Comic: Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Battra


Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Battra

English Comic Title

Godzilla Rivals 4: Godzilla vs. Battra


Rosie Knight


Oliver Ono
Oliver Ono
Oliver Ono
IDW Publishing


Oliver Ono





By: Nicholas Driscoll

Godzilla stories don’t HAVE to be about all the action, boom-booms, and bashy-crash-bazoom. They can be quiet. They can be introspective, with lingering character portraits and slow build-up and a message at the forefront. However, for a Godzilla story to succeed in this latter category, the writing becomes even more important. Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Battra attempts this more quiet, contemplative Godzilla, but relative newcomer Rosie Knight (on writing) only partially succeeds, while fellow (relative) newbie Oliver Ono (on art) creates something with illustrative pizzazz.

The story: In the small town of Margate (called by its nickname, Hackney-on-Sea, here), cute robots do menial labor, and young girl Robbie hunts monsters. Robbie, who works at a bookstore called The Babbling Book, partners with a N.I.G.E.L.-alike robot called Tosche and is constantly on the lookout for the latest sign of any real giant monsters lurking about. When peppy kid Akemi pops by and announces that he and his radio robot have been picking up old broadcasts of a Battra sighting, Robbie goes on the hunt with renewed energy. Given the increasing incidence of earthquakes shaking things up, and a mystery behind the origins of the robot servants surfacing simultaneously, she manages to discover where Battra has been hiding JUST as the giant moth decides to emerge, and the rumors that Battra wants to kill everybody creates a furor among the populace. Meanwhile, a self-styled cult leader attempts to take advantage of Battra’s apocalyptic appearance to gather unto himself power and money. As Battra flits around and makes pretty fly-bys, Robbie, Akemi, and their neighbor (an old-timer named Crain) attempt to find Godzilla. Just as they manage to figure out where Godzilla is, he also emerges. The monsters fight, and destruction happens. A mysterious green-haired girl seems in-tune with Battra, too. Is Battra going to destroy the world? Whose side is Godzilla on? What’s the mystery behind the green-haired girl?

Knight’s story has a lot going on, and it takes its time setting things up. A lot of attention is paid to creating a seaside ambience and the bonhomie flavor of friendship between the characters and how they care for each other before monsters really make an appearance—and even when the monsters do start showing up, the focus does not immediately shift to battles and destruction, but initially lingers on images of their awesome countenances. Despite the title, this book is not about Godzilla and Battra punching and blasting each other—though some of that happens. It’s more about feeling, atmosphere, and an eco-friendly message.

And to a certain degree, it works, largely thanks to Oliver Ono’s sketchbook-like art, which reminded me somewhat of the gorgeous naturalistic art of Atelier Sento in Onibi: Diary of a Yokai Ghost Hunter. I instantly fell-in-comfort with his dreamy, feel-good imagery of seaside London, the industrialized twisty rust-and-moss buildings, the cliffs and uneven staircases. The book takes time to showcase Robbie’s bookshop, and an entire page just to show her cook a meal for Akemi, and the human characters have simple and expressive designs, too. It comes together masterfully and has a strong Ghibli vibe, though I think occasionally finding the sketchbook quality of the visuals can come across as unfinished. Ono also creates some stunning monster sequences, especially with the spread in which Battra appears with a church forefront across his right eye and dirt and landscape showering from his limbs. Godzilla also has an incredible, beautiful emergence from the sea to meet Robbie.

Knight’s writing, however, often felt unpolished to me, and there were multiple times in the 46 pages where I paused in confusion as to just what she was trying to say, or just felt that the lore was bogging things down. Knight has so many ideas she is trying to get across, and so many characters, combined with the attempt at a more leisurely pace, that it creates a blurry, messy feel. One of the silliest bits is how each time our heroes get an idea of how to find a particular monster, it works instantly, to the point that the characters seem to be able to summon the monsters with their off-the-cuff schemes. The monster clashes gain some sense of importance for how infrequent they are, yet the staging can come across as clunky,and the conclusion feels very unsatisfying and downright preachy, as the monsters seem to settle their differences with a long lecture rather than a meaningful exchange. This unevenness may be a symptom of Knight’s lack of experience in crafting comic narratives—the only other comic work I could find by her was Cougar and Cub, in which she did backup stories for a humorous superhero story which sells itself on the fact that the main hero has sex with the sidekick—hurray? That said, most of Knight’s writing seems to be articles for websites like IGN and Nerdist, so I absolutely wish her the best as she stretches into other media. It must be exciting for her.

A word about the characters names: I am not sure what Knight’s intention was, but perhaps she wanted to create a sense of distance from our current world and gender norms. The main character is named Robbie, a more classically male and generally European name. Yet Robbie is a female and looks Asian. Akemi is a Japanese female name, but here the character sporting that name is a young boy of apparently African heritage. Then we have Kiki (another Ghibli reference, I assume)—a woman with green hair—and Crain, a big-nosed old… lady? Perhaps we aren’t supposed to closely associate the world of this comic with our own, despite the real-world setting.

One of the more interesting plot points involves the inclusion of the robots, and I will include a few spoilers here, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to go in fresh. Basically, the robots are mysterious in the story. They are everywhere, and they work with the human characters much like servants—but where they came from is not really explained. The story takes place in 2027, but seems to be an alternate timeline—the elderly character Crain gives this line: “They used to say that long, long ago, before the bots were our friends, our assistants, our allies, they were… created for another purpose.” Long, long ago like a hundred years previously, or what? I mean, 2027 is in five years, so… Huh? Still, the bots function like magical fairies in how they manage to detect the monsters and interact with them, which gives them and the story a sense of intrigue—they can even translate monster speech like the Shobijin! I would be interested to dig further into the lore if given the chance.

Notes on the covers—Oliver Ono’s cover is probably the best of the three Again, the muted tones and charming and dreamy sketchbook quality permeates the page, and we get a nice establishing shot of the village and the landscape. I like Battra’s menacing pose as he stands in the background with his front limbs raised to attack, but Godzilla looks a bit misshapen to me, like the proportions don’t quite come together. Robbie appears in the foreground standing on top of a building, hinting at her hobby of hunting monsters—but she looks a bit too big, not quite sized right for the house on which she is standing. Mark Martinez’ alternate cover has Godzilla leaning over the Ferris wheel that appears in the story, grabbing hold of the outer rim and charging up his nuclear breath, with an energized Battra looking on and framing Godzilla in the back. This cover does not portray the fight between the monsters well, and the composition feels a little unbalanced and just uninteresting, with Godzilla’s head seemingly fading into Battra’s black belly. The last cover is by Tradd Moore, who seems to specialize in psychedelic and warped depictions of heroes and monsters in his cover work. Godzilla is depiced towering over the scene with vacant, scary eyes and his flesh burning into wild colors that then become a background showing Godzilla facing off against Battra over a drug-trip version of Margate. There are even what appear to be computer generated textures warping in the corners and the background. Personally this kind of sensory trip is not my thing and would seem to jive better with Hedorah, but as they say… tastes vary. Nevertheless, none of the covers really do it for me.

I applaud Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Battra for trying new things and going for a more gentle, humanistic tone—even if I don’t think the writing is very successful, with a tale that feels simultaneously strolling along and overstuffed with concepts. I love the artwork, and some bits of dialogue are cute (such as a bot playing “hot or cold”), and the sense of familiarity between the characters and small-town charm just feels warm. The selling point is Ono’s artwork more than anything else, which overflows with personality and manages some of the monster encounters with a real sense of size and majesty. Still, if you are looking for action and adventure, Godzilla Rivals: Vs. King Ghidorah is far superior, and Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Hedorah would also be a strong choice. Nevertheless, I hope that IDW continues to experiment with their releases like this, so we can continue to glimpse a wide variety of Godzilla stories—and not just the same thing over and again.

Variant Covers

Mark Martinez Cover
Tradd Moore Cover (No Text)