Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: "Godzilla: The Half-Century War"

Godzilla is larger-than-life. The stories told with the iconic Japanese kaiju range from one of the most epic tragedies ever made in 1954's Gojira, to fanciful, bombastic space operas like only the Japanese can make with Godzilla: Final Wars. Along the way he has met so many fresh faces, crushed so many towns, and - in a way - saved so many lives, that he has carved for himself a unique position in literary history: he is a hero, a monster, a victim, and a force of nature, all rolled into one. He also has radioactive breath, and he punches giant butterflies. I can dig it.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War takes a refreshingly human look at this rich destructive history. It follows the story of Ota Murakami, a Japanese Lieutenant who is stationed during Godzilla's first iconic rampage through Tokyo. Through sheer indignation and forward-thinking, he is able to lure Godzilla away from a major population zone long enough for it to evacuate. With this single act, he begins a lifelong obsession with the King of Monsters - a Half-Century War, if you will.

Picking up the first issue in the volume, several things become extremely evident. First is that writer and artist James Stockoe cares for the Godzilla franchise, with the writing and visual aesthetic reminiscent of the series' original tones of dark and foreboding doom post-Hiroshima. Second is that he is a fucking brilliant artist who breathes in so much spectacular, mind-blowing detail that Godzilla: Half-Century War could be the only Godzilla comic I have ever read to achieve the true sense of scale the King of Monsters deserves. I mean... wow. Wow, wow, wow. It's going to be tough to convey this praise with proper, non-drooling human words but... here we go.

Everything is big. I mean, Godzilla is big, obviously, but cars are big, too. People are big, guns are big, buildings are big - like how they'd come across in real life, you know? And when you have such convincingly human-sized men sharing panel-space with an equally convincingly giant-sized monster, the result is something... quite else. IDW's own Godzilla Legends had brushed against this kind of monstrous scale (I haven't read the ongoing Godzilla series, but Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters failed to produce it), but for the first time in at least IDW's short history with Godzilla, the genuine largeness of these monsters - and these people - has been adequately portrayed. Every page is absolutely spell-binding; aesthetically charming, and yet haunting, as Stockoe truly brings these monsters to proper, terrifying, believable life.

Scenes of people fleeing from the kaijus, of buildings collapsing, of vehicles zooming between monsters' legs, are given a new depth - and it is genuinely unnerving and exciting. Combined with the very 70s/80s anime and manga (I think spot influence from Grave of the Fireflies) look to the characters, the result is a visual style that is all at once pleasing and unique, and frighteningly huge. I never would have thought Anguirus would frighten me; as Stockoe portrays him, rising menacingly out of the ground, I had to kind of hold on to brace myself, it was so alarming. The shadows of these creatures looms large over the human cast, let there be no mistake - and we, the reader, are along for the ride.

All the drawings are stupidly, lushly detailed - yeah, I said it, it's stupid how much detail is in these drawings - and the colours are all full, vibrant, and varied. The signature hue is a kind of muted greyish red, and it really does feel appropriate to the emotional tone expressed in the panels. But... man, look, everything in this book is so impeccably drawn, from to the largest explosion to the tiniest scale on Godzilla's hide... the faces on the characters capable of so much subtlety, their plight made so real by the very real danger Stockoe manages to- ...oh for fuck's sake, just look at the detail in those scenes, guys! Look at them! Man, I relished every full-page spread. I want to wallpaper my goddamn house with this art. Not since Arkham Asylum have I thought of doing that...

This is all important to note - the effectiveness of the character representations - because, as I mentioned before, the story revolves around one human character and his comrades - Ota. Ota is a compelling protagonist, and the story really does jerk him around a lot. His obsession with Godzilla - trying to kill Godzilla - leaves him to a lot of rotten realizations, though he never really gives in, which makes him admirable as well as just likable. He represents a slice of humanity as the race increasingly begins to get stamped out by more and more giant monsters - something for the reader to hold onto among all the horror.

The story leaps forward about a decade every issue, showcasing a different time in Ota and his friends' lives as they find new ways to combat Godzilla, and other Toho kaiju, as they appear. It jumps around different countries, from Japan, Vietnam, and China, representing a little bit of each place's culture before it gets crushed into the ground. It also showcases quite a few familiar faces from Toho's rich film history - Godzilla is met with aforementioned Anguirus, Rodan, Megalon, Battra, and many, many more. They're all as well-rendered as the King himself, and the way Ota and his taskforce deal with them is increasingly desperate and scrambling, as more and more show up.

As Ota ages, his resolve is definitely tested, but it never breaks, even in the face of Armageddon. He also never drifts away from humanity despite the death he's scene - the result is a truly sympathetic main man who I can honestly say I came to love throughout the course of his Half-Century War. His relationship with Godzilla, too, changes in ways that I shan't spoil here... but let's just say his death wish for the monster is thrown into question. Crafted in Ota is an everyman with an obsession that, while rich in torment, is only ever on the brink of totally consuming him - and in that, there lies darkness, compassion, and a glimpse true humanity. In the massive shadows of looming titans, it is Ota who comes off as the bigger being in all of this, and he is totally the glue that holds the entire saga of destruction together.

I... I've lost words, so I'll wrap it up. Stockoe has accomplished so much with Godzilla: The Half-Century War. As a fan of the monsters, I can say that he has done them a great justice - as a fan of comic art and storytelling, I can say that he has spun both a wonderfully emotionally resonant tale, and provided a haunting look at giant monsters roaming the Earth with humanity trapped underneath. It's scary sometimes. It's funny sometimes. But it is never not a sprawling, huge, epic tragedy - the kind Godzilla as a character was built on. It's an instant classic, and finally, a comic book properly worthy of the iconic beast's reputation. Brilliant.

With exceptions. I can pinpoint two glaring problems with Godzilla: The Half-Century War. One is that Stockoe at one point says "regulated" instead of "relegated". Eh, no biggy. The second is that it may have ruined other comics for me. Next on my to-read list was The Mask Omnibus Volume 2. Upon picking it up - and this is a book that is very well drawn, by a bevy of talented artists - I was kind of taken aback by how... little detail there was. How empty the frames were. How almost ugly I found it. It's not an ugly book, though, not by any standard! It's just that James Stockoe has raised the bar for me - I can safely say that Half-Century War is my new gold standard for comic book art. Yep, there, I said it. Them five star review words, boy. Oh, and it is without a question the only Godzilla comic you need to read; and I mean need to read, fan or not.

Man, I... I can't recommend this comic enough. It's just really fuckin' awesome, alright? Alright. Good. Go buy it then. Buy several. This comic deserves it. And you deserve to read it, you handsome devil, you.


  1. So glad you enjoyed it that much! I can't wait to get my hands on this.

    And sorry for ruining your future experiences in comics, after this, little will surprise you :P