How the Astro Boy comic will prepare you for the movie

The graphic novel Astro Boy Movie Prequel: Underground, written by comic book vet Scott Tipton and featuring art by Diego Jourdan, is less a graphic novel than it is a primer. In and of itself, Astro Boy Movie Prequel: Underground is an inadequate translation of Osamu Tezuka's iconic robotic boy hero.

How can you translate something as fundamental as Tezuka's vision? His work, going all the way back to 1952, is as basic to the look of Manga and Anime as carbon is to biological life. You can't translate it. You can only riff on it.

Wisely, Tipton and Jourdan don't try to force a vintage Manga and Anime vision of Astro Boy into American comic book sensibilities. If they'd tried to make this graphic novel prequel to the upcoming CGI animated film in the style of Tezuka, they would have fallen flat on their faces. Instead, they seem to be dodging that pitfall.

The graphic novel concerns Astro Boy, the robotic lad created by Dr. Tenma of Metro City's Ministry of Science, trying to save his city from seismic disturbances. Turns out there's an underground civilization beneath Metro City. Or is it just one civilization? Astro becomes embroiled in an ongoing war between two subterranean factions over control for a McGuffin that, in the tradition of all good McGuffins, does exactly what the plot needs it to do at any given moment, even as it drives said plot.

The story itself isn't very consistent. Astro Boy can tunnel through miles of strata but a bump on his head from a chunk of stalactite smaller than a Hacky Sack knocks him out and gives him amnesia. Certain characters just seem to go away at crucial points. One bad guy seems to have all kinds of black magic powers at his disposal, complete with a Gollum-like minion, but only in so far as said magic makes for a cliffhanger ending of one of the graphic novel's chapters.

One of the great charms of Astro Boy is his innocence. Hey ... he may have really awesome firepower at his disposal, but he's still just a little boy. The flavor of innocence here feels more like obliviousness ... even above and beyond Astro's aforementioned bout of stalactite-induced amnesia.

These shortcomings aside, what Astro Boy Movie Prequel: Underground does very well is serve as an introduction for very little kids to Astro and his world. And I do mean little kids. If you are among the millions of people around the world who grew up with Astro Boy and want your kids to be up to speed for the upcoming Astro Boy movie next month, then this graphic novel is a worthwhile investment.

Actually, if you want to introduce your little kids to the glories of comic books in general, this might be a good gateway publication. Like I said, this works best as a primer. Longtime Tezuka fans probably won't like it. But it does show enough respect for Tezuka and Astro Boy's legacy that it makes for an OK bit of kiddie fare.

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