Happy 30th to Dark Horse’s Godzilla series!

As of this writing, it appears that IDW’s rights to print Godzilla comics have lapsed. While a lot of great things came out of the IDW run, there were always two things that I really hoped they’d do that never came to pass:

  1. Put out an omnibus or two with color reprints of older Godzilla comics
  2. Reunite the team from the Dark Horse Godzilla era for a miniseries

With those as handy context clues, it should become quickly apparent which of the myriad Godzilla comics publishers out there is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because they feel so integrated with the contemporary films of the Heisei movies: the Marvel Godzilla didn’t match the Showa continuity in either design or universe, while the IDW comics spend lots of time reintroducing characters already familiar from the films. The Dark Horse comics, on the other hand, essentially come across as a sort of Heisei-era gaiden, even with occasional nods to a greater Dark Horse universe via Hero Zero and Monkeyman & O’Brien.

In August of 1987, Dark Horse printed their first Godzilla story, the Godzilla: King of the Monsters special. The story, by Randy Stradley and Steve Bissette (right off his Swamp Thing run), is weird as a standalone: Dr. Yoshiwara reminisces about how during her childhood an ancient beacon was unearthed in Tokyo, attracting numerous monsters to it, Godzilla included. While the original plan was to include other Toho creatures, Toho insisted on licensing each monster separately, and I believe this is a great case of art from adversity: by having these imitation disaster monsters Soran (“sora” is “sky” in Japanese), Inagos (inago=locust), and Kamerus (kame=turtle), you get to expand the mythology without taking away from the prior material: one could believe these other creatures awakened in 1954 just off-screen, much like how Steve Martin could feasibly be lurking just off camera. This is certainly a boon to the story, but it was still pretty neat to see the “what could have been” sketches for the Toho roster that was unused:

But anyway, the special is all just a chilling flashback, ending with Yoshiwara threatening how she’ll be ready if Godzilla ever returns. This very much feels like a lead-in to a series, but plans fell through, so the Yoshiwara character doesn’t actually show up again until Dark Horse Comics #10 in 1993. Godzilla himself was back in the interim, though, first in the Godzilla Color Special (the only issue to have a color version available in trade), and then in a short in Urban Legends about the dual endings to King Kong vs Godzilla. (That isn’t counting the English translations of Kazushi Iwata’s manga that gave Bob Eggleton his first kaiju gig, btw.)

The Color Special, by Stradley and Art Adams, hit in 1992, and it’s a gorgeous piece of work. The story retains the somber tone established in the prior piece, but establishes the hero characters who would become the protagonists of the entire comics run: G-Force (evidently Toho liked the name, since it was later incorporated into Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and copies of art from this comic even graced one copy of the Godzilla vs Destroyah script). The comics’ G-Force is absolutely a powerless Fantastic Four, with Dr. Kagaku (“Dr. Science”?), his wife, brother-in-law, and a muscley friend. The comic has Godzilla being driven away from a fictional island by its giant stone protector, Gekidojin (“Rage God”, as opposed to a certain giant demon god from a rival studio). As the title denotes, this is all in color, and the use of color really stands out for the time, with 90s technology allowing a greater palette, shading, and gradients previously uncommon in American comics.

I suppose we should also reflect on the infamous 1993 Godzilla vs. Barkley one-shot comic (the only issue not reprinted in any form), since it’s become a bit of a meme in the internet era. For a goofy commercial, it did a decent job at being fun and expanding the story from the TV spot; we know the Bulls player gained his super size from a magic coin, and that Godzilla gets to keep his oversized Nikes.

The series started in earnest with that two-parter in Dark Horse Comics, though, which would eventually be reprinted as Godzilla: King of the Monsters #0. The following arc would have both G-Force and Yoshiwara return as she poisons Godzilla. What I love is how one piece of the story logically flows into the next:

  1. The poison causes Godzilla to bleed profusely, contaminating the environment.
  2. Godzilla is incapacitated fighting Dark Horse’s golden Mechagodzilla expy Cybersaur.
  3. Godzilla’s death throws are loud enough to attract a bat-like predator named Bagorah from outer space.
  4. Bagorah takes out Cybersaur.
  5. Out of concern for the environmental impact, Yoshiwara gives Godzilla an antitoxin.
  6. Godzilla revives and defeats Bagorah.
  7. The military ambiguously executes executes Yoshiwara for healing Godzilla. By the way, I’ve always hated how the black-and-white trade paperbacks essentially wipe out an important sound effect here.

The continuity keeps on rolling, though. There were aliens who were making a sport out of hunting Bagorah (which they have their own name for, which is a nice touch), and the military has constructed a new robot spider for Godzilla to fight. The aliens (each with their own design, gimmicks, and personalities) decide they’ll hunt Godzilla instead, and though the “All Terraintula” has nerfed Godzilla much like the Super X did, there are a lot of fun sequences demonstrating all the ways the King of the Monsters can wipe the floor with an enemy without having to use his breath.

The greatest revelation of the second storyline, though, is the reveal that the military has been infiltrated by Black Hole aliens, explaining why they’re so good at building giant robots all of a sudden, and naturally they’re also at war with the hunter aliens (the Dianii). This might have all been too 70s for some readers, especially after the much more serious start for the comic, but it was a delight for yours truly: new Godzilla adventures each month, with a variety of colorful and interesting adversaries!

That same to a brief pause with issue nine, with Alex Cox’s “Lost in Time” storyline, running the next four issues. The concept is that a mad scientist (Elmer Mason) takes Godzilla across time, causing disasters like the sinking of the Titanic and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, so he can loot the timeline with minimal ramifications. While the throughline is more coherent than IDW’s later Godzilla: Rage Across Time miniseries, it was a little disappointing to lose out on enemy monster action for that time, even if the scifi antics of the final issue (set in 2299) do pick things up a fair bit.

The comics were initially intended to end with issue 12, but thankfully things were extended for an additional four (plus one short in A Decade of Dark Horse). These are a mixed bag of stand-alones. #13 has a new monster, which is welcome after the time travel arc, #14 has the G-Force team climbing Godzilla (this concept was also later used in IDW’s Godzilla Legends), and Bob Eggleton finally got to do a full issue with number 16, in a story where Godzilla travels back to the dinosaur times to battle an extraterrestrial that’s eating them (which no doubt inspired Mothra 3). I skipped issue 15, since it deserves special discussion.

“The Yamazaki Endowment” introduces a fantastic new villain, a mad lady scientist who’s brewing up new monsters off of Lord Howe Island. Her story continues through the short in A Decade of Dark Horse (in which we discover the reason why we didn’t see her hands in the first story is that she’s still gripping her dead mother’s!), where she matches wits with Dr. Kagaku. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends, setting up what seems like it could be a very exciting new story line.

Where this was going is hard to say. I reached out to Randy Stradley about this cliffhanger and he does not recall exactly what they had in mind, which is fair considering the comic was printed over two decades ago; at least it doesn’t appear that there was a single great concept that they’ve been burning to do for all this time. I suspect the arc may have culminated in some sort of Godzilla clone, as Yamazaki spends her last appearance debating Godzilla’s origins, and Kevin Maguire (who had written the first four issues) previously submitted a pitch for a four-issue “Godzilla vs. Anti-Godzilla” to take place immediately after the “Lost in Time” arc. There are also rumors of Dark Horse getting the rights to King Ghidorah, but honestly, I don’t think they ever needed to.

Other concepts thrown around at Dark Horse were crossovers, a popular concept with their Alien vs. Predator franchise. Godzilla did meet (and effectively end) Dark Horse’s own Ultraman-ish Hero Zero to some success, so the studio toyed with a crossover with Gamera (whose comics picked up as soon as Godzilla’s ended), with Justice League, and with Terminator. Presumably Toho was hesitant about this, and they did reportedly shoot down one such pitch pitting Godzilla against Superman, which is weird since they did just have Godzilla fight an NBA player. They also somehow approved Ed Brubaker’s short “Godzilla’s Day” in Dark Horse Presents #106, which has got to be sillier than anything the crossovers would have done.

The last hurrah for Dark Horse Godzilla came in 1998, with a batch of reprints to ride the wave of the TriStar picture. These had new cover art from the likes of Art Adams and Bob Eggleton, and the original 1987 special was colorized, so they’re worth picking up for that reason. The Iwata manga was also colorized for this release (confusingly titles Terror of Godzilla), but two pages were removed, presumably for their graphic violence, which shakes up the story flow just a little.

On a personal note, the Dark Horse run was a formative experience for my fandom, and, quite possibly as much as the contemporary Heisei movies, they are responsible for my “default” mental image of Godzilla being the 1990s incarnation. It was a joy revisiting them for their 30th anniversary, and I suggest anyone unfamiliar do likewise. Now if only color TPBs were available!

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