Friday, June 20, 2008

Book Review: The Essential Godzilla Collection

Growing up as a North American Godzilla fan in the 70's could be best described as an exercise in compromise. This was long before video was commonplace, which meant that seeing the films was a matter of catching their occasional broadcasts on television. Related toys or books were practically non-existent, and what little merchandising that did exist of the character produced for the North American market suffered from aesthetic inaccuracy.

This was apparently due in part to Toho's legal department, as anything involving Godzilla from an American source had to conform to a stipulation of being slightly altered so as to not exactly resemble the Japanese version- but since the alternative was a whole lot of nothing, you'd mostly put up what you could get back then. Such was the case with Marvel Comics' version of the character who starred in his own self-titled comic book between 1977 and 1979; one that I rabidly sought out every month, even though many of the elements and ideas in it didn't always sit well with my younger self. Not too long ago, Marvel assembled the entire 24-issue run of the series as a part of their “Essentials” line of black and white collections and so I decided to pick up a copy- partially for reasons of nostalgia, and also to see how the comic held up against my older, cynical adult perspective.

Having revisited the series as a whole I would say that Marvel's Godzilla is sort of a mixed bag. In accordance with Toho's legal mandate, the character's design was changed to a much more reptilian appearance with a larger, bulkier head and a fire-breathing ability instead of a radioactive energy beam. No longer a wholly destructive symbol of the atomic bomb, the monster was dropped into the Marvel Comics universe as a sort of misunderstood beast on the run while being pursued by the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel's high-tech government defense organization).

Since it would have cost additional money to legally use other Toho creations, the comic had Godzilla face off against a number of original monster creations, including (but not limited to) a giant mutated yeti, a huge samurai robot (operated by the prerequisite, annoying Japanese kid who is the only one with a sympathetic view of Godzilla) and a trio of alien war beasts. While it wasn't terribly faithful to the original Japanese incarnation, in its own self-contained way the story/concept dynamic worked, and was actually an entertaining read and overall decent, giant monster-themed comic... that is, while it stayed in that particular framework.

Unfortunately, because the series took place in the Marvel Universe, Godzilla inevitably began running across the resident superhero groups of the time, such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers- crossovers not being an uncommon thing to happen in a DC or Marvel comic.

All the same, it doesn't mean I cared much for it... even as a kid. Having now revisited the same stories decades later, it still comes off like an oil and water mixture to me. It's not that I have anything against superheroes, but if I wanted to read a story about the Fantastic Four, I'd simply go buy their book. It also probably didn't help sway my opinion that the increased amount of superhero content came in around the time that the comic's stories started going down some rather gimmicky and arguably unbefitting story paths involving Godzilla battling cowboys and an extended plot wherein the monster is shrunk down to the size of a rat and subsequently sent back in time (where he meets up with Devil Dinosaur- admittedly, a fun story).

I suppose that this opinion was (and still is) mostly due to being a bit of a stubborn purist- as far as a Godzilla comic was concerned, all I wanted was Godzilla fighting giant monsters or the military, so the moment things strayed too far away from that realm, I lost interest pretty quick.

Overall, my memories of this book keep me from being too terribly harsh with my opinion of it, although I'm not sure if I would necessarily recommend it to younger generation of Godzilla fans who lack the nostalgic buffer. Still, it's an interesting example of one of the many ways that the character has been interpreted over the years and in this case, as by a foreign creative culture outside of Japan. Three and a half out of five.


Botch the Crab said...

You know, I always wondered why Godzilla looked so non-traditional in this comic series, and the Shogun Warriors toy. Can you point me to more information online as to *why* Toho would be willing to license Godzilla, but not allow his traditional image? It seems counterintuitive.

I think 3.5 "stars" is a generous review for the Marvel Godzilla series, though I do admit to enjoying at least the premise of the shrunken Godzilla story. It would have all been cooler if Godzilla actually looked like Godzilla.

Mysterious Pants said...

Well, I doubt that there is actual documentation online or otherwise to logically explain the reasoning behind any given decision of a movie studio executive. Perhaps Toho wanted outside interpretations of the character slightly altered so as to keep the proper, Japanese version "pure" (for lack of a better term)?

As for my somewhat generous score concerning the Marvel Comics Godzilla, I openly admit that it's an opinion firmly mired in childhood sentimentality- but even as a kid, I never once considered the Marvel version to have anything to do with the "true" Godzilla.

Hmmm. Having said that, perhaps Toho was actually onto something there...

Craig D. said...

I agree that the quality of the comics is just "okay," but I love how they tried new things like having Godzilla fight the Marvel superheroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of the regular military, and getting shrunk and fighting a rat, instead of just copying the "Godzilla vs Monster X" formula of the movies. And when he did fight other monsters, it was refreshing to see new ones instead of Ghidorah and Mothra and all the other monsters he'd already fought. Then again, this is coming from a 25 year old who wasn't even alive in the 70s, and I can understand how a Godzilla fan growing up in the 70s with no access to the movies would want the comics to replicate them. Still, I think the Essential book is worth owning if you're a Godzilla fan. I didn't discover the comics until adulthood, so I'm not just giving them a pass because of nostalgia. It's certainly a better investment than some of the movies.

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