Naoki Urasawa’s “Billy Bat”

Posted by on December 29th, 2010 at 12:13 PM

I chanced being in Japan to pick  up volume 4 of Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki’s “Billy Bat” this month. The premise and conceit of the series are so fascinating I was surprised not to see more written about it. Though Urasawa’s prolificacy and supersaturation of American manga-didactics make it virtually impossible to treat all known works at Plutonic highs. But hey, this is just a five-dollar preamble to a quick book review.

Billy Bat is an attempt at Pynchon-esque meta-fiction that marries two ethnicities so indivisible one rarely ever sees them in the same cel: Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Plot: WWII’s just ended. Kevin Yamagata, who illustrates the wildly popular series “Billy Bat” for Marvel, has discovered he accidentally ripped off the main character from an akabon (dime novel) written by a very deliberate Tezuka-lookalike. Billy Bat then starts hopscotching through historical milestones presaged by “Billy Bat” comics penned by others; milestones dating as far back as Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. The Janus-faced Billy Bat has been behind Napoleon, the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Kennedy assassination, and… 9/11. By volume 4, Billy Bat has been diffused into a Mickey Mouse-type character with an evil shadow. The image is compounded with a logo almost identical to Batman.

The story is ambitious in no small part because of the inherent polemics. But what kills me, absolutely kills me, is that this supposed Rosetta Stone of epoch-making events is a cartoon bat with a bad sense of humor. I alluded to Pynchon earlier, but just imagine if instead of W.A.S.T.E., the Trystero Organization’s slogan in The Crying of Lot 49 were M.I.L.F. But the enduring message is clear: writing, comics, illustrated narrative, all have factive and fictive implications. If truth is stranger than fiction, Billy Bat suggests one should never talk to strangers.

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2 Responses to “Naoki Urasawa’s “Billy Bat””

  1. […] on vol. 1 of Aion and vol. 1 of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko (Blog@Newsarama) Anne Ishii on vol. 4 of Billy Bat (The Comics Journal) Connie on vol. 33 of Bleach (Slightly Biased Manga) Connie on vols. 9 and 10 […]

  2. […] on vol. 1 of Aion and vol. 1 of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko (Blog@Newsarama) Anne Ishii on vol. 4 of Billy Bat (The Comics Journal) Connie on vol. 33 of Bleach (Slightly Biased Manga) Connie on vols. 9 and 10 […]