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My look at Comixology’s Shotaro Ishinomori offerings continues! This week comes one of his most enduring creations, Kamen Rider. Created in 1971 in conjunction with the live action TV series, the Kamen Rider the life of Takeshi Hongo as it takes a turn for the weird following his kidnapping by the organization known as Shocker. The group has selected him for alteration to become one of their cybernetic foot soldiers, but things go awry and Hongo escapes before Shocker can complete the brain modifications to turn him into their mindless slave. Now gifted with abilities far beyond those of a mortal man, Hongo wages a one man war on the forces of Shocker as the hero of justice, Kamen Rider!
The story in Kamen Rider’s first volume is a straight forward origin story. Hongo is kidnapped, escapes and turns his powers against the evil that gave them to him. It’s not a hugely originally concept, in fact it’s something of a common theme in Ishinomori’s work, but it’s executed with such a single mindedness that it lends it a certain, awkward charm. It’s incredibly straight forward, focusing entirely on Hongo’s battle with Shocker and it’s army of cyborgs, who often times look more like mutant creatures rather than anything vaguely resembling the modern idea of a cyborg. Character development doesn’t seem to be a priority and Hongo comes off as generic, bland, stoic, lone warrior who helps anyone he comes across during his battle with Shocker. Indeed, he seems to do nothing but battle Shocker after his initial kidnapping and alteration, and the story quickly falls into a repetitive monster of the week formula by the end of this first volume. To make things worse almost nothing is revealed about Hongo’s background or his life aside from his fondness for motorcycles. His supporting cast isn’t terribly fleshed out either, and at this point consists of only two characters, Tobei Tachibana and Ruriko Midorikawa. Tobei is even more of a cypher than Hongo is in this volume, a servant who putters around and does as he’s instructed and not much else. Meanwhile, Ruriko seems to be positioned as a potential star crossed love interest who blames Hongo for her father’s death. The ultimate goals of Shocker aren’t that far removed from those of G.I. Joe’s nemesis, Cobra, namely world domination. Beyond their attempts to convert people into cyborg foot soldiers though, how they plan to actually achieve world domination is anyone’s guess.
Ishinomori’s artwork always shows it’s age, but it seems worse than usual here. His usual cartoony style is very toned down here and this results in a bit of a double edged sword. The more cartoony style might have clashed with some of the horror imagery the book employees, but as a trade off Kamen Rider just looks terribly bland, something I never thought I’d say of a Ishinomori book. Disappointingly, there also seems to have been little time invested in the creation of backgrounds, with several sequences happening against a black and empty space. This is especially awkward during several of the fight scenes where characters seem to tumble through a void before landing on nothing. While it mostly lacks the style and visual flair of his other works, such as Cyborg 009, there are a few great visuals scattered throughout. The detail applied to several of the enemies is amazing and almost jaw dropping in some of the splash pages and double splash pages. Likewise, Ishinomori does a good job at conveying movement in several of the motorcycle scenes.
Kamen Rider, Vol. 1 is a bit of an odd duck. It’s fairly enjoyable as a straight forward superhero story, but at the same time there doesn’t really seem to be anything here that Ishinomori hadn’t done at this point in career. The characters are one note and flat, and surprisingly the artwork here matches the story and the characters. When you add in the repetitive nature of the stories in this volume, you have all the makings for a bland, generic and almost forgettable read, something I never thought I’d be saying about an Ishinomori book, nevermind one that served as the foundation for a franchise that’s endured for over 40 years.
Kamen Rider, Vol. 1 is available now from Comixology.
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