Comic: Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Mothra

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Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Mothra

English Comic Title

Godzilla Rivals: Godzilla vs. Mothra

Authors:

Mary Kenney

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

SL Gallant
Maria Keane
Adam Guzowski
English
2021
IDW Publishing
41

Covers:

E. J. Su / Jonathan Marks Barravecchia

Comic

Monsters

Godzilla
Godzilla
Mothra
Mothra



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

Who would have guessed over fifty years ago, when the first Mothra movie was released, that stories and adaptations featuring the oversized fluttery insect and her tiny twin servants would arguably CHOKE the Godzilla series with so many reruns of similar narrative material?

That is what has happened. We have had arguably too many, too similar takes on the flappy-pretty bug goddess and her rivalry with the cantankerous Godzilla. This is one of them—a Godzilla vs. Mothra tale that doesn’t really do that much that is new, but which nevertheless caters very deliberately to fans in some nevertheless really fun ways.

Note that, as usual with me, I am going to go over the plot without sparing the details because I want to dissect it and dine upon its entrails. Come with me if you want some kaiju story gut soup, folks! Or skip to the end if you want vague-but-meaningful summary for dessert!

The story takes place in 1984, and thus uses the 1984 Godzilla design specifically (a nice touch). The tale opens in Lake Ikeda (in Kagoshima) where a sleepless fisherman encounters strange lights under the water. We cut to the Kanoya Air Base, where we get a meeting of military minds discussing how representatives from Rolisica (!!!) are complaining about radiation levels and tensions with Japan. This is where we also meet our main character, Mima Kinjo, a bored photojournalist working on meaningless garbage articles about the JSDF to put rice on the table. But when the mysterious lights in the lake are mentioned, and the rear admiral immediately decides to blast the crap out of the lake, Kinjo protests—and her dissenting words are quickly squashed.

Yet… she is worried about the source of those wacky flashing lights. We learn about her background, that she was raised to be adventurous and brave, to try new things—such as with diving experiences in Ishigaki! So she takes her diving skills and investigates the disco lake, soon discovering an imago Mothra chained up below. Kinjo tries to free the giant monster by hacking at the massive chains with her tiny knife (really?), and she finds that each link of the chain is helpfully labeled JSDF so we know that nasty admiral from before has been hiding something from the greater Japanese public.

But Kinjo gives up.

And just as she does so, Godzilla attacks Kagoshima—though what triggered his approach is never touched upon. Kinjo takes the opportunity to ambush the rear admiral with an idea to release Mothra so she can fight Godzilla. The rear admiral doesn’t like the prospect of dealing with two rampaging monsters, and so Kinjo sneaks away to snatch some underwater cutting torches, and she zaps the chains, setting Mothra free. The giant moth flies away to a nearby temple complex and… builds a cocoon?! What the what?

The military is unappreciative of Kinjo’s push for kaiju freedom, and capture her, then throw her into prison with some windy speeches about how nasty monsters are and why what she did was wrong. After the loudmouth admiral leaves, Kinjo is visited by astral projections of the twin fairies, who introduce themselves and tell Kinjo about how they represent Mothra, and that the goddess will fight Godzilla after she gets some beauty sleep.

The rear admiral then comes back and he has changed his mind—now he thinks it’s a great idea to send the moth to fight the lizard, though I can’t say it is clear why he thinks Kinjo would be able to direct the bug on where to go. Still, he lets Mima Kinjo out, and then he gets in a fighter plane to fight Godzilla. Kinjo goes down to Sengan-En, where Mothra is cocooned, and… I mean, what the frick? Mothra can’t get out of her own flipping cocoon now??!? She needs… she needs Kinjo to cut her free with a tiny knife???? Why???!?!??!?

Well, while wimpy bug goddess has her personal assistant come and help her disrobe, Godzilla smashes through the city, and blasts the admiral out of the sky. The admiral’s plane breaks up in the lake, and then Mothra arrives to fight Godzilla.

The two monsters trade blasts, blows, and projectile spit, giving Kinjo a chance to save the admiral from the lake. Mothra achieves a pyrrhic victory, grabbing hold of the kaiju king and creating a cocoon around them both even as her own body is ripped to shreds by Godzilla’s teeth. The cocoon falls in the water, Kinjo and the admiral comment on their win, and the sun goes down…

Only for us to jump into the future, when Godzilla’s hand bursts from the cocoon…

As a story, the general take feels derivative, but with flashes of tasty fun. The author, Mary Kenney, appears to have done her homework. Early in the book she references Rolisica, which originated as a stand-in for the USA and Russia in the original Mothra—and so much of the issue consists of a list of such references. The rear admiral states that a giant monster appeared in Japan nearly ten years previous, which may be a reference to Terror of Mechagodzilla (since it came out about ten years before the events of this film). A noisy sailor makes a joke about Issie in Lake Ikeda, a real-life cryptid most famously spotted in the 1970s. Kinjo is a photographer, much like Kyoko Kagawa’s part as Michi Hanamura from Mothra (1961). Mothra once again is called upon by the humans to fight Godzilla (ala Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster), despite the goddess being a victim itself (ala Mothra vs. Godzilla and the stolen Mothra egg, or even the original Mothra, with the Shobijin kidnapped and put on display). Again Mothra sacrifices herself, referencing Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). Godzilla’s defeat via cocooning is also obviously inspired by the climactic fight with the double caterpillars in Mothra vs. Godzilla  (the kaiju king falls in the ocean just like in that movie too), though actually having Mothra cocooned WITH Godzilla was an unexpected touch. Mothra uses her zap-zap antenna like in the 1992 film. Flashing lights underwater seem like an obvious shoutout to the original Godzilla (1954), and the fact that Mothra is sleeping in Lake Ikeda is a reference to Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), as the moth-goddess also lived inside that lake in that movie. I realize it is much easier to do a few quick google searches to find out Godzilla trivia and plug it into a script these days, so this attention to detail doesn’t necessarily mean that Kenney is a big Toho fangirl, but… even if she isn’t, big kudos for going the extra mile. Props, sister!

That said, the story feels forced and awkward at times—particularly with how Mothra is handled. It seems impossible, for example, that the military would be able to capture and hide Mothra in Lake Ikeda without anyone noticing (presumably the cryptid Issie is meant here to have originated as sightings of Mothra somehow?). Still, surely a giant flying bug monster would have made the news—let alone a military battle in which said monster was captured alive. Also, despite being a divine protector, Mothra is depicted as being astonishingly weak. Not only is she unable to break mere chains, but even after regaining her strength, Mothra is then shown to be incapable of poking her way out of her own cocoon! We are meant to believe that Mothra can go up against Godzilla, even wrassle him to a draw—but she can’t pop a chain-link or claw through her own webbing?

Now I realize that Kenney is working to involve Kinjo in the narrative, making her critical in the battle between the monsters. If Kinjo is not needed to free Mothra the second time, it’s harder to maneuver her so that she can also rescue the colonel. If Kinjo is left to rot in the jail, she and the colonel can’t bond and learn something in the end. Most of Kenney’s narrative problems stem from this issue of trying to get Kinjo out of jail—even having the admiral come to Kinjo for help is an illogical contrivance, since anyone with a knife could presumably free Mothra. A more elegant solution might have been to have Kinjo go to persuade Mothra to fight on the side of the humans, or to have the admiral simply ask her to be involved in releasing Mothra from the chains in the first place rather than creating a second entrapment of the bug in the form of the cocoon. In my opinion, Kenney should have done all she could to avoid the ridiculous need for Kinjo to cut Mothra from her own cocoon as it just makes the monster look idiotic, and it makes the story feel like its spinning its wheels.

I wanted to touch briefly on a theme that seems to emerge in this narrative, too—an equation of “female” with protection and goodness, and “male” with aggression and bullishness. The clean cut between the sexes seems deliberate—even to the point that Kinjo is the only character with a name, the only character who is fully human. Godzilla is traditionally thought of as male, though here he is deliberately labeled “it” and de-sexed, treated as an inscrutable agent of chaos. Still, the male characters are incompetent and violent—a bumbling fisherman, a sneering soldier joking about sea serpents, and the nameless admiral hiding behind rules, wearing gloves, shown to senselessly smash a helpless moth next to a window to underscore his cruelty. He is not a villain, though—he goes through a character arc (whilst also arcing through the air, ha), brought around by Kinjo’s humanity, and depicted as brave, strong, even as he is rescued figuratively (by being convinced to release Kinjo) and physically (when Kinjo pulls him from the water) by the goodness of the female.

The goodness and power of femininity pulses through the entire story. Kinjo of course is the central female character, and she is brave, unwavering in her righteous anger over the base cruelty of the mostly male military, and empowered by her visions of angels (manatees) and her connection to the goddess Mothra through the twin fairy priestesses, Kenney presents a story that is charged with girl power and the female mystique. Even the means by which Mothra defeats Godzilla is through a cycle of birth, which is itself the realm of the female—she captures the chaos inside something like a womb. Talk about girl power!

Now, Godzilla ultimately breaks out of that womb, reflecting another common theme in Godzilla stories—that Godzilla is never completely defeated (see Godzilla vs. MegaguirasGMK—even the original suggests Godzilla’s return in the pessimistic finale). However, in this story, Godzilla is reborn—and we don’t get to see how the regeneration process may have transformed him. I would be pretty amused if Mothra and Godzilla had somehow bonded inside the cocoon, but alas… we don’t get to see the aftermath.

Art by S L Gallant (who has drawn many G I Joe comics for IDW) is consistent, if not as remarkable as E J Su’s work from Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Hedorah. His panel layouts are easy to follow, dynamic, clear, and his character work (while not as expressive as my favorite artists) is still varied and solid. Mothra faithfully follows Showa design principles, with oversized wings and the familiar color scheme. Godzilla recognizably resembles the 1984 design, with sneering roars and that toothy mouth. He is given a great sense of drama (in his emergence from Kinko Bay) and terror (from his attacks, from the fearful use of shadows). Gallant’s experience on the IDW G I Joe also definitely come in handy as he is called upon to depict many military vehicles here.

He also sneaks in a reference to Zone Fighter of all things, writing out “Ryusei Ningen Zone” (Zone Fighter) in Japanese on a sign on panel one, page 30.

Now I did have a few nitpicks with the art. When Kinjo is captured by the military, the sequence of panels is a little confusing. On the previous page we can see Mothra already fly away and making a cocoon. But then we seem to crank back in time to see Kinjo watching Mothra fly away, and afterwards a sailor seems to be attempting to cut her throat rather than bring her in alive! Later, too, I found the fight between Godzilla and Mothra slightly awkward in how the panels depict the action. At a critical moment, Mothra blows Godzilla way with her wings, but then in the next shot he is close enough to grab hold of the insectoid divinity and kick her. The sense of space and action feels disjointed here.

Nevertheless, for all its lack of originality and narrative foibles, Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Mothra is a mostly successful, exciting, interesting adventure with strong art and solid monster action. Colors, too, are made to look retro, like something out of a comic from the 80s—which just adds another granular touch to a book stuffed with such elegant, fan-pleasing detail. In a perfect world I would have liked the story revised a few more times, maybe a bit more originality, a little less of the female savior complex, but still Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Mothra is good monster fun, and that’s about what I wanted. Please, IDW—more!


Variant Covers

Jonathan Marks Barravecchia Cover