Marvel’s Godzilla

The King of the Monsters rampaged through the panels of Marvel comic books. 

The Marvel Universe is home to many a strange creature. With names like Grogg, Goom, Grattu and, yes, Fing Fang Foom, giant creatures have long found a home in the same comic book world that Spider-Man, the X-Men and The Avengers call home. It’s only natural, then, that Godzilla, Toho’s King of Monsters, would come to call the Marvel Universe home too.

1977 saw Godzilla in the height of his popularity. The giant radioactive lizard that had been born into this world as a terrifying piece of post-World War II, anti-American propaganda was now a full-fledged superhero. He wrestled across yearly movies – fighting all manner of evil aliens, undersea civilizations and fellow mutant menaces. He befriended the young (appearing in an anti-bullying PSA) and even had time to father a son! There were toys (many, many toys), Christmas-themed singles and, thanks to Marvel Comics, a monthly series that saw the monster journey through space and time in search of adventure.

Godzilla was no stranger to comic books – he had long found a home in black-and-white manga released in Japan and frequently tied to his regular output of films. Godzilla’s first American comic book appearance was a four-page freebie given to audiences at screenings of Godzilla Vs. Megalon in 1976.

The following year, Marvel Comics licensed the character for what would be a 24-issue series written by Doug Moench (the co-creator of characters such as Moon Knight and DC Comics’ Bane) and illustrated by Herb Trimpe (longtime Hulk illustrator and the first artist to draw Wolverine in a comic book). Marvel licensed Godzilla but did not pony up for the lizard’s film friends or foes – leaving Moench with the freedom (or burden, as the case may be) to create new adventures and enemies for Godzilla to combat over the course of the series.

In “The Coming,” the first issue of Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, the lizard’s primary pursuer is established to be none other than S.H.E.I.L.D, Marvel’s go-to organization when it comes to keeping world peace and/or capturing rampaging radioactive lizards. Dum Dum Dugan, Nick Fury’s right-hand man, is personally charged with ridding America of the creature and teams with a group of Japanese scientists to capture the behemoth after he begins his North American tour following an appearance in Alaska. From Alaska to Seattle to San Francisco, Dugan and his team track Godzilla. Along the way, Godzilla takes in the sights and even has a chance to interact with local heroes – including a rumble with San Fran superhero team The Champions, a ‘70s alliance that included Iceman, Angel, Ghost Rider, Black Widow and more.

In order to give the monster opponents that offered a fair fight, Moench invented a fleet of new monsters (including Yetrigar – the biggest bigfoot of them all!) for Godzilla to rumble with. He and Trimpe also invented the mechanized-monster fighter Red Ronin. The character, a by-product of Stark Technology and enemy to monsters everywhere, is a giant samurai-inspired robot that has, even after Marvel’s Godzilla license expired, continued to pop up in the Marvel Universe – even recently given the alter-ego of a teenage girl.

Halfway through the series, Moench began to find his groove and decided to send Godzilla on even stranger adventures – ejecting the lizard from Earth and sending him to the moon to settle a longstanding feud between two warring alien races and to the west to rumble with cattle-rustlers and cowboys. Godzilla was even shrunk down to the size of a rat thanks to the use of Pym Particles, a material invented by Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man) that can change the size of anything it comes in contact with.

Once shrunk, Godzilla began a multi-issue arc that saw the monster slowly begin to grow back to full-size. Captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Fantastic Four before he had retained his full size, Godzilla was sent back in time to the age of dinosaurs – Marvel’s top scientists surely not considering what possible ramifications could come from the exposure of a radioactive monster to the prehistoric timeline. Obviously Reed Richards wasn’t a Ray Bradbury fan.

As it turns out, Godzilla’s radiation does futz with the time travel technology and instead of being sent to the past, he is sent to the Jack Kirby-created alternate dimension Dinosaur World, home of cross-species BFFs Devil Dinosaur, a giant red T-Rex, and Moon-Boy, a monkey boy with a heart of gold.

Once the Fantastic Four realized their mistake, they plucked Godzilla from Dinosaur World and plopped him back in the middle of New York City. Now at his full-grown size, it was finally time for the King of Monsters to battle Marvel’s premier superhero team – The Avengers. The last two issues of Marvel’s series featured Godzilla in an all-out-rumble with The Avengers and the Fantastic Four and featured appearances from S.H.I.E.L.D., The Daily Bugle (including a showdown between J. Jonah Jameson and Godzilla) and even one final last-minute cameo from Spider-Man. In the end, all it took was a stern talking to by a young boy to send Godzilla on his way – disappearing into the ocean and out of the Marvel Universe forever.

Or was it forever? Despite the fact that Marvel’s license with Toho for Godzilla had ended, Marvel was not willing to let go of the King of Monsters that easily. In 1985, Doctor Demonicus, a monster-loving mad scientist that had first appeared in an early issue of Godzilla, King Of Monsters, made his return in an issue of Iron Man. He even brought along an old friend. In order to skate international copyright laws, Godzilla was never referred to as Godzilla and was given a makeover courtesy of Demonicus. Now with a few horns on his head, a fin along his back and webbed hands, the new and improved “Godzilla” was free to rampage across the Marvel Universe again – without Marvel needing to cut a check to Toho.

This new version of Godzilla only appeared a few times – including once in an issue of The Thing’s solo series in which the monster was, presumably by accident, referred to directly by name. A few years ago, in the first issue of Mighty Avengers, a spin-off series featuring a team of government-sanctioned Avengers, New York City was attacked by a horde of monsters controlled by the Mole Man, an underground-dwelling, monster-loving villain. Among the monsters was Godzilla – without the amphibious adjustments Demonicus had made to his body. This cameo was most likely not an official appearance by the monster – instead just a clever gag from artist Frank Cho.

Marvel found a lot of success in the ‘70s with licensing characters – including series set in the Marvel Universe that featured toy properties Rom the Space Knight and the Micronauts. Unfortunately, the use of these characters in the Marvel Universe means that many stories from Marvel Comics are no longer able to be reprinted – with collections of comics from the ‘70s often skipping over issues that feature characters to which Marvel no longer has a license. Even Shang-Chi, a Marvel mainstay and current Avenger, has almost no reprint collections available due to the fact that Shang-Chi’s father was established to be Fu Manchu and Marvel no longer has the rights to use the character.

Thankfully, Marvel worked out a deal with Toho last decade and released a black-and-white collection under their Essentials series that collects the full 24-issue run. Essential Godzilla is easily available and highly recommended for both fans of Kaiju and Marvel superheroes. If anything, the collection is worth a purchase alone for the multi-issue arc in which a shrunken Godzilla fights rats, sharks and New York muggers. You just can’t put a price on that kind of entertainment.

This was originally published in the "Beasts vs. Bots" issue of Birth.Movies.Death. in honor of Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, in Alamo Drafthouse theaters now. Also this is the last week you can catch Pacific Rim at the IMAX!