Back in the Marvel Comics heyday of the late '70s and early '80s, Stan Lee and company had the balls to try just about anything, including pushing their superhero books on untested foreign markets. The Japanese were about as receptive to Marvel's most popular character, Spider-Man, as they were to American automobiles, however, and so that particular venture tanked. But as the Marvel brain trust isn't the sort to accept defeat, the company decided to re-create the Spidey story in the Manga style to which the Japanese were already acclimated. To that end, Marvel hired none other than Manga über-artist Ryoichi Ikegami to write and illustrate the popular American tale with a decidedly Japanese twist.
Now, many moons after Manga Spider-Man has come and gone in Japan, American audiences can finally feast on the sloppy seconds. While Ikegami stuck with the well-known "radioactive spider bite" origin of the American original, everything else about the story seems surprising. In this version, Spider-Man's alter ego is Japanese student Yu Komori. And instead of the always irritating Aunt May to look after, this Spidey dons red pajamas to help a pen pal pay his mother's medical bills. Plot-wise, this isn't much of an improvement. But Ikegami's series does make the story of Spidey's nemesis Electro more compelling by revealing him to be Spider-Man's own brother. (In the states, Spidey is an only child.)
Issue #4 continues along this familiar yet subtly altered historical path by reintroducing readers to the misunderstood villain the Lizard in a captivating 16-page sequence that's devoid of dialogue or narration. The artistically lavish Manga style is always short on words, which frees the reader to examine every wonderfully textured detail of the black-and-white backgrounds. In releasing Spider-Man: The Manga about five years after American fans have given up on Spidey altogether, Marvel has once again proven to be a buck short and a day late in terms of marketing savvy. Yet they still deserve kudos for producing a series that will undoubtedly make a worthwhile addition to any Manga lover's archives.