Ask Chris #158: The Mightiest Menace Of All!
Q: What were those Marvel Godzilla comics like? Are they still in continuity? –@ykarps
A: Well, this’ll be an easy one: Yes they are, and they are f**king awesome.
I honestly considered just leaving it at that, but your question made me realize that there are probably some people out there who might not be familiar with Marvel’s Godzilla. It has, after all, only been reprinted once, as a black-and-white Essential volume that came out a few years ago that cost five bucks more than the rest of the line. If you don’t spend a significant amount of time obsessing over weird Bronze Age licensed comics, then it’s pretty easy to miss out. And that’s a shame, because… well, because it’s seriously f**king awesome.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about your question of continuity. Most of the time, when a comic book company adds a licensed property to their roster, they keep it in a nice little self-contained box. It makes sense to do it that way, because the tricky part of licensed comics is that you don’t really own the stuff that you’re producing. The occasional crossover is fine, but you don’t want to build something in your core universe around, say, The Shadow or Doc Savage and then get stuck with a bunch of plot points that you can’t use when you inevitably lose the license somewhere down the line. Or at least, that’s the logical way of looking at things.
I don’t know what it was about Marvel in the ’70s and ’80s, whether it was just that the editors weren’t considering that because nobody in 1978 was particularly concerned with what they’d be able to reprint 30 years later, or whether they were banking on the success of Conan the Barbarian and the Star Wars comic giving them the clout to keep their licenses in perpetuity, or what. Whatever it was, the creators had a tendency to just straight up drop stuff right in the middle of the Marvel Universe. Sometimes it’s as subtle and easy to work around as G.I. Joe having its roots in Lary Hama’s pitch for an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reboot, sometimes it’s the dark gods of Conan‘s Hyborean Age occasionally showing up to bother Thor, and sometimes it’s ROM: Spaceknight, where a lack of source material led Bill Mantlo to create a whole cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe with Rick Jones and connections to the Invaders, plus the Hulk, the Thing, Shang Chi, Power Man and Iron Fist thrown in for good measure.
Quick sidenote, while we’re on the subject: The crazy thing about Marvel’s licensed titles is that even when they don’t cross over with the Marvel Universe, they still feel like Marvel Comics. Star Wars is probably the best example since you can pretty easily see the difference between the movie’s Cantina scene and the comic’s gleefully action-packed “SWING THAT LIGHT-SABRE BEN — OR WE’RE FINISHED!” version of the same scene, but it’s not the only one. Next time you’re rifling through a quarter bin, go find that Starfleet Academy series from the ’90s. If you didn’t already know what a Klingon looked like, you would swear it was some weird far-future version of Generation X.
Point being, when they got the license to Godzilla, they went ahead and did a full-on, Marvel Universe Godzilla comic, and in a way, it makes perfect sense that they would. Superheroes fighting giant monsters had literally been a part of the Marvel Universe since Day One — it might be the Mole Man who’s causing all the trouble, but the cover to Fantastic Four #1 has the FF slugging it out with a giant green monster. When that’s the foundation of your entire comics universe, and when you’ve already gone through the trouble of establishing that there’s an island out there that’s full of nothing but gigantic monsters, Godzilla and the rest of his running crew are a pretty easy fit. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it would’ve been more difficult not to have him show up in the Marvel Universe — you’ve got a ready-made cast of supporting characters just waiting to be stomped on or blasted with atomic fire.
Which is exactly what you got. That’s the great thing about Godzilla: It gives you every single thing you want from a premise like “Godzilla vs. the Marvel Universe.” And by that, I mean that he gets yelled at by J. Jonah Jameson:
Right from the start, Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe and Jim Mooney do a pretty fantastic job with the idea of revealing that, oh hey, Godzilla is totally in this universe. The way they do it is great, too, and features what might be the dumbest thing that anyone in a Marvel comic has ever said:
I cannot tell you how much I love Dum Dum Dugan’s “I’ve heard about some monster tearin’ up the orient…” It’s just the way it’s written, especially when it’s revealed on the next page that Godzilla has been the source of “two decades of wholesale destruction” in Japan, while Dum Dum, a person whose actual job is keeping track of and dealing with global crises is only vaguely aware of it. You’d think a gigantic fire-breathing atomic dinosaur would probably have made the news sometime in the previous 20 years, but to be fair, it’s the Marvel Universe. They tend to have their hands full just dealing with the stuff that happens in New York.
From there, it just keeps going and getting bigger and weirder and better as it goes, full of the kind of wanton destruction and Marvel brand wackiness that you just couldn’t get in the movies. Godzilla fights everyone’s least-favorite super-team, the Champions, gets suplexed through a building by Hercules, gets thrown back in time for a battle against Devil Dinosaur, and — in what is unquestionably the highlight of the series — shrinks down to tiny size and fights sewer rats in New York, then grows back up to six feet tall, wanders around Manhattan wearing a hat and trenchcoat as a disguise, and then gets in an actual fistfight against Dum Dum Dugan.
It’s basically amazing.
And through it all, one of the most interesting things about the comic is how much it actually adds to the Marvel Universe. This is where Dugan’s reputation as a monster-hunter comes from, and the idea that there isn’t just one S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, but a bunch of them that all serve some specialized purpose, like Dugan’s huge, heavily armored Behemoth. And of course, there’s Red Ronin, the giant monster-fighting robot that shows up whenever Marvel wants you to know that a comic is about to be super awesome:
All of that stuff is still around, and I think that’s another function of the monsters being part of the fabric of the Marvel Universe. If you have enough of something, you don’t have to do those weird, awkward gymnastics to reference where it all comes from that make a script more trouble than it’s worth. If you want to talk about ROM, for example, you’re pretty much stuck with calling him “the Greatest of the Spaceknights,” and talking around him in those vague terms, because someone won’t just take 1% of the money they spent making Planes and buy the friggin’ rights already — but, uh, that’s another column. With Godzilla, there are enough Googams and Fin Fang Fooms running around that you don’t really have to explain why someone would have a giant radioactive-lizard-fighting robot. It just makes sense that they would, and if you do feel the need for specifics, there’s a whole island to choose from to justify it.
So yeah, it might not be a cornerstone of the universe or anything, but Godzilla: King of the Monsters is still part of the Marvel Universe — and more than that, it’s an incredibly entertaining, beautifully goofy comic. The Essential volume is well worth picking up, and it’s not hard to find for less than twenty bucks.
I mean, admittedly, it’s not the best comic about Godzilla…
…but I’d say it’s a pretty close second.