Monday, June 09, 2014

Review: Godzilla: Awakening

The old adage about judging books by their covers certainly applies to Godzilla: Awakening, a special graphic novel prequel to the new Godzilla movie co-written by the film's screenwriter and published by Legendary Comics. It's an excellent, exciting cover drawn with great care and detail by one of the American comics artists who is probably near or at the top of most fans' lists of Best Guy To Draw A Giant Monster. As editor Bob Schreck writes of the cover process in the book's ten pages of backmatter, "The moment I was made aware that [associate editor] Greg [Tumbarello] and I were putting together a Godzilla book in conjunction with Legendary's new film, two words immediately popped into my head: ARTHUR. ADAMS."

It's a fine design for the titular monster, a character that Adams has drawn in various forms for various publishers as far back as the 1980s and as recently as 2012, one that looks at once like a close relative of the Japanese, Toho version of the character*, like something that might conceivably have existed in nature at one point, and yet it also looks new and different. It's recognizably Godzilla, without looking like a simple cover version of Godzilla.

What's also notable about this particular Godzilla is that he does not look a whole heck of a lot like the Godzilla that appears in the movie. I couldn't find a great image of the film's version in an identical pose, but this is in the general vicinity.
Adams' Godzilla has a much longer, more flexible-looking neck than the movie Godzilla, American or Japanese, and his head is no bigger than that neck, giving him a more reptillian, even serpentine look than a dinosaurian or anthropomorphic design. Coupled with the tail and the rough but even texture of the scales, Adams' Godzilla suggests a crocodile or alligator-like creature to me.

It's notable that the particular design of Godzilla in the new film was kept pretty tightly under wraps until shortly before opening day, in fact, this graphic novel was originally solicited by DC, who are distributing the book for Legendary, with a different cover, showing only a massive tail, smoke and helicopters.

This was actually my first look at the new Godzilla and, as you can see, it doesn't really look like the film's Godzilla, which has much, much smaller arms, much greater girth, an almost non-existent neck, and a tiny little head with a small mouth and beady eyes.

The Godzilla in the comic doesn't look a whole heck of a lot like the one on the cover, either.

Here's first-credited artist Eric Battle's design sheet for the title character, from those pages of backmatter:
The cover, which we can judge the cover by, is great. But the book, which we can't judge the cover by is...much less so.

Written by Borenstein and his cousin Greg Borenstein, much of it reads like stuff cut from earlier drafts of the script, ironically dealing with the more fertile aspects of the movie's narrative that I felt were under-explored, and more promising than what actually made it into the film. Unlike director Gareth Edwards, the Borensteins and their art team aren't shy about showing Godzilla; he's probably on-panel more in this relatively short, fleet-reading 66-page graphic novel than he is on-screen in the film's two-hour runtime.

The story follows Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (the character played by Ken Watanabe) and his father, during their multi-generational search for giant monsters. These include one that the elder Serizawa appear after the bombing of Hiroshima, which resembles a kite designed by H.R. Giger and is first referred to as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), like Godzilla's opponents in the film, and is later named Shinomure, "swarm of death"), and Gojira, who Serizawa's dad believes in, and believes to be a sort of benevolent destroyer of malevolent monsters, but the rest of Project: Monarch doubts exists.
The story follows Monarch's pursuit of the monsters through the decades, with Godzilla in pursuit of Shinomure, climaxing in the 1954 A-bomb that was supposed to have destroyed Godzilla (and, here, did successfully destroy his opponent). Before the book ends, we see one Serizawa pass his mission and his belief in Gojira down to the other.

The plot has at least one pretty sizable hole, but otherwise states the same origin story of the monsters seen in the film: Millions of years ago, they fed on radiation and/or each other, but when the Earth became less radioactive, they retreated nearer its core, and were only lured back to the surface with the discovery and use of atomic weapons. However, the elder Serizawa finds evidence of belief in Godzilla throughout human history, with images of the monster appearing in ancient art, despite the fact that Godzilla had been hibernating since before the time of the dinosaurs.
The artwork is rather messy, which, to an extent, is likely a style choice, but given the number of artists involved, and the fact that it is extremely difficult to distinguish who drew what—it all looks like Eric Battle, in differing forms of completion—some of that messiness must just come down to poor quality. In addition to Battle, Yvel Guichet and Alan Quah are credited as pencilers and Lee Loughridge as colorist, perhaps finishing their art (and thus explaining the hazy, washed-out look, and the fact that it all seems the work of the same hands). It's jittery and dynamic, but sacrifices clarity in service of motion, and is remarkably un-cinematic for a comic about a movie monster, tying in to a movie (I've read a lot of Godzilla comics this summer—in fact, I've read just about all of them—and, form a strictly visual standpoint, this was the worst in terms of storytelling).

Loughridge gives Godzilla, who regularly appears in splash pages, but only relatively rarely in consecutive panels, a wash of what looks like some sort of camouflage paint; he looks spray-painted like a car rather than a living creature with a tactile texture, like the version on the cover.

The Project: Monarch and the world-wide monster cover-up conspiracy still seems promising to me, and this is certainly a fun panel, in which we see one eccentric Monarch scientist is referred to as the "lead Problematica Biologist," studying "this 'Kingdom Miscellaneous'":
Note the giant gorilla, the carnivorous plants, and the huge bird-like skeleton, plus whatever those other things are supposed to be.

*I'm not entirely sure if the below images are drawn by Adams are not,  as some of the images bear individual signatures and some don't, but he's the only artist credited on the table of contents of The Official Godzilla Compendium (Random House; 1998).  These are two versions of Godzilla from the Heisei series, the Godzillasaurus dinosaur that is mutated into the Gojira we know and love, and Godzilla Jr., who would take the place of Godzilla Sr. when the latter dies. Anyway, Adams' version of Godzilla '14 seemed to be on the same spectrum as these designs: 


If, like me, you think the Arthur Adams cover is the very best part of Godzilla: Awakening, you'll be happy to learn that there are two pages of backmatter devoted to it. The second shows Adams' original pencils and then his inked version of the piece, before it's been colored, while the first shows the vareity of sketches he turned in. Here then are a bunch of other Adams drawings of his version of Godzilla '14:
Schrek chose the best, but I do like sthe sixth and seventh options a whole lot, too.


Just a quick note regarding Godzilla's roar, as I grew kind of fascinated by that when reading all those Godzilla comics, thanks in large part to the pretty brilliant way that artist James Stokoe decided to draw it in his Half-Century War.

Dark Horse and IDW both use variations of SKREEE-ONK or SKREE-ONG, which probably don't "sound" right unless the movie roar is fresh in your head before you read the onomatopoeia sound effects. Dough Moench, the best sound effect writer in superhero comics history, gave Marvel's Godzilla a variety of MRRAWs and RRAWs. We only see/hear Godzilla roar once in Godzilla: Awakening, and it is a perfectly straightforward ROAAAAARRRR!!

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