Continuing our Halloween coverage of daikaiju in the comics, we come to the grandaddy of them all, Godzilla. But this is a very American Godzilla (though not the Godzilla of the high-profile 1998 American reimagining).
In 1977, Marvel Comics released its first issue of Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Reading the comic was a strange experience for a fan. Because on the one hand, this was Godzilla, who is awesome. But on the other hand, Marvel had apparently only gotten the rights to Godzilla, not any of the other monsters or human characters. So instead of fighting alongside or against Mothra, Rodan, Ghidrah or any of the other constellation of monsters and aliens from the movies, Godzilla became part of the Marvel universe.
Writer Doug Moench stole the scenario from the early Hulk books: giant green monster on the rampage, pursued by a special government task force, with S.H.I.E.L.D. subbing for the Hulkbusters. On the artistic side, who better to draw your faux-Hulk book than former Hulk great Herb Trimpe? His artwork tended toward the crude, and his Godzilla was much more animalistic than the more anthropomorphized Godzilla then appearing in Toho’s movie series, but his storytelling was always clear and he got in some really impressive splash panels that really emphasized the scale of the monsters.
Godzilla appeared in Alaska after decades of trashing Japan, and S.H.I.E.L.D. was there to try to stop him. They failed to do much, but he retreated back into the ocean anyway, only to reappear in Seattle. At this point, S.H.I.E.L.D. had set up a special task force headed up by Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones (who you might remember from Captain America: The First Avenger–Dum Dum’s the guy with the hat and Gabe is the black guy).
The S.H.I.E.L.D. strategy was divided in two parts: Dum Dum would lead the conventional weapons to try to keep Godzilla away from major metropolitan areas, while Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison Jimmy Woo worked with Japanese scientist and Godzilla expert Yuriko Takiguchi to build a special anti-Godzilla weapon (and no, Yuriko was not a woman–Marvel continues its tradition of having trouble with the genders of foreign names, e.g. Natasha Romanoff).
Looking back over the entire series now, I’m surprised at how well it holds up. Admittedly, I can’t really read the issues; in the manner of Marvel during the Shooter era, everything is waaaaaay overdescribed. But the plots work really well.
A San Francisco battle with the third-string Champions super-group is nicely handled, climaxing with Hercules accidentally crippling a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with a chunk of the Golden Gate Bridge he meant to hit Godzilla with. Issues #4 & #5 finally introduce other monsters into the book, gigantic mutations created by the kaiju-style supervillain Dr. Demonicus. The S.H.I.E.L.D. superweapon is finally finished, a giant battlesuit called Red Ronin, which is promptly stolen by young Rob Takiguchi, echoing Japanese series like Giant Robo. Red Ronin then battles alongside Godzilla against a gigantic mutated Bigfoot called Yetrigar in a battle reminiscent of King Kong vs. Godzilla. The series had a nice mix of action styles, never took itself too seriously, and included fun, oblique callbacks to the movie series.
It all came to a climax with issues #12-14, in which Godzilla battled the alien Mega Monsters. Almost immediately after defeating the giant Yetrigar, Godzilla is sucked up through a dimensional portal and appears on the moon, where he encounters a hideous creature identified to readers as the Beta Beast.
Godzilla makes short work of the creature, at which point, he is contacted by the aliens who have set the entire contest up. They are from the planet Beta, which is currently at war with the planet Mega. Both sides have been capturing giant monsters from other planets and souping them up to use as weapons in the war. But there are few planets with giant monsters left. The Betans just used up their last monster to test Godzilla, and now they warn him that the Megans (yes, an unfortunately unthreatening name, unless you’re a high school girl) are sending their three mightiest monsters to conquer Earth, so that they can exploit Godzilla and his kind. Godzilla must defend the Earth from their onslaught!
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Red Ronin has just been attacked near Salt Lake City by the first of the Mega Monsters, a gigantic flying rhino named Triax. Let the true battle begin!
In issue 13, Godzilla appears back on Earth and fights Triax alongside Red Ronin. Triax flies by sucking in air through his mouth and shooting it out through vents in his feet.
In space, the Betans detect a Megan ship approaching Earth bearing an Energex Ray, which will increase the Mega Monsters’ power tenfold (it will also eventually kill them, but omelets and eggs, you know). The Betans attempt to stop the Megan ship. Meanwhile, Godzilla and Red Ronin are holding their own against Triax when the other two Mega Monsters–saucer-headed Rhiahn and burrowing Krollar–join the fray, and shit gets real.
The battle rages back and forth for a while, but then Rhiahn’s Megan masters order him to use his so-called “anterior bio-blades” (which are actually his tail and therefore technically posterior bio-blades). You know what, who cares what they’re called? They still cut off Red Ronin’s head.
And to make matters worse, though the Betans have managed to cripple the Megan ship, it still manages to fire its Energex Ray before blowing up, which means that Godzilla is now alone facing all three Mega Monsters, who have now leveled up.
Everything looks well and truly hopeless. Godzilla is being pounded by his three energized opponents, the crippled Betan ship crash-lands into its moon base (dooming all the Betans to death so that they cannot help), and the Utah National Guard forces are completely outmatched. With Red Ronin beheaded and their new Behemoth heli-carrier crippled by Yetrigar, S.H.I.E.L.D. can offer no real help either (and to tell the truth, they’re just as outmatched as the National Guard).
But Dum Dum and Gabe refuse to give up. Although their S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicles are no match for the Mega Monsters, they decide to use them to distract the monsters long enough for Godzilla to beat them one by one.
It’s a brave, self-sacrificing act, and it works. Without his teammates to distract Godzilla, Krollar becomes easy prey. Godzilla burns him, then pounds him into the ground. Triax becomes the next victim when he attempts another ramming run at Godzilla from the wrong direction.
Now only Rhiahn is left, but he is the most dangerous foe of all. After all, he’s the one who beheaded Red Ronin. Which reminds Godzilla…
That is fanboy awesome-sauce (a term I never use and hopefully never will again). This was exactly what we had been reading Godzilla, King of the Monsters for a year and hoping to see. It was near-perfect. The three issues formed a textbook three-act structure with action and suspense. The action was spectacular, the Mega Monsters proving to be worthy foes with their distinctly different abilities and fighting styles. And the way their abilities were turned against them was just beautiful.
The way the Betans all died was a bit of a downer, and there was way too much talky-talk. Switching inkers mid-story from Fred Kida to Dan Green didn’t help (and frankly, the entire series would have benefited from better inkers–I can only imagine what Dave Cockrum or Terry Austin or even Joe Sinnott might have done with a story like this). But this was a story that really showed the potential in the entire Godzilla concept.
Unfortunately, the series never got quite that good again. The next two issues pitted Godzilla against cattle rustlers (seriously). It was silly fun with some nice callbacks to The Valley of Gwangi (one cowboy jumps off a cliff, lassos the big G and then rides on his head like he’s trying to break a bronco), but it felt small compared to what we’d just been through.
And speaking of small, the next issue really got small when S.H.I.E.L.D. decided to try a different approach to solving the Godzilla problem by using Hank Pym’s shrinking gas on Godzilla. For six issues, we watched a tiny Godzilla slowly grow as he fought menaces like sewer rats and street muggers, got in a fistfight with Gabe and Dum Dum, and traveled back in time to team up with Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur. When he finally got back to full-size and present day, he wiped his feet on New York City in a two issue battle with The Avengers, and then headed off into the sunset (although he was technically going east, so it was more like into the sunrise).
And that was that. Godzilla had taken a two-year journey across America, and with issue 24, he was gone. Other publishers have tried to do their own takes on Godzilla that were better in some ways, but Marvel’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters will always have its own unique place in the pantheon.