Comic: Godzilla Awakening

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Godzilla Awakening


English Comic Title

Godzilla Awakening

Authors:

Max Borenstein, Greg Borenstein

Pencils:
Inks:
Colors:
Language:
Release:
Publisher
:
Pages:

Eric Battle, Yvel Guichet, Alan Quah
Eric Battle, Yvel Guichet, Alan Quah
Lee Loughridge
English
2014
Legendary Comics / DC Comics
80

Covers:

Arthur Adams

Comic

Monsters

Shinomura
Shinomura



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

Godzilla has a longstanding tradition of comic adaptations accompanying (and shilling for) his film adventures, sometimes providing exciting new plot developments. The vast majority of Godzilla films in Japan had manga adaptations, and many included exciting or interesting additional sequences not included in the movies, such as the inclusion of Mechagodzilla in the manga version of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994). Even in America there was the infamous promotional comic version of Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) in which Gigan was misnamed Borodan, and Jet Jaguar was simply called Robot Man. Godzilla Awakening follows in this tradition, albeit this 80-page graphic novel serves as a prequel rather than a full adaptation, mostly aimed at hardcore fans looking for a bit more character detail, a bit more lore, a bit more action. Unfortunately, Godzilla Awakening barely fills that supplementary role, with mostly listless storytelling and thoroughly unfulfilling monster action, albeit with some cute call-outs and nice art for the fans.

The story opens with Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe's character from the movie) visiting his aging father in 1980. The elder Serizawa reveals a dark past, telling a harrowing tale of the rise of monsters awakened by the Hiroshima bombing. The worst of these monsters was the Shinomura, a radioactivity-munching swarm organism that could theoretically engulf the earth as it grows ever bigger. The military was befuddled, and basically doesn’t do anything in response except flop about and search for a monster they don’t believe exists: Godzilla. When Godzilla finally made an appearance, the military finally decides to do something: nuke Godzilla and the Shinomura. Who will survive?

Well, we know Godzilla will survive, since the story is told in flashback, and we know Daddy Serizawa will survive, since he is telling the story. In other words, there is negligible tension throughout the majority of the book, and the story rarely tries much to excite. Nobody important dies—the human characters don’t even experience any peril whatsoever in the second half of the story, except in one very brief scene where a child we know nothing about seems to be in danger for a couple panels, but escapes unharmed.

Not that there are many human characters anyway. The older Serizawa is essentially the only character of consequence, and he is not very interesting. Early on he seems anti-American, but that trait vanishes early on when he starts working with the Americans, at which point he switches to a deathly dull "expert scientist" role. Here, Serizawa's purpose in life becomes proving the existence of Godzilla, which is necessary because the military is composed of a collection of colossal dunderheads who refuse to believe in G even after the monster repeatedly traipses out in the open on multiple islands with dozens if not hundreds of eyewitnesses. Serizawa, then, establishes that he, too, is a fantastic idiot by attempting to prove Godzilla's contemporary existence by pulling out a collection of ancient world art featuring shoddy renderings of the monster (backplates and all), which Serizawa somehow recognizes despite having never seen the monster himself. General MacArthur shows up occasionally to lend a sense of gravitas and historical verisimilitude, but he has all the substance of a puff of hot air as a character. A bizarre, sartorially-challenged scientist with a fright-wig also strolls through the story briefly, but he seems to have teleported in from a wilder, wackier, and more entertaining monster universe, and acts mostly as an empty narrative device.

If the characters are weak, the story is practically catatonic—nothing makes sense. Despite the Shinomura running amok, destroying ships, attacking islands, killing hundreds if not thousands… the military never engages the monster. Instead, most of the book is about the military looking for Godzilla, even though they don’t believe he exists. They even build a super submarine and send it into the Marianas Trench for several weeks to look for the irradiated lizard, but fail to find Godzilla even when he is mere feet behind the ship. Apparently it’s more important to research the possible existence of a monster rather than, oh, save lives. Finally, Godzilla appears and attacks the Shinomura right in front of some naval ships, and miraculously the officers notice him at last. After that, magically the military can track Godzilla’s movements and predict where he will surface, so they plan ahead days in advance before Godzilla shows up at the Bikini Atoll (they need time to evacuate all the locals) and nuke him when he pokes his monster nose out of the water. Why weren’t they tracking the Shinomura? Why can they suddenly track Godzilla so easily? It’s nonsensical and, worse, boring! Mind you, this kind of storytelling might work a smidgen better except that the tale is expounded with dust-dry seriousness, where cracking a smile might shatter the oppressive snore-bore atmosphere. There’s no humor here, but also little humanity to most of the proceedings—just logic-lacking torpor.

There is a kernel of human interest, though, but it never quite pops. Like the movie, Godzilla Awakening plays with the theme of father-son relationships, and the legacy of the father being handed down to the son. But their relationship is not developed, and the two characters share few scenes together, leaving the emotional core of the book hollow.

Along with the military, the conceptualization of the monsters is equally incoherent. First, just for clarity’s sake, let’s get something straight: MUTO is not the name of the pair of EMP-farting monsters from the movie. MUTO is just Max Borenstein’s cutesy replacement word for “kaiju”—even Godzilla is identified as a MUTO. When I first read this comic, I hadn’t seen the movie yet so I thought the Shinomura were the MUTOs from the film, just poorly rendered, or perhaps at a different stage of adaptation. The Shinomura, though, are a separate threat—albeit similar in some ways to the MUTO pair from the film. Apparently, the Shinomura and all the MUTOs are ancient beasts that eat radioactivity. (All the MUTOs were summoned by the Hiroshima bomb apparently, which I thought was a great plot point—something I have always wanted to do with a Godzilla story.) Presumably, Godzilla also likes to chow on nukes. However, that’s not how the monsters act in the book. The Shinomura seem to like to randomly attack ships and skewer and snatch humans for a quick snack. The Shinomura never attack nukes in the book, and neither do they hang around Hiroshima or Nagasaki or other irradiated areas except at the very beginning. Godzilla doesn’t chase nuclear bombs either—instead, he tries to “restore the balance” (whatever that means) by killing the Shinomura—though why he would be compelled to do that, or what the balance consists of, is never explained. Godzilla doesn’t eat the monsters he kills—he just roasts them with his blue rays of death. But, unlike Heisei Gamera, Godzilla wasn’t created to protect humanity or the earth or anything of the sort. He’s just a big monster. So why does he attack the Shinomura? Why does he want to kill of everything that survived from his time period?

Who knows?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Just bring on the monster fights, right? Sure, I can live with that—if the fights are interesting. Unfortunately, in this comic, they aren’t—they are stunningly boring. Basically, the fights consist of largely random shots of Godzilla tangling with the Shinomura beasts, but there is no rhythm to the fights, no progression, no give and take, no substance whatsoever. We don’t see Godzilla striking, defending, biting, reacting. We don’t see the Shinomura develop any kind of strategy of attack. All we see are a crapshoot of snapshots, the comic-book equivalent of the world’s worst shaky cam, and then the fights are done in a (nuclear) flash. The human action is not much better. Early in the book, the older Serizawa encounters the Shinomura on an island with his compatriots, and there is real peril there—death, danger, destruction! The problem is, the action is terribly hard to follow from panel-to-panel. Personally, I had to read over the sequence several times to figure out what was going on, and I was still confused.

All that said, there are a few highlights, including callbacks for the kaiju faithful and often great, dynamic art. One panel shows a wide variety of MUTO menaces that hearken back to old Toho favorites, and a throwaway line seems to refer to Ebirah. There is even a Moansta Island (“moan” indeed) and a panel wherein Serizawa is actually “calling Monster Island”—echoing All Monsters Attack (1969), of all things. The art, too, is often quite good, though the rough, sketchy drawings of Eric Battle in the early sections clash with the careful character work of Alan Quah later in the book. Yvel Guichet composes with energy in the middle section, with linework that reminded me of Neil Adams and quirky character designs. Some pages are honestly quite beautifully done, and the cover by Art Adams is gorgeous (even if it doesn’t look quite like the 2014 design). The colors, too, are fantastic, and many pages look quite beautiful—if only anything else in the book worked.

Godzilla Awakening is one of the weakest Godzilla comics I have read, supplement to a movie or otherwise. Almost nothing works in this comic. The characters are mostly plot pawns, the monster scenes are sloppy and awkward, the plot plops and fizzles instead of pops and sizzles. I was really excited to read this comic, and bought it right before going to the movie. I jumped in my car after purchasing the overpriced hardcover at the local comic store, and read the book curled up in my driver's seat in a rush of excitement and anticipation before driving off to the film. But the story was so broken as to be a chore to read. The comic actually dulled my excitement for the movie itself. Godzilla Awakening was more sleeping pill than caffeine injection, which is a real shame.

Side note: Best Buy sold a version of the graphic novel around the time the film hit DVD and Blu-Ray. It sold for $2.99, but required purchasing the movie. The comic looks the same, but has a "Bonus: Digital Edition Included!" note on the cover and, naturally, also includes a digital version alongside the physical one.


Variant Covers

Comic: Godzilla Awakening