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Astro Boy, volume 19-21

Creators: Osamu Tezuka
, May 2004

Reviewing each new set of Dark Horse’s Astro Boy collection presents a fresh challenge: there are only so many ways to say: “Buy this comic!” By now, everyone surely knows that Osamu Tezuka is not only the “God of Manga,” but one of the great creative geniuses of comics, his skill, innovation, and influence equaled only by Will Eisner in America and Herge in Europe. Not only that, but he’s fun. Even “serious” Tezuka works like Phoenix and Adolf are leavened by humor and humanity, and Astro Boy is giddy, whiz-bang entertainment in it’s purest form.

Which is not to say that Astro Boy is nothing but bubblegum. Beneath the apple-cheeked adventure runs one of Tezuka’s favorite, and most troubling, themes- conflict between humanity and artificial intelligence. Volumes 19-21 contain not one, but two storylines which robots threaten to revolt, and are rounded up and sent to concentration camps in retaliation.

The Astro Boy stories always end with peace and human supremacy restored, but usually not before both sides, human and robot, have committed great wrongs. It’s a little depressing to think of how simplistically modern “adult” entertainment like the Matrix movies treat this material- we’re encouraged to root unquestioningly for the plucky, attractive humans against the scary not-us machines-and then see how much more thoughtfully the same ideas are handled in comic book form from the 1960’s aimed at small children.

But Astro Boy is, above all, a kid’s comic, pulsing with action and silliness and ingenious sci-fi devices. Tezuka takes his robot hero to the bottom of the ocean, the planet Mars, the African desert, and the far ends of time. The action is equally thrilling and outlandish; the plots teeter constantly between brilliant and totally insane. The most wonderful thing about Tezuka’s work is its energy, and Astro Boy is Tezuka at full vibrancy; larger-than-life stories, cartoonish exaggeration, huge teeming crowds, and characters bursting off the page.

Volumes 19 and 20 comprise a long story arc that begins with “The Blue Knight” and ends with “Meeva”. In an introduction included in 19, Tezuka explains that these stories were created in response to pressure from editors who wanted Astro Boy to be more of a “bad boy” antihero, the type popular in manga at the time… …Giving readers over 200 action-packed pages by the undisputed master of manga for under ten dollars a pop, the Astro Boy reprint project continues to be one of the best bargains in comics. How many ways can I tell you to go buy it? (Shaenon K. Garrity)

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