Friday, July 31, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK 1987 Annual: To A Power Unknown

“To A Power Unknown” is the second comic story in the 1987 Transformers annual. It was written by two people - Ian Mennell and Wilf Prigmore. The art was by Will Simpson, the letters by Anne Halfacree, the colours by Josie Firmin and the editing by Sheila Cranna. There was no cover.

Normally my reviews contain a very detailed summary of the events of an issue and what it means for the characters involved. However, since “To A Power Unknown” probably isn’t canon and reads like it was written by a man who once heard about Transformers from a third party and decided to write a story based around what he thought a Transformers story might be like, I can’t help but feel I would be wasting everybody’s time.

The plot concerns a device of extraordinary power. The PARD or “Purnel’s Auto-Reverse Defense System” can “reverse computer controlled instructions.” Professor Purnel (from jolly old England!) designed this to deflect enemy missiles back onto their points of origin, but unfortunately for our heroes, it also works, quite by chance, on Transformer circuitry, with the effect of making Autobots mean and nasty and Decepticons saying we should “give peace a chance”.

The Autobots and Decepticons are understandably shaken by this and decide to track the energy back to it’s point of origin, which turns out to be the UK, for no discernable reason other than this is the UK book. Unfortunately this means that the Autobots have to fly to get there which violates everything we know... Anyway, moving on: While the Transformers are still afflicted, Professor Purnel’s assistant, Zeke Heilmann (Egads! A foreigner!) turns traitor and tries to steal PARD. He hijacks Jazz, who is too messed up to stop him, and finds Starscream in a similar state in a field. Leaping aboard, he is surprised when the talking plane takes off by itself. Jazz, in an uncharacteristic display of callousness which would have Optimus Prime committing seppuku from guilt in a normal story, fires a heat-seeking missile at the departing Decepticon. Starscream transforms to robot mode, forcing Heilmann to fall from his cockpit. Somehow this completely dissipates the heat from his jets, making Heilmann a hotter target for the missile. Heilmann and PARD explode in a gratuitous fireball. There is a bit of a fight, the humans show up, the Decepticons withdraw, PARD is destroyed and the story is mercifully over...

I can’t really recommend reading this but luckily you don’t have to. I could have forgiven a script like this back when the UK book was finding it’s feet but by the time this annual rolled around, there had been seventy-eight issues, most of which were far better. I can’t imagine anyone considering this a proper part of the UK story unless they really wanted to. I’m sure there are some gaps you could squeeze it into but really... what’s the point? Everyone is out of character, nothing changes and the most notable event is that a human being is killed by an Autobot missile and no-one cares. The best bit for me was the depiction of characters from the long-running British soap opera “Coronation Street” The character, Ken, whose likeness is drawn has been in the show since it began in 1960 and is still there in 2009 - a record-smashing lack of ambition for an actor. Things look up at this point when Starscream also briefly watches Doctor Who (although it must have been a repeat - there weren't any Dalek stories in 1986).

The biggest question this story raises is how did it take two people to write it? It’s eleven pages long and reads like it was sketched out between pints on the back of an envelope. I suppose the kindest thing I can say is that it sort of felt a bit like a plot from one of the Sunbow episodes. They typically featured one-off inventions, sometimes human, that made crazy and implausible things happen. Of course, they also had decent writers, talented animators and versatile voice actors creating indelibly loveable characters, whereas “To A Power Unknown” was written by the work-experience kid and drawn by Will Simpson in his typical “Why won't you just let me draw humans?” style.

All in all. If you like Transformers, "To A Power Unknown" is a waste of your time. If you don't, then a) What are you doing here? and b) Please don't judge us based on "To a Power Unknown".

Anyway, that's more than enough words about this story no-one has ever, nor will ever, read. Bish out.

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