Comic: Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Gigan


Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Gigan

English Comic Title

Godzilla Rivals: Godzilla vs. Gigan


Keith Davidsen


Valentina Pinto
IDW Publishing


E.J. Su





By: Nicholas Driscoll

Last year was great for Gigan fans. As the 50th anniversary of Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Toho really revved up the fan wagon. Like the previous year in which Godzilla vs. Hedorah’s 50th anniversary was celebrated with a short film and loads of merch and a Rivals comic release (the first in this series), Gigan’s 50th was also chock-a-block with goods, goodies, events, TWO short films, and the release of this comic—apparently delayed multiple times so as to be published in the same month of Godzilla’s yearly birthday bash. With the foofaraw reaching a fevered pitch and a new Godzilla film announced along with the other festivities, Rivals: Vs. Gigan felt overshadowed to the point of near disappearance. Written by Keith Davidsen (most well-known for his titles through Dynamite Publishing such as Evil Ernie and Re-Animator) and with art by SidVenBlu (who has also worked on Transformers through IDW), the title aims for a touching message crossed with high-energy action and tongue-in-cheek humor—though the resulting cybernetic bird feels somewhat undercooked and with a side of cheese.

The drill for me with these comic reviews is to give a pretty thorough overview of the comic, and then analyze the contents from various angles—which includes ample spoilage. If you don’t want spoilers, skitter over to the last paragraph or so for the vague summary.

As with previous Rivals entries, this one does not take place in a contemporary backdrop, and is instead a “historical fiction” piece—this time hopping between New Jersey (for the human drama) and Seattle (for the monster mayhem) in 2008. The main characters are Nancy (the “computer science nerd”) and Joaquin (unemployed and depressed gamer), a pair of Hispanic young adults living together and passing mild verbal spars in their free time. Joaquin mostly plays Immortal Konflict on his Playbox system throughout the episode, while Nancy initially attempts to work on homework—until she receives an evacuation alert for Seattle (why she would get an evacuation notice from Seattle is anyone’s guess). A giant monster, Gigan, is attacking the city, easily defeating the American military forces arrayed against the threat. Soon a humanoid “Nubulan” (surely this is a misspell, right?) cockroach appears on the networks, gloating about the invasion and soon-to-be vanquishing of humankind via their cyborg kaiju. Godzilla, always drawn to oversized monsters appearing, faces off against the robo-bird, and their fisticuffs-and-rays battle rages over several pages with wild moves which bear similarities to some kind of wicked ninja combat. In the course of that fight, Joaquin refuses to allow Nancy to watch the news on the TV nor to turn off his game because he has bad memories of 9/11 (he lost his uncle in the tragedy, and they were old gaming buddies). Nancy enables Joaquin’s social retreat.

Despite his disinterest in the unfolding end-of-the-world scenario, Joaquin takes a peek at the kaiju clash and is astonished that Gigan is using special moves from his video game. Nancy doesn’t believe him at first, but when Joaquin’s game glitches and the blip coincides with a turn of fortune for Godzilla in the battle, she decides to do a bit of hacking.

As it turns out, Hexapod Games (the developers behind Immortal Konflict and other parodies of real-world games) are the cockroach aliens from the broadcast—some of whom are in human form, and some who just let their insect-side hang out to varying degrees. The bugs are using the combat data from their battle games to feed Gigan with fighting moves somehow. The idea is that the aliens aggregate all the best (?) strategies from their games and use the data to animate their avian cyborg’s actions. Nancy invades the Nubulans’ computers with hastily-crafted viruses, and reroutes the feed of data so that the only machine providing data is Joaquin’s. And because she convinces Jo to stop playing (barely), Gigan freezes up, and Godzilla summarily murderizes the punked space chicken. Shortly after Gigan gets roasted, Nancy further hacks the cockroach’s flying saucer and manually flies it into Godzilla’s path, and the kaiju king rips the UFO in half in a most-brutal fashion. Nancy and Jo celebrate, and big-sis manages to coax the shut-in bro outside for the first time in ages. Godzilla returns to the sea, and we end on a gag featuring a Seattle coffee delivery to the cockroach’s now demolished headquarters. The end.

The video-game plot presumably takes inspiration from how the original Gigan film featured the roach-aliens using entertainment to take over the world. In the movie of course the entertainment was an amusement park and, to some extent, manga art creation. This time, we have the updated video game mechanic. It should be stressed that neither story makes much sense. Why should an alien invasion force build an amusement park? Why would aliens need anything so convoluted as networked video games to control their giant monster? Why would they use a TAPE in the movie to issue orders to their monsters? None of these plot threads hold together, and Rivals: Vs. Gigan is self-aware, even directly pointing out how far-fetched the scenario really is. I found myself personally resistant to the corny explanations, the truly cheesy video game references, and the incredible ease with which one college student manages to instantly take over the aliens’ space tech and cripple Gigan. However, once again, these plot elements are not really out-of-character for the source material, and the fighting game esthetic allows the book to indulge in crazier fight moves than the usual Godzilla story.

I also found the characters and their drama forced and awkward. The 19-year-old Joaquin is very unlikable; he has completely shut down his life and won’t go outside, a mode of behavior that has apparently been going on for seven years. He constantly displays selfish, destructive behavior—whining at Nancy for interrupting his gaming as she is trying to literally save the world. The introduction of his trauma, having lost his role-model uncle Sebastian to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, felt overdone, with what amounts to a shrine to the fallen relative appearing in the background when Joaquin complains about not wanting to watch the news. Jo hides in his games all day in the same room with multiple images, articles, and memorabilia for Sebastian ever ready to help him guilt-trip his older sister. Yeesh. By the end of the story, too, we are supposed to believe that Jo is a hero simply for tossing aside his controller—and in a sense I can resonate with the image a little. When in the depths of emotional trauma, even small victories can mean a lot. But at the same time, with the future of human civilization on the line, I kind of thought Nancy should have just unplugged the controller.

Nancy is only marginally better than her brother. While I appreciate that she shows compassion towards Jo, by supporting his bad habits, she never helps him heal. Grieving is hard for everyone involved, and even if Joaquin viewed Sebastian as a hero, Nancy lost her uncle, too—yet for years and years she (or others in her family) have just paid for all the utilities and food and everything while enabling Jo’s awful behavior. And now we are supposed to root for her as she rolls over and grants Jo full reign to bang away at his games while she has to fulfill all roles of responsibility? Unfortunately, whatever the intention, both characters feel a bit weak here. I do think connections to the Twin Towers devastation within a kaiju story can function as an interesting hook, as giant monster stories often capitalize on real-world devastation (Cloverfield, which was released in the year in which this story takes place, used the horror of 9/11 imagery to great effect)… I just wish that the dramatic weight was better used in this instance.

The action, though, is where the story really bashes some booty. Instead of just a few panels of monster-a-monster action like we got in (for example) Rivals: Vs. Battra, Gigan is replete with extended and bombastic battle depictions. Both Godzilla and Gigan leap and bash and smash one another, and one particular scene wherein the cyber-chicken uses a ship in combat is dramatic and satisfying. As often with Gigan, too, the clash gets bloody, as we have come to expect from the kaiju-jerk. Finally, Gigan’s eventual defeat definitely fits well with the Monsterverse’s penchant for… decisive victories and, err, body trauma. Gigan really gets it, and you can detect the glee with which the creators Davidsen and SidVenBlu went about delivering raucous carnage.

With that said, though, the art is ROUGH. SidVenBlu seems to have limited comic book work to his credit, much like Oliver Ono on Rivals: Vs. Battra—but in this case, the comic suffers. SidVenBlu aims for a generic anime vibe with his human art, and he achieves just that—uninspired character designs, with sometimes unrefined proportions and panel layouts or poses. Backgrounds are also not the best, sometimes feeling out of synch with the characters. The book feels amateurish, along the lines of Marvel’s Mangaverse from the early 2000s. While SidVenBlu’s work is a step or three above, say, the Punisher manga, it still struck me as (I hate to say this) just not that good. The monster work, too, came across as wildly uneven; Godzilla (who takes the Final Wars design in this book) especially often appears with weird body proportions, and his face—so many times I kind of cringed looking at him. Gigan, on the other hand, looks significantly better, often very-much on spec and kicking it. IDW kaiju art can vary in quality to various extremes, and SidVenBlu does not hit the lowest bar I have seen (I did not notice any obvious tracing that could mar some work from previous titles), but nevertheless some subpar shots bring the action down.

One thing I really liked, though, was the inclusion of the cockroach aliens in various forms. We get a full roach with no human disguise at all, and he looks really over-the-top villainous. We get disguised aliens with cockroach shadows. We also get these guys who look halfway disguised, but their heads and hands are insectile—just not to the point of the head cockroach for some reason. I don’t get the thought behind the gradients of alienness, but I thought it was a wacky and amusing choice, and I really liked that.

Also, for as much as I am complaining about SidVenBlu’s linework sometimes, I think Valentina Pinto’s colors are good—capturing shadow and light and texture in many of the shots and generally enhancing the artwork. I don’t think Pinto’s work here can match the lively and gorgeous colors from Delgado over on the Monsters & Protectors line, but I think Pinto does quality work here. Nevertheless, I wish the book didn’t take place at night. Rivals: Vs. Gigan is not a dark story, and it leans heavily on humor and a silly love of fun that would have synced better with brighter colors. In other words, it apes the original Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), which I also have often felt was a little too dark for its carnival of fun story.

How about the cover work? E. J. Su (who did the interiors for Rivals: Vs. Hedorah) provides the main cover, with an excellently detailed Gigan emerging from the smoke to attack a pretty great (if somewhat unemotional) Final Wars Godzilla. Christian Gonzalez, meanwhile, gives us kind of a pop-art piece that features a triumphant-and-bloodied Godzilla standing forth in a Conan the Barbarian-esque pose with Gigan’s broken corpse and the cockroach aliens in searing colors and in various stages of disguise lining the bottom. I dig this psychedelic display and I want more.

Interestingly, like with Rivals: Vs. King Ghidorah, the creators also provide a “behind the story” section—but this time it’s just a page of concept art featuring Godzilla by Christian Gonzalez. Strangely, Gonzalez’ Godzilla doesn’t look so much based on Final Wars Godzilla; he has a more boxy head ala the Monsterverse Godzilla, and doesn’t look catlike either. Was Gonzalez originally going to do the interiors? Why include this “concept art” with no explanation? The section doesn’t include anything about the story, unlike the text included with Rivals: Vs. King Ghidorah. I don’t get it.

While Rivals: Vs. Gigan struggles with uninspired character moments and inconsistent art, as well as an arguably cheesy story, nevertheless it maintains a high level of just straight-up good-natured fun that many fans should connect with. Even though I didn’t resonate so much with the human story and what felt like forced emotions, I like what it was going for, and I think some readers will vibe with it. Some small touches, too, tickled me a bit—such as an image referencing Caramelldansen/Popotan of all things! Even if the writing doesn’t always hit, the action includes some wicked battle beats and crunchy final beat-downs that should make fans cheer. If you haven’t read this Godzilla/Gigan tribute yet, I think it’s worth a peek, and is especially satisfying reading alongside the two Gigan shorts we got last year—just to compare how each innovates G vs. G battles in different ways. Plus, like with GODZILLA (1998), we even get a few coffee jokes!

Variant Covers

Christian Gonzalez Cover