“THE GIANT MONSTERS ARE RISING ONCE AGAIN.”
Godzilla is a household name, having 28 films. (That’s right, it’s the longest running film franchise of all time.) In recent years his popularity has dwindled, which is to be expected since the most recent film, Final Wars, came out eight years ago. (That’ll change in two years once Legendary’s film comes out.) The big G has also quite a few comic series under his belt. In the 70’s Marvel did one, (he went to crossover with the Avengers, try to take that in for a sec) which was pretty mediocre at best, aside from the crossovers. The Dark Horse series is the more popular one with fans, using the popular Godzilla look at the time and crafting for the most part, good stories with him fighting original monsters to that series. (In it he goes back in time and accidentally becomes the thing that sunk the Titanic.) It would be fifteen years before Godzilla came back to comics. The property adaption master, IDW, would helm it. Except this time Godzilla’s kaiju brethren from the TOHO films were also licensed, that was a huge plus. The company proudly launched GODZILLA: Kingdom of Monsters on March 30th, 2011. Sadly, the series wasn’t exactly what I, or what most fans would call ‘good.’ Almost everyone didn’t like the satire and even when Jason Ciaramella replaced Eric Powell as writer and injected some fun monster action, it was pretty much too late. In the end, Kingdom of Monsters was a letdown and not the most positive return for the King of the Monsters. After it had finished with its 12th issue, IDW announced they would be starting a new Ongoing that would be a sequel, but at the same time, a fresh start. You do not need to backtrack and read Kingdom of Monsters to read this. It’s in the same continuity, but there’s barely any references to it. Currently the Ongoing is up to its sixth issue and IDW has just released Volume One, containing the first four. While this Ongoing avoids the problems that plagued Kingdom of Monsters, it has its own set of issues that prevent me from calling it a great read.
Here’s the official trade paperback description from IDW:
Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane launch this ultimate action-movie blockbuster, ushering in a new era of monster battles. Ex-special forces tough-guy Boxer is a man with a grudge and vows to end the terror of Godzilla, no matter what. He assembles a top-notch team to take down monster-sized threats… at $7 billion a bounty. What starts as a vendetta could become a lucrative business for Boxer… if he can live past day one!
First off, I want to say how very cool it is to see the ‘TOHO Co. presents: An IDW Publishing production.’ Then it shows the Godzilla name written in Japanese. It really sets itself up for what looked to be a cinematic adventure contained within a comic. Now, the opening of Issue #1 is definitely what I’d call one of the more unique moments in comics this year. I mean, what other comic have you read has a giant spider crashing a wedding in the opening scene? This giant spider is Kumonga, which only got a one-page appearance in Kingdom of Monsters, so it was good for longtime readers to see him getting some overdue action. As the issue goes on the narration boxes explain the situation…“These days were supposed to be dedicated to global renewal and rebuilding. But all over the world, in peaceful cities and military bases alike, THE GIANT MONSTERS ARE RISING ONCE AGAIN.” The ones shown attacking various cities are Godzilla, Rodan, and Battra, the three monsters that were frozen in ice at the end of Kingdom of Monsters. It’s a pretty exciting beginning for old and new fans alike. Soon we are introduced to our protagonist, Boxer. One of the things readers complained about in Kingdom of Monsters was the lack of a main character for the first few issues. IDW realized that, hence why we’re being introduced to this guy early on. Boxer is portrayed as ‘the guy.’ He belongs in The Expendables. I mean, he’s jumping over holes, sliding down elevator ropes and jumping from it like it’s nothing, and his dialogue mimics his rather arrogant demeanor. Duane Swiercznski is the writer of this monster tale, and it’s hit or miss throughout the four issues. His writing for Boxer in the opening one was good, but for the girl he was playing bodyguard for, Miss Murakami, it’s pretty cringe worthy. I hadn’t seen such an annoying teenage girl like that in awhile. Though I will give credit to the unexpected scene of her getting shot as a bunch of people try shooting Godzilla. It’s the most emotional moment in the volume, and just punches you in the gut of how a giant monster invasion can make some careless of the people around them. Boxer after that becomes fixated on taking down Godzilla. It is there when things start to go downhill for this series.
In Issue #2 we’re introduced to the people Boxer assembles to hunt down monsters, which they are later dubbed ‘the Monster Kill Crew.’ Now this is just me speaking as a longtime fan of the franchise, I didn’t know how a bunch of humans with some toys (guns are toys to the monsters) were going to take down these creatures. Up until this point the series had been succeeding in making the monsters unstoppable beasts of destruction, walking Armageddons as you will. That goes out the window when Boxer and friends start taking down some of the monsters. To be fair, how they beat their first one, Anguirus, is feasible since even he probably wouldn’t be able to survive a volcanic eruption in the films. After this is when things get fishy. After such an impressive opener, Kumonga has the dishonor of somehow getting pinned to a mountain off screen, and then losing in two pages. And then Battra loses to an electric net. Rodan is the only one that escapes. (Not counting Godzilla.) The thing about the monsters in the Godzilla universe is that they aren’t like American monsters that lose to a few missiles or die by falling off the Empire State Building. They are portrayed as unstoppable and uncontrollable forces of nature. When they start losing to humans, they begin to lose that sense of awe. Obviously this is just me as a longtime fan talking, this probably won’t bother a new fan to the franchise. As the issues go on, you’re seriously going to want to punch Boxer, over time he turns from being a mildly ‘cool’ character to just a jerk. Steven Woods was likable character back in Kingdom of Monsters, I can’t say the same for Boxer. His team don’t fare too much better, but they aren’t horrible. Harrison is mute, so it’s interesting when he narrates. Claire (who happens to be Boxer’s ex) is by far the most interesting and adds much needed flare to the dialogue. Not much to say about Urv, just isn’t fleshed out to be an interesting character.
This being the opening set of issues, you wouldn’t expect many monster fights, but we do get a short, albeit fun one between Rodan and Titanosaurus in Issue #4. Now there are many cool things sprinkled throughout the four issues. The shot of Godzilla roaring down at Boxer, Miss Murakami, and the rebels was beautifully done. It was also interesting when Rodan confronted the team in the helicopter. Harrison narrates how if he didn’t know better, he thought Rodan was making this personal even though the scientists claim the monsters look at us like we would insects. It gives the monsters (or rather just Rodan) a sense of ambiguity of how they view humans. One of the main problems of this set of issues is that Godzilla himself doesn’t do much, despite being the title character. We see him a few times, but the focus is really not on him at all. It also doesn’t help that he’s just a ‘walking event.’ He has no personality whatsoever. In the films we always got a sense of character within him, none of that here. Simon Gane handles the art. His monsters are far superior to what Phil Hester and Victor Santos did in Kingdom of Monsters. Godzilla is drawn based on his Heisei design, there are quite a few amazing splash pages with him. Rodan is based on his Showa 1956 counterpart, and he looks amazing. I hadn’t noticed the detail on Kumonga upon first reading the series, Gane even draws the hairs on the spider, which matches his Showa counterpart. While the monsters look great, the humans are quite the opposite. Boxer looks really off in throughout the issues. An example is when he gets the idea of taking down the monsters, his face goes from looking perplexed to a really creepy and evil smile that just looked wrong. The lack of detail of when he was running with Miss Murakami was pretty noticeable.
Overall, the GODZILLA Ongoing Volume 1 is not what I’d call a ‘great’ read. By the end of Issue #4 you’re left wondering when the real plot will begin, and sadly that doesn’t happen until Issue #6. That’s not to say it’s bad of course, there are many cool things in it. There’s plenty of fun monster destruction and the kaiju themselves look great. Rodan, whom got the shaft in the last Ongoing, is given pretty good page-time and is being a ‘big’ monster again. Godzilla gets some nice scenes with him, and it’s just monster mayhem. Sadly the writing could be better, Boxer becomes a rather jarring character to read. Longtime fans will of course be interested in seeing what their favorite monster is up to, and who knows, maybe new readers will find things they could enjoy that longtime fans can’t.