Monday, June 17, 2013

I Read Spider-Man: The Manga #27 So You Don't Have To

The Spider-Man manga is a really odd beast. Serialized in Monthly Shonen Jump by Shueisha in Japan in 1970 and 1971, it tells a story more or less loosely based on the American comic being published at the time. It was also apparently really bloody weird, with graphic violence and sexual situations obviously not present in any form of Spider-Man published before or since. Beginning in 1997, Marvel began serializing the manga in North America, though largely expurgated and with a rather cruddy translation. Marvel skipped a bunch of stories and pretty much gave up mid-arc with issue 31 in 1999.

Spider-Man: The Manga 27, by Ryoichi Ikegami
1971 Shueisha / 1999 Marvel
Working at JHU I'd long since seen the Marvel issues floating around our epic mountain of Unsold Shit from the 1990s that we have since mercifully unloaded when we moved stores last month. There were a few stragglers that stayed behind, though, and among them was issue 27.

I picked up the issue with no knowledge of the potential contents or the history behind the original series. What drew me to it was the very Brendan McCarthy-esque cover, which, as you can see, is pretty weird. It's hard to glean anything from the cover aside from the nifty trade dress on the left, which is about the only thing the comic has going for it.

Largely by Ryoichi Ikegami, the series stars high school student Yu Komori, who like Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and is raised by his Aunt Mei. He's got your standard Spidey Powers, wall crawling and Spider-Sense and the like. The issue opens with Komori crawling up a wall and then rather quickly falling into a really bizarre nightmare. After a striking double page spread where Komori looks at a mirror image of himself in full Ditko-classic Spider-Man regalia, over 6 pages or so Komori has an existential conversation with himself. "Ths Spider-Man in this mirror is me. To think that my shadow could disobey me... It's impossible!" Making monkey-like movements for his reflection to mimic, he continues, "My shadow imitates my every movement." (Yeah, dude, it's a mirror, it'll do that.) "It's supposed to obey me. My shadow would never defy me... but... why this fear?" Then out of nowhere a narrator breaks in telling Spidey the mirror he is looking into tells the future. Spidey starts freaking out, and then this happened:

... Whoah.

Out of nowhere Ryoichi sticks a stunningly illustrated horror comic into a Spider-Man tale, creepier than any Doc Oc possession. Komori freaks out, punches the mirror and wakes up in a cold sweat, a thunderstorm atmospherically happening outside. After a clunky transition (the segues here are amateurish at best), Komori (not as Spidey) saves the life of pretty Yukiko who was absentmindedly crossing the street without looking. So appaently Yukiko's brother Mitsuo is falling into a life of crime, as evidenced by his use of cigarettes and hanging around poorly drawn street thugs. Not only that, but he also seems to have Spider powers of his own.

I know it's probably unfair to judge the storyline and the series on one random issue, but the whole thing is pretty damn goofy. Between the stilted conversation with Yukiko (maybe a result of the translation) and Spidey resolving to face Mitsuo, there is a fairly ridiculous segment where inartfully produced newspaper headlines detail Mitsuo as "The Mystery Thief" as he scales large buildings stealing a couple of dollars at a time while leaving notes mocking the police and Spider-Man. "Miracle Methods!! Two hundred meters above ground!! For a haul of twenty dollars!!." (Actual punctuation.)

While the unusual nightmare segment and the cityscapes are amazingly rendered, the rest of it is pretty bad. Though the bits with Komori surrounded by floaty Spidey-heads are pretty awesome:

But my favorite part of the comic? The ad on the inside back cover, featuring a very earnest Mark McGwire at the height of his roided-up home run powers:

Every night, five to seven million kids around America wet the bed.

Remember parents, it's not their fault. It's Mark McGwire's.

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