With the arrival of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla in theaters this Friday, we’re reminded of the time that the terrible thunder lizard wreaked havoc smack dab in the middle of the Marvel universe. IDW Publishing has the Godzilla license now, and it deserves some applause for producing some really fun Godzilla comics. But before the company ever had the green guy, Marvel featured the Toho star in his own comic book Godzilla: King of the Monsters from 1977 until 1979 when the monster exited the Marvel universe for good (while Spider-Man snapped pictures of his departure).
The central human character in Godzilla’s 24-issue run was arguably Dum Dum Dugan, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent played in current Marvel movies by actor Neal McDonough. Dugan tracked Godzilla from the West Coast to the East, using S.H.I.E.L.D. resources and a trio of Japanese Godzilla experts in an attempt to stop Godzilla’s swath of destruction. It’s a rarity now for licensed characters to be so fully immersed into existing comic book universes because those licenses will obviously expire someday, but writer Doug Moench (one of the architects of Batman: Knightfall) along with artist Herb Trimpe (Incredible Hulk, G.I. Joe), seemed to have no restrictions on how Toho’s Godzilla could interact with the Marvel world.
He meets his first superhero team in issue #3, the San Francisco-based (and largely forgotten) Challengers -- an oddball team consisting of Hercules, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Angel and Iceman. Though Hercules does flip Godzilla upside down by his foot, the atomic lizard retaliates by ripping up the Golden Gate Bridge like tissue paper and throwing a chunk at a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, causing it to crash into the bay. The Challengers rightly back off.
Over the next couple of years, Moench and Trimpe introduce a few of their own monstrous threats (Batragon! Krollar! Rhian! Triax!), pit Godzilla against the giant robot Red Ronin, and have him tussle with Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy. The creative team on the comic pay tribute to a couple of films as well. The Valley of the Gwangi is an obvious reference in a multipart storyline that sees Godzilla run afoul of some cowboys, and you can see a lot of The Incredible Shrinking Man in the issues where a miniaturized Godzilla is on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and sewer rats. In issue #20, as he begins to return to his original size, he crosses a Marvel superhero team yet again; this time the Fantastic Four. They’re more effective than the Challengers, and genius leader Reed Richards sends the Big G back to a prehistoric time.
The face-off you’ve all been waiting for doesn’t happen until #23, when Godzilla appears in modern-day New York due to a malfunction in Reed’s time machine. The Fantastic Four call on the Avengers for help, and, boy, do they. Thor, Vision and Iron Man face Big G head on, but its Wasp and Yellowjacket (Hank Pym aka Ant-Man) who get the upper hand by flying into his ear and pitching him off balance. This gets Godzilla riled up enough to want to shove the Empire State Building over, and in the most hilariously climactic battle of Godzilla’s final issue, Godzilla pushes on one side of the skyscraper to topple it, while Thor pushes on the other to keep it standing.
Godzilla’s time in the Marvel universe ends when a 12-year-old boy gets Godzilla’s attention by openly weeping and begging him to leave mankind alone. Moench punctuates the cornball conclusion with some faux-Stan Lee consideration from Thor, “‘Twould seem my musings were both right and wrong -- my force was enough to stay the tower’s toppling... and yet, there was another way... the way of gentleness known only to a child.” And just like that, after 24 issues of nonstop chaos and calamity, Godzilla marches into the ocean.
So, when the conversation starts turning to what characters should return to Marvel Studios, keep Godzilla in mind. Sure, seeing the X-Men or Spider-Man come home would be great, but why settle for those guys when we could be hoping for Godzilla vs. Avengers on film. At least it would give Neal McDonough’s Dum Dum Dugan something to do.
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