Too often, film prequels are created not to delve deeper into an original story, but to try and sap dollar bills out of an unassuming public’s pockets, with a story that is somehow bigger and better than the events that supposedly come after it. For Gareth Edwards’ upcoming tentpole Godzilla — a film that GFR writers are literally frothing from all orifices for — Legendary and Warner Bros. decided to head to the graphic novel medium to detail the events that set the film in motion, much as they did for last year’s Pacific Rim. And though it’s almost impossible to duplicate Godzilla’s widespread mayhem on a two-dimensional comic page, the talented team behind Godzilla: Awakening have come about as close as it gets.
Sadly, the story isn’t complex enough to transcend the label of “prequel tie-in” or to become an essential Godzilla story in its own right. Still, it is action packed and fun enough to stand as the best possible example of the tie-in variety. I find it impossible to truly dislike any Godzilla material, barring the 1998 disaster, so don’t let my pretentious objectivity throw you off. This is Godzilla; ipso facto giganto, it’s a damned good time.
Written by the film’s screenwriter, Max Borenstein, with his technologist cousin Greg Borenstein, Godzilla: Awakening employs a wraparound story of a father, Dr. Serizawa, telling his son Ichiro about the monsters that prey upon the world around us. (A more adult version of Ichiro is played by Ken Watanabe in the new Godzilla movie.) His stories travel from their prehistoric origins, to their horrific radioactive rebirth in Hiroshima, to enormous fights on “Moansta Island” in the South Pacific. Perhaps my issues with the story are in part due to the quasi-episodic nature of the comic itself, which skips around from incident to incident, constantly building up and starting over with different people, even though Dr. Serizawa is at the center of it all. Considering almost every mini-story ends with a Godzilla appearance, this isn’t such a bad tactic, I suppose.
The illustration team is comprised of Eric Battle (The Spectre), Yvel Guichet (Aquaman), and Alan Quah (The Vampire Diaries). There is harmony between everyone in this story, despite the frequent scene changes and action sequences. And let’s be honest, the main draw of reading a Godzilla story before Godzilla is seeing the King of the Monsters getting into scaly fisticuffs with other mutated beasts. And even though this isn’t just melee after melee, fans will be super stoked to know that barely a page goes by without Godzilla, a M.U.T.O., or some other creature showing up somewhere on the page.
These frequent appearances, sometimes just a hint in the corner of the background, help to set the graphic novel’s story apart from the Godzilla movie itself, which will likely keep its centerpiece hidden so his eventual reveal will inspire maximum jubilance. This isn’t a story about a location that has fallen prey to a seemingly unstoppable freak of nature; this is the story of humanity’s brief relationship with said freak, and the unspoken appreciation that everyone should have for him. Because even though every step he takes has the potential to destroy entire communities, he isn’t shown as the enemy here. He is the one Serizawa and others have to turn to when more malevolent (and similarly large) threats present themselves, which they do often enough. So Godzilla is essentially the personification of a layman Gothamite’s opinion of Batman. Dangerous, but sometimes necessary.
Given Borenstein’s involvement in both of the stories’ creations, I’m intrigued to see how Godzilla is portrayed in the film, and if he retains this sense of earthbound virtue. Much like an atomic bomb, it’s almost impossible to realistically root for the beast as an ally in a situation like that, knowing that even victories can end in widespread death and devastation.
Luckily, there’s nothing devastating about Godzilla: Awakening, which is in stores now. That doesn’t leave much time for readers to gnaw on the comic’s details before swarming theaters for Godzilla‘s May 16 debut. But it’s a must-read for anyone looking to get a Godzilla fix before the big-screen shenanigans. It’s the one origin story, in a fictional universe full of them, that earns the right to be retold, and there are eight claws ready to dig into the faces of anyone who thinks otherwise.