As part of the lead up to GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the iconic kaiju’s most notable rampages in comics.
Growing up, I had two major loves: superheroes and giant monsters. While family photos from Halloween throughout the years can serve as a primary exhibit for my lifetime adoration of costumed heroes, evidence of a similar appreciation of kaiju is much harder to track down. However, my parents can certainly attest to my enjoyment of kaiju fare, from watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as it aired after school to renting VHS tapes of the many Godzilla movies. While I like to think my tastes have evolved with age, there’s nothing quite like watching a couple guys in monster suits lay waste to a miniaturized version of Tokyo, Kyoto, or any other city found in these Japanese films. To date, no series has better captured the thrill of giant monster battles than Chris Mowry and Matt Frank’s Godzilla: Rulers of Earth.
While the low-budget effects, wacky plots, and unconvincing dubbing of the Showa Era films are seen as both campy and charming, it’s undeniable that the classic Godzilla series could benefit from a bit of polish. This is where the comics medium has an undeniable advantage. Despite the technical achievements of Toho’s film series, they are no match for what can be achieved with ink. There have been some fantastic Godzilla comics over the years, including Godzilla in Hell, Godzilla: Oblivion and Godzilla: The Half Century War. However, Rulers of Earth takes the crown due largely to artist Matt Frank and his ability to bring all the kaiju from Godzilla’s world to life.
Perhaps the best evidence of Frank’s ability can be found in the monster Zilla. For those unaware, Zilla is the official name given to the monster that debuted in the ill-fated 1998 movie Godzilla. Toho Studios was so unhappy with this American production that they bought the rights to the character and rebranded it so that it would not be confused with the “true” Godzilla. Being a fully rendered CGI creation in the 1990s, Zilla has never really looked good on film. Amazingly, he looks even worse in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, though I’m inclined to think that was an intentional choice by the studio.
When Zilla shows up in Rulers of Earth, he is no longer presented as the joke he has been to kaiju fans for over 20 years. Frank’s redesign offers minimal changes to the monster, but enhances those elements that does work. As a result, Zilla is now a formidable foe for Godzilla. He is able to use speed and agility to counter Godzilla’s lumbering nature. Yes, there are occasions Godzilla has shown unexpected agility, but for the most part he moves at a slow, methodical pace for which Zilla can be a great foil.
Of course, Zilla is not the only foe for Godzilla to tackle. There are many others, from the big guns like Rodan and Gigan to some of the underappreciated ones like Titanosaurus or Hedorah (aka the Smog Monster). Each monster design is true their classic appearance, but updated with slight enhancements to make them more foreboding and menacing. Both Titanosaurus and Hedorah were rather dopey looking in their movies, but Matt Frank’s art make them look, well, monstrous. It helps that Chris Mowry’s script ensures that each kaiju maintains a distinct personality. And even though the monsters are the stars, he works to ensure that there is an interesting human element to the story that works as a connective tissue throughout the series. The best Godzilla movies do have strong human narratives, and Godzilla: Rulers of Earth is no exception.
For a kaiju fan – especially those that like the monster mashes of the Showa Era films – it doesn’t get much better than Godzilla: Rulers of Earth. Unfortunately, reading these stories may present a problem as IDW has tragically kept them out of print. This is likely due to IDW’s well documented troubles of late, but with a big movie coming out you’d think they’d have trades of this well-received series at the ready. Alas, that is not the case. On the plus side, the entire series is available on Comixology. That may not satisfy those that prefer physical books, but it’s better than nothing. And if you’re a Godzilla fan, this is a series that should be experienced regardless of its format.
Next: The Half Century War!