I am no manga fan. I have nothing against the stuff — I just don’t know much. The only series I’ve ever read was Death Note, which I eventually dropped around volume 9 or so because I just got tired of all the twists and what seemed like a contractual obligation to continue stretching the story out. That said, I came away with a lesson that I could definitely like manga. Stories were stories, and good stories can come in many formats, including little backwards books.
So fast forward a few years to this summer and I see Scottie Young praising this “Pluto” book on twitter, with comments like “I may have to stop reading PLUTO or risk not being able to read another comic again ever due to it destroying them all” and “So good. Read this book, do it, do it, do it.” Being increasingly apathetic about the comics I pick up on a weekly basis these days, I decided to give it a shot.
It’s basically a robot murder mystery, but it’s beautifully told. The first four volumes have been released in the U.S. and volume 5 comes out next week. I can’t recommend it enough.
What I found particularly interesting, though, was that it’s a comic book remake of an Astro Boy story from more than 50 years ago. I’m guessing it’s been done before, but I can’t remember any examples of comic book story remakes the way movies are commonly remade. But that transitions into Astro Boy. I had no idea what Astro Boy was, so I did a little research on wikipedia. And then I find out that there’s an Astro Boy movie coming out soon and IDW is putting out a comic adaptation. So I started reading that. I don’t recommend it.
But I was curious about some of the old Astro Boy stuff and found volumes 1 & 2 of the Dark Horse reprints of the old comics, and that stuff is fantastic. It’s clearly targeted at little kids, but it manages to pull off that delicate balance of being accessible to young kids while also being intelligent enough to be appreciated by more mature readers. There are still moments of light-heartedness and fourth-wall-breaking that border on annoying, but the stories are engaging and addictive and don’t pander to or underestimate the intelligence of youth. There’s even some poignant social commentary about things like war, classism and the environment. Sadly the issues I’ve read of the IDW movie adaptation lack that sophistication.
So in conclusion:
• Pluto: Can’t praise it enough. It’s fantastic. You just have to deal with the fact that only 4 of the 8 volumes are released, they come out about every two months, and so it can be frustrating having to wait so long.
• Astro Boy (Dark Horse collected editions): Great all-ages stories with an intelligent soul.
• Astro Boy movie adaptation (IDW): Don’t read it. It’s pretty bad. It’s also pretty poorly drawn.