of the book would here would be as redundant as transcribing the table of contents, but suffice it to say there is a lot of material in here — sketches, portraits, contributions to an art show, excerpts from the fan club newsletter, schematics for the action figures and the Balls video game.

Given the book's junk drawer-like premise of an everything else collection, it obviously isn't the most narratively satisfying of Brown's Change-Bots books. It may just be the best of them, however, given that no concept, character or joke is around long enough to risk overstaying its welcome.

If the first two Change-Bots graphic novels were concept albums, this is a mix-tape of bootlegs, imports, B-Sides and other rarities. Yet it ends up sounding more like a greatest hits collection.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (IDW Publishing): Despite the often quite considerable virtues of IDW's ongoing Turtles comic, the fifth volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they sure don't make it easy to read in trade. Turtles in Time, the collection of the four-issue miniseries from earlier in the summer, is a pretty good example of that.

In addition to the monthly series, IDW occasionally releases series of one-shots ("micro-series"), annuals and miniseries in which events of some great importance to the main title may occur, but these are collected separately, or occasionally, not at all.

The storyline of this miniseries actually kicked off in TMNT Annual 2014, a one-shot that introduced the time-traveling character Renet into the IDW continuity for the first time. That comic isn't collected here, nor is it collected in any other TMNT trade (the previous annual, published in 2012, similarly kicked off a major story arc and was never collected).

The result is a trade that reads entirely like the middle of a story: The title characters appear in the very first panel, caught in a dinosaur stampede in pre-history, with a woman named Renet appearing and disappearing midway through that first chapter. Each consecutive issue similarly features the Turtles appearing in a new time period, seeing Renet briefly, and then disappearing. If one wasn't familiar with the character from, say, having read comics featuring here that were first published in the late 1980s, the story contained between these covers doesn't help any.

Thankfully, a degree of strange randomness is in the DNA of these characters and the bulk of their past comics adventures, so the fact that the first chunk of the story is missing is simply frustrating, not completely damning.

The story is written by Paul Allor and Erik Burnham, who take turns alternating script duties on each issue, and each of those issues is drawn by a different artist. Ross Campbell handles the first issue set in dinosaur times (which I've previously enthused about on this blog), Charles Paul Wilson III draws one set in samurai times, Ben Bates draws another set in pirate time, and Dan Duncan illustrates the final chapter, set in a dystopian future (coincidentally or not, these are all eras that Turtles have visited in other comics before).

Allor and Burnham do build a bit of drama and story relevance atop the otherwise random time-travel adventures by having the heroes encounter their enemies at each stop — the evil alien Utrom empire is active in pre-history and on the high seas, The Shredder is present in his past life incarnation in samurai times, and in the future The Foot Clan and Utrom warlord Krang have conquered the world.

Missing such a significant chunk of story, it's not only easier to appreciate the visual aspects of the book over the writing, it's pretty much mandated. Here it doesn't disappoint at all. While Campbell's work may be the strongest, and he may get the most most fun time period, all three of the other artists acquit themselves nicely, and it's fun to see the familiar characters in new time periods, generally dressed accordingly. Additionally, Mouse Guard's David Peterson provides covers for each issue/chapter, and does such a great job that one can't help but hope he gets to do some ninja turtle interiors somewhere soon.

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