A comic with its share of big issues

Comic books have evolved from the simple escapades of Archie, Jughead and the rest of the gang, haven't they?

Batwoman's about to come out of the closet, and now a new manga (Japanese comic) series addresses social justice issues that never hit Riverdale High.

Part graphic novel and part educational textbook (with way cooler illustrations), "1 World Manga," developed by the San Francisco-based Viz Media in partnership with the World Bank, focuses on topics like HIV/AIDS, poverty and global warming.

The series, which launched last year, follows 15-year-old orphan Rei -- in training to become the greatest martial artist in the world. But Rei's mentor and spirit guide, who takes on the form of various animals, is more interested in developing the boy's mind and heart than his left hook. Rei is forced to complete tasks that seem unrelated to martial arts education (think Mr. Miyagi ordering Daniel-san to wax on/wax off his car in "The Karate Kid.")

The recently released third volume, "Passage 3: Global Warming -- The Lagoon of the Vanishing Fish," explores the themes of toxic waste, illegal dumping and global warming, with touches of comedy and action.

But the series isn't shy in assigning blame for Earth's woes. At one point, an environmental scientist says to Rei, "It's the wealthy industrialized nations' pollution that's disrupting the entire planet's weather patterns.... But it's the world's poor who suffer the worst consequences! They're usually the ones who lose their homes and livelihoods, and they don't have elaborate insurance plans to cover their losses."

There's no beating 'round the bush with this manga. The back pages of the 40-page booklet also include information and website links for further reading on subjects tackled in the story. Personal action items (e.g., conserve energy, take public transportation and plant trees) are also suggested. This educational comic may target schoolchildren, but adults -- and especially the world's politicos -- can learn valuable lessons here too.

Now if only Archie and Veronica would learn to tackle gang violence and graffiti....

-- Christine N. Ziemba

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