Gamera: Guardian of the Universe #1-#4
Dark Horse
Story by Dave Chipps
Art by Mozart Couto, Mike Sellers & Art Knight
Covers by Yuji Kaida & Mitsuaki Hashimoto

In order not to bore you to death with only figure reviews, on the third day of Gamera, I give to you… COMIC REVIEWS! Yes I’m reviewing the entire Dark Horse mini-series of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.

Dark Horse optioned this series of comics, right around the time they were losing the Godzilla license. It was a smart move on their part, as they could test the waters with Gamera who had just seen his revival begin with the 1995 film. Unlike Toho, which forbid Dark Horse from using other Godzilla canon kaiju like Mothra or Ghidorah, Daei Studios allowed Dark Horse to use all the characters.

Dark Horse decided to cram as many monsters as they could into the 4 issue run and I suspect their hopes were that sales would be strong enough to offset the loss of Godzilla and start a regular series. Unfortunately, Gamera’s Heisei films were just starting to trickle into the market and all the storylines take place BEFORE Gamera 2: Advent of Legion. In fact, when the comic was first released, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe wasn’t quite on VHS here in the states. Sadly, this was before DVD was the norm and Gamera never got past his 4 issues.

Using classic Gamera villains, Dark Horse was able to stretch the concept and ultimately this makes a great companion piece to Trendmasters Gamera action figures. It’s a shame that these comics and those toys mostly flew under the radar of American audiences, as they offer up some nice additions to the Gamera legacy.

That’s not to say these comics are a perfect set, either. If anything, the entire series is uneven at best. The first issue is pretty standard, introducing us to our “main character” a guy named Lutz. He’s a pilot/con/loser who just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time. He meets up with Asagi Kusanagi from the Gamera films and they end up crossing paths with Gamera (naturally) and a reborn Gyaos.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this and I actually like that they have Asagi here, particularly as the first issue seems to be more about filling the audience in on a dumbed down version of the plot from the first film. Unfortunately, there’s no real reason for Lutz to be here and I can only suspect that Dark Horse felt that an American character would be more appealing than a Japanese girl.

Part of the problem with Kaiju stories is that you almost always have to have human characters, as they drive forward the action. This is especially true in comic form as the monsters can’t talk or provide narration dialogue. Dark Horse struggles a bit here by introducing a very “comic book” villain in the form of Doctor Greta Karbone. She’s diabolical and evil, for no real reason… At least in the first issue.

Karbone has been using stolen samples from Gyaos to create her own race of supermonsters. One of them escapes, a Gyaos, and Gamera is called in to do battle. Dark Horse doesn’t seem to know how to play up the psychic link between Asagi and Gamera and instead it’s sort of a muddy plot point.

The second issue is much stronger, as Gamera and Gyaos not only have a wicked battle, but we get the introduction of Zigra. Truth be told, Zigra is sort of shoehorned in, but for the most part it works and Zigra is actually shown to be a pretty fierce opponent for Gamera.

Throughout the run, the art is decent 1990’s comic art, but nothing you’ll be amazed at. There are some neat Kaiju battles and some inspired death scenes. The best art comes from the covers, which were not done in-house, but simply imported art from Daei’s crew. As good as the second issue is, the last few pages force in an alien character who speaks in “code” and the comic includes a decoder in the back so you can read her secret message. SPOILER ALERT! Don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine! Okay, maybe not that lame, but close.

By the third issue, Lutz has actually grown on me somewhat, although he’s really a despicable bastard. He actually stole Asagi’s Gamera pendant (and removed her from the plot as well!) but he never managed to do anything with it. Greta Karbone continues to get some actual character development (which would have been nice in the FIRST issue) as we learn that as she started to create Viras, the monster began to control her brain.

It’s a nice idea, although it sort of contradicts the first issue when she was clearly a cardboard cut-out nefarious villain. It seems as though writer Dave Chipps may have been making this stuff up as he went along. The end result is that the final characters are fairly engaging, but their journey there is misguided. We get more monster battles and Viras is introduced as the big bad guy for the mini-series.

I approve of this as Viras is an awesome design. Okay, his Showa design wasn’t great, but the concept is solid. He’s also shown mind control powers before, so him using a human vessel to unleash his power is par for the course. Sadly this isn’t as developed as it could be, but I’m inferring that he’s a cool character. I’m allowed to do that.

Unfortunately the alien character drags the whole story down, as she finally starts to speak out of the code and it’s revealed that she’s basically a Neutrino bounty hunter type who is sent here to capture Zigra. When Zigra is killed, she opts to stick around to capture Viras instead. Freena is her name and she offers absolutely NOTHING to the plot. He dialogue is horrible as she can only speak in “slang” and she accomplishes absolutely nothing in any of the issues. I can only assume that Dark Horse added her in to try and punch up the characters a bit.

Ultimately Gamera and Viras do battle, Lutz and friends manage to stop Doctor Karbone and Gamera kicks everybody’s ass. He also yells out GWAAAR several times. I assume he’s a fan?!

Speaking of fans, Dark Horse added a letters section for their final issue. Even they seem to realize this is stupid, as they say it was only a mini-series but didn’t get to printing letters until the last issue. Talk about futile. That said, there is one lonely guy who asks fellow Kaiju fans to write him letters…

I think we should all write him letters now and tell him how we found out about him through the 12 Days of Gamera. I’m sure he’s totally cool with me republishing his address 15 years later. If you write him a letter, please send me a copy too!

In the end, I can’t complain too much. This is not something you absolutely must seek out, but for about $10 you can pick up the whole mini-series. It’s not amazing, but it’s worth a read. Something to enjoy on the crapper and an interesting peek into what it might have been like to have more Heisei versions of Showa monsters.

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