The Godzilla Book by Jim Harmon, from the very title, sounds arrogant. The definite article proclaims this book to be the definitive tome on the Big Guy, and yet the publication itself comes in at less than 100 pages, and still manages to wander far off topic for significant passages. Harmon's book feels like the ramblings of a monster enthusiast with little in the way of writing ability or focus, dashed off after an afternoon's daydreaming, and then rushed to the printers without undergoing the benefits of an editor's capable pen. My copy doesn't even have an ISBN (the above I gleaned from Amazon), nor does it clearly indicate what year it was published. Short and erratic, long out of print with copies going for undeserved high prices online, this book is dollar-for-dollar depressing, but with some surprising bonuses mixed in with the manure.
To start, let's trip through the contents page to get a handle on just what the consumer is purchasing here. The first chapter is “Godzilla: Villain or Misunderstood Hero?” This initial chapter starts out as if what we have is a biography for a real-world monster, a conceit that Harmon quickly abandons. Mostly, the first chapter covers the first movie. The second chapter, “In the Footsteps of Godzilla,” includes Harmon's explications of Godzilla Raids Again (1955), the history of giant ape films, and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). Chapter 3, “Family and Friends,” is ostensibly about Rodan and Mothra. “Friends and Enemies” quickly covers the rest of the Showa Godzilla films, sometimes just listing the titles. “Making the First Godzilla Film” is not so much a chapter as a collection of art from the original film. Next, “Godzilla Collection: The Monster Close-up” is another chapter of nothing but visuals—this time pictures from The Return of Godzilla (1984). Finally, “A History of Godzilla Films” is a collection of synopses of all the Godzilla films from the original Godzilla (1954) to Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), although some of the synopses receive more attention than others, with All Monsters Attack (1969) getting the shortest shrift.
Looks like I couldn’t help but indicate some of my disappointment even in my summary. I hate to be so hard on these books, but I spend good money on these things, and, when I pick up a book, I expect a certain level of quality for my cash. This is prose that we are paying for, design layouts that cost dollars. Of course, living in a world far removed from 1986, wherein unbelievable accumulations of writing and visuals are available for free on the Internet, The Godzilla Book comes off even worse, but even still there are numerous issues with this book, and it should never have been published in this fashion. Like with many books about Godzilla, the errors are everywhere—grammar, spelling, factual, and more. Harmon, who apparently worked as a comic editor for a Marvel monster series before penning this, seems to have failed to edit his own work, perhaps most memorably when he identifies Anguirus as Godzilla: “He was called Angurus by the Japanese filmmakers, director Honda and technician Tsuburaya. In reality, he was the new Godzilla.” (25) The errors obscure the quality of some of Harmon's insights—the author identifies an obscure anecdote about how the original Godzilla suit gained ears, but given the shoddiness of the book (and the lack of cited source material), it's hard to trust. Meanwhile, Harmon's King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) synopsis is extensive and just plain wrong, getting multiple events out of order, partially because it appears his paragraphs were simply misplaced. But when he isn’t getting the information wrong about Godzilla, he spends long pages writing about topics barely related to the Big G.
Perhaps it is understandable that Harmon writes at length about the history of King Kong to set up the origins and plot of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). However, much less excusably, in the chapter “Family and Friends,” Harmon spends seven pages expounding upon the adventures of his favorite radio serial heroes and their battles with flying monsters—all because Rodan is also a flying monster, I guess. There is no real connection between the enlarged mutant bats in “I Love a Mystery” and Godzilla; the Japanese creators would have known nothing of American serials, and the monsters that appeared in them were not building-smashing behemoths either. Jim Harmon included these seven pages because he’s a big fan of the material, and he even admits that he was the writer and producer of the 50th anniversary series for Tom Mix. Indeed, in the chapter in question, he spends seven pages on the serials, and three on Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961). It's astonishing—why not just write a book about Tom Mix and be done? Really, after giving significant detail to the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters through King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Harmon seems to lose interest in his subject matter, and skims over many of the other films, with very little discussion. Despite the huge number of pics from The Return of Godzilla (1984)., for example (including the cover image), the film is barely even mentioned in the text, and left out of the synopses in the back. Continuing the discombobulating feeling that this book really is incomplete, no index is included, and the dozens of often rare and interesting photographs throughout the book have no captions, and often are completely unrelated to the text underneath them. There are two pictures of Godzilla in Zone Fighter (1973), for example, but Zone Fighter is never even mentioned anywhere in the book.
Still, as noted above, some of the photos are still fairly rare to this day, and, though the monsters are not identified in any of the shots, as a kid, I would have been delighted just to look, and use the pics for reference for my drawings. However, the biggest treasure of the book is a short chapter called “Making the First Godzilla Film.” In this chapter, there are no words—just a collection of dozens and dozens of the original storyboards from that seminal monster flick. For some reason, Harmon puts the storyboards for the ending of the movie at the beginning of the chapter, and leaves out most of the storyboards for the human scenes, but it’s really fascinating to see how Godzilla was depicted at this early stage via the pens and imaginations of the storyboard artists. Godzilla is shown in many different forms, sometimes looking like an Asian dragon or ogre, other times like a dinosaur, and for fans, it’s rather exciting just to get a glimpse of this.
Despite that high, though, and despite the dearth of material available in the 1980s for G-fans, The Godzilla Book is an infuriating novelty by today’s standards. After reading this, I really felt bad for complaining so much in my review of Peter Brothers’ Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men, which is a true masterpiece in comparison—and that was a self-published work. I can't imagine the overwhelming disappointment of a Godzilla fan shelling out over fifty dollars for this (some of the prices I've seen go much higher). Still, The Godzilla Book is better than some other 80s “Godzilla” material (like Godzilla Meets Master Charge and Godzilla Discovers America), but this book is insubstantial and insulting to fans in search of quality books. I had really been looking forward to this book, but the outcome engenders more buyer’s remorse than rejoicing.