Title: Godzilla in Hell
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writers: James Stokoe (Issue 1), Bob Eggleton (Issue 2), Ulises Farinas and Erick Frietas (Issue 3), Brandon Seifert (Issue 4), Dave Wachter (Issue 5)
Artists: James Stokoe (Issue 1), Bob Eggleton (Issue 2), Buster Moody (Issue 3), Ibrahim Moustafa (Issue 4), Dave Wachter (Issue 5)
Colorists: Ludwig Laguna Olimba (color assist, Issue 3), Marissa Louise (Issue 4)
Letterer: Chris Mowry
Cover Artist: James Stokoe
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. Read at your own risk!
You can’t get much more straightforward than a title like Godzilla in Hell, and on a baseline level, the book delivers what it promises. Over the course of five issues, Godzilla takes a journey through the realm of the damned, encountering old enemies, demons, angels, and horrors along the way. What the title doesn’t tell you is that a cavalcade of great Godzilla storytellers has been enlisted for this Toho-tinged Inferno, and they perform admirably. Yet Godzilla in Hell is where the story stops and ends, and while it’s a beautifully-rendered romp with some interesting ideas, there’s little connective tissue between the installments, and there’s little emotional connection to be found.
I do not, of course, mean to disparage any of the creators involved in making Godzilla in Hell. The Godzilla films are about spectacle, and in Hell has it in spades. But they’re also about how humanity interacts with Godzilla and his foes. The original, Gojira, was a warning about nuclear weapons and the dangers of humanity taking science too far. Many Godzilla films since have also dealt with that theme, such as Godzilla vs. Hedorah with its anti-pollution message or Godzilla vs. Biollante through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, most of which deal with the results of experimenting on Godzilla’s mutant cells. Even when the human stories are thin, as they often are, they provide necessary glue that holds the monster battles together. The only time Godzilla encounters people during in Hell is in a cloud of lost souls that swarm around him just past the entrance, buffeting him and pushing him back. Thus, in Hell is not much more than a collection of the monster battles. Though titanic fights are the draw of any kaiju movie, without human characters, there’s a limit on how much pathos and plot there can be. As such, Godzilla in Hell is more akin to an art book in comics form.
Though there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with that, and clearly, this is what the project set out to do. They aren’t trying to tell a single narrative so much as create fun things to look at and put Godzilla in a context never seen in the movies, and in this, Godzilla in Hell accomplishes its goal. Issue 1, with story and art by James Stokoe, wastes no time in setting up the premise – the first page is a single panel of Godzilla in freefall, descending from an impossible height that stretches to a hole through which shines a reddish glow, illuminating cragged stone walls. He then falls past large letters set into the wall, declaring the title. A strength of Stokoe’s Godzilla is the immense size and weight the monster carries, and that’s on full display here when the Big G creates an enormous impact crater upon landing, even when the words “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE” loom in carved stone behind him. Stokoe’s Godzilla also has an armored look to him that I like, with pronounced ridges and scales. Stokoe gets to exercise a flair for monster creation as well, as Godzilla encounters a copy of himself that opens into a tentacled, fanged demon with impossible mouths.
Bob Eggleton’s issue is painted, accompanied by purple prose in caption boxes that Chris Mowry letters with an appropriately archaic font. The narration fits for both Hell and the painted panels, as they consistently refer to Godzilla as a “leviathan,” the Biblical sea monster. The paintings are reminiscent of Noriyoshi Ohrai’s Godzilla movie posters, with vivid colors that more blend into each other than being divided by linework. Godzilla fights in a hellish cityscape, an icy wasteland, and a stormy sea, all of them beautifully rendered. Buster Moody uses cartooning that echoes doodles or graffiti. Godzilla and Spacegodzilla duel with bright, dynamic energy blasts, with Ludwig Laguna Olimba helping Moody sell their power. Ulises Farinas and Erick Frietas concoct a small story where Mothra-winged angels attempt to enlist Godzilla in the army of God, but Godzilla crushes one like a bug and downright eats a handful of them in the end, even as they offer to worship Godzilla, darkly funny moments that work on the strength of Moody’s ability to show Godzilla expressing indifference and even annoyance.
Brandon Seifert’s story pits Godzilla against King Ghidorah and Destoroyah in a walled city. The monsters kill each other over and over, always retuning to “life,” and I commend Seifert’s idea of such a hellish torment. The shapes of Ibrahim Moustafa’s figures are smooth, but within, the monsters are highly detailed, with scales and ripples. Warped perspectives and wanton destruction sell the impact of these beasts. Marissa Louise uses shades of only a few colors, but the simplicity works well with Moustafa’s lines. Dave Wachter also makes use of a limited palette, mostly reds and grays, with cloudy qualities. He gets to draw Godzilla’s skeleton, which looks as gigantic and heavy as it should, stripped down by red leech/bat demons that later reanimate Goji as a gestalt of themselves. Wachter also creates an immense mountain that dwarfs Godzilla as the beast climbs it, eventually walking through a large gate back to Earth, rising from a tumultuous blue ocean.
Without humans, Godzilla in Hell lacks much of an overarching story, but that was never its mission. Instead, it offers a variety of interpretations of Godzilla, and it’s a feast for the eyes. Though not my favorite Godzilla comic, I was able to enjoy it more than I did some of the movies, and it’s certainly worth a look based on the art.