‘Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga’ rises complete, like Lord Death Man

June 30, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

You know Batman. But do you know Batmanga?

In the 1960s, manga artist Jiro Kuwata pitted the Caped Crusader and Robin against a man who wouldn’t die and creatures variously extraterrestrial and mutated right here on Earth in comics for Japanese readers. The work wouldn’t be seen by an American audience until over four decades later, and not in full until now.

“Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga,” translated into English and unabridged, rolls out as a weekly DC Comics Digital First series beginning Saturday, and the entire, 1,000-plus-page run will get a print release later this year across three paperback volumes. It is the first complete collection of Kuwata’s Batman comics outside of Japan.

Both the digital and print presentations will preserve the Japanese sequence of panels’ original right-to-left reading order. Digital chapter releases will vary in length from 15 to 32 pages, but each will be priced at 99 cents.

The Digital First installments begin with a 32-pager, “Lord Death Man,” Kuwata’s most influential Batman work. Hero Complex readers can get an early look at some pages from the adventure in the gallery above or via the links below.

Cover | Intro | Lord Death Man | Chase | Acrobatics | Wrecking ball

That titular villain has repeatedly returned from the grave in recent years. After decades in obscurity, he and some of Kuwata’s other Batman work got a retrospective look with the 2008 publication of “Batmanga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan.” In 2010, writer Grant Morrison and artist Yanick Paquette put Lord Death Man in a new, Japan-set story with “Batman Incorporated” Nos. 1-2. And in 2011, he appeared in a Paul Dini-written adventure on the Warner Bros. animation series “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” that ran on Cartoon Network.

A look inside "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga." (DC Entertainment)

A look inside “Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga.” (DC Entertainment)

Kuwata’s Lord Death Man art is distinctive, but a version of the character also had a previous life back across the Pacific: Writer Robert Kanigher and artist Sheldon Moldoff introduced Death-Man (no Lord) in 1966’s “Batman” No. 180. The manga artist adapted — and expanded — that then-recent issue. The curious can find the Kanigher-Moldoff story “Death Knocks Three Times!” and many more ’60s Batman tales in the 2007 trade paperback “Showcase Presents: Batman Vol. 2.” That first appearance hasn’t been forgotten: Morrison had Batman recall it — and the old, shorter name — in his 2010 story.

But it’s Kuwata’s interpretation that keeps coming back from the dead in dramatic fashion.

“Batmanga” stories from the artist, who co-created the popular manga and anime cyborg superhero 8 Man, originally ran in the weekly Shonen King anthology magazine in 1966 and 1967, during the height of a craze kickstarted by the Adam West-starring “Batman” TV show. But pop culture crazes pass, and after Kuwata’s Batman run ended, there would be a long dry spell for the hero in manga.

The last 15 years have brought some such stories, notably Kia Asamiya’s “Batman: Child of Dreams” and Yoshinori’s Natsume’s “Batman: Death Mask,” both easier to find complete than Kuwata’s run until now.

The digital “Batmanga” releases will be available on the DC Comics app, Readdcentertainment.com, Comixology, iBooks, Google Play, Kindle Store and the Nook Store.

Will you be reading Kuwata’s work weekly (and right to left), which, excusing the change in medium, is how the ’60s kids in Japan got their Batmanga?

(And isn’t that fun to say? “Bat-mahn-ga. Bat-mahn-ga. Bat-mahn-ga.”)

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

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