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SYFY WIRE Godzilla

Meet the Monster: The history of Rodan, Godzilla's best frenemy

By James Grebey

Godzilla is the King of the Monsters, capable of unleashing destruction on land or sea. But, who reigns supreme in the sky? That would have to be Rodan, a flying kaiju who can leave cities in ruin by merely gliding over them. Rodan is one of the three classic Kaiju from the Japanese Godzilla series who is joining the big guy in Legendary's upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Since this is not Rodan's first rodeo, here's a little background on the iconic kaiju (and Godzilla's best frenemy).

Rodan, like fellow King of the Monsters star Mothra, did not make its first appearance in a Godzilla film. Rodan made its debut in 1956's Rodan, a standalone kaiju flick from Toho, the same Japanese studio that makes Godzilla. In that film, miners excavating around Mount Aso, Japan's largest active volcano, stumble upon some car-sized bugs that wreak havoc on the nearby town. Those bugs, known as Meganulon, aren't the real threat, however. They're just food for Rodan, a giant Pteranodon-like Kaiju that hatches from an egg buried deep underground. This Rodan attacked the city of Fukuoka, and was soon joined by its mate, who had hatched from another egg. The pair were defeated when the Japanese Self Defense Force used missiles to trigger Mount Aso's eruption, and both kaiju fell into the lava — though it would not be the end of both of them.

Future incarnations would add some tweaks to Rodan's design and abilities, but the 1956 film establishes the kaiju essential characteristics. Rodan can fly extremely fast, with the ability to reach a speed of Mach 1.5 (later versions would double this speed). Rodan flies so fast that it leaves shockwaves in its wake, and just by passing over a city, Rodan can reduce it to ruin. Similarly, Rodan can also stir up destructive gusts of wind by flapping its wings. When it comes to hand-to-hand combat — err, beak-to-wing combat — Rodan's no slouch. The kaiju's powers are both simple and impressive, and they allowed Rodan to fight against some of the most powerful kaiju around.

In 1964, Rodan made its debut in the main Godzilla series in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. One of the Rodans who seemingly perished in Mount Aso at the end of the first film emerges from the volcano and starts destroying Japan. At the same time, Godzilla has reemerged, and the two kaiju start to battle, as kaiju are wont to do. However, Mothra, one of the few unambiguously good kaiju, knows there's a greater threat. King Ghidorah, the three-headed golden dragon from outer space, has set its sights on Earth. Mothra is able to get Godzilla and Rodan to stop fighting and combine forces to defeat Ghidorah.

The following year, Rodan and Godzilla would get a rematch with Ghidorah, this time without Mothra's help. In Invasion of the Astro Monster, the Xilien alien race from Planet X "borrows" the two kaiju in order to help defend themselves from Ghidorah, and the pair manage to defeat Ghidorah in outer space. Unfortunately for Earth, the Xiliens were lying. They actually controlled Ghidorah the whole time, and they manage to bring Rodan and Godzilla under their spell as well. Eventually, humanity frees the creatures from the Xiliens' control, and the three kaiju throw down once more, sending Ghidorah packing.

Rodan old

Rodan's final major appearance in the first era of Godzilla films, known as the Showa Series, came a few years later, in 1968's Destroy All Monsters, which featured nearly a dozen kaiju. In this film, which is set in the late 20th Century (aka "the future"), Rodan lives in happy containment on Monster Island along with all the other kaiju. Then yet another alien race invades and takes control of all the monsters, Rodan included. Rodan lays waste to Moscow before humanity eventually figures out how to stop the alien's mind-control powers. Once that happens, Rodan participates in yet another battle against Ghidorah, the aliens' ultimate monster. Rodan is not the battle's MVP, but he puts up a good fight.

Rodan would next appear in the second era of Godzilla films, known as the Heisei Series. In 1993's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Rodan, Godzilla, and humanity are fighting over an egg. A baby Godzilla has hatched from the egg, but both Rodan and Godzilla have bonded with it. Rodan puts up a valiant fight against Godzilla while trying to "protect" the egg, but Godzilla fries the giant Pteranodon.

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All that atomic breath doesn't kill Rodan, however. It makes him stronger, turning Rodan into a more powerful version of itself known as Fire Rodan with the ability to breathe a Uranium Heat Beam. Fire Rodan attempts to rescue Baby Godzilla from humanity's clutches, but mankind's ultimate kaiju-fighting weapon, Mechagodzilla, is too powerful. Fire Rodan is defeated, but, so is Godzilla. In Fire Rodan's last moments, the kaiju transfers its remaining life force into its one-time rival, resurrecting Godzilla so at least one of them can live on to protect the baby Godzilla.

Rodan only makes one more appearance in the core Godzilla series, a fairly minor one in 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars, the last installment of the third era of Godzilla films, the Millennium series. In that movie, a rebooted version of the Xilien aliens unleashes a whole bunch of monsters on Earth, and Godzilla is humanity's only hope to stop them. Godzilla pretty easily defeats the combined might of Rodan and two other kaiju; Anguirus and King Caesar. However, unlike every other monster Godzilla fights in the movie, he does not outright kill these three kaiju — a subtle nod to the three monsters' status as Godzilla's allies in previous films.

Rodan King of the Monsters

That brings us to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where a more vulture-like Rodan will once again do battle with Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, just like it did in its Godzilla debut. The Legendary version of the kaiju appears to be leaning into the monster's volcanic origins, as Rodan appears to be crackling with lava and fiery energy. Will Godzilla and Rodan put aside their differences to defeat Ghidorah, as they have so often in the past? Only a couple days until we find out.