‘Here there be dragons’ is a phrase that will conjure very specific images, of old maps and charts with monsters drawn in the corner, with the phrase written below to indicate unknown dangers and threats. Whilst this phrase is something of an anachronism, it has been around for centuries, and has been used throughout fiction. And it seems that now it’s the turn for one of the greatest monsters ever made to appear on such a map: Godzilla.
Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons is a historic set story, taking readers back hundreds of years to the British controlled Caribbean of the 1500s, where pirate Mr Hull is awaiting execution for a list of crimes. However, in a bid to delay his death, and possibly prevent it, be offers his captors a tale that can lead to a hoard of fabled treasure, and the hidden mission of English sailor Sir Francis Drake. Thus, we’re treated to flashbacks of pirates, navies, and the fabled Monster Island, as Hull tries to buy his life with his story.
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The premise of Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons is one that I’m surprised isn’t used more. Godzilla and his fellow Kaiju are a staple of the times that their films were made, with stories set between the 1950s and the modern day, and it’s not unusual to see stories set in the future (usually some monster-created post-apocalypse future). But you rarely see these iconic monsters in the past. Perhaps it’s the idea that Godzilla was an unknown quantity when he debuted in the ’50s that puts people off setting stories earlier than that but it seems like a big missed opportunity. This book seems to be trying to cash in on that.
And for the most part it really works well. A good portion of the book plays out the way any kind of historical pirate story would, and it’s not until we see the image of a ship’s course being shown on an old map that has monsters such as Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Rodan dotted around it that you’re reminded that this is a Godzilla story. And I liked that. I liked that the story didn’t feel the need to throw monsters onto the page as soon as possible and instead relied on making a decent story to keep the reader interested. And it is an engaging and interesting narrative that ends in such a way that you want to be able to pick up the next issue straight away.
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The book’s art, by Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz, fits this setting very well. The characters and the environments have a realism that’s needed for these settings, and if you ignored the pages with monsters on them it could easily be a story about pirates in the real world. Everything feels perfectly normal and sane, which makes the inclusions of the abnormal all the more jarring and outstanding.
Whilst the scenes of Hull being interrogated in his cell, or images of ships fighting through rough seas look fantastic, it’s the pages where the art team are able to get a bit more creative that really stand out. There’s a page early on where the image has a brave sailor at the top, has Godzilla’s curling tail breaking the page in half, with a shackled pirate sitting in front of the shape of a compass over Monster Island beneath, and the bottom of the page is filled with treasure that looks absolutely fantastic, and sells the concept of the book perfectly. Plus, the design of the Godzilla-stamped gold doubloon is top tier stuff, and something I want in real life.
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Whilst the art team has gone above and beyond on this book there is one tiny thing that does let it down a tiny bit (though I’m not letting it affect my scoring). The book is set in 1556, and Hull is telling a story about Sir Francis Drake leading his circumnavigation of the globe, and how it’s a cover for him going to Monster Island. But that doesn’t fit the timeline for Drake’s life at all. Drake was born in 1540, making him 16 at the time of this story, and he didn’t do his first circumnavigation until 1577, and wasn’t knighted until 1588. It’s a small detail, but one that history buffs will pick up on, and does take you out of the story somewhat. A simple change to the date where Mr Hull is telling his story to something like 1596 would eliminate this issue, and I did end up checking and rechecking the date given to make sure I’d not misread it.
Despite the issue with where this story could fit in history, Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons is an incredibly fun and inventive book with a solid first issue. I was instantly intrigued by the concept, and found the execution to be very well done. I’m looking forward to seeing where the next part of the story takes things.
Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons #1 is out now from IDW Publishing.