September 30, 2007

Varan The Underrated

A Siberian butterfly is discovered by a student in a remote region of Japan. This prompts two researchers to head there to do further research. They pass a desolate village where the villagers shy away from the newcomers. They venture into a forest nearby and are able to find another of the red-tailed butterflies. But they also discover something much larger. Or rather, it discovers them.
The institute that the two explorers came from learn that the men were killed, and even more distressingly, their jeep was crushed. So of course three other people (Kenji, Yuriko the reporter, and a camera man) have to go to that exact same area to find out what happened. This time the villagers are found within the forest engaged in some sort of religious ceremony, where they beg "Baradagi" for forgiveness after it was enraged by the trespassing explorers days earlier. However, Kenji denounces their God as superstition, despite the monstrous roar that would occasionally blast through the air. I'm just saying that it didn't sound like thunder, folks. The dog ("CHIBEE! CHIBEE!") of one of the younger villagers runs past a fence marking "the point of no return", prompting his owner to give chase. The village priest forbids any of the other villagers to go after them, lest they anger Baradagi further. But the research group, unafraid of the unknown, decide to rescue them. When they return and declare the boy is safe, the villagers decide that maybe their God isn't real after all, and decide to head out after him. They come upon the bank of a lake, the surface of which begins to foam. The recently converted disbelievers stare in horror as a large reptilian head pokes out of the water. It turns out their "god" is in fact real, and they run for their lives. All except the priest, who tries to repel the fifty meter tall reptile by frantically waving a religious instrument (stick) at him. He is crushed by falling trees. Kenji dubs the monster Varan, a species of dinosaur that somehow managed to survive into the present. Well, the present of 1958. In retaliation for his disturbed sleep, Varan levels the village, then returns to his lake.
Instead of cordoning off the entire lake and leaving the monster in peace so that it won't go on another destructive rampage, the Japanese Special Defense Force decides it would be wiser to agitate Varan out of his lake and destroy it. Because it worked so well against Godzilla (two of them), Anguirus, and Rodan. Of course, it doesn't. The cannon shells explode harmlessly off Varan's skin, prompting everyone to retreat as the spiked dinosaur looked for revenge. After the humans eluded Varan's grasp, they figured it would once again return home. However, it instead climbed a nearby mountain, raised it's arms to reveal flaps of skin connected from his arms to his legs, and proceeded to glide away into the distance.
Varan surfaces in the sea, heading towards Tokyo. Helicopters and battleships are deployed, but their efforts to stop him are futile. Meanwhile, a new type of dynamite is revealed that packs a punch powerful enough to crumble mountains. But it works best if detonated inside its target. The triphibian kaiju eventually surfaces at Japan's capital city and shrugs off firepower from the tanks and missile launchers awaiting his visit. A truck full of the experimental explosive is planted in Varan's path, and when it explodes under him, it seemingly knocks him out. Only for a moment, however, as the creature rises once more and starts his destructive march towards Tokyo's heart. Flares are fired above Varan's head in order to distract him, but it decides to eat them instead. This gives the JSDF the idea of attaching the dynamite to flares so that it can reach its full potential inside of their foe's stomach. The flares are fired, and Varan apparently enjoyed the searing sensation of fire on his tongue as he gulps down two more of them. When one bomb goes off, the creature collapses and begins to stumble back towards the ocean. As soon as he is submerged, a large explosion erupts from the waves, and Japan decides the great Varan is no more.

We are led to assume that Varan died at the conclusion of the film, but the explosion was far bigger in the water than it was when we saw it explode inside the kaiju. My guess is that, whilst in the water and unseen from our eyes, Varan must have purged the second bomb. Why not, as the first explosion inside his stomach would probably have made him vomit anyway. You can't have something blow up inside you without feeling the need to hack something up. You could back up this theory with Varan's appearance in the all-star monster bash Destroy All Monsters, although most feel that this is a separate creature. He makes a very brief cameo and doesn't do anything important except enable the producers to boast a larger kaiju count in this flick. Advertising eleven monsters rather than ten will guarantee you an additional $5,000 in revenue. Since Varan's self-titled movie was in black in white, it isn't until DAM that we learn that he is a sort of tan color. I think he would look better in purple, which was how he was portrayed in the first Godzilla title for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Am I getting off track here or what?

Varan has a back story that resembles that of King Kong. He is an unseen god feared by the residents of a village who hold religious ceremonies, hoping to appease him. Even the film's main theme, scored by genre favorite Akira Ifukube, features drum beats and chanting one would expect to be used in worshipping an ancient deity.

Varan can travel by land, sea, and air. If only he could actually fly and burrow underground, he'd have all the bases covered. Usually crawling on his hands and knees out of water, he moves slow on land. And I mean sloooooooooooooooooooooooooow. It's a good thing he can swim and glide, because that's when he really cruises. He walks so slow that during the scene where the army retreats from the failed ambush at his lake, the female lead stumbles around, gets pinned under a fallen tree, and is rescued by the male lead after he went searching through the forest for her when he made it back to the village and noticed she wasn't there. All before Varan could even get to the girl when she wasn't that far away from him in the first place.

I like to think Godzilla and Varan are related. Both are deemed to be dinosaurs (in the Toho universe) long thought to be extinct. They both have spikes along their backs. Their roars sound similar. They spend their off-time underwater and are quite adept at land travel. The difference lies in the fact that Godzilla was... I guess you could say "lucky" enough to be exposed to nuclear fallout. The results of that are the ability to spew a radioactive beam and being indestructible. As far as kaiju go, Varan is one of the more brilliant. Unlike monsters like Godzilla, who just marches forward and only tramples what's in his path, and King Ghidorah, who mostly flies above cities and fires his beams indiscriminately, Varan seems to actually pick targets and hone in on them. This is seen when he first attacks the small village close to his home, as he purposefully crushes each house. It's almost as if he knew he knew that his antagonizers resided there, and was paying them back for disturbing his own dwelling. With the job done, Varan returns to the lake instead of aimlessly wandering around to cause senseless destruction.

Final note: A DVD behind the scenes feature shows that the spikes on the Varan suit are nothing more than cut pieces of hose. Talk about destroying an illusion.

And that's just the way it is.

Godzilla Returns... In A New Medium

Godzilla Returns is the first in a four (almost five) novel series by Marc Cerasini. All are original stories featuring an all-star cast of kaiju that have co-starred with Godzilla over the years. Published in 1996, but set in 1998, this book takes place 44 years after Godzilla's first rampage in Tokyo back in 1954 (in case you didn't want to do the math). Apparently the events of the Showa or the Heisei era of Godzilla films didn't take place in what we'll refer to as The Cerasini Era. So things have been quiet in the near half-century since the kaiju king last appeared. This particular book seems reminiscent of the movie The Return of Godzilla, or Godzilla 1985 on our side of the ocean (if you're reading this in America). Aside from the similar sounding title, Godzilla is the sole monster in this book, who awakens and revisits his old stomping ground of Tokyo.

A Russian nuclear submarine is crushed by a U.S.O. (unidentified swimming object, I made that up) after their missile defense and evasive maneuvers fail. Excavators observe that the radiation emitted from the "decommissioned" sub is gone and can offer no explanation on what occurred. Two years later, more unexplained ocean disasters take place, but it isn't until one such wreck leaves survivors behind that the world discovers that Godzilla lives.

Brian Shimura is a a young Japanese-American who has lived in the United States for his entire life. It's when his late father beckoned him to revisit his homeland that Brian decided to take up a newspaper internship at INN (Independent News Network) in Tokyo. He meets American teenager Nick Gordon, a science correspondent in training at INN who is also going to be his roommate. While Brian doesn't have much of a distinct personality, Nick is a brash and girl-crazy delinquent. I suppose the writer expected the reader to get into a character like this, but you'll probably hate him.

The day following an evening of experiencing the Tokyo nightlife, Brian meets May McGovern, the boss' personal assistant who we discover is the former love interest of Nick. May introduces Brian to Everett "Boss Gaijin" Endicott III, the chief of the Tokyo news bureau. It turns out that the boss hates Nick Gordon as much as you will by the time the book ends. Then Brian meets Yoshi Masahara, a young Japanese man who is one of the best cameramen on their side of the Pacific.

As soon as the Japanese government learns that Godzilla has been causing trouble in the Sea of Japan, Brian, Nick and Yoshi are secretly put on assignment to cover the monster's advance. A meeting is held in Endicott's office, and we are introduced to the world's two top Godzilla experts: molecular biologist Dr. Hiroshi Nobeyama and Admiral Maxwell B. Willis, who turns out to be Brian's uncle. After a briefing by Dr. Nobeyama's assistant, Lieutenant Emiko Takado, the crew is relocated to a research vessel in the Sea of Japan to monitor the King of the Monsters as he does battle with the Japanese Self-Defense Force. The radioactive dinosaur is unfazed by the barrage of missiles and gunfire by the various ships and helicopters, and the attack is called off after he destroys a few of them.

A meeting is held where Dr. Nobeyama concludes his theory that conventional weapons can't harm Godzilla are correct. Meanwhile, the gigantic antagonist finally lands on the Japanese island of Honshu, where the army opposes him with shells full of cadmium, a substance used to contain nuclear fires. But both those and napalm attacks did little more than to enrage the Big G as he fought back and took away the lives and habitats of thousands of Japanese.

After they were split up to cover Godzilla's path of destruction from different angles, Brian, Nick, Yoshi, and Lt. Takado are reunited. However, it is only temporary as Brian and Nick are fired from INN, Endicott claiming that it was a measure to be taken to protect both their lives as well as their imminently successful futures. But instead of taking a helicopter back home as they were ordered, Nick and Brian hop in a car to follow Godzilla's expected march through Tokyo. The monster finally does emerge in Tokyo Bay and trashes the Self-Defense Forces' pitiful attempts at repelling him, including knocking down a barrier of high-tension wires that we've seen used against him so many times before. The story details the chase of the two former INN interns as they "tail" Godzilla at close range and the high danger they face. The living nuclear weapon soon takes out Tokyo Tower, where a small crew of INN reporters, camera people, and Yoshi Masahara were broadcasting. Nick and Brian soon come upon INN Headquarters, now nothing more than a pile of rubble. There they discover Endicott, who said he sent everyone home except for May McGovern, who was in the building when it collapsed. Nick and Brian dig through the debris to find her and they manage to pull her out of the elevator where she was safely trapped. A helicopter containing Yoshi, who managed to escape Tokyo Tower before its collapse, sets up a camera to broadcast a final news report.

Since they failed to convince various politicians and special interest groups about Godzilla's powers and intentions earlier, Dr. Nobeyama and Admiral Willis secretly concocted a plan that they were certain would lure Godzilla away from their homeland. A device which imitated the call of birds was loaded onto a plane and flown over the invincible kaiju. Godzilla's brain, like that of dinosaurs in which they are bird-like, started to follow the plane as Nobeyama and Willis flew towards the Mariana Trench. They dive bombed into the water, taking both their lives and Godzilla with them.

All in all, a very worthy edition to Godzilla lore, although it does exist in its own chronology. As I said before, you can tell Marc Cerasini is a fan of the big guy and it shows. You'll probably want to read the three sequels, especially since familiar kaiju from the movies show up in droves. Bob Eggleton, himself a major Godzilla fan, created a fantastic cover for this and most other Random House books for this franchise. Cerasini does an awesome job describing what it feels like to take a direct hit from Godzilla's radioactive breath. Burning clothes, melting skin, the works. It's a slow and painful death that will make you wish you were squished under his massive foot instead.

There are some homages paid to the scenes that American distributors inserted into the films Godzilla and The Return of Godzilla when there were released in the States. For those who aren't in the know, Raymond Burr's Steve Martin character is not in the original Japanese films. Anyway, Nick Gordon makes reference to a movie documentary and book based upon Steve Martin's point of view during Godzilla's original invasion. It even mentions that Martin was portrayed by Burr in the documentary. And as a nod to Major McDonahue in the 1985 rendition, he occasionally refers to the Big G as "Wonder Lizard", giving you another reason to hate Nick Gordon.

Most of Godzilla's journey takes place in the ocean, starting with his awakening, his initial destruction of several commuter and fishing boats, his first assault with the JSDF, and the instances when he was completely submerged, leaving the world wondering where he would strike next. Joe Mauceri of World of Fandom calls it "a high-sea adventure" and "an homage to Herman Melville's Moby Dick", in which the big black leviathan is a stand in for the big white whale. Once again drawing comparisons to The Return of Godzilla is the ending, although there is the slight twist of the heroes who utilized the bird-call device sacrificing themselves.

And in what can be seen as a sad ending, main character Brian is the only one who doesn't end up with an Asian girlfriend, and for that, he has my highest level of sympathy.

And that's just the way it is.

September 17, 2007

My Kaiju Credentials

My first interaction with Godzilla came with a small action figure I'm sure most boys had as children, the seven inch tall green monstrosity with bloody lips and a silver chest. I was a mere toddler when I first acquired it, and it wasn't till my preteen years where I decided to explore the world behind this plastic articulated doll.

The first Godzilla film I ever watched was Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, followed by Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla 1985. That's all the local video rental store had. I began to amass my own library of Godzilla titles by buying VHS copies of movies such as Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and recording titles such as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Son of Godzilla off of TV. Eventually I had every single movie featuring Godzilla or one of his well known monster allies like Mothra and Rodan. Now with the advent of that new-fangled technology Digital Versatile Discs I'm buying them all over again. At least these copies won't wear out and sometimes feature subtitles. True fans watch their kaiju flicks with original Japanese tracks.

Favorite Kaiju: Godzilla, Gigan, Biollante, and Varan
Favorite Godzilla Movies: Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, and Godzilla.
Favorite Godzilla Era: Heisei

Perhaps as a testament to my Godzilla fandom, I tied for first place with two others in a 1998 Godzilla trivia contest on America Online. This remains as one of my life's great accomplishments 26 years later. The contest was held mostly to promote the American Godzilla movie that came out that year. You know, the one featuring the mutated iguana that is mostly reviled by fans and non-fans of Godzilla movies alike. But the triva questions, I think ten, were mostly about the Japanese series. Questions about Mechagodzilla's weight and what other book did Marc Cerasini, who created a series of original Godzilla books, write? I was mostly aided by a book I owned called The Official Godzilla Compendium, a treasure-trove of information about "The Living Nuclear Weapon". My prize consisted of Godzilla-centered literature, such as a few books by the aforementioned Cerasini and Scott Ciencin, a "making of" book for the American Godzilla movie, and even the novelization of that very movie. Also, another copy of the Compendium. I guess I wasn't supposed to have my own before partaking in the contest.

Let me talk more about the prize. In the mid-90's, publisher Random House received the rights from Toho, Godzilla's movie studio, to publish original books based on their kaiju franchise. The powers that be turned the pen to authors Scott Ciencin and Marc Cerasini to craft whole new adventures for the King of the Monsters. To my knowledge, this is the first instance of original Godzilla books for an American audience only.

Scott Ciencin's stories were written with the younger crowd in mind, featuring children costarring with the large lovable lizard lug. It's been a long time since I read them, but I do recall them being serviceable for its audience. But as I wasn't in the target age group, I can indeed confirm they were for a younger crowd, who I'm sure loved the book.

Then there's Marc Cerasini, an accomplished author and lifelong Godzilla fan who was given the job of writing a different set of books for an older audience. Books based on the concept of giant monsters smashing Japanese cities? Without any pictures? The results of this project had the potential to suck very badly if they turned it over to someone who saw the kaiju (giant monster) genre as nothing more than men-in-latex-monster-costumes tromping through cardboard sets of mock buildings. The dialogue would probably have been as horrendous as the dubbing for the American release of Godzilla 2000, where they substituted the original lines for awful tripe. But as you read Cerasini's take on "G", you discover that the author actually cares for what he writes instead of going for a quick n' easy cash-in, because we all know Godzilla fans would have laid down a paper Lincoln portrait for this book before knowing if it were worth it. I know I would have. But since this was only the first in a series, if we didn't like it, why the hell would we buy its sequels? And why the hell is spell checker telling me that "dialogue" is spelled incorrectly?

Speaking of books with pictures, there's also my small collection of Godzilla comics. Two different series created by two different comic houses (Marvel and Dark Horse) in two different time periods (1977-1979 and 1987-1999). In Marvel land, a green Godzilla with back fins who breathed real fire as opposed to to a radioactive beam surfaces in the United States and goes on a country-wide tour throughout its 24 issues, where he encounters quite a few well-known Marvel heroes. Dark Horse featured a correctly drawn Godzilla who faces a new myriad of monsters, as well as being sent through time to experience key events in human history. I only have a few issues from each series, but I am looking to expand my collection.

I can't claim to be a "hardcore" kaiju-phile. I couldn't tell you the names of the actors that performed as the monsters, nor can I remember the real and on-screen names of the supporting cast of humans. I do know a horde of info about the actual movies and monsters themselves. The whole reason for this blog entry is sort of an introduction to what will be a host of reviews of Godzilla's films and books. And to show off my qualifications.

And that's just the way it is.

September 6, 2007

The Brotherhood

Let's spend a little time talking about a man of greatness. A man of humor. A man of art. A man noble enough to know winning isn't everything and when to call a truce for the betterment of all. His name? James Gannon. This is his story.

The first submission to my web site's Official Listing of James Gannons was e-mailed to me on behalf of his friend Daniel Ryan. He describes James as "idiosyncratic, funny, and can be and a prince of a guy." He's an artist from New York. Dan tells me James is a renaissance man. An artist, thank God. Clearly a credit to J.G.s everywhere. On behalf of James Gannons worldwide, whether they be in America or Ireland... welcome.

This blog entry is pretty much over. Don't bother reading the rest. Trust me, I know what's coming. (The author of this blog would like to warn you that he is about to ramble about a topic of interest to nobody.)

A little known fact (because I haven't told anyone) is that I only started the listing because an unknown entity owned the web domain From 1996 all the way to 2006 when I finally registered my own site at, it was owned by a mysterious someone who did absolutely nothing with his domain during that time. Today, it's owned by a real estate agent. Maybe some day, Mr. Jim Gannon of Schiller Real Estate may join my prestigious list. Or I may exclude him out of spite. No... I don't want to seem racist against my own people. The James Gannon race. But wait, he clearly identifies himself as "Jim" Gannon, so I can leave him out. But "Jim" is a variation of "James", isn't it?

The original directory of people whom I shared my name with was tucked away on the bottom of my bio page. I also decided to just call it the "Listing" instead of "Rankings", because I don't want a war to erupt amongst us. So I'll just list them as I find them. But I'm also putting myself on the top of the list. Why?

Scroll down lower and I'll tell you.

Because it's my site, damn it. What started merely as a gag could have some good potential. James Gannons are not just members of society. We ARE society.

And that's just the way it is.

September 4, 2007

Penny Arcade is Weird/Bischoff Creates Cash

With a fifty dollar gift card for Barnes & Noble I received for my birthday, I headed down to the bookstore to cash in my prize. Which store? Is your reading comprehension really that bad?

Read in a couple of days was Penny Arcade Volume 4: Birds Are Weird. The latest compilation of strips for obscenely popular web comic Penny Arcade archives their works from the year 2003 A.D. Much like their previous graphic novel titles, such as Attack of the Bacon Robots, there is no commentary about the oddities of our avian adversaries, just cover art where our heroes keep a cautious eye on a lone pigeon.

Highlights of this volume include: Cardboard Tube Samurai epics, the grand voyage of Fruit Fucker, Charles chicanery, N-Gage bashing, and Electronics Boutique's (now Gamestop) war veteran manager Frank adding Gabe's pants to what must be a grand collection. But perhaps most important, the Pac-Man watch changes wrists again! One of my favorite comics regards wholly defunct gaming company Acclaim's... "claim" to cease its support for Nintendo's Gamecube gaming system. "That was awful nice of them," chimes Gabe.

The second book I tackled was mammoth sized. So big that it took me FIVE DAYS to read. However, when I finished reading Controversy Creates Ca$h, by Jeremy Roberts, I only wished it was longer. CCC is the biography of ultra-successful business man Eric Bischoff, an individual heralded by those who know him and despised by those who don't.

The book chronicles Eric's life from its humble beginnings in Detroit, all the way to the end of his tenure as General Manager for World Wrestling Entertainment's RAW brand. Sandwiched in between were such jobs as owning his own landscaping company, an overachieving salesman, creating televsion shows, and even crafting a kid's game. Not to mention his stint with Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association to his meteoric rise in World Championship Wrestling.

The majority of Controversy is the touching story of boy finds company, boy gets company, boy loses company. Much like his early years as President of WCW, Eric pulls no punches when it comes to describing his co-workers, both past and present. He calls it like he sees it and tells his side of the story on such matters like the firing of Steve Austin, why Nitro debuted head to head with RAW, and what went wrong when Hulk Hogan was "fired" at Bash at the Beach 2000. Chances are high that you're a wrestling fan if you purchase this book, and you won't be disappointed with the content. Unless you're expecting a lot of accounts of locker room mischief. Bischoff instead focuses on the corporate world of Turner (which was bought out by Time Warner, which is bought out by AOL), which turns out was far more hectic and political than a roster of wrestlers jockeying for position.

Like all biographies from controversial sports figures, you should be leery on whether or not all the accounts are presented factually. Maybe the book's subject padded some of the negative claims made about them. For years, the Internet Wrestling Community has been doing everything in their power to discredit the man they unaffectionately referred to as "Uncle Eric", and now for the first time, Bischoff is afforded the chance to clear his name.

The book has been criticized for shining a heavenly light on World Wrestling Entertainment's CEO Vince McMahon. Maybe if they read it past the prologue, they would have found that Eric not only gloats about his Nitro beating McMahon's RAW in the ratings for a year and a half, but also takes credit for the WWE's current winning formula. Maybe there's a chance that two successful business men have respect for each other?

Final warning: Reading this book will likely change your negative opinions on Mr. Bischoff. If my review was too pro-Bischoff for you, may I recommend you check out Ric Flair's To Be The Man. The Nature Boy sucker punches Eric while he's on the phone in that one.

Now I just need to decide what to spend the remaining $15.82 balance on my gift card on.

And that's just the way it is.