Forty Years of the Other King of the Monsters

Following up on yesterday’s Kong post –
I did this illustration for the 1994 San Diego Comic Convention program book. The original Godzilla movie was released in Japan in 1954 so this piece was to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Godzilla was my favorite monster as a kid. The first Godzilla movie I saw was Monster Zero. I’m not sure how old I was. Maybe 10 or 11. That set up my expectations for what I thought a giant monster movie should be – a story of good monsters fighting bad ones while stomping a city or two. I probably didn’t see the “original” (ie the Raymond Burr Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters) until after I’d seen 2 or 3 other Godzilla movies. I no longer remember which movies those were (maybe vs. King Kong, vs. the Thing and vs. the Sea Monster) but they all featured Godzilla fighting another monster. He wasn’t always the good guy but, to my young self, he wasn’t really the bad guy either. Stomping on human cities was just his job.

The original Godzilla is a grim movie. It’s a little hard to imagine now but it was as much of game changer for big monsters as Night of the Living Dead would be for zombies. Godzilla isn’t just a big monster. He isn’t just a giant monster. He’s thirty stories tall and has radioactive rays for breath. He doesn’t just step on a couple of cars and squish a few people, he utterly destroys Tokyo and leaves thousands dead, dying and maimed. When King Kong died at the end of his movie I felt bad for the poor guy. He only killed a dozen people and mostly those were guys who trespassed on his island. When Godzilla died I figured it was a good thing. He was a walking atomic holocaust.

That was probably the biggest disappointment about the 1998 American Godzilla movie. That Godzilla was a big lizard that ran from human weapons. The big threat he posed was that he’d overbreed and overfeed. That’s not scary, that’s annoying. That’s Godzilla as giant reptilian rat not Godzilla the Atomic Revenge.

Godzilla is no longer my favorite monster. I don’t really have favorites any more. He’s an old friend whose company I still appreciate on the rare times we hang out but that doesn’t happen much anymore.

Everybody’s Favorite Big Ape

The above illustration was done for the 1993 San Diego Comic Convention’s program book to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the release of King Kong.

Back in ’93 I would have said my favorite giant monster was Godzilla not Kong. A big part of that would have been because there were just more Godzilla movies to watch. King Kong had four – the original, the 1976 remake, King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. Oh, and King Kong Lives. So Kong had five movies (and a Kongless sequel in Son of Kong.) And, with the exception of the original, I thought they were all terrible. And, in that pre-DVD age, I rarely got to watch the original.

These days I have a lot more affection for Kong. As an adult human I find I have a lot more in common with a frustrated ape than a radioactive lizard. In 2005 there was another remake of the original story that was pretty good and that helped to spark new interest in the character for me.

Unfortunately there’s still aren’t a lot more stories of Kong to read or watch. Other monsters have multiple movies or novel sequels available. Kong … well … Kong’s story doesn’t leave a lot of room for a sequel. He dies. That’s kinda the point of the story. Civilization (and the girl) comes to his island, kidnaps him and then, when he makes a fuss, civilization kills him. It ain’t beauty that kills the beast, it’s the machine guns and the fall.

Unlike Dracula or Frankenstein, Kong isn’t a supernatural creature so there’s not a lot of room for him to come back. He’s big and tough and can beat up dinosaurs but dropping a thousand feet onto concrete is a pretty sure way to kill just about any mortal creature.

That hasn’t stopped a few folks from trying. There was King Kong Lives, the sequel to the ’76 remake, in which Kong has been on life support for 10 years waiting to be given an artificial heart. I probably could have overlooked the stupidity of that revival method (after falling off the World Trade Center needing a new heart would have been the least of his problems) if the movie had been halfway good.

There’s also Kong Reborn by Russell Blackford. Apparently Kong is kinda, sorta in the public domain. Copyright has expired on the original novel so one can theoretically write new versions of or sequels to that story. I don’t think you could call your story The Return of King Kong because Universal owns the King Kong trademark but I think you could get away with calling it The Return of Kong. You still might get sued by Univeral but you’d have some legal precedents to use in your fight.

Anyway. Kong Reborn tells the story of the cloning of Kong and the delivery of that clone to Skull Island. While I was never bored reading the book it’s not the sequel I’m looking for. Using blood found on the top of the Empire State Building left by the original Kong to create the clone is sort of clever but really round about.

The novel’s premise only works if two very unlikely things happened in 1933. The first is that Kong’s body was burned. Really? The Eighth Wonder of the World? The biggest gorilla in existence? And they burned the body? They didn’t save the skin or the skeleton? Not likely.

The second, even more unlikely, premise is that Skull Island went undiscovered until Jack Denham (grandson of Carl) found it again using his grandfather’s map. There’s no way an island of dinosaurs would go unfound for 75 years. If one of the Venture’s surviving sailors didn’t give away the location then someone would have located it by the end of the 20th century. We use satellites to find ruins in South American jungles and under the ocean. Finding Skull Island would have been a big priority for thousands of scientists and adventurers.

There are other problems but I’m not going to hammer on the book. It kept me amused for a few hours. If I want a better sequel I can write it myself.

That Can’t Be Comfortable

The creature at the top of the image is an example of what one invents when one asks oneself questions like: What if Ghidorah had been a giant insect instead of a dragon? (The answer to: What if Godzilla were a giant clam instead of a dinosaur? hasn’t made it to paper yet.)

The guy with the painful condition on the bottom of the image is from Slime God Summer – another story that’s never gotten farther than the sketching stage.