Written and art by James Stokoe. Colour assists by Heather Breckel. Published by IDW Publishing.
Godzilla fans have been eating well in recent times. There’s plenty to chew on with Godzilla Minus One recently reaching international audiences to much acclaim, the launch of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on Apple TV+, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire hitting cinemas next year. But if you need more Godzilla in your life, can I make a comic recommendation? James Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half-Century War 2012-2013 comic miniseries is a visually impressive exploration of obsession that’s a must-read.
It begins in 1954, with Japan Self-Defense Force soldier Ota Murakami witnessing Godzilla hit Tokyo for the first time. While he barely survives the situation, it’s enough to ignite a life-long obsession, which involves him joining a special unit dedicated to Godzilla and other giant monsters. Subsequent issues jump to other specific times (1967, 1975, 1987, and 2002) over an almost 50-year span. In these, Ota encounters Godzilla and other fan-favourite kaiju, which evolves his relationship with these creatures. Jumping forward each issue could create a siloed effect. However, Stokoe makes it work by including various throughlines that help instigate and justify the monster battles and encourage character development.
Much of that character development comes from exploring obsession. Ota has dedicated almost 50 years of his life to hunting, tracking, and avoiding being squished by Godzilla. His early encounter spawned a fascination and a duty to eradicate the King of Monsters. He’s young and optimistic. However, as the decades roll on, Ota becomes a broken man from years of trauma and failure. With few friends and no family, all he has is his obsession. He’s Captain Ahab in search of Moby Dick. The real kicker is that Godzilla doesn’t even know that Ota exists. Stokoe unfurls this throughout the five issues. Each time we see Ota, he’s more broken and obsessed. It has taken a toll on his body, with Stokoe depicting him as hunched over and sporting an eye-patch by the end. But Ota can’t stop now. He’s dedicated too much of his life to Godzilla.
Godzilla: The Half-Century War is a visually spectacular comic. Every visual element is rendered in exhaustive detail. Take his designs for Godzilla, for instance. Stokoe renders every scale and spike using fine lines, which are given depth through selective spot-blacks. This level of detail could make the character look static. However, Stokoe finds ways to make the kaiju expressive through posture and facial expression – especially the eyes. These align with the classic poses that fans would recognise but blend nicely with Stokoe’s signature style.
Destruction – a signature element of the Godzilla franchise – is another way Stokoe makes Godzilla: The Half-Century War so impressive. The artist gives just as much detail to the environments as he does the kaiju. The result is detailed buildings (with every window and balcony drawn minutely) in various states of ruination, some with chunks taken out of them while others are captured being toppled. Smoke billows from every direction, and the ground is littered with rubble – which Stokoe has taken the time to draw individual pieces instead of taking shortcuts. It’s the kind of thing that Godzilla fans dream of. But this level of destruction also adds gravity to the situation. As a reader, you’re reminded of what these creatures are capable of and their immense power.
Colouring detailed art like this would be a painstaking task if Stokoe and colour assistant Heather Breckel went for an exact match. Instead, like many of Stokoe’s other works, the comic uses a colour palette of warm purples and reds – with a few location-specific tones for contrast – that selectively wash over the page. It becomes the best approach, as these colours add to the chaos of the destruction – setting the mood instead of trying to be accurate.
The final piece of the visual puzzle is the lettering. Stokoe uses it to great effect to portray the action and emotion. Instead of the standard block lettering sitting on top of the art, the sound effects are baked in and take on the physical qualities of what they’re trying to sound like. Part of why this is so successful is because Stokoe is doing it all by hand. This allows for more harmony with what’s on the page, sometimes sitting behind figures or being more directional as it follows a laser beam’s trajectory.
The most impressive, though, is the depiction of Godzilla’s roar. Stokoe takes block lettering and gives it a densely jagged effect to the point that it’s almost eligible. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen to the iconic rumbling shriek visually represented. It even has a tail at the end for that modulated shift in sound.
There are a lot of Godzilla comics out there. While many are fun, none match James Stokoe’s vision for the King of Monsters. It’s a visual tour de force, immensely detailed to show off the destruction and bring these giant monsters to life. Every element in Godzilla: The Half-Century War works harmoniously to highlight a story about obsession, which will have you obsessed with this comic.