Thursday, October 28, 2010

Monsterthon: The Comics Page #26: Essential Godzilla

Essential Godzilla cover and Amazon linkI promised you monster comics and I will deliver. Godzilla has been in a number of comics over the years, and his first American appearances were with Marvel starting in 1977. Marvel not only bought the license from Toho for a couple of years, but actually brought Godzilla into the Marvel universe for that time, having him face S.H.I.E.L.D., Hercules, the Fantastic Four, even the amazing Spider-Man at one point. Four years ago the Essentials collection of this series was released, but the cost of licensing meant that it had only one print run, meaning it’s probably a little hard to find, but if you’re a Godzilla fan and can tolerate some off-model art, it’s pretty fun.

The story of the comic, such as it is, is that Godzilla, at some point after his initial rampage, ended up trapped in an ice floe just off the coast of Alaska. A warm winter and warmer spring end up setting him free, and the international spy group S.H.I.E.L.D. is the one organization with the manpower and artillery required to combat the great beast as he rampages across America for the first time. The group’s #1 hero Nick Fury is elsewhere for most of the comic’s run, so it falls to the bowler-hatted, cigar-chomping Dum Dum Dugan to lead a multiethnic crew (including an elderly scientist who survived Godzilla’s first rampage, and his grandson who thinks Godzilla’s not that bad) and a small army against the king of the monsters. Godzilla also runs up against the mutant hordes of the monster breeder Dr. Demonicus, a group of super-monsters from space, a giant robot named Red Ronin, and even some cowboys.

Old school Godzilla fans will probably be taken aback by some of the liberties taken with the monster’s design; it’s nothing as radical as in that one film that I and only I like, but it’s still distinctly different from anything we saw in the movies. Herb Trimpe, who pencilled most of the series, came up with an interesting, slightly dinosaur-like variant on the classic look, with a much larger head than normal and gem-like eyes. He’s bright green and the fire he breathes is orange instead of the traditional blue, but both of those don’t really matter in an Essentials volume for obvious reasons. Overall the art is pretty solid- it closely follows the Marvel house style of the period, with some nice splash page work and even a little aping of Kirby when Godzilla meets Devil Dinosaur (long story.)

You won’t be seeing any of Godzilla’s Toho buddies like Rodan or Mothra in the series; Toho treated all these characters as separate licenses (a practice continued for the Dark Horse comics, though apparently not any of the video games), and so the big scaly hero has to fight a host of original creations. Some are more memorable than others, though the giant ape-like Yetrigan and the aforementioned Red Ronin are nice additions. The writers do put Godzilla in some very interesting situations, most notably in a multi-issue arc where he’s hit by Dr. Hank Pym’s reducing gas, initially shrinking him down to rat size as he explores Manhattan from the ground up, then slowly returning him to normal size. The occasional story like this, that would only really work in comics given the limitations of late 70s special effects, helps break up the more traditional monster action. There are also some nice, though characteristically overwrought, human vignettes, such as one about the plight of a compulsive gambler on the one day Godzilla decides to visit Las Vegas.

The main attraction is really Godzilla mingling with the big names of the Marvelverse. The hotheaded Col. Duggan is a great foil for him, always frustrated when his plans fail, and an early battle with B-list supergroup The Champions (which includes two former X-Men) at the Golden Gate Bridge is a highlight. Technically, Godzilla’s adventures in the Marvelverse are still canon, although licensing issues prevent his resurfacing (a later story implied that Doctor Demonicus successfully mutated him into a non-infringing beast that was easily dispatched, but we all know Godzilla’s toughter than that.) As I’ve said before there’s a nice comraderie and distinctive atmosphere to Marvel’s stuff in the 70s, and adding a celebrity monster was a nice touch.

Godzilla’s time with Marvel was brief, but it was a really solid run; goofy, strange, but never failing to deliver the requisite destruction and mindless violence you can always count on the character to deliver. The art is quirky, the stories creative if ridiculous, the prose borderline Claremontian- it’s the Bronze Age in all its gaudy glory. The people who will love this should know who they are.

Written by Doug Moench
Pencils by Herb Trimpe and Tom Sutton
Inks by Way Too Many People To Name

Grade: B+

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