Friday, 8 June 2012
On Godzilla #1 by Swierczynski & Gane: Reader's Roulette 2:4
Please do be aware: there be spoilers ahead.
So far, Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane's Godzilla isn't really about giant monsters at all. Those exceptionally big horrors are present and correct, of course, and they're flattening cities and terrifying innocent citizens just as we'd expect and indeed rather cruelly want them to. But what Forty Stories Of Sheer Terror is really concerned with is the celebrating of machismo. It's a fearsomely blokeish story, in which impossibly tough, intimidatingly bemuscled men of - as we're repeatedly told - "violence" survive the most over-whelming of disasters through their dinosaur-defying powers of uber-manliness.
Our point-of-view character in Godzilla is one Boxer, who once served with the "hardest of the hardboiled" in the British Army and now makes his living as a bodyguard to the hyper-rich. How hard would being the "hardest of the hardboiled" make a man, you might ask, and the answer is that he's not just tougher than your average indomitable hero, but tougher than your average super-hero too. This is a bloke who can climb down thirty and more floors of elevator cable with his bare hands with a fifteen year-old girl hanging onto his neck and the building collapsing around them. (Even having to swing from side to side to avoid a peppering of bullets doesn't slow Boxer down.) Then, with no sign of his palms having been shredded to the bone or his arms exhausted by the experience, Boxer's capable of taking a further at-least two storey tumble in his stride. In fact, he lands on his neck, and yet bounces straight up and tears off in search of safety, making sure to haul his youthful in-her-pyjamas responsibility with him This is a tough, tough hard man, and the way in which Gane gives Boxer a considerable similarity to Popeye can hardly be a coincidence.
Played for laughs, or even with a telling touch of Sly'n'Archie self-depreciation, this might be splendid stuff, but sadly that's not how the tale's told. The absurdly butch is played entirely straight, and the tale lacks even the slightest wink at the audience. Boxer is a throwback to the days when the mannified lead of an actioneer couldn't even wince like John McClane tip-toing over a corridor lined with broken glass. Only the most stereotypical of angst-ridden events can touch this man, it seems, and they're all beats which involve predictable, over-ripe moments of blokeish woe. There's a dead daughter he wasn't there to save, a bitter wife who blames him, and now a slaughtered client of a young lass on his conscience. The manly angst of it all powers one cheap melodramatic excess after another, and it would only take a slight twist of the script to render Godzilla #1 a highly effective satire of macho adventure fiction. And so, as you might now expect, there's a scene in which we see Boxer's horrified and silently screaming face contorted with pain at the death of the girl he was supposed to be protecting, as well as, yes, a panel in which he kneels down and tenderly holds her as she expires in his arm, and, yes, there's also a scene of his wife beating her hands against his chest while declaring "You should have been here ... She died because you weren't here." while he weeps over his own daughter. No sentimental cliche left to rot in its grave, no empty-hearted triteness willingly left unexploited. The few slight innovations on show, such as the social minorities who mostly serve in this first issue in the role of well-loved/much-missed victims, can't liven up what seems to be a once-more-round-the-block macho revenge fantasy. Though Swierczynski most certainly writes an ingenious set-piece based on Boxer and Gwen's attempts to escape the skyscraper they're trapped in, it's just a show pony of a sequence in the absence of anything of character mixed with the stifling presence of all that manliness.
But although Forty Stories Of Sheer Terror lacks much of originality and feeling in its script, there's certainly no lack of spirit and enthusiasm on the page. Gane's art is particularly impressive, a lavish and skillful celebration of all things monstrous and testosterone-soaked. At times, his pages suggest the work of an Art Adams who's as taken by the naive simplicity of ligne claire every bit as much as by the fetishistically detailed set-pieces of the Michael Golden/Marshall Rodgers school of superhero books. Simplicity and complexity sit together, the smartly naive and the sophisticated side by side. Complex cityscapes being flattened by Godzilla reveal, at second glance, the energetic, expressive freehand stylings of an artist determined not to bleed the life out his work by a literal minded pseudo-realism. Yet at a few key moments, the storytelling is hard to immediately follow. Is the reader looking at the ruined innards of a building whose four walls are still intact when Gwen and Boxer open the lift door? Why do the backgrounds of the frames showing Gwen's shooting become nothing but black when the reader could really do with knowing exactly where all the characters are in relation to each other and the setting? But at all times, there's an irrepressible good humour and energy about Gane's pages, and although that can chaff against the relentlessly dour ultramasulinity of the script, there's a great deal to savour in his inventive and purposeful artwork
The appeal of the new Godzilla title is a straight-forward one. The world order is collapsing, the Republic's government is incompetent, there's skyscraper-tall killer creatures destroying even the supposedly monster-resistant domiciles of the rich, but never fear. There are violent, angst-ridden, muscle-bound killers who've lost their significant others and are gathering to have their revenge. If you like poker-faced, shoulders-back super-lads fighting giant radioactive creatures, then this really is the book for you. Well, why not?
Reader's Roulette Rating; Some predominantly splendid places from Gage partially redeems what's really no more than some only-for-the-sweaty-vest-crew scripting by Swierczynski. One for the niche audiences only, I suspect, although Michael Bay could make a sweep-up-the-popcorn-movie-takings film out of it all.