Author: Stan Lee / BONES
Manga-ka: Tamon Ohta
Publisher: Vertical Inc
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: October 2012
Synopsis: “Orphaned American teen Joseph Carter Jones, aka Joey, lives with his grandmother in Central City, Los Angeles. When he’s not in class you can generally find him working diligently at a diner to help make ends meet at home. Upon hearing of a new toy robot called the Heybo, Joey becomes set on the idea that acquiring one will change his for the better. Unfortunately, he cannot afford to buy the machine on his meager salary. His luck changes when he picks up a broken-down Heybo abandoned by a school bully. In Joey’s eyes this used bot could be a source of strength. It could turn him into a hero for (cheerleader) Lina and his school… if he can make it work.”
Stan Lee is a cherished comics creator, and even in his old age is still a great showman and astute business man. While lending his name and conceptual ideas to numerous properties this past decade, his efforts have recently extended to Japan. It’s resulted in a few major media properties that have made their way back to the USA. Vertical’s licensing efforts have in turn resulted in bringing one of these, Heroman, to domestic readers. With an amicable style, and an inviting presentation, Heroman presents itself as an excellent series that will serve well as both a great introduction to manga for new readers brought in by Lee’s name and a great series for long time fans bored with the tropes of other shonen series. Tamon Ohta elevates Lee’s concepts to match the promise of such a collaboration. Heroman is a solid read that’s easily recommendable.
Heroman presents us with a straightforward superhero story mixed with elements from japanese shonen manga- a middle school age cast and a main character who strives to be something better. The American setting of the series makes for a different approach . Ohta seems to have done his research, as while cartoonish, the cast of Heroman aren’t the caricatures of foreigners that one occasionally finds in the manga landscape. Ohta adds some diversity with the disabled Cy, and Joey’s African-American boss at the restaurant he works at, and populates the background cast with a variety of shapes and colours. I also appreciated how Lina wasn’t the simple girlfriend character, but a part of Cy and Joey’s gang. Ignoring her bossy brother’s demands, she goes along for the adventure, and after a brief moment of generic girlfriend kidnapping, plays a fun part in the book.
Superhero comic flare is added by giving the fictional city the name Center City, and heaping on the alliteration with Joey Jones full name, as well as in more obvious elements such as Heroman‘s design. The addition of an expressive face gives Heroman a feel of some of the more mainstream Giant Robot franchises in North America such as Gigantor and Transformers with a hint of Astro Boy. The star-spangled Heroman makes for a fun mix of superheroes and giant robots, with all manner of superpowers and a teen partner, but also a fun aspect is his downtime as child’s toy that’s been lovingly repaired. This makes him infinitely relatable to anyone who’s ever cherished their favourite Transformer, even if a piece or two had snapped off through the years. There’s a definite wish fulfillment element that will really appeal to both young male readers and toy collectors.
The superhero comic elements call back to the more fun eras of the past yet also the flare of modern artists like Mike Allred or Humberto Ramos. Ohta’s style is well suited to the audiences of Teen Titans Go and Ben 10, and he gives it a fun family feel like those found in X-men or Spiderman’s supporting cast. A highlight of this is Professor Denton, a cheerful middle school teacher who somehow has access to all kinds of mad science and doesn’t hesitate to make it a healthy afterschool activity for Joey, Cy and Lina. Denton serves as an adult presence, yet also a deus ex machin. His misguided attempts to reach intelligent life in space leads to an alien invasion. Ohta and Lee opted for an ingenious alien theme that really appeals to the core audience of this book. One wouldn’t want to spoil it, but it definitely increases the fun and makes for great super villains that match the books giant robot aesthetic while also providing a gross factor that tween entertainment calls for.
Some may find the series a tad simplistic, but generally it comes across as refreshing, particularly in the art style. The panels are easy to follow, the cast is welcoming and endearing, and the poses are fresh and dynamic. Ohta uses a clean black and white style, focusing on simple line work and minimal screen tone, with a variety of camera angles that keeps things cinematic yet grounded in the small town setting. One appreciates the lack of skyscrapers, and a more suburban or even rural feel. It has a traditional downtown area, school settings, Joey’s family bungalow, and random factories wherein giant robots and aliens invaders may combat explosively. The American setting and simple inviting art style may make this a more appealing entry way for domestic comic fans to manga than Ultimo, which while fun, is a somewhat confusing read. Heroman‘s the winner of these collaborations, and it’s surprising the corresponding anime has remained unlicensed for home video release. However, fans will be pleased to hear the anime is legally streaming at Crunchyroll.
Vertical has packaged the series as it should, in pocket sized, affordable volumes matching the shonen manga output of other publishers. While basic, this is ideal for libraries and kids at a size and price to appeal to them. Sound effects are subtitled, but easy to follow, and the printing is very clean with solid screen tones and sharp lines. The covers for all five volumes have been released, and the theming is solid, giving a great superhero comic book feel and energy that looks fun and inviting to readers. One also appreciates the short length of the series, long enough to provide lots of fights and character development, but short enough that it won’t overstay its welcome. So far Heroman is highly recommended to all who love shonen manga and superhero comics.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures