A prequel to the upcoming movie, “Godzilla Awakening” follows the post-Hiroshima resurgence of Godzilla and his winged rival Shinomura. Readers who were hoping for a rock-’em-sock-’em monster battle are in for a surprise, because “Godzilla Awakening” focuses primarily on the people. The main storyline, which follows a team of Japanese scientists and American military men as they track Godzilla through the ’50s and ’60s, is linked tangentially to the movie through a frame narrative, but it’s primarily a background primer on how Godzilla will work in this universe. Well thought out but clumsily rendered, this graphic novel is probably best reserved for those who are already very excited about the movie.
As a concept, “Godzilla Awakening” shows thought. To start, it actually has a Japanese protagonist, Mr. Serizawa, whose name is a nod to the original Dr. Serizawa. It’s important that the Borensteins keep the story so centered on Serizawa and his journey of discovery, considering that the movie cast is so inappropriately predominantly white. Focusing on Serizawa also amps up the message of “Godzilla Awakening” by bringing the story much closer to the dropping of the bomb and the reality of American culpability. Serizawa’s anger at the people who irradiated his country, despite his collaboration with them, makes the book’s finale much more interesting and impactful. (I won’t spoil, but the American military ignores his protests over a crucial course of action.)
The book also does a fine job of establishing the explanation for Godzilla’s existence and his rivalry with Shinomura. What will surely be an info-dump in the movie is presented here as a slow, decades-long discovery. It’s an unexpected salute to the slog and dedication involved in the scientific process.
However, the execution feels phoned-in. The dialogue is often more than a little lazy. As the sailors’ ship is thrown down a mountain side, they scream, “Oh my God! We’re being thrown down the mountain side!” Characters justify themselves with lines like “I’m telling you, I saw it,” and “I saw it in his eyes.” Even though they’ve been researching this creature for years, they never refer to any of their research or cite evidence when arguing with one another. It doesn’t feel authentic or personal. Godzilla’s a pulpier story, so the conversations don’t need to be incredibly nuanced, but it would be nice to get a better sense of the characters when they speak.
The art, too, is often obscuring. On pencils and inks, it’s evident that there is more than one artist on this book, and things don’t always gel. Characters will change appearance utterly; even Serizawa could be difficult to identify. The action isn’t clearly drawn, and that’s triply disappointing in a book where Godzilla fights another flying kaiju. I often struggled to figure out precisely what was happening, especially during the disaster set pieces.
Lee Loughridge, whose work I usually quite like, compounds the problem with his colors. As always, he shows a clear point of view, and the colors are complementary and well-arranged on a page level. However, on the panel level they often make it even more difficult to follow physical action. He uses a variety of grey and light blue backgrounds that don’t always read “destruction,” and which swallow up the already confused pencils. That said, when the colors work, they really work.
All told, “Godzilla Awakening” did get me more excited for the movie, which is probably the primary point. On its own merits, though, it didn’t impress.