Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Volume eighteen of Astro Boy features five adventures personally selected by Osamu Tezuka from two decades of Astro Boy comics, translated by Frederick L. Schodt. In this volume: ‘The Robot Spaceship’(1963), ‘Count Bat’(1959), ‘Atlas’(1956), ’S.O.S From A Satellite’(1959), and ‘The Mysterious Ball’(1957).
In ‘The Robot Spaceship’ Professor Ochanomizu is working on a secret project that will go into space. Another secret project is underway on a hidden island far south, headed by the mysterious Colonel Vega of the Bronze Republic. When she manages to sabotage Ochanomizu’s robot spaceship, Astro has to try and retrieve the missing part. Tezuka is great at giving stereotypes a little twist to transform them into interesting and original characters, and his Colonel Vega is a memorable villain, unfortunately a little diminished by her sexist handling at the end of the story.
Tezuka’s intro to ‘Count Bat’ discusses how much more violent Japanese manga and anime were than their western counterparts. He doesn’t arrive at any conclusions about what this means, but it does lead into a vampire-inspired tale of giant robot bats and a radioactive plastic coffin from space. Some extra ingenious touches speed this tale to a quick finish.
‘Atlas’ has one of those Tezuka plots that start off in one place and go somewhere completely unrelated. In this case, Astro Boy encounters an incredibly strong robot called Atlas who has no difficulty in hurting or even killing humans. This is because he’s the creation of an Indian scientist whose mother was beaten to death by her boss, a sadistic and racist white man. Atlas is to be the weapon of his vengeance. Pretty strong stuff for 1956, but it doesn’t lead anywhere other than a typical fight-filled, crime-thwarting adventure, which feels like an odd waste of such a set-up.
In ‘S.O.S From A Satellite’ we are shown how people live and work on some of the satellites that orbit the Earth and children are born on them too. Astro thwarts a criminal kidnapping in another hectic story that crams a huge amount of exposition into a very short space.
‘The Mysterious Ball’ is found in a devastated Brazilian forest and sent to Professor Ochanomizu in Tokyo for analysis. It soon reveals its purpose on Earth and it’s up to Astro to find a way to foil an invasion.
If there’s a theme for this collection it’s stories that are almost fantastic but for one reason or another don’t live up to their promise. All of them introduce great ideas which are unexplored, and read like they were made in a hurry, which of course they usually were. Tezuka only operating at half his capabilities is still head and shoulders above what most creators could produce on their best day, but this is a less successful collection than usual.