Godzilla has starred in 30 films, two animated TV series and more books, comic books and video games than I can count. Despite all of the stories in all types of media that Godzilla has appeared in for over 60 years now, I've never once seriously considered the question of where Godzilla might go when he dies.
The latest IDW series Godzilla In Hell makes me do just that, however, and the publisher, editor Bobby Curnow and writer/artist James Stokoe deserve some serious respect for doing something completely new and completely original with such a well-traveled pop culture character.
Not that thinking of something new, fresh and original to do with the giant monster is the only virtue to Stokoe's return to the King of the Monsters, of course.
Stokoe's previous Godzilla comic was the 2012 Godzilla: The Half-Century War, an epic adventure that doubled as a sort of meta-commentary on Godzilla's film career, and the evolution of the monster and the world's perception of him during that time.
Written, drawn and lettered by Stokoe, it was a rare, auteur-style licensed comic, oddly personal and idiosyncratic, and one of the better of the many comics to star the character (Which is actually saying something these days, as most of publisher IDW's licensed Godzilla comics have been pretty damn good comics).
The through line of that series was that a young soldier who encountered Godzilla during his original 1954 rampage would spend the next 50 years tracking and fighting him, eventually making peace with the fact that Godzilla was essentially un-killable, the radioactive leviathan's two essential qualities apparently being that he's incredibly stubborn, and he always comes back.
Interesting then that Stokoe's follow-up finds Godzilla presumably dead.
The book opens with Godzilla plummeting down a hole and falling for pages and pages, like Alice falling into Wonderland. Upon hitting the ground and climbing out of the crater he made, he sees a gigantic monolith with the words "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here" carved into it.
He promptly destroys it with radioactive fire.
So how exactly did Godzilla die, that he ended up in the afterlife, and why was he sent here instead of the other place? He might have become a good guy and devoted himself to defending the Earth from other, worse, often extra-terrestrial monsters a few films into his franchise, but he did start out as a monstrous monster, and probably has a pretty considerable five-figure death toll at the least, so I guess it's not that surprising he end up in Hell.
Once we get past the idea of Godzilla having an afterlife at all, of course.
After letting Hell know exactly what he thinks of its No Hope policy, Godzilla stomps off to face a variety of bizarre opponents, including a giant mass of tentacles and eyes hiding in a nuclear power plant cooling tower, a kaiju-sized storm of human souls and, ultimately, himself...or, at least, a horrifying version of himself.
Human-free and told from Godzilla's point-of-view, the issue is completely silent (save for one "HRRRRRRRR" growl and the "Ksh! Ksh! Ksh!" of Godzilla's spines powering up his atomic breath), with the monster's actions and expressions the only method Stokoe emlpoys to express the character's emotions.
As he demonstrated in Half-Century War, Stokoe is actually quite adept at conveying the monster's emotions through subtle changes in his expression and posture. And Stokoe's Godzilla remains a hell of creation, looking like a "real" monster and a monster-suit at the same time, with Stokoe drawing Godzilla's armored hide fusing war seams in a costume might be.
Here, however, the artist is using these skills in a much more subversive way, giving the narrative the solid axis of the recognizable protagonist, but expanding it from there into some extremely surreal territory.
Don't expect it to get any less surreal in the future, either. Stokoe ends his issue exactly as it began, as if Godzilla is stuck in some sort of repeating loop of events–and what could be more hell-ish than that?–while new creators will take over the next four issues, apparently putting Godzilla through fresh hell every month for a while.
Hell is not, as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, other people. After reading Godzilla In Hell, I'm pretty confident that hell is actually other comics.