Take a look at this cover. This is a comic published by Dark Horse in 1993.

cover

Now, since this is a comic that’s clearly trying to succeed by virtue of its premise alone, you probably examined the cover for just long enough to discern that Godzilla is fighting Charles Barkley. Look closer, dear reader, because Godzilla vs. Barkley is a multi-layered piece that bears examination.

Here we see the two titans locked in combat. Our hero, Sir Charles Barkley, is suspended in midair over a burning building, or perhaps standing tiptoe on a streetlight, so we can see his totally rad Nike shoes. His small, cherubic head is frozen in fear, his hands awkwardly holding out a basketball in a feeble attempt to block Godzilla’s mighty atomic fire. The cover explains no fewer than three times that this is a comic in which Godzilla fights Charles Barkley – four times if you include the art itself. That’s probably a little excessive, but I think the caption on the bottom is really there to hide the wonky perspective. Notice how high up Godzilla’s knees are. What’s he standing on?

The next interesting thing about Godzilla vs. Barkley can be found in the credits:

smithee

For the record, “Alan Smithee” is a pseudonym used in the film industry by people who are so ashamed of something they’ve done that they want their names taken off of it. It used to be the only pseudonym that directors were allowed to use, but that rule has been changed, possibly due to the influence of a film called Burn Hollywood Burn, which is about a director whose real name is Alan Smithee but who wants his name taken off of a bad film he directed. Burn Hollywood Burn was itself a bad film, and its director wanted his name taken off of it. That’s pretty meta, but unfortunately the film is so bad that it can’t even be enjoyed ironically.

My point here is that whoever came up with the “plot,” the premise of Godzilla fighting Charles Barkley, the premise that is in effect the comic’s only selling point, does not want to be associated with this work. That speaks volumes about what we have in store. Or perhaps it was all Mike Baron’s idea, or some Dark Horse executive, and they only included Alan Smithee as an inside joke. The truth is lost to history, faded into the foggy mists of 1993.

However, Mike Baron did a surprisingly good job putting this shameful premise into practice. He sets up size as a metaphor for fame and one man’s struggle with returning to his roots and making good with the “little people” who made him what he is.

After the obligatory scene where Godzilla comes out of the sea and tears up a cargo ship, we see Charles Barkley filming a commercial on a beach. So rather than renting out the whole beach and maybe posting guards around the perimeter, the studio making this commercial has decided to keep the entire set inside a radius of maybe 30 feet, and they let beachgoers crowd around this area as much as they like. This gives Barkley the opportunity to rebuff a child.

This child, it turns out, is the grandson of a certified Magical Negro, a black man who possesses magical powers that can help the protagonist but not himself. In this case the magic comes in the form of a silver dollar with incredible supernatural properties, and although it will make Charles Barkley grow 300 feet tall, its original owner has found no use for it except to pitch a single no-hitter in a minor league baseball game.

negro

Or perhaps it was the Negro Leagues. The Magical Negro Leagues. The players themselves would be nothing remarkable, but any white protagonists in the audience would find themselves at the height of cosmic power.

Usually Magical Negroes only show up when the protagonist is white, so perhaps this is some kind of canny subversion. Let’s just say that it is.

Soon afterward, Godzilla shows up on shore and starts terrorizing Los Angeles. This does not halt production on the commercial. Charles Barkley only considers reacting to Godzilla at all when the child returns, silver dollar in hand, and insists that Barkley is “Earth’s greatest warrior.” Calling Barkley a “warrior” is a weirdly specific piece of terminology that comes up again and again in this story. I don’t think anyone ever calls Barkley a basketball player, but he’s called a warrior something like five times.

warrior

Maybe Barkley has actually been to war. For all I know, he could have single-handedly ended Desert Storm with his deadly atomic dunk.

So maybe Barkley feels guilty and out-of-touch. Maybe he’s remembering what life was like back on the mean streets of… wherever it is he came from. In any case he decides to quit filming the commercial and go play some one-on-one with the kid. The Godzilla issue is brought up, but it doesn’t get in the way of the one-on-one game until Barkley flips the silver dollar and grows to be 300 feet tall.

payoff

This is it. This is what you people came for. Not the fight between Barkley and Godzilla – I’m referring to the payoff of the size metaphor. Barkley wants to connect to his fans on a personal level, but now he can’t anymore… because he’s 300 feet tall! Get it? It’s a moment of perfect pathos. Charles Barkley doesn’t want to be big, in any sense of the word, but now that he is, he realizes that there’s no going back. He must serve the people he loves in a new way – by challenging a giant radioactive dinosaur to a cataclysmic game of hoops the likes of which has never been witnessed by MAN!

So, fortunately for humanity, Godzilla picks up on how basketball works pretty quickly. Even more fortunately, there is a “shuttle scaffold” that is shaped exactly like a giant basketball hoop. And Barkley knows where it is. And it’s in California instead of Florida for some reason.

shuttle

But hey, if we’re going to pick at the minor details of something like this, we may as well ask how and why Barkley acquires a giant pair of Nikes for Godzilla.

practice

The plot is treated as resolved when Barkley sets up another hoop for Godzilla in some kind of secluded canyon and convinces him to practice one million layups.

I don’t think that Barkley understands the full gravity of the events he has just set in motion. Godzilla will remain in that canyon, practicing nonstop, possibly for one hundred years. When he returns, Godzilla will be a finely-tuned basketball-playing machine. He will truly be able to take it to the house, if by “house” you mean “500-foot-tall skyscraper.” He will be able to take Shaq’s words to heart and not fake the funk on a nasty dunk. He will be able to throw down… on the human race. He will be unstoppable.

Imagine this, except that Shaq is Godzilla and the backboard is human civilization’s life-sustaining infrastructure. And he doesn’t clean up afterward.

This leaves room for a sequel, but somehow I doubt it ever happened. If anyone can prove me wrong, please do so! The suspense is killing me.


Discussion ¬

  1. Edward Martin III

    “My point here is that whoever came up with the “plot,” the premise of Godzilla fighting Charles Barkley, the premise that is in effect the comic’s only selling point, does not want to be associated with this work. That speaks volumes about what we have in store. Or perhaps it was all Mike Baron’s idea, or some Dark Horse executive, and they only included Alan Smithee as an inside joke. The truth is lost to history, faded into the foggy mists of 1993.”

    Heh. Not THAT lost…

    The truth is far more mundane, I’m afraid.

    The comic book, as far as I know, was conceived somewhere where there must have been no shortage of alcohol. DH had the Godzilla license, so that’s probably what drove the rest. The creative team were chosen and then the book lay fallow for months while one editor after another kept pretending it wasn’t their book. Finally, it ended up with me. I was rarely (and by “rarely,” I mean “never”) in a position to refuse assignments, so now there was a person responsible for completing what must have started in an Unholy Place. The schedule was insane — we had something like eight weeks to complete the book, when normally a book operates on a 6- to 9-month lead (especially if it’s a title containing licensed characters).

    Three different licensors made for an amazing mish-mash of priorities and demands that we had to obey, and Mike Baron (who was absolutely a professional throughout the entire project!) was game for each piece, and did his best to build a story that eachg licensor was happy with. I’m sure, however, it was terribly frustrating for him, and when he asked that the plot be credited to “Alan Smithee,” (the reference was absolutely not lost on my, as I’ve been a filmmaker in addition to an editor), I was in complete agreement. I’m delighted that the credit lasted all the way to the finished product, in fact.

    It was an extremely weird book. I was often assigned extremely weird books when I was at DH.

    Anyway, thanks for the review and the blast from the past!

    Cheers,

    Edward Martin III
    Hellbender Media
    (formerly, editing-bitch at DHC)

Comment ¬

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