One Punch Man is the answer to the question that has plagued super hero comics for generations – that a powerful character who can defeat his enemies with but a single action would make for a boring story. This is why every so often there is a writer on Superman who tries to tone down the big blue’s ridiculous physical advantages because without direct physical danger an action story has no tension.
One Punch Man is the opposite answer to that problem. Saitama is a superhero so powerful that he can beat enemies with a single ordinary punch. Indeed, throughout the first two volumes of One Punch Man, Saitama’s victory is never in doubt. The anticipation is instead built up in other ways; how ridiculously over the top will Saitama’s victory be? What kind of comedic rebukes will this produce from the other characters? These are far more interesting dramatic points to explore and One Punch Man realizes that if you are going to write a story with superheroes, something fundamentally ridiculous, you should focus on making jokes about them.
This focus on comedic writing should not be surprising if you know that One Punch Man began as a webcomic and was originally drawn by the writer, working under the pseudonym ‘ONE’. The manga we are receiving from Shounen Jump retains the writing, but all of the visuals have been redrawn by Yusuke Murata of ‘Eyeshield 21’ fame. Murata’s super serious art, that seems to have taken a bend towards the Hiroya Oku School of mechanical and creature design, clashes brilliantly with the writing. It was either serendipity of the Olympian level or deviously deliberate as this clash of serious and the ridiculous is exactly what One Punch Man runs on.
A great example I would point to is the dead serious, super detailed panel of a cyborg gorilla giving Saitama a stare down before immediately giving up and surrendering all the information about his team to save his skin.
It is this taste for the absurd that pitches One Punch Man over other modern superhero deconstructions who desire to wallow sadness over the genres negative or impossible elements rend them sour and cynical windows into human nature. One Punch Man instead focuses on being compelling first within the genres it is working. Saitama’s super power comes entirely from hard work like any good hero in ‘Shonen Jump’ and he occasionally says things that are pure cat-poster material. Plenty of people don’t believe him, but this is not a source of angst for Saitama as he is wholly focused on his own self-improvement.
At the end of volume two, when we see that people really do not seem to know Saitama that well despite his exploits and Saitama gears up to join the Heroes Association, I cannot help but get some wired Nietzsche vibes from One Punch Man. Saitama starts to feel like a Zarathustra figure; a hermit that has left his self-imposed exile and though his actions teaches others about how to live a better life. But One Punch Man will not use this as an albatross on the reader to make us feel guilty for reading a fun superhero comic. That is what makes One Punch man such a great deconstruction, or perhaps reconstruction. No matter what else it has to say it loves being funny over everything else.