Editor's Note: Wires were crossed. We ended up with two reviews, so we posted them both.
I don't entirely understand the point of Godzilla comics. In his original appearance in the 1954 Japanese film, he was a symbol of the raw horror of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla was an incomprehensible force of nature, destroying a city with the uncaring power of a hurricane. But in the last sixty years, the giant radioactive lizard became a franchise, and as is not unusual, people ran out of ideas of what to do with him. Some mileage was gotten out of using him as an intelligent and perhaps even sympathetic creature (see James Stokoe's excellent Half Century War series). And other takes have simply placed him in as many random circumstances as possible. We've had recently Godzilla going to Hell, Godzilla traveling dimensions, and Godzilla trying online dating (ok, I made that last one up, but it would probably make for an interesting book). While there's nothing inherently wrong with trying different concepts under the Godzilla brand, without a strong central hook, they can feel more than a little pointless. Enter Godzilla: Rage Across Time, one of the most disposable comics one will ever come across.
The concept for Rage Across Time is, as far as I can tell, to tell stories about Godzilla set in different time periods with a modern day framing device. Issue one, for example, follows an archeologist as he speculates about the role of Godzilla in defending Japan from invasion in the 1200s. Ignoring for the moment that if any of these stories are true, it will make for a very different history, there are a few specific qualities this book would need to work. Firstly, each story would have to be compelling and fully realized and, since there is a framing device, some sort of an overall arc would need to occur. Sadly, Godzilla: RAT does not manage to establish interesting characters or a compelling story in either time period. The modern set bits feel like an afterthought, added to tie the chapters together. Meanwhile, the period set pieces are muddled and dull, never establishing the setting or characters enough for the story to have stakes.
I like the concept of Godzilla having a mythos that stretches back through the centuries, and I think something interesting could be done with it, but the first issue is too anxious to mash its elements together, instead of letting anything happen subtly or organically. We are given two warriors, then are shown an army of invaders who for some reason have two kaiju, then are sent on a quest to recruit another kaiju, and finally awake Godzilla who accidentally solves the problem. It's too much for one issue, especially since much of it could be safely cut and replaced with a few interesting characters or at least a slightly more developed historical setting. We never get a feeling for how this world works, making the addition of giant monsters feels rather insignificant.
A glimpse of what a better version of the book might look like comes through the art of Matt Frank who draws the flashback portions in the manner of ancient Japanese ink drawings. This style is carried off extremely well and coupled with some subtle colors to make a stylish, lavish looking issue. The art even implies that perhaps the story is supposed to be an ancient myth (in the manner of many Hellboy stories) which is not successfully suggested by the script. The only downside is that with all the detail packed into every page, the layouts can become a little muddled, though frankly, that's a small price to pay for art so good.
Die-hard fans of Godzilla may find something to enjoy in Rage Across Time, at least in terms of the art, and it's never a truly bad book. But in all the places where it should be exciting and creative, it feels dull and contained. I'll be interested in checking out future issues to see what other art styles are implemented, but with boring ongoing arc and an inconsequential first issue, there's very little else to be interested in.
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Godzilla: Rage Across Time #1
Writer: Jeremy Robinson
Artist: Matt Frank
Colorist: Paul Hanley and Gonҫalo Lopes
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital