Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1, By James Stokoe, Heather Breckel, Frank Teran
By James Stokoe, Heather Breckel, Frank Teran

Godzilla created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Shigeru Kayama, Ishirō Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya

For those of you not familiar with the kaiju genre, the fifty year movie career of its most famous star Gojira (Godzilla) is divided by fans into three eras, each with its own distinctive approach. But what has remained the touchstone for every one of them is the 1954 movie that began the franchise. This grim and oftentimes heavy-handed story was a thinly-veiled protest of American underwater tests of the Hydrogen Bomb in the Pacific at the time. And it captured the recent and still sharply felt trauma of a country recovering from the devastation of WWII. It still embodies the nation's strong anti-nuclear sentiments. Needless to say, it's something of a revered object in Japan. Not that this stopped Hollywood in 1956 from heavily editing it by inserting Raymond Burr into some key scenes.

The first issue of Godzilla: The Half-Century War is another insertion into the original narrative. But one that's more self-conscious. The film's main plot is kept at arm's length, and the comic instead focuses on the street-level POV of Japanese soldier Lieutenant Ota Murakami. He gets to experience first-hand Godzilla's initial rampage on Tokyo as one of the tank operators sent in to stop the beast. And he later bears witness to it's destruction at the hands of the from Tokyo Bay.

That none of the film characters appear allows the comic to tell a very different story. It could even be said that writer/artist James Stokoe has found the action movie hidden within the original narrative. All that serious philosophizing about humanity's capacity for self-destruction or the folly of messing with nature is conveniently shoved aside, remaining only as subtext for the informed Godzilla fan. In place of introspection is a cool set piece. Much of this issue revolves around Ota's attempts to keep Godzilla distracted while the civilians are evacuated. It's gorgeously drawn and colored destruction-porn, captured mostly in wide-angle and from below as Ota stares up at the behemoth as it wrecks the city. The Hollywood-style attention to detail makes for a remarkable contrast to the dark and menacing silhouette stomping Tokyo in the 1954 movie. Unfortunately, Ota himself is a somewhat uninteresting character, coming mostly out of central casting. The stoic hero-act turns him into a typical Hollywood movie protagonist.

So this is a dumb comic, but one that nicely exhibits Stokoe's virtuosity as an artist. I'm a little curious to see if he's using this as a launching point for a completely different take on Godzilla, or whether he'll be touching on the various movie incarnations produced during its iconic half-century career.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1, By James Stokoe, Heather Breckel, Frank Teran