New To You Comics #108: ‘Godzilla: Half Century War’ Is A Massive Kaiju Celebration

by Tony Thornley

With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals, and things that go bump in the night. This week, we look at a unique take on one of the most popular franchises of the last century.

The Godzilla franchise has been running for nearly 70 years, and is easily one of the most recognizable characters on the planet. The massive lizard has starred in 32 Japanese films, 4 American films, at least 6 animated series, and comics for at least 6 different publishers both in the United States and the character’s native Japan. Since 2011, IDW Publishing has held the rights to the character Stateside and have published a variety of series and special based on the classic version of the character.

In 2013, James Stokoe (with color assists by Heather Breckel) gave his first spin on the franchise, with Godzilla: Half Century War. The series is a retelling of Godzilla’s entire history, from 1954 to 2002. The series is the story of Lieutenant Ota Murakami, one of the only survivors of the Japanese military’s defense of Tokyo during Gozilla’s original attack. He soon joins the war against giant monsters the world over, and finds himself in a desperate battle to stop Godzilla, spanning his entire life.

Tony Thornley: So this is a title we both went into blind based on the strength of the creator and the premise. This is basically a Godzilla streamlining for an evergreen story. I really dug what Stokoe did, even if I had a few small quibbles.

Brendan Allen: I’m a big fan of Stokoe. I love his hyper-real, insanely detailed, loose style. The work he did on Aliens: Dead Orbit and Orphan and the Five Beasts is something else. I’ll pick up just about anything that has his name on the cover. I wasn’t aware he had done Godzilla, so I’m glad you brought this one up. 

Tony: This isn’t the only Godzilla story he did either. He wrote and illustrated Godzilla in Hell which we may have to check out if it’s on Unlimited.

Brendan: And when I say I love Stokoe, I’m generally talking about his art. Some of the stories have more meat on them, but the thing that made his Aliens book so good was definitely the linework. The script was okay, but the art pushed it across the line into something special. Something very similar is happening here with Godzilla. 

I could have used a LOT more character development. Lieutenant Ota Murakami felt really one dimensional, and really didn’t stand out much as the through-line in Godzilla’s history. 

Tony: Oh yes, definitely. For being the character we follow across 50 years, Ota is such a cipher. In the fourth issue, he makes a comment about not being about to have a life outside of the AMG, and it’s like Stokoe realized that was exactly the problem with the story and made it text.

Brendan: Even with his lifelong friendship with Ken, there’s no history, no shared  experiences outside monster hunting, no hard cementing of their bond. It’s just another generic Army guy that we see a bunch.

Tony: Which is another quibble I had. Ken and Ota are the closest we get to development in that side of the story, but not only are they generic Army guys, but they are very much generic American army guys stuck into Japan. They were caricatures but everything cultural about them was American- the slang, the mannerisms, so on. It might have been shorthand to get us to relate to them, which I get- Stokoe had 5 issues that spanned 50 years. Sometimes you gotta do stuff in shorthand. But it just felt weird.

Brendan: You mentioned they seem very American, and I did pick up on that. It’s really hard when you pick up a translated book, and it’s COMPLETELY obvious it was written in French, or German, or Japanese, or even UK English, and translated to American English, because they often lack the nuance and slang of American English. 

When the spoken language is given as Japanese, but the characters sound really American, I like to think the writer is translating the spirit of the dialogue, rather than a direct translation from Japanese to English, which would lack the nuance of either language. It’s a little weird, given, but it does work on some level.

That all being said, it is Godzilla. If you’re here to see daikaiju smashing the shit out of various metro centers, that’s all here, in all its hyper-detailed Stokoe glory.

Tony: Oh yeah. The human side of it wasn’t great, but Stokoe MORE than made up for it with the monsters. I think it was the third issue where he did an homage to Destroy All Monsters/Final Wars/etc, with ALL the familiar Toho kaiju. That issue was an absolute blast, and it looked so great. Then an issue later, when SpaceGodzilla showed up… Stokoe paced that so well, it felt like a major “oh shit” moment.

That issue probably worked the best of the entire series, because the monster stakes were epic, but the human stakes were relatable. The psionic gizmo split was more or less wrapped up, but oh no, the evil scientist has screwed humanity over for profit (there’s that Godzilla social commentary!), and now we’re getting screwed. 

I would re-read the entire series just for that issue (including the Gigan and Ghidorah cameos at the end of it to set up the series climax).

Brendan: It does have its really engaging moments, and that is one. The surprise entrance of Anguirus was another. That scene had the same energy as the end of Lake Placid. Are there two?!?! I think there are two!!!

Tony: Oh definitely. Anguirus was a huge moment that I think we saw coming but paid off through the pacing and the depiction of it. And that brawl just ruled.

I loved how each of the monsters looked too. Even if I was unfamiliar with them, Stokoe make sure we at least got their deal at a glance. Each issue could have been expanded into four, but he made sure we didn’t need it thanks to the amount of detail he packed into everything.

Brendan: That’s something I’ve noted about a lot of the other Stokoe I’ve read. Seems like he wants to get in, do his thing, and get out. Dead Orbit could have been twice as long, easily. Orphan and the Five Beasts felt like it was missing transition chapters. I went back a couple times to see if I had missed something, but that’s just the way he does the thing. It can be hard to get used to, but it’s not nearly as obvious in this one as some of his others. 

Tony: Yeah, it was a story intended to get as many Godzilla fights into it as possible. And in that, I think it succeeded. Though I would have loved for Ghidorah to show up a bit more. That may have been my only disappointment on the monster side.

I’m not a huge Godzilla fan (I know, I know), but I’m enough of a fan that I really enjoyed the book. What did you think?

Brendan: It does the job. This is definitely a book I would buy just for the art, and it’s clearly in homage to the history of Godzilla. Stokoe really tried to bring in a bit of everybody’s favorite eras, and I think he did the thing right. It could have been more human-character centered, but that wasn’t what Stokoe set out to do. It is exactly what it was intended to be.

Tony: Yeah definitely. A lot of fun, and I would definitely revisit for the action.

What do we have up next?

Brendan: We’re going to hit up Resident Alien Vol. 1: Welcome To Earth by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse

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