Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe #4
 Dave Chipps
Pencils: Mozart Couto Inks: Mike Sellers
Language: English Release: 1996
Publisher: Dark Horse Pages: 32
Colors: Art Knight Cover: Yuji Kaida
Monster Appearances: Aliens, SDF, & Misc Appearances:
Gamera, Viras N/A
Nicholas Driscoll

Gamera issues one through three are a real uneven mix of quality, with great art, fun monster action, shallow (even unlikable) characters, Swiss cheese plotting, and the unparalleled frustration of pages of dialogue only decipherable through using the pigpen cipher. By the third installment, I allowed myself to be carried away by the wackiness which, if not exactly inspired, was nonetheless memorably demented in its way. The fourth comic has its work cut out for it in wrapping up all the stray bits of plot, with the big climactic battle between Gamera and Viras, an evil possessed babe-scientist clinging to the side of the Eiffel Tower shouting triumphantly, and an alien “bio-weapon retrieval service” officer overseeing the chaos. Given how poorly the plot had held together up to this point, I wasn’t altogether confident that series writer (and Dark Horse manga editor) Dave Chipps would be able to pull off a satisfying conclusion.

The result was a disappointment, with loose ends tied up in the weakest slip knots. The plotting suffers the same problems as before, yet with the poorest resolution to the monster fight in the entire series, and, upon reading the conclusion, I came to the realization that the main character was pretty much worthless to the entire plot.

The story continues from the inevitable cliffhanger ending from the previous issue. In this case, Gamera is under the control of Viras, while main character Lutz and Mayumi Nagamine are flying over the monster battle in a spaceship with Freena the bio-weapons retrieval alien. Mayumi convinces Freena to teleport her to the Eiffel Tower in order to stop Gusano and the mad scientist bombshell Greta Karbone while Freena attempts to fix her spaceship. Unfortunately, Viras blasts the spaceship out of the sky, and Mayumi gets teleported poorly and finds herself hanging off the side of the monument, at the mercy of Gusano. Gamera meanwhile is still being pummeled by the military, and, given the turtle is not nigh-invincible (despite the cover), things are looking bleak for the tusked defender, and, consequently, all of humanity. How will they ever, ever get out of this one?

Do you really want to know? In the interest of not spoiling the ending of the series for those out there who want to go out and buy the books, I shall tread carefully here, albeit purists should skip to the end anyway. Gamera eventually does fight Viras, and there is an awesome scene wherein the turtle smashes Viras with a building, but the battle is overall disappointing. At one point, when Gamera is nearly dead, a preposterous turn of events (really, quite absurd) leads to Gamera scarfing an explosion in order to regain his health… whereas up to this point Gamera had been in the process of getting slaughtered by those boom-booms. Then, after a very brief fight, and an underwhelming resolution to Viras’ fate, most of the main characters have little to no explanation of where they ended up. And Lutz… Lutz is the biggest disappointment of them all.

Usually, the main character has some purpose to being in a story, some vital role to play. But in this story, he only makes things worse, failing at every task he is put to—and that’s about all he does throughout the entire four comics. The only good deed he pulls off in the story that actually helps Gamera or… anyone, except the baddies, is to assist Asagi in the first couple issues. After that, Lutz steals the magic rock, which he cannot use, crashes his plane, gives the rock to the bad guys (on accident), and messes up on several other tasks. Lutz’ main contribution to the story is being a buffoon with a couple quips here and there. In the end, it is implied that Lutz decides to keep Asagi’s magic amulet, much to my consternation.

Not much is satisfying, so far as the story goes. Not even Freena’s stream of slang feels funny anymore, but at least this book contains no dialogue in pigpen. (We do see pigpen cipher briefly again on the side of Freena’s ship, but it’s the same text as in issue two, except now with more errors.) Still, there are monsters smashing things, and that is mostly rendered skillfully.

As I have been noting all along, Mozart Couto and Mike Sellers are a good team, with wonderful colors by Art Knight. I love the detail, Gamera and Viras look fantastic, the composition of the panels is dynamic, buildings, cars, smoke, explosions—this is quality stuff. My only complaint is in the rendering of the outcome of the final battle between Gamera and Viras, and a scene where Gamera spins away, which lacks detail. Otherwise, wonderful work, and complemented again by a beautiful cover painting by Yuji Kaida. For what it’s worth, though, all four cover paintings in the series were done for the Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995) movie, and though care was taken to make them as relevant as possible for the comics, they are still a little out of place, and add to the misconception among some fans that the mini-series was a straight-up adaptation of the movie.

Despite all my reservations with plotting, dialogue, and other awkward elements of these books (especially the unfortunate writing out of the character of Asagi, and her replacement with the dopey Lutz), I still think fans can find some significant enjoyment in the comic series as a whole. The final installment, for me, was a big disappointment, but I really enjoyed the overall tone of the books, and the art remains a big draw. (If there’s any complaint with the art style, it is that it doesn’t always match well with the zany goofery of the plot.) After all is said and done, the most frustrating part of all is reading the end letters page in this issue, called “Shell We Talk?” There, many fans wrote in, praising the book heavily, and were excited for more. The editors write several times that fans should expect Gamera to return, with comments like: “stay tuned-in because Gamera will most likely be returning to the pages of Dark Horse Comics again soon” and “look for another Gamera miniseries from Dark Horse in the future.” That miniseries never materialized; in fact, the four comics that actually managed to be published were never republished in any form, either, and now go for typically exorbitant prices on eBay. It’s a shame—despite its problems as mentioned in my reviews, Gamera's run with Dark Horse was still better than IDW’s unfortunate Kingdom of Monsters, both in art and story, and that’s something the Dark Horse team can be proud of.