Friday, April 1, 2011

A History Of Godzilla Comics: The Marvel Years

Blue Oyster Cult said it best: "Go Go Godzilla!"
Okay, one of our very recent articles focused on the 1994 Godzilla Trendmasters toy line and, already, we're doing another article on Toho's larger-than-life icon. There's good reason for it, though: IDW Comics has just started publishing a new Godzilla comic series! In honor of such an endeavor, it makes perfect sense for us to reflect back on the History of Godzilla's triumphs and tribulations across the various pages of comic fandom.

Remember Godzilla's early adventures in Marvel Comics where he tangled with the Fantastic Four and a host of Marvel's best? Well read on True Believers -- for we venture back to the Marvel-ous '70s...

For anyone who is even remotely familiar with Japanese pop culture, the terms anime (Japanese cartoons) and manga (Japanese comics) have been heard before. Ironically, Japan's largest export - Godzilla - has never been featured in either. However, he has appeared in manga-adaptations of several of his later films, but they weren't full-fledged series (we'll get to that in a future article).

Godzilla, like you've never seen him before
Godzilla's foray into the comic market began in the '70s. Someone at Marvel Comics had decided that Godzilla would make a worthy comic book anti-hero and, by 1977, the first issue of Godzilla, King of the Monsters hit the shelves. Having purchased the rights from Toho Studios, Marvel was given practically free reign to Godzilla, yet - due to a contract stipulation, they were unable to use any of Godzilla's monstrous foes or allies. This seemed to suit Marvel fine as they not only incorporated monsters of their own design into the comics, but also had some of their top-tier and bottom-tier super heroes face Japan's monster. In effect, this firmly planted Godzilla in the continuity of the 'Marvel Universe'.

The artwork was handled by Captain America, Avengers, and Hulk regular, Herb Trimpe (except for a couple issues, where Tom Sutton filled in). Godzilla was certainly given the treatment in line with the famed 'Mighty Marvel Manner'. For instance, in the first issue the Big-G was already confronting Marvel's premiere secret agent, Nick Fury, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization.

From the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D.,  the ornery Dum Dum Dugan (Nick Fury's long-time collaborator and frequent ally to Captain Ameirca) stepped in as commander of a special task-force, whose sole purpose was to take down Godzilla.

That's a mighty BIG challenge, Champions....
Marvel's first issue served to introduce readers to the primary cast and to showcase Godzilla's unbelievable strength as he wipes out an entire S.H.I.E.L.D. unit. By the second issue he has it out with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s famed helicarrier and by the third issue Godzilla tangles with The Champions - a group made up of Marvel's C-list heroes, such as the X-Men's Ice Man, the Angel, Hercules, and the Black Widow. Ghost Rider was also part of The Champions in the late-'70s, however, he doesn't partake in the battle.

Issue three was a standout issue, solely for the inclusion of ONE panel. Near the end of the issue, after Godzilla has thoroughly ransacked San Francisco, the overgrown lizard attempts to step on Hercules. As could be expected, Hercules doesn't take kindly to being pinned-down underfoot, so the muscle-bound demigod calls upon all of his strength to hurl Godzilla into the side of a building!

Once issue eight came about, Godzilla was taking on Red Ronin, a Shogun Warriors-type robot with an impressive array of weaponry.

Domo arigato mister roboto
Red Ronin lasted several issues before being reduced to scrap in issue fourteen when he was trounced by the Super-Beasts: gargantuan creatures sent to Earth to take over the planet for an evil alien race (not so much unlike the premise for many of Godzilla's cinematic escapades involving King Ghidorah and the Xilians).
Yetrigar AKA the poor man's King Kong
Adding a giant bigfoot into two-issues was one of Marvel's more interesting decisions. Of course, the 'search for bigfoot' and outpouring of Bogey Creek documentary-style films were all the rage in the '70s, so Yetrigar - dubbed the 'biggest bigfoot of them all' was not such a stretch, considering the time period. Besides, what more could kids want? Godzilla and Bigfoot! Not a bad deal for thirty-five cents!!

Who knew Godzilla worked sanitation for the NYC sewer system?!
Later issues found Godzilla getting shrunk down in size due to a S.H.I.E.L.D. experiment. Eventually, this led to Godzilla's face off with a sewer rat beneath the streets of Manhattan. Ironically, the rat proved more challenging to defeat than some of the larger threats Godzilla had destroyed in previous issues.

A 'fantastic' crossover
Issue twenty brought along the Fantastic Four, propelling Godzilla into a life-or-death struggle with some of Marvel's A-listers. At this point Godzilla was still much smaller in size, due to that previously mentioned S.H.I.E.L.D. experiment. The issue features a great battle between Godzilla and the Thing before the green-titan is sent reeling through some sort of 'dimensional time-machine'.

A battle for the centuries
Transported through time, Godzilla lands in a Conan-esque prehistory where he confronts Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy. By the way, for anyone who even knows the characters of Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy, you deserve a pat-on-the-back. Needless to say, Godzilla and Devil Dinosaur engage in combat before teaming-up (Marvel Team-Up anyone?) to take on a legion of prehistorical mutant-types.

An issue to rival Marvel's Secret Wars!
Godzilla found himself back in present day New York City by issue twenty-three, where he quickly went to town on the Big Apple. The Avengers, who were in the middle of a game of Monopoly (seriously) find themselves locked in mortal combat against Japan's fire-breathing leviathan. If there's one issue to read in Marvel's run (though I recommend reading them all) it's issue twenty-three.

Despite the Avengers' combined might, they prove to be mere pests to Godzilla, save for Thor who manages to inflict a (very) minor injury to the behemoth. Yellowjacket and the Wasp do the most harm by flying into Godzilla's ear, disorienting him and causing the beast to topple into the East River. Of course, he returns even angrier in issue twenty-four.

Sadly, issues twenty-three and twenty-four were the last two issues of Marvel's Godzilla series, but it was one heck of a way to go out. Even J. Jonah Jameson makes an appearance and Spider-Man shows up for a gratuitous panel shot where he snaps a photo of Godzilla.

Godzilla returns...or does he?
Godzilla did make an 'unofficial' return in Iron Man #193, #194, #196, where a mutated-version of what is supposed to be Godzilla (by that time, Marvel lost the rights to using the character) makes an appearance. It's heavily implied that this is the same creature from the former Marvel title, but it's not explicitly stated. This mutated-Godzilla also made an abrupt appearance in The Thing #31, which also featured Devil Dinosaur.

Cameo alert!
Godzilla made one final appearance in a Marvel Comics title (though again, not by name) in The Amazing Spider-Man #413, where the web-slinger fought a bunch of 'toys' that resembled not only Godzilla, but the likes of Alien, Gumby, Stretch Armstrong, and Luke Skywalker (!). This was around the time the Spider-Man Clone Saga had started, which some would like to believe never happened.

Godzilla plays a round of 'Missile Command''
Overall, the series was closer in atmosphere to the less-serious kid-oriented fare of the late '60s/early '70s Godzilla films, although some character inconsistencies were still evident. For one, it's a popular misconception that Godzilla's green in the films. He's actually gray in color, despite what they show on the movie posters. Furthermore, he emits an atomic ray from his mouth, not the dragon-like fire found in the comics or in Hanna-Barbera's 1977 cartoon series (he also shot lasers from his eyes in the cartoon, but we won't get into that).

In an issue of the Marvel series, Dum Dum Dugan calls Godzilla an over-sized iguana, which isn't far from the truth, at least in the way that Herb Trimpe draws him. Nevertheless, most fans of Godzilla can still appreciate much from the Godzilla Marvel Comic series, despite the somewhat considerable changes to the character. Overall, the essence of the '60s/'70s Godzilla is firmly intact - and clearly the people behind the comic were fans as well.

The biggest disappointment with the Marvel Comic series lies with one major missed opportunity. Why didn't Godzilla ever battle Marvel's other green monster?! The Incredible Hulk!

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