Retro Review: Godzilla #3 (October 1977)

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There was a time at Marvel Comics  where the ‘shared universe’ principle that had built the foundation of the House Of Ideas was universal for ALL Marvel titles.  Shang-Chi started out in an adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, while Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the mighty Shogun Warriors were all adapted squarely into the world of Spider-Man and Captain America.  Even Toho’s legendary giant reptilian creature, known to some as Monster Zero-One, became a part of the mainstream Marvel Universe.

But where were YOU when Godzilla fought the legendary Champions of Los Angeles?  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Godzilla #3 awaits!

Godzilla3CoverGODZILLA #3
Writer: Doug Moench
Penciler: Herb Trimpe
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Colorist: Don Warfield
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino/Denise Wohl/Irving Watanabe
Editor: Archie Goodwin
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 30 Cents/35 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12.00/$60.00

Previously in Godzilla:  Ol’ Godziller, he didn’t want any trouble, he only wanted to go about his own business after awakenin’ from a frozen glacier somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness.  (How Godzilla got in my pajamas I’ll never know in the glacier was never addressed.)  But, his trek attracted attention, and in the Marvel Universe, giant monster attention is spelled S-H-I-E-L-D.  Led by Jimmy Woo, the special anti-Godzilla SHIELD squadron brought helicarriers and heavy firepower to bay against the King of the Monsters, but had little success in stopping him, as mighty Godzilla goes where he wants to go.  Case in point: San Francisco Bay, and the legendary Golden Gate Bridge…

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“Mraow?”  That’s how you trans-literate the mighty roar of the greatest of monsters?  Pfeh…  My daughter’s CAT says ‘Mraow”.  The reality of Godzilla’s awesome vocalizations (the evolution of which can be seen here) may not be easy to translate onto the comics page, but then, the Marvel Godzilla isn’t quite the same atomic horror that rose from the ocean in 1954.  As the Big G moves inland, threatening one of the world’s greatest marvels of modern architecture, SHIELD rallies with civilian authorities to try to preserve the Golden Gate.  A couple of hundred mile up the coast, the Earth’s fifth-mightiest heroes also become aware of the reptilian’s threat…

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Hercules and The Black Widow (yes, the same Black Widow from the Avengers movie) along with their two mutant pals, last seen fighting a Nazi made of bees, leap into action, not waiting to find founding member Ghost Rider or their new recruit Darkstar, but setting out to confront Godzilla mano-a-big-scaly-green-mano.  I’ve owned this particular issue for a couple of decades now, from a time long before I over-analyzed my comics, and I’m still a bit baffled by the inclusion of the Champions.  Their own book was on the way out (only two more issues were published after this issue came out), which makes one wonder if the intent of writer Doug Moench wasn’t to give Godzilla a boost with the Champions but to give the Champions a boost from Godzilla!  Thanks to the magic of what seems like a rocket-propelled Mustang fastback, though, the Champions foursome confronts our titular monster…

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That snotty interaction between Iceman and Black Widow tells you everything you need to know about why the Champions experiment was a failure, in-universe and out, emblemizing the endless bickering that doomed the team.  Still, The Champions rendezvous with a hostile SHIELD unit led by Timothy Aloysius “Dum-Dum” Dugan and Gabe Jones (both of whom were members of the WWII Howling Commandoes unit), and engages Godzilla.  Tellingly, the monster avoids destroying the bridge, instead heading inland, towards San Francisco, and unintentionally downs Champions member The Angel with his massive tail.  Hercules rushes in to save his comrade from tramplization, leading to the best page of the entire book…

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Godzilla’s height famously varies in his appearances (originally around 50 meters high, he is scaled up in the original Japanese films, and the American cartoon, famously non-canonical, claims him to be “30 stories” or around 300 feet high), but this shot by Trimpe perfectly captures a street-level view that conveys the massive nature of Godzilla, something that this particular comic wasn’t always able to do.  Add in Doug Moench’s stoic narration on the nature of heroism and the unbearable pantsless coolness of being Hercules, and this is a pretty cool piece of story-telling.  Unfortunately, being knocked off his pins leaves Godzilla a bit testy, which in turn leads to atomic fire raining down on San Fran, and a general escalation of mayhem.  Dum-Dum Dugan and his SHIELD agents then make things worse by stepping in and dressing down the “fancy-pants amateurs”, in Dum-Dum’s parlance.

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For a man named after a bubblegum lollipop, Dugan’s got some unexpected rage issues, doesn’t he?  The SHIELD agents swoop in to attack Godzilla, and the angry monster (who, you will recall, had already left the iconic bridge unharmed) lashes out, smashing down the very landmark the Champions and SHIELD wanted to keep him away from BECAUSE of their ham-fisted antics.  Godzilla seems to be aware that he’s in the Marvel Universe, and borrows a page from the Incredible Hulk, dodging attacks and seemingly just wanting to be left alone.  Hercules tries the old ‘Hail Mary’ (known to him in Greek times as the “Yassou Mariana”)…

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…but Godzilla is just too fast for him!  After all, it *is* the Big G’s book, after all, even if he doesn’t get a lot of dialogue.  The flying pavement caroms off the SHIELD helicarrier, sending Dum-Dum and Gabe’s flagship into the drink, and leaving the enraged giant atomic fire-lizard…  bemused?

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That page is another beautiful amalgamation of Trimpe’s art and Moench’s words, a scene that is oddly thoughtful for its existence in the center of the Venn Diagram where “big, dumb punch ‘em up” and “giant rubber monster suit” intersect.  Still, you have to love the undermining of the rampaging giant monster tropes, and as one who fondly remembers the cartoon version (even the goofy antics of Godzooky), I like how this reminds me of that, my first interactions with Monster Zero-One.  Moench also wants us to note that the chaos and carnage and destruction of American historical structures was NOT all the fault of Godzilla, a fact not lost on Gabe Jones and the Champions of Los Angeles…

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Things wrap up there, perhaps a bit too quickly for my tastes, but for good reasons:  Marvel’s much-lower page count, thanks to 70s paper shortages, and an old-school editorial philosophy of ‘done-in-one’ issues, the downside of both of which leaves this book feeling somewhat lacking.  Still, Moench and the art team do pack a lot of stuff into these pages, including a one-page subplot about Jimmy Woo preparing to steal some anti-Godzilla device from Tony Stark (!!), and a little romantic tease between the Russian spy and the Greek demigod.  Sadly, the art isn’t quite up to the standards of Trimpe’s best work, but it’s solid enough, and not terribly marred by some questionable coloring choices.  Godzilla #3 stands as the oddest of 24 odd issues that try very hard to make Toho’s iconic property into an integral part of the Marvel U, and provides a nice look at the good and the bad of the comic industry circa ’77, leaving the book with a middle-of-the-road 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s not a book you rush out and tell your friends to buy immediately, but it’s a decent way to pass 20 minutes of a lazy summer afternoon.

(Also worth noting, for those who noticed the oddities regarding back-issue pricing for Godzilla #3: This issue had a very limited run of 35 cent variant covers, as a test run for a Marvel price hike.  These 35 Cent variants are much more rare than the standard 30 cent priced issues, and command four to five times as much on the back-issue market, leading to different pricing in most grades.  I’ve personally never even *SEEN* a 35 cent variant in real life, and it is literally my job to handle thousands of comics per year, which should tell you about the scarcity of said issues.)