Darkhorse Comics

Comic review

Most people seem to know who Astro Boy is, or at least recognise him, why this is I'm not sure, but he's certainly become an iconic sci-fi symbol. I certainly can't remember the first time I saw him; I know I've never seen any of his comics or cartoons, but somehow I know who he is. Of course, if you're a regular visitor to sci-fi/comic shops you'll find out eventually.

Astro Boy or Tetsuwan Atomu ('Mighty Atom') in Japan was created in 1951 by - the now legendary - Osamu Tezuka, who many now describe as the Japanese Walt Disney. Tezuka was educated as a scientist, but found his calling in Manga, which he decided he was happier doing.

As an admirer of Walt Disney, Tezuka set up his own animation studios and in 1963 produced the first series of black & white Mighty Atom cartoons. NBC in the US later localized 104 episodes of Mighty Atom, rewriting some of the scripts, overdubbing the voices with American actors and changing the name to 'Astro Boy'.

Later, in 1965, an Astro Boy comic was produced, but it was not drawn by Tezuka, and it was based on the cartoon show. Later, in the 1980s, another Astro Boy comic was produced, but again, not drawn by Tezuka.

Now, however, thanks to Dark Horse Comics, westerners can see where the original Astro Boy came from with this first of (I'm sure) many TPBs collecting all of Tezuka's original Astro Boy manga.

It should be noted first off that these aren't reprinted in their original order. For example, the first story published in this book is 'The Birth Of Astro Boy' which just tells the reader how Astro Boy came to being. However, this story was first published in 1975, but obviously, now Dark Horse have all of the comics, they can piece the somewhat disjoined order of comics into a series which makes a little more sense.

There are three stories in this first book, the first (as I mentioned) is 'The Birth Of Astro Boy', 'The Hot Dog Corps' and 'Plant People'. Each of the stories (with the exception of 'The Birth Of Astro Boy' opens up with an introduction by a cartoon Tezuka, giving not only his thoughts about the forthcoming story, but also posing somewhat ethical questions that the story deals with.

This is a strange addition in a way, because even though Astro Boy appears alongside him ('The Hot Dog Corps') it can be a little more difficult getting drawn into Astro Boy's world knowing that it is just a story being told by someone.

Besides that the stories are compelling, but vary drastically in length. For example the whooping 174 page 'The Hot Dog Corps' is thickly sandwiched between the thin slices of the 24 page 'The Birth Of Astro Boy' and the 16 page 'Plant People'. This is the case with most manga though and isn't really a problem with a compelling story.

The art is very cute and cartoon-like, not really resembling what most Westerners would refer to as 'manga', but with large noses, over-exaggeration and distorted expressions at times resembling some of the early Japanese cartoons we got dubbed and played over here like 'Wowser'. But considering this was done in the 50's it's remarkable, and could easily stand up against modern day comics, or be mistaken for modern manga.

The only place where the comic does show it's age is when Tezuka is talking about discrimination. These were written just after Japan was recovering from the war and so I'm certain Tezuka, as well as many other Japanese had certain discriminations of their own. Tezuka goes on to mention that people in England accuse the Japanese of eating dogs, for instance. Which of course is ludicrous, but 'The Hot Dog Corps' mentions dogs being skinned for their fur like it's a normal thing. But there is a sort of disclaimer at the start of the book explaining about such content, which sort of sheds some light on things.

You also get the feeling reading the book that Tezuka really wanted to get a message across about peace, empathy and good morals. Astro Boy, despite being a robot, can be nice to people, know wrong from right and help those in need. Maybe the message he was getting across was even though he's a robot-boy he can still be more human than human; one of those things that are easier said that done I suppose and a subject that has been tackled in modern sci-fi since.

But even though Astro Boy is a robot and has jet-boots and can fly and has guns in his ass, Tezuka still makes him a very vulnerable character. It's quite odd reading about a kind of robot super-hero and seeing him almost killed. We sort of expect him to just fly down and kick some ass, but it's not that kind of book. Of course he has an advantage over others, but this doesn't make him invincible.

This first Astro Boy is a great insight into the origins of this icon of sci-fi and comic books, and is also very enjoyable to read and, at time, very funny. There are some bizarre moments, like Tezuka's own strange little character who pops into a scene to say "Here ta meet ya!" for no reason what-so-ever. Again this is explained in the introduction. But how many times has that sort of thing appeared in Manga and Anime since? I know I've seen it quite a lot and just consider it quirky and irreverent.

To sum up: Buy this book. It's cute, it's funny and it fits in your pocket.

david twomey

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