America vs. Japan: the Influence of American Comics on Manga – Ludovic Graillat

Abstract: America is very much linked to Japan. Since the Second World War these two countries are at the same time a model, a foe, a friend to each other. When we talk about the manga we often compare them to the comics. Although Japan has its own superheroes (such as Godzilla as the supervillain, Astroboy, Akira, etc.), we can’t deny that America influenced the creation of Japanese superheroes. This essay will explore this influence through the work of Masakazu Katsura, a famous mangaka (manga writer) mostly known for his series Video Girl Aï (1989).

We cannot think about Superheroes without considering their original source: the comic book in the USA and the manga in Japan. Whilst we find superheroes in most countries, in most cultures and although American superheroes are the most famous (with the term itself coming from the USA), there are also a lot of superheroes to be found in Japan. Throughout this article I will focus on Japanese superheroes depicted in two Japanese media: the manga (the Japanese comic book) and the anime (Japanese animated film).

The links between the USA and Japan are undeniable. Since the end of WWII, these two countries have been simultaneously a model, a foe, and a friend to each other. When we think about manga we often draw comparisons to US comics and, although Japan has its own Superheroes (such as Godzilla as the super villain, Astroboy, Akira, etc.), we can’t deny that America has influenced the creation of Japanese Superheroes. For example an early Japanese TV serial adaptation of Spiderman was created in the 50s. Other examples of this exist, particularly in the work of Masakazu Katsura, a famous mangaka (manga writer) who was influenced by an even more famous US Superhero: Batman.

It is also important to consider manga within its historical context, for its origins explain the content, the form, and the art of drawing that make this medium so distinctive. In this article I will define the superhero, analyse its origins and look at how Japanese superheroes are influenced by American superheroes. I will explain the links between Japanese culture and American culture and demonstrate how these links largely originate from 1950s post war culture.

What is a Superhero?

We often talk about superheroes but we do not define the term and often confuse the hero with the superhero. In Super Héros, Martin Winckler offers a productive definition. A hero, when we are little, is the one “who confronts extraordinary adversaries and also superhuman difficulties to save his life or someone’s life or to defend universal values. The hero is the one we want to imitate. He’s escaping from danger because of his strength, his great intelligence or simply because he is good; and fate can nothing against good people. It is a naïve way of seeing life but it helps the children to grow up and that’s what we ask of heroes: helping us to grow up until we are old enough to understand that life is much quite complicated in fact” (Winckler 2003, 6). The word ‘superhero’ first appears with the creation of the famous character Superman in 1938 and is, therefore, very much linked to US comic books. Winckler adds that: “A superhero is a character who has one or several powers, or extraordinary abilities which allow him to perform incredible things which a normal human being could not do. His powers can be physical, psychological; they can be natural, supernatural or technological; they can have terrestrial origins, extra-terrestrial origins or even divine origins!” (2003, 9, 11). Winckler argues that the superhero is not necessarily ‘good’. He can be considered as an enemy, similar to characters like the Hulk, or the X-Men, who pose a threat to the human mind (hence their staying hidden in Pr. Xavier’s school). Some superheroes do things because they want to fight for Justice (like Superman), others fight because they are angry (Hulk), and others because they want revenge (Batman). Or some have a mixture of motivations: they may want to have an adventurous way of life, they may also want to fight for justice and also mundane concerns : like Peter Parker in Spider-Man who finances his studies by selling pictures of himself as he fights the underworld. Winckler also notes that superheroes are not static characters. We see them evolve, becoming stronger and stronger heroes. But they all have weaknesses (for example kryptonite for Superman). They often have a double identity (Clark Kent the journalist/ Superman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, the rich Bruce Wayne/Batman). A superhero has a friend, family or ally: Batman and Robin (or Alfred), Spider-Man and Mary Jane or his aunt May, Superman and Loïs Lane, and so on. Lastly, Winckler remarks that a superhero always has a foe, a super villain: this evident in pairing combatants such as: Superman and Lex Luthor, Batman and the Joker, X-Men and Magneto and Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. 

What about Japanese Superheroes?

We find a lot of superheroes and super villains in anime, manga and live-action TV shows such as San Goku (Toei, 1986-1989), Devilman (Toei, 1972-1973), Spectreman (P Productions, 1971-1972), Supah Jaianto (Ishii, 1956), Shadow Lady (Katsura, 1993), Zetman (Katsura, 2002), Astroboy (Tezuka, 1963-1966) and Godzilla (Honda, 1954). They can be human, robots or monsters, male or female. They can come from outer-space or they can be created through technological experiments, just like the US superheroes. But, as Réjane Hamus-Vallée has noted, one characteristic we often find in Japanese superheroes is the association of the human with the machine (2004, 248-254). The superhero can be a machine (Astroboy created by Osamu Tezuka or Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii, 1996) but they think like humans, they have human feelings. Or the human can go inside a machine in order to pilot it like a car, or a tank. This human machine combination is evident in characters like Actarus in Mazinger Z (Toei, 1972-1974), created by Go Nagai, or Rei and the other children in Evangelion (Gainax, 1995-1996). Or the human can be half human, half machine: Cobra in Space Adventure Cobra (Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co., 1982) has a Delta gun under his left latex arm. Or the human can wear armour, as is evident in Jin-Roh (Okiura, 1998), Saint Seiya (Toei, 1986-1989) or Captain Future (Monte Carlo Productions, 1978-1979). These mutations are characteristic of all Japanese cartoons and comics, not only those concerning superheroes. In City Hunter (Sunrise Inc., 1987-1991), Nicky Larson’s body is suddenly dislocated when he is ashamed, his body becomes disarticulated, and his head becomes bigger. Characters in My Neighbours the Yamada (Takahata, 1999) are transformed according to their feelings. Or the characters of Highschool Kimengumi (Nihon Ad Systems Inc., 1985) become very small with a big head when they do something foolish. This SD (Super Deformed, also called ‘chibi’) technique is common in Japanese serials. The emotion depicted by the creator (mangaka, director) is understood right away by the reader/spectator. The mutation is an allegory for the quest for identity. This quest for identity facilitates an exploration of the future of mankind.

As stated previously, US superheroes have influenced Japanese superheroes. It is not surprising, therefore, to find on Japanese television a live-action show called Spider-Man (Toei, 1978). Toei bought the
rights to transform Marvel’s Spider-Man[1] into a small screen superhero. In the Japanese version, the human Yamashiro Takuya, a motor cross champion, is empowered by an alien bracelet which gives him the powers of a spider. The famous red and blue costume, which is inside the bracelet, is also capable of creating webbing. Yamashiro uses the bracelet to call the alien spaceship: the Marveller. When the Marveller is linked to Yamashiro’s flying race car, it transforms into a giant robot. In this Japanese serial, Spider-Man first fights his enemy on his own. But his foe always turns into a giant monster and he has to fight against him with his giant robot. Japanese Spider-Man is quite different from Marvel’s version. The only two similarities are the costume and the webbing.

Another Japanese superhero influenced by a US superhero is Supah Jaianto, created (and played by) Ken Utsui in 1956. Supah Jaianto is an extra-terrestrial, guardian of the Earth. He wears a cape and can fly. It reminds us of Superman, created in the thirties. Once again, the Superhero is composed of steel, similar to Superman who was called ‘the man of steel’ by his creators in Superman n°58, because of his super strength and his bullet-proof skin. Supah Jaianto is the first tokusatsu (live action special effect film or serial) superhero and one of the first Japanese serials shown in the USA (under the name of Starman). A lot of Japanese superheroes were influenced by American superheroes but they also always remain distinctively Japanese.

Manga vs. Comics

When we think about manga, we often draw comparisons to the American comics. The comic book is a media, on paper, cheap and of medium quality. Comics were born in USA in the thirties, at the same time as superheroes. Manga and comics do indeed have several similarities. Both manga and comics are published by major publishing firms which specialize in this particular area (such as DC or Marvel comics for the US comic books). Comics come from the pulps[2] – which are the first science fiction reviews in which were published the texts of great authors such as J. Verne, E. A. Poe, H. G. Wells – and from the comic strips[3]. Comics and pulps have a lot in common: the medium, the distribution, the layout, the origins of their heroes, the popular readership.

Nevertheless we can find a few significant differences between comics and manga. For a start, Japanese production is larger. Manga is a mass media. Manga makes up forty percent of all published magazines and books in Japan. Over thirteen percent of these publications are books and twenty-four percent are periodicals (Gravett 2005). Over forty percent of the movies produced in Japan are Anime (Kerbrat 2004). There are almost one billion manga sold in Japan per year (Jarno 2006). In France, if a book is to be considered as a best seller it must sell at least two hundred thousands copies. Whereas in Japan, a best seller represents over a million copies! Over one hundred and twenty million volumes of Dragon Ball have been sold since 1984 (Prezman 2006). Publishing houses in France can only dream of that number. The Japanese read a lot, including manga. They spend a lot of time commuting and read a lot of manga on public transport. Manga’s contents are much more diverse and therefore they appeal to a wider audience than do comics. Most comics are designed for teenagers and children whereas manga is aimed at all age groups, including adults.

The publication format and frequency are also different. Whereas comics are published under the name of their hero (such as Superman or Batman), manga are published in a journal or a magazine which can be monthly, bimonthly or daily. And several titles can be put together in the same magazine. Thus one can find different manga in a low cost edition, sold at a low price with a poor quality of print. They are meant to be bought, read and then thrown away. When a manga has sufficient episodes, it is then compiled into one better quality book, in a smaller format. This is the kind of book people buy if they want to keep them (and that’s the one we, outside of Japan, see and buy in bookshops).

The authors of comics often sell the name of the work they have created, so the scriptwriter’s or the drawer’s team can change regularly. In Japan, however, the author decides either to go on with his series or to stop it; its work won’t be carried on by someone else. In addition to that, the manga is often created, written and drawn by the same person. Unlike comics, manga are often published in black and white. Authors also take greater liberties with the conventions followed by comic strips. Lastly, there seems to be little censorship in manga. But, to understand fully the distinct nature of manga we need to return to its origins.

The Origins of Manga.

The word ‘manga’ was borrowed from the great artist Hokusai in the 19th century. Manga’s style is derived from historical Japanese art. Four ancient Japanese art forms have influenced manga’s creation: the emaki, the Noh theatre, the art of ink drawing and the ukiyo-e.

Delay argues that, “[t]he emaki is a hand scroll with paintings and calligraphy, read horizontally from right to left” (elay 1999, 51) like the manga. This artistic genre is the first example of the association of letters and images which deeply marked Japanese painting. The emaki could be considered as the ancestor of the Japanese’s comic strip. The first example of this is most likely the roll made by Lady Murasaki Shikibu: the Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), painted in the 11th century. This Japanese masterpiece of illustrated literature is a chronicle of the everyday life and loves of the Shinning Prince, a character based on the contemporary heir to the throne. At that time “it became the fashion for painters and calligraphers to work together” (Delay 1999, 51). This fusing of text and illustrations is used nowadays by mangaka (manga’s author). They often work as a team in the different steps of a manga production in order to finish their work in time as manga’s authors have very strict dead lines. The emaki evolved significantly over the next couple of centuries. It “began to incorporate completely new subjects: natural disasters (such as floods and fires), ghosts and devils, nature and architecture and in particular servants and working-class figures mingling with the aristocracy” (Delay 1999, 51). This wide range of themes is one of the manga’s characteristics.

The Noh theatre is “a noble and religious form of theatre” (Delay 1999, 62). “It derives from the old religious dances performed outside temples” (Delay 1999, 62) a
nd “was first performed at court and in temples in the 15th century” (Delay 1999, 62). Noh actors wear masks. “There are various kinds of mask; they might, for instance, represent women, young princes, drunkards, ogresses or demons” (Delay 1999, 63). If we talk about Noh theatre, it’s for its double influence on manga (and Japanese animation). The masks reminds us of the faces of manga’s characters (they are very similar to one another), and the treatment of time reminds us of the narrative rhythm of Anime (Japanese animation) and manga. The Noh actors moved at different paces: sometimes very quickly and, at other times, very slowly. This distortion of time is also commonly used in Anime. In the series Captain Tsubasa (Toei Doga, 1983-1986), broadcast on French TV in the eighties, the soccer team would cross the field (one way) in four or five episodes, each episode lasting 26 minutes! With an attack lasting over 100 minutes, matches could last forever (not ‘real time’ like in 24!). More recently, in Mononoke Hime (Miyazaki, 1997), San (the heroine) moves at a normal pace but can suddenly move very fast (and then becomes a superhero) when, for example, she attacks Lady Eboshi in her forge. And in mangas, there are almost no ellipses; battles scenes can last for fifteen pages. And that gives the reader a sense of time. The mangaka describes the action in a continuous way with no ellipsis.

Zen is an important Buddhist school that comes from China and was introduced into Japan in the 12th century. It inspired the art of ink drawing that we see in other Japanese forms of art. “Zen-inspired pictures are drawn in Chinese ink, diluted (sumi-e) to varying degrees to produce shades ranging from the deepest black to smoky grey. The world they depict is real but not realistic” (Delay 1999, 86). We see in the art of ink drawing one of the origins of the black and white style used in mangas, as well as the very particular use of black gradation that is very common in manga.

Finally, we will discuss ukiyo-e. The main printing techniques in Japan used wood engraving. This technique, invented in China, arrived in Japan at the same time as Buddhism. Until the end of the 16th century, engraving was strictly reserved for religious uses. Wood engraving allowed Buddhist monks to disseminate sacred texts that originated in China. We have to wait until the beginning of the 17th century to see the first ukiyo-e (the art of floating world). Prints and Kabuki theatre were its main forms of expression.

With the arrival of Portuguese ships, some Japanese merchants became very rich. Acting like patrons, they commissioned new works of art “with subjects drawn from everyday life of the chonin (townspeople), the new Kabuki theatre and the courtesans celebrated for their beauty, music and dancing” (Delay 1999, 101). The word ukiyo is henceforth synonymous with fashionable and contemporary objects. Illustrations present Edo (future Tokyo) citizens and Osaka citizens, and realistically depict their everyday lives and loves with a touch of humour. The introduction of contemporary elements in the illustrations foreshadows the multiplicity of genres in manga and anime. Humour is very often present in manga, and a lot of manga represent the average Japanese and depict their everyday lives, like in Love Hina written by Ken Akamatsu or I’s from Masakazu Katsura. In Kabuki theatre, the actor “redraws his eyes, eyebrows and mouth on a foundation of very thick white make-up” (Delay 1999, 109). Manga’s characters are very similar to Kabuki’s actors, as on the “empty” face is drawn only two big eyes, a mouth and two eyebrows.

The first prints were printed in black and white. In the 19th century Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi studied with Dutch artists, who functioned as ambassadors for western culture. We notice that all the printed elements are encircled with thick black strokes, like in mangas and anime. Hiroshige started to stretch bodies and faces on his prints. This novelty has since became the main characteristic of most of characters in mangas and anime. With Ando Hiroshige’s Hundred Views of Edo or Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji these great artists carry the Japanese concept to its limit: the serial. The massive production of manga we see nowadays comes from an old Japanese tradition. The word ‘manga’ is synonymous with series. Hokusai put together thousands of sketches in his fifteen-volume Mangwa and the word “manga” comes from that. Manga is composed of two Chinese signs one means “in spite of” and the second one means “image”.

America vs. Japan

I have already suggested that America has been linked to Japan in a complex and ambiguous ways. Japan is the only country ever hit by the Atomic bomb, launched by America. After the Allies won the second World War America occupied Japan. Numerous images of nuclear explosions appear in manga and anime. This revisionism appeared because the USA was, for a long time, the model for Japan. The enemy always comes from the west in mangas and anime. We could argue that anime are becoming more and more ‘western’, whilst Disney’s animated films are becoming more and more ‘Japanese’: For example, The Lion King is inspired by Tesuka’s King Leo; with characters drawn in a Japanese way, like in Mulan or Atlantis (inspired by Nadia).

Philippe Pons presents an interesting approach to Japanese history in numerous articles that he wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique in 2001. Historically, Japan remained isolated for a very long time. It was only in 1945 that Japan began to open itself up to the rest of the world. Japan found itself (by force of circumstances) on the ‘good side’ of the world, with the Americans and therefore with the west against the communists. The Americans who occupied Japan after the second World War, were more interested in reconstituting a strong political right wing than in helping Japan to examine its past. Because Hirohito, the man who lead Japan to war, was absolved by the Americans, Japanese citizens did not have to dig up painful memories of the past This Japanese amnesia is a heritage of the cold war and gave birth to actual revisionism. Pons’ historical approach explains a lot of things which help us to more fully understand the manga’s subject matter.

Are Japanese ashamed or proud of their history? How do we understand the behaviour of the Japanese military during the second World War? This search for identity is often addressed as a main theme of mangas and anime. One crime which is still denied nowadays in Japan surrounds Unit 731. Between 1936 and 1945 researchers within this military laboratory conducted bacteriological war experiments. Included
were experiments with vivisection on more than three thousands people (most of the victims were Chinese). The Americans gave impunity to the general in charge of this laboratory in exchange for the results of this research. If we take the example of Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s Blood: the Last Vampire (2000), we see at first a simple vampire story. However, beneath the surface, metaphors of invasion and alienation are evident. Saya, a vampire, is tracking down vampires. The action takes place just before the Vietnam war, in an American base. These details led us to think that Blood: The Last Vampire is critical of the American invasion (and it also draws a parallel between the Viet-Cong and the Japanese military during the second World War). There is not a negationist’s vision, but simply another point of view of Japanese history. This might reflect the point of view of younger Japanese who suffered from a war they didn’t choose, didn’t want and they found themselves invaded by strangers who radically influenced their future. Blood: The Last Vampire is not a common vampire story, it is the metaphor of the reflection of the war’s consequences.

The Representation of the Eyes and Bodies in Manga and Anime.

Osamu Tezuka is considered to be the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney and as a real god in Japan. He was an admirer of Disney’s animated movies (he saw Bambi over eighty times) and it is due to this influence that he decided to draw large, rounded eyes on his characters. Mangakas influenced by Tesuka also give their heroes large eyes and this became one of the main characteristics of manga and anime. The eye allows the expression of a wide range of emotions, something that becomes essential for action based manga and anime. The more a character is perceived to be ‘alive’, the greater the engagement between the character and the spectator. An adult has to suspend his/her disbelief and to believe in the “illusion of reality” in order to identify with a character. Roland Barthes argued that the eye reflected the soul. If a character has a soul, he/she also has emotions and appears to be ‘alive’. But we should clarify two things. Firstly, not all mangakas draw big eyes on their characters and yet the spectator still manages to identify with them (for example Miyazaki’s characters don’t have large eyes – Ghibli’s studio intended to produce different anime). Furthermore, it has been suggested that the large eyes do not come from Disney. For Alessandro Gomarasca big eyes are part of the Euro-American aesthetic called the “cute”  (2002, 36-37). In his book Kaboom! Explosive Animation from America and Japan, Philip Brophy explains that, “the aim of the Euro-American iconography of the cute does not copy the childhood, but it signifies childhood with a specific codification (the child’s biomorph), mostly represented in comic books and animation films. This codification expanded at the beginning of the 19th century with the first teddy bears made in England” (quoted in Gomarasca 2002, 36). Gomarasca explains that those teddy bears became a substitute for the maternal breast for the children left all day by mothers who worked in the factories. Teddy bears could be considered as a comfort that came from the industrial revolution. Gomarasca also adds that later it was Germany’s turn to mass produce plump dolls with, big heads and big eyes. The designers of those dolls were inspired by pre-existing illustrations of small angels, gnomes and elfs. He argues that “[t]hose images, and in particular the drawing of the eyes would be at the origin of the style of American heroes in comics and animated films (from Betty Boop to Mickey Mouse or Pluto) and then at the origin of the super kawaï style of mangas and Anime” (Gomarasca 2002, 37). Gomarasca adds that “this Euro-American aesthetic of the cute enters Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. From 1910 to the end of the thirties, this country became the first world producer of celluloid dolls” (Gomarasca 2002, 37) with a design copying the Euro-American aesthetic of the cute. The first Disney short animated films were shown in Japan at the beginning of the thirties before being forbidden during the war. Then, in the fifties, Disney came back to Japan and their animated movies became very popular. Gomarasca also explains that big eyes in manga and Anime do not make the characters more real, rather, they codify a type of glance. When an author draws big eyes, he ‘projects’ the mark of the child’s biomorph. This iconography shows “an idealised and convivial social universe, in which men, animals and things are immeasurably happy and kind, one with another” (Brophy quoted in Gomarasca 2002, 37). Brophy says that to stare wide-eyed is common to all races. “It is the look of a new born child who look at things (mainly his mother’s eyes) when he starts to realize that there’s a world around him” (quoted in Gomarasca 2002, 37). Manga heroes’ big eyes act on the spectator/reader like Proust’s Madeleine does, to remind them of their childhood.


The notion of fantasy is also important in tracing the origins of those big eyes and the way mangaka draw bodies. Once again, the USA comes up. During the Meiji Age (1868-1912) there was a national policy of body construction that was at the centre of Japanese modernization. Alessandro Gomarasca argues that in order to contain this Western threat, Japan decided to use the same technological instruments that their enemy were using (2002, 100-122). The ‘wakon-yôsai’ (Japanese spirit – Western science) signalled the beginning of Japanese technological colonization. Japanese students studying in the USA were urged to marry Western women in order to improve the genetic inheritance of the Japanese nation. Japanese politicians believed that if the Japanese could compete physically with Western people, then they would be able to save Japan’s soul (and stop individual Japanese citizens from being damned). Therefore the graphic representation of manga’s heroes seem to represent a similar Japanese fantasy: they don’t look Japanese, rather they represent an idealised Western body.

The relationship between Japan and the USA is ambivalent. It is interesting to see that the enemy, which always comes from the West in manga plots, is in fact, the USA which is, at the same time, a model… and even a fantasy! Nowadays, when mangaka draw a woman with a body that is not stereotypically Japanese, they are, in fact, drawing a fantasy emerging from the Meiji Age. What I have argued about the representation of bodies in manga and anime also corresponds to the depiction of the eyes. Even if they are too big to represent stereotypically Western eyes, they are not Japanese either. These eyes may codify a type of Western glance (that would be the fantasy vision of the mangaka) rather than attempting to evok
e reality. As stated previously, the search for a new identity is the principle theme running through manga stories. This might explain why mangaka, in manga, represent an ideal that young Japanese haven’t yet realised.

Some journalists have suggested that manga and anime are ‘mukokuseki’ (‘stateless people’). What if they do not represent Japan or the West? Manga is seen as exotic, but the world of manga (or anime) has its own place and can be considered as stateless. This is a world created by the imagination of a mangaka. These often depict worlds which are neither Japanese (even if they contain many references to Japanese culture) nor Western (for example: Ghost in the Shell, Evangelion, Mononoke and Hime seem to create a distinct universe). This may explain their international popularity. The director Mamoru Oshii argues that anime (and manga) figures occupy ‘another world’ (Napier 2001, 25-6). He also said that this other world is created by artists who are ‘mukokuseki’ because they don’t have a ‘furusato’ (‘native town’). The use of these two words evokes a strong contrast: ‘mukokuseki’ evokes neutrality and abstraction whereas ‘furusato’ embodies the traditional Japanese village. Oshii argues that manga and anime are far from being a traditional Japanese cultural product.

Manga’s characters may not be Japanese or Western. In Evangelion, Rei has mauve hair, Asuka’s hair often floats out in the air (like a lot of girls in manga), their legs are very long and thin. It would be more accurate to suggest that they have a manga style, or anime style, instead of saying they look Western or Japanese. For Oshii, these characters, who are becoming less and less Japanese, offer an alternative world for the Japanese spectator. He thinks that this is part of an effort of the modern Japanese population “to escape the fact that they are Japanese” (Oshii 1996, 80). Oshii refers to what Miyasaki said in an interview: “Japanese hate their own faces” (Oshii 1996, 78). Oshii suggests that animators are inspired by the USA and as a result, they are creating a new world separate from contemporary Japan.

Masakazu Katsura and the US Superhero influence: Batman.

Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and was first published in Detective Comics magazine. One of the editors of DC comics asked Bob Kane to create a costumed hero. Kane was inspired by three elements. He was a great fan of The Mark of Zorro directed by Fred Niblo in 1920 and he decided to give Batman the look that Douglas Fairbanks has in the movie. Bob Kane also saw a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci which shows a winged machine (the wings are shaped like those of a bat) which he really liked. That was how Batman was born[4]. Another actor influenced Bob Kane: Bela Lugosi,[5] particularly in the 1931 film Dracula[6] (Browning). Gene Colan, the drawer who carried on the serial Batman after Bob Kane, would go even further in pushing the fantasy towards its end: he would transform Batman into a vampire! Batman is one of the most well known Superheroes, for he is the darkest: Superman is blue, Hulk was grey, for a little while, and then green, Daredevil is red, but Batman is black. He was given the nickname of the ‘Dark Knight’ in the 80s. Frank Miller named his graphic novel Dark Knight. Batman and Zorro have a lot in common: two lonely heroes, both wearing a mask and both have their base in a cave. But Batman also has a lot in common with Dracula (the bat, the cape, the teeth in Colan’s version). But we can not think about Batman and Bob Kane without referring to his script-writer: Bill Finger. As Winckler reminds us, it was Finger who suggested that Bob Kane transform the rigid wings into a floating cape, and replace Batman’s eyes with white marks which are more frightening. It was also Finger who came up with the name of Bruce Wayne, which has a similar tone to Bob Kane.

The first Batman adventures are slightly fantastical: Batman fights criminals but also vampires and evil monks. Readers had to wait a few months before knowing the origins of the Superhero. Bruce Wayne is an orphan. His parents were killed in front of him in the street. The Waynes had just come from the cinema (where they had seen… The Mark of Zorro). They were very rich so Bruce inherits a fortune. He will become Batman to get his revenge. Batman is a dark character, ambivalent, obsessive, and sometimes confused. In the first adventures, he does not hesitate to kill his adversaries. But the gun will disappear, making Batman even more disturbing: his main weapon will be the fear he engenders. Batman is human and, unlike Superman, doesn’t have superpowers. He is very well built. Although he trains hard he has physical limits. Wayne’s factories produce high tech objects/gadgets which Batman uses: his utility belt contains many useful items like a lamp, a batrope, a blowtorch and a respirator. Batman also possesses larger, high tech objects such as the Batplane, the Batgyro, or the famous Batmobile.

Masakazu Katsura is a famous mangaka, mostly known for his serie Video Girl Aï (1989). This Japanese author, born in Japan in 1962, is a great fan of Batman (just as Tezuka was, who was also fascinated by Disney movies). Katsura uses teenagers in his stories. The transformation into a Superhero is in fact an allegory of becoming an adult. His stories are similar to the German form of literature called ‘Bildungsroman’. In 1992 he created Shadow Lady, a short story that would become a serial 3 years later. Shadow Lady is a parody of Batman. It tells the story of a young girl who is not sure of herself. Aimi falls in love with a boy but she is not confident enough to chat him up. Her grandmother gives her some magical make-up which allows her to transform into Shadow Lady. Her clothes are very much like Batman’s costume.

In 1994, Katsura wrote Zetman, a short story. Jïn, a teenager, develops a game with a superhero. The aim of the game is to define justice. After a bug, Jin transforms into his superhero: Zetman. He will have to face what Justice is, means, and takes to enforce. But why is Jin developing this game? When he was still a baby his dad died. His mother took care of him until she also died, when he was twelve years old. He saw a reckless driver knock over his loving mum. The police never found the driver. He is an orphan who has thirst for revenge, like Batman. He wants to become a Superhero for he thinks only a supreme being can end the evil. Zetman’s look evolves with the decisions Jïn makes. He is at first a costume hero with horns. Later he develops rigid wings and a long tail. He looks like the devil.
Is he going to become a real superhero or a super villain? Nothing is sure. After struggling with his feelings, with his friend telling him that justice has to be strict and kind, he decides to give up all the humanity and the feelings he has. That’s the price of becoming the quintessential embodiment of justice. He has the power to instinctively see where the good and the bad exist and to destroy the bad whilst avoiding unnecessary destruction. We do not see Jïn’s face at the end as his face is covered by a mask: a white mask (justice has no face). This detail, along with the rigid wings, reminds us of Bob Kane’s Batman. It is, of course, a tribute to him from Katsura. We can see Katsura’s love for Batman in Zetman but we also see links to another US comic book: Judge Dredd created in 1977 by John Wagner and Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra (they were inspired by Dirty Harry directed by Don Siegel in 1971). After a major catastrophe, order is maintained by judges who are both the police and judges. This vision of supreme justice is very cynical and full of black humor. In the film, Sylvester Stallone is almost not human: he has no feelings and he is, therefore, similar to Jïn.

Finally, I will discuss DNA, which was also written in 1994. In the first volume, Katsura draws himself with the Batman costume on the cover of the book. Karine comes from the future to make sure Junta won’t become the ‘ultimate man’ (capable of picking up any girl… one look is enough for any girl to instantly fall deeply in love with him). Because of that super power Junta will make thousands of women pregnant, which will cause an extremely dangerous growth of the population. Karine, who is charge of the DNA regulation of people, has to inject Junta with some MDA to make sure he won’t be able to transform into a super lover. Unfortunately, she won’t inject with him the right pill and it only increases his transformation. On a second attempt she even injects the MDA to the wrong person, Ryuji, who will become a super villain. This character is very similar to Jin (Zetman) and, therefore, to the bad invisible man in Hollow Man or the one in the comics The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen of (the great) Alan Moore. Alan Moore gives the reader an invisible man who is unpredictable, uncontrollable and capable of raping young girls or humiliating Mina Harker, the leader of the league.

We find in Katsura’s work all the essence of manga’s history with a touch of US Superhero. Manga is a hybrid form and Katsura’s manga are even more hybrid. Superheroes and superman have always been present in literature and especially in comics. This theme has not come to an end. We are seeing more and more cinematographic adaptation of famous Superheroes. Some are very good, others less so. But it is mainly due to the medium itself. It is more difficult to develop a character in two hours. That is why US comic books and Japanese comics succeed so well: by publishing endless volumes, the authors take the time a movie director can not afford. The TV series can not do the same because of the limited budget. Manga is becoming more and more popular because we need heroes and Superheroes in our lives.


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Hamus-Vallée, R. 2004. ‘Du manga à la ‘Japanimation’: la Génération Surhomme’. In Le Surhomme à l’écran, Condé-sur-Noireau: Corlet, 248-254.

Jarno, S. 2006. ‘Aller simple pour Tokyo’. In Télérama n°2962.

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Napier, Susan. 2001. Anime  From Akira to Princess Mononoke : Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, New York : Palgrave.

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[1] Spider-Man was created in 1962 by Stan Lee for Marvel.

[2] Pulps: the paper used for these reviews were made out of wood pulp. We could find all kind of literature genre in them. There were five or six short stories or serialized novels written by different authors in one pulp. The covers had loud colours and were made by illustrators.

[3] Comic strip: strip published every day in newspapers. The strip has three or four horizontal boxes. Each strip is autonomous and often humoristic.

[4] We can add that Bob Kane was also inspired by Citizen Kane directed by Orson Welles in 1941, especially by the photography of the film.

[5] B. Lugosi was a Hungarian actor. He played Dracula in a theatre in New York for two years and then he became the main character of the movie Dracula directed by T. Browning in 1931.

[6] Authors are often influenced by well known ‘figures’ to create their own creatures. For example, Stan Lee created Hulk which he considered to be half way to the creature of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.