Friday, July 17, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #77 "In The National Interest" Part 4

Part 4 brings the story to a close with only minor changes in the creative lineup. Furman and Simpson continue as writer and artist. Anne Halfacree lettered the piece. Tony Jozwiak coloured it and, naturally, Ian Rimmer was the editor.

The rather unusual cover was by Phil Gascoine and it is a collage of scenes that we are about to witness within the book. However, unlike previous times the book has done something similar (usually in the very early issues) this is all new artwork, which is of course worthy of study. There is no doubt that Gascoine has drawn heavily on some interior panels of this issue and the last one for inspiration, but he has reimagined them. That said, I am not really a big fan of this style of cover. I realise its intent: to draw all the threads of the story into one place and prepare us for an epic showdown (“This one... has it all!” blares the caption) but I would much rather have had one big, eye-catching image. We are left with too much blank space and the cover turns out to be too bitty to be memorable. The bits themselves are skilfully depicted but the cover as a whole lacks drama.

Part 4 naturally has to explain the events of the previous issues which is often awkward but, like Part 3, Furman does attempt to do this in a more elegant fashion than it is often attempted. We are treated to Professor Morris’ musings about how he ended up in control of Centurion. His suggestion that Triple-I will have circulated an incorrect version is a good reiteration of the story’s themes without banging the reader over the head. We are also treated to a splendid new picture of Centurion stomping his purposeful way across the countryside. Morris’ intense feelings fuel this back-story and we are told of his shock at seeing Swoop again. This is new information than we were provided with when that incident actually happened and is a strong and logical emotional punch.

After the set-up we cut to the beach where the Dinobots are now locked in combat with the Decepticons. Megatron takes Grimlock down hard while demanding to be given Joy Meadow’s taped evidence. Over this, we are shown Professor Morris’ thoughts as narration as Centurion gets nearer and nearer.

Sludge is in a fighting frenzy, consumed with anger that anyone should try to harm Joy. He is being worn down, however, as the Constructicons work as an efficient team, although, for once, they do not form Devastator.

Soundwave uses Laserbeak to stun Snarl while three more Constructicons drag Swoop out of the sky - “They rely on weight of numbers to win” Morris observes.

He has seen enough. Centurion leaps from the cliff and charging at Bonecrusher, punches him out. Swoop uses this distraction to grab Mixmaster and slam him bodily into the cliff-face. This prompts a fantastic lack of reaction from Soundwave - brilliantly realised by Simpson - which manages to naturally give Soundwave an emotional demeanour through incredibly minimal body language, as befitting the taciturn Decepticon. In two panels we can see his irritation at Mixmaster’s failure coupled with complete indifference to his pain.

At this point, Soundwave comes to the logical conclusion to take the crucial humans hostage and end the battle that way. He takes their film and has Laserbeak vaporise it. Megatron, trigger-crotch standing embarrassingly proudly, proclaims victory.

Morris’ narration continues as he lays out the state of play. The Decepticons leave victorious, the Dinobots’ pride is wounded. Joy Meadows is frightened but defiant and, most crucially, Morris’ fight continues, with Centurion as his weapon. Triple-I, however, despite the setback of losing Morris, are shown to be well and truly still in business, as Forsythe's evil smile at the end demonstrates very ably. Clearly the President is no closer to finding out the lengths they have been going to.

Part 4 is mostly a big fight but it’s a good one. The Dinobots’ valour in their defence of Joy Meadows is an extremely appealing character trait and it’s great to see Sludge fighting for her with all his savage power. I am at a loss as to why the Constructicons do not form Devastator but they work well as fairly interchangeable grunts to populate the Decepticon forces. Centurion’s game-changing entry into the battle is brilliantly done but the ending is where the story really becomes memorable. Like the previous long story featuring these characters, “Dinobot Hunt”, “In The National Interest” ends with the Decepticons having won the day. It is telling that for all their bluster, the Dinobots do not abandon the humans in order to chase the Decepticons. Even they have to accept defeat sometimes. Professor Morris, however, will not accept anything of the sort, and the final image of Centurion clenching his fist with grim resolve is an effective foreshadowing that Morris’ story is far from over.

In the end "In The National Interest" teaches us that sometimes there's nothing you can do in the face of institutionalised evil. Professor Morris remains determined to try, but we are yet to find out whether he is successful, and Joy Meadows, despite all her spirit, is left empty-handed, and will not appear again for many issues. I actually wish that Part 3 had not made it so clear that Triple-I had exceeded their mandate because I feel that the alternative would have been braver, but maybe (hopefully?) less believable.

I can’t get over the cynicism in this story. Not only are the humans the principle villains in this story but their actions allow the Decepticons to have their way. Although we see more of Megatron than we do of Triple-I it’s easier to almost forgive the Decepticon leader. The Decepticons are just doing what they do - tyranny, contempt for organic life and soforth. Despite their faction name the Decepticons have never really been anything less than open about their beliefs and intentions. Triple-I, however, work for the United States government, representing the very beings that Optimus Prime has long had an almost pathological need to protect.

I like this story because it is different - because (whisper it) it is ultimately about humans rather than Transformers and about how, while we might not actually be gripped in a millenia old civil war, we will still do terrible things to one another in order to maintain a fundamentally flawed and failing status quo. It is not the most subtle or well-written story with these themes by a very long way, but it does demonstrate that the Transformers universe is a lot more versatile than simply "Autobots vs Decepticons". Most of all, I like it because I believe in it, and that frightens me.

The other great thing about this issue is the final caption: "Next: Target 2006" - which is one of the single greatest Transformers stories of all time. However, we're not quite there yet, next week I will be tangling with the 1987 Annual in order to tackle the nine part epic the space it deserves.


Mark Baker-Wright said...

"Barnett's evil smile"

...Did I miss something? The Barnett I know is black.

Jimtron said...

I'm sure Bish meant Mr. Forsythe. Barnett is only in a tiny bit of In the National Interest.

Bishbot said...

Rats... I'll fix that.