What happens if you hire a manga artist who really wants to be drawing gekiga (underground) manga to draw Spider-Man? Jason Thompson shows us in his latest House of 1000 Manga column at ANN: The Japanese version of Spider-Man started off close to its American roots, although re-imagined with Japanese characters, but eventually veered off into a darker, more agsty comic that was apparently years ahead of its time:
But Yu [the Japanese Peter Parker] doesn’t get to even enjoy the manly pleasures of being a superpowered badass. Instead, he remains a tragic and lonely figure, tormented by his superpowers, unable to be happy no matter what. In a typical scene, Yu bumps into some yakuza in a train station, then allows himself to get beaten up rather than use his Spider-Man powers and risk injuring them with his super-strength. Realistic violence intrudes on escapist fantasy: in a relatively early chapter, Yu and his friends are driving motorbikes down the road, exchanging wisecracks (“Decided to play, huh, Komori? I always thought you were a bookworm!”). Suddenly, two of his friends are nailed by a car going full speed, sending their motorbike flying and leaving them lying on the grass covered in blood. (“A hit and run! That guy blew through the light and just kept going!”) The bad guys turn from supervillains into pathetic, miserable everyday criminals: sleazy hippies; a group of kendo students who gang up and attempt to rape a girl; a troubled young man who gets super-strength and takes revenge on his tormentors.
All this is rendered in Ikegami’s dark, gekiga-style art, and all done as work for hire for Marvel, which is kind of amazing, actually. Because Japanese audiences weren’t very familiar with the character, Ikegami had a lot of freedom to reinvent him, and when he got bored with the original, he pushed it in a more interesting direction, creating an entirely new story from a few scraps of the old.