Ratman: The Smallest Hero!? Volume 1 by Inui Sekihiko

While I don’t write about superhero comics very much on this site, I have a great deal of affection for them. When I was little I honed my reading skills by going through my mom’s stacks of Marvel comics from the 1970s, and while I don’t buy floppy comics every week I do pick up an occasional trade. There are plenty of super powered folks in manga but they aren’t usually directly based on the western capes and tights superhero tradition. Sekihiko obviously has a ton of affection for superheroes even as he pokes fun at the genre.

Shuto is a too-short boy living in a world where superheroes are celebrities backed by corporate endorsement deals. He’s obsessed with the idea of becoming a superhero himself. He plasters his room with posters and lends a book about heroism to his classmate Mirea. Another classmate, Rio, is the daughter of the president of the main superhero association. When Shuto is practicing his heroic kicks and accidentally launches one of his shoes at a school bully Rio comes to his rescue with her martial arts moves. His dreams of becoming a hero take an unfortunate turn when he and Mirea are kidnapped by an organization of super villains and she’s dangled over a steaming hot vat. Shuto accepts a transformation watch and signs a contract with the Jackal organization. He transforms into a dark-looking hero and saves Mirea. Unfortunately it seems that Mirea’s older sister is the head of Jackal and now Shuto is forced to become a villain instead of the hero he aspired to be.

In many ways Ratman is a conventional shonen manga. Shuto has the typical scrappy personality you would expect. Mirea is the quiet retiring girl with hidden depths. Rio is a dynamic fighter who is occasionally surprised when people walk in while she’s taking a bath. Both girls seem to regard Shuto with some affection. When Shuto’s forced to play the villain he learns that the heroes he idolizes might not be so heroic after all. Where Ratman is very entertaining is the way Sekihiko plays with superhero stereotypes and images. Skull-faced henchmen enjoy cuddling kittens. The Ratman costume references Spawn. Shuto savors the moment of standing on a roof, looking down at the city just like a certain Caped Crusader. While I don’t think the art has a very distinctive style the action scenes are easy to follow, which is something I don’t take for granted when reading shonen manga. Sekihiko is also good at drawing funny situations, especially the way he portrays the Jackal henchmen who appear to be able to communicate only in mime. Ratman was fun to read and I think it’ll be a good manga for superhero fans to try if they don’t take their genre too seriously.

Review copy provided by the publisher.