This review was originally written in 2013, before the “Legendary Godzilla” or “Shin Godzilla” films were released.
Godzilla, like many long running franchises (James Bond, Star Trek, Doctor Who, etc.), has been many things over the years. It started as an atomic allegory with strong post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki imagery. It evolved into an environmental message series, aimed primarily at the young. And it came back (twice) as slightly more “serious,” less intellectual, bad-science fiction, typical of contemporary Japanese film. Along the way, it has featured comedy, adventure, mystery, conspiracy, and occasionally horror. The best films use Godzilla and the other monsters as forces of nature…natural disasters. The best of the films feature compelling and interesting people trying to survive and understand as the world is torn down around them. And with Godzilla: The Half-Century War James Stokoe has extracted some of the best of the films to create a five chapter, five decade epic of one man’s life in the shadow of the beast.
Starting with its first appearance in the 50s, our hero Ota and his spaced out friend Ken are on the front line of history. After proving their metal in the burning hell of Tokyo, they’re recruited for a special group gathered to study and stop Godzilla. During the Vietnam War, things escalate when it is discovered that Godzilla isn’t so unique, and there might be people working behind the scenes with ulterior motives. From there the story takes us to Africa, then Bombay, and finally to Antarctica, as the world is hammered down into burning rubble by the chaotic battling of kaiju. Stokoe manages to work in many series favorites, even some of the weirder, lamer new monsters, while weaving the sad life’s story of one man trying to understand the wild thing he has spent his life fighting.
Several especially effective moments stand out, especially in the turning point story set in Ghana. Here, as so many monsters come together and lay waste to a city, Ota is irrevocably changed. The scenes of him sitting in the blasted building, watching the carnage, are quite striking. And the sequence in the VW bus just the right dash of comic relief, which feels like something right out of one of those 70s films. And Stokoe’s art manages to be extremely busy, yet evocative. The colors are beautiful and the action very well done.
For any Godzilla/Kaiju fan, this book is an absolute must. It gives the genre the respect it deserves, tells a good story, lives up to the potential of the ideas. In many ways, this is to the Godzilla series what Marvels by Busiek and Ross was to the Marvel Universe. And like Marvels, you don’t need to be a fan to appreciate it, but if you are a fan, I think it will be especially affecting.