Critical notations on the new GODZILLA

I went to see the Godzilla reboot yesterday with Anne-Marie and A, and we all enjoyed ourselves, especially A, but I do have a few critical thoughts and feelings to share.

  1. Director Gareth Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham, and their collaborators in special effects, get right one of the essential points from the original kaiju movies, which is that many of these “monsters” are sympathetic characters. Most of what they do, they do not out of malevolence, but simply as a result of their natures: they mate and breed, hunt and feed, and fight other animals that they see as threats or rivals. People are largely irrelevant, which may be what also makes them terrifying even as you can also sympathize with these creatures simply trying to survive and reproduce.
  2. I also appreciate how the new design for Godzilla references the classic “person in a suit” while also updating the character for contemporary aesthetics and expectations. There is one shot of Godzilla where he takes in a big breath and exhales that prompted A to remark that he looked like a person, which to me, was just perfect. The “humanity” of Godzilla is important to acceptance of him as something other than just a “monster.”
  3. Like others, I thought about Pacific Rim (2013) a number of times during this film, and, on the whole I enjoyed last year’s movie more. I found the creature designs to be more interesting, and, I suppose, I also liked the spectacle of having the giant robots as well as the giant monsters (although as A pointed out to me, the kaiju in Pacific Rim are alien while the ones in Godzilla are terrestrial). Mostly, I think that my reaction here has to with the difference between remaking an existing work and creating something new from familiar material. Guillermo del Toro made something new and the larger universe of his film is richer and more interesting than that of the new Godzilla.
  4. Another important difference for me was the fact that Pacific Rim featured two people of color (Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost and Rinko Kinkuchi’s Mako Mori) in the principal cast, while Godzilla defaults to the far more common young white male and his white family for the primary human characters. Indeed, even though the story starts in Asia and Japan is given a central location in the narrative in a nod to the source material, somehow a white American (or EuroAmerica) family has narrative prominence in Godzilla. Anne-Marie also made the good point that the primary family relationship, and loss, for the white guy protagonist in Pacific Rim (Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket) is a brother, not a wife and kid or even a parent. This is a less common dynamic for these kinds of films.
  5. For me, the most interesting, and underused characters in Godzilla are Ken Watanbe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa and Sally Hawkins’ Vivienne Graham. The story of Serizawa’s decades long pursuit of Godzilla seems more interesting to me than the monster/disaster movie spectacle we get at the end of his pursuit. As far has Hawkins goes, I’m not sure that her name is mentioned once in the film or that we are told that she is also a scientist. But she seems to be Serizawa’s partner in the search and I want to know more about that (I gather that this is the focus of the prequel comic). Both Watanabe and Hawkins are charismatic actors who draw your attention when on screen, and I was more compelled by them than I was by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Elizabeth Olsen did not have much to do, but I am interested to see her as the Scarlet Witch now).
  6. Obsession with Godzilla is also a narrative through line for James Stokoe’s “The Half Century War” mini, and, honestly, as far as contemporary re-imaginings of this story goes, it is hard to do better than what Stokoe did with that book (I wrote about the way that Stokoe adapted Godzilla for comics, particularly his roar, for PopMatters).
  7. I left the theater with an uneasiness over the reworking of the origin story which removes American culpability for creating the kaiju as a result of the testing of nuclear bombs in the south Pacific. The original Godzilla (1954) picked up threads of anger and resentment among many Japanese for the American use of nuclear weapons in World War II and the subsequent occupation. This is also an important reason for Godzilla being a sympathetic, even, ultimately, a heroic, character: he, too, is a victim of the American bomb. There is a brief acknowledgment of Hiroshima in the new film between Serizawa and Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), but that only served to remind me of what has been lost in the new telling in terms of being a critique of American militarism and nuclear weaponry. Now, at worst, the American deployment of military and nuclear force just seems stupid or ineffectual rather than existentially threatening to ilife as we know it (I am drawing on Anne Allison’s Millennial Monsters, University of California Press, 2006, for the gist of this interpretation of the original Godzilla).
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Latest Worlds in Panels: James Stokoe’s Godzilla

My newest column posted yesterday on PopMatters. I take a critical look at James Stokoe’s Godzilla mini for IDW with a particular focus on how the artist has adapted the monster for the page:

The need for an adequate approach to the Godzilla sound is indicative of the particular challenges to making comics from licensed properties. In an interview with Josh Bell at Comic Book Resources, Stokoe sees his task in this way, “A licensed property like this, I feel like you need to really think about it and try to take more care,”, adding further, “There’s been precedent established, so you can’t just wing it like it was your own. You need a respect for the material, and a desire to try and dissect what it is you like about it” (see, “James Stokoe Tackles Giant Monsters in ‘Godzilla: The Half-Century War’”, 22 June 2012).

Read the full column.

December comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Angel #40 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande is replaced by Jason Armstrong, who, with Brian Miller on colors, gives the book a Saturday morning cartoon makeover, which I kind of like? A radical change like this, however admirable in the abstract, in practice, takes some time to get used. I found myself constantly pausing to remind myself who the characters are, none more than Kate, who looks nothing like her previous selves (brown hair and pearls?).

The storytelling is fine, but David Tischman and Mariah Huehner are forcing the dialogue, especially trying to make Angel quick-witted and Gunn sound “street”.

Atomic Robo #2 (Red 5)

More period fun as Robo tries to lead a double life, doing science and fighting crime. An exceptionally cool set of pin-ups is included in this issue, too.

Avengers Academy #7 (Marvel)

Christos Gage turns his attention to the teachers, especially Hank Pym. Continues to be a strong book.

Batwoman #0 (DC)

Bruce Wayne stops by to surveil Kate Kane and Batwoman. I agree with the discussion on 3 Chicks Review Comics that it might have been better to include this as part of the “Road Home” comics rather than billing it as a Batwoman prelude. For readers who did not read the Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III Detective Comics run, this issue is probably useful as an orientation to Kate and Batwoman, but for anyone who had been looking forward to the start of the new ongoing series, it is probably a letdown, at least narratively, artistically, the back-and-forth between Williams and Amy Reeder works well.

Birds of Prey #7 (DC)

A new story arc begins with Oracle deciding she needs to fake her death because too many people know that she is Barbara Gordon (or vice versa, I guess). There’s one artistic team on this issue, Ardian Syaf (pencils), Vincente Cifuentes (inks), and Nei Ruffino (colors), which is good, and I am optimistic about what Gail Simone has started in this issue.

Black Widow #8 (Marvel)

Duane Swierczynski’s storytelling gains depth in this issue, mining the Cold War in more personal ways for Natasha/Natalia, and reintroducing Fatale as an ally. However, even if I were so inclined to go out buy Widowmaker, I’m not sure that this storyline is one I would choose to follow, or would feel that I could not afford to categorize as trade/wait. The art, from Manuel Garcia (pencils), Lorenzo Ruggiero (inks), and Jim Charlampidis (colors), is still pushing the soft core too much, but they avoid the worst excesses of the preceding issues.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #5 (Dark Horse)

The first arc of the new series comes to a close and it comes around to Abe and Ben, and some further clues about what’s to come. A lot to look forward to from B.P.R.D. and Hellboy in 2011.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #40 (Dark Horse)

The penultimate issue, and Angel kills Giles (also the Master), Buffy destroys the Seed of the World and seems to go catatonic. A lot to address in the next chapter.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #6 (Wildstorm)

A second mini-series comes to an end with a story about alternate Olivia, which is a nice touch. I assume that DC will continue to put these books out post-Wildstorm. No, they aren’t the best that comics has to offer, but for fans of the show, they are effective uses of the medium as an adjunct to TV, and the artistic standards are pretty high, higher than some ongoing series I read.

Generation Hope #2 (Marvel)

Kieron Gillen keeps the action in Tokyo, and Rogue takes center stage. I like Salvador Espin’s style, and Jim Charlampidis brings the same earth-y tones he does to Black Widow, but why does Rogue have to be drawn so that she is practically falling out of her top?

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (Dark Horse)

Richard Corben and Mike Mignola collaborate on a couple of classic horror stories. Not the strongest of their work together on this title, but I’m not sure that there is an ongoing series that does one-shots like this better than Mignola and his partners. I think any fan of horror and gothic literature could read this issue and enjoy it, not just Hellboy regulars.

I, Zombie #8 (DC/Vertigo)

Chris Roberson and Michael Allred continue to broaden this title into an ensemble piece, but without losing Gwen as its core. Fun sequence with the revived vampire in a UO hoodie. Nice to see when Eugene emerges in the story, rather than just being in the background.

Lady Mechanika #1 (Aspen)

So Joe Benitez’s series gets underway proper, and the writing is not as strong here as in the #0 preview. The Victoriana is more forced, but Mechanika herself remains well drawn and conceived, with a clear voice of her own. As well as she is handled, I wish that Benitez could have resisted introducing the female Commander now chasing Mechanika with such an overtly sexualized pose.

Murderland #3 (Image)

David Hahn draws a bunch of cool looking people doing … I’m not really sure, but they are really intent on it. I cannot follow the story here, and am even more confused by looking at the inside cover and seeing that somehow there are two stories going in this issue. Not sure what Stephen Scott has in mind here except riffing on cultural references to Baltimore.

Mystery Society #5 (IDW)

So the first (only?) story comes to a close. This title settled down into a genial mode, fun, but not over the top. The cast is a little large to be contained by a short run like this. I would like to see more for Fiona Staples’s art if nothing else.

Spike: What happens in Vegas, Slays in Vegas #3 (IDW)

Brian Lynch brings Drusilla into the story, and we get some confirmation that Beck has romantic feelings for Spike. The use and introduction of Dru shows how well Lynch gets these characters. More ambivalent about the way that Nicola Zanni draws the characters. Dru is too voluptuous, head to toe, than she should be. Looking at Franco Urru’s cover makes me wish he was drawing the inside, too.

Uncanny X-Force #2 & #3 (Marvel)

I am liking this title very much. Rick Remender is writing a story that taps into X-Men history, but not one that requires a PhD in the subject to grasp. The cast of characters is suitably dark and damaged, and Jerome Opena draws everyone as long, lean, and athletic looking, a nice change from the usual steroidal and pneumatic art you find in so many Marvel books (the one exception is Wolverine, who is short and stocky as he should be). Dean White’s colors tend to the gray, which fits the cast and the story. Now, if they could only get permission to get Betsy out of that bathing suit.

Uncanny X-Men #530 (Marvel)

Greg Land is back on pencils and so everyone looks like a model or porn star. Emma may wear this well, but for others, it is ridiculous (does anyone really imagine Scott Summers as looking like he just walked off of a photo shoot for men’s cologne?) Mostly, I find the uniformity of the characters to be boring, or even depressing in the case of the X-Men. These are supposed to be outcasts. If every mutant looked as plastic-y beautiful as they do here, wouldn’t more people want to be mutants, instead of rejecting them? On the other hand, Matt Fraction has a tight story this month.

TPBs:

Orc Stain Volume 1 (Image)

I enjoyed James Stokoe’s Wonton Soup books, and considered pulling this series monthly, but decided to wait for the trade instead. I’m not sure how this would read issue-to-issue, the pace is kind of laconic, even as the book does not lack for action, but Stokoe likes slacker dood characters, and his stories tend to move like they do.

The attraction here, as with the earlier series, is the world building, and Stokoe’s imagination seems to run riot with wild ideas for universes made almost entirely from organic material, making everything seem like it could either be food or something that eats. The color work here makes already jam-packed panels seem busy, but I suspect I just need to take a second look without having to follow the narrative as closely.

Despite the self-conscious masculinity of the story and the characters, the one notable woman in the book, Bowie Enocraz Yaramund, the “Poison Thrower”, is self-possessed and powerful in her own right (she even offers direct and indirect comment on the “love nymphs” who make up the remaining women you see). This is perhaps just a good illustration of what happens when an author sets out to write about men being men in a conscious and critical way, instead of presumptively.

Two Step (Wildstorm)

Forthcoming.

TPBs from Powell’s (Burnside store):

Black Orchid (DC/Vertigo).

Glad I got this. Another good example of what Neil Gaiman does well: asking questions about what characters like this and the stories we tell with them mean. I like how Lex Luthor is used as an organized crime figure more than as a super genius here. Dave McKean’s use of color and collage-like art helps to create different tones for different parts of the narrative. That being said, I’m not entirely sure what the thing means on the whole. Will reward on subsequent readings I suspect.

Global Frequency: Detonation Radio Volume 2 (Wildstorm)

Fast moving action and violence. Warren Ellis uses this volume to show more of Miranda Zero, who I remember as more of a shadowy figure from the first volume. Might work better as a movie franchise or TV series than as a comics series, more time on process, and less on the bloody finishes. Cool covers by Brian Wood.

The New X-Men: New Worlds Volume 3 (Marvel).

I am glad that I started picking these up. Having Emma and Jean together is interesting. Grant Morrison also does good work with the political and cultural themes of difference and acceptance, focusing both on non-mutants on how mutants perceive themselves and their place in the world.

The Perhapanauts Volume 1 (Image)

Not as much pure fun as Volume 0, but still an enjoyable team of misfits book. Todd Dezago and Craig Rosseau work their genres with skill, but there is a predictability to how characters develop and how stories unfold, albeit in a comfortable way.

Nyx: Wannabe (Marvel)

I read the Marjorie Liu written mini before coming to the original and I have mixed feelings about this collection.

I like the art, especially Nelson and Chris Sotomayor’s colors; light pastels are an interesting and unexpected choice for a book working so hard to be gritty and urban. I also like seeing a sustained story about mutants outside the scope of the X-Men (something I liked about the follow-up, too). It makes sense that not all young mutants coming into their powers would have the necessary adult support to keep them safe or to find their way to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

On the other hand, Joe Quesada’s writing verges on exploitation fiction, especially in the Zebra Daddy character with his “street” slang, coke sniffing, sharp dressing, misogyny, and pimping. I think that Liu does a better job of getting into the lives of these young, virtually homeless mutants.

Wasteland Book 2: Shades of God & Wasteland Book 3: Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (Oni Press)

It took me a few pages to get back into this series, to reorient myself to the characters and situations, but once I did, I had no doubts about immediately moving from Book 2 to Book 3. I like Christopher Mitten’s grey scale art, the sketchiness seems perfect for a story about a rebuilding world, and the flashback effect is subtle. Sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish between figures and faces, but by the end of both books, I could readily make out the principal characters. I think that Anthony Johnston does an excellent job of writing the narrative and dialogue that makes the world of Wasteland familiar and yet not at the same time.