Batman: Death Mask #1

DC and Marvel Comics, traditional American superhero publishers, have tried a variety of approaches to coping with the manga boom. Since more kids read manga than read superhero comics these days, there’s a lot of financial incentive to try to attract those customers to American-style comics.

DC’s latest crossover project features one of their best-known characters, Batman. Manga creator Yoshinori Natsume writes and draws the four-issue miniseries Death Mask. (Natsume’s manga work, Togari, is currently published in the US by Viz.) This isn’t the first time DC’s tried this kind of project — Batman: Child of Dreams by Kia Asamiya (Dark Angel) was published in 2000, although it wasn’t serialized in the US, instead going straight to graphic novel.

Batman: Death Mask #1 cover

One of the benefits of having a comic creator from another culture do a project like this should be to see a familiar character through new eyes. On that criteria, this comic is unsuccessful. The plot is not new: A serial killer is stalking Gotham City. (This one’s gimmick is slicing people’s faces off the fronts of their heads, and the resulting flat lump resembles a tree trunk more than a skull in a completely unrealistic artistic shortcut.) The killer first appeared during Bruce Wayne’s training to become a hero. In other words, the villain has a previously unsuspected connection to the hero’s origin, a common story type in the genre.

Also, Batman has nightmares. Alfred worries about him. Batman ponders whether Bruce Wayne or Batman is his true identity. None of these themes will be new to those familiar with the character’s adventures — although they may bring new readers up to speed. The big question there is whether DC will successfully market and sell this book to those hypothetical new readers. Manga fans looking for the exotic might be attracted to the emphasized cultural elements, including visiting Japanese characters.

During the slow movement of the story, the “mask” concept is pounded home to the reader. The sliced-off faces, aside from being grotesque, are overly literal masks. Bruce’s face is drawn oddly, as though there are unusual bony plates on his cheeks and chin, constantly reminding the reader that he usually wears his mask there. A cultural exhibition of, yes, masks from Japan is on display.

Artistically, the elements are also familiar. The art here could be published in any monthly DC comic. There’s the swooping two-page splash of the grim crusader, cape spread. There’s the shadowy alley where the hero beats up thugs. There are the cool panels without much attention to the storytelling flow between them. Distinction comes with the linework, which is more detailed than many superhero comics. That nicely makes up for the lack of color.

Will superhero readers be interested? Only if they must have everything Batman and can tolerate the black-and-white art. Will manga readers be interested? There’s no positive reason for them to pick this up instead of another manga volume. It’s an oddity, neither one nor the other and lacking the strengths of either. (A complimentary online copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

One Response to “Batman: Death Mask #1”

  1. Manga Creators Make Devil an American-Style Comic » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    […] creators seeking to mimic Western-style comics. DC put out a Batman comic in that style called Death Mask a couple of years ago, and Madara, one of the CMX launch titles, was done with Western […]




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