Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 7th 2013
Joey Jones was an ordinary high school kid until the day he stumbled upon a strange toy that could transform into the powerful robotic warrior, Heroman. With Heroman at his side, Joey fights to protect those around him—especially now that a destructive race of aliens known as the Skruggs have invaded planet Earth! Joey and his friends set out to battle the Skruggs at their headquarters, but his worst enemy at school, Will, has other ideas. Will wants superpowers of his own, and the Skruggs are happy to give them to him—in exchange for turning Will and his best friend into Skrugg minions. Can Joey and Heroman reach Will in time to save him, or is he doomed to an alien existence? In the end, it comes down to a battle between Heroman and the Skruggs' leader, Gogorr, to decide the fate of the planet ...
At last, HeroMan starts to show some signs of an engaging plot, rather than churning up more pages of generic save-the-day nonsense. Morally gray characters go through a crisis of conscience, others ponder what it means to be truly strong, and even the pure-hearted protagonist has a moment of weakness where his dark side comes out. Most important of all, though, the top hero and the top villain meet at full force on the battlefield, bringing the first story arc to an explosive finish. But is it really an improvement if the artwork still falls well short, and the overall series has only gone from "lousy" to "tolerable"?
If there's one good thing to come out of this volume, it's Will's character arc: this stereotypical, football-playing lunkhead has developed into a fascinating, conflicted soul who only wants to look out for his sister. Naturally, he goes completely the wrong way about it, and seeing Will turned into a Skrugg underling—firing on Joey and HeroMan, battling with his conscience—is one of the series' more memorable plot twists. This volume also does a good job stirring up the debate about strength and heroism when Will's tag-along friend, Nick, enters the battle against Joey and bemoans his own perceived lack of power.
However, the series' adherence to action-hero formula makes the ultimate outcome one predictable turn of events after another. Joey, of course, has the right answer about what it means to be powerful—not having the deadliest alien technology or strongest robot, but being the most morally upstanding human. That means Will and Nick, having chosen wrongly, are forced to meet a tragic fate. (Sorry, no do-overs even if you realize the error of your ways.) That leaves Joey and HeroMan to battle Gogorr in a lively but chaotic finale, with no surprises about who wins that battle. HeroMan does make it interesting when he enters a wild berserker state, fueled by Joey's own anger at Gogorr, but this series is simply too afraid to take chances: good guys will always be good guys, and the heroes easily snap out of their rage and save the day in squeaky-clean fashion. They even make sure to top it off with the escape-from-an-exploding-building routine.
In the midst of all this, another subplot is afoot, with minor characters likely to become key players in the next story arc. But these events are so poorly woven into the main storyline—they might as well be fighting the Skruggs in an alternate universe—that it's like waving a giant sign saying, "Here's what we're going to do next." That sort of clumsy storytelling can be found all throughout HeroMan.
If this series didn't have enough problems in the story department, it also suffers artistically, with a style that is too simple in design yet too complicated to follow in the heat of battle. HeroMan and Gogorr's final showdown is a parade of one fighting pose after another—but often, these dynamic images are connected by messy panels where smoke, fire and flying debris take precedence over the main characters. At least the villains and their home base look convincing; the cyborg-insectoid appearance of the Skruggs and their rocky, underground base make for an ideal sci-fi action setup. (Certainly it works better than Tamon Ohta's contrived attempt at drawing a suburban American city.) HeroMan himself also cuts a striking figure as a sleek yet powerful robot, Mega Man style. However, the stereotypical character designs among the humans (gutsy kid hero, mad scientist, football player, chubby guy—the list goes on), along with a lack of nuance in line detail and shading, drags the art down to the level of a trainee artist who hasn't quite reached the skills worthy of a permanent gig.
If the artwork is held by back a rudimentary style, so is the dialogue, which expresses the series' good-versus-evil worldview in the simplest terms possible. The short sentences and low word count make it well-suited for younger readers, but the script essentially talks down to its audience, repeating the same points about power, saving others, and wanting to be stronger as if readers are stupid. Will's cheesy lines about wanting to be a hero to his sister, and Gogorr's snarling maniacal-villain threats, are particularly grating. Clearly, it's the events of the story itself, as well as the results of each battle, that really get the point across rather than anything the characters say. In addition to keeping the dialogue simple, this edition also leaves the sound effects as-is, placing small translations next to the Japanese text. These details are minor enough that they don't get in the way of the visuals.
As a heroic adventure, HeroMan makes the right moves, but these days it's not enough just to meet the basic standards. Dozens of other series already do the same, and the very best surpass those standards. In this volume, a crisis of conscience, an all-out brawl, and the final triumph of good over evil bring the Skrugg invasion to a high-spirited finish—but is it a good finish? Between the hokey dialogue and a lack of creative plotting, this story arc cruises along the path to mediocrity (and it doesn't even do a good job of setting up for the next one). The visuals also fall short, with an unpolished style and messy fight scenes overshadowing the slick sci-fi designs. HeroMan may show what it is to be a true hero, but it falls into an embarrassing pile of clichés while doing so.
Overall : C
Story : C+
Art : D
+ Some striking character developments and an explosive battle round out the end of the first major story arc.
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