Review: Heroman, Vol. 1

Heroman, Vol. 1Heroman, Vol. 1
Written and Illustrated by Tamon Ohta | Original Concept Stan Lee + BONES
Genre: Shonen/Science Fiction
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
203 pages | $10.95 US, $11.95 CND
ISBN-13: 978-1935654582

Imagine, for a moment, that you could turn a toy robot into a hulking super hero, just by wanting to be special. In a nutshell, that is the premise of Heroman, an anime from studio BONES, in coordination with Stan Lee. Tamon Ohta’s adaptation of this  television show into the medium of comics has its high and low points. Let’s run it through. Joey Jones is a pretty average kid who ends up finding a toy robot that’s been smashed. He uses his scientific know-how to fix it up, but when a strange calamity strikes, Joey finds out that his toy robot can transform into Heroman, a powerful semi-sentient robot.

First, without getting too specific about plot, Stan Lee’s influence is immediately visible. From the setting, the stereotypes (the nerd, the blonde cheerleader, the football jock, the supportive minority friend), to even the names of the characters, its clear that Stan Lee’s influence is pervasive. For those of you who don’t read American comics, Stan Lee is the creator of comics like The Amazing Spiderman, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and more. Lee is even featured in some of the panels of the comic (much like his walk on appearances in most of the Marvel movies). And while Lee can construct some interesting fantasies, he requires that your suspension of belief be at maximum – and that’s not something that generally works for Heroman for an analyzing or critical reader.

Most stories in manga are implausible. Psyren for instance, is about a game where people travel back and forth through time, called forth by a mental psychic program called Nemesis Q. Not exactly believable. But what makes these implausible stories interesting is how characters interact, how the fantasies are called forth, and if the world created by these fantasies is cohesive. While Heroman certainly has its own breed of storytelling, I can’t say that it works for me as a critical reader. I find the characters to be what are essentially one-note stereotypes (our hero, Joey Jones is especially so, being nothing but a characterization of faith and doubt), and their interactions are then doomed to be similar stereotypes (the jock vs. the nerd, the hottie defends the nerd vs. the jock, etc.). The fantasies constructed are interesting enough (bug creatures invade the Earth, Heroman is our only hope, “with you, I can fight!”) but the way that they are constructed is haphazard.

More interesting is Joey Jones’ internal struggle in the later half of the book, although it ends in a very spectacular, over-the-top manner like the beginning of the book. We see him trying to come to grips with Heroman and his abilities, and his responsibilities (a la Peter Parker). Our hero manages to come out of his slump and successfully battles more bugs – with a bit of a twist ending that is certainly going to escalate the action in Volume 2.

Dispite my misgivings about the story construction, Heroman feels great for younger readers. There are a lot of messages about hope and friendship that we often see in shonen manga, but they are amped to 11 in Heroman. Younger readers who are more likely to suspend their disbelief, will find this bug squashing, ghost busting beat-em-up to be a real thrill, and it has a typical shonen ethos. I like this comic a lot in the traditional shonen age group, because it looks good, there is a lot of action, and it doesn’t bother getting technical about the fantasy. It’s all POW and WOW, and very little else. This is an untapped audience for most manga in the USA, Chi’s Sweet Home being a notable exception.

The production value on Heroman seems a bit lower than Vertical‘s regular releases. I assume this is because they are trying to fit into a price slot controlled by Viz Media, Kodansha, and Yen Press, but I am used to cleaner, whiter paper and higher-quality inks. This type of production is also present in releases of The Limit, which I will likely review next week. (of note, josei works like Sakuran and Paradise Kiss both have beautiful production, Vertical‘s standard).

Overall, I recommend Heroman to younger readers, but find that if you want your science fiction to be better explained, you aren’t going to enjoy Heroman. If you are turned off by stereotypes, Heroman again might not be your thing. Slightly lower production quality keeps it in an affordable price range, and this book (plus or minus a Heroman DVD) would be a great present for a 8-12 year old.

For Fans Of: The Amazing Spiderman, One Piece, “Friendship, Hard Work, and Victory”
Final Verdict: Recommended with reservations

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