World War Kaiju
Review by M.G. Keller
Cleverly written and beautifully illustrated, the new graphic novel WORLD WAR KAIJU is half irreverent homage and half social commentary. It comes from the same place as Ken Holling’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and Mark Jacobson’s GOJIRO and as such, it isn’t for everyone. Those who get it will love it, those who don’t will scratch their head or might even take offense. A quote on the back from the Planet X Control Room Podcast calls it out: “WORLD WAR KAIJU is not about monsters with fisticuffs… these monsters are metaphors, there’s deeper meaning to them.” As long as you’re OK with that, dive right in.
The story takes place in an alternate universe. Instead of the atomic bomb being unleashed on Hiroshima in 1945, the “Fat Man” deployed by the Enola Gay crew is something else entirely – a bonafide kaiju, known to the Japanese as Ryujin. Instead of instigating an atomic age and nuclear cold war, it is monsters that become the crux of the arms race. Nuclear weapons are never invented (though their possibility is speculated). Most of the beasts that the super powers develop (and a few ‘rogue kaiju’ who appear from nobody-knows-where) suggest the monsters we all know and love: Godzilla, Mothra, Angilas, and a few who appear to just honor the Japanese monster aesthetic in general without calling out any one specifically.
So how are the kaiju created and where do they come from? That’s covered in detail by one of the clever appendices to the book – but know that it involves the manipulation of KAI-235 crystals and seems to take some inspiration from the Church of Scientology. And there is more going on, more that we’re not told about in this first volume, only hinted at. We don’t know everything, and it will require future volumes of WORLD WAR KAIJU to discover the extent and nature of the suggested conspiracy.
The book takes liberally from history and fiction for its source material, particularly for its cast of characters. Real figures such as various US presidents, Robert Oppenheimer and Carl Sagan are referenced and seen. Some characters bear a striking resemblance to genre icons like Akira Takarada and Nick Adams, and are named after the real “giants” of the genre like Tsuburaya. The more you know about tokusatsu history, and about real history, the more likely you are to catch the references and enjoy the homages. And how could any story of this type proceed without a shout out to the Mothra twins? They’re here too, in a pretty important role.
Patrick McEvoy’s artwork is nothing short of superb. Most of the panels appear painted, but there is an occasional switching up of style when a change in tone calls for it. The graphic layout employs some interesting techniques such as shifting between illustrated comic and straight-ahead script formatted text, and in no case do these experiments jar the reader. The only complaint would be that, great as the artwork is, the actual design of many of these kaiju falls short. More aesthetically pleasing monsters would have complimented the story and visuals to its benefit. A glimpse of what COULD be can be seen on one page that features a green Ultraman-esque monster, the best looking creature in the book. Hopefully further volumes will contain more in that vein.
Josh Finney’s story is clever, as mentioned. The guy knows his stuff, although some of the credit certainly must be given to Michael Colbert, who is pegged for “additional scenes, concepts and dialog”. Kat Rocha edited the book from concepts that could be a salad of post-50’s sci-fi nonsense into a cohesive, entertaining read. It’s hard to tell exactly who did what in the construction of the story. but it’s obvious that they all did something right.
As mentioned before, this won’t be for everyone. The language is decidedly R rated, so be aware of that before picking it up for your monster obsessed nephew, especially if his parents are of a puritanical disposition.
WORLD WAR KAIJU is available from Amazon or from the website worldwarkaiju.com. Here’s looking forward to the next issue…