Thursday, May 28, 2009
Review: Marvel UK #60: "Robot Buster!" (Part 2)"
“Robot Buster!” Part 2, in Issue 60 picks up, somewhat inevitably, from Part 1 in issue 59. Simon Furman concluded the story he began and Barry Kitson continued to provide the pencils. He received no “Plot Idea By.” credit here, so perhaps he just came up with the “Buster in a robot suit” premise, and not the battle with Shockwave. Or perhaps it was simply a mistake. Kitson must have been in a hurry for this issue, because the inking was done by Tim Perkins. Newcomer T.M. Cooks added the rather differently styled colours. Anne Halfacree lettered, and Ian Rimmer edited the story.
The cover was also by Barry Kitson and is not especially successful. It depicts Shockwave holding Buster up to his single malevolent eye and pointing his gun-hand as though about to terminate the human. Unfortunately, although this message is conveyed fairly efficiently, a closer look at the cover reveals its shortcomings. I do not complain about the inconsistency of Transformer scale outside of a fairly generous range because I would be at it forever and it would swiftly become pointless, I do object to bad proportions, and Shockwave suffers greatly here. His head is FAR too large compared to the hand that holds Buster. It looks like it would cover his entire shoulder area and would, of course, look ridiculous if the viewer could see the entirety of Shockwave. The other problem is that the colouring just isn’t that attractive. Shockwave is uniformly purple, which can’t be helped or altered, but there had to be a better choice than just sticking him on a featureless orange background. Neither colour is particularly appealing, and the fact that they are the only two used in abundance makes this a somewhat plain and ugly cover.
The issue opens with a six panel page that I am really fond of. It is an effective demonstration of what a skilled writer can do in the medium of comics that cannot be achieved in either a novel or a motion picture. Furman shows us Buster trying several strategies against Shockwave that all fail, indicating the passage of a fair amount of time in six simple, effective panels, with minimalist (for Furman) captions. Take a look.
(One could nitpick that we don’t see how Buster escaped from Shockwave’s looming presence in the Part 1 cliff-hanger, but the suit has weapons, he obviously escaped - it works for me, and is a very common trope in media that encourage cliff-hangers, such as comics or television.)
We are then treated to a fairly excellent splash page of Shockwave striding from some flames shouting that all Buster can do is delay the inevitable. He still has a surprisingly large cranium, but it’s not quite as obnoxious as the cover image and his distinctive cyclopean eye blazes with menace (It occurs at this point that the orange on the cover might have been intended to represent the fire in this moment, but if it was, it doesn’t work, and Kitson couldn’t be bothered to draw any actual flames, so he does not get off the hook here).
Buster’s robot suit is down and trying to back away from the advancing Decepticon as Shockwave continues to rant. There is a nice use of ellipsis by Furman as Shockwave says “It has been... enjoyable watching you struggle,” as though he either struggles with identifying emotions or feels (ha!) wrong expressing them. This is an excellent little character touch, since we all know that Shockwave, as Vulcan-like as he is, feels all these emotions, but tries to hide them behind a screen of logic. His control always slips in moments like this, however, moments of either triumph or despair.
Buster, trying desperately to get away, hits upon the plan of hurling sand into Shockwave’s singular optic. This strategy is surprisingly effective, and the Decepticon goes reeling backwards in pain, blasting blindly at Buster’s approximate location. While Shockwave flails about, Buster uses this time to recall exactly how he got into this mess, for those readers who did not buy his adventure the previous week - we’re all familiar with it, however, so back to the present! Oh no, wait, Shockwave’s blindness has also set him ruminating, about being buried in the swamp and blasting out of it. Now we’re done...
Buster has, of course, made good his escape, and Shockwave briefly debates the efficiency of pursuit, but he has well and truly lost his cool now, and resolves to continue.
Elsewhere, Buster (in the suit) sits on a rock as dawn breaks. He reasons that although he ought to keep out of Shockwave’s way as much as possible, if he can tinker with the suit and channel all of it’s power through one gigantic blast, it might be enough to bring the Decepticon down, if necessary.
Shockwave is still randomly blasting and yelling for Buster. Unfortunately for the human, despite his fervent hopes, Shockwave does eventually catch up with him. Buster puts on a brave face, challenging Shockwave to face him “robot to robot.” As the Decepticon leaps down at Buster, the human unleashes his super-charged energy blast. Shockwave is blasted backwards and the suit is totalled. Buster goes sprawling from the twisted, smoking wreckage. Sadly, Shockwave is barely even stunned, and he immediately snatches the vulnerable human up in his gigantic hand.
We are treated to a panel that almost certainly become the cover. At first glance it looks identical, and depicts the same moment, but Shockwave is actually completely different, with a smaller (better) head, and his gun in a different place. However, Buster is dangling in exactly the same position, and one was clearly traced to create the other. The Decepticon pontificates, as they tend to, about giving Buster a swift death, but, unfortunately for him, time has run out. A band of Autobots led by Optimus Prime arrive at the top of the cliff and tell Shockwave to stop. Prime offers Buster’s life in exchange for Shockwave’s, citing logic as the reason that the Decepticon should agree, which he does, dumping the human unceremoniously onto the ground.
Shockwave tries to save some face by waffling about Prime’s charred and blackened corpse, the next time they meet, but he has been beaten and knows it. Then Prime turns to Buster and asks if Buster sees what Prime meant when he told him not to use the suit, that the danger only gets greater the more one gets involved. Buster, shaken and bruised, agrees with this and formally resigns from the ranks of the Autobots, even as Shockwave, elsewhere, plans to use the Autobots’ fondness for Buster against them! “Were he capable of emotion, he might feel pity for Buster Witwicky!”
“Robot Buster!” is by no means a classic story. It is entirely throwaway, adding little to the overall tapestry and taking little away. That said, it has no ambitions above that, and as such, succeeds pretty effectively at the level it tries to achieve. I really enjoy the kind of cat and mouse chase that Furman brings us in Part 2. It is especially fun to see Shockwave, not bested but at least frustrated several times by this insignificant human, and to see his icy logical cool crack under the pressure. I have doubts that mere sand would be enough to blind Shockwave’s formidable optic sensor, and kind of wish Buster had come up with something a bit more interesting, but the chase is mostly pretty exciting.
The dénouement is a mixed bag. On the one hand, Prime’s appeal to Shockwave’s sense of logic is pitch-perfect and works much more effectively than outnumbering him in a straight fire-fight would have done, on the other, the fact that Buster learns his lesson does not strike me as believable. Prime seems to think that Buster’s ordeal with Shockwave is more than enough to prove that he is right and the robot suit was a fundamentally bad idea, and Buster is all too ready to go along with it. What both of them fail to realise is that Buster survived against Shockwave, arguably the most powerful single Decepticon currently on Earth, over a period of several hours, and even caused him damage and frustration into the bargain. The suit was clearly designed, in Part 1, to provide Buster with protection and a recourse if he were ever to find himself in a fight with the Decepticons, and in this it has obviously proved it’s value. Let it never be forgotten that Buster finds himself in the middle of giant robot fights all the time, suit or no suit, so where would the harm be in keeping it by as an option? At no point did Ratchet or Wheeljack suggest that it would be capable of going toe-to-toe with Shockwave, and Buster never intended to try, circumstances simply ran away from him. It is entirely believable that Buster, shaken by the night’s events, would throw in the towel and give up the suit, but Prime claiming that Buster involving himself simply increased his personal danger is unfortunately completely missing the point. Prime’s pathological, almost suicidal need to protect humans from harm is one of his defining characteristics, and speaks volumes of his guilt at bringing the war to Earth, so it is also believable that this would cause him to make the wrong decision, and I would like to think that was the point, but that is to read far too much into this ending. Furman’s message here is clearly that Prime was right all along, Buster has learnt his lesson, and I simply do not find that to be an accurate interpretation of the events he has written up to this moment.
Kitson’s art continues to excel (poor front cover aside) and I very much enjoy the Shockwave from the flames splash page. Unfortunately I cannot say that I am a fan of the colour stylings of T.M. Cooks. Admittedly, compared to the US book, the colouring is still more or less superior, simply because of the lack of errors, and sparing use of blocking, but it is much closer in style, utilising flatter, matt colours rather than the more painterly technique of the previous UK colourists.
All in all, “Robot Buster!” is by no means an essential piece of Transformers reading, but it is a largely inoffensive one with a few pretty cool moments, and it leads-in, along with some of the upcoming stories, to the second of Furman’s giant epics: “Second Generation!”
This issue was reprinted in Collected Comics #9 in 1988 and, a bit more relevantly, was also reprinted as part of Titan Books trade paperback Transformers: Second Generation in 2005, still available from Amazon.