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.
There have been plenty of great Godzilla comics over the years, but it’s difficult to say that we’d even have them if not for a 24 issue series published by Marvel from 1977-1979, titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Snuggled in between the Showa and Heisei era of films, this series by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe saw Godzilla thrust directly into the Marvel Universe, battling the likes of SHIELD, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. Not only does that mean there is precedence should Toho ever decide to allow a crossover with the MCU, but it allowed for even crazier sci-fi concepts to be introduced over the course of the two-year run. However, there are changes made that are certain to irk at least a few Godzilla fans.
Herb Trimpe is one of the great Marvel artists of his era, known for his work on The Incredible Hulk and notably being the first to ever draw Wolverine. His Godzilla rendering is unlike any of the previous (at the time) film incarnations, instead more closely resembling the Hanna Barbara cartoon version. He is essentially a fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus Rex. With dorsal fins. And functional arms. In all honesty, he looks like Reptar from Rugrats. Between this and the 1998 movie, it’s clear that the American perception of Godzilla was that he is simply a big lizard.
To an extent, this is a fair interpretation given the context in which this series was created. For American audiences, the Godzilla series began with 1956’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters as the original 1954 movie was virtually unknown. Hence, the series mentions that Godzilla originally appeared in 1956. Moreover, Godzilla had been primarily marketed to children, with heavy emphasis placed on the later Showa series movies which depicted Godzilla more like a giant superhero. The influence of those movies is evident throughout the 24 issues, as this Godzilla’s divergence from the film series goes beyond mere aesthetics.
One of the more memorable aspects of the Showa Era is the monster-on-monster fighting. Many tuned in for Godzilla going toe-to-toe with another creature in a knock-down, drag-out brawl. For Marvel’s Godzilla, those abilities are a major focus of the story as they translate well from screen to page. One of the very first things readers see is Godzilla punching out the side of a mountain. It’s over-the-top, but far from the most ridiculous thing he has ever done. Moreover, it sets the stage for some of the insane shit that’ll go down later in the series.
Now, Marvel had the license to Godzilla and Godzilla only. That means no Mothra. No Rodan. No Ghidorah. No Gigan. No nothing. But just because they don’t have the rights to the other Toho monsters doesn’t mean Godzilla can’t be pitted against monsters of Marvel’s own creation. While it may have been more exciting to see Godzilla pitted against his classic foes, Trimpe’s art brings a visceral energy to these new antagonists. As a result, the battles are fantastic compositions of monster-on-monster action. Though by today’s standards the late-1970s art may seem charming, but Trimpe brings a rawness to these fights that makes it worth revisiting.
Of course being set in the Marvel Universe, Godzilla is inevitably pitted against the publisher’s main heroes. Throughout the series, Godzilla has made his way across the continental United States, beginning in Seattle and eventually ending up in New York – home to most of Marvel’s iconic characters. The series’ final issue sees one of the most epic Godzilla battles ever constructed. The sheer scope of the battle would put the likes of Destroy All Monsters to shame. Granted, this is the benefit of comics. The “unlimited” budget allows for visuals that movies – especially of that era – could only dream of realizing.
Marvel’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters is far from the perfect Godzilla comic. In fact, many purists may take issue with the changes made throughout the series. However, Godzilla has undergone many changes over the decades, which fans give a pass if such changes are made by Toho. The changes made here aren’t to the degree of the 1998 movie, as Godzilla is still recognizable as, well, Godzilla. Though licensing issues make this series difficult to track down, you can find the black-and-white Essential Edition on second hand markets, and comic shops are likely to have some issues in their back-issue bins. I encourage everyone to give this series a shot. Not only does it provide an interesting point-in-time look at the Western perception of Godzilla, but’s a wild ride that even the most jaded fan will find joy in.