Godzilla in Marvel Comics (1977-1979)

In my youth, Marvel Comics shoehorned Godzilla, King of the Monsters into the Marvel Universe.  I’m not kidding.  Godzilla was, for a brief time, a character in the Marvel Universe.  Written by Doug Moench and penciled by Herb Trimpe, the comic lasted two years.  Two years of awesome.

How the hell did this happen, you might ask.  Apparently someone at Marvel noticed the popularity of the Showa Era Godzilla movies.  This same someone convinced Marvel to buy the U.S. rights for Godzilla.  Somewhere along the line, the same entities incorporated Godzilla into the Marvel Universe.  I can only assume these entities were taking controlled substances.

Godzilla fought SHIELD, The Fantastic Four, Avengers and The Champions (now defunct,) while rampaging across America.  If that sounds bizarre and cool at the same time, the Big G also duked it out with Devil Dinosaur in an alternate prehistoric past.  (Having Jack Kirby pencil those comics is the only way to make that cooler.)

Don’t think that Godzilla contained only Marvel character cameos.  The comics crafted a few unique characters and monsters which manage to survive in the Marvel Universe to this day.  Doctor Demonicus (you have to love that name) and Red Ronin.  Demonicus is a loony scientist who specializes in mutating creatures and making giant monsters (who could have guessed?)  Red Ronin is a giant samurai robot built to fight Godzilla.  Red Ronin has since shown up in a couple of comics, including one in which the Avengers had to take it down before it started a nuclear war.

If all of this sounds like some kind of fanboy fiction mash-up, well, it kinda is.  I assume Marvel wanted to cash in on Godzilla popularity while incorporating their own characters.  In a bizarre, 70s way, it actually works.  70s Marvel comics got very weird and this isn’t even close to the strangest comics of that decade.

Technically, Godzilla is still part of the Marvel Universe, but they lost the rights to the character and had him ‘mutated’ by Demonicus.  I think the unofficial name now is “Don’tSueUsTohoasaurus” or something.  They changed him enough to avoid legal action but still milk a few old fanboy bucks.

This series is cheesy.  It’s crazy.  I still love it.  Amidst the strangeness are a few scenes that rise above the common cheese.  There’s the Devil Dinosaur versus Godzilla fight, of course.  However, the scene Trimpe did with Hercules (yes, that Hercules) and Godzilla sticks with me to this day.  Angel (of the X-Men, although with the Champions at the time) is unconscious and Godzilla is about to step on him.  Hercules runs beneath G’s foot, lifts, and throws Godzilla on his back!  As a kid, that one scene alone probably sped up puberty by a few months.

There are also the conventions one expects from Godzilla.  He fights other monsters, aliens, alien monsters and a giant Sasquatch.  Yes, a giant Sasquatch.  Suck that, D.C.!  There are also the issues where Godzilla is shrunk by Pym Particles down to the size of a rat and runs around in the New York sewers.  Told you it’s weird.

Marvel has a collected edition of all 24 issues.  Go check them out.  Preferably after taking controlled substances.

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Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez: An Artist Who Needs More Love

jose-lgl-05Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez first came to my attention back in the early eighties in the DC Comic Atari Force.  The only reason I was aware of this comic was because they included mini-comics in the Atari 2600 games for some titles like Defender and Berzerk.  The mini-comics later became an actual DC Comics series which lasted 20 issues.  Jose’s style appealed to me immediately.

jose-lgl-07Jose was born in 1948 in Spain, later moving to Argentina.  He worked for the (now defunct) Charlton Comics in the 60s.  In 1974 he moved to New York City where he started work with DC Comics.  He says he gets inspiration from Golden Age artists such as Alex Raymond and Hal Foster and his style shows it.  Honestly, I think his style is more dynamic than his inspirations.

(On a side note, there seems to be a penchant in the late sixties and seventies of comic book companies poaching talent from Spain.  Just look at Warren Publishing of the same era.)

I think Jose’s main claim to fame with DC Comics jose-lgl-04isn’t necessarily the books he illustrated.  It’s probably that he put together the DC Style Guide in 1982 that defined the looks of all of DC’s character for years. The merchandising arm of DC Comics used this guide for all licensed merchandise.  Odds are that any merchandise you find from the 80s is either Jose’s artwork, or inspired by it.

jose-lgl-06The art that got my attention was Jose’s run on New Teen Titans.  He followed up George Perez, who left some mighty boots to fill.  It was mentioned by the writer Marv Wolfman that “[H]ad this artist who could draw almost anything”.  Jose only did five issues, but the story was literally Olympian in scope.  Impressed the hell out of me.

(Another side note: George Perez apparently had fans get mad at him when he said Jose was a better artist than him.)

jose-lgl-11Later in the 80s, Jose did a mini-series called Cinder and Ashe.  A rather grim, adult title with nothing even vaguely superheroic.  It was DC’s attempt to create more adult oriented titles as comics readers demanded something more than four-color superheroes. The writing was decent, but the artwork made it.  (The comic has the dubious distinction of being the first depiction of rape I recall in comics.)

Jose received an Eisner Award nomination for his work with Howard Chaykin on Twilight in the early 90s.  Since then, I lost track of him.  I only discovered with this research that he illustrated one of the On the Road to Perdition books in 2003.

jose-lgl-01So far as I know, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is still working today at age 68.  Check out his work.  An unsung titan of comics illustration.

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Wendy Pini: An Artist Who Needs More Love

Wendy Pini 02Back in my youth in the early eighties, I ran across an indie comic at a science fiction convention.  It was called Elfquest.

I had never seen a comic like this before.  It was in a larger format, was detailed black & white and didn’t have superheroes or any characters I was familiar with.  The style was also . . . well, it drew me in as soon as I looked at it.  It was done by a husband and wife team named Wendy and Richard Pini.  I snapped up the first issue, went to a quiet corner and read through it.  Then I went back and grabbed all the issues I could afford (#1-6.)  I read through the first six issues over and over for the next few months, wishing I could get my hands on the following issues (this was before the rise of comic shops throughout the country.) I started drawing obsessively by copying her art.Wendy Pini 03

A couple of years later I found a new, local comic shop (B&D Comics) and found the rest of the issues up to that point.  I was astounded yet again at not only the artwork, but the writing and storytelling.  Keep in mind that at this point, independent comics were in their larval stage and anything other than Marvel and D.C. were considered ‘odd’.  I entered the D&D addiction around the same time and Elfquest and D&D went together like bullets and guns.  For a couple of years I was elf-crazed.

Moreover, all of this was done by a girl.  A girl!  Hell, I was only vaguely familiar with females at the time, and in a purely theoretical fashion.  I was incredibly shy and introverted and in Middle School–a hellish combination.  Here was one of these mythical female creatures doing amazing writing and drawing in a genre I loved.  What sorcery was this?

Wendy Pini 04Other Elfquest books started appearing on regular bookstores in malls during this period.  Not only were they pretty and glossy, but were in color.  A few years later and Marvel Comics starting reprinting the comics in a standard comic book format.

(The story goes that Wendy and Richard went to Marvel and pitched Elfquest to them and were turned down flat.  Years later after they had exploded in the indie market, Marvel approached them to allow them to reprint Elfquest in their Epic line of creator-owned comics.  I can only imagine how satisfying that felt.)

I digress, however. Elfquest is amazing, but I want to talk primarily about Wendy.  As the years passed, I picked up more information about her.  About her “Law & Chaos” project, for instance.  She had tried to put together an animated movie of an Elric story, all by herself.  For those unfamiliar, Elric was the brooding, elvish anti-hero of Michael Moorcock. The project failed, as you might have imagined due to the massive efforts required to make even a short animated film, but does show the awesome level of commitment this woman had to her artwork.

Wendy Pini 05What truly shows her dedication to her craft is the flawless narrative artwork she has.  Her primary goal in her artwork is to tell a story–and she does it flawlessly.  One of my biggest beefs with newer comic artists is the lack of clear storytelling.  Sure, they can put together pretty pictures, but you often don’t understand the story without the dialogue.  A good artist should be able to tell a story without a single bit of dialogue.  Wendy could do it and make it look easy.

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A page with virtually no dialogue from EQ issue #5

That kind of narrative art is rare these days.  The comics look great but too many artists are so busy making gorgeous illustrations that they neglect to tell a clear story, wherein you never doubt where the characters are or what they are doing.

Despite the success of Elfquest, Wendy gets little recognition from the comics industry.  When I was in the Joe Kubert School, I showed some of her artwork to one of the instructors.  He looked through it in astonishment and said something to the effect of “This is great!  Who is this person?”  My jaw dropped.

You can drop names like Todd McFarlane, John Byrne, or Jim Lee and you’ll get tons of fanboy recognition.  Wendy Pini?  No, not so much.  Not sure why.  Because she’s a woman?  Maybe.  Or maybe because her unconventional subject matter, including the Masque of the Red Death.

Wendy Pini 01On a more amusing note, I found out just a few years ago that she used to dress up like Red Sonja for a show she did with Frank Thorne at conventions called “Sonja and the Wizard”.  Amazing how much the woman captured the part!

Do yourself a favor and read through her works and give her some support.  She’s earned it a dozen times over.