Comic: Godzilla Rivals: Vs. Hedorah

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Godzilla Rivals: Vs. SpaceGodzilla

English Comic Title

Godzilla Rivals 9: Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla

Authors:

Matt Frank

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

Matt Frank
Matt Frank
Goncalo Lopes
English
2023
IDW Publishing
47

Covers:

Matt Frank / Alexis Ziritt / Bob Eggleton

Comic

Monsters

SpaceGodzilla
SpaceGodzilla
Singura
Singura
Godzilla
Godzilla



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

Matt Frank is a pretty popular and accomplished figure in the kaiju artist scene. I first met him around 2008 at G-Fest where I bought one of his art books and got him to sketch a Mecha-Biollante for me, but just a few years later he had published his first official Godzilla comic through IDW (a memorable clash between Anguirus and Destoroyah), and not so long after that he became the head artist on the much-celebrated Rulers of Earth run, which became the longest-running Godzilla comic series yet published (heck, Frank added a bit more to the comic just last year in the form of a side-story within a big reprint book in Japan). Outside of Godzilla, Frank has also done Redman comics, monster design work for some small productions, an official Gamera comic, and a recent Dinosaur War Izenborg collaboration with Hiroshi Katani (he did the art of the humans and other animated elements from the show, Katani did the monsters and tech and other live action elements—it’s only been published in Japanese, but having read it myself earlier this year, I can say it’s very enjoyable, even if you have only seen the re-edited American Attack of the Super Monsters). In 2023, Frank contributed an entry to IDW’s Godzilla Rivals series featuring SpaceGodzilla, and his tale is easily one of the more ambitious in form and in message, with some of the most eye-popping art in the series to date. For me, though, the ambition doesn’t completely work out as a narrative.

Note that I will be discussing spoilers, so hie thee to the conclusion if you don’t want ‘em. Also, this review is going to take some considerable space to analyze why the narrative doesn’t fully work for me, which may come across as being overly negative—but I think Frank’s book is impressively ambitious. I am glad when Frank or others take big creative risks, and I think many fans really love this work. For me, though, the pieces of the narrative don’t operate well as a whole, and it takes time to ferret out the reasons, so bear with me.

The story centers on an alien planet where two unnamed races live in a stratified society. The snake-like aliens rule over an insect-like race treated as slaves. Both the races of the snake-aliens and the bug-aliens have names, but they aren’t included in the book—Frank revealed their names in an interview with Wikizilla; the roach-alikes are Laitians, and the snakeys are Ophiogans (the term “ophio” is a Greek prefix that means “snake”), and the planet (again only named in the interview and online materials) is Pellucidia (presumably named after Edgar Rice Burroughs hollow earth Pellucidar, which was also filled with lots of bizarre peoples—some of which enslaved one another). Well, one of the Ophiogan’s exploratory craft stumbles on a floating asteroid filled with crystals, and when the snakes try to mine the gems, they find an enraged SpaceGodzilla inside. SpaceGodzilla proceeds to rampage across the surface of the unnamed planet, destroying Ophiogans and Laitians alike, and battling a series of weapons and a new black-hole exuding ambulatory cobra monster called Singura that the Ophiogans transport around in a space coffin that serves as its alien Pokéball of sorts. While the Laitians and two factions of Ophiogans fight amongst one another, SG storms through one defense after another, eventually excavating one of the Ophiogan’s gods and killing it before overtaking the planet with crystals while a few escape craft manage to abandon the planet. In the last moments, SpaceGodzilla ruminates over getting revenge on Godzilla. The end.

Frank’s art is the backbone of all the above, and putting any narrative issues aside for now, the gorgeous illustrations and fantastic coloring from Goncalo Lopes makes the book worth reading by themselves. We get just scads of rad designs—crazy futuristic cityscapes, wacky aliens, wild robo-weapons, miserable despotic machinations, and rampant destruction enacted by SpaceGodzilla—who, I mean, SG looks GREAT here. I’ve complained before about Frank’s illustrations of human characters, but we ain’t got any people here—just wild aliens, wilder battle tech, and the most vicious and wicked cool SpaceGodzilla to ever appear in comics. Frank puts together a masterful set of eye-popping sequences of destruction, with multiple astonishing, almost experimental panel progressions. Some of the panels overlap with each other in clean, brilliant designs. Some panels are fashioned to look like SpaceGodzilla’s profile, other panels feel like shattered rocks that each illustrate a piece of the kaiju’s destructive rampage such as when SG explodes from his crystallized asteroid home. Frank fills three double-page splash panel with deliriously detailed kaiju goodness and several more massive panels and largely wordless pages driven entirely by monster chaos, asking us to drink in the immense craftsmanship he has poured into the artwork. His SpaceGodzilla looks positively demonic and warped with rage, his face twisting, his body coursing with malevolent energies. When SG first awakens, we get a bulging look at his eyeball, which may be a callback to Kazuhisa Iwata’s Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla manga adaptation. That manga opened with a colored page depicting the annihilation of an alien civilization observed by an unmanned human drone—and in which we get a sudden glimpse of SG’s furious eye. Come to think of it, the set-up of a human drone sneaking a glimpse at an alien world in Iwata’s manga may have had a germinal effect on Frank’s overall vision for his comic.

Something must be said about Singura, too—Frank’s shiny new kaiju. (This book really should have been called Godzilla Rivals: SpaceGodzilla vs. Singura, given that SG never faces off against the kaiju king.) Frank and his team of creators were noted for creating the first original IDW kaiju with the Trilopod in Rulers of Earth, so it feels fitting that he has another here—an unholy marriage between a cobra, a lizard, and a bug—plus buzzsaws in odd places ala Gigan. Singura is justifiably a cool creation, all teeth and blades and sweet power. He/she/it looks like Vertigo from Primal Rage with a few more bells and whistles—and one heck of a fatality. Singura possesses an ability to birth a black hole from her belly, which Frank explains in that Wikizilla interview was meant as a callback to SpaceGodzilla’s origins when the Godzilla cells fused with a crystalline being from a black hole—and Frank’s realization of that power packs punch on the page. Still, the fight plays out a little bit lamely. Singura gets triggered to basically self-implode when her handler is assassinated by a fanatical religious believer, and then SpaceGodzilla seems to win over the bug-snake by using purple gravity beams to break apart the crystal shafts in Singura’s chest that stabilize the black hole. It kind of bugged me that we are supposed to buy that SpaceGodzilla’s gravity rays appear more powerful than the suck of a black hole, but I suppose one could just argue that they destabilized the whole system and caused it to blow apart. More than anything, though, I wish SpaceGodzilla and Singura could have had a clean fight at the climax of the book over the egg, and I would have liked to see SG slightly on the ropes—maybe getting cracked shoulder rocks from Singura’s black hole instead of from the worm tanks earlier in the book.

The story above is mostly told through these stunning visuals, but it can be a bit confusing as all the dialogue is rendered in an alien tongue that Frank created with his assistant Kaston. However, it’s not really a language in the sense of something like Elvish from Lord of the Rings, or even the alien cypher from the Dark Horse Gamera series. While Frank uses some letter/glyph combinations repeatedly as a way to signal some kind of important idea or the title of a priest (according to his notes and the interview), he basically rolled a die at random to choose which letters would appear on the first page, and so it’s largely meaningless. The only meaningful text comes in the form of a translated religious text of the Pellucidian people—presumably the Ophiogans, but it’s not stated. Frank deliberately obfuscates any names of the aliens or monsters or the god(s) with “translation errors,” which I think was a mistake. Usually with a translation, say when there is the name of a city or even an unknown word, it’s simple enough to transliterate the word even without an equivalent term. One can create an alphabetical representation of an alien writing system, and I figure if the translation software can translate the religious documents of the Ophiogans, presumably it could just as easily transliterate unknown words. Frank could have incorporated the names of his alien races and the name of the planet into the story this way, and such names would provide tow holds for the readers, so to speak.

Just as long as we are on the topic of the translation part of the story, I also wish that Frank hadn’t attempted a pseudo King James style for the (near) entirety of the text. Now anyone who follows Frank on his social media probably knows he doesn’t think too kindly of organized religion, and I can understand why he might want to use such affectations for satiric effect, but I found it terribly stilted and distracting. In universe, it’s hard to imagine a reason a future translation device would deliberately translate an alien religious document with ridiculously outdated language as even the Bible has lots of modern translations that avoid outdated expressions. Plus, Frank isn’t consistent in his usage, mixing the elevated “thee” and “thou” language with an occasional “you” or “your”—such as “Pray that your prosperity brings shine to the quartz, for as you prosper in wealth, so too shall thy soul.” In some older forms of English, “thee” and “thou” were used when addressing lower caste individuals and in stylized poetry, whereas “you” and “your” were used when speaking to superiors, so mixing them doesn’t jive. Even without the dead language bits, Frank fills the narration with many references to the Bible—terminology like “sins” and “covenant” and “recompense” and etc. Frank establishes the Christian/Bible connection without needing the further layer of deliberately archaic language.

Outside of the old-school English used to tie grammatical knots, Frank also employs a repeated religious metaphor with the term “shine,” which tends to have a variable meaning. This may actually be a deliberate spearing of vague religious terminology, and if it is meant to annoy, it worked—it seemed like everything was “shine” this, “shining” that, with variations of the word numbering at least twenty-two appearances in the text of the comic. Sometimes the term seems to be used to mean simply valuable treasure, such as when it is used to describe the collection of crystals, the “offering of shines.” But it can also seem to mean something like energy or honor or glory—the crystal king is said to have “his own glorious strength, his own brilliant shine” but he is also linked to quartz “in their shine.” We also have something called “the call of the shine” that followers should take up, and one can “deny the king of the quartz’s shine,” plus “his shine will be his children’s to share.” So, a “shine” can be an offering, it can be a metaphor for strength, perhaps an energy field that connects the god to his treasure, an aspect of faith that calls on believers, and perhaps a teaching? The interpretation may depend on the believer! For me at least, it was overdone.

Really, several aspects of the story conspire to add layers of uncertainty that invite interpretation or possibly frustration. Outside of the mostly meaningless alien dialogue and the purposefully obtuse (though resonant) scriptural narration, the set up of the story is also confusing. The first image is of an ancient slab covered in writing and what seems to include an image of SpaceGodzilla as the god of the Pellucidians. But the only glimpse we get of Pellucidia is of a fantastically advanced culture, presumably built up over thousands of years. Are we supposed to glean from this that the religious text (which, we are told, is being translated in the year 2197) was one of the few remains of the alien civilization after SpaceGodzilla was done with the place? If so… how could the Pellucidians have known about and worshipped SpaceGodzilla in the deep and distant past, given that Space G is a modern conglomeration of a nuclear monster awakened in 20th Century Japan and a crystalline alien? I guess SpaceGodzilla could have a different origin within the comic, but he still knows Godzilla, and he still looks like Godzilla. SpaceGodzilla also isn’t the kind of monster to visit a civilization and allow it to exist long enough to build up a religion around himself. Given that Frank (in the aforementioned interview) hints that “the Baby” which appears towards the end of the issue is the child of Godzilla Unleashed’s Krystalak, I like to imagine that the Pellucidians are actually worshipping Krystalak in this comic… but the image on the tablet looks like SpaceGodzilla. An intriguing possibility might be that the Ophiogans used to worship the crystal being that existed before merging with Godzilla cells to become SpaceGodzilla, but the high priest in the comic seems to recognize Space G as their god. I am probably overthinking the premise, but with the sometimes-unclear presentation, I think we readers are invited to interpret, so I’m interpreting!

Also, even though Frank tries to loosely tie the scripture of the text to the ongoing action on each page, the content of the verses and the unfolding action are largely unrelated. The scripture is supposed to be ancient,  but the action is in a futuristic society, and I just don’t buy that Frank wants us to believe the verses are true prophecy—and they don’t read as prophecy anyway so much as pious hogwash. Frank also sets things up so we know that the Pellucidian religion is bupkis; when the Ophiogan priests form a line to stop the Ophiogan army from attacking, they have no effect and immediately get squashed by their “god.” SG doesn’t hesitate to destroy the religious Ophiogans with everyone else, and their god-baby is completely powerless as well. So, if the scriptures don’t predict SpaceGodzilla coming and destroying all of his believers, and the text doesn’t describe this event, why use this scripture translation as a narrative device over the apocalyptic happenings of the story? It’s not even clear whether the translation taking place in 2197 happens after Pellucidia is destroyed or before or concurrently, and it would have been so easy to establish, say, in a quick shot of Earth drones descending on a crystal wasteland in an opening expository panel. Instead, we get an image of a broken tablet suspended in a black background with no explanation beyond that it’s being translated, and in the next image we see a little spaceship flying towards a floating rock. My initial thought was that the ship we see on the second page is what is translating the tablet, but no—presumably not, given that it seems to be an Ophiogan ship.

Probably the best way to take all this above is as more of a vibe than as a completely coherent story, without worrying about some of the finer details. However, even if some of the elements of the story are connected in a hazy way, Frank has a pretty clear agenda with his book—a pointed skewering of organized religion.

I have already gone on at length about Frank’s use of religious terminology, but I haven’t touched much on why he used them. Frank’s Ophiogan empire is heavily influenced by a despotic and cruel religion that encourages its followers to gather treasure for the “quartz”—the collection of crystals and gems, perhaps a metaphor for tearing up nature for material goods like coal, oil, and metals, or destructive ideas like Manifest Destiny—a sort of theological rush to conquer which in this case awakens their own destruction, “Bring unto thy house the harvest and spare not a single grain.” The text describes a sort of Kenneth-Copeland-esque prosperity gospel with lines like “Pray that your prosperity brings shine to the quartz, for as you prosper in wealth, so too shall thy soul.” The Ophiogans seem to believe that, if they follow their crystal god, they will get rich—and that the downtrodden are perhaps considered cursed to their lot. Frank seems to want to disparage the kind of religion that promotes the rape of the land and the enslavement of other people, particularly other races—undoubtedly taking inspiration from the sorts of Christian slaveholders from the 1800s who would cite Old Testament stories to justify the practice of owning and abusing slaves. I still consider myself fairly religious (with lots of questions), but I can stand with Matt Frank on both of those hills. These themes, though, feels a little unfulfilling, since the slave Laitians are never freed, and their rebellious attempt to blow up the crystal egg that calls SpaceGodzilla utterly fails and has no effect on the plot. Obviously, SpaceGodzilla also cares not one whit for the Laitians, and basically everybody gets squished and blown up except a few Ophiogans and Laitians who race off the planet together. Yet is there any hope or any indication that the two races can live in harmony or have learned anything from their travails? Maybe. In one of the last panels, a pensive Ophiogan riding his escape into the sky looks with disgust at the crystal in his hand, and another sorrowful Ophiogan has a hand on the shoulder of a mourning Laitian. There may be a burgeoning of compassion in the maelstrom of defeat—but personally, being the softy I am, I wish the Laitians could have had a clearer sort of victory.

Finally, stepping away from the heavier themes, for as much as I love SpaceGodzilla’s depiction in this book, it’s more than a little weird that through 95% of the action, SG never spawns his energy-sucking crystals to help him fight. In the movies and comics, SG relies on creating lots of towering crystals all around himself to provide extra power—it’s an essential part of his arsenal, something he uses even when facing down Little Godzilla. Here, SG spaceships, worm tanks, a mother ship, a giant monster, a black hole—and never erects ANY CRYSTALS until he has won! What the heck, man? Maybe it was too much of a pain to figure out how to get the crystals into the progression of the fight? Maybe the Baby was suppressing SG’s crystal-growing abilities?

As far as covers go, Matt Frank’s own cover is the most dramatic, with a great action shot of SG facing off against spaceships and explosions with Singura glaring in the background like Xtro and the three factions sealed (military Orphiogans, religions Orphiogans, and Latians) in crystals. Alexis Ziritt provides his usual acid-trip visuals, this time with SpaceGodzilla tripping balls through a sort of Dr. Strange-esque magical sci-fi landscape. Finally, kaiju painter Bob Eggleton provides a very pretty glimpse of a grumpy SG reigning over Pellucidia in a finely detailed, colorful, and beautiful oil painting.

Anyway, this review has gone on long enough. The long and the short of it is, while the story can feel pretentious and more than a little overly obtuse in the telling, undoubtedly Frank has put together an ambitious and furiously kinetic monster smash with top-tier comic monster art and fantastic destruction. The religious themes only work to a degree, I think, and a number of the story beats don’t come together for me, and given that there is effectively zero dialogue sometimes the characters can be difficult to connect to, but for big fans of the more intergalactic side of kaiju storytelling, and for anyone who just wants to see great sequences of sci-fi devastation, you can’t go wrong with “The Terror of SpaceGodzilla”/Godzilla Rivals: Vs. SpaceGodzilla. Definitely one of the better Rivals releases, and one I grew to appreciate a bit more as I analyzed it.


Variant Covers

Alexis Ziritt Cover
Bob Eggleton Cover