Kamen Rider—Shotaro Ishinomori’s tale of a masked, often-motorcycling superhero’s battles against the malignant and power-hungry—has endured for 50 years for a reason. It’s a strong, simple, flexible premise. It’s served as the basis for kids’ shows that have delighted their audiences for literal generations—shows that can range from the bombastic to the sober to the delightful to the scary (often within the same program—the first episode of Kamen Rider Black, for instance, opens with the title character fleeing for his life from murderous, genuinely creepy cultists before awakening his superpowers and meeting a friendly sapient motorcycle). It’s also willing to take big, big swings (see this year’s scathingly—if frustratingly executed—anti-racist/anti-xenophobic adult-oriented Kamen Rider Black Sun—a partial remake of Black commissioned to celebrate the greater Kamen Rider series’ anniversary, and the upcoming movie Shin Kamen Rider from Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame).
After years of being a niche among niches in the US, Kamen Rider is getting a major push stateside. Several of its most beloved seasons are or will soon be available on home media and streaming (franchise owner Toei also hosts a sizable chunk of the series’ first episodes subtitled on their YouTube channel for free). The Kamen Rider W sequel anime Fuuto PI aired on Crunchyroll. And Kamen Rider Zero-One, the first Reiwa-era Kamen Rider series, is now the subject of a four-issue miniseries from Titan Comics, illustrated by Hendry Prasetya and written by Brandon M. Easton.
Unfortunately, Kamen Rider Zero-One #1 is a bad adaptation and a bad comic. While it assembles the components of Zero-One‘s world and story, it does so in a clunky, stilted fashion. Its action is choppy, its storytelling is flat, and its effects work is inconsistent—including a recurring art error that I’m surprised made it to final publication.
Kamen Rider Zero-One is Aruto Hiden, would-be stand-up comedian (most of his material consists of truly dire puns) turned CEO of Hiden Intelligence, a technology company renowned for its Humagear android line. Humagears are a major part of modern life and, with time and experience, can evolve sentience. Naturally, there are those who hate and fear them and those who would exploit them—chief among the latter is the murderous AI ARK, which hates humanity, seeks their annihilation, and acts through the rogue Humagear organization MetsubouJinrai.net. When Hiden’s CEO died, he left the company to Aruto, his grandson. Though initially refusing—as he 1) is GOING to make it as a stand-up comic and 2) has no idea how to run a major technology firm—Aruto takes the job when MetsubouJinrai.net makes its play, as only the CEO can access Hiden’s revolutionary Kamen Rider tech and Aruto will not stand by when he has the power to save others.
Kamen Rider Zero-One #1 lays all this out in an interview between Aruto and paramilitary Kamen Riders Isamu Fuwa (Kamen Rider Vulcan) and Yua Yaiba (Kamen Rider Valkyrie) conducted in the event that Hiden gets sued for the property damage caused by Zero-One’s assorted battles. It’s an awkward, blunt exposition dump that nevertheless features the book’s best moment—an Aruto Joke (read, a groaner among groaners) that, as in the show, makes the stern Fuwa AND NO ONE ELSE all but crack up. While the comic’s joke isn’t nearly as dreadful as Aruto’s material in Zero-One the show (read: he was fired partway through his first performance at an amusement park), it captures its spirit.
The majority of the comic is dedicated to a battle between Zero-One and the mysterious Ragnarok, a villainous Kamen Rider with tech beyond even Hiden’s own. He’s got a solid design and an intriguing adversarial relationship with his suit’s AI (whatever his motivations, he’s pushing himself and his gear to their limits), and he’s introduced way too early into the story.
While the opening exposition dump establishes Zero-One‘s usual status quo via text, the text alone isn’t enough to create a feeling for the day-to-day heroics of Zero-One and company. So when Ragnarok appears and begins pummeling the stuffing out of Zero-One, it isn’t the sudden arrival of a terrifyingly powerful foe out of the norm; it’s the book’s hero getting beaten senseless in his first major action scene while his own efforts to fight back amount to little. Compare BOOM!’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #1, where the heroes’ status quo was firmly established alongside the comic’s new elements—thus showcasing the Rangers as competent while introducing novel challenges that would push them to their limits. Moreover, the action itself is poor—it’s start-stop-start-stop with individual moments that look cool, but on the whole, the beat-to-beat, panel-to-panel stages in the fight simply don’t cohere.
Kamen Rider Zero-One #1’s biggest weaknesses are its effects design and the major art error mentioned earlier. When Aruto first transforms to battle Ragnarok, his transformation belt’s sound effects are rendered as just that—sound effects emanating from the belt. But when he changes forms using Progrise Keys (Zero-One‘s version of the recurring trinkets that allow Riders to access different powers), the sound effects are split between those used for the initial transformation and narration text boxes. It’s an inconsistent bit of work that isn’t just distracting but actively looks bad.
As for the art error—during a key moment in the battle, Aruto’s Humagear secretary and best pal, Izu (A weird translation choice, given that the Blu-ray release of Zero-One uses “Is” for her name), tosses him a Progrise Key. And it’s the wrong Progrize Key. It’s announced in the script as the “Flaming Tiger” key—and when Ragnarok steals the key for himself, he does indeed gain pyrokinetic abilities. But the key Isthrows is the “Flying Falcon” key. Right smack in the center of the page. And it remains the “Flying Falcon” key throughout its appearances across multiple panels. It’s a glaring, distracting error—one that I’m surprised made it to print.
If you’d like to read a good Kamen Rider comic, check out Ishinomori’s original manga. If you’d like to check out Zero-One, it’s streaming for free on Shout Factory and Tubi. This comic is eminently skippable.
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