How does this comic book adaptation hold up to the standard set by one of the longest running movie franchises in history?
Godzilla is one of the longest running film franchises ever, starting in 1954, with plans from both Legendary Pictures and Toho to create new Godzilla movies in the future. Godzilla is a character that is recognizable by multiple generations from different parts of the world. For myself, I remember my Dad and me watching various Godzilla movies on weekend monster movie marathons. (TNT's “Monster Vision” comes to mind) I could not have been more than seven or eight years old at the time. For my younger brother, it was largely due to my own love for Godzilla that he was introduced to the King of Monsters when he was close to the same age.
Godzilla truly is a pop-icon. Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song about him. Videogames and action figures have been made for decades with these characters in mind. And comicbooks have attempted to tell stories that the movies could not. Maybe it's time now to look back to the late '90s at a graphic novel put out by Dark Horse Comics, Godzilla: Age of Monsters, to see how it compares to the 56-year old star of 28 Toho films.
First, it is worth mentioning that this graphic novel spans ten different comics, covering five different storylines. Six of the issues cover an ongoing story, while the other four are stand-alone issues. Analyzing collections such as this can be difficult, because writers, artists, and the overall voice of the comic can change. It is hard not to pick out favorites.
As far as pencils are concerned, I was most impressed with Bob Eggleton's work from Godzilla #16. Not to say any of the other artists are bad. Brandon Mckinney, who handles the artwork on Godzilla #1-4, comes in a very close second, but it just boils down to personal preference. The fight scenes are handled wonderfully in all issues, thoroughly depicting the battles with little to no confusion. Eggleton's Godzilla most closely resembles the version in the early-to-mid '90s movies.
The biggest difference between writing and artwork in comics is that the artwork can be instantly judged, while writing must have time to develop, to show whether or not characters have depth and growth. Maybe this is why Kevin Maguire's writing stands out the most; he has more issues than any other writer collected in this graphic novel. While his human characters are shallow and predictable (just as in any Godzilla movie), his characterization of Godzilla is what stands out.
Maguire’s members of G-Force (a specially trained team to study and attempt to contain Godzilla) are typical character archetypes. And typically, they depict the shallowness and predictability of the humans in the genre. We have the honest, noble, team leader; the beautiful and smart doctor; the science nerd; and the muscular, stubborn, bruiser. Like the Godzilla film franchise, there is much to be desired in the way of human depth. Whether or not this was intentional is up for debate, but it greatly adds to the 'Godzilla experience' of the book.
The characterization of Godzilla, however, is great. This is a bold claim, but it needs to be said: The Godzilla in these stories is a deeper, more focused, character than the Godzilla of the movies. That is in part to the narration. Through captions, we are told what Godzilla is thinking or experiencing at different moments. One of these moments stands apart from the rest. Godzilla wakes up only to immediately begin fighting a bat-like creature called Bagorah. After a few moments, Bagorah flies off to follow some jets, which it sees to be easier prey than Godzilla. After his adversary flies away, we see this statement in the captions: 'Godzilla is not a vengeful creature. In fact, his emotional range is negligible at best. He is a creature of instinct, of territorialism, of survival. He doesn't understand the tact of retreat or the compassion of surrender. He doesn't realize the fight is over'. Then, Godzilla begins moving slowly in the direction that Bagorah left, to continue the battle with his opponent.
Godzilla: Age of Monsters definitely does its silver screen counterpart justice, but is it a 'good' graphic novel? That is hard to say. Are Godzilla movies 'good'? It takes a certain kind of appreciation to enjoy Godzilla movies, and that same appreciation is needed to enjoy these comics. However, if you are a fan of the movie franchise, as I am, then you will be entertained from beginning to end by this collection.