Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Astro Boy, Volume 3

Osamu Tezuka is considered the "god of manga" who created hundreds of volumes of comics in all types of genres while also being one of the driving forces behind the anime (Japanese cartoons) industry as well. A figure analogous to Walt Disney, his legacy lies in the countless stories and memorable characters he created, and without a doubt Astro Boy (originally called The Mighty Atom) is his most famous creation. This volume is part of Dark Horse Comics' ongoing efforts to publish the complete series in English, and it contains two stories, "The Greatest Robot in the World" and "Mad Machine."

"The Greatest Robot in the World" makes up the majority of the volume. It was originally serialized in 1964-1965 and is considered by many Tezuka's best work with the character. The plot of the story revolves around a former sultan who has built a powerful robot named Pluto. The sultan wishes to prove that Pluto is the most powerful by having him battle and destroy the 7 most advanced robots in the world. This mission gets delayed when Astro Boy refuses to duel Pluto, and so Pluto kidnaps Uran, Astro's little sister, to lure him into battle. Instead of merely being threatening, Pluto befriends Uran and begins to question his destructive mission.

"Mad Machine" is a shorter tale of a blackmail plot originally published in 1958. Dr. Foola is a greedy genius who has invented a machine that makes other machines go crazy. He demands billions of dollars in ransom in return for not bringing entire cities to a screeching halt. Dr. Tenma reconfigues Astro so that he can contend with this evil doctor and shut down the diabolical machine.

Even though Tezuka's work in this volume was done long ago, it still holds up well. The art is energetic, detailed, and very expressive. And as detailed in this review from Deb Aoki, the story is very forward thinking for a comic made more than 4 decades ago, even with some cultural insensitivity in the depictions of Arab characters.

"The Greatest Robot in the World" first appeared in manga form but has been adapted to other media. A version of the story from the 1980 Astro Boy cartoon is available here on YouTube.
Additionally, Astro Boy will be introduced to a new generation of viewers in an anticipated theatrical release in 2009.

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