Wednesday, January 24, 2007


It's very clear this is a Steve Ditko comic as he put his name right there in the bottom left corner of the first page. As for Joe Gill, like many of his productions, he was never credited. Still, most of Charlton comics were written by him and it is common knowledge he did this series.

As with most of these reviews, this is mainly going to be a summation of the comic with a few comments from me. For those who are worried, there will be spoilers.

The story starts out in media res, the opening splash page showing the young Gorgo destroying some Central American city while in the foreground, dictator Mandel Astro convinces this country's leader to surrender because "The beast destroys your nation at my orders!" Gill is obviously pulling this story out of the headlines of his day. In the early '60s (the time of the Cuban missile crisis) Cuba was the big fear. Communists at the country's border and all that. Ditko adds to the obviousness of the caricature (Mandel Astro/Fidel Castro) by dressing the dictator in a military uniform and continually chomping a cigar.

On to the next page and we jump back "some months before" when Astro is informed of Gorgo's presence. Astro forces Dr. Valzo -- a scientific aid who has promised control over any living thing -- to go out and make the creatures obey him. Valzo is worried but Astro convinces him:

VALZO: "S-serve you president? It would destroy me, it w-would..."
ASTRO: "Perhaps, Valzo, only perhaps! But, of a certainty, I will destroy you if you fail!"

By the next panel, Valzo has set out to capture Gorgo and his mother.

On page 3 (pictured), we've gone on to the capture of the younger Gorgo. Both in the opening splash page and in this page, there are references to the creatures being wounded in a previous battle. I can only assume this is from earlier issues of the comic book. The creatures are found east of Long Island.

Valzo uses an electrical rod to control the young Gorgo in a much less wordy sequence underwater. Electricity not only hurts Gorgo, it actually stuns him, allowing Valzo to tie up the creature and tow it along back to their native country. There, for several pages, Valzo trains Gorgo to do his bidding.

Astro, impatient as any comic book dictator would be, has Valzo send Gorgo across his border (apparently this isn't an island nation) and defeat the enemy's forces. After Gorgo crushes the city, we are returned to the conversation between Astro and his enemy, who threatens to shoot him.

ASTRO: Shoot me and Dr. Valzo will send the monster after you.
ASTRO: You want that amigo? You want it coming for you, talons, teeth and tail? Or would you rather flee with the millions you have stolen from your poor, down-trodden people?

That's pure pulp dialog, but man it's fun.

But as Astro celebrates his victory, Valzo meets with his "pet" and tells him he will no longer use Gorgo to win power for others. "It is I who will reap the rich rewards!" Valzo orders Gorgo to take out Astro as he gives a speech from a balcony, telling his people not to revolt. By the end of the page, we see Valzo wearing his own uniform under the caption:

"When the dust cleared, the abused proletariat had a new master in the palace but there was no real change..."

Valzo teaches his army to control Gorgo and sets off to conquer yet another nation. Finally, as they reach the border, Gorgo has had his fill. He turns on Valzo and then faces Valzo's army. But the new dictator makes his escape as his army fights. He makes off to a waiting yacht filled with gold bullion plundered from the country's treasury.

But Gorgo follows the dictator. The yacht's crew deserts him, but Valzo makes a desperate attempt to escape the monster. Out at sea, he puts the ship on automatic and prepares to gloat. Unfortunately:

"Yes, Valzo forgot that Gorgo was a marine animal ... more at home in the water than on dry land ..."

Gorgo destroys the yacht, and Valzo floating on the sea make a desperate plea for his life. Surprisingly, Gorgo listens:

"Almost as though he understood the abject fear, as though he felt pity in his huge heart, Gorgo did resist and turn away, swimming strongly for the deep, quiet place where his mother still slept!"

Valzo is left floating at sea, his fate uncertain. The last panel shows Gorgo rejoining his sleeping mother beneath the waves, ready for the comic's next issue.

Of course, much of the excitement here is due to Ditko's work. His decisions on panel placement (I'm assuming he made those decisions) and keeping action going even when there is only talking makes this comic a joy.

But don't count out the story. With the exception of Valzo forgetting Gorgo is a marine animal (he did, after all, have to risk his life underwater to capture the creature), there is little here that would make me cringe. Gorgo acts much as he did in the movie and the surprise ending seems perfectly in keeping with that. In fact, Gorgo is really the hero of this story.

The political story is pure 1960s scare tactics. Mandel Astro is vain and power-hungry and overthrown quickly. His successor is venal. All their talk of the proletariat are just ways to control the masses. Still, stories like this were part of their age. For example, there is a Twilight Zone episode from this same era featuring a similarly thinly veiled Fidel Castro (played by Peter Falk) facing his own ego.

The worst moment in the comic is seeing the innocent civilians, Pablo and his friend wearing a bright yellow sombrero, in one of the attacked countries.

What does work well is the combination of monster and human stories. Often in giant monster movies, the hardest part is making the monster plot connected to the human story. Too often you get world leaders watching a TV screen as the monster destroys a city. Here, Gorgo is enmeshed directly in the plotting and politics of these Central American dictators.

All in all, a fun comic and a great place to start reading the Gorgo comic. Next up is Gorgo, issue 15.

Monday, January 22, 2007

RIP Joe Gill

Charlton comic book scribe Joe Gill died last month. For the purposes of this blog, he would be primarily known for his work writing Charlton's giant monster comics Gorgo, Konga and others. In the next few weeks, in tribute to Gill, I'm going to describe and review the Konga and Gorgo comics I have in PDF form (You can find out more about that here.)