Over the last few years, IDW has quietly been putting out some really great Godzilla comics, with stories that range from fun thought experiments to brilliant extensions of the world presented in Toho’s Kaiju universe. This continues with the first issue of the new miniseries, Godzilla: War for Humanity, written by Andrew MacLean with art by Jake Smith.
What drew me to this book was the involvement of Andrew MacLean, a modern master of the medium most well-known for his Quarterly fantasy epic Head Lopper. MacLean has a wonderful grasp on the nature of the myth, hurtling his characters into century spanning, larger-than-life conflicts, so he was a perfect fit for Godzilla, for whom larger-than-life is a gross understatement.
His understanding of the prevalence and power of our shared myths seeps into the narrative presented in this first issue as he tells the story of Dr. Yuko Honda (affectionally named after Godzilla’s original director Ishiro Honda), a professor who dedicated her life to advocating for Godzilla’s ability to do good after surviving one of the big guy’s brawls when she was a child. She argues for Godzilla as a protective guardian but also as a grand, ancient force whose ultimate purpose is to do good. This first issue is, first and foremost, an introduction to her character and a setup for a conflict that will seemingly test her unwavering faith and optimism in Godzilla as they encounter a new Kaiju threat. It’s a good setup, if not an altogether original one, but MacLean gives it a fun and playful tone that keeps it fun and relatively fresh and presents a strong central character to hold the narrative together.
There’s a very palpable love for all things Godzilla in Godzilla: The War for Humanity, especially for the goofy, B-movie sincerity of the pictures of the Showa era. Those films where Godzilla was a force for good and a hero for children, those films where bright colours and brighter ideals won out over the gloom and terror of the original classic.
This love is best exemplified in the delightfully vibrant cartooning of Jake Smith. This is my first introduction to the man’s work, and what an introduction it is; Godzilla: War for Humanity’s art practically leaps from the pages, perfectly bringing the feel of those Showa movies into a pulpy comic format. Smith’s linework is simple but playful, with the exaggerated stocky proportions and bright primary colours of the characters giving the book a toylike appearance. The environments reflect this as well, with the top secret government headquarters flat panels, tactile buttons and box-like structure evoking a G.I Joe playset, you can practically see all the play features. In fact, the whole style of the book feels like a kid riffling through the toybox to see what he can make. There’s an unbridled joy and childlike creativity on every page, and it makes it a joy to look at and a breath of fresh air amidst darker, more ponderous Godzilla material.
The whole package feels like a labour of love and a labour of love that feels totally unapologetic as well. They feel no need to shy away from more controversial elements of the franchise’s history, like Godzilla’s son Minilla. Instead, they embrace them fully and completely. So often, Godzilla can take itself deathly seriously, but MacLane and Smith make the argument for those goofier, simpler stories where guys in monster suits tussled about amidst a bunch of models. They recognise that Godzilla, at its core, has always been childlike. It’s just about a bunch of people playing dress up and stomping around a bunch of toys.