Saturday, April 29, 2006

COMICS: Essential Godzilla? Why yes, it is

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOne of my favorite guilty pleasures in comics is Marvel's short-lived "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" title from the 1970s. It ain't high art, but it was a blast at age 9, and the entire 24-issue run was recently collected in one of Marvel's fab black-and-white "Essential" volumes, perfect for us grown-up comic fans with a nostalgia jones to feed. While "Essential Godzilla" suffers a bit more than some series might from lack of color, at $19.99 for the entire series in one book, it's a stone-cold giant-monster groove. I tore through it in a few hours and ended up with dreams of having radioactive fire-breath.

The series came at an odd time for Marvel Comics, when they featured many merchandising-born comics such as "Micronauts," "ROM" and "Star Wars." With a kind of "anything-goes" sensibility unlike most of today's comics, "Godzilla" was a lighthearted romp through the giant monster genre. Read in one Big Gulp-sized 400-page go, it's a parade of lizard-chasing fun, although I admit you might have kind of had to be there to totally appreciate it without nitpicking. It's vintage 1970s Marvel.

One of the things I love about the "Godzilla" comic is the fun the creators have with the basic stereotype of "Godzilla comes to town, stomps town." Old greenie spends the entire series stomping around 1970s America, flattening towns like Salt Lake City, Seattle and Las Vegas, apparently not killing a single person in the process. But as the title ran through its run, the creators go out in wild directions. Some don't quite work (Godzilla fighting cattle rustlers in Wyoming springs to mind, although it did bring us the priceless panel like the one below), and there's a long-winded battle with aliens that drags down a few issues. But it's terrific fun to watch Godzilla meet up with Marvel heroes like the Fantastic Four, The Avengers and the Champions. (Thor and Godzilla wrestling at the Empire State Building is a particularly iconic moment.)
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Doug Moench's scripts are a bit thin on characterization and heavy on repetition, and Herb Trimpe's art can sometimes get rather static (particularly with the humans – he draws a great Godzilla though). And the title might just have the most annoying supporting character in comics history with Rob Takiguchi, a spoiled brat 12-year-old Godzilla-lover who runs around telling everyone Godzilla is just misunderstood, and who is usually crying salty tears when he appears. Yeesh! But the title also boasts the hard-edged wisdom of its Javert, SHIELD Agent "Dum Dum" Dugan, who wears a bowler hat that radically clashes with his slick spandex jumpsuit, is usually chewing on a cigar and muttering crusty asides about "stinking monsters."

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe best sequence is the multi-part storyline where Godzilla is shrunk down to the size of a rat. Let me repeat – Godzilla shrunk down to the size of a rat? How is that not comics gold? Even better, the "shrinking gas" used on him slowly wears off and he grows larger, resulting in scenes like this where Godzilla runs around New York City wearing a trenchcoat and hat. In disguise, you see. Genius!

It's a shame the series ended just as the creators were loosening up enough to do wacky stuff like this, but then again, there's probably only so far you can take Godzilla as the star of his own comic. Either way, if you're at all a fan of the big mean lizard, "Essential Godzilla" lives up to its name as a '70s time capsule and an entertainingly goofy series in its own right.

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