Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Boy Doesn't Want To Fight Aliens With His Robot Pal?

I don't buy what I'd describe as a lot of manga, but I do pick up series here and there. Unfortunately, this year most of the series I've been interested in haven't been released in print collections here, and I don't really want to get an e-reader. And Yotsuba! didn't release a new volume this year, either. The one series I have been buying  is Heroman, which I'd considered waiting to talk about until I bought the 5th and final volume. But what the hell, there's enough I want to discuss we can start now.

Heroman's a collaboration of sorts between Stan Lee, Tamon Ohta, and Bones (the latter is an animation studio, so I'm not sure how much they're involved with the manga). Lee came up with the story idea, but Ohta created the characters. So there's a boy, Joey, who lives on the West Coast with his elderly grandmother and works part-time at a diner when he isn't going to high school. Joey's a sweet kid, small, kind of shy. There's a popular girl, Lina, head cheerleader, who seems to like Joey, but her big jock brother thinks Joey is beneath them and is constantly threatening him. He even spoke so poorly of Joey around his and Lina's dad (a wealthy CEO), the old man specifically asks Joey not to associate with his daughter.

He did this at the same time Lina was trying to offer Joey a ride home at night, so kind of a serious dick.

Anyway, there's this hot new toy, a voice-controlled little robot, Heybo, which Joey very much wants, but can't afford. A friend of Will's gets one, the lets it walk into the street like a klutz and get hit with a car. Then he throws it away, proclaiming he'll get his dad to buy him another $350 toy robot. We never do see if he got another one, so maybe Nick's dad decided to teach him some fiscal responsibility. Joey picks up the toy, and gradually fixes it, and he's very happy to have the toy, which he renames Heroman. He has it with him when Lina's dad badmouths him to his face, and then an ex-employee shopkeeper with a grudge (who is possessed by some angry spirit housed within an artifact from the Warring States era that sensed a kindred spirit in the shopkeeper's grudge) attacks, and kidnaps Lina, despite Joey's attempt to step in. He feels helpless, powerless, unable to change from the weakling Will derides him for being, and fate causes a bolt of lightning to strike the toy, transforming it into a roughly 10-foot tall robot that rushes off to rescue Lina, Joey in tow.

Because of Stan Lee's involvement, I kept noticing similarities and differences to Peter Parker. Joey being an orphan (though his parents were coal miners, Wikipedia says only his dad died in a mine, his mom contracted an illness later, but so far in the manga, that's not been specified), trying to provide for an elderly relative. Of course, the main character not having parents isn't really uncommon in a lot of shonen manga. It's a nifty way to allow a young boy to go off on the sorts of wild adventures you see in those stories. There's maybe some handwaving to explain how the kid has a home, but otherwise the any parental authority figures are largely irrelevant. There isn't any of the "Aunt May needs money for her medical bills" drama. Joey's grandma gets barely any dialogue, hardly even shows up, really, and they seem to have a decent enough home, however it's being paid for (Joey's income, plus pensions from his parents, maybe?).

Joey doesn't really have any doubts about using Heroman to help people. There's no moment where he contemplates using his giant robot buddy to make money in construction. In fact, in volume 4, after they've successfully stopped an alien invasion, Joey's using Heroman to help speed up repairing the city in secret, at night. Joey's biggest internal issues are whether he can be of any use at all, or if Heroman's doing all the work. So he has the "gotta get stronger and more confident" arc common in a lot of manga, but there's no question of him using that selfishly. Even though Will continues to pick on him at times - as much out of jealousy as anything - Joey never considers fighting him or anything like that.

He also doesn't make any attempt to hide the fact he has a giant robot from his friends. All of them, including Lina and Will, know by the end of volume 1. There's not any secret identity hijinks. The one time he tries to help fight a menace during the day, his attempt to stay out of sight fails miserably and he's caught on camera (the fight was actually a trap engineered by the U.S. government, which wants to know what exactly was able to defeat the aliens they were powerless against). Heck, at one point, Joey brings out Heroman to help the cheer squad get to a competition when a rival school slashed the tires on their bus. It isn't that he doesn't consider whether it's a good idea to let all these fellow students know, he just feels like they've worked so hard, it would be wrong not to help them.

Joey might have a little bit of a compulsion there. I'm sure he's trying to help people in part so he doesn't lose anyone else, and it's become so automatic now that he doesn't take time to think about the possible consequences for him. Though thus far, the series has avoided any stories about villains striking at his friends to try and get to him. Cy and Professor Denton get into trouble from trying to help him, Will's pride gets him in trouble, and Lina ends up in danger because of her father a couple of times, but no one is getting abducted to lure out Heroman. Problems arise, and Joey tries to deal with them. It's definitely a situation where trying to help others does not make life bad for you. Joey's friends support him, people who weren't sure about him end up trusting him and wanting to help, it doesn't hurt his social life or ability to make a living. Even the government, which is initially unsure is won over and want to work cooperatively with him, rather than trying to force him under their thumb.

It isn't a ground-breaking series, but it is a pleasantly positive one. I think the art would benefit from larger panels sometimes. Once you add in dialogue and sound effects, things get a little cramped, especially in fights scenes that involve a big robot and some equally large opponent. It gets a little difficult to tell what's happening, especially if Heroman's got a bunch of energy surging off him, it's another detail that clutters things up. But on the whole, it works well enough.

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