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Steve Ditko and the American version of the British version of Godzilla – Gorgo #13

August 30, 2012

The great Steve Ditko has gone down many different paths in his highly varied and productive career. He steered a Spaceknight home. He gave life to one of the few heroes who could get away with wearing a feathered boa. He teamed with Wally Wood to put together a comic that mostly sat in a warehouse for years. And so, so much more.

But this, part of his tenure at Charlton, is one of the odder digressions. Gorgo. The monster, the myth, the legend.

Not familiar? Gorgo was a 1961 MGM production, which had for its star power William Sylvester, who’s known to most audiences as Heywood Floyd in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It saw an American salvage ship discover and capture Gorgo off the coast of Ireland, and subsequently bring him to London to be displayed in a carnival. Little did they know, the Gorgo they captured was actually an infant, and Mama or Papa came a-calling to get him back. Much HO scale destruction ensued, as miniatures of London were wiped out by dudes in suits and military stock footage was deployed with abandon. Eventually Gorgo is “rescued” and monster and parent swim off into the sunset.

Yes, it’s the Godzilla of the British Isles.

The film got a bit of a revival in the latter half of the 1990s, as the late, great Mystery Science Theater 3000 mockfest got its hands on it. It’s definitely one of the more enjoyable entries, and worth tracking down if you get the chance. (Hint: It’s easy to find on YouTube.) I’m a huge fan of that show, and it fills me with untold delight that a few movies riffed on during its ten year run had comic books. (Namely The Sword and the Dragon and The Phantom Planet, both of which will one day be chronicled here.) But only one of the movies that was ever picked apart by Mike/Joel, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo had its own series. And a series that was primarily illustrated by an in his prime, fresh off of The Amazing Spider-Man Steve Ditko. And that, my friends, is Gorgo.

Gorgo the comic book was a rather loose adaptation, not really following onto the events of the film — as we’ll see in a moment. Instead it generally focused, much like the Marvel Godzilla series, on a vaguely hero-ish monster battling other more diabolical creatures. It wasn’t the most compelling material, and only Ditko’s presence elevated above the more easily dismissed Charlton offerings (I’m looking at you, Son of Vulcan…).

This particular issue is worthy of note for two reasons: 1) It has several similarities to the movie plot, but substitutes idiot Americans for the idiot Brits, and 2) Commies. Commies are always fun fodder — just ask Thor.

The story, scripted by Joe Gill, opens with a film crew managing to snag some underwater footage of young Gorgo, which they then release as part of a feature film. Said film is seen by a New York professor and his lovely assistant (of course), Jan. The prof gets the bright idea to capture and bring Gorgo to the Bronx Zoo(!), not so much for profit, but for prestige:

He sets out to put together an expedition to snag this potential sensation, but others are onto him. COMMIES. And what do Commies hate more than anything? Americans succeeding at whatever, that’s what:

A few things: First, the Vulture apparently ran the Soviet Union’s Politburo. Second, this comic was published in 1963, so the reference to Mother Russia’s “space triumphs” is quite timely. They had first dibs on the heavens at this point, and Neil Armstrong (RIP) was years in the offing. Third, I have to imagine Ditko, he of the rugged Ayn Rand Objectivist school, had to love drawing evil Communists. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t have horns coming out of their heads. And could you get a more Ditko-y hammer and sickle?

Anyway, the Professor builds his team, which includes Henry, a veterinarian with an aversion to, of all things animals. This makes him quite unpopular with shrewish Jan:

He’s right about not being interested. I could care less. But man, what a bitch.

Off they go, hunting Gorgo. And what’s our eponymous monster doing? Menacing ocean liners? Eating dolphins? Smushing islanders? Nope. He’s napping like a cute-a-saurus:

Awww.

Gorgo awakes and wanders off to play (yes, play), and MAN ASSERTS HIS DOMINANCE OVER ALL BEASTS OF THE EARTH:

Man’s inhumanity to monster.

Gorgo is subdued and netted. But we’re not out of the woods yet. On the voyage, Jan had befriended one of the swarthy crewmen, who looks sort of like a ginger Clark Gable, and this was much to poor Henry’s fist-biting chagrin. But — SHOCKER — he’s a Soviet agent. This gives Henry a chance to reclaim his manhood, one knuckle sandwich at a time:

U S A! U S A!

Gorgo is brought back to New York and chained up in the Zoo. At this point it becomes clear that no one in a position of responsibility has seen the MGM Gorgo movie, or for that matter King Kong. Gorgo snaps his chains and Mama (I guess?) shows up — the cover panels are lifted from the interior — and they return to sea. Oh, and we get some really dopey last words from Professor Ill-Conceived Plan:

It’s always great when a nice guy falls in love with a miserable, life-draining woman.

One of the worst problems in this book is how summarily Gorgo’s escape at the end is handled. It’s pretty much one page. Maybe Gill figured that people had seen the movie, and it would just be rehashing that. But I submit that this concern might have been better dealt with in an earlier draft. Or maybe Ditko was steering this boat. Quite possible. Whatever the case, this things ended too fast, and the conclusion is so abrupt, you lurch like a crash test dummy.

Still, this was Ditko doing what he did. The Professor, with his bushy white mustache and dark brows, is as Ditko a character as they come. And even Gorgo, especially in that capture panel, takes on some of the classic Ditko characteristics (though his fingers were a bit to thick to get the trademark curvature). Storytelling problems be damned.

Finding out that Steve Ditko, of all people, illustrated the comic series based on a terrible movie that got taken apart on my favorite TV show of all time, well, it was one of those unexpected delights that makes wading through all the good and bad of comics worthwhile. Ditko’s Gorgo work has seen scattered reprints, and, while I can’t say that it’s the best storytelling you’ll ever see, if you share similar MST3K proclivities, they might be up your alley. Maybe go on an expedition to hunt them down, but if you do, beware of ginger Commies.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. jeff mezzrow permalink
    November 11, 2012 1:16 am

    thanks for the info! one question; do you know which issues were drawn by ditko? i don’t think he drew the entire series…

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