Entry Plug: One-Punch Man Vol. 1 review (VIZ Media)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

With Marvel and DC trying to reach out to new readers, one of the unintentional effects is a growing connection between American comics and manga. Many of these new, younger readers are anime and manga fans, and comic book and anime conventions have become so intertwined that it's common to find Goku hanging out with Superman at a cosplay panel. The announcement at NYCC of an Attack on Titan anthology written and drawn by western creators came as no surprise. But getting into manga is as difficult as starting with Marvel or DC without the advantage of multiple entry points to the same story. Starting with the wrong title might put a reader off of the genre entirely.

That's why I've decided to start a new feature: "Entry Plug," wherein I give my suggestions on manga for comic book fans who are new to manga and anime. This month marks the Japanese premiere and simultaneous American streaming of a perfect starter anime and manga for newcomers.

One-Punch Man is a series with a genesis closer to Dr. McNinja than to Naruto. It began as a web comic written and crudely drawn by manga-ka ONE; you can see the original untranslated online. These strips effectively became storyboards for Yusuke Murata to redraw the entire comic and make it look like a real manga. Murata is also the artist of Eyeshield 21, a manga about a Japanese high school's American football team, and this blending of cultures made him perfect to work on One-Punch Man.

The primary reason why I consider One-Punch Man to be one of the best entry points is because it parodies Japanese and American comic book tropes simultaneously. The hero Saitama has already trained to become extremely powerful before the series began; he can now defeat any villain with ...  well, one punch. It's a deconstruction of the constantly-training protagonist of shonen anime: what if the Dragon Ball Z villains never did get harder to defeat? At the same time, it feels like the premise of an Elseworld (or one of Warren Ellis' dark superhero fantasies from Avatar Press): what if Superman finally did defeat all the criminals? Saitama has the bald head of an anime character but the clothes of a traditional superhero, marking a visual blend as well.

Two glimpses of Saitama's backstory are provided in the second and final chapters of the first volume. In his youth, he was aimless and prone to daydreaming, making him an ill fit in a world of slightly older punks and piggy-bank monsters that steal lunch money. He hasn't found his path as an adult, either, until one final taunt by a crab monster sets him on his path. These flashbacks make it clear that he's back to drifting through life after reaching the acme of his training. The first couple of chapters are stand-alones, and the comic almost feels like a gag-a-day strip until Genos shows up halfway through.

A spoof of Astro Boy, Genos is a super-powerful cyborg looking for a master, a task Saitama reluctantly takes on simply because Genos won't go away otherwise. He's also the source of the best joke in the book: a full two pages of rambling, redundant explanation of his backstory while Saitama nearly collapses from the giant wall of text above him. It's probably even funnier in Japanese but it translates well enough as executed. In general, One-Punch Man has some of the best word bubble placement I've seen in manga, combined with translators who did a great job fitting the dialogue into the space provided. Adding to the comic book feel are sound effects that look closer to John Workman's effects than to traditional manga.

Genos's introduction pits him against Mosquito Girl, the best of the many excellent monsters in this volume of One-Punch Man. Her ability to control mosquitoes goes beyond its similarities to Ant-Man's powers in a horrifying series of pages involving a thief who blunders into her insect cloud. (It's particularly creepy as a Florida resident.) Some of the other monsters are anime references: the very first one seen is clearly Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z with horns, while the Giant Brother is based on the titular creatures from Attack on Titan.

ONE even followed one of American comics' primary rules: when in doubt, put a gorilla in your comic. Armored Gorilla is one of several fighters from the "House of Evolution," a subplot which continues in the next volume. Due to the weekly nature and shorter stories, One-Punch Man occasionally feels a little too quick or undeveloped, but that's a function of the medium rather than the quality. Unlike other manga I've read, more than enough happens in this volume to make it feel like a worthwhile purchase.

Later chapters help with the world-building; the anime will likely move some plot elements around to compensate. The anime keeps Saitama's facial animation -- or lack thereof -- intact as well. Murata's hyper-detailed style stands in stark contrast to the extremely plain face and head of Saitama, which ends up enhancing his emotions. Whether you're a fan of anime, superheroes, or superhero parodies, you'll find a lot to like in One-Punch Man. You can find it at local comic book stores; just go to the very end of the One Piece section and it should be right there.

I hope you've enjoyed this first "Entry Plug" article. You can consider my Dragon Ball Z review from two years ago a prequel as it can also serve as a good starting point. Future articles include Attack on Titan, Gundam: The Origin, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, and Parasyte. Feel free to leave any further suggestions in the comments. The ideal criteria are manga that can appeal to comic book fans and are readily available (preferably in book form but I'll consider scanlations).
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  1. Monster (there are omnibus editions), Sanctuary (out of print unfortunately) and other less fantastical stories like that serve as a good gateway just by being great drama/thriller stories.

  2. Haha love the "When in doubt put a Gorilla in there" line XD
    Yes, I was surprised there was manga review on this and pleasantly surprised you liked it. One Punch Man has been one of my favorite manga's for the past two-three years and I seriously can't wait to own it all! Also, they play the Superman angle (strongest in the universe) really well and in comedy, plus Badass action.