By Dale Carothers
I’ve read better comics by Rob Liefeld.
To make this claim, I felt I had to test it. After reading Heroman, I went to my local comic book store and looked for Liefeld’s work in the dollar bin. I didn’t find any, and I wasn’t about to pay three bucks for a Liefeld book, so I went to a bookstore and sampled a bit of Liefeld’s stuff in a recent collection of Hawk & Dove. I read an issue that Liefeld drew and scripted. And yes, it still hurts, thank you.
But Hawk & Dove, at the very least, made sense. And the dialogue, while juvenile, was written in a manner that I could understand. His…art clearly displayed the action and I was able to follow what was going on from panel to panel.
Heroman failed in all of the ways that Liefeld “succeeded” and I found myself wondering who was to blame. Stan Lee? BONES? They created the anime on which this was based. Tamon Ohta, creator of the manga? The translator? I don’t know. I just know that I don’t like it.
Heroman is the story of Joey Jones. He’s the typical geek. Picked on at school. Loves robots. Awkward around girls. He’s also poor, and has to support both himself and his grandmother. He works long hours, and it wears him out, but he’s almost cheerful about it. His poverty feels artificially crammed into the story to make it difficult for him to purchase the Heybo, a voice-controlled toy robot. Joey wants one badly, but he doesn’t have the money. But this problem is quickly solved when a rich bully breaks his own Heybo, and Joey fishes it out of the garbage and fixes it.
This kills the set-up for the story. Joey is poor and wants something. We expect him to have to work for it, but then it’s basically handed to him, so we can get to the action. So, why make him poor? To play on our sympathies? Who knows? It’s the least of Heroman‘s problems.
The overall plot of Heroman is an anime/manga standard. A young boy and his robot fight monsters and aliens. And it’s during the first fight that the Heybo’s true power is revealed.
An antiques dealer is angry about his store’s imminent closing. He blames the CEO of the company that owns the store. The spirit of an angry samurai, named ‘Grudge Samurai,’ fuses with the antiques dealer and they attack the CEO while he’s driving home. Joey rushes to the CEO’s defense because Lina, the girl that he likes, is also in the car – she’s the CEO’s daughter. During the fight, Joey and his toy robot get struck by lightning, and Heybo turns into Heroman. They defeat Grudge Samurai, but not before Grudge Samurai speaks one of the worst lines of dialogue I’ve ever read: “I am Grudge Samurai!! With grudges nurtured from a warring era, I shall slice thee up in a sword dance of hate!!”
Much of the dialogue and narration in Heroman reads in a similar style of half-assed Yoda-speak. It made me put the book down over and over again. It took me almost a month to read it.
Ohta’s art is cartoonish and pedestrian. Character designs are bland, but were likely created by BONES’s character designers. Ohta struggles with clear storytelling, especially in action sequences. I kept getting confused about what was happening. Going back to re-read panels didn’t help. Too many motion lines and closeups muddied the action. Characters tried to help the reader along by announcing what was happening, but their awkward dialogue only made things more frustrating.
The rest of the volume concerns an alien invasion. I could recount the story, and its many problems, but it’s not worth either my time or yours.
Heroman has a 1 out 10 chance of waking Cthulhu from his eternal slumber, but only if every copy of both the manga and the anime are bundled together and dropped directly on his head.