Those superhero fans who found the new movie Kick-Ass a bit too rough might get a kick out of Inui Sekhiko’s Ratman (Tokyopop), a comic manga about a fifteen-year-old superhero fanboy who dreams of becoming super-powerful — only to learn to his dismay that he’s received his new powers from the wrong side.
Set in a world where superheroes are “churned out regularly” and promoted like corporate sponsored sports stars, the series centers on Shuto Katsuragi, a high schooler whose short stature regularly gets him mistaken for a middle schooler. Wannabe Shuto diligently follows the celebrity supertypes, and he seemingly gets his shot at joining their ranks when he’s kidnapped by a goofy gang of miming minions called Jackies and brought to the Abyss, home to the evil organization Jackal. There he sees a pretty blond classmate, Mirea Mizushima, being held captive by a cleavage-baring villainess (who we immediately realize looks like an older version of Mirea). Why has the organization bothered to kidnap two helpless high school kids? “Since when has evil needed a reason to commit evil deeds?” our hero is told, though it all goes deeper than that.
Passed an “easy-to-use transformation device” called the Append Gear by his seeming would-be rescuer, Shuto dons the device and becomes a fang-faced creature named Ratman. Unfortunately, his doing so binds him to the nefarious Jackal organization, and he is soon sent out to do its evil bidding. First on the agenda, breaking into the mansion headquarters of the Hero Association, who houses another classmate of Shuto’s, the kick-ass (sorry, there’s no other adjective) daughter of the association president, Rio Kizaki. Rio herself yearns to become a super-type, but is held back by her overprotective father.
Though Ratman looks like something that might have been created back in the days when Marvel Comics was heavily swiping from Alien, Sekihiko primarily plays this shonen manga for campy comedy. When the statuesque Jackal leader too broadly starts gloating over her wicknedness, she’s chastised for getting “too maniacal;” after our hero undergoes his first transformation into Ratman, he’s greeted with a banner and confetti. The Jackies prove particularly comical, following Shuto into the school setting where they’re largely unnoticed, they’re a grinning parody of the disposable henchman — even as they prove to be more appealing than their mercenary Hero Association adversaries.
As an artist, Sekihiko is not above engaging in the occasional dose of “fan service” (manga-ese for gratuitous imagery, often of the t-&-a variety), though he’s more fun when he plays with old school superhero comics imagery. I especially enjoyed the two servants protecting the Hero Association hq: one looks like a threatening matriarch out of Kirby’s Fourth World series, the other like a Marvel Comics blaxploitation rip-off. It’s clear where Sekihiko, the author of an earler comic con set series entitled Comic Party, cut his comics fanboy teeth.