Sunday, April 10, 2011

A History Of Godzilla Comics: The Dark Horse Years

A sleeping giant
To conclude our 'History Of Godzilla Comics' two-part article, we'll move on from Marvel's '70s Godzilla series to that of Dark Horse's attempt at bringing the King Of The Monsters to the colorful pages of comicdom in the '90s.

Dark Horse's first venture with Godzilla owes itself to a one-shot 32-page comic published in 1987. It featured a story by Randy Stadley (who would later work on Dark Horse's future Godzilla series) with art by Steve Bissette (DC's Swamp Thing artist).
More Tri-Star than Toho

The feature was unusually dark (it doesn't help that it's also in black-and-white) in theme, even by Toho's '80s Godzilla film standards. Much of the story didn't even feature the Big-G himself, but obvious stand-ins for Godzilla's monstrous foes. By the time Godzilla does show up in the issue, it's practically over - and there's a large sub-lot about some ancient stone slab that not only doesn't connect to the Toho Films, but creates a mystery that is never solved.

While Steve Bissette's work on Swamp Thing was nothing short of amazing, his work on the cover of Dark Horse's Godzilla one-shot leaves much to be desired.

Dark Horse's Manga Reprint
Dark Horse's next run with Godzilla was a 6-issue series reprint of Japan's Manga The Return Of Godzilla, which was an adaptation of Godzilla 1985 sans the Americanized Raymond Burr scenes. It was a particularly easy outing for Dark Horse as all they really needed to do was come up with some new covers and translate the material from Japanese to English. 

Nothing's gonna rain on his parade
By 1992, Dark Horse was ready to try their hand at a new Godzilla one-shot, which much improved art and story than their 1987 attempt. This came in the form of a Godzilla: Color Special with a whopping 40-pages of kaiju action with impressive art by Arthur Adams. The issue featured appearances from G-Force - a group of highly-trained individuals who are tasked with the job of tracking and subduing the King Of The Monsters. Moreover, a new foe was created for Godzilla - Gekido-Jin, a DaiMajin-type stone statue that comes alive to do battle with the radioactive leviathan.

The Godzilla: Color Special generated enough interest (and sales) to prove that Japan's destructive icon was a valuable commodity. Not to mention, the release of the Charles Barkley vs. Godzilla Nike commercial had been hitting airwaves after a much-built-up publicity campaign (in no large part due to George Lucas' special effects company, ILM, being behind the commercial), which proved to be a well-timed boon to Dark Horse. As such, they released a Godzilla Vs. Barkley one-shot comic.

Why is Godzilla spewing water out of his mouth?

The comic features decent artwork, especially in the panels with Godzilla. The story itself is as odd as can be expected - besides, who's really looking for a believable story in a comic entitled Godzilla Vs. Barkley.

Nevertheless, one of the best scenes involves a young boy named Matthew, who tries to convince Charles Barkley to fight Godzilla. Barkley refuses, to which Matthew responds: "But Charles, only you can stop Godzilla… because you're Earth's greatest warrior!"

Barkley takes pause with this, stating: "Hmm… You may have a point there."

By the end of the comic, Godzilla and Barkley engage in a game of basketball after the NBA legend grows to enormous height due to a magical coin(!). 

Apparently, Barkley cheats...

Like in Marvel Comics' G-series, where S.H.I.E.L.D. was called in to handle any Godzilla-related issues, Dark Horse turned over the reigns to G-Force, re-appearing from the Godzilla: Color Special.

Dark Horse's series also featured a sub-plot involving a 'Professor Yoshiwara' who's family was killed by Godzilla some-years earlier. Now she has taken up a life of revenge on Godzilla and creates a serum capable of 'poisoning' Godzilla. 

By 1995 Dark Horse had given Godzilla his own series, which started with #0. Unlike Godzilla's Barkley outing, it wasn't as juvenile and unlike Dark Horse's very first G-comic - it wasn't nearly as dark in theme.

Dark Horse's answer to MechaGodzilla

Like Marvel, Dark Horse couldn't use any characters/monsters from the Toho series, save for Godzilla himself. So, what was the next best thing? Create obvious copies. Borrowing heavily from MechaGodzilla, Dark Horse unleashed Cybersaur upon Godzilla by issue #2.

By issue #3, readers were given a Rodan mock-up in the form of Bagorah. After the Cybersaur/Bagorah arc, which ended in issue #4, Godzilla would face a robot-tarantula, aptly dubbed the All-Terraintula.

Issues #6-8 featured a story arc that heavily-borrowed from the '70s G-films, where an 'ape-like' race of aliens from some distant Black Hole have come to Earth in the hopes of taking over. Add in a few giant alien bounty hunters, and Godzilla has his hands (claws?) full, with G-Force doing what they do best: practically nothing.

Unfortunately, #8 marked the end of Dark Horse's fantastic Godzilla series - at least in terms of quality.

Issues #9-12 featured a shaky time-travel story arc where Godzilla takes on the Spanish Armada, sinks the Titanic, and goes to future. Every issue past #12 featured a one-shot story (possibly because Dark Horse didn't want to invest in another arc due to declining sales figures). The series lasted to #16.

In 1995 Dark Horse had featured Godzilla in another one-shot titled, Godzilla Versus Hero Zero. Hero Zero was one of Dark Horse comics' own creations - and essentially, the poor man's Ultraman.

Overall it's not a bad read, but pales in comparison to Dark Horse's Godzilla series (at least issues #0 - #8).
He's got real turtle power

In addition to Godzilla, Dark Horse also gave Gamera a shot at the comic medium, with Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe, which was loosely based off of the giant turtle's film of the same name - though going as far to include foes from the '60s and '70s films.

While the Dark Horse comics were very true to the look, feel, and design of the Heisei Godzilla films of the '80s and '90s, it sadly didn't appeal to readers as much as the Marvel Comics series did. Arguably, Dark Horse seems to have treated Godzilla himself with more respect, art-wise and character-wise, yet, the minor characters in the Marvel run were far more like-able and memorable.

IDW's Godzilla: Kingdom Of Monsters
With IDW's Godzilla series just being released, it will be interesting to see how they use the character and how long their series can last.

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