I love that cover. Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe issue 2 may be a step down in many respects from the first, but the cover (this time by Yuji Kaida, though the book erroneously credits Mitsuaki Hashimoto again) is splendid. Kaida renders a wonderful enraged monster turtle, as is obvious here, but my favorite bits are how Gyaos’ head is peeking through the “E” in the title, and the text at the bottom includes the cheeky declaration “Featuring the Original Mutant Turtle!” While the “mutant” bit might be inaccurate, Gamera puts the Ninja Turtles to shame—at least our boy Gamera really hails from Japan.
The snarky cover text accurately indicates the sort of content to be expected inside as well. Continuing the tongue-in-cheek storytelling from the original, Gamera issue 2 picks up where the first left off, with Lutz making the decision to rescue Asagi from a city in pandemonium. After Lutz finds the fallen, monstrously talented teen, Asagi manages to send a message via brain-mail to Gamera that helps the reptilian rampager to defeat Gyaos. Meanwhile, evil scientist Greta Karbone and her hapless lover Gusano (a name which means “worm” in Spanish-- not to be confused with El Gusano from Godzilla the Series) are still holding Mayumi Nagamine. After listening to Gusano moon over Greta for a time, Nagamine stages a daring (and fiery) escape, which levels Dr. Karbone’s evil lair. Karbone and Gusano escape, taking the monster squid Viras in a glass aquarium with them, because the many-tentacled one is controlling Karbone with an eye towards world domination! Meanwhile again, Lutz delivers Asagi to the hospital, and steals her magic glowing rock thing as part of a scheme to make Gamera do his own bidding. Unfortunately for Lutz, he crashes his plane in the ocean and is picked up by the French, who are performing a nuclear test. The nuclear explosion awakens Zigra, who proceeds to attack the French ships. Lutz tries to call Gamera on Asagi’s magic rock, but it doesn’t work. Nevertheless, Gamera shows up, only to be stunned by Zigra’s rainbow ray, sinking under the water unconscious. Meanwhile, meanwhile (there are a lot of “meanwhiles” in this story) a mysterious white-skinned alien hottie is hanging out in her spaceship and catches wind of Zigra’s appearance, and she then takes her “bio-weapon recovery service” ship straight for earth…
Well, the short of it is, Dark Horse’s manga editor Dave Chipps (who wrote the script) takes Gamera issue 2 and really goes off the rails—from the engine to the caboose, with us readers along for the nut-rich ride. This comic isn’t as weird as, say, Neal Adam’s fever dream Batman Odyssey comics, but it does take some wildly unexpected avenues on the way towards cockeyed adventure. While I had been looking forward to more Asagi and Mayumi, the book quickly ditches Asagi and replaces her with the further adventures of scoundrel/buffoon Lutz (the klutz), who proceeds to fail to endear himself to the readers by stealing Asagi’s mystical rock, and further proves his idiocy by flying his plane into the sea. And we’re supposed to like this lunkhead? (In his defense, he has some goofily amusing lines which are supposed to make up for his lack of scruples, I suppose.) Where exactly Lutz ends up is unclear, since he was following Gamera out to sea, but it sure is convenient that the French military is right there to pick him up when he nosedives into the ocean, made further bizarre when the Frenchies pop a nuke and stir the flying, rainbow-ray spewing goblin shark Zigra up from the depths. At least it wasn’t Zilla this time!
Meanwhile, Dr. Greta “Supermodel” Karbone shows that she has been piecing together an army of hopeful remote-control beasties ala Godzilla from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Unfortunately for her, when she starts injecting her own brain tissue into a squid monster she’s been cooking up, the squid gains psychic brain-control powers and takes over Karbone’s mind. Why squid + Karbone gray matter = super mind-control beastie is never explained, but the resulting camp would keep Yellowstone in business for a decade at least, especially with a line like this uttered by our resident gorgeous Frankenblonde herself:
“We saved the only thing that matters—my master… piece—Viras!”
This grand cheese award winning line comes right after Karbone and Gusano escape into their mini-sub, leaving behind a mini-collection of other beasties (such as a generic lizard thing) to burn. Too bad, we might have worked in Barugon somehow.
But the real brain spinner moment comes with the end page, and the most obnoxious comic innovation I have stumbled on in a long time: a page written entirely in “Freena’s Groovy Alphabet.” Well, that’s what the comic identifies the cipher as, but it’s really the “pigpen” cipher, which replaces letters with a series of simple lines and dots. Basically, the final page showcases an albino alien babe who speaks in pigpen, and, instead of translating her, Dave Chipps thought it would be fun to write everything she says, and everything on her computer, and everything on her spaceship, in the pigpen cipher, include a key on the letters page, and make the readers decode everything themselves.
I have encountered the pigpen cipher many times before, because, in my family, for holidays and birthdays we almost always have treasure hunts with clues written in various ciphers and riddles. I’ve probably used the cipher myself to create clues; I’ve been working with that stuff for close to twenty years now. However, as fun as the tradition might be in a party situation with a present as a prize, working through mundane computer messages and dialogue is decidedly not—especially when the decoded material doesn't make sense. I will include the original page for reference, and include my translation:
Missing for: nine cycles
Armed with tri-color ray blast
Unpredictable when surprised
Freena: There you are you slippery little metal-muncher!
Shipside: Freena’s Bio-Weapon Recovery Service
So Freena gets a random profile message about Zigra with useless information (“tri-color ray blast?” Does that mean anything? “Unpredictable when surprised”?? Who isn’t?) and deduces from this content-anemic missive where Zigra is hiding out. How? Who knows? Frankly, I’m relieved they didn’t explain it with any more pigpen messages, even if I would like to know who the heck “Lomphlizium” is. And since when is Zigra a metal muncher? He doesn’t chew any steel in the comic, and is depicted as a people-eater in the movies. Then, it gets weirder with the message written on the following page:
Column headline: Freena’s Groovy Alphabet
Freena: Don’t stew, grab a clue, kitty-cats!
So Freena is staring at the reader very sternly, and issues a command that sounds straight out of Wonderland. What? We’re felines now? Or maybe she is the one choking on a furball, hence the annoyed expression. Below, assistant editor Ian Stude explains that Freena uses “hip, slang lingo” and that the previous page was supposed to “entertain” with its pigpen-coded antics. He further suggests to readers that we might “use this same alphabet to send coded messages to other Gamera fans, keep a secret journal, or (…) write homework papers that will have your teacher’s head spinning.” Great ideas, right? I would love to see the teacher’s face who received an essay written in pigpen, but I think the kid who tried to write the thing would be the one with his head spun right off from the effort! Personally, I just write my journals in Japanese.
I probably sound more down on issue two than I need to. The art by Mozart Couto and Mike Sellers is still sharp, and it’s really fun seeing Zigra on the comic page, flying and zapping. Couto captures his ridiculous visage well, and his Gamera still looks great. The comic also includes two monster battles, which will satisfy many kaiju fans. Even my most scathing criticisms have a bright side. I hate that Asagi seems to be in the process of getting written out of the story, to be replaced by loser Lutz—but this may be an attempt to appeal to readers who, frankly, still haven’t seen the film and may not care about a Japanese heroine. And, as much as I despise the pigpen page, the idea of a “bio-weapon recovery service” is frankly hilarious. This could get interesting, provided I don’t have to read pages of code! And, as I said earlier, the cover is fantastic.
Thus, if nothing else, Gamera’s lone American comic outing continues to entertain with wacky hijinks and monster action. Though tending more towards the juvenile idiocy of the Showa Gamera flicks, Gamera issue 2 is still worth a glance, especially if you have someone else brave the pigpen and decode for you, as I have done here. Where else can you get Gamera, Gyaos, Viras, and Zigra in one comic?