Sunday, November 30, 2008

TMNT: City Under Siege

Another episode of TMNT: Back to the Sewers aired this week, City Under Siege. After a brief opening where the Shredder stalks Hun & the Purple Dragons, the Cyber Shredder's first action in the real world is to . . . hack the city mainframe. It seems like an odd choice for the only recently corporeal Shredder. The boys in green quickly realize what's going on, thanks in no small part to Foot Clan emblems showing up on every available computer and tv screen. They whip up a countervirus, but it has to be delivered in person within minutes. After a romp through the berserk city, the turtles and Casey battle the Shredder while April uploads the countervirus. Michalangelo knocks the Shredder into powerful transformers (electrical transformers, of course) through improvization, harkening back to an earlier training session with Leonardo. Khan and the foot clan run off, having added basically nothing to the episode. The Shredder, apparently dead (yeah, right), manages to activate his cyber manipulator spike and connect back to the internet.

Overall, a disappointing outing. After spending a half dozen or so episodes trying to get to the real world, Shredder's first physical plan is to immediatly go virtual. He tries to literally brand the city with his symbol, leading one to wonder what exactly he sought to accomplish. Remember that this is basically a backup copy of the Ultrom Shredder, who's overriding ambition was to get a space ship and conqure/punish the other Ultroms. This much exposure would only attract attention to himself while his empire remains weak. Hun's confrontation with the Shredder still feels odd - Hun was always loyal to the Ultrom Shredder and only ever fought the Demon Shredder because he had little choice in the matter. And Michalangelo's 'improvization' attack, as opposed to Leonardo's chess-like preplanning, didn't seem to tie thematically into the episode or season story arc in any way. Finally, though they've been fighting the Shredder in the Cyber world for some time now, this is their first encounter with him in the real world. Because of that, it makes their defeat of him seem relatively easy and undercuts his threat. I enjoy the series and like the setting much more in Back to the Sewers than Fastforward, but the series direction seems lacking. I hope they improve with later episodes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Save Pushing Daisies

It was one year, one month, twenty six days, two hours and thirty-nine minutes ago that Pushing Daisies debuted in the United States, and now one of the freshest new television programs in a long while is in danger of living up to its name by prematurely kicking the bucket.

The facts are these. Pushing Daisies is a ‘forensic fairy tale’ about a pie-maker who can revive the dead with a touch. This gift is not without rules; the dead can live for a mere sixty seconds without consequence. Should they chew their second bite at the apple for more than that, something else comparable has to die. Not only that, but should the pie-maker touch a formerly dead thing a second time, it becomes currently dead – forever. His gift allows him to partner on the side with a private detective, solving murders by simply asking the victims who killed them. It is also a love story, for early on he revives his childhood sweetheart from death’s embrace. Now, their love is bittersweet, for they can never touch again.

Hokey concept, maybe. But the execution is brilliant. The visuals are reminiscent of Tim Burton’s directing, and the writing is lyrical and melodic. It’s the kind of show that anyone who’s watched has loved. The critics loved it. It’s been nominated for dozens of awards, including ten Emmy award. Nominations included Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy series. It won three, including Outstanding Direction of a Comedy Series.

What could kill such a juggernaut? Unfortunately, despite a full 22 episode season order last year, the WGA strike ensured that only 9 would be filmed. It’s hard for any series to come back with momentum blunted like that, but Pushing Daisies managed an additional 13 episodes for this year. Now, ABC has announced that they won’t be picking up the show for a full second season, leaving us with just 13 for the year. Now, that’s not a death . . . there is always the possibility of a season 3. But the odds don’t favor it. You might visit for some ideas on how to save this quirky, funny, smart comedy/drama. Perhaps, if we’re very lucky, the pie-maker’s touch can revive the show for a season 3.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review Marvel UK #9 and #10 "Man of Iron!" parts 1&2 (UK)

Thankyou Jim.

Here we have (a bit late, sorry about that) a somewhat odd interlude in the early days of the Transformers, taking place in sunny Britain, written by Steve Parkhouse, and pencilled by John Ridgeway, ladies and gentlemen: “Man of Iron.” parts 1 and 2.

Straight away I have to make an admission. Although the UK version of “Man of Iron” was reprinted in "Collected Comics 3" I do not have access to either it or the original, so I am, somewhat fraudulently, reviewing the version published for Marvel US. The script and pencils are the same, but Nel Yomtov claimed to have recolored (or at least retouched the colors) of the us version of "Man of Iron" in the letter column to US #80. Apologies for that, nothing I can do.

“Man of Iron Part 1”

The cover was provided by British comic artist John Ridgeway, who also handles the pencilling for the book. It depicts a rather stiff and toy-inspired Jazz exiting some murky trees. The young protagonist of the story, Sammy, gapes in amazement as the text promises us “A fantastic new Transformers adventure.” (as well as inviting us to design a Decepticon for a competition). I have to admit to not finding this cover very inspiring, and it certainly has nothing on the previous UK comics for dynamism or even interestingly drawn robots, although Jazz is a good representation of his toy.

The story itself concerns extra-terrestrial goings on around a castle in the south of England. The trio of Decepticon seeker jets bomb this sleepy tourist spot without causing much damage. They do not transform and no-one is hurt, but one bomb remains unexploded, buried deep within the ground. The army move in to investigate. The reader is immediately wondering what the Decepticons are up to. Meanwhile, a young boy, Sammy, is playing Cowboys and Indians in the nearby woods, where he meets Jazz. Understandably terrified of the giant robot, he runs home and (off-panel) tells everyone about the robot he saw, while Jazz, in car mode, patiently waits for him. Sammy’s father, also involved with the goings on at the castle, looks in a book of local legends and finds the one of the Man of Iron. He shows Sammy an eleventh century drawing of the creature and Sammy confirms that the robot he saw was very similar.

The story, while not Earth-shattering, builds well. There is more than a hint of “Infiltration” style restraint here, with the silent Decepticons not revealing their true nature, or what their plan is. Jazz does not speak either, apart from with cryptic radio messages to his home base. Of course, having read the US issues already, the reader is thoroughly “in on the joke” and therefore true wonder at these strange characters is not achieved, but if Man of Iron was the first Transformers comic you read (which for some it undoubtedly was) you would certainly be intrigued by these beings, lurking in the shadows.

The other, more mysterious, part of the plot is of course the identity of the titular “Man of Iron”. We are treated to a two-page mythology lesson about him, narrated from Sammy’s father’s book. He apparently fought Saxon warriors in the eleventh century and appears every now and then in the area. The depiction of the Man himself is of a generic, boxy robot, with an obscured face, coloured very similarly to Jazz or perhaps Wheeljack. His identity cannot be easily ascertained, because the reader knows how easily these robots can change their forms. We assume it cannot, however, be Jazz, because he was on the Ark until very recently. A priest is able to convince him to stop fighting, so we are led to assume that he is probably an Autobot.

Parkhouse’s script is efficient without sparkling. There are no “wow” moments or particularly inspired dialogue exchanges, but it avoids the clunkiness of the preceding mini-series (admittedly, he does not have anywhere like the amount of exposition to impart), and keeps the story moving at a brisk and interesting pace. The character of Sammy is not exactly a new one, but at least he runs from the big scary robot rather than immediately befriending him. The adults are all fairly interchangeable, but we only have twelve pages here, so that is easily forgiven. The part where Sammy’s father relates the legend of the Man of Iron is particularly well done, with just enough old chronicle style language to set the tone without being confusing, and he gets the Saxon names right. One odd thing is the use of the past-tense in descriptive captions. Comics usually seem to use the present when describing action. It doesn’t hurt anything, but I certainly noticed the difference.

The pencilling by John Ridgeway is extremely good. The human characters have a good deal of detail in their faces and Jazz, while far more toy-inspired than would later become usual, has a very solid look to him, with more detail than perhaps we are used to in most of the Marvel comics. His car mode similarly is the car mode of his toy, essentially unchanged.

The Seeker jets are similarly toy-inspired, going as far as their undercarriage matching the unfortunate (but unavoidable) kibble of the figures.

My favourite section of art is that depicting the eleventh century warriors fighting each other, and then the Man of Iron. It is exciting: swords and spears bristle, horses scream, castle walls explode into fragments. Interestingly, as a student of that period of history, I don’t have many complaints. Everyone is clothed the way you would expect, swords and shields are the correct shape. There is something Norman rather than Saxon about the helmets, but, you know, in the cartoon they time-travelled to frigging Camelot, so I think this was all done rather well, considering.

The colouring is adequate, although the pencils really are very detailed, and sometimes the blocks of colour do interfere with them. I would put it at possibly a notch above the average Transformers US issue though, and certainly above the initial miniseries. Unfortunately I have no idea how different it is to the original UK issues.

Overall, a nice set-up issue, a satisfactorily interesting central mystery combined with good art. I had half a mind to complain about the old “its England so it must be castles” issue, but it was a British script written by a British writer, so it ticks all the right boxes without being a cliche. Good work.

“Man of Iron” Part 2

The writing and art team remain unchanged from Part 1.

A rather sinister Mirage prowls a village at night. His yellow eyes glow in the darkness and he is enormous, appearing to stand at roughly the same height as a church tower. He, like Jazz previously, is designed to follow the toy almost exactly, but he is not standing in such a rigid pose, and as such the cover is, to my mind, more successful, despite scale oddities. Text tells us of a “Night-time visitor for Sammy!” and apparently buyers of the comic could look forward to “Megatron in your February calendar.” I have no way of knowing exactly what that means, but I assume it was awesome.

Sammy sleeps, bothered by strange dreams. Or are they? We see him witnessing some nocturnal shenanigans with a huge spaceship, and Thundercracker appears to be parked in his back garden. Mirage wants to contact him about something, but Sammy doesn’t know if he’s dreaming or not, and is too frightened to be of any use. His parents are worried, especially when it appears that a hurricane blew through Sammy‘s room. The next day Sammy’s father is told by the army captain in charge of the bombsite at the castle that they have discovered an object the size of “an ocean-going liner” buried underneath the castle. Meanwhile Sammy re-encounters Jazz, now in car mode, parked in his street. It takes a little persuasion from the talking car, but eventually he gets in. His mother tells him to get out but he finds that he can’t. The issue ends with Jazz taking Sammy to parts unknown as his mother watches, helpless.

The script continues to be competent, although I did not like it as much as Part 1. Exactly what is happening in Sammy’s dream (or not) is unclear - which may have been the intent, but it appears important. The object the size of a liner is certainly intriguing. Presumably it is what the Decepticons are looking for. The dialogue that convinces Sammy to get into Jazz is... well kind of creepy. Jazz waves away (metaphorically) Sammy’s objection to accepting a lift from a stranger by saying that he’s not really a stranger, and doesn’t Sammy want an adventure, and anyway, he has something to tell him. I understand that it was always going to be a difficult scene to write, but had the words been coming from a human, it would have been a pretty icky exchange. Since Jazz then proceeds to kidnap Sammy against his will, it all seems to have gone rather wrong for the little boy and his mother. I feel more effort could have been put into Jazz gaining Sammy’s trust through more conventional means, something doesn’t quite ring true. The issue ends with a reminder not to talk to strangers - undoubtedly a good message after this. Part 2 has more conventional, present tense, captioning but I can see no in-story reason for the change.

The art is more of the same, although it is less exciting, because there is no real action and only one appearance by the Decepticons. Mirage is very detailed (and huge) and the cover image was used again for one of the internal panels.

Overall, the story continues, Sammy is clearly about to meet the Autobots, and the Decepticons must be coming to claim the mysterious buried object before long, but it is all set-up for things to come, and no further clues to the identity of the Man of Iron. Stay tuned, perhaps we’ll discover more next week.

Introduction to Bish

One of my good friends is a Transfan from the UK. He has been enjoying my reviews and graciously offered to cover the UK comics. I asked him to write a short introductory piece and here is what he came up with:
Hello, Bish here. Jim has very kindly allowed me to collaborate on this blog of his by complimenting his weekly reviews of the Marvel Transformers with my own analysis of the material produced in the United Kingdom. This is a neat fit, because I am, in fact, British. So if you see any spelling you think is wrong, trust me, I know what I’m doing (there’s a nice “get out of jail” right there).

As a Transformers fan I do not, unfortunately, have Jim’s pedigree. I am in my early twenties and therefore am slightly too young to have discovered Transformers the proper way, in 1984, with everybody else. Luckily for you lot, I was given VHS tapes and toys by older children, and Hasbro had reissued some of the classic G1 figures in the UK in the early nineties, so I was only vaguely aware that I was behind the curve.

Shamefully I rather foolishly believed that I had grown out of Transformers from the age of about ten, around the time I discovered Doctor Who and Star Trek. I left my toys untouched and unloved, with only a slight spark (ha!) of recognition whenever I heard the word “transformer” in a physics lesson.

Amazingly, when, at the age of about sixteen or seventeen, the adolescent thirst for alcohol and female company meant that I desperately needed more cash, my interest in Transformers was stirred once more. While browsing the internet to see if I had anything from childhood worth selling, I very quickly became aware of how big a deal Transformers were, and of how interesting their mythology really was. Two facts swiftly became apparent: my Transformers were very definitely worth selling, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one to do it.

The internet makes the acquisition of information about a prospective hobby laughably easy. Before long I had joined message boards, read fansites, bought tons of toys from ebay, and finally amassed enough of the Marvel comic reprints to realise that, for me, the best Transformers saga so far, was this one. From “The Transformers #1” through “End of the Road” and then beyond, into G2, here was the deepest and most complex story that the unique medium of oddly named, perpetually warring, transforming robots had yet produced.

Anyway, enough about my tedious life and onto the main course. I will review two UK issues per week, which brings the number of pages reviewed very close to that of Jim’s posts. The UK comics were, of course, weekly, as opposed to the United States’ bimonthly offerings.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

To all my readers, foreign and domestic, I hope that you have much to be thankful for this year.

Review: Marvel G1 #2 – Power Play!

Power Play! is the second of the four issue miniseries that launched The Transformers into their longest continuous comics run to date. Bill Mantlo once again provided the plot, Jim Salicrup the script. The art lineup is mostly unchanged, with Springer pencils, DeMulder inks and Yomtov colors. Janice Chiang provided the letters, the first of many issues that she would do. Bob Budiansky provided the editorial oversight to hold it all together, appropriate as he had written the bios and many of the names for the various Transformers. The cover is by Michael Golden.

The cover is once again a high point of the issue. Megatron stands dynamically in front of the S. Witwicky Auto Repair shop, one foot planted on Bumblebee’s chest, the other on a pile of cars. He holds the struggling Sparkplug even as he unleashes a mighty blast from his fusion cannon. Optimus Prime takes the full force of the blast in the chest and is staggered by the blow. Buster runs atop a car that’s not in scale with him towards the battle, illuminated by Megatron’s salvo. Bumblebee has an exaggerated, almost comedic look of shock. “OPTIMUS PRIME VS. MEGATRON!” the words on the cover redundantly promise. The Marvel box contains a slightly off-model version of Megatron taken from page 3. While some elements of the cover don’t hold up well to close scrutiny, overall it is quite effective. It promises a clash of the titans and makes one intrigued. It is also far more literal than the prior cover, as this scene will more or less happen.

Unshackled by the need to introduce a slew of characters AND an alien race, Mantlo plots out a much more satisfying tale. The Decepticons scout out a nuclear power plant, then attack, dismantle and abscond with it. Meanwhile, a skeptical Sparkplug patches up the wounded Bumblebee. Once fixed, Bumblebee reveals himself and before long there is a tentative Autobot/Witwicky alliance. The Decepticons learn that Sparkplug intends to help adapt human fuel to Cybertronian bodies and move to intervene. The Autobots and Decepticons converge on Sparkplug’s shop, and the inevitable battle commences. Though they fight to a standstill, Starscream grabs Sparkplug and the Decepticons withdraw, leaving the Autobots perilously low on fuel. It all holds together well, with one exception. Ravage, prowling around on his own with no apparent mission, recognizes Buster’s friends and spies on them long enough to learn that the Autobots have a human ally. Wait – what? During the Decepticon attack on the drive-in, they were under the impression that the dominant lifeforms were mechanical. We’ve also had no indication that anyone saw Bumblebee leave the battle – if they had, why would they let him live? It seems a contrivance, especially since Soundwave could easily have picked up the radio transmissions between Bumblebee and The Ark.

Scalicrup, who provides the script for this episode and is given sole writing credit for #3 and #4, does an excellent job. The assault on the nuclear power plant, in particular, contains strong writing. Each Decepticon receives a bit of characterization in a way that works with the story. Starscream subtly undermines Megatron’s authority, Skywarp is eager for action, and doesn’t quite understand why humans build machines more durable than themselves, Buzzsaw revels in his artistic mastery. Also, Scalicrup doesn’t attempt to give EVERY Autobot something to do. Instead, he focuses on Prime’s command style, Bumbebee’s growing friendship with Buster, Mirage’s doubts and a few others. The fight between Optimus and Megatron has suitably over-the-top dialogue; Megatron throws a car at Prime, wondering if it will ‘halt [his] endless prattling’, causing Prime to muse, ‘Why do I persist in trying to reason with you, when the only language you understand is VIOLENCE’, hurling a engine block at Megatron on the last word. Even the inevitable exposition isn’t too clunky, as Bumblebee explains the origins of his species to his new friend Buster. Oh, and Spider-Man is promised in next month’s installment.

The art in this issue is consistent with #1, unsurprising considering that the artistic lineup is mostly unchanged. Springer seems more comfortable drawing humans than drawing robots. Sparkplug, for instance, is wonderfully expressive on page 9 as he labors to repair bumblebee. His body language as he slumps against a table in silhouette is terrifically dejected. The robots, though, are stiff and lifeless. Transformation sequences seem particularly difficult for him to make interesting. He even uses identical, awkward composition on page 6 and 18 for the transformation of two seekers from jet to robot mode. He also doesn’t quite know what to do with Prime’s trailer; it just sort of hangs out on the Witwicky’s yard during the battle. Yomtov continues to block color whenever possible, which results in an identical Ratchet and Ironhide bantering on page 13 and some other oddities, like the Hound-colored Jazz on page 13. Also, Sunstreaker has Sideswipe’s back model.

Overall, Power Play! gets it right. Robots run roughshod over humans, then have titanic conflicts in every day environments. Their special powers are starting to come into play as more than just a line of dialogue in a role-call. Autobots seek to protect humans, Decepticons seek to exploit them. There is a real sense of history between Optimus and Megatron. Optimus takes a point-blank blast of Megatron’s fusion cannon to distract Megatron from Sparkplug. The Autobot’s fuel situation seems to be rapidly becoming more and more dire. Overall, the tension rises steadily before culminating in the abduction of Sparkplug with the Autobots seemingly laid low. This chapter, much more so than #1, makes me want to read the next issue to see where the story is heading. More importantly, it makes me care about some of the characters, especially Starscream, Megatron, Optimus, Ravage and Mirage. Available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Paul Davids film!

Paul Davids was the production coordinator for much of the G1 cartoon and writer of such fan favorite episodes as Cosmic Rust, Thief in the Night, Grimlock's New Brain and Chaos. He's also been incredibly helpful to me by providing some great and very rare models. Now, he has a new film coming out called "Jesus in India".

Here's what he has to say about it:

"I've been at work on this film the last three years. It has been the adventure of a lifetime, for many reasons. Critic Pete Hammond called it a profound and fascinating film.
Basically, it is an investigation into the missing 18 years in the life of Jesus Christ -- those
years from 12 to 30 that are only mentioned in one sentence in the New Testament.
You will come away from the film really understanding the case that has been made
for and against the theory that Jesus went to India during those years and studied among Hindus and Buddhists, and that there are other compelling parts of the story untold in the west but well known in the east.
The details are at the website:
I hope you'll mark your calendar and watch JESUS IN INDIA at one of these times on the Sundance Channel:
9:00 pm Dec 22
2:00 pm Dec 26
10 am Dec 31"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Ark Addendum - Fort Max City tf

Well, here it is. Not quite a week since I launched, but I figured it was about time to post up some more models. I'm still trying to work out the best format. If you've read The Ark I and/or II, you know that the books are pretty packed. We basically used every available surface open to us to try to squeeze in extra models. Well, despite that there was quite a lot we couldn't fit.

One block of content that we did up but had to cut for space was extended transform sequences. I had very few of those in The Ark I, and most of what I had was very low quality and had to be used small. However, for volume II, I had a good two dozen or so full page transform sequences, some of which were just lovely. We ultimately had to cut this out of the book so that we could bring other content, but here (click to see the full-sized version) is a page that might have been.

Let me know how you'd like more models in the future. Would you rather have them like this, packaged as if for inclusion in an Ark volume? Or would you prefer singleton models, like the previous post with the prisoners for Chaos / patrons in Starscream's Ghost?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Iván's Gallery: Arkeville

I'm a big fan of the Mosaic project, particularly the collaborative efforts of Iván “Decep” Mas, Carlos “Synapse” Oliveros and Rafael “Fargnay” Yáñez Now, Iván has agreed to post some of his non-Mosaic art here on a weekly basis. Here his his offering for this week, along with his thoughts on the matter (click to enlarge):

"The saga in which Arkeville appears, The Ultimate Doom, was always one of my favorites .. and, I really like the "mad doc" idea.

Over the years, I drew several pictures of the doctor, but finally I decided to draw it seriously. It is no coincidence that Cybertron appears behind him. Remember, in this saga, Megatron brings Cybertron to the orbit of the Earth, causing all kinds of natural phenomena.

Maybe some day I can continue this drawing to create a ‘movie poster’ of this saga, integrating several features that appear in those chapters along with the doctor, a little like Drew Struzan (God) on his movie posters.

Also, an idea I have had for some time; I’d like to see the most epic chapters of the cartoon series as a comic, again drawn with the same basic plot and style, but repairing the small problems that may have caused the passage of years. The series might be called ... "Transformers animated 80s: Origins " ... What do you think about it ?! It would also be a good tribute to the anniversary, an extraordinary home in comic form for the legendary chapters of the story. Maybe even interviews (with directors screenwriters etc) can be added to those issues, as what fan wouldn´t like to see it ?! Then again, I do not know if the rights issue would be a major impediment, or whether it might interest someone else, because ... the stories are already familiar. But the franchise has always reused material. [This sounds a lot like Bob Budiansky’s Transformers: Animated Movie adaptation from IDW – Jim]

But it was nice that a friend remarked to see this picture - "eh! you're going for Wrightson", referring to the type of treatment that line and gave it to the drawing...please .... Wrigston is another God! but.. yeah, perhaps I remembered his style ....... a little. In any case, I recommend reading his new edition that has just appeared about Frankenstein.

Next week more! Cheers ! " -Iván

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today is the 45th Anniversary of Doctor Who

Just wanted to drop a quick line - today is the 45th anniversary of Doctor Who, a series with amazing breadth and longevity. In honor of that, a clip showing a bit of the 2008 Christmas special.

TMNT: Virtual Reality Check

A very good episode of TMNT: Back to the Sewers this week. Titled Virtual Reality Check, the boys are scouring cyberspace for Splinter databits when, back in the real world, their cyberportal starts to seriously malfunction. They hastily exit back to reality . . . or do they? It turns out it was all a set-up by the virtual Shredder, who wants to learn the secrets of a cyberportal by watching Donatelo rebuild one. The writers play fair with the audience, giving numerous clues as to what's really going on. Donatelo is called Donald, Michalangelo Micky, Casey cries 'gungala' as a battle cry, and in a Matrix-y moment a building seems to receed from Mikey mid-jump. Overall it was a well-executed take on an old idea, and one that logically follows given how much time they've been spending in the virutal world. Casey Jones' apparent death was a scene that would be hard to show normally, and April's apparent indifference to his fate was an emotionally telling moment.

The one off moment was when Donatello is reunited with his brothers and informed of the plot. He seems blasé about the whole thing, muttering that he'd ALMOST finished the portal, but not quite so it's ok. I'd have expected him to be extremely concerned that he'd built, say, 90% of a cyberportal for Shredder.

The real upshot is, Shredder is no longer just a virtual threat. I'm looking forward to seeing their first real-world confrontation with a Shredder since Tempus Fugit.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mommy, why are there two different sets of Headmasters models?

If you're a big fan of Transformers character models (and I think that if you're reading this blog there is a good chance that you are), you may have noticed that there is some strangeness going on around the US season 4, The Rebirth, and the Japanese Headmasters series. Namely, some of the models are used in both markets, some are completely different, and some are modified versions of each other. While it's difficult to know for sure, I have some theories as to why.First of all, which models were the same for both markets? Identical models include The Monsterbots, the Decepticon Targetmasters, the front of the Horrorcons, and (oddly) Chromedome's car. Modified models include Mindwipe and Weirdwolf. (Note: The Ark 1 includes the Japanese models for the Decepticon Headmasters instead of the proper American ones. I didn't have the American models at the time. This will be rectified in the upcoming Complete Ark Omnibus, but more on that later.)
I have signed model sheets for the backs of the Horrorcons from an artist named ‘Miki’, who had also drawn several other models who’s Japanese design differed from the American ones. This is an important clue. It is odd to have a different artist do the front from the back, and we know Miki was a Japanese artist. The most likely explanation is that the Japanese studio received the American models for Apeface and Snapdragon but needed backs for them, and so produced them in-house.

Another clue is the models for Mindwipe and Weirdwolf. They are similar in both markets, but The Rebirth models have extra elements. Especially in the days before easy digital manipulation of images, this suggests that the American market modified the Magami Ban models produced for the Japanese markets.

The final piece of evidence is which models were the same in both markets. Note that most of the models that are the same in both markets came out in Headmasters AFTER The Rebirth aired. The Horrorcons debuted in the December 1987 episode Daniel Faces His Biggest Crisis Ever!! The Decepticon Targetmasters debuted in the February 1988 episode Miraculous Warriors, Targetmasters. Of course, the exception to this is the Monsterbots, who debuted in the July episode Rebellion on Planet Beast. Since the Monsterbots weren't in The Rebirth, though, it's unknown when their models were created. I don't have information about when their commercial first aired.

This in turn gets to the heart of the matter: timing. The Rebirth aired in November of 1987. Four Warriors Come Out Of The Sky, the first Headmasters episode, aired in July 1987. We know that the models for S1-3 were produced in America. It seems probable that The Rebirth models simply weren't far enough along to be used by the Japanese studios for early characters, so they made their own designs. This was the first bona fide new Transformers cartoon produced in Japan, and they certainly needed modelers, if only for the backgrounds and Japanese exclusive characters. (As to why Chromedome's car mode (and only his car mode) was the same in both markets, we can only speculate.)

As to why the American studio didn't just use the existent Japanese models, who can say? Perhaps it was because they already had modelers on staff, or perhaps it was due to aesthetic issues. The Japanese choosing not to import other later characters who would presumably be available, like Punch or the Clones, might also be chalked up to taste.

So, that’s why there are two different sets of models. Two different studios with deadlines four months apart conspired to produce two different sets of models, with some coordination later in the game explaining what overlap there is.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coming this spring: The AllSpark Almanac

I just got permission from my editor, the always snazzy Denton Tipton, to reveal my next IDW project. Bill Forster and I will be collaborating once again to bring you The AllSpark Almanac, a 208 page volume covering Transformers: Animated.

This volume will be substantially different than the two Ark books. First of all, the volume will be in glorious full COLOR! (That's 'colour', for my British readers.) Secondly, while character models are still a very important part of the book, the scope is much broader. We'll be including character biographies, episode summaries and more. And perhaps the most important difference of all, while the Ark books were a result of research and archival and restoration, this book is being written with the full cooperation of the current production staff. Marty Isenberg and friend of this blog Derrick Wyatt have both been lending their efforts to make sure that this is as accurate and complete as possible.

The cover is from Marcello Matere and looks amazing. I look forward to telling you more as we get closer to the release date.

(A quick note - I know Amazon says that it will be 256 pages. We're correcting this. Don't worry, we'll somehow manage to pack 250 pages worth of material into our 208 pages.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Marvel G1 #1

This is the first of what will eventually be a complete review of the Generation 1 (and eventually Generation 2) Marvel comics. Ralph Macchio (no, not THAT Ralph Macchio) and Bill Mantlo collaborate on the script, with Frank Springer, Kim DeMulder and Nel Yomtov producing the artwork. Lettering (and there is a LOT of lettering) was provided by Higgans E Parker, and the editor was Bob Budiansky. You'll hear much more about him later. The Eisner Award winning Bill Sienkiewicz, perhaps best known for the amazing Elektra: Assassin, provided the cover.

And a beautiful cover it is. While only loosely representative of the book's interior, Sienkiewicz has painted a visually striking image of an enormous and stylized Optimus Prime. He stands like a colossus amid a terrestrial highway system, crushing a Decepticon seeker jet. Even by Transformers standards, Prime is appropriately larger than life. Two concentric circles are behind him, drawing emphasis to him, perhaps representing an explosion or the sun. Laserbeak swoops in from the upper left, and a what appears to be the back of gears fires at him. Sparkplug and a very young Buster Witwicky are smiling in the background, emphasizing the human aspect of the conflict. Optimus Prime’s character model inhabits the Marvel box, notable if only because most of this issue was produced without the benefit of character models. #1 IN A FOUR-ISSUE LIMITED SERIES, it proudly proclaims, beckoning the reader to turn the page and discover what The Transformers are all about.

The meat of the story was somewhat less satisfying, suffering from too much ambition. A bit longer than a standard book at 25 pages, “The Transformers”, as the first issue was called, tries to pack in four objectives. 1: lay the foundation of the entire Autobot/Decepticon conflict. 2: introduce all thirty of the central characters (10 Decepticons, 18 Autobots and 2 humans) . 3: tell an interesting story. 4: set up the rest of the mini-series. 3 and 4 suffer from 1 and 2.

Bill Mantlo plotted out this issue. About half of the book sketches the origins of the Cybertronians as a species, the great war, the rise of Megatron and Optimus Prime, the fateful crash of The Ark on the Earth, and their revival by a volcanic eruption and reformatting into local vehicle forms. The story only begins in earnest in the second half of the book, when the Autobots send out a mission to make contact with the local life forms. As mechanical life themselves, the assume the dominant species to be automobiles, a mistake also made by Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Decepticons attempt to disrupt this first contact, though during the battle Prowl correctly deduces that humans and not their machines are the dominant species. The issue ends with a dying Bumblebee revealing himself to the bookish Buster Witwicky and his father, the mechanic nicknamed Sparkplug. Because so much of the book is prelude, the pacing is rather odd. Overall, the plot is awkward but manages to lay a foundation upon which to grow from. It’s interesting how both of the major comic reboots (Dreamwave and IDW) do not attempt to address the origins of either the Cybertronian species or the Autobot/Decepticon conflict in their first issue. Dreamwave issue #1 (and #0) assume the audience is already familiar, which would not have been an option in 1984. IDW’s Infiltration #1 (and #0) do not assume familiarity, but instead heighten the mysterious and extraordinary nature of these extraterrestrials.

Ralph Macchio provided the script of this, and only this, issue. His vocabulary has a surreal quality about it, apropos for the subject matter. There is quite a lot of narration, especially in the first half of the book. He does less well when attempting to give voice to the 30 characters who inhabit the book. While Buster and Sparkplug each manage to have a distinct speech pattern, most of the various robots tend towards formal speech. Of course, this is exacerbated by the extremely awkward role-calls that constituted the entirety of many of the robots’ characterization. Many interesting ideas are brought up, some of which would be later retconned away. The idea that Cybertron was Saturn-sized was introduced, then quietly dropped. Technological life was said to have evolved from ‘naturally occurring gears, levers and pulleys’, an idea that would eventually be replaced with a much more celestial origin. The Autobots were introduced as the dominant species, though it wasn’t clear what exactly that made the Decepticons. Decepticons were shown rebuilding themselves to turn into weapons, then a few panels later the Autobots were casually told to be able to do the same thing. Other bits of foreshadowing would become important, particularly Megatron noting that ‘one of our mightiest is missing’.

Frank Springer, who penciled the entire four issue limited series along with a handful of later books, also had a difficult task. It is evident that he did not yet have access to all of the character models, as many of the robots are more based on the toys than on the Floro Dery designs that would later be used. Interestingly, he also used ancillary toy elements in other areas of the book. An artillery cannon on The Ark is modeled after Ironhide’s toy’s cannon, and when The Ark rebuilds the robots into Earth configurations the apparatus that does so is based on Optimus Prime’s trailer. Springer was also apparently using real cars as reference, as Bumblebee is drawn much closer to an actual Volkswagon Beetle than his superdeformed penny-racer style toy. During the first five pages of the book, Springer broadens the scope of the conflict by making up a wide variety of generic robots to do battle. The sense of scale is also confused, with most robots standing at approximately the same height. By the third issue these problems would be largely resolved, but they make for a jarring experience. While Kim DeMulder’s inks generally serve to enhance Springer’s work, Nel Yomtov’s unfortunate tendency to use block coloring whenever possible does little to clarify what can be at times confusing artwork. Parkers lettering stands out, if only because the square boxes with jagged corners used to denote robot speech stood out quite well from the more traditional round bubbles used for humans.

Given how similar the plot of this issue is to the first episode of the television series, it is only natural to compare the two. More than Meets the Eye Part 1 is much more polished, though it is also somewhat less ambitious. The reasons for the war on Cybertron or indeed the existence of mechanical life is quickly glossed over, as compared to the more detailed and ultimately satisfying origin presented here. This issue fares less well when considering the introduction of characters. Characters and abilities were introduced gradually throughout the entire MtMtE three part mini series, instead of all at once, which helps MtMtE flow better. MtMtE also allows the Decepticons to come online first, and has their actions inadvertently precipitate the revival of the Autobots. This works better than the revival as presented here, with all robots coming simultaneously online. The introduction of human allies, though, works better in this issue. Buster and Sparkplug are set to save Bumblebee’s life, whereas Spike and Sparkplug are nothing but potential victims in MtMtE.

Overall, quite a rocky start to what would eventually be an 80 issue run, complete with four concurrent spin-offs and a subsequent 12 issue revival. While there are elements of what would eventually be the emotional core of the story, one has to dig deep to find them. Available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blogging is the right of all sentient beings

Oh, terrific. A new Transformers blog. Just what the world needs. Yawn.

Backing up a bit. I'm a huge fan of Transformers, and have been ever since I first saw a commercial for them back in 1984. It blew my eight year old mind. In the two plus decades since, my interest has only grown. From Simon Furman to Marty Isenberg, from Beast Wars to the 2007 motion picture, from Alpha Trion to Omega Supreme, I love the whole tapestry.

The designs in particular have always appealed to me. I stumbled across images of the character models of the G1 Decepticons back in the 90s and fell in love. The clean lines, the front and back views, the head turns . . . I found them immensly beautiful. I learned what they were and who drew them and began the slow process of tracking them down. Some of them were relatively easy. Fans like Doug Dlin had photocopies of the Japanese laser disks and were willing to share them. Guide books published in the 80s, mostly in Japan, sometimes had additional models. But I wanted more. Hasbro, unfortunately, had not archived this material. As luck would have it though, several professionals who had worked on the series, like the amazingly classy Bob Budiansky and Paul Davids, had saved much of the material they had worked with so many years before. Eventually I stockpiled a vast collection, probably the largest in the world.

In 2006, I approached Chris Ryall, editor in chief of IDW Publishing with the idea of publishing a book of character models. Being a man of refinement and taste, he of course agreed. By May of 2007, The Ark (V1) was a reality. I had to limit the scope, so I focused on the American television series, all four seasons. Sales were strong and the fan (and, gratifyingly, professional) reaction was quite positive. We moved ahead with The Ark (V2), focusing on Japanese character designs. If anything, the response was even better.

Which brings me to today. I've still got a ton of models that I have yet to find an appropriate venue for. So, what's a Transformers fan with a surfeit of material to do? I thought that a blog might be a good place to share some of the material that didn't make it into volume 1 and 2.

Here is my first offering. These models are for the alien prisoners in the G1 cartoon episode Chaos, written by the aforementioned Paul Davids. Early drafts of the script had Kup interacting with organic alien prisoners. Though the script was changed to involve robot prisoners, character models were developed for the organic prisoners.

11/20/2008 addendum - Monzo over at the Transformers Wiki pointed out that these models actually did make their way into the show, in the episode Starscream's Ghost. Cheers, Monzo!

There you have it! I love feedback, so be sure to let me know if you've enjoyed these models. Watch this space for more to come. Oh, and I'm always looking for more models. If you have any that you haven't seen in on of my books or on this blog, please don't hesitate to contact me.