Jiro Kuwata, the mangaka behind Phantom Detective, 8 Man, and one of the most fascinating takes on Batman around, has passed away. The news was confirmed by the artist’s publisher, Akita Shoten, in a short statement.
Kuwata’s career in manga took off in the late ‘50s, developing Maboroshi Tantei (adapted several years later as the tokusatsu series Phantom Detective) before collaborating with writer Kazumasa Hirai to create 8 Man for Weekly Shonen Magazine, an iconic forerunner of Japan’s fascination with cyborg superheroes. But outside of Japanese shores, Kuwata will be remembered not for one of his own creations, but an enduring spin on one of the world’s most famous comic book characters: Batman.
After the 1966 Batman TV show starring Adam West sparked an international wave of Bat-Mania, Kuwata began serializing a licensed manga featuring the world’s greatest detective for Shōnen King in the same year. The series—simply titled Batman—ran for a year, and wasn’t an adaptation of the show or a series inspired by the Batman comics of the time. After being highlighted in Chip Kidd’s retrospective Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan in 2007, the series would gain a resurgence in popularity in 2014, when DC Comics officially began translating and releasing the series in the West as The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga—first as a digital-only series on Comixology before releasing the complete series across three volumes.
Kuwata’s take on Batman was entirely unique, giving him and Robin a whole host of new villains to face off against in the form of Lord Death Man and his army of minions, and all sorts of kooky villains like Go-Go the Magician, Professor Gorilla, and Doctor Faceless. The Batman manga could get infinitely weirder than even Golden and Silver Age Batman at its kookiest. It had a sci-fi bent that made it feel more in line with something like Ultraman predecessor Ultra Q, or the early days of Kamen Rider than it did your average DC superhero comic.
Kuwata’s Batman was an amalgam of the different Batman interpretations of the time, on-screen and off, but also a hero cut from the same cloth that Kuwata’s previous work in shonen manga and tokusatsu played with—plus, unlike his Western counterpart, Kuwata’s Batman wouldn’t hesistate to kill his enemies if there was no alternative in stopping them.
Kuwata passed away on July 2, at the age of 85.
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