Bizarro Back Issues: Here Comes The New Kamen Rider! (1972)
The first thing you need to know about Shotaro Ishinomori's Kamen Rider is that it is friggin' bonkers.
We've talked about it a little bit before here at ComicsAlliance, but with so much of Ishinomori's work getting cheap digital releases lately, you'd think that we'd eventually hit a ceiling for all-out, high-energy weirdness in his comics. And yet, every time I dive into another volume of his original Kamen Rider manga, he ramps up the weirdness to a whole new level -- and in the pages of Kamen Rider v.2, Ishinomori manages to accomplish what might be the single most bizarre way of writing a character out of a series that I have ever seen.
If you're not familiar with Kamen Rider, the basic plot follows the adventures of young Takeshi Hongou, a motorcycle-riding teen with "an IQ of 600" who was kidnapped by a global terrorist organization called Shocker and turned into an unstoppable cyborg. Unfortunately for Shocker, they didn't realize that they should do the brainwashing first and the operation that gave their victims super-powers second, so when Takeshi woke up halfway through the process, he was pretty upset about the whole situation. He resolved to use his powers to become Kamen Rider and battle Shocker and their sinister plans for world domination, and also to dress up like a grasshopper.
Yeah, I'm a little confused by that last part, too.
So yeah, things are pretty weird for Kamen Rider right from the start. His first few adventures pit him against a series of animal-themed cyborg villains, including Bat Man, Spider Man and Cobra Man, because presumably Ishinomori and I had very similar childhoods. The bad guys give him a little trouble, especially when Cobra Man teams up with his ex-girlfriend, Snake Queen Medusa, but Kamen Rider eventually beats them by using that IQ of 600 to figure out that kicking things really hard right in the face is usually a pretty solid solution to your problems. His victories are so complete, in fact, that Snake Queen Medusa decides to commit suicide rather than face her superiors at Shocker, blowing her own head off with her laser snake hair.
I want to point out that this is not the weird part. We haven't even started getting to the weird part yet.
At this point, the higher-ups at Shocker realize two things: First, that their regular animal-themed cyborg monsters just aren't cutting it when they go up against Kamen Rider, and second, that they made Kamen Rider to begin with. So naturally, they arrive at the conclusion that they should make another Kamen Rider and kill the first one.
This is all pretty standard supervilliany, of course. Every superhero gets an evil opposite sooner or later, whether it's Bizarro or Venom or Reverse Batman (Wayne Bruce, who has billions of dollars in credit card debt and whose parents were born in an alley when he was eight years old), but here, Ishinomori takes things a step further. Shocker doesn't just create one evil Kamen Rider. They create twelve.
You have to hand it to them, when they have an evil plan, they go all out with it.
The twelve Evil Riders confront Takeshi, and at first, the fight is pretty awesome. They're equally matched in terms of their cybernetic enhancements, so the only thing that Takeshi has going for him is his experience riding around fighting a bunch of weird-ass monsters, which has taught him tricks like "set other people on fire with a rocket-powered motorcycle."
Eventually, though, Takeshi realizes that even if he's able to set two or three of them on fire, facing twelve opponents at one time is a losing proposition. They have him outnumbered, so he makes a break for it, only to find out that while they were waiting in the rain for him to show up and make their dramatic appearance all worth it, they switched the road signs around, and since signs are the only way we have of telling whether or not a road leads to a cliff, Takeshi rides straight off the ground and plummets to the strange rocks below:
Takeshi's "ugh." about plummeting to his potential death might be my favorite thing about this entire story. It's just such an inconvenience.
Fortunately for Takeshi, his incredible skill at motorcycling allows him to survive the fall, but once he does, he realizes that the other twelve riders have vanished. This presents a pretty huge problem for his life -- having one doppelgänger is bad enough, but a whole dozen is just all kinds of trouble -- but he decides not to tell any of his friends what's going on. Seems like kind of a dick move to me when you consider that, you know, they are also being targeted by Shocker, but I guess there's a reason he's dressed as a biker grasshopper and I'm not.
The next day, Ruriko (Takeshi's love interest who unfortunately believes that he killed her father) brings someone over to the house: Hayato Ichimonji, a news reporter who's poking around to find out more about Shocker. Or at least, that's who he claims to be. While they're having tea, Takeshi notices that he has an interesting set of scars:
They are, in fact, the same scars that Takeshi had after he was operated on by Shocker! Clearly, Ichimonji isn't what he seems to be, but after Takeshi bustles him out of the house and tells his sidekicks to check on his press credentials, he heads out behind him to get some answers himself.
As it turns out, it was all a setup:
I seriously need to start saying that to my enemies, instead of what I usually say to my enemies: "Yeah, well."
Ichimonji has led Takeshi outside because he's one of the Evil Riders, and has another one waiting in a tree with a sniper rifle. Takeshi still has his lightning fast reflexes, though, so just as he's about to get shot, he clobbers Ichimonji and uses him as a human shield, causing him to get shot in the head:
It's, uh, very heroic.
Now, the thing about the original Kamen Rider is that he can only transform when he gets enough energy going through a turbine on his belt buckle by speeding up on his motorcycle, hence the "rider" part. The problem is that Takeshi's trapped and hemmed in by his doubles (decables?), and even when he gets his motorcycle, he can't build up enough speed for the transformation.
So eventually they just corner him and shoot him with guns until he's dead.
Not a hoax, not a dream: That is the way that Kamen Rider 1 dies. But! Just after he's been shot, when the bad guys are closing in to put a bullet in his head and make sure he's done for, another Kamen Rider shows up and starts shooting them, blowing their arms off, putting bullets in their faces, and just cold bike-stomping them into a bloody mess:
So who's this mysterious Rider? It's Ichimonji! See, when he got shot in the head, that somehow managed to undo all of Shocker's conditioning, and he decided to get revenge against them by carrying on Takeshi's legacy. So once he kills off all of the other Evil Riders -- apparently eleven bad guys are a hell of a lot easier to deal with than twelve -- he brings Takeshi's body back to Ruriko and Tachibana, who's essentially Kamen Rider's Alfred.
At this point, I was expecting Takeshi to make a miraculous recovery, or at least to survive, but no. He's shot up so bad that even his cybernetic parts can't save him. There is, however, one last option: After Tachibana asks how serious Ichimonji is about this whole "carry on his legacy" thing, we cut to Ichimonji riding around having a conversation with Takeshi.
It's worth noting that this all went down because the Kamen Rider manga was an adaptation of the television series, where the lead actor had been injured and replaced with a new star. On the show, Takeshi was just written out with the excuse that he was traveling the world and exploring Shocker's interest in other countries. In the comics, though, Ishinomori went a different route by making Takeshi a disembodied brain in a fishbowl.
And that's how they introduce Kamen Rider 2.
Like I said, it's bonkers, but it might be my favorite thing ever.