Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #9 - Dis-Integrated Circuits!

Dis-Integrated Circuits! is the ninth issue of the Marvel comics G1 Transformers series. It was written by Bob Budiansky. The book and the cover were penciled by Mike Manley, with inks by M. Hands, colors by Nel Yomtov and lettering by Rick Parker.

Manley's cover is uninspired, given how much potential the issue offered. Circuit-Breaker stands in the foreground, her right hand glowing with energy. She stands amid some rubble, but Starscream stands behind her, getting ready to grab her. Starscream might be standing on some dirt, or producing exhaust. The lines at his feet match the yellow in the sky perfectly, so it's a little hard to say. You're supposed to be concerned for her, but she's menacing enough in her face and stance that you're not quite sure who you're supposed to be rooting for. The text does little to help. "The lady's name is Circuit Breaker!", it says, "She's out to destroy all robots . . . that is, if Starscream doesn't get her first!" Overall, it captures the ambiguity of the situation, but that's not necessarily a good thing. It doesn't help that Starscream is rather poorly drawn, and that Circuit-Breaker, a woman wearing essentially tinfoil, is rather bland and unappealing. She should be oozing sex-appeal, danger and menace - what a waste. Unfortunately, IDW could not reprint this issue as part of their Generations series. I'd have loved to see Nick Roche's take on this cover.

The issue itself is a bit stronger, though not a good as #8 or #5. It opens on a full splash page of cars racing around a track. Blackrock is racing around a track that he owns, while one of his aids attempts to get his attention. Some military men stand about, but you don't necessarily notice them, it's really the racing cars that grab your eye. It's a very well rendered version of a race track, but doesn't really add much to the story. Blackrock screeches to a halt (again, nice lettering by Parker), only to have the army ask him not to demonstrate his robot-smashing superweapon in the name of patriotism. He refuses, then motors off to an important appointment.

The appointment is poor miss Josie Beller, still in a hospital. He holds her hand rather tenderly while relating the earlier incident. She has an expository flashback, before showing off her new levitation technology. Her fanaticism against robots is starting to show, though, and making G.B. uncomfortable. Though he's prepared to go to war with the robots, he doesn't like the idea of her on the front lines where she could potentially get hurt. Here Bob's character development is starting to pay off. He's been building up both of these characters since issue #5, and we're getting ready for the payoff. It's a fun style of storytelling, and Bob does it well.

Cut to the Autobots. They roll across the plains of Oregon, all of them restored to full working order by Ratchet. All, that is, except Sunstreaker (blasted in half by Shockwave in issue #5) and Optimus Prime. Optimus' head is still missing, and the rest of the 'bots surmise that it's probably at one of the two captured Decepticon installations. They're in no position to mount a rescue, though, since they are running on the fuel reserves left behind by the Decepticons and with no ready source of new fuel. Acting commander Prowl authorizes Jazz to go make a deal with Blackrock, protection for fuel, but sends Wheeljack with him as backup. There is some nice continuity in leaving Sunstreaker out of the roster - it helps to show that war has consequences. That said, the Autobots went from hanging slabs to being 90% operational between issue #8 and #9, and it feels awfully abrupt. Also, the Dinobots are nowhere to be seen. Furman will set a story in the gap that shows Prowl getting repaired and the Dinobots wandering off, and it really helps to sell the recovered Autobots. Alas, most US readers in the 80s would have to just accept that the story has jumped forward. Aside from that, the characterization is mixed. I like Prowl in command, and it's good to see Ratchet retaining a leadership role after all he's been through. The Jazz and Wheeljack bits feel much more perfuctory, though.

At the Blackrock Decepticon Aerospace plant, Starscream is scheming. He informs Shockave that the Autobots are back, and that Shockwave was remiss in not destroying Megatron. Shockwave is sanguine about the whole thing, though, since the Autobots pose little threat to his operation. It's nice to see old Screamer in action again, he's been barely insubordinate in this series so far. Frenzy bursts in, pissed. He's heard Blackrock on the radio, talking about a new robot-smashing weapon, and wants to attack it. Shockwave has no time for humans, but Starscream points out that morale is low and the risk is minimal. Old one-eye relents, and authorizes a strike. He then makes his way over to Optimus Prime's head, gloating about the Decepticons that Prime has helped to create. Prime, silently defiant, muses that with the Creation Matrix safely secreted away inside a human host there won't be any more new Decepticons. As always, Shockwave is wonderfully un-emotional. Any other Decepticon leader would fly into a fury at the repair of the Autobots, but Shockwave takes it in stride. Frenzy and Starscream get some good characterization as well.

Speaking of the Creation Matrix, we get a bit more from that subplot too. Buster is frantically trying to fix the cars in his dad's shop, since Sparkplug is still in the hospital. With no real aptitude for repair, Buster isn't making any headway. Suddenly, he has another flash, complete with levitating engine parts. This time, though, he sees how they all fit together, and repairs the problem with a mere thought. This plotline remains intriguing, another slow burn.

Finally, we get to the meat of the issue on page 10. Blackrock works in his office, late at night. A mysterious figure effortlessly enters the building and bypasses the security systems. It enters an elevator shaft and levitates up. Just as G.B. gets a phone call from the hospital stating that Josie is missing, she bursts into his office. You see her shadowy silhouette from behind as she apparently disrobes, and he nervously exclaims "Josie!". Turn the page to see a full page splash of, not Josie Beller, but Circuit Breaker. It's a great image, much better than the cover. She looks wild and dangerous and, yes, sexy. She demonstrates her newfound abilities to G.B., including levitation, energy blasts and the ability to access computer programs. She's eager to help him hunt the robots. He, though, won't risk further harm to her, and rejects her help. She is clearly sad at first, before her emotion crystallizes into anger. "You do what you want, Mr. Blackrock, I'll do what I want." It's a great reveal, dampened somewhat by the lackluster cover. Bob is using standard comic book tropes here, with the well intentioned but misguided supervillain idea, and it works.

The day day, Blackrock is preparing to demonstrate his new weapon, the Anti-Robot Photonic Cannon. Jazz shows up and kidnaps him, selling the merits of the Autobots as good guys. It's a clumsy scene, since Jazz doesn't come across as particularly trustworthy. Driving off a cliff and then catching G.B. before he falls isn't exactly a great way to demonstrate good intentions. Nevertheless, he seems convinced.

That's good, because our four main plot threads are about to come to a head. G.B. reveals his somewhat phallic cannon, but unfortunately it fizzles off impotently. Circuit Breaker has sabotaged it, using information gleaned from his computer systems the night before. I wonder if there was an intentional subtext of female vs male here, in the form of the giant male weapon emasculated by the undeniably female avatar. "Now", she says, "you'll have no choice but to say [she was] the real secret weapon you intended to use all along." Oddly, he thinks to himself that she's right, which doesn't really seem to track. They don't seem to be speaking privately, and there are reporters all around. You'd think they'd pick up on the fact that he out-and-out said she sabotaged his cannon and she agreed.

We don't get much time to dwell on such things before Starscream and Frenzy interrupt the proceedings. Jazz and Wheeljack reveal themselves and enter the battle. We're not treated to standard Autobot on Decepticon violence, though. Circuit Breaker makes herself felt as a powerful combatant, and she makes no distinction between Autobot and Decepticon despite Blackrock's entreaties. As the Decepticons retreat, she prepares to finish off the wounded Autobots, but Blackrock begs her to stop. She agrees, reluctantly, but declares them even, no debt on either side. As she exits into the smoke and fire, vowing that nothing he can say will stop him from destroying any more robots, he gets philosophical. She was the only opponent to emerge from the battle physically unscathed, but also the only one who truly lost. (This isn't quite true - a morale building exercise by the Decepticons turned into a retreat - but his point is still valid.)

This issue featured a great idea but a merely good execution. We've watched this subplot grow for four issues before meeting Circuit Breaker. Her debut is satisfying, and it's nice to see some humans standing up to the Decepticons, even if they're somewhat obsessed. I wonder if the issue would have worked better absent Starscream and Frenzy - her sabatoging the cannon and then fighting the Autobots might have been more ironic. Also, G.B.'s acceptance of the Autobots as good guys was abrupt and I never quite bought it. It would have played better if it had been introduced earlier. Obviously, that was difficult with Ratchet being the only Autobots for four issues, but perhaps the Circuit Breaker introduction could have been delayed. Finally, the transition from the Autobots defeated to the Autobots as a force to be reckoned with was also abrupt, with a mere one page devoted to the final stages of recovery.

Manlay's art is quite nice. He uses jagged lines to good effect, especially during action sequences. There were some stand-out panels during the fight and a couple of awesome splash pages. (The race track page, while an odd choice, was quite dynamically rendered). Hands' does competant ink work, and has a very nice panel on the last page where he puts Jazz entirely in black while the Autobot stands next to an explosion. Yomtov has the usual coloring issues (I feel bad saying that), including an oddly white Optimus Prime body. That said, he had some nice effects, including Buster's Matrix episode, and Josie's transition from sorrow to resolve. Manlay's pencils, Hands' inks, and Yomtov's colors all really sell her emotional state. As usual, Parker's letters subtly emphasize all the right points.

Overall, a strong but not outstanding issue. We've added quite a lot to the mythos, and the art basically works, but a mediocre cover and some plot flubs hold it back a bit. Definitely worth a read or two.

Because IDW does not have the rights to Marvel-owned characters like Circuit Breaker, they did not reprint this issue. It is, however, available from UK-based Titan books in the collection Transformers, Vol. 2: New Order


Bishbot said...

"I'd have loved to see Nick Roche's take on this cover."

- Hell yes. I have to agree with that. I really wish we could get some characters like Circuit Breaker and the Neo Knights back into the modern comics.

Anonymous said...

I was never all that into the super human characters of the Transformers comics, they just seemed like a tacked on idea & a little out of place in that universe. That being said, kudos for mentioning some positive stuff about Budiansky! I always thought he got overlooked more often then he should. Everyone always talks about Furman, which is understandable but they tend to forget all about Bob- What about Bob?! Anyway...

Bishbot said...

I didn't like the superhuman characters at first, but I feel now that they add to the whole "Transformers universe" mythology feel of the thing. And yes, I like Furman better, but Budiansky rocks, and deserves any credit he gets.

Zobovor said...

This was the first issue of TRANSFORMERS that I owned, and for a very long time it was the only issue I owned. I'd seen earlier stories in which the characters were drawn like the toys, so it pleased me to see that in this one, they all looked pretty much the way they did in the cartoon (even if they were all colored wrong).

It's notable that Sunstreaker is absent from the group of revived Autobots, suggesting he did not survive being torn in half by Shockwave. Poor Sunstreaker. (Well, there's always the Nucleon.)