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King of the Monsters!

The long and winding road that has been the Longbox Graveyard has taken some unexpected side trips. When I began this blog I intended it only as a means of keeping myself on track as I cataloged and sold off my Accumulation of unwanted comics.

But a funny thing happened on the way to eBay … I started reading my comics again, and found that I kinda sorta still liked them. After decades away from funny books, suddenly I was hip deep in the buggers, not only reviewing favorite books like Conan and Thor, but also looking at newer series like Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America, and even exploring the intersection of comics and technology with books like Operation Ajax and the vintage comics on offer through Marvel’s Digital subscription service.

Surprises all! What I never expected — with so many issues of Master of Kung Fu, Fantastic Four, Batman, Daredevil, and Swamp Thing as yet unexamined — was that I would devote an entire column to Marvel’s Godzilla.

Inspiration comes when you least expect it. There I was, arguing the merits of John Carter with fellow blogger Mars Will Send No More when the conversation turned — as it will among learned men — to the merits of fictional T-Rexes. Before I knew it I was committed not only to reviewing Godzilla, but also to participating in a March Madness T-Rex Beat-Down tournament (for the results of which, mouse over to Mars’ blog).

Mars and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I echo his blog comments excluding Godzilla from our tournament, and not merely because Godzilla isn’t a proper T-Rex. As Mars put it, “… Godzilla annihilates everything, everyone, everywhere, always. And any story where he didn’t is a lie.” Godzilla is an outsized character who can’t help but dominate any scene he enters, whether he’s sharing the stage with a field of cinematic dinosaurs or the headline characters of the Marvel Universe.

Godzilla annihilates the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier (and the Golden Gate Bridge for good measure)

And so what of Marvel’s Godzilla? Does this big green galoot annihilate everything and everyone, everywhere and always? Or is Marvel’s version of the King of Monsters a big pile of lies?

My plan was to review just those Godzilla books I had in the Accumulation — issues one to six or so — but after the first half dozen books I found myself unaccountably caught up in the admittedly thin story. So rather than dump my Godzillas for pennies on eBay, I instead went into WonderCon determined to fill out my run, but found that the dealers on the convention floor thought their Godzilla back-issues were worth ten bucks a pop.

Hey, I like the book, but there’s a limit. My first impulse was to review what I had and offer the first “incomplete” grade on the Longbox Graveyard report card, but then thirteen bucks and a trip to eBay secured a copy of the black & white Essential Godzilla, and the great Godzilla review project was on once more!

So what was the deal with Godzilla, anyways? The year was 1977, and Marvel would try just about anything, including adding the Godzilla license to the Marvel Universe. What could have been a disaster was instead a workman-like book in the tradition of late 1970s Marvel, where solid editorial standards and dependable mid-list talent ensured a firm floor for the entire comics line. It’s rare to find a truly dreadful Marvel book from the late 70s, and thanks to an energetic effort from the Doug Moench on scripts and a professional job from penciller Herb Trimpe we have two years of Godzilla books that for the most part deliver the goods — neither very good nor very bad, but always entertaining and probably better than the series had any right to be.

A snappy first issue introduces Godzilla to the Marvel Universe (and you can read that issue online, in it’s entirety, over at Mars Will Send No More). It does feel like Marvel was hedging their bets, at least at first. Pitting Godzilla against S.H.I.E.L.D. was an inspired choice, but we get the S.H.I.E.L.D. B-team here, with secondary Helicarriers commanded by Dum Dum Dugan rather than the iconic Nick Fury. When Godzilla stomps Alaska, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego in short order, it really should get the attention of the Avengers and Fantastic Four (but we will have to wait until the end of the series for that moment). Rather than scrambling even the B-team Defenders to the rescue, we get the forgettable Champions for a serviceable superhero battle with the Big G most memorable for Hercules taking down Godzilla with a judo flip.

The Marvel Universe has always been New York-centric, but you figure it would get national attention when Godzilla destroys Hoover Dam, stomps Las Vegas, and wrecks Salt Lake City during a battle with bizarre space monsters … but Godzilla is still regarded as a hoax when he finally makes it to Manhattan in issue #20, and only then do Marvel’s most iconic heroes scramble for a pretty decent superhero fight against Godzilla.

(image grabbed from Comic Vine)

But I’m not sure Moench could have handled Godzilla any other way. In contemporary terms, Godzilla attacking the United States would warrant a summer’s worth of Marvel Comics cross-overs, bleeding into every book in the line, but in 1978 Moench and Marvel elected to keep Godzilla partitioned in his own little bubble of the Marvel Universe. The only alternative would have been to go right at it — to deeply integrate Godzilla in the line with increasingly improbable cross-overs every issue, which would have been a hoot with an absurdist writer like Steve Gerber or David Anthony Kraft, but there’s no way it could have been a sustainable premise.

Instead, Moench went to the Marvel monster playbook, adopting the tropes on display in books like Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula, and even Hulk, where his title character is a remote and sometimes unfathomable anti-hero, while the subplots and characterization revolve around supporting characters trying to help or hinder the star of the book. And this proves one of the weaknesses of Godzilla. Along with the aforementioned S.H.I.E.L.D. back-up squad we have a team of generic Japanese scientists trying to stop Godzilla, including a twelve-year-old boy who (of course) bonds with a giant robot to fight the monster that he is convinced is good at heart.

Godzilla versus obligatory giant robot Red Ronin

In the first year of the book, Moench also gets some play out of examining Godzilla’s motivation. Is he a rampaging monster, or a misunderstood victim? The cast eventually comes down on Godzilla’s side, but Dum Dum Dugan needs some convincing.

The second year of the book is a little more whimsical, and while the plot contrivances of pitting Godzilla against cowboys (in a distant echo of Valley of the Gwangi), or having Godzilla shrunk down by Hank Pym’s reducing gas to fight rats in the sewers of New York will make Godzilla purists apoplectic, I found the less leaden tone of these later tales more entertaining. The last half of the book also gave me a renewed appreciation for Herb Trimpe, about whom I always thought the best I could say is that he wasn’t Sal Buscema. Trimpe struggles with facial expressions — Dum Dum’s cigar pops out his mouth the hundred-odd times he wears his “surprised” face, which is identical to his “angry” face. There are plenty of those recycled Trimpe panels where a character’s foreshortened index finger fills half the frame, as someone points, blank-faced, at something happening beyond our view. But Trimpe has real strengths when it comes to draftsmanship, and the backgrounds of his New York are appropriately detailed and authentic. The two-part western interlude also let Trimpe draw horses — Trimpe got his start doing western comics, and he draws good horses, something that’s not as common among comic book artists as you might think.

And he pulled off the odd inspired Godzilla panel, too.

In all, Godzilla does what you’d expect. Our hero stomps a bunch of cities, and he battles but is never really beaten by S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel’s superheroes. He crosses-over with Devil Dinosaur, fights a sewer rat, and he shares a panel with Spider-Man. He’s at the center of some ridiculous story lines (at one point reduced to human-size, led around the New York Bowery in a hat and trench coat!), but it didn’t bother me as I’m one of those ignorant gaijin who finds it hard to parse “Godzilla” and “quality” in the same sentence. No matter these indignities, Godzilla emerges from his weird, twenty-four-issue Marvel odyssey with his reputation intact, clearly still King of the Monsters, and having delivered a solid, entertaining run of comic books.

trench coat Godzilla!

Godzilla in a trench coat! (image via Tars Tarkas.net)

In all, Marvel’s Godzilla isn’t a bad read. I won’t tumble to the inflated prices those WonderCon guys want for this book, but I’d happily fish an issue or two out of the dollar box, and the out-of-print but readily-available black & white Essential Godzilla is an inexpensive way to experience this series for yourself. Where else where you see Thor bonk Godzilla on the nose with his enchanted hammer?

Yep, that happened. Godzilla really was part of the Marvel Universe! A second-class citizen, sure, and this might seem a second-rate book. But Godzilla is not a second-rate effort. Sometimes comics are art, but most of the time comics are just comics, and as a guy who wrote a lot of inventory assignments himself, I have genuine admiration for the team that turned in such consistent effort along the way to bringing this self-contained run to a satisfactory conclusion. I doubt I’ll go back to this series, but I’m happy to have spent a couple nights with Godzilla, stomping through the Marvel Universe. Hail to the King!

Originally published as Longbox Graveyard #43, April 2014.

MONDAY: The Tournament of Terror Begins!

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A Tale of Two NerdWalks

Longbox Graveyard #166

Apologies for the long silence here at Longbox Graveyard, and thanks to my readers who have stayed with me through this interruption. I’ve been distracted these past several months with a job search on two continents, and then an international move to accept a new position in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

my new neighbors

I planned my move like the Mad Thinker, and used this latest change as another opportunity to downsize. I brought precious few of my geeky possessions to my 600 sq. ft. Canadian attic digs. A couple boxes of books, a few games, and no comics at all — digital serves me fine in this regard. I have an old video game console, streaming music, digital subscriptions to HBO and Netflix and Filmstruck, a Kindle full of books to read, an iPad perfect for comics reading … really, I have more entertainment on hand than I could plow through in a lifetime. Plus my landlords offer free cable, so after being unplugged for two years, I’m catching up on hockey.

Longbox Graveyard Canadian HQ

My first month here has been spent riding out the rainy rump end of the winter, and settling in at my new job. There hasn’t been a lot of time to do much more than go to work and tinker with my new apartment. My wonderful wife remained behind in California to stay close to our boys as they finish out with school, so I am a fifty-something bachelor up here, able for the first time in decades to devote myself to work, work, and nothing but work. It’s fine.

But with the skies clearing up and my furniture all bolted together, I’ve gotten the itch to go out a bit. My job is sedentary so any excuse to walk is welcome, and when the sun makes a rare weekend appearance, it is practically a survival imperative to get outdoors and get in some miles. Nerd that I am, thought, this hasn’t meant experiencing Vancouver’s startlingly-close and dramatic wilderness (though I am looking forward to that).

more-or-less the view from my back door

No, when I go for a walk, I go for … a NerdWalk.

My geek life began as a NerdWalker. In the summer of 1974 — my twelfth year, my own personal Golden Age — I walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard, poking into comics shops and record shops and magic shops and used bookstores, sneaking into R-Rated Bruce Lee movies and buying slices of pizza with a wadded-up dollar bill.

I don’t remember the girl (sadly), but I remember that shop!

My first impressions of independence and imagination are indelibly intertwined with dusty magazines, old movie stills, rock & roll posters, and long walks up and down cracked sidewalks, carrying treasures home in paper bags … and I still have many of those treasures, packed away in my California home, things that have stayed with me despite my many purges.

So it should come as no surprise that my pulse stirred a bit when I realized there was a comics shop about a fifteen minute walk from my front door. And that there was a horror memorabilia shop about fifteen minutes past that, with three used book stores along the way. Planning it out on Google Maps promised a moderate three-mile loop would stretch my legs and let me pretend I was twelve years old again.

a bit before my time, but spiritually accurate

What better way to spend a Saturday?

I hit the horror shop first. I was really intrigued by this place — it looked so funky from the curb, a real throwback to the bizarre retail caves of my youth. And the shop was pretty much what I expected. It was smallish inside — not much bigger than a convention booth — and the stock was a little thin. Mostly posters, a few books, a couple games, an odd collection of used books and some handcrafted items. Not so different than a comics shop, with a narrow focus on horror. The guy behind the counter was friendly enough. There was a Boris Karloff poster that I kind of wanted.

But I remembered that I’d walked to the shop, rather than taking the car, and I didn’t want to haul that framed poster back to the house on foot, especially with the stops I still had planned. And even though the prices were reasonable, I wasn’t eager to open my wallet. I’ve moved to Canada to take a job and send money home to pay tuition for my boys. I mean, if anyone could be said to need a Boris Karloff poster, I’m your guy, but even I don’t really need a Boris Karloff poster.

don’t give me that look

I said goodbye and hit those used bookstores.

I had a vague plan of trying to scare up some cheap, classic science fiction and fantasy. Maybe a vintage paperback edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or some Fritz Leiber fantasy, or maybe an old Roger Zelazny book — it’s been decades since I read Lord of Light. The stores were well-stocked, and they had plenty from those authors, but nothing that suited my Goldilocks demands — that cover wasn’t quite correct, this series wasn’t exactly what I was looking for … nothing was just right.

either of these would have done

One store had a terrific collection of mystery novels, and I had a nice hardback edition of The Maltese Falcon in my hand for awhile, but I’ve already read that book several times, and the only reason to buy it would have been to perch it on my shelf, where it might offer a fatal distraction from getting out from under Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, which has pinned me under 1300 pages of stop-and-start bedtime reading since the first of the year. I remembered that I’d already hauled three or four books to Canada with me, and that I try to buy only things I will use (and right away at that). Thugs and adventurers from around the world might be willing to kill their mothers for the Maltese Falcon … but sorry, Mr. Hammett, back on the shelf you go.

why the long face, Bogie?

I had high hopes the comic shop would make my NerdWalk worthwhile, but you can already see where this is going, can’t you? The shop was fine — no different than others of the better breed, with plenty of stock, clean, well-lit, a friendly staff. But. You know the but, right? I’m a digital guy and (despite giving it a go recently) I don’t do monthly comics any more. Omnibuses are nice, and all, but they’re expensive, and why did I drop a grand on an iPad Pro if I was going to be buying big reprint books? And etc. and etc.

I came home empty-handed, pleased that I’d stuck to my frugal ways, but a bit depressed with this fresh evidence that whatever it is I’m seeking right now, it isn’t something I’ll find in a shop.

enlightenment — when you least expect it!

So I buckled down and spent another week as a grownup.

I woke up the following Saturday to a surprise — sunlight. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but here was unexpected sun. That the sun was still up when I dragged out of bed well after noon left me no option — I had to get out for a walk. Despite the previous week’s disappointment, I felt the itch to do another NerdWalk. If nothing else, those shops would give me a destination. I needed a haircut, and I remembered a barber next to the horror shop. Plus, I kept thinking about that Boris Karloff poster.

The horror shop improved with reduced expectations. Nothing had changed in the preceding week — I expect I could have come back after a year and found things the same. Actually, though, something had changed. I had changed. I wasn’t comparing everything to Hollywood in the 70s. Now I was just a guy who wasn’t so uptight about spending a nickel and who thought it might be fun to get some art for my apartment, a humble geek pleased to support a local merchant mad enough to make a go of “horror shop owner” as his career.

I remembered that the pleasure of a geek shop isn’t that it is some Aladdin cave of wonders — it is the simple miracle that it exists at all.

I bought Boris.

And Godzilla, too!

The walk home was a little awkward, with those sleeved posters flapping around in the wind, but not too terrible.

I got my miles in. I got some sun. My attic retreat is a bit more nerdy. My NerdWalk expectations are properly calibrated, and now I’m looking forward to walking down for a haircut once a month or so, and dropping by the horror shop to see what strange new temptations have mushroomed up in my absence. Maybe I’ll go back to the comics shop, or give the used bookstores a second chance, and see if anyone has adopted that Maltese Falcon. I think I even saw a place where I could buy pizza by the slice.

All I need is a sleazy movie theater showing Enter The Dragon and I will be twelve years old again. For the length of a NerdWalk, at least.

Thanks for reading! It’s good to get Longbox Graveyard going again. I plan to get back to monthly publication, but stating your plans is a way to hear God laugh.

Stay nerdy!

NEXT MONTH: #167 — Tell A Tale of The Guardians of the Galaxy!

Farewell Herb Trimpe

Sad news came late Tuesday night that Herb Trimpe had passed away at the age of 75.

I thought I’d help remember Mr. Trimpe by posting links to a pair of his creations previously reviewed here at Longbox Graveyard.

I greatly admired Herb’s stand-out work on “Sincerely, the Sandman,” from Incredible Hulk #138 … my Dollar Box review is here.

Hulk #138

I was also taken with Mr. Trimpe’s run on Marvel’s Godzilla comic — a book that was better than anyone might have reasonably expected. I reviewed the entire run here.

Godzilla 1, Helicarrier 0

My condolences to Mr. Trimpe’s family. It is so sad to see the old guard leaving us.

Celebrate Herb Trimpe’s life by remembering the man … and reading his work!

Godspeed!

Herb Trimpe

Herb Trimpe, 1939-2015

 

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