PART 1 of 3
WARNING, SPOILER INTENSIVE.
Don't post in here, Aktion.
Godzilla: Kingdom of Apathy
The rights and wrongs of IDW's Godzilla comics in perspective. Unfortunately.
By Evan Solomon
What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you say "Godzilla" to yourself? If you're anything like em, its mostly images of him you had from your childhood. Godzilla was my Batman. When I say "Godzilla" to myself, I picture Godzilla battling Gigan through an Oil Refinery. I picture Godzilla roasting Hedorah at the base of Mt. Fuji. I picture Godzilla dueling Battra at the bottom of the ocean. I picture Godzilla blowing up Orga from the inside. I think of the Simeons, Red Bamboo, Planet X. I think of G-Force, Telepaths, and Mechs. Even when Godzilla was in the wrong, as a kid, I always rationalized him as being in the right. He was just 'misunderstood'. Being naive is allowable when you're eight years old. Godzilla was my Batman, he was my stand-in for a conventional superhero figure. And I always thought his mythos, or canon, was a complex tapestry as deep as any comic book hero. So I would always think to myself, "where are his comic books?". He was a character to me, not a monster or a plot device. A character who displayed raw humanity via his emotions. With such an expansive canon of stories, rogues, and allies, I thought, "why not"? I was unaware of the Marvel books by Stan Lee until I started browsing the web, I was also unaware of the Dark Horse comics, as I was still too young(I did however buy the trade paperbacks eventually). While both these series display Godzilla rather faithfully to his character on the silver screen, among with a heap of silly, albeit entertaining plots(Godzilla fighting the Fantastic 4 is awesome), they lacked something very important. New characters and monsters are cool, but what about Godzilla's back-up? Where was Mothra? Rodan? Anguirus? What about some familiar villains? None, with the exception of a rather different G-Force in the Dark Horse comics. My wish for a great Godzilla comic like Batman's or Spiderman's would go unanswered.
Enter 2011. The fandom is in a lull, or as I called it, a drought. The last Godzilla film to be seen was in 2004. The fans were feeding off that controversial burst for about 3 years until things started to get slow. Then we started hearing word of a new Godzilla video game in development for, what the time called, a "next gen console". The fanbase got a surge in activity for what was to be "Godzilla: Unleashed", for the Nintendo Wii. We admittedly got over-hyped, and were disappointed immensely, having received a borderline broken game. Thus the drought began, the longest in my lifetime. For four years we had nothing. At all. But then, out of nowhere, it was as if the Daikaiju Gods shone a light on our withered fanbase. Comic publisher IDW was going to be releasing an ongoing Godzilla Comic, in fact, more than one line of Godzilla comics at a time! Better yet, they had genre artists, MAtt Frank and Bob Eggleton attached to the project, and a notable author; Eric Powell(The Goon). Better yet, IDW struck a deal with Toho and got the rights to all the other monsters and characters! It was the comic I had dreamed of since I was a kid, and it came at a time when it was needed most. Something we can look forward to, enjoy, and discuss...indefinitely! You could have told me they were making Godzilla vs. Gamera, and I would have been just as happy. The PR for the product was great. Collaborations with fans on our native "Tohokingdom Forums", and the incentive of collectible covers! A lot of Collectible covers! Even one by famed Superhero Artist, Alex Ross! Fans like me were on Cloud 9. But then issue #1 came out...
My idea of a first issue of a Godzilla comic, or two, would be to simply establish Godzilla as a character, while establishing the needed human cohorts or adversaries(or both?) as characters as well. There's a few ways this can be done. The following would be how I'd do it. Have a throwaway monster like Baragon, or Rodan(Gonna get fleck for these choices) show up and start destroying things. Establish where it came from. The monster causes havoc, until Godzilla mysteriously appears, and establishes himself as a far more powerful foe by dispatching the creature, destroying somethings, and then leaving as mysteriously as he came. Issue 2 would be the human characters discussing what should be done. It would be strictly devoted to human characters. Then at the end of the issue have them set up a plan should the King of the Monsters make a return. Issue 3; the King returns. Military fails throughout the issue, and at the end of the issue another monster appears. Issue 4; Godzilla and the monster fight, the other monster is defeated. Godzilla leaves. More exposition, then the G-Force/G-Grasper/Telepath team is formed(I'd go with a G-Force-Telepath hybrid, myself), thus setting the stage for their adventures alongside Godzilla, dealing with Terrorist Organizations, Aliens, Mad Scientists, and of course, more giant monsters. Make the stories more...by the issue, or episodic. It makes it more accessible and fun to read. Make the focus of the book be on Godzilla, most importantly. This is not what IDW did. Now I'm not saying they should have, that was just my preferred way of doing it. There goal was to portray an apocalyptic scenario and show "how the real world world would react to giant monsters." There secondary aim was that they wanted to focus the perspective globally and from the point of view of various human characters. On both these points the books fail, in my opinion. Spectacularly. Now, its not that the ideas themselves are bad(Though I was disappointed that the title character was not the focus of the story), any story can be told well if executed properly. Their idea of how the world would really react to Godzilla? It's been done. "Godzilla 1954" did that phenomenally, and endured to be a classic due to its scathing socio-political commentary on Nuclear Weapons. That was as good as its ever been done. Its ambitious to reach for those heights, and weighty subject matter for a comic book(But then again, we live in a world of Sin City and Walking Dead), but even trying to get close to Godzilla '54 would make interesting reading. But really, what they did is unintentionally make a joke of the whole "Armageddon By Giant Monsters" thing. The shifts in tone are staggering and the comic's of humor is inappropriate, irrelevant, and at some points disgusting and offensive. In the issues Powell wrote, I don't think he understood what he was writing, coming off the tongue-and-cheek Goon. He didn't seem to get the subject matter or setting at all. I think he was a poor choice for the book, and I don't necessarily blame him specifically.
The first issue opens with two children playing on the beach surrounded by dead fish, while they're father is off-shore, fishing. The male kid, goes on about how he wishes he could have a pet monster and ride around on it. Its a transparent attempt to mock the older films(I guess the Heisei series is non-existent). Now that bothers me a bit, seeing as I love those films. But that's my fault I guess, not theirs. So I'll drop that. Godzilla then comes out of the sand beneath them suddenly and murders them. that's not an exaggeration. That happens. Its not very graphic, but still. That bothers me. That's like a contradiction of everything I've grown up with. It's like if Superman suddenly dropped a petty thief from the top of a building and let him die. It's just...wrong. It just hurts to see. I was told before that Toho had strict rules on how Godzilla was to be portrayed in alternate forms of media, outside their own. A list of "Do's and Don'ts". And I'm told that killing children is one of the "don'ts". Its not even as if the plot mandated these two children to die in anyway, shape or, form. We don't know them as characters or how they are involved in the plot at this juncture, and the minor plot thread they do eventually get involved in is done away with a sight gag(more on that later). The reason its there is very plain to see. Shock value. That's what it comes across as. "This isn't your kid's Godzilla". Okay, well neither was Gamera in Guardian of the Universe, but the filmmakers didn't have to stoop to such low, lazy, and dirty tactics to convey that. And that film was perfectly acceptable for children to watch. Godzilla as a franchise resonates with children the most, and they must realize that kids will read these comics(casting further doubt on the Armageddon Concept as a fully formed idea). How do you think some of the more sensitive fans would react to such an image? Shoot, I watch some pretty graphic horror films on a regular basis, but this even bothered me, due to the impact It had on my inner child. Now, if this scene set a consistent tone for the series, or at least the following pages, I could overlook my uncomfortablitly as a personal fault. But not when the comic is taking itself serious while making a farce out of everything simultaneously. It's just more evidence that it was added for shock value. Not the best way to start your comic. What follows is just a bit of nothing, as Godzilla stomps through an old Japanese neighborhood. We are shown a bunch of people who we do not know, nor cannot latch onto for more than 2 frames, hence alleviating any of that pesky drama or emotional attachment. We hear the [distinctly Japanese phrase] "You've got to be skreeonk kidding me", which sticks out like a sore thumb and breaks any sense of setting I could associate based off the people. Worse yet, is in this first issue they try to establish it as a running gag. It's said three times throughout the book. Godzilla then stomps on a man helping an elderly woman. Again, it feels like this is played for shock value, and just leaves one feeling uncomfortable. I hesitate to meet the fan that says its a good thing Godzilla is killing people. Probably to do with the trend that "Dark and gritty means its good and serious". So then, in traditional Godzilla fashion, fighter jets come out of nowhere and bomb Godzilla. They fail completely. This where the comic begins to break. The Prime Minister, defying all logic, without consulting his cabinet, or talking to the U.N., without holding a conference to discuss the possible effects of such an action, without consulting any scientists on Godzilla in hopes of an alternate method, he casually orders a Nuclear Warhead to be dropped on Godzilla. There's a lot of things to examine here, but let's for a second go back to 1963. One of the plot points in the films narrative was the Japanese government consulting with the UN about having an A-Bomb dropped on Godzilla and Kong. However, they stressed that it would be a last resort method. To be tried if everything else had failed. and they tried a variety of things, rather than one half-hazard aerial assault. A couple sentences of expository dialogue from the American Version even, "Perhaps more destructive than the creatures themselves", and "But first we must evacuate Tokyo and perhaps all Japan". It's clear that the human characters were carefully considering the consequences of using an Atom Bomb on the monsters, and that, to my knowledge is the closest Japan's ever come to doing it. And for anyone that's seen the film, they decide that the consequences of it would out wiegh the pro's and not use it. Even though this film is a borderline comedy, it makes a clear statement on the country's ethical values when considering WMDs(Weapons of Mass Destruction). This was a nice bit of weight. Now lets bump up a bit to "Return of Godzilla", 1984. The crux of this film's plot was that Godzilla was a warning sign of the dangers of Nuclear Weapons, and that Japan as a nation, would never consciously allow another bomb to be dropped on their land again due to a sound sense of ethical values. The original Godzilla film itself was a statement against Nuclear Weapons. By dropping an Atom Bomb on Godzilla, they have effectively contradicted, if not erased the major ideas and philosophy behind what he is. The reasons he exists. They have disrespected the intent of the original filmmakers to an immense degree, and the culture from which the films spring from. It's just a tad sickening. Godzilla has been simplified to a B-Movie monster. No depth at all. What makes him any better than GINO at this point? Is it worth it to have a Godzilla that acts and looks like Godzilla if all the depth to his character is changed and removed? They even explain that he got his atomic ray because of the warhead they just dropped on him. Defying all reason. I'm not kidding. Godzilla's breath was a symbol for something, now its the nonsensical pitch for an "are you skreeonk kidding me" punchline. What significance does Godzilla still retain at this point? Let's also bring up the obvious plot-hole that one of post-war Japan's 3 basic principles is a zero tolerance on WMDs. Japan does not allow any Nuclear Weapons to be in their country's possession. You really have to stop and wonder if Toho had seen any of this before it was published and how they ever approved it. So, Godzilla makes it to Tokyo and we see him destroying it. Now that may seem like a simple statement. But like everything else in this perspective, lets examine in it. How many times, under his own volition consciously seek out and destroy a city? You're going to think that's a silly question, but think about. In most of the films, the city is simply in his way, and he walks through it. If he ever consciously destroys something, particularly with his breath, its him retaliating against a military attack. The other times, he's controlled by aliens. Only once can I think of where he did consciously go out of his way to destroy a city entirely. "Godzilla 1954". But because of the films immense layers of subtext and symbolism, it makes sense. There's substance. There's nothing here. Godzilla is just there, screwing around in the city, making sure every building is destroyed, for no real reason ever explained. And this applies to other monsters to follow suit as well. This opens up plot holes seen later in the comic series. we see a world destroyed completely, yet only 6 monsters appear in the series. Somehow every major city, some never even mentioned or seen, are apparently destroyed. Even the Egyptian Pyramids. Why and how, would these 6 monsters, 3 of which were controlled, and one being naturally benevolent, be able to destroy every major city? Its a pretty big pill to swallow telling us that these monsters just happened to wander into the world's major cities. Funnily enough, if you keep track of the monsters(which the writers do not). Canada, China, and Australia, would be Global Powers by the end of the series run, because they get by unscathed. But no apparently the whole world is destroyed. Now to be somewhat fair, not everything in this first issue is terrible. Well, one thing isn't anyway. The art is quite good. Easily on par with the magnificent Dark Horse books. The covers were nice too. I got the awesome collectible wrap around cover featuring promised monsters(subject to change, apparently), done by Eric Powell. It looks nice. But that's about as positive as I can get. Its just a bunch of nothing...the only things its memorable for are insulting to various individuals. But they haven;t even tipped the iceberg yet on what can be considered offensive. Just wait for my next part. So at last, and disheartened reader reaches the last page of their Godzilla comic. Now what would you, at home, expect to be on the last page of your Godzilla comic. What you just thought in your head is wrong. We see President Barrack Obama sitting at his desk whining about how everyone thinks he's Muslim who wants to "brainwash their babies". This is completely irrelevant to pretty much..well...everything. I'm not joking, this happens in a Godzilla comic. Was it an attempt at humor? I don;t know, if it was, it was pretty bad, considering what he was whining about was hyperbolized to such an extreme. On top of it being naive to assume the President has time to whine about such insignificant bullshit to his secretaries. Was it Powell's political views shining through? Wrong place for that Powell. I embrace nerdy things to escape reality, I don't need this, whatever it is, thrown in my face. Its just so far removed from anything even close to Godzilla that I can't even begin to try and rationalize. What's worse is this one page is meant to set him up as a chief character throughout the series. We have to continuously to deal with him, and BS, misplaced, tonally jarring, and over exaggerated American perspectives. The last frame shows President Obama exclaiming, "You've got to be skreeonk kidding me." My sediments exactly, IDW. My sediments exactly.