I had a strange experience with "Godzilla vs. Kong," which premiered in theaters and on HBO Max on March 26: It reminded me of lessons learned from a 43-year-old comic book story.
"Let There Be Battle!" was published in "Tales to Astonish" No. 100, an example of a 1960s phenomenon called a "split book." Every month, half the pages of "Tales to Astonish" were devoted to a Hulk story, and half to a Sub-Mariner story. In the 100th issue, "Astonish" astonished fans by combining the two features for a special 22-page story, a Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner donnybrook.
Well! That was really something in 1968!
In those days, Marvel Comics was still pretty young. While its predecessor companies stretched back to 1939, Marvel Universe canon only went back to the launch of "Fantastic Four" in 1961. Stories that happened earlier, like Sub-Mariner's adventures in the 1940s and 1950s, only counted if they were referenced post-1961.
So many of the Marvel characters had yet to be stretched to their limits. Fans really didn't know who was strongest among Marvel's heavy hitters. And some, like Hulk and Sub-Mariner, had appeared in the same stories fighting other people, but had never battled each other.
So "Tales of Astonish" promised to answer the time-honored fan question of who would win in a fight between two strong characters. And we could only hope it wouldn't be a repeat of similar fights, like Hulk vs. Thor in "Journey Into Mystery" No. 112 (1965), where the Emerald Behemoth and the Thunder God battled to a draw.
And that's "Godzilla vs. Kong." It's not a serious movie (spoilers ahead!), in the sense that it's an organic progression in the Godzilla and Kong franchises, which it is not. It exists to scratch that age-old fan itch: "Who would win in a fight?"
Now, I'm going to tell you a secret. I'm going to answer the question, "Who would win in a fight," no matter who the contestants are.
The answer is: Whoever the writer says will win.
So I don't need to tell you who won in "Tales to Astonish" No. 100, because it doesn't matter. Stan Lee, who wrote the story, could crown either character the victor. And he could reverse the story the next time they fought, if he wanted to. The trick, for the writer, is to avoid alienating fans of either character. For the record, Lee achieved that with "Let There Be Battle!" In the story, Sub-Mariner proved stronger in the water, and Hulk proved stronger on land. Which, if you think about it, is a pretty clever solution.
And a similar thing happened in "Godzilla vs. Kong." The giant ape was at a disadvantage in the water, while the big lizard wasn't as agile on land. Both were downed at least once, and both nearly died at different points (only to be revived by the humans).
"Godzilla vs. Kong" just didn't make a whole of sense, and seemed almost divorced from the movies that led up to it. But it succeeded in the Big Monster Fights.
It's not Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner, but it'll do.