Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #27: King of the Hill!

King of the Hill! is the twenty-seventh issue of the US G1 Marvel Transformers comic. It was written by Bob Budiansky, with pencils by Don Perlin, inks by the duo of Akin and Garvey, colors by Nel Yomtov and letters by Janice Chiang. The cover was by Herb Trimpe.

It's quite a nice cover, too. Trypticon wades through a forest, battling the Dinobots as a perky young girl runs away from the carnage. Grimlock's got his teeth buried in the gargantuan Decepticon, but the rest of the Dinobots seem to be overwhelmed. Slag, in particular, is in a bad way, as Trypticon has just picked him up. It's a dynamic cover, full of motion and action. Trypticon is impressively huge compared to the Dinobots, who we already know are among the largest of Transformers. It's a real win.

The issue, for the most part, manages to live up to the promise of the cover. It starts with a paleontology professor and some students, examining some dinosaur footprints. I'm sorry, did I say dinosaur? I meant dinoBOT footprints. The professor at first believes them to be an elaborate hoax, but a glimpse of Swoop convinces him that SOMETHING is, ahem, afoot. They decide to camp for the night.

The Dinobots, meanwhile, indulge in some stolen oil, courtesy of Swoop. The scene of him stealing it was shown but seemed redundant; we've already got the human perspective in this issue. We haven't seen the Dinobots since issue #19, when they defected rather than engage in a sham attack on the Decepticons. (Of course, in the UK that's not the case, but I'll let Bish cover those issues in his own time.) They're surly, even with each other, and have little concern for the property rights of humans. But it's the Autobots that Grimlock has his sights set on. He sees the death of Optimus Prime as an opportunity to not just end his exile, but to take command.

And in the Florida Keys, Shockwave takes a call from Cybertron. Ratbat, fuel auditor of Cybertron, introduces himself and quickly gets down to business. He's done an analysis, and it seems that the space bridge is consuming more energy than it's producing! He's cutting Shockwave off. Shockwave argues that this sort of inefficient operation was due to Megatron's faulty leadership, and convinces Ratbat to send his mightiest warrior for one last attack on the Ark. With its resources, Shockwave in sure that the Decepticons can act without further aid from Cybertron. Ratbat agrees, but warns that it's Shockwave's last chance.

With Optimus Prime now well and truly gone, the Autobots prepare to choose his sucessor. Each of the Autobot sub-commanders gather to discuss what traits their new leader should have. Blaster suggests they need a warrior; Hot Spot's criteria is wisdom; Silverbolt wants compassion; Ratchet's attribute of choice kindness; Omega Supreme asks for courage; Jetfire points out the benefits of charisma. Unexpectedly, Grimlock bursts into the scene and demands that strength be the criteria. He disrupts the proceedings by smashing a holo-projection of Optimus Prime, and unsubtly puts himself forth as the best candidate for leadership. Perceptor, chairing the proceedings, allows that as Dinobot leader he's welcome to speak at the session, but Grimlock is having none of it. He storms off, ominously saying that what Grimlock wants, he takes.

Freshman Rachel Becker, camping with the professor, is startled by a bright light. She witnesses the opening of the space bridge and the arrival of Trypticon. Perlin and Yomtov do a good job here. Rather than reveal everything at once, we get blurred and shadowy glimpses before a page turn yields a full-page splash of the deadliest Decepticon. Rachel runs away, and in her panic loses her light. She decides to curl up by a log for the night and find her camp in the morning.

Trypticon approaches the Ark and transforms to battle station mode. He dispatches Wipe-Out, a scout, to look for any interlopers who may be nearby. Wipe-Out piles on some effusive praise before Trypticon tells him to just shut up and go. Trypticon then begins his attack, luring the Autobots out of the Ark with a sonic-scrambler missile before beginning his barrage.

Grimlock and the Dinobots approach the Ark, ready to do battle with those within for the mantle of leadership. (Isn't that bunny cute?) He's surprised to see a battle already in progress. The Dinobots are gleeful, except for Grimlock, who doesn't really want to rule over a pile of corpses. Rachel is also surprised by the battle, and more so by Grimlock. This time, though, she doesn't panic but approaches him openly. He's impressed by her courage, but doesn't have time for it right now. Unfortunately, Wipe-Out has plenty of time for her and snatches her up.

Trypticon continues to lay siege to the Ark, blasting anyone who comes out but shaking up those inside with his sonic-scrambler mines. The Dinobots, except for Grimlock, are actually cheering him on, but when Grimlock sees Trypticon about to mercilessly kill Rachel he's galvanized to action. He leaps onto Trypticons' back, giving Rachel time to get away. The Dinobots quickly rush to Grimlock's side, and a pitched battle ensues. Trypticon gets in some good shots, blowing a hole in Swoop's wing and scoring direct hits of Slag and Sludge. Ratbat, though, has been monitoring the battle and recalls the Decepticon titan. It seems he's exceeded his energy budget for the mission. Grimlock's troops are happy to have driven off the larger dinosaur, but still want to make their man the top Autobot. To the Ark they head.

Inside the Ark, Jetfire thanks the Dinobots for saving them and offer Grimlock the leadership, thanks to his show of strength. Grimlock defers, having realized that there's more to leading the Autobots than being strongest. Perceptor points out that while it's true that there's more to being leader than being the strongest, Grimlock has demonstrated those traits. During the battle he exhibited wisdom, compassion, courage, charisma and tactical aptitude. Ratchet and Perceptor agree - HAIL GRIMLOCK!

This issue is an interesting one on a couple of levels. Grimlock's quest for a leadership that he is ill-suited to hold is fun. Had Trypticon not shown up, I have no doubt that Grimlock would have engaged in a small Autobot Civil War, the outcome of which would be at best uncertain. Even after Trypticon starts his siege, the Dinobots gleefully watch. Having decided that the Autobots are, at least temporarily, enemies, they enjoy seeing them knocked about. Even Grimlock seems less concerned about their well being than about their future potential as his soldiers. In some ways, this story is about a series of blunders that thrust Grimlock into a position of power; any human other than Rachel (and perhaps Joy Meadows from the UK) he would happily have let Trypticon slaughter. The subsequent stories would show just how ill-suited he is to lead the Autobots, but we'll come to them in their own time. I can't help but wonder if Grimlock's refusing the crown for being unworthy was just part of his strategy. If it's a genuine moment, it undercuts the theme of the book, but if it's a case of Caesar refusing the crown then it fits right in. (Of course, the next issue would literally put a crown on Grimlock's head, so maybe there's something to this interpretation.)

The transition in leadership of the teams, from Optimus vs Megatron to Grimlock vs Shockwave, is an interesting one. Whereas Optimus and Megatron seem to be fundamentally similar in their leadership style, leading with power and charisma, Grimlock and Shockwave couldn't be more different. Shockwave is about logic and reason, completely dispassionate. Grimlock is about emotion and passion and ego. Unfortunately, this dichotomy will never be explored in depth, as the Autobot plots and Decepticon plots start to diverge.

This issue also features the introduction of a character of great import was introduced. No, not Trypticon, he'll never show up again in the US. I'm talking, of course, of Ratbat. As if Shockwave's cold logic wasn't enough, we're now given an accountant who's making sure that energy is used in an efficient manner. Megatron would have laughed in his face, but this sort of argument is immensely appealing to Shockwave. The two characters would go on to have some great chemistry together.

Finally, this issue features an unusual character - Wipe-Out. Wipe-Out is subservient to Trypticon, almost slavishly so. He carries a grease gun, and gets his own character model. Yet, he seems to be completely original to the comics. Trypticon's toy comes with a small scout car, Full-Tilt, but it looks nothing like Wipe-Out. Wipe-Out's design is based on a Tailgate toy, though Tailgate gets his own completely unique model. With a decently established personality and a special weapon, it really seems like Bob was drawing from something specific here. He was asked about it in an interview recently, but didn't have much insight.

Overall, this book tells an interesting story, one that works better the more you put thought into it. If you think that the book is trying to tell you that Grimlock is actually right for Autobot leadership, you may find it frustrating. But if you think it's a sort of comedy of errors, showing how a wrong leader can get appointed, it's subversively interesting. King of the Hill! is available for purchase from IDW Publishing as part of  Classic Transformers Volume 2 .


B-W said...

Issue #27. Time of the Autobots greatest mistake....

They'll come to regret appointing Grimlock as leader soon enough.

David Oxford said...

At least Grimlock did better his second time around.

--LBD "Nytetrayn"

Sean said...

In the UK (and Canada, and Australia, and South Africa, and wherever UK comics are sold), the letters page was actually answered by different Transformers (Soundwave did this for a LONG time, then Grimlock, then Dreadwing (!), then Blaster. Well, it was fun to see Grimlock's perspective on his being leader. This issue had a UK flavour to me since Grimlock and the Dinobots were not speaking in the broken English they usually do in American formats.

I agree that Grimlock as leader was quite a mistake.

I also found it interesting that one of the cassettes was given such a high rank and so much character. Ratbat is quite an interesting fellow.

While Megatron may have initially laughed in Ratty's face, it would seem that Decepticon control on Cybertron has changed quite a lot in the 4 million years he slept. I don't think Ratbat would acquiesce to him, nor would he support him if he felt that Megatron's ways were not cost effective. Meaning that if Megatron got smart with him, Ratbat could pull the plug on the space bridge, or any other aid Megs might need-which would definitely leave him at a disadvantage.

But yes, i do think that the soft-fighting (with words) between Shockwave and Ratbat make things more interesting