I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
Almost from the moment I started reading superhero comics, I was a snob about it. For all the reasons this is ridiculous–and they are indeed legion–perhaps the most notable is that I was only ten-years-old at the time. Seriously, it can’t get much worse that a precocious, bratty, necessarily underinformed kid of an age barely in the double digits making condescending pronouncements on the difference between the high art he chose to read and the supposedly junky stuff that resided right next to it on the spinner rack, published under the same banner.
So I never would have bought Marvel’s Godzilla comic book when I was a kid. It ceased publishing about a year before I devotedly bought the exploits of the denizens of the Marvel universe, but I still wouldn’t have bought it. I would have disregarded it immediately, the same way I’d later turn up my nose at the sight of Spider-Man swinging off of a Transformer. This wasn’t for me. I liked serious superhero comics. You know, like Marvel Two-In-One.
It was much later that I discovered the pleasures of Marvel’s Godzilla series, written by Doug Moench and primarily drawn by Herb Trimpe. It was collected in its entirety in one of the nicely bulky little phone books that Marvel titles Essentials. I read about the trade paperback’s release on website that speculated this reprinted would be a one-time-only affair, given the difficulty and cost of temporarily reacquiring the rights to the towering menace. The write-up also noted that the stories adhered to the “anything goes” principle that drove the Marvel Comics creative process in the nineteen-seventies. That was enough to get me intrigued about the book, but I was still certain that this wasn’t the sort of thing I’d actually purchase. Then I saw it in my local comic book shop and flipped it open to a random page.
There’s so much about that splash page that I find irresistible: the caption boxes empathizing with Godzilla (especially the note that he “had gotten very tired of attacks by small things”), the cowboy shouting out a nonsensical line about a fever dream in his shock and then the simple fact that it depicts Godzilla running afoul of a western round-up. I needed no more convincing. This was going to be great.
As opposed to way most licensed fare is presented in comics these days, Godzilla’s latest romp was set squarely in the Marvel Universe from the very first issue. The scaly giant emerged from the waters of Alaska and started tearing into pipelines and other landmarks of the area, which immediately provoked a response from Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, or S.H.I.E.L.D., as you, I and Samuel L. Jackson know it. A marauding, fire-breathing dinosaur apparently wasn’t a significant enough dilemma for Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., to take a direct role in solving, so he delegated it to his longtime trusted compatriot and former Howling Commando, Dum Dum Dugan.
With Dum Dum on Godzilla detail, the series proceeded with the might of the latest espionage technology being thrown at the fearsome creature, with the input of Japanese allies, who, among other things, provided a giant samurai robot. The multi-story mechanical man probably would have been a better asset if the scientists didn’t have a bad habit of leaving it unattended with the keys in the ignition so little Robbie, grandson of one of the Japanese experts, could climb into it and take it for a whirl.
Robbie’s robotic romps were just part of the lunacy, as Moench continually seemed to ask himself, “What’s the loopiest thing I can have Godzilla do this month and still have it make some sliver of sense within the context of the storyline.” Hence, Godzilla might attack Las Vegas or engage in fisticuffs with a similarly-sized Bigfoot. Why, he might even go careening through space–
–to do battle with a gigantic big named Beta-Beast on the surface of the moon. Because, really, why not?
Late in the almost inexplicably long two year run of the series, Godzilla had crossed enough of the United States to reach Manhattan, the home for the vast majority of Marvel’s superheroes. Perhaps in an attempt to bolster sales that must have been modest, Godzilla began running afoul of more and more famed residens of the Marvel Universe. Among the results of that development was Godzilla getting doused with some of Dr. Hank Pym’s “reducing gas.” This leads Godzilla to shrink dramatically, which everyone somehow expects will make him easier to contain. Instead, Godzilla slips away and descends into the sewers. There, readers are treated to the uncommon thrill of watching Godzilla fight a New York City sewer rat.
Eventually Godzilla began slowing returning to his normal size, which meant that the local superheroes were called out to face him down. Soon the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing was clobbering Godzilla and the Avengers were abandoning a game of Monopoly (seriously) to try and force the beast off of their home turf. Somehow in the midst of all that crossover frenzy, Moench even found a way to have Godzilla Devil Dinosaur, the other giant dinosaur comic they were publishing in the late seventies. (At least that title had the pedigree of being created by none other than Jack Kirby, who, as you ought to know, was the King.)
I didn’t know it as kid, but I surely knew it as an adult: this is the sort comic worth craving. It aspires to little more than raving, giddy fun as it treats the shared universe it exists within as the zippiest play set in the whole wide world. I’ve read countless comics that I would have to objectively consider better than these, but there are few that I think of as fondly.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum