Friday, January 2, 2009

Review: Marvel UK #15 "The Enemy Within!" Part 3

The Enemy Within! - Part 3: “Crime... and Punishment!”

Once again the script is by Simon Furman and the art by Mike Collins. Gina Hart also continues with the colouring duties. The cover is a well-composed shot of Brawn launching himself at Starscream as they begin to fight. It is a reprint of the final panel in the issue, although that panel is in black and white and the cover is in colour, as befits an exciting tableau. What does not befit it, however, are the huge blocks of text that mar it rather effectively. The “free Transformers badge” I’m not so bothered about - as a child I would have enjoyed that - but the yellow blocks with red writing that offer a chance to win a “free Kodak disc camera” and rather redundantly point out that there is “A Head-on Clash for the Warring Transformers Inside!” really serve to spoil the effect of the cover. Really, a “head-on clash” you say? Maybe I could have jumped to that conclusion myself if I had been able to properly see the two giant robots fighting on the cover!

The story starts out fairly strongly. The Autobots battle the errant Brawn and are able to bring him down while the Decepticons similarly deal with Starscream. Megatron decides that Starscream must be sentenced to “obliteration without possibility of reanimation” which is a very fitting, Megatron-esque line that ties in quite nicely (and coincidently, of course) with the many demises, resurrections and rebirths of the Starscream character throughout the Transformers multiverse. Unfortunately for Megatron, Starscream throws a spanner in the works by demanding trial by combat, which is apparently a Decepticon (or maybe even Cybertronian) right. Meanwhile, Brawn insists that he’s now fine, the neuro-tranquiliser that the Autobots used to disable him has shocked him back to normal. Optimus Prime wants to believe him, but doesn’t feel he can. Mirage appeals to him, feeling guilty about his involvement in Brawn’s accident. Megatron, oddly, has not simply leapt to Starscream’s challenge. He sits in his base, viewing a tape of a famous historical “trial by combat” between two Cybertronians known as Tornado and Earthquake. They apparently destroyed each other, which gives Megatron the idea to pitch a disposable opponent against Starscream (for some reason). He sends a message to the Autobot base, asking for a champion in this battle, and, amazingly, Optimus Prime agrees to send Brawn, to prove his loyalty. Each combatant is also allowed an observer, in this case Ravage for Starscream and Mirage for Brawn. On the final page - the battle commences.

I think I am beginning to understand why Furman isn’t completely happy with his first few Transformers stories. His trademark script and dialogue style is firmly in place, and functioning well, but some of the characterisation is not yet completely nailed down. The Megatron we see here, wondering how to deal with Starscream’s request for a trial by combat is nothing like the Megatron we see for most of the Marvel run. The Megatron I am more familiar with would have agreed to Starscream’s terms immediately, then, supremely confident in his own prowess, would have challenged Starscream there and then. Similarly, Optimus Prime sending Brawn to his possible death in order to prove his loyalty? I don’t buy that. Admittedly, I suspect some kind of trick will ensue, but I’m fairly sure that were Prime to agree to Megatron’s terms (and the fact that he did seems highly out of character) he would have felt obligated to pick up the gauntlet himself, rather than risk sending another.

That said, there were things I liked - I enjoyed Red Alert’s participation in Brawn’s capture - not because I have any great affection for Red Alert, but because he’s one of those background characters that never get much to do, and he gets to do a good job here. This was probably because, early in the run, it was not known which bots would prove to be more popular than others, so everyone gets a chance to shine, which is nice to see. The other two Seekers working to take down Starscream was an excellent sequence and I approve of Thundercracker deploying his sonic abilities. I also very much liked the two-page historical fight between Tornado and Earthquake. It almost seems to hark back to a time when Cybertronians were more powerful, almost godlike, and did not use guns or missiles in the way the present characters do. A nicely mythic interlude.

The big issue in play is that of trial by combat. When Megatron says “a warrior race” we assume he means the Decepticons, but Optimus Prime is entirely aware of the practice and even seems to deem it reasonable. Obviously Cybertonians as a whole are something of a warrior race, even the Autobots have customs and rules surrounding battle and honour. Interestingly, Furman would return to the idea of the Transformers as a warrior race a few times, notably in the very last Marvel story: “Generation 2” but the characterisation here is definitely somewhat off-base. What exactly is Prime hoping to gain here? The death of Starscream? A useful goal, but he could let Megatron do that himself, and not risk Brawn. I can buy a character, especially an alien character, bound by the customs of his race, but not Optimus Prime, not like this. Admittedly, Brawn would rather fight and die than live in disgrace, which fits Brawn’s character fairly well, but there has to be a better way to redeem him, especially when his rampage probably wasn't his fault.

Collins’ art continues to be competent. I’m of the opinion that it is of a slightly higher quality than the US issues that were contemporary to it, although a lot of that is Gina Hart’s colouring, which is always excellent and does not cheat by colouring background robots all one colour. Using the toys as models does hurt the overall look, especially with Brawn being such a big part of this storyline and we even get a look at the infamous Ratchet without a face. However, I am particularly keen on the image of Earthquake leaping over the fallen Tornado, his hands glowing with power. Quite a lot of effort went into the character models for these two one-off appearances, certainly much more than the Man of Iron from the previous story got, and the entire arc was named after him!

At part 3 “The Enemy Within!” seems to have taken something of a nose dive. Hopefully the odd characterisation will be at least somewhat redeemed by the end of the arc.


Mark Baker-Wright said...

I'm surprised that you mention Red Alert's involvement here without pointing out that, as a 1985 (year 2) Autobot Car, he shouldn't be here at all. Indeed, he's never mentioned again in the "present day" UK stories, and never included at all in the US comic (unless you count a mistake on issue #41's cover that isn't even colored right).

(Odd trivia, most of the year 2 Autobot cars were introduced in issue #14 in the US. For some reason, Inferno and Red Alert were both left out. Inferno eventually shows up just in time for the series to end....)

Mark Baker-Wright said...

(Oh, yeah. Red Alert does show up all of a sudden in the Generation 2 comic. Just long enough to get blown up.)

Bishbot said...

I've got to admit that I didn't check which characters appeared when. I've just always assumed that Red Alert always on the Ark, since he never gets an origin, so his presence didn't really raise any flags for me.

Thanks for the info about him. I guess that's why I considered him a background character, because he's never actually in the comic!

I do remember him in G2, but I've read that dozens of times (I'm a big fan - make of that what you will).

I have to admit that I haven't read a lot of these stories before. I'm pretty familiar with everything from round about Dinobot Hunt onwards, but a lot of this stuff is new to me. I thought it'd be more fun to review from that perspective, so I haven't done much research so as to not spoil myself on it.

Anonymous said...

I've long suspected that the Autobot who KOs Brawn was supposed to be Sideswipe, and somehow the artist switch obscured the fact that the guy with the old Gears face plate was supposed to be an early model for the same character until it was too late to redraw, necessitating a rename and recolor. Consider the fact that he apparently specializes in punching: that's consistent with Sideswipe's piledriver arms more than any of Red's attributes.

It is an appropriate cameo for 2 reasons though:

1. All of Red Alerts appearances in comic continuity would come equally out of nowhere, for no particular reason.

2. Given Red Alert's only starring turn in the cartoon, it's appropriately ironic that he shows up to stop Brawn from going "Auto Berserk"; maybe he really was the best bot to best Brawn if he'd had a history of similar glitches in the past of this continuity as well.