Godzilla Dark Horse

Alien Bats and Reptilian Hoop Dreams: Remembering Dark Horse’s ‘Godzilla’ Comics

It’s almost strange to think about now, because I’m revisiting so much of it as an adult, but I was a huge Godzilla kid. I could not get enough of that atomic dinosaur. From an early age, I owned several of the films on VHS, I taped entire marathons off TV, I had dozens of the ‘90s toys from Trendmasters. I devoured Godzilla with the same passion that he demolished any city he could get his giant toes on. When I was probably five, I remember my parents surprising me with a huge Godzilla figure—I’m pretty sure, actually, that it was an knock-off “generic stomping lizard”—that stood about two feet tall, walked on its own, lit up, and even poured smoke out its mouth as it let out an electronic roar. When I was a kid, Matchbox cars only served one purpose, and that was to have their days absolutely ruined by rampant monsters. But one of the biggest things that fueled my childhood love of Godzilla was the 1990s comic book series published by Dark Horse. 

Part of it was due to the design of Godzilla in the comics, which I loved, and was similar to the figures I owned, but not at all similar to the movies I was watching. So I think I connected with it right out of the gate on that level. This is because I had a somewhat interesting relationship with the franchise as a child. I grew up in the Heisei era but—with the exception of Godzilla 1985, my childhood fave—I did not actually see any of the movies from that era until I was an adult. I just didn’t have access to them at the time and they were never included in any of the marathons I watched on TV. I loved that darker, more intense design for Godzilla from the Heisei era, I responded to that from the first moment I laid eyes on it. That was the design in the comics, that was the design plastered all over the toy series, but that was not what I was seeing when I would actually sit down to watch Godzilla. I was watching flicks like the original Americanized King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon, you name it. And I would eat them up, because I loved it. But it is fascinating to me now that the era of Godzilla that I grew up in, which is my favorite having seen all of it as an adult, is one that I was introduced to almost entirely through the comics. 

I don’t know how I remember this, but when I first discovered that a comic book shop had opened in my area in the mid-‘90s, I remember my mom had somehow stopped in there without me and brought me back three comics, as a treat. One was an issue of Superman, I think, the second was an issue of Marvel’s RoboCop, and the third was an issue of Dark Horse’s Godzilla. And I distinctly remember reading that Godzilla issue first. I was really young, still probably very new to comics in general, but even still the notion of a Godzilla comic book floored me. From that point on, I started picking up that series wherever I could find it. 

Revisiting this series as an adult, it is amazing to me that it is even half as good as it is, because it had a huge uphill battle from the very beginning. Dark Horse’s tenure on Godzilla began naturally enough, with a manga adaptation of the first film of the then-current era and the movie that had reintroduced the character to American audiences, The Return of Godzilla. Or, as it was recut in similar fashion to the original and released in the States, Godzilla 1985. After that, though, the comics had absolutely nothing to do with the movies. That’s such an interesting thing to me. While these comics introduced me to my favorite look for Godzilla and my favorite era of the franchise, they actually had almost nothing to do with any of the films at the time or even anything that had come before. Much like some other licenses, Dark Horse only had the rights to Godzilla himself and could not use any of the other iconic characters. No Mothra, no Mechagodzilla, no Rodan, no King Ghidorah, no anything other than Big G. Keep in mind that while Godzilla starred in a few one-shots and specials, I’m mostly referring to the ongoing series, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which ran for sixteen issues. 

In many ways, though, that turned out to be a blessing. Not being able to draw from the classic well of characters and storylines meant that the creative team was forced to come up with storylines that did not rely on anything that had been done before. What could easily have been a DOA book turned into a wealth of bizarre, eccentric and utterly unhinged creativity in the best way possible. This started with some of the simpler ideas, namely new locations for Godzilla to stomp around in and more monsters for him to fight. Whereas the movies were largely confined to the South Pacific, the Dark Horse comics got to see Godzilla go about his business all over the globe, ranging from California to Australia and just about anywhere in between. Then there’s the fact that, without any of Godzilla’s old enemies to fall back on, the comics had to create an entirely new cast of monsters for him to fight. And some of them were honestly pretty rad.

Take Bagorah, for example. A giant, red-skinned bat, one could easily believe this was some scrapped mutant vampire that Toho had tried out in the ‘60s. It wasn’t, but it feels totally representative of that era. Bagorah was a giant bat from outer space that appeared really early on in the series. It came in to cause trouble for Godzilla in the third and fourth issues, a great way to let fans know that even if there was no Mothra, they were going to see some pretty cool stuff. Another highlight included the Lord Howe Monster, named after Australia’s Lord Howe Island, which was basically a giant lobster man. What’s perfect about this creature, though, is that even though it was created for the infinite budget of a comic book, it absolutely looks like a man in a suit. Its physicality is exactly the same as something like Megalon. 

Issue #7 is another particular highlight from this series, both in its absolute absurdity and how cool it is both in spite and because of that. What feels intended as a crossover with Predator instead has some nondescript alien big game hunters who are of a much more appropriate size for Godzilla to fight. They basically look like Battletoads armed with bows and arrows. It’s like they couldn’t decide to pull inspiration from Predator or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so they just combined the two. This issue boasts my favorite cover from the whole series, though, and maybe even one of my favorite comic book covers of all time. It depicts a rare image: Godzilla completely beaten down. He’s on his knees and he looks like he’s been through the ringer. His body is riddled with arrows, but the best bit is that he’s got one hand on one of the arrows through his chest and is in the middle of pulling it out like it’s nothing. How do you see that cover on the stand and not buy that comic? 

The most infamous comic from the Dark Horse era, without question, has to be Godzilla vs. Barkley. It is exactly what the name suggests, a one-shot showdown between the King of the Monsters and NBA titan Charles Barkley. This comic was based on a famous Nike commercial at the time. Even that sounds wild to me. Imagine if every great, wacky commercial combining classic characters and celebrities received its own comic book. 

As the Godzilla ongoing series went on though, it built into a huge, unexpected final arc that literally spanned centuries. Given that Godzilla had already fought space bats, lobster men and Charles Barkley, it only seemed natural to introduce time travel. So that’s exactly what the comic did. Ironically, the movies also introduced time travel around the same time, though even they didn’t go as wild with it as this did. The latter portion of the series played out almost like a reverse Quantum Leap, with Godzilla bouncing around time and causing several major disasters throughout history. Even typing that sentence excites me, it’s such an incredible idea. In this comic, we see Godzilla cause the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic. He battles the Spanish Armada, he gets flung to the far future. And finally, at the end of the series, Godzilla is thrown back to just before the asteroid hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. Imagine getting that in a film, what a show stopping set piece that would be, Godzilla battling a giant alien, surrounded by dinosaurs, with the clock counting down to extinction. 

This comic series was a major childhood staple for me, but in the overall Godzilla pantheon, it’s largely forgotten. Even I had almost completely forgotten about it before stumbling back onto it very recently. It’s been out-of-print for some time, but the individual issues are usually pretty cheap and worth picking up if you come across them. Godzilla is such a specific character and kind of story that it can sometimes be tough to really find new territory to explore, but these comics did that in spades. Like the best films of the era in which they were made, Dark Horse’s Godzilla took the unhinged camp weirdness of the Showa era, embraced it, but treated it earnestly, as if any of these situations could genuinely be treated as a believable threat. Taking an “everything plus the kitchen sink” approach to a comic like this can always be tough, but when it’s somehow pulled off, the results are impressive. This is the series and the publisher that let Godzilla fight bow-hunting space toads, sink the Titanic, shoot hoops and stomp around with the dinosaurs, and I’ll always love it for that.

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