Godzilla is one of those pop culture figures we can’t seem to escape (sometimes literally). From his first appearance as the grim specter of post-nuclear terror in 1954 to his subsequent appearances as a destructive anti-hero who teams up with other colossi, he has endured and evolved with the times, representing something different to each generation. Now, a new film being helmed by anime titan Hideki Anno is coming to North American cinemas: "Shin Godzilla." It’s going to be interesting to see how Japanese creators use the kaiju grandmaster in a post-Fukushima climate.
While we wait for its release, however, how about some light autumn reading? Godzilla’s appearances aren’t limited to movies and two animated television series nobody talks about; he’s also made multiple appearances in comic books! At least three North American publishers have held the rights to the character over the years, all taking turns telling new and interesting stories with the King of the Monsters. There are the 10 Godzilla comic book stories you absolutely need to read.
10 Godzilla: Legends (IDW)
The first of many IDW entries on this list, this five-part miniseries features the work of a host of creators, including Art Adams, Jeff Prezenkowski, Matt Frank, Simon Gane and many more. “Legends” is a series of one-off stories (one of two on this list) featuring the other members of Godzilla’s rogues gallery.
While not necessarily groundbreaking per se, as the stories all vary in quality, it belongs on this list for introducing the less-explored members of the kaiju crew in new and different ways. Readers get to see Anguirus holding his own against the cataclysmic Destoroyah, a young boy forming a psychic link with Titanosaurus, and a daredevil scaling Godzilla as he rampages through the countryside and dukes it out with giant spider Kumonga. The format is interesting enough, and is perhaps worth revisiting later with other kaiju like Megalon or Biollante. For what it is, however, “Legends” is worth a look, and a good way to rediscover the Toho kaiju world.
9 Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley (Dark Horse)
A less serious entry, this comic is based in the infamous Nike commercial where athlete Charles Barkley schooled Goji in a basketball match. An amusing thirty seconds, to be sure, but creators Mike Baron and Jeff Butler decided to take this further by introducing an actual plot in the comic book adaptation.
The comic itself follows a young fan who uses a magical silver dollar passed down to him from his grandfather to make Barkley grow and challenge the king kaiju to a game of hoops in order to save San Francisco. This is sure to infuriate the kaiju groupies, who to this day insist that Barkley would be roasted down to the bone by atomic fire, but you have to admire the silliness of the book itself. They even made special sneakers that conform to Godzilla’s feet! Imagine being in the Nike factory when the bosses ordered you to make those.
Sadly, Godzilla’s badass shades from the commercial didn’t make it into the book, which is why this entry sits so low on the list.
8 Godzilla: Gangsters and Goliaths (IDW)
This is perhaps the only example of kaiju noir we've ever seen. The story centers on a Tokyo detective trying to lead a sting operation on a yakuza kingpin, when he was framed for his partner’s death and dropped off on the last place anyone would hope to look for him: Monster Island. Our luckless protagonist braves the horrors of the island and swears revenge on his would-be assassin, kidnapping the Elias -- Mothra’s diminutive twin priestesses -- and forcing the monster to help destroy the crime-lord’s businesses, shipments and penthouses. He does not realize that doing so, however, is going to bring more trouble than he anticipated.
As ludicrous as this all sounds, in tandem with John Layman's script, Alberto Ponticelli’s rough art style compliments the all-too familiar story of a man on the edge in search of justice. Throwing kaiju into the story is also clever, since it adds to the theme of a man going up against monstrous circumstances, in the figurative and literal sense.
7 Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Dark Horse)
This entry is one of two series on this list with the same title. Dark Horse’s run on Godzilla during the mid-'90s reintroduced the character to American comic readers, and put the king against a host of new villains, from the giant bat Bagorah to the spider-styled mech All-Terraintula. Though only 16 issues long, there are still a few fine examples of '90s-era ludicrousness to be had; as if the name “All-Terraintula” wasn’t a dead giveaway.
The series boasted a number of different artists and writers during its run. As such, your mileage may vary as some arcs are more likely to pique your interest than others. That being said, there’s some charm and entertainment to be found here. If you’re down to read stories about botched military interventions, alien poachers and mad scientists using time travel (and Godzilla) to steal historical artifacts, then this run is sure to keep you entertained.
6 Godzilla: Cataclysm (IDW)
This entry picks up decades after an all-out assault by the Earth’s kaiju has left the world in shambles. With the monsters now gone into hiding, humanity struggles to pick up the pieces. New religions where people pray to Mothra and King Ghidorah for good fortune have sprung up, complete with human sacrifices, while scavengers explore the Tokyo ruins in search of sustenance. However, the kaiju are returning with a vengeance, hungry to finish the job they started ages ago, and one old man (who was there when the world fell) knows why.
Cullen Bunn’s story takes some neat twists and turns, including using different kaiju to depict how a Toho kaiju ecosystem would function. Meanwhile, Dave Wachter’s art style wonderfully articulates the grim depiction of a desolate world gone mad. Top it off with an ending that is more than appropriate for what this story is, and “Godzilla: Cataclysm” is sure to tickle your fancy.
5 Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Marvel)
Yep, Godzilla was once a Marvel character, thanks to the patronage of iconic creators Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe. And indeed, the big lizard regularly duked it out with S.H.I.E.L.D. and had his innocence vouched for by a young Japanese-American boy. Big G had all kinds of run-ins during the 24-issue series’ run, including new foes like colossal Sasquatch Yetrigar, otherworldly foe Beta-Beast, and the giant mech Red Ronin, as well as familiar faces from the Marvel comics world, like the Champions, Devil Dinosaur and the Fantastic Four.
One particularly noteworthy moment for our cantankerous kaiju friend was being shrunk down to the size of a cat, having a death-defying battle with a New York City rat and slowly re-growing in size until he was big enough to have a dockside brawl with Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones.
4 Godzilla's Day (Dark Horse)
Did you know that, along with famed cartoonist Dave Cooper, none other than Ed Brubaker once wrote a Godzilla comic? Well, you do now! Of course, those fans expecting it to be on the same level or tone of books like “Incognito,” “Fatale” or “Criminal,” might be disappointed -- or pleasantly surprised.
This unusual gag comic was published in an issue of "Dark Horse Presents," and follows Godzilla’s rampage through Osaka as the giant monster searches desperately for a back-scratcher, forcing himself up against forests and the jagged sides of buildings in order to shed his old layer of skin. It follows several storylines, some of which are connected by a series of news broadcasts, but also include the grand opening of a massive mega-building and a father-son scientist duo debating whether or not Godzilla is a lizard. With a playful art style that makes the book look like an extended “Far Side” strip, “Godzilla’s Day” stands out among the rest of the crop as being something truly unique.
3 Godzilla In Hell (IDW)
Ever wonder what would await the Kaiju Kaiser in the hereafter? He’s caused a lot of death and destruction over the years, so we can’t imagine he’d be singing with the angels. As its name subtly implies, Godzilla vs. the Afterlife is the proposed idea of IDW’s “Godzilla In Hell” storyline, where the great king of all monsters is sentenced to the inferno for his crimes against humanity (and for making “All Monsters Attack”). Godzilla’s not taking this lying down, however, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he is not staying there.
Every issue depicts a different circle of hell Godzilla has to traverse and fight his way through, each one being an individual story told by giants like James Stokoe, Bob Eggleton and Dave Wachter. Facing the ghosts of his enemies and those innocents he killed, as well as demons of impossible scale and shape, Godzilla’s haunting and exciting journey through the netherworld is not to be ignored.
2 Godzilla/Terror of Godzilla (Dark Horse)
Fans are prone to forgetting Godzilla’s origins as humanity’s antagonist, rather than the defender of children and Jet Jaguar’s tag-team buddy. It’s a jarring transition if ever there was one. Imagine Bram Stoker writing “Dracula,” and then a few years later the publishers released a book where he had to save Christmas.
Kazuhisa Iwata’s dark retelling of 1984’s “The Return of Godzilla” (as opposed to its American counterpart, “Godzilla 1985”) brings the titular kaiju back to his roots as an unstoppable, remorseless force of nature.
Originally published in black-and-white under the eponymous “Godzilla,” this series was republished in full color years later as “The Terror of Godzilla.” Held together with a classic manga art style, the book adds a new dynamic layer to its human characters’ interactions. With greats to the great Godzilla himself, Iwata’s style makes the monster look suitably demonic. This forgotten gem a true accomplishment to Godzilla's true spirit and is absolutely worth reading for any of his fans.
1 Godzilla: The Half-Century War (IDW)
It couldn’t be anything else, really.
Our top entry follows the story of a former Japanese soldier who has dedicated 50 years of his life to combating the kaiju threat, beginning with the king of the monsters’ first assault on Tokyo in 1954 and following Big G’s rampages while dealing with the other new monsters coming out of the woodwork. Already, the Moby Dick/Megafauna angle is interesting enough, but add a subplot about mad scientists seeking to exploit the beasts’ rampage for their own financial gain and you’ve got a winner of a story.
James Stokoe’s stunning visuals have been catching the attention of comic readers since “Orc Stain,” and fans will be pleased to know that it carries over beautifully to this tale of man versus monster. With meticulous art, gut-punch storytelling and an ending that’s sure to drop a few jaws and break a few hearts, "Godzilla: The Half-Century War" is an epic tale worth poring over and revisiting.
Which Godzilla story is your favorite in his long comic book history? Sound off with your loudest GRONK! in the comments!