Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Marvel UK #18 "Raiders of the Last Ark" Part 1

The script for this issue was written by Simon Furman, Mike Collins pencilled it and Jeff Anderson supplied the ink. Gina Hart performed colouring duties.

The cover is a depiction from the interior art of a tense battle inside the Ark. It does its job well enough, but I’m not fond of having the sound-effects lettering on the exterior cover, especially when one of the blasters makes a noise like “Waz!” which I’m sure is very descriptive, but I still find amusing in a puerile sense: . The caption telling us that “The Ark is Invaded!” is small and inoffensive enough to escape notice. Unfortunately the chosen panel is also on one of the coloured interior pages, so we do not gain anything from this choice.

The issue begins with a recap of the battle in the Ark that caused it to crash to Earth in the first place. There is one important difference from the original telling in Transformers #1 (US or UK, it doesn’t matter). We are informed that the Ark has an Artificial Intelligence at the heart of its computer system - dubbed Auntie - it was she who programmed the suicide course that Optimus Prime was forced to implement. While her existence was mentioned in a very offhand fashion in the original US miniseries, her involvement here is implied to be much more direct. In the present, the Decepticons, unusually for them, waste no time with elaborate plans, they simply “ATTACK!” The Autobots, presumably not expecting such an overt show of force, are swiftly overrun, although they do get a few good hits in.

Furman’s six-page script is an efficient action piece and works well as set-up for the real story. The prologue is nicely done, and the introduction of Auntie as a concept is intriguing. If you read the two issues close together you can argue that her existence is something of a retcon, but its a very minor one, and if it leads to an interesting story, its entirely forgivable, in a continuity with as many things to keep straight as this one has. If you wanted to be really anal about it, you could argue that since both accounts are told in the past tense, perhaps the narrator is not entirely reliable. I have to admit that I find it somewhat puzzling that she is called Auntie, and appears to be female. In most continuities, Transformers do have gender, and family groupings, and it might make more sense there, but in this continuity, Furman keeps the Transformers entirely genderless (or male) until he tells Arcee’s origin in the lamentably jokey “Prime’s Rib”. Admittedly, Auntie is merely an AI, not a Transformer, so the rules do not necessarily apply, but it seems an odd choice by a race of genderless beings who appear, most of the time, to have male characteristics.

Auntie’s existence aside, I’m a little taken aback by the ease with which the Decepticons gain access to the Ark and the damage they are able to do. However, it has never been stated whether the Autobots are completely aware of the Decepticons’ strength and disposition, and therefore perhaps they can be forgiven for being taken off-guard - perhaps. Optimus Prime has a rather out of character moment where he says to the Autobots “Call yourselves warriors!?” in order to rally them. No Optimus, they usually don’t, and neither do you. Furman is still working out the characteristics of the Transformer race at this point, and although he won’t entirely let go of the idea of Cybertronians as a whole having a warrior culture, he will tone it down a great deal. One would be more likely to expect Prime to say “Call yourselves Autobots!?”

The interaction between Ravage and Windcharger is a fun page, setting up their magnetic abilities, while giving us a nice bit of comic-book fight banter. This sort of thing permeates the issue, but is more important because here because these two will end up working together.

I’m not quite so fond of Collins’ art here which I’m tempted to put down to Anderson doing the inking. The Transformers look is still toy-based, with all the inherent awkwardness that engenders, but the whole thing looks somehow simpler than the preceding stories. It has a very clean look, without too many excess lines, but backgrounds are now quite often devoid of much detail. The robots themselves aren’t so different, however. Perhaps rather than blame the artist, the problem might be that the issue takes place largely within a very simple looking environment, which is often obscured by weapons’ fire and explosions, not allowing for much intricate detail. However, there is no doubt that I prefer the look of stories that Collins also inked. Gina Hart’s colouring, on the pages that have it, continues to excel.

Overall, it might sound like I have problems with the issue, but I don’t really. It’s all good set-up and any complaints are really just nitpicks. It tells its story well enough, it just doesn’t gel with some of my own preferences of characterisation. The art gets the job done without wowing me at any point. I’m interested to see where this goes.


Mark Baker-Wright said...

The name "Auntie" seems to come from a line in TF#1 (US) where Huffer is having the computer gather information on Earth. He says "Let Auntie transmit signals she is receiving from across this world and place them on the monitor screens...".

I am convinced that Huffer was just being flippant, and that "Auntie" wasn't intended to reference the computer by name. Indeed, in the US, the name never ever appears again. But since Simon Furman took it as a literal name, it's canonically the name of the Ark's computer. Stupid, stupid name, but canonical nonetheless.

(There is, however, evidence that I'm wrong. this discussion indicates that the name was actually in the TF story bible. It's not hard evidence, and inexplicably stupid that anyone put it there in the first place, but I can't imagine why anyone would make up the name's presence in such a guide.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

Oh! That's actually YOU! I should check names more closely!

Jimtron said...

LOL. Yeah, that was me.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this comment's as late as it is due to a relevant update. In Jim Shooter's blog last month, he made two entries called "The secret origin of the Transformers"

Odds are 50/50 that anyone reading this blog already read that part of Jim's, but here's the relevant part:

"And, the only thing of Denny’s I kept, as I recall, was the name of the Autobots’ ship, “Auntie.” I have become convinced, also, that he named Optimus Prime. It’s not unlike a name I might come up with, but it’s very much in the style of the erudite Mister O’Neill, full of scope, dignity and power."

Bob Budianski has said that Optimus Prime was one of the few names that someone else came up with before TF was passed to him, so the origin of Auntie's name rings true as well.