Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Zob's Thoughts on Transformers G1 Season Five

I've finally gotten a chance to watch episodes of the original Transformers cartoon that I haven't seen in over 20 years. You can't find 'em on YouTube. You can't get 'em on eBay. Now, however, they are finally mine.

For those of you who don't know, while it's true that there were only 98 original episodes of The Transformers in America, the animated series whose story concluded with "The Rebirth," there were in fact 128 episodes aired in total. These last 20 episodes were produced for the 1987-88 television season, the true final season of the series--one which has never been made available on home video or DVD release. The episodes themselves were not new, but were presented in a new format consisting of a gigantic Powermaster Optimus Prime serving as narrator of these tales, relating his adventures to a young human boy named Tommy.

On the surface, it sounds ridiculous. It's essentially an entire season's worth of repackaged material, and the combination of stop-motion animation and puppetry used for Optimus Prime is admittedly unconvincing and terribly dated compared to today's technology. (Peter Cullen reprised his role as Optimus Prime, but the voice actor has since disavowed any recollection of participating in this project; one wonders whether he simply repressed the memory of the experience.) The quality of Jason Jansen's performance as Tommy Kennedy is about what you'd expect from a child actor (and the fact that he had no further acting roles according to the Internet Movie Database speaks volumes in and of itself). The fifth season of Transformers remains a subject for mockery within the fandom, readily cited as just another of the many examples why G1 was silly and ridiculous and is not to be taken seriously under any circumstances.

On the other hand, it was also the final, last-ditch effort of the producers to inject new life into the series. I recognize the attempt to appeal to their target audience by introducing Tommy, an all-American boy approximately the same age as the show's target audience. Optimus Prime didn't merely interact with Tommy; he acted like they were best friends! Me, I was in sixth grade when this season aired, but despite being in my preteen years I was still the biggest Transformers fan I knew; when most of my other friends had outgrown the show (and were giving me the toys they suddenly felt too old for), I remained a steadfast fan and was delighted that the cartoon was still on the air, in whatever format.

Powermaster Optimus Prime's narratives of each episode were nothing short of compelling. His voiceovers replaced the original narration of Victor Caroli, and Optimus placed himself squarely in the middle of the action with lines like, "Thanks to Megatron's treachery, I was deactivated! But before my diodes burned out, I passed the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus for safe keeping!" It truly transformed the episodes into a first-hand account of Transformers history. The cliffhanger endings to the multiple-part installments made me eager to catch the next episode, even if I already knew the story backwards and forwards. (This, in and of itself, was not an easy task. For me, the show ran at 6:30 on Saturday mornings, so not only did I have to get up much earlier than I was accustomed to, but I had to constantly fidget with the rabbit ears to get the local TV station to come in clearly enough.)

The new footage from each episode was also set in a contemporary era, and Optimus would regularly name-drop some of the then-current 1988 toys like Joyride, Sky High, and Landmine. We never saw any of these Powermasters or Pretenders in action, but Prime's casual references to these names hinted at a continued existence for these characters that extended past "The Rebirth," and sparked the imagination for possible new adventures. When Prime explained apologetically that Darkwing and Dreadwind had slowed him down on the way to see Tommy but that he had "demolished 'em," it wasn't too hard to visualize the climactic struggle of that encounter. (Interestingly, if we assume that each new TV season marks the passage of one year's time, and that the setting of the cartoon was a couple of decades ahead, then these adventures to which Optimus alludes actually take place in the far-flung future date of 2008!)

The fifth season was also the first time that The Transformers: the Movie was made part of the cartoon series proper, broken down into five television episodes that were heavily laden with previews for upcoming segments and recaps from previous installments. (The episode "The Transformers: the Movie" Day Five was only about ten minutes long, so it was buffered with a recap of the first four episodes that lasts another ten minutes, plus a music video for Stan Bush's "The Touch" wedged in at the end.) Still, for kids like myself who had yet to own a VHS copy of the movie, and for whom it had been a long two years since the movie was in theaters, the televised edition of The Transformers: the Movie was a most welcome addition to the show. (My first exposure to G.I. Joe: the Movie, another favorite of mine, was also through the televised version.)

The commercial breaks for The Transformers: the Movie were a most unwelcome interruption, but at least they were placed in logical spots. Some footage had to be There was also some effort made to tone down the content of the movie for a television audience (Spike doesn't curse, which was typical of most video releases at the time, but the comparatively mind swear word used by Ultra Magnus was also omitted for the TV version). It's interesting how Optimus Prime, as narrator of the movie, almost goes out of his way to assure Tommy (and the viewing audience) that his death in the movie is only temporary, and that he'll be reactivated again as a Powermaster in the due course of time.

Aside from the movie, other pivotal episodes like "More Than Meets the Eye" parts 1-3, "Five Faces of Darkness" parts 1-5, "The Return of Optimus Prime" parts 1 and 2 (which were conjoined with "Dark Awakening" to make an unofficial three-parter), and "The Rebirth" parts 1-3 were broadcast for this season, as well as "Surprise Party," which seemed to have been selected based solely on its kid appeal (Daniel Witwicky and Wheelie save the Universe). Some of the dialogue written for Optimus Prime and Tommy suggests that other episodes would have eventually been reformatted in a similar manner (at one point Tommy asks, "What's up with Grimlock? Did he fall on his head when he was a kid, or what?" but no Grimlock showcase episode was ever aired for this season to answer Tommy's questions). Unfortunately, however, this season would be the proverbial last hurrah for the cartoon, which would exist only in syndication on select television stations for a year or two afterwards.

The theme song for the fifth season was pieced together using plenty of footage from the movie as well as the animation from numerous Hasbro toy commercials (which typically boasted a much higher level of quality than most of the TV episodes). This technique was also employed for "The Rebirth" during the fourth season, but since that season was only three episodes long, one of the Decepticon Duocons named Flywheels holds the distinction of being the first character to appear in the opening theme who does not make an appearance in any episode of the show. This holds true of the fifth season as well, as several characters became part of the G1 cartoon simply by merit of their toy commercials being selected as filler for the opening theme. The small Autobot Targetmasters (Landfill, Scoop, and Quickmix) show up during the opening titles for this season, as do the original three Autobot Pretenders (Landfill, Waverider, and Cloudburst, pictured).

I remain a fan of the fifth season for the same reason I enjoyed Transformers: Generation 2 (another series which has been decried by fans): it granted me access to the original Transformers stories I grew up with and fell in love with, during a time when Transformers was ostensibly dead or dying. While there's not much danger of that happening any time soon, it's easy to forget that there was a time before Transformers had established itself as a multi-generation 25-year franchise, when innovations like the Headmasters or Micromasters were necessary innovations to keep the toy line fresh and exciting. The fact that the original cartoon survived for five seasons before its ultimate cancellation was a testament to the longevity of the stories and characters, and helped contribute to the foundation on which Transfomers exists today.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Iván's Gallery: Skyfire

Not taking any time off, today Iván brings us - Skyfire! Here is what he has to say about it:

Curious ... my friend Jim selected to the first pin-up I made with this style..
Skyfire ... great character, inexplicably abandoned in the comics..
In my country this character was chosen as leader autobot, well, or at least appeared in the catalogs,
I think all the history that is associated with starscream, and the north pole, which appeared in the animation was one of the most liked stories in the epoch.
I think the character deserves a spotlight no doubt, is charismatic and attractive in design, and is one of the few transformers that have a good story.
I think it also .. the fact that it was an original design of Bandai Macross related exercises a strong attraction both in character and in the plaything, and is one of the best-designed.
I am delighted with the bust that will appear soon in diamond because it is one of the few that there are physical representations of skyfire faithful to the character of the 80s.
I wanted to convey this image of strength and feeling of authority.. I did it in a paper with colored pencils and a black felt pen in five hours.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Next Doctor - spoiler free (more or less)

I just finished the Doctor Who Christmas Special for 2008, The Next Doctor. I figured I'd share a few spoiler-free thoughts. Well, mostly spoiler free. Broad brushstrokes I'll share, since it's hard to say anything without ANY spoilers. If you've seen the promos then you're safe.

The Doctor comes to London town, 1851, Christmas Eve. "Nice year," he muses, "a bit dull." That is, of course, the moment that the air is split by a woman screaming for 'The Doctor'. Eagerly, he runs to assist, but she doesn't seem to want HIM. It's another Doctor who she wants, and he isn't long in coming. Played by David Morrissey, he has the right sort of affable charisma of a Timelord. Together, The Doctor and The Doctor fight off steampunk Cybermen in a fun little Christmas tale. Parts of the plot don't make a ton of sense, but then I'm feeling charitable given how enjoyable the extended episode was. Certainly a pleasant way to spend a Christmas (or, in my case, a Boxing Day) morning.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How the Decepticons Stole Christmas

How the Decepticons Stole Christmas
(With Apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Millions of humans liked Christmas a lot...
But Megatron, Decepticon leader, did NOT.
It was quite revolting, the whole Christmas cheer.
Don't ask why it bothered him so much this year.
It could have been Autobots wrecking his plannin',
Or maybe the weight of his arm-mounted cannon.
But the main reason for it, more likely than not,
Was that Christmas lights wasted the power he sought.
In any event, he hated humanity,
Who, on Christmas Eve, demonstrated insanity.
He watched them remotely from his secret base,
A sour Decepticon frown on his face.
For he knew that the humans, all over the globe,
Had billions of lights strung. Some that could strobe,
Some that could twinkle, and some that could flash.
(To power these lights, they paid check or cash.)
They covered their houses, wrapped 'round them like vines.
Why, they even put lights on half-dead, chopped-down pines!
"Tomorrow is Christmas," he mused to himself,"
Soon, all of those lights will go back on a shelf."
Then he realized he needed a new plan, and fast.
"I must find a way to get Christmas to last!"
For tomorrow the humans, he knew, would make haste
To plug in their displays. (They had hideous taste.)
And then! Oh, the waste! Oh, such waste!
Waste! Waste! Waste!
That's one thing he hated! The WASTE!
Alas, if Decepticons dared interfere,
The Autobots, the "heroes," they soon would be here.
And they'd fight! And they'd fight! And they'd FIGHT!
They would fight for the humans, protecting their rights.
They would defend the flesh creatures with all of their might.
And THEN they'd do something that just made no sense.
They'd join in the fun and they'd celebrate hence:
They'd jump and they'd frolic, and they'd trounce through the snow.
Wasting energon wherever they'd go.
They'd make snow angels that were suspiciously square.
They'd play with the humans like they hadn't a care.
They'd play. And they'd play. And they'd PLAY!
"Why, ever since '84 I've watched them waste fuel!"
"There MUST be a path to Decepticon rule!"
Then a thought dawned on him, a devious plan.
Too cunning for you to try to understand.
The lights needed power to light up, he mused.
Electrical power that HE could have used.
And the more Megatron thought of this friv'lous display,
The more he thought, "Yes, I must make Christmas STAY!"
After all, he'd heard, Christmas was a special season
Full of love and good will, for some bizarre reason.
Therefore, if Christmas was this powerful force
Then it was something he could harness, of course!
"This is my best plan yet!" Megatron said with a grin.
All the power the Christmas lights waste was a sin.
But if inside energon cubes it was saved,
The 'Cons could all use it on a rainy day.
To avoid being spotted while he siphoned away
All that power, he figured he'd show up by sleigh.
"All I need is a vehicle that can travel by snow."
Megatron looked 'round, but did he see one? Nope.
But that didn't stop him. Yes, there was still hope.
"If I can't find a sleigh, I'll just make MYSELF one!"
So he summoned the tapes, both Frenzy and Rumble.
"Transform to cassette mode!" he said as they grumbled.
Then he magnetized them, and as sure as you please,
Attached them to his boots, like big makeshift skis.
"To the Autobot base!" Meggy gave the command,
And sped through the night across the snow-covered land.
All the 'Bots were recharging, temporar'ly off-line
Which would give bad old Megatron plenty of time.
"This is the place," he declared at long last.
And he climbed up the side of the mountain quite fast.
Then he flew down the summit of the great volcano.
(Not entirely unlike a chimney, you know.)
He cut through the hull of the Autobot ship,
Then he flew right inside, so the alarm would not trip.
Into the Ark the Decepticons came.
Megatron saw the stockings with Autobot names.
Windcharger! Brawn! Sideswipe! Ironhide!
Inferno! Hoist! Cosmos! Powerglide!
He secured them all down, with permanent glue
And just for good measure, put a forcefield up, too.
Then he spotted some gifts wrapped in paper and bows
Using his x-ray vision to peer inside of those.
He saw mudflaps for Gears, and snow tires for Bluestreak,
Speakers for Jazz, and chrome polish for Sunstreaker.
If the lights had to stay, then the gifts would stay, too.
And Megatron already knew what to do.
He'd once made a copy of Wheeljack's immobilizer
When no one was looking, and were none the wiser.
He used this machine to freeze those gifts in their tracks!
Now they could never be moved, and never unwrapped!
Then he aimed a device, Vector Sigma's own key,
which emitted a glow that enveloped the tree.
The tree was now metal, and would last for millions
and millions of years. Perhaps even billions.
He had just done the same to the halls, decked with holly.
When he heard a small sound, like a whimpering collie.
He turned 'round and noticed a flesh creature just then.
He called himself Daniel, and he was about ten.
Danny was quite unafraid of the 'Con, and kept walking.
(He'd awakened to get a last peek at the stockings.)
He looked up at Megatron and said, "You're a bad guy!"
"Why are you in Autobot Headquarters? WHY?"
Now, Megatron already knew how to spin
A tall tale or two, so he put on a big grin.
"Why, you ridiculous flesh creature," Megatron sneered,
"It's just been announced Christmas should last all year!"
"So I'm spreading the word to make sure everyone knows."
"And as for your Christmas lights? No, don't take down those!"
The boy seemed confused, but without further prattle,
Megatron sent him to bed with a bottle and rattle.
And once the obnoxious young man-child was gone,
Megatron made his way to Teletraan One.
He programmed the computer, and fixed its hard drive
To a permanent date: December twenty-five.
"I don't get it," said Frenzy. "I mean, what's the point?"
"Yeah," chimed in Rumble, "Why'd we sneak into this joint?"
They just weren't the brightest troops who'd joined the team,
So Megatron patiently explained the scheme.
The Autobots had a world energy chip
That provided them power--a slow, steady drip.
And since there was no greater fuel source around,
This was the best place to turn things upside-down.
It was now Christmas day, thanks to the sunrise.
A day of regret for those 'Bots in disguise.
Off to their gifts they no doubt would scamper,
Unaware it was these with which Megatron tampered.
He'd altered their presents! The ribbons! The gifts!
Now it was time for them to hitch a lift.
Three thousand feet up the side of Mount St. Helens
They made their escape, the robotic felons.
"Just you wait, Autobots!" he said. "Yes, I'm so clever!"
"You'll quickly find out this day will last forever!"
"Your Christmas will never be over, you see."
"I'll harness the power and use it for me!"
"It will be eternal, like the glow of the moon."
"How ironic!" laughed Megs, "It will lead to your doom!"
So he waited for hours. But the very next day,
The Autobots put all of their décor away.
The radios stopped playing holiday tunes,
And stores replaced wreaths with big clearance balloons.
Wrapping and boxes filled up garbage cans.
He stared at the humans. Wait, this wasn't the plan!
In preparation for another cold winter's night,
Every flesh creature dutifully packed up their lights.
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from leaving! IT WENT!
Despite his best efforts, it had come to an end!
And Megatron stood there, his boots deep in snow.
He wondered how he had let Christmastime go.
"But there are still stockings! But there are still wreaths!"
"But there are still cut-down and half dried up trees!"
He crumpled his eyebrows and balled up his fists.
There must have been something that Megatron missed.
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "isn't a calendar date?"
"There's some other reason that they celebrate."
And what happened then? Well, needless to say,
Megatron's rage grew three sizes that day!
And the minute he gave up his brilliant scam,
He called the retreat, but came up with new plans.
As he flew off into the night and disappeared,
He, HE HIMSELF, set his sights on New Year's!



I'm taking a few days off of Blogging for the holidays. Rest assured, more models, reviews and artwork will be forthcoming after the holidays. In the meanwhile, have a MAXIMUM Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Zob's Thoughts on Animated Swindle

I'm just not a fan of the Transformers: Animated cartoon show. I don't think any less of people for enjoying it, of course, but personally I don't find it entertaining. I do buy the Animated toys from time to time, specifically the ones that strike me as successful reimaginings of older G1 characters. I've always loved G1 homage toys, and to me, the Animated toy line is appealing because of the tributes to popular Transformers characters from the past. (I don't particularly care for the idea that every new Transformers series takes place in some alternate reality, and has absolutely nothing to do with the original series that actually made me a fan. I think it's more fun to pretend that these are updates of the original characters--which, from a Hasbro design standpoint, is exactly what they are.)

Swindle (x2) is currently shipping in a case assortment with Blurr (x2), a repack of Bumblebee in his original colors (x2), and the Blazing Lockdown redeco (x2).

The original Swindle from 1986 was a largely forgettable and uninspired toy, whose design had to conform to the same constraints as the other toys designed for Scramble City (he had to be able to assume an arm configuration with a peg hole for a fist; he had to also be able to turn into a leg configuration that was the same height as every other toy in this mode; and he had to have a square-shaped connector peg, which like most of the other toys of this era turned out to be his robot head). What made Swindle interesting to me, though, was his cartoon portrayal. He was a diabolical schemer who had no problem scamming even other Decepticons, and yet he had an affable charisma that somehow made him likable. Unfortunately, some significant liberties were taken with his cartoon design, and he was drawn in such a manner suggesting that his chest and pelvis somehow turned into the windshield and front grill of his Jeep mode, something the oversimplified Hasbro toy couldn't do. I've wanted to own a Swindle toy resembling his cartoon appearance for some time, and even designed a reproduction label for Delta Star that's available at I figured this was as close as I was ever going to get.

The newest version of Swindle does take its cues from the G1 animation model, but puts a decidedly Animated-style spin on things. He turns into a compact Hummer-shaped vehicle (the packaging calls it a "transport mode") with purple windows and topped off with a nice, big launching cannon. One interesting design feature of the cannon that I haven't seen before is that when you load the missile, it pushes an internal chamber back, which is partly visible through the holes in the outer barrel of the cannon. There are painted stripes on the inner chamber that are only visible when the missile is loaded, so the end result is that the slots on the outer barrel change from purple to a bright, translucent orange when the missile is inserted, indicating that Swindle's weapon is armed and ready to fire. It's a simple but clever gimmick. Interestingly, the trigger for his launcher is not the gigantic purple-colored tab as one might expect, but the much smaller green one in front of it. I struggled with the launcher for a while until I realized the big, purple tab is just for show! (The weapon is described on his packaging as a "gyro missile," a tribute to the gyro gun the original Swindle was equipped with.) On the packaging, he's also equipped with an undercarriage rotary Gatling gun that looks a little bit like G1 Soundwave's shoulder cannon, but the weapon isn't designed for this mode, and his front wheels can't touch the ground when it's deployed. The toy also has an undocumented, unofficial "hover mode" due to the way his back wheels can fold down to form VTOL fans of sorts.

His transformation to robot mode is sort of a cross between movie Bonecrusher and G1 Skids, with lots of swiveling shoulder panels to get his arms into the proper robot configuration. (In a fit of cuteness, the front grill for his vehicle mode unfolds into his hands, almost like a weird homage to the original Onslaught toy.) Even the components that end up on his back, as well as his claw-like hands, give off a strangely Bonecrusher-like vibe. His head sculpt is unmistakably Swindle, though, with his black squared-off helmet, dark face, and big, purple eyes. If the head sculpt is the most important part of a proper G1 tribute, then Swindle passes the test with flying colors. His cannon is detachable and connects to his forearm in robot mode. (This in itself is another homage to the original Swindle, who was depicted with an arm-mounted cannon in the cartoon.)

As a robot, Swindle has around 22 useful points of articulation, including working thumbs (making him one of the blessed few Transformers toys who can actually grasp things) and hips that both pivot and swivel (although the shape of his pelvis does limit his leg movement a bit). The circular panels on his hips also pivot outward to allow for more leg movement on that axis (they look like they're supposed to represent wheels that have shrunk down a bit for his robot mode). The Gatling gun is also capable of swinging forward from a panel inside his chest, allowing him to use this weapon in robot mode. This is truly an impressive update for Swindle, and for the first time, he actually has a windshield for a chest, arguably an important design element to the character. He was design with a lightpipe effect so that his eyes glow when you hold him up to the light; his upper arms, upper legs, claws, and gyro missile are also made from this translucent purple color.

If it had been my job to design this toy, I would have done a few things differently. First of all, his windshield is actually segmented in the middle, making him resemble Optimus Prime (or Onslaught) more than the original Swindle. The presence of what looks like faux headlights and a grill on Swindle's abdomen further cements the Optimus Prime resemblance. (The original Swindle, as depicted in animation, had his headlights and front grill on his pelvis.) Also, the package artwork and photographs don't seem to agree with the actual color scheme on the toy. The original Swindle was a muddy yellow color, and the Animated packaging art seems to take its cue from that color scheme. The pictures of the toy on the back of the card likewise reflects this color scheme, but the actual toy I bought is more of an army green color. It's a disappointing discrepancy, since the proper muted yellow color would have gone a long way towards making this, arguably a very good toy, look even better. Finally, the packaging shows a tampographed Decepticon insignia on his chest (behind the component that swings around to reveal his Gatling gun), but the final toy does not have this paint application.

Overall, I enjoy this toy and I'm glad I bought it, but I really wish he'd been given the color scheme on the packaging. Hasbro said they were going to give us at least one running change to fix production problems on another toy (swapping out the blue-faced Transformers Universe version of Ironhide for a more accurate silver-faced edition), so maybe there's hope for a corrected version of Swindle some day?


Iván's Gallery: Megatron!

This week Iván brings us: Megatron! Here is what he has to say about it:

Since I was a kid, Megatron was my favorite transformer. I was always attracted by the designs with a helmet recollections of those who used the Germans during the Second World War, is not strange that i like characthers for example, Judge Death or cobra commander, I think these designs are very elegant.
So I decided to do a tribute to the decepticon leader in a typical posture.
I did it with a black pen and pencil, when I worked in construction sector.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The first three minutes of Animated Season 3 . . .

... rock SO hard!!!

I think we're all in for a real treat when Season 3 starts to air.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: Marvel UK #14: The Enemy Within! Part 2

The Enemy Within! - Part 2

John Ridgway moves aside this week for Mike Collins to provide the art. The colouring is still by Gina Hart and Simon Furman continues the story he began.

The cover is by Collins and its another budget one, taking two panels of interior art and one new one of Prime talking to his troops and combining them in an admittedly effective montage. I much prefer original images (although at least you get to see some of the black and white interior panels in colour, this way) and, by choice, I like single, striking pictures for covers, but the pictures are well chosen, arranged effectively, and the text promises us “Shock Developments!”

Ravage, having survived Starscream’s savage attack, is badly damaged, but determined to get his revenge. Just when he thinks he can no longer continue, he is saved by Megatron, who cannot conceal his rage when he hears that it was Starscream, rather than the Autobots, who left Ravage in this state. Starscream continues his own attack on the United States Air Force, in the hopes of luring the Autobots out. However, they have their own problems: Brawn has gone awol and, in his confused state, is trying to liberate Earth’s machines from their organic enslavers, not realising that Earth technology is not sentient. He becomes agitated when he cannot get through to the cars and ends up in a confrontation with a traffic cop. Eventually the Decepticons catch up with Starscream, the Autobots catch up with Brawn, and the stage is set for two confrontations, mirroring each other, within the two sides.

The story is serviceable, although forced in places. No explanation is given for how Megatron finds Ravage, nor how, at the end, the Decepticons force Starscream out of the air and into robot mode. There is an odd disconnect between his duel with the air force and then his being outgunned by Megatron, as though there were a page missing. Furman uses the technique here (and in several other places) of having the dialogue from before a scene change be echoed or finished in the first panel of the next scene - the human pilot’s “NOOO!” at Starscream’s attack leads directly into Megatron’s “Yes Starscream, us! - your ex-team-mates - The Decepticons!” It can be a fun stylistic choice and it is one that Furman occasionally uses to this day, but it can come across as a little too cute, which I feel it does here.

Thematically, the idea of two concurrent insurrections occurring simultaneously within the ranks of the warring sides is a potentially interesting one, but I feel that although a lot of effort is expended on mirroring the two situations - especially on the last page - it doesn’t quite ring true. Brawn’s rebellion being caused by an accident rather undercuts the similarities being developed. What Furman needed for this story to work was the freedom to brand one of the Autobots a traitor, like Starscream, but it is understandable that he would not have been able to do this on such an early issue, and only his second. After all, the object of the exercise was to sell toys with personalities that had already been worked out, not to mention that everything had to be kept in line with the US issues.

The actual script however, cute cutaways aside, has no problems. Furman has instantly made these characters his own, whether because he straightaway saw their potential, or whether his somewhat self-aware, overblown (almost Stan Lee-esque) dialogue style was just a perfect fit for the story of The Transformers - every Transformers fan should be glad that they were paired up. Nobody writes a Starscream rant like Furman, and although his Autobots, in this story at least, come across as comparatively boring, they still manage to get across the idea of their own unique personalities, rather than simply as generic soldiers. The humans are perhaps less believable than the robots. I find it unlikely, for example, that a man, while swerving to avoid an accident, would remind himself that he “Gotta swerve!” out loud, but comics of the time are full of examples like that.

With regards to the humans, Furman is certainly not afraid of racking up a death toll, even in this children’s comic. You don’t actually see anyone die, but cars and planes explode with people in them, and there are no A-Team style miraculous escapes. Some of these deaths are caused by the rampaging Brawn, which would have been a nice theme to develop in later stories focussing on him, but it seems unlikely that such themes would have been allowed to be explored.

The art is, again, very well done. I hesitate to rank them, but I think I prefer Collins’ work on this issue to Ridgway’s in the last, but just barely. Hart’s colours unite the two fairly well anyway, their styles are not dissimilar. The first panel, Ravage dragging himself across the desert while swearing revenge on Starscream, is an excellent portrayal and I am very impressed by the action scenes. Explosions and destruction are handled excellently, and Starscream’s destruction of an Earth F-14 gives us a nice in joke - an updated version of Roy Lichtenstein’s famous pop-art painting, “Whaam!”, complete with the same sound effect. Using the toys and box art as models still provides some awkward moments, but Sideswipe actually gets a face this issue, which was relieving. Brawn’s robot mode is still sadly ridiculous, but that was the model being used, and I don’t think Collins’ Megatron is as good as Ridgway’s - it relies even more on the toy and ends up with a really square head with an irritatingly small face.

The colours, again, are great, such as they are. Budget requirements have left us, once again, without colours for the last two pages (and several more before that) which takes some of the impact out of both the Lichtenstein homage and the final page. This infuriating practice disappears in a few issues’ time and I won’t be at all sorry to see it go.

Not a bad issue - keeps things moving ahead, and this story is head and shoulders above the previous UK one. Nothing Earth-shattering, “The Enemy Within!” so far feels like a standard tale in the Transformers saga, not any kind of touchstone, but not a bad read.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Marvel G1 #5 – The New Order

The New Order is the fifth issue of the Transformers series from Marvel, and the first issue to be produced as part of the ongoing series. Bob Budiansky, who had been editing the mini-series, now takes over the writing duties. With just a few interludes, he will go on to write every issue from here until issue #55. Including the Headmasters limited series, that’s more than 50 issues of Transformers, giving him the longest run (in one continuity, anyway) of any Transformers writer in the US to date. Perhaps Furman will eclipse him at IDW. Budiansky, as many of you know, also wrote most of the names and bios of the G1 Transformers for Hasbro, so it’s not surprising how comfortable he would be with them. The art was by Alan Kupperberg, who would also do the next issue’s cover and the interior art for #43. Colors (as always) by Nel Yomtov, letters by Rick Parker, and edits by Jim Owsley. Mark Bright produced the cover . . .

…and what a cover he produced! A beautifully rendered Shockwave stands against a large cracked grey wall, his gun arm belching purple smoke. Under the logo ‘The Transformers’ he’s carved the words ‘ARE ALL DEAD.’ He seems to stair directly at the audience, his fist clenched, which combined with the interaction with the logo is tantamount to him breaking the fourth wall. One can’t help but wonder, am I next? This image is visually striking, probably the most iconic Transformers cover from the entire Marvel run. There will be several homages to it over the years. It would also be reproduced, without the various design elements I’m about to list, in the excellent Transformers: Genesis art book. As The Transformers is now an ongoing series, the tagline ‘MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE’ has been moved from below the logo to above it, where the # of the limited series used to go. A new drawing of Optimus Prime adorns the upper left hand box, not the character design of his from the first issue. It’s him holding a gun pointed skyward and looking down at the audience, and seems almost paternal. This drawing will adorn the Marvel box for some time yet to come. It seems to be a new drawing, not one that appears elsewhere in the series. As always, Spider-Man’s head appears in the lower left.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that this was the very first Transformers comic I’ve had the pleasure of reading. My mom picked it up for me in a supermarket while we were grocery shopping together. Also, I’ve met Bob Budiansky several times in the course of writing The Ark books and I’m immensely grateful to him for all his help. All this is a longwinded way of saying that I might not be entirely objective in this review.)

Plot and script: for the first time, the plot moves above solid to become compelling. Shockwave watches a medley of American television, becoming more and more convinced that Humanity is ripe for conquest. Bob cleverly sneaks in some exposition about millionair industrialist GB Blackrock's advanced oil platform and the cute and perky computer genius Josie Beller in the process. (She'd never again be this cute.) Shockwave then goes to go check up on the recuperating Decepticons, without even remaking on the many Autobot corpses hanging gruesomely from the ceiling. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition – by this point, the audience has grown to care about at least a few of the Autobots, most of whom are among the inactive. That they aren’t even worth a remark from Shockwave serves as a powerful reminder of just how bad things are. The Autobots are beneath his notice, somewhat ironic given that he is physically below them in this scene. Notably absent from the bodies is Optimus Prime.

The Decepticons, on the other hand, are doing well. Shockwave has repaired most of the cons, though Megatron is just now starting to revive. Hanging, helpless, from various life support cables, Megatron demands that he resume command. Shockwave calmly and patiently explains how little sense that makes, pointing out that the piles of dead Autobots were his doing, but the barely active Decepticons were made that way by Megatron. He then demands a report, another rhetorical trick to neatly sum-up the events of the mini-series without appearing heavy handed. Though Megatron outwardly accepts Shockwave’s new status as Commander, internally he is barely containing his fury. Little hesitancies before Megatron can utter the word ‘Commander’ nicely convey Megatron’s thought process. Also, Shockwave continues to treat the Autobots as barely worthy of though, casually blasting Sunstreaker in half as a warning to Megatron.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Ratchet and the paramedics have returned. We get a somewhat pointless comedic interlude where Buster and Ratchet converse and the paramedics try to figure out how an ambulance can talk. Ratchet IS worried, though, because his attempts to contact the Ark have thus far been unsuccessful. Buster convinces Ratchet that he should go with him to investigate, but first has to say goodbye to Sparkplug. Mirroring the dichotomy between Megatron’s outward humility and inner anger, Buster outwardly seems confident that he’ll just be saying goodbye, while internally he worries that his dad might not understand. He hesitantly opens the door, nervous to face his father, and with good cause. Sparkplug forbids him to spend more time with the Autobots, reasoning that a civil war between alien robots could be dangerous. His fears are well founded, for Buster would indeed eventually spend the better part of a year kidnapped by the Decepticons, but that is some time off. For now, Buster tearfully promises to do no more than say goodbye. It’s a powerful emotional moment between our two central human characters, and builds nicely off of what went before. After all, the Autobots accused Sparkplug of treason even though he had handed them the keys to victory, and Jazz had thrown a wall of flames in front of him. Sparkplug’s reaction seems only natural, whereas Buster is still caught up in the wonder of the situation.

Back at the Ark, Megatron seethes. He tries to find out where Shockwave’s been for the past four million years, though Shockwave is coy with the details. He reasons that Megatron might be tempted to replicate the circumstances that lead to his shutdown. The rest of the Decepticons are now operational, and are cleaning up Autobot corpses for use as spare parts. Megatron seems to get some genuine mirth out of the idea of Optimus Prime as a supply shed, though Shockwave takes it as yet another opportunity to chide Megatron. After all, it is only logical that Prime contains the Creation Matrix, and Shockwave means to have it to create a vast army of Decepticons. But for now, Shockave decides the time has come to begin the conquest of earth, and flies out of the base. This is the first time that the idea of a Matrix would be introduced, far predating the Movie. Of course, it’s a little different, since it’s presented as a computer program instead of a physical object. Eventually this discrepancy would be retconned away. It’s a novel idea, and quite necessary to accommodate the many new toys that Hasbro would soon mandate appear in the comics.

Ratchet and Buster return to the Ark, Buster explaining Earth driving customs to Ratchet. Ratchet seems amused by the concept of driving laws and politely asks the traffic signal to turn green quickly. He still doesn’t quite grasp that Earth machines are non-sentient. Ratchet is nervous, though Buster reassures him that all must be fine. Optimus is in command, and nobody can beat Optimus! It’s a sentiment that must have run particularly true to the core audience, kids. Indeed, we still haven’t seen Optimus but we know that he isn’t a pile of parts. Maybe he’ll be able to save everyone! Bob really sells the point, setting us up for the issue’s big ending.

Still cautious, Ratchet and Buster sneak up on the Ark. It’s a good thing they do, for Rumble and Frenzy stand guard! Realizing that the worst has happened, Ratchet prepares to sneak past them to ascertain the fate of his comrades. Buster makes the argument that he’d be the better choice, as he’s much smaller, and Ratchet relents. It’s not long before Buster discovers the bodies of the Autobots and panics. Shaken, he tells himself that Optimus HAS to be all right, but turning a corner he discovers . . . Optimus’s disembodied head! It’s held in place by multiple pylons, and an ominously humming machine with dozens of wires is connected to his cranium. ‘Buster Witwicky’ he softly moans, ‘you are the Autobots last hope . . .’


It’s a great ending to the book. Optimus, the undefeatable, is completely helpless. There is only one functioning Autobot. Even Megatron seems helpless before the might of Shockwave. Somehow things seem even more dire than they did at the end of the last issue. Bob did a terrific job with his first script, introducing a variety of new concepts, smoothly integrating exposition, setting up plot threads for the future and generally ratcheting (haha) up the tension. Impressive for an issue without a single fight scene.

Kupperberg’s art is quite strong and compliments Bob’s words well. There are no fewer than five splash pages, one of which is a two page spread, and most of them work wonderfully. It makes this book a slightly faster read than the previous books, though the tighter pacing helps. We open with a black and white visual taken from The Honeymooners, an odd choice that is particularly jarring after the events of the last issue. The choice works well, throwing the audience off balance before moving us into more familiar grounds. The second page is also a splash, Shockwave from behind watching television. One starts to get the sense of what he’s doing from this shot, contributing to his characterization as a thinker. The third splash page is the two page spread of Shockwave walking under Autobot corpses, and it answers the question that’s been building in the audience’s mind ever since last month – what happened to the Autobots. Iron hide, who’s just a one-armed torso on the end of a pole, is particularly horrific. Oil is leaking everywhere, showcasing Kupperberg’s inking prowess. In contrast, on the next page, the reenergized Decepticons are literally glowing with pep. The fourth splash page is the title page, with The New Order tangled among Megatron’s life support gear. Megatron looks suitably helpless next to the strutting Shockwave. The fifth splash page is Shockwave standing among Autobot corpses getting dragged off by the Decepticons now under his command. It’s well done, but perhaps unnecessary at this point.

Kuppberg does well with non-splash pages as well. Megatron’s trembling fist on page 9 underscores Megatron’s fury, whereas Shockwave blasts Sunstreaker apart as a warning with no hint of rage. Page 13, Buster’s confrontation with Sparkplug, is full of emotion, from the hesitancy with which buster opens the door, the paternal concern on Sparkplug’s face, the solemnity with which Sparkplug takes Buster’s hand into his own, or the grief that is evidenced by Buster’s tear. Powerful stuff. Shockwave also has a nice extended transformation sequence on page 17, something that Springer was never very comfortable portraying. The final page, Prime’s head, is also extremely upsetting, though here I can’t help but think that there was a missed opportunity for one more splash page. Buster hanging his hopes on Optimus would have been better placed on the previous page, since one can’t help but notice Prime’s head as soon as the page is turned.

Yomtov’s coloring has more than the usual share of errors, but he also does some very cool effects. On page 17, he sets Shockwave against a yellow metaphoric explosion, selling the grandeur of his vision, and the glow that surrounds him in his gun mode on the same page is a nice visual emphasis on the coolness of the whole Transformation concept. Parker’s letters work very well too. Note the contrast in the size of Buster’s shout of ‘Optimus’ vs the weakness conveyed with the tiny, wavering letters for the weakened Optimus. It is odd, though, how the letters switch from square blocks to rounded blocks with a jagged leader line.

Overall, this is one of the very strongest offerings from the US Marvel Transformers series. The art and story play off of each other, the tension and the pacing are good, and many seeds for future plotlines are planted. One gets the sense the Bob has no shortage of ideas on where to take the series. We are promised ‘Megatron vs. Shockawve – TO THE DEATH!’ for next month, and after this issue you really want to see Shockwave get some comeuppance, even if it’s Megatron delivering it.

The Last Stand is available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Zob's Thoughts on Robot Heroes Cheetor vs. Tankor

It's been a while since I've even thought about Beast Machines, honestly. I continue to enjoy G1 throughout the years even though no more new toys or episodes are being made. With a lot of the other shows, though, I pretty much stop celebrating them after Hasbro moves on to the next new series. That said, I enjoyed the show as a continuation of Beast Wars, even though I disliked the direction in which they took a lot of the characters; I collected all the toys because I was still very much in Completist Mode, despite the rather repugnant designs of many of the Maximals (I like my robots to look like robots) and the utter pointlessness of a few of the toys (I'm thinking mainly here of the Deployers and Beast Riders). In my mind, Beast Machines was the worst Transformers show up to that point, at least until Armada came along and made it look like fine art.

In any event, I was surprised to hear that Hasbro even wanted to acknowledge the existence of Beast Machines, let alone pay tribute to it in the Robot Heroes series. It just seemed too soon, somehow. Nevertheless, Hasbro has stated that the 25th anniversary of Transformers will be a celebration of each of the different toy lines through the years, and to that end, this set commemorates the Beast Machines incarnations of Cheetor and Tankor. (It's worth mentioning that this was almost certainly intended as a 2009 product, since the 25th anniversary doesn't begin until next year, but this certainly wouldn't be the first time next year's product showed up in December.)


There was a tremendous disparity between the CGI models for the Beast Machines characters as they appeared on TV and the Hasbro toys in their likeness, a juxtapisition particularly evident in the earliest toy releases. Story editor Bob Skir was known for willfully spreading misinformation about the show ("Rhinox is dead. deal with it!"), so I was never totally clear on whether the CGI models were still in early stages of development when Hasbro used them as reference for the toys, or whether the Mainframe artists were just granted tremendous creative liberties for the sake of aesthetics. (Skir's answer to this question would most likely have had something do with sock puppets.) Anyway, none of the Cheetor toys released for the Beast Machines line was completely faithful to his television persona (the Night Slash Cheetor toy probably came the closest, but ironically it was released in all-black deco that did not reflect his color scheme in animation). The Robot Heroes edition of Cheetor would have been the perfect opportunity to create a figure of Cheetor that was true to his computer-animated appearance, but instead it seems that somebody at Hasbro simply used the Supreme Cheetor toy for reference. Supreme Cheetor was the closest in appearances to the CGI model, though, so it was a good choice.
This is a fairly faithful miniaturization of that toy, right down to his single tail-sword (colored silver here) and his feet, which are shaped just like the rubber pads underneath the Supreme Cheetor toy that enabled the ungainly, horse-legged thing to stand up. Probably the best thing this figure has going for it is that, unlike the full-scale version, this one doesn't fall apart if you look at it funny. Cheetor has articulation at the head and shoulders, though the angle at which he's holding his sword does preclude the movement of his left arm somewhat. It's worth mentioning that Cheetor does not have a tampographed Maximal insignia anywhere on his body, which is odd since Hasbro has usually been really good about finding some place to put the faction symbols on these guys.

The original Tankor toy was one of the worst victims of the difference in the Hasbro/Mainframe design philosophy. (Hasbro was spelling it "Tankorr" for a while back during the Beast Machines original run, but evidently they're sticking with the single "r" spelling these days. There have been a handful of other toys with the name, like the Transformers Universe Micromasters train and the new version of Octane, but this is the first time in a while the name has been used for the original character.) They did eventually release a smaller Tank Drone toy late during the toy line that more closely reflected the CGI design, and while it still wasn't a perfect match, it was a much closer attempt to match the character from TV. The Tank Drone toy served as the inspiration for Robot Heroes Tankor, which is readily evident because of the shape of the shoulder armor and claws and head, all of which are a very close match to the Tank Drone toy. Tankor has a swiveling head and arms (they could have probably gotten away with giving him poseable legs, too, but I guess that would have put the toy over the alloted budget). Of course, Tankor actually towered over the Maximals in the television show, even the tall and gangly Cheetor, so these two figures are grossly out of scale with one another (though the actual Tank Drone toy might make a good stand-in).

Some robot designs lend themselves really well to the Robot Heroes chibification process, while others seem to suffer somewhat in the translation. Tankor is just super cute, with a gigantic head and claws that make him look like anything but a diabolical Vehicon death machine. I can only imagine how cuddly and adorable Robot Heroes versions of Jetstorm and Thrust would be! I like this figure a great deal, but I almost wish they'd released two more Beast Wars figures instead, since these two won't make any sense on my display shelf (which is filled with Star Wars Galactic Heroes on the top and Robot Heroes from G1 and Beast Wars on the bottom).

Frankly, I feel like this set is a tremendous waste of potential. Had I been placed in charge of putting together a commemorative Beast Machines set, the first character I'd make sure finally got a toy would have been the Diagnostic Drone, easily the most charismatic and likeable character in the show. The logical character to pair him with would have been Megatron--specifically, a Megatron with a helmet and harness that resembled his CGI model and wasn't tied down by the limitations of either having to transform, or being an oversimplified McDonald's Happy Meal toy, or both. (A good argument could be made for pairing him with Nightscream, too. You know, a super-tiny version to counter the existence of the gigantic version that was once sold in stores.) In any event, a Robot Heroes Diagnostic Drone would pretty much be the right scale to interact with the existing Beast Machines toys, too, and would have finally given physical form to one of my all-time favorite Transformers characters. (Clearly, Hasbro isn't planning on doing too many more Beast Machines sets, if any at all, given that they didn't even bother to modify the mold for the bubble on the front of the card. It still sports the original Maximal and Predacon insignias from Beast Wars; there wouldn't have been much point in creating a bubble with Maximal and Vehicon symbols for a single toy release).

Probably the coolest thing about this set is that they finally came out with a Beast Machines Cheetor toy that's to scale with the G1 toys. Robot Heroes Tankor, meanwhile, could serve as a Tank Drone to the transformable Tank Drone. (I'm envisioning a scenario in which each size of Tank Drone has an even smaller drone at his command, sort of like the way the Cat in the Hat had a smaller Cat "A" hidden under his hat, who in turn had an even smaller Cat "B" hidden, and so on for each letter of the alphabet. Tank Drone Z, besides sounding like a Japanese anime character, would be the size of the period at the end of this sentence.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ark Addendum - Day of the Machines

In honor of Iván's nifty Day of the Machines movie poster, I bring you The Ark Addendum: Day of the Machines. It features some of the background models from that episode. The Quantum Compound, home to Quantum Laboratories, is where TORQ III resides. It's defenses proved woefully inadequate against Megatron. Once Megatron overwrote TORQ III 's personality with his own, he was able to use it to take command of machines remotely. Given the Decepticon's omnipresent need for energon, he took control of many oil tankers and directed them to a Cybertronian oil base.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Iván's Gallery: Day of the Machines

This week Iván brings us: Day of the Machines! In this episode of season 2, Megatron reprograms the supercomputer TORQ III and uses it to control a wide variety of machines. Iván's movie-style poster pulls many of the elements of the story together.

Oh, and tune in tomorrow for some background models that were used in the episode.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jim on Moonbase Two

The folks over at Moonbase Two were kind enough to ask for an interview with me that is available for download, along with the rest of their highly entertaining podcast, over at Be sure to check it out!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Zob's Thoughts on Perceptor vs. Hardshell

I will never forget when I first stumbled across the description of this set in the Walmart inventory system. I had absolutely no idea who "PERCEPTOR VS HA" could have possibly been referring to, since there were no relevant Decepticons whose names started with those letters, and yet I knew they weren't going to introduce a brand-new character in a line that specifically pays tribute to characters from the past. For some reason, I allowed this mystery to plague me for many weeks until the answer was finally revealed: Bombshell had gotten a new moniker to elude trademark disputes. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense, and I could kick myself for not seeing then what right now seems quite obvious.


Perceptor's enjoyed some decent exposure over the years, due largely in part to his fortuitously landing a featured role in The Transformers: the Movie. Pretty much anybody who factored into the movie was automatically given an extra year's worth of shelf space in 1986, catapulting Perceptor to an important role during the third season (and probably leading to his appearance in Super God Masterforce, in which he and the supposedly-dead Wheeljack play a key role). He's already gotten both a Super Collection Figure and domestic Heroes of Cybertron release, and the Robot Heroes figure seems to be taking its cue from that sculpt, resulting in a very nice, simplified, boxy, cartoony incarnation. He's posed in such a manner that suggests he's really excited about some scientific discovery, with his index finger proudly outstretched and wearing an expression of happy astonishment. ("See? SEE?! I TOLD you there was Decepticon activity in this Oort cloud!") His shoulder cannon is actually on the wrong side to be cartoon-accurate (you can mount it either way on the Hasbro toy, but in the show he always wore it on his left shoulder), but this is a minor consideration.

The color scheme is much closer to the Hasbro toy than his animation model, with a dark cherry red and a greenish turquoise on the arms and legs, rather than the brighter red-and-blue scheme used on TV. (This helps to differentiate him a little from the earlier SCF/HoC versions.) Some paint details were omitted like the focus knob on the top of his shoulder cannon and the glass parts of his lenses. Oddly, Perceptor has extraneous paint applications he doesn't even need; he's got turquoise spots underneath his chest plate and on his pelvis, even though he only needs one of these (this is where the mirror would be located on the Hasbro toy, but the Robot Heroes version doesn't seem to have this component in evidence). He's also got yellow eyes instead of blue, but I'm okay with that. I'm just glad they didn't give him the face mask that the original transforming toy is wearing, because that's the biggest difference between the toy and the cartoon model. (It may not seem like much, but the mouth goes a long way towards making the figure look like Perceptor the alien robot from planet Cybertron, and not Perceptor the seven-inch plastic toy. Even the illustration on the box of the Takara reissue toy showed Perceptor with a mouth, because they knew that's how the character is supposed to look.)

Something I've noticed with the recent Robot Heroes is that a lot of them aren't carrying guns. If the characters weild unique signature weapons like shoulder- or arm-mounted weapons, or unique melee gear like swords, they always seem to be included. If they're supposed to be armed with handheld guns, though, they tend to get left out these days. I wonder why that is?)


I suspect that good ol' Bombshell got a new name because calling him "Insecticon Bombshell" would have been too confusing, in light of the fact that Shrapnel was already assigned the name "Insecticon." The name doesn't bother me that much, since at least it's an attempt at a creative workaround instead of just trotting out one of the tired, old recycled trademarks like Scavenger or Smokescreen or something else completely inappropriate.

The sculpt is good and menacing looking, though he only has two points of articulation due to the way his head is partly recessed into his body. (Almost none of the early Robot Heroes toys had head articulation, but lately almost all of them do.) As with Shrapnel, the guns on his arms (which more or less functioned as legs in his beetle mode) were painted, calling attention to a design element that was never really played up before now. More than anything else, though, I love this little guy's expression. He's cocking one eyebrow in an expresion of something like evil mockery, and it really suits the character. ("Look, Megatron's in trouble. If I wasn't so hungry, I'd stop to help him out! Nyah hah!")

Something interesting about Bombshell's cartoon model is that even though he's black and purple in insect mode, he actually has a grey chest in robot mode (probably because somebody was working from an unfinished toy whose die-cast parts were unpainted). So, technically this figure is a little closer to the Hasbro toy than the cartoon model. They made his chest compartment gold, which I suppose approximates the color of the translucent yellow Diaclone canopy on the original toy. Also, I think somebody neglected to sculpt the little yellow shoulder connectors (which serve as eyes in beetle mode), but they painted little yellow stripes around the spot where they would have been. So, they get points for using paint applications to make up for a sculpting oversight. (Oddly, Bombshell didn't get bogged down in superfluous paint details designed to resemble the consumer-applied stickers, the way Kickback and Shrapnel did.) Overall, he's a great little figure. Bombshell has always been a favorite character of mine, so I'm pleased to see that his likeness was captured so well.

Now that they've gotten all three Insecticons out of the way (Kickback comes packaged with Ironhide), you know who I want to see as Robot Heroes? The Constructicons. All six of 'em. I don't even care if they get wacky trademark-evading names like Buckethead and Quickmix and Hightower, but I want to see cute, super-deformed green-and-purple Decepticons with gigantic heads and fists and feet. (This toy line could go on forever and I would happily buy up every single Robot Heroes toy produced. They're just that cool.)

Merry Christmas with a super TF: Animated and Universe sale is giving the store away, just in time for Christmas. The largest Transformers Animated figures are 45% - 75% off!

Supreme Optimus Prime - $28which I believe qualifies for free shipping. That's the giant one, folks, down from $50.

Leader class Megatron - $16down from $40. This is the largest Megatron Animated toy.

Leader class Bulkhead - $13down from $40. This toy rocks, and comes with a Headmaster add-on that changes his voice.

There are some other good deals, like Voyager Starscreamfor $15, down from $24, or Voyager Megatron (the Cybertronian one) for $9, also down from $24, but those three are the best ones. Maybe this'll make Christmas shopping a little lighter on the wallet for you.

UPDATE: Some of the larger Universe toys are also marked down quite a lot: Powerglide - $10normally $25. Blaster - $9down from $22, Onslaught - $18down from $25, Heavy Load - $14down from $22, Dropshot - $9 down from $22 and Blades - $15 down from $22. 'Tis the season, right?

New Banner

Many thanks to Iván, the talented artist behind Iván's Gallery on Mondays, for whipping up the new nifty banner you see in the upper right hand corner of the site. Iván, you rock!

Friday, December 12, 2008

WANTED: Club magazine Animated Bios

I haven't gotten my club membership this month yet (but I swear I'm a member!) but I need the Animated bios within for The AllSpark Almanac. Any kind souls out there who have their copy, could you send me the bios published so far? I'm especially interested in Ironhide.

UPDATE: Thanks to NuclearConvoy, I'm all set.

Review: Marvel UK #14 "The Enemy Within!" Part 1

The Enemy Within!

Part 1

The art for part 1 is provided by John Ridgway. The colours are by Gina Hart and the editor is Sheila Cranna. The script and story are by Simon Furman, who Transformers fans ought to be pretty familiar with by now. This was, however, his very first story for the Robots in Disguise.

The cover is by John Ridgway and depicts a very toy-like Brawn holding Sideswipe above his head. Sideswipe has a strange, domed, head with one three-pronged hole representing his eyes and mouth. (this confused me, as all the research I have done suggests that even the first G1 Sideswipe toy has a proper face. If anyone can come up with an explanation, I’d be grateful). Sunstreaker and Jazz are frozen in shock and the text asks us “Has Brawn changed sides?” Not the most beautiful cover ever, the clunky models for Brawn and Sideswipe hurt it quite a lot, but it does the job fairly well.

In a nice contrast to “Man of Iron!” we immediately start the story with Megatron and the Decepticons. The first panel is a nice half-page close-up on Megatron’s face set in an angered shout. “How dare you!” he asks, with a red speech bubble. He is, as the caption puts it, “not amused”. Megatron and Starscream are arguing about the correct way to conduct their campaign on Earth. Well, Starscream is arguing, and Megatron is simply annoyed that anyone would attempt to debate with him. Megatron wants to study and learn about Earth while Starscream wants to go on the offensive. Megatron ends the debate with a warning shot from his fusion cannon that leaves Starscream so shaken that for one panel he turns into Skywarp. However, for once, Starscream is not alone in his concerns about Megatron’s leadership. It appears that other Decepticons might be willing to give him a chance, and Megatron is aware of this, as he informs Ravage, who asks, “was it wise to let Starscream off like that?”

Meanwhile, back at the Ark, Brawn is helping Mirage with some equipment. The test goes wrong and Brawn ends up taking a powerful electric shock. He seems ok, but resentful thoughts begin to bubble beneath the surface.Starscream comes up with a plan to force the Autobots into a confrontation by attacking the humans single-handedly. He figures that the other Decepticons would have to help, the Autobots would be defeated and his leadership abilities would be proven. Unfortunately he is so pleased with himself, that he relates his plan out loud, and Ravage happens to hear and Starscream comes after him. This leads to game of cat and mouse in the desert between Starscream and Ravage where Ravage is badly outmatched and is eventually trapped under a collapsing cliff face.

Elsewhere, Brawn, upon being asked to help with more work, appears to go mad, he attacks Sideswipe and breaks his way out of the Ark, heading for parts unknown. Mirage is concerned that he might pose a danger to the human population, and with the mood he is in, it doesn’t seem an idle worry.The issue ends with a page of humans at an air force base being attacked by Starscream, in plane mode, his plan now underway.Considering the low page count, a lot happens, and Furman’s style is distinctive even from the first issue. His Transformers are very chatty, prone to grandiose statements, and introspective thought processes. He nails the dynamic between Megatron and Starscream from their very first page together and I am fond of his sneaky spymaster version of Ravage - much more interesting than the animalistic cartoon version. The way in which Ravage learns of Starscream’s plan is, unfortunately, fairly bad storytelling. It is an obvious shortcut and doesn’t really ring true, although, I suppose, if any Decepticon would give himself away in self-obsessed speechifying, then Starscream would be the most likely. To me, the Autobot segments are less interesting, but it is clear that something is about to happen with Brawn, so the set-up works perfectly well, and I prefer Transformers stories where both sides get time to shine, which Furman provides here.

Ridgway’s pencils are very detailed and tell the story well. He is clearly still working off the toys and their box art, which can lead to some clunky appearances, but he anthropomorphises as much as possible. I am particularly pleased with his Megatron. His face, distorted with fury, on the first page is an excellent image, and my favourite of the issue (and Ridgway has, mercifully, altered the Megatron toy’s rather embarrassing trigger-placement - although not eliminated it entirely). Ravage has a moment lifted from his box art, a leaping pose that anyone who has seen his character model (or ninety per-cent of pictures of Ravage) will recognise, but I can’t blame the artist for cutting a corner, and it is a very good pose.

Hart’s colouring is, for the most part, good. The colours are vibrant and do not swamp or obscure the pencilled detail, as seems to happen more often with the US issues. There are a couple of instances where Starscream is miscoloured as Skywarp, and Megatron has some gold, reflecting a lot of the early Megatron artwork. Unfortunately, only six of the eleven pages are coloured, for reasons of budget and time and the chosen pages appear to be almost at random. Most irritating is the last page, depicting a full-page splash of Starscream attacking the humans. It should definitely have been in colour, if any page in the book was going to be. An air-force officer looks on in shock as Starscream bombs his planes into oblivion shouting: “Tremble humans! For today you DIE!” Its a great image, and a great cliff-hanger for the next issue, and to leave it in black and white was a crime.Issue 1 of “The Enemy Within!” doesn’t show everything Furman is capable of, by any means, but its already a big improvement over Man of Iron and the Transformers characters really seem to come alive when Furman puts dialogue in their mouths. The story looks like it is going to be fast and eventful.

(I haven’t reviewed Part 2 here for two reasons - 1) I haven’t yet had enough time, and 2) My review of Part 1 turned out to be pretty long. Part 2 will probably be posted on sunday.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review: Marvel G1 #4: The Last Stand

The Last Stand is the fourth issue in the four part limited series that launched The Transformers as a Marvel comic book. Jim Salicrup still has sole writing credit – this will be the last issue he penned. The art lineup has been tweaked – Springer still furnished the pencils, though now inks are by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey, with letters by John Workman. Colors, as always, by Nel Yomtov. Bob Budiansky held the editorial reins. Mark Texeira created the cover.

The cover is dynamic and powerful. Optimus Prime, Huffer, Bluestreak and a visibly damaged Mirage are gathered in the lower-middle left of the page, and are completely surrounded by Decepticons hurtling towards them from all directions. Prime is shooting at them and nailing Soundwave in the chest, which pulls the eye up and to the right. “#4 IN A FOUR-ISSUE LIMITED SERIES” it proclaims even as it promises us “THE AUTOBOTS’ LAST STAND!” Megatron is again in the upper left, the same image as in #2, with a black Spider-Man head in the lower left corner. This cover promises an exciting conclusion and definitely manages to entice. Having Megatron in the bottom left is a slightly odd choice, though.

The plot is once again solid, though with some odd interludes. Picking up immediately from where #3 left off, the Buster disappointedly confronts Sparkplug for perfecting the fuel conversion process for the Decepticons. Though Sparkplug starts to try to explain himself, Huffer goes ballistic at the news and starts to advance on Sparkplug. Ironhide intervenes and the two Autobots nearly come to blows. While the Autobots degenerate into argument, Sparkplug and Buster decide to get the hell outta Dodge. The Autobots realize that their meal ticket, literally, is running out on them, so Jazz throws up a wall of flames between the humans and the exit. All this excitement proves too much for Sparkplugs’ old ticker, and he goes into cardiac arrest. The tension that was built up in issues 1 & 2 is back – the Autobots seem on the verge of panicking at the prospect of a fully energized adversary. Sparkplug’s heart attack is dramatic and unforeseen, and will have important ramifications later on.

We then inexplicably cut to ‘O’ watching the reaction to the robots on the news and Jessie watching people leave town. It seems like Springer is attempting to ground the conflict (as well as throw in some cheesecake, since Jessie and her friends are in leotards for their ballet class). It doesn’t add much, to the story. Meanwhile, back at the Ark, Sparkplug is loaded into Ratchet and driven to the hospital. On the way, he flashes back to his experiences as a POW in the Korean war, where he patches up trucks for the enemy. This flashback functions as a good thematic reminder of the events of the last issue. A bit too much time is spent on admitting Sparkplug to the hospital, though.

Then, yet another interlude – Megatron emerges from his fortress, fully energized, and challenges the US Army to ‘do their worst.’ Oddly, the army obliges with a 15 minute barrage that nevertheless leaves Megatron unscathed and the army wondering what to do next. It very effectively ups the stakes by firmly placing the Transformers an order of magnitude above humanity in terms of power level. Still, it feels like Salicrup is running out his pagecount. Inside the fortress, Megatron gets a damage report on his warriors from one of four unidentified Decepticons. Frenzy, Rumble, Skywarp and Soundwaver are ‘knocked out’, mostly by Gears and Spider-Man in the previous issue. Starscream laments that Megatron allowed Sparkplug to escape with the Autobots and notes that even now the Autobots might be fueling up, causing Megatron to add Starscream to the roster of the damaged. Still, he realizes that Starscream has a point and dispatches Ravage (for those keeping count, we’re down to 5 named Decepticons still functioning) to spy on the Ark.

Finally, our last side-excursion before returning to the main story. Huffer points out to Prime what Ratchet tried to say last issue. Shortly after landing, the Ark detected Cybertronian life in the Savage Land at Antarctica – Shockwave. At last we know what Megatron was referencing when he said that ‘one of his mightiest’ was missing. Recognizing a threat, the Ark dispatched the Dinobots. Unfortunately, that’s all the Autobots know. They did dispatch a probe to investigate further. Prime dismisses this information, deciding that it’s their fuel shortage that must take priority. Unfortunately, Ravage hears this and reports back to Megatron, who declares that the time has come for the end of the war. Even a repaired but cowed Starscream agrees.

And, 13 pages in, we’ve reached the battle that the cover promised. The Autobots plan is simple, but desperate. The fuel reserves are transferred from the weaker Autobots to their five best warriors – Optimus Prime, Huffer, Ironhide, Bluestreak and Mirage. As the process completes, the Decepticons come a knocking, challenging Prime to come out and face them. Correctly detecting a trap, Prime chooses to remain inside and have the ‘Cons come to him. And come they do. Despite the damage roster from before, all Decepticons but Soundwave (and the unnamed generics) participate in this battle. Ravage and Mirage reprise their conflict from issue #2. Mirage comes to realize that the Decepticons can’t be reasoned with, and the only way back to Cybertron is an Autobot victory. It’s a good conclusion to his character arc. Mid-battle, we’re teased by the Autobot probe in the Savage Land start to excavate, only to be crushed by a purple hand. The battle turns more desperate as Megatron takes two point-blank hits from Bluestreak without flinching. We again, briefly, flash elsewhere: Ratchet, still at the hospital, is commandeered by paramedics, while inside the hospital Sparkplug continues his flashback. He recalls being rescued and the glee as he imagines the enemy trucks he sabotaged careening over a cliff. This effectively foreshadows the battle’s conclusion.

The battle gets even more violent as Megatron blasts off Prime’s right arm, Huffer gets blasted by Laserbeak, Ironhide gets pinned down by enemy fire, and Buzzsaw tears through Mirage’s body with his diamond-hard beak. Prime pulls Ravage off of Ironhide, only to take a point-blank shot from Megatron’s fusion cannon. Victorious, Megatron lifts Prime’s shattered body above his head in triumph – only to see victory snatched from his grasp as the toxic fuel in his body causes him to double over in pain. The Autobots stand among their vanquished adversaries, damaged but alive. Prime begins to make his inevitable victory speech – but it is not to be. A huge explosion from above lays him low. Through the breach, Shockwave flies. He converts to his robot mode and declares his mission a success, with the Autobots no more. It’s a good conclusion, rapidly yanking us one way, then another. The Decepticon victory seems inevitable based on their fuel advantage, and is – until we learn that Sparkplug has poisoned their fuel. Then, we the audience settles in to the good-guy triumphant pattern that is so familiar, a well-set-up subplot rears its head and we face the Autobots defeated. “NOT the end…” it promises. Script-wise, Salicrup has definitely found his voice. Mirage, Prime, Starscream, Megatron, Ravage, Sparkplug and Huffer all manage to have a distinctive personalities. It seems a shame that he won’t have any further interaction with the franchise.

The art in this issue is a bit awkward but exciting. It helps that about half of the issue is one enormous battle, which plays to Springer’s strength. There are several good moments; Prime losing his arm, Sparkplug’s heart attack, Huffer confronting Ironhide, and the look on Megatron’s face after he survives the best that humanity can throw at him. Workman’s letters on that scene, as Megatron laughs, stand out as bold and powerful, very much working for the character. While this issue has the usual share of coloring issues, Yomtov does a good job in the Savage Land flashbacks, using a greenish tint to everything to set it apart from the main action.

Overall, a great conclusion to the limited series. Having the Autobots lose at the end was unexpected, and having Shockwave deliver the killing stroke was particularly effective. While it came out of left field, it was set up fairly well in retrospect. Having the human Sparkplug emerges as an unlikely hero is especially poignant, given the ineffective nature of a direct confrontation between humanity and the Decepticons. The series ends with all Autobots but Ratchet defeated, but at least we have the promise of more to come. We’ve been introduced to the Transformers, we’ve grown to care about them, and now we have to wonder how a lone medic might stand against the might of the Decepticon forces. I guess we’ll just have to keep reading.

The Last Stand is available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yahoo Layoffs

I've just learned that Yahoo, where I used to work, has laid off quite a number of employees today. My heart goes out to all those impacted.

Zob's Thoughts on Robot Heroes Snarl vs. Sharkticon

Hasbro's still playing fast-and-loose with the old character trademarks to which they've lost ownership, and there's really no way around it. Either they give the characters non-names (like the Heroes of Cybertron "Autobot Espionage Team" that cleverly sidestepped having to actually identify Bumblebee by name) or they slap another character's name on the package, or they invent completely new names altogether. I generally prefer the new name approach, if only because it prevents confusion and the watering down of existing trademarks.


Robot Heroes "Snarl" is just the sort of thing I'm talking about. This is actually Slag, of course, but Hasbro's rights to that name have elapsed, so they did the next best thing and gave him the name of one of the other Dinobots. (At least they didn't call him Triceradon.) So, what happens when the real Snarl gets his turn at chibification? What does he get to be called? I don't like the direction in which this is going. All it took was a handful of red-colored Bumblebee toys for Cliffjumper to completely lose his individual identity. The same thing could easily happen to Slag and Snarl. (Wait, which one is the stegosaurus again? Eh, who cares? Their names are interchangeable!)

Trademark complaints aside, this really is a cute little figure, and it really embodies Slag. Specifically, it's a cute and cuddly version of a really angry Dinobot, and this juxtaposition of concepts is one of the reasons I love buying these things so much. He's articulated at the shoulders and head, and something really interesting is that his entire dinosaur head rotates along with his robot head, including the triceratops horns and head crest. Unfortunately, somebody came up with a completely new color map for him without bothering to consult the previous Grimlock figure for consistency's sake. The Dinobots were all created at the same time out of the same materials, so it just doesn't make sense for them to be different colors from each other. While Robot Heroes Grimlock is a bright silver color, Slag is a murky grey. Slag's red color is also more subdued, and his gold highlights are muddy and greenish compared to those on Grimlock.

There are other design considerations too, like the fact that Grimlock has red eyes (like the toy) but Slag has blue (like the G1 cartoon); Grimlock carries a red sword (toy) but Slag's is silver (cartoon). It really should be either one or the other. Also, I've always found Slag's red face and red helmet from the cartoon to be quite striking, so I find it unfortunate that this most distinctive look wasn't carried over in this case, given that they took their cue from other cartoon details. (The Diaclone version of the toy had a vac-metal sword and horns--which was the version on which Slag's cartoon model was based--but Hasbro replaced those parts with red plastic that was more flexible and less likely to snap in two.)


The name "Sharkticon" is a sub-group, not the identity of any character from G1, but in this case I don't find it the least bit offensive since the Sharkticons were mindless animals, not individuals. The appelation "Gnaw" was a Hasbro invention that allowed them to produce a Sharkticon toy and market it as a Decepticon character, even though the Sharkticons from the movie were never affiliated with the Decepticons and never once worked for them. (This toy does have a tiny little Decepticon emblem on his belly. Now, where did I put my paint thinner...?) I do pay attention to the pairings of Robot Heroes characters with one another and try to find some kind of logical reason why the two would be matched up with one another. Slag did encounter the Sharkticons during a brief incursion from The Transformers: the Movie, so at least packaging them together makes some kind of sense.

I love Robot Heroes Sharkticon. He is, by far, one of the very best figures in the line to date. I'm not even a big fan of the Sharkticons, honestly. The original Gnaw figure was a big, chunky, preschool toy, and I really can't get behind big, dumb monsters with no brains. I mean, there are cool armybuilders like Star Wars stormtroopers and TMNT Foot Soldiers. Those are meant to be purchased by the caseload. Then there are lame armybuilders like buying a bunch of G1 Scourge toys and pretending that they're Sweeps. It just doesn't work on the same level. Gnaw fits firmly in the latter category. Despite this, I'm really impressed by this sculpt. It really captures the massive rotundity that characterizes these guys. Its design actually follows the animation model, too--the way the shark's head splits in half a little to accomodate his dorsal fin--instead of being just a miniaturization of the Hasbro toy from 1986. And, of course, he's carrying his own tail as a weapon. (Thank you, Kup, for teaching them that particular trick.)

I think the existence of Robot Heroes Sharkticon does open the door for the possibility of a Robot Heroes Quintesson at some point down the road. I mean, think about it. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Transformers is right around the corner, and the Quintessons are the most prominent villains in the mythos who never got official toys. They also created the Sharkticons in the first place, so it makes perfect sense to get another figure to complement this one. I've said this before, and I'll keep on saying it: A cute, tiny, super-deformed Quintesson Judge would be the coolest thing that a little toy factory in Rhode Island could possibly produce. I'm dead serious.