KAMEN RIDER SPIRITS chapters 1-17 by Ishinomori Shotaro and Muraeda Kenichi
So if you follow me on twitter – or if you are one of four people I know on facebook – you’ll know that I spent the day reading scans of Kamen Rider manga on the internet. Instead of y’know, filling out all the crazy paperwork for the college I just got into. I watched the Jacques Tourner marathon on TCM and read a few hundred pages of weird, violent, merchandise-oriented manga. You know why? Because it is the apex of the kind of violent shitty comics I love. Literally, I just skimmed along all the parts that didn’t involve a fight scene, a disaster, or a transformation. It is the only way I recommend reading this comic.
Kamen Rider, if you don’t know is basically Power Rangers with motorcycles and these awesome intricate costume designs. There’s a mythology that doesn’t make any sense, there’s about a dozen iterations with even more intricate and badass helmet ornaments. It is pretty much designed to sell toys. This is actually to the manga’s benefit. Because you will not care about the characters. Caring about the characters is for JSA and Rogue and Gambit fans. No, this is comics for people who want to see shit wrecked beyond belief. Like, describing what happens in this comic to people kind of sounds like that scene in Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads where the guy’s explaining the barbarian comics and Sexica just laughs at him.
I don’t actually know what’s going on in this book – there are around ten Kamen Riders, all from different places and with different powers. They’re all being attacked by these things that are either demons, robots, or gods. It’s never clear. Every single one of them is confronted by these bad guys and must use their unique abilities to kill the shit out of them. I read 17 chapters of this book and… wow, there’s no coalescing plot. Nothing. Apparently the book goes on for 96 chapters. If you’ve read the latest versions of Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Green Lantern – think those books but a thousand times less intelligent. Like, without the rock and roll Americana by way of Dragonball of the Aaron Ghost Rider, or the Kung Fu Pulp soul-searching of Bru/Frac/Aja/crew Iron Fist, or the color-coded cosmic war of Geoff Johns Green Lantern. It feels like an american re-revisionist superhero book from the past two, three years. There are dozens of versions of the one character, a huge cosmology that exists only for dramatic foils for the main cast, it’s insanely violent but in a fun way, it’s serious even though it’s subject matter is straight out of the Scooby Doo playbook. It’s got the whole checklist.
The way that Pluto reads like Ultimate Astro Boy, done a thousand times better than the concept sounds – Kamen Rider Spirits reads a lot like Kamen Rider: Sinestro Corps. Only instead of rehabilitating a 90s clusterfuck into an okay mainstream superhero concern (with all the bullshit and semi-grit that implies), we’re getting as many Kamen Riders all banged back into working shape so they’re a superteam again. Actually, if wikipedia is to believed, this book was designed to be a continuity fix for all the previous Kamen Rider television series following Kamen Rider Super-1. It feels like the kind of book that the big two commission to bring characters back into saleable shape. Which, inevitably, are always more interesting than when the characters are fixed.
So the deal is – a Kamen Rider is established in a location, and then the bad guys show up and Kamen Rider suits up and kills them, usually location specific. So Sky Rider fights a giant moth, Kamen Rider Amazon fights on a jungle mountaintop, Kamen Rider X fights a bull made out of liquid silver, Kamen Rider 3 fights mummies and Egyptian gods in the desert. All of that. The Riders strike poses, call out their super moves, and get into fights that end with the largest amount of bodies and collateral damage. There’s a huge percentage of kicksplode on display here. Yes, it’s stupid. It’s really, really stupid. But it’s stupid in the kind of way that results in amazing things happening. The Ghost Rider and Iron Fist comparisons – it’s the Kaiju version of those characters. But there’s no underlying plot or character to it. So like a good crappy action movie, it lives and dies on the fights. Which is a good thing because the fights are stellar.
This is one of those comics where the urge to just list shit that happens in it and then tell people they have to read it. Which is terrible – it’s the kind of thing that’s not writing it’s gushing. But – Kamen Rider 3 kicks swarms of mummies to death, Kamen Rider S-1 climbs on the top of a space shuttle on re-entry and stands on the nose (this is after he lifts a building on the moon while riding his rocket-cycle), someone makes a speech about Kamen Rider 2′s gloves being stained red with the blood of the innocent, Kamen Rider Strong sets off a charge to tear the skin off of dozens of people who turn out to be robots, the line in the title is said while Kamen Rider 1 is fighting a spider-god under a giant statue of Buddah at sunrise. It sounds like it’s written by children, and it’s executed with the calculated seriousness of an 80s shoot-em-up. It is a system designed to give you guys in bug masks on motorcycles kicking monsters to death.
Maybe that’s the problem with Green Lantern in the long run. It’s designed to make you care. Clearly it’s just a system designed to give you the biggest space action possible – the weird silver age psychedelia isn’t at Green Lantern’s heart anymore, for better or worse. Geoff Johns seems to be more interested in space opera – and moreso space opera that’s based on clear emotions – than insane green impossibilities. It’s about heroism and destiny.
Kamen Rider shares a lot of it’s basic ideas – I’m sure that Johns could jump right in as a writer on this book. There’s gore, there’s dozens of characters, there’s a huge continuity that makes no sense – it’s made for a guy like him. The problem is he’d try to make this stuff matter, to be respectful, to have it make sense. When the truth is – there’s no reason to read this except for the insane way it’s presented. I don’t give a fuck about Kamen Rider. I don’t know anyone who does.But I love this book, I love huge fights where a man’s face is punched clean off and there’s a demon spider underneath. And I’ll take that over guys named “Atrocitus” any day.