Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK 1987 Annual: Victory!

“Victory!” is a ten-page story from the 1987 Annual which came out, naturally, in the autumn of 1986. It tells the story of the Dinobots living through their coma (post “Dinobot Hunt!”) and fits into the annual format well by being in continuity but showing as something from the past, rather than competing with the regular book.

It was written, as ever, by Simon Furman. It was drawn by Geoff Senior and lettered by Anne Halfacree. The colours were by a returning Gina Hart and Sheila Cranna took editing duties.

As an annual story it has no cover but the second page is a brilliant splash page of Megatron being bisected by Grimlock’s energo-sword. This is a shocking image and I would love to own the original artwork.

The basic structure of this ten page story takes the form of glimpses into the minds of the five Dinobots as they lie comatose (between issues #50 and #65).

The story of the Dinobots’ coma was something of an anticlimax in the main book as they went into it at the end of “Dinobot Hunt!” and woke up, suffering no ill-effects, at the end of “Second Generation!” In “Victory!” however, Furman is able to mine it to create an atmospheric and entertaining character study as the Dinobots struggle to overcome defects in their personalities that are preventing them from waking up.

There is a fair amount of room for debate as to which character flaws apply to which Dinobot. Certainly there would seem to be an overarching theme of arrogance. This is a characteristic that all the Dinobots unquestionably share. Confidence and pride in their own abilities are parts of what makes them such effective warriors but it can get them into trouble, and it would appear that in “Victory!” their subconscious minds are trying to tell them this. The only Dinobot’s story which does not fit this model is Sludge’s, as he is undone by his trusting nature, rather than overconfidence, so perhaps there is some merit in dissecting the stories individually:

Grimlock’s vignette is a tale of hubris. Having killed Megatron and disabled several other prominent Decepticons he fails to pay Starscream enough mind. Starscream bolts on the fallen leader’s fusion cannon and, pretending to be wounded, allows Grimlock to approach him, before blowing him apart at point-blank range. The Dinobot feels his life slip away and is left with only “darkness… and voices.”

In his dream, Grimlock is the leader, not only of the Dinobots, but of all the Autobots. In fact, while it is not completely clear, it is possible that he is the last Autobot left alive. Certainly, it is made abundantly obvious that Optimus Prime is very, very dead. These dream sequences appear to be part-fantasy, part nightmare, always taking the form of something that the Dinobot would like very much to happen, before it leads to their death. However, this dream demonstrates why Grimlock would (and will) be a bad choice as Autobot leader. While he is certainly powerful and inspirational enough his vision is too narrow. He is at his happiest while wading through corpses and fighting in close-combat with the Decepticons. The reader gets the impression that this sort of death is inevitable for one of Grimlock’s temperament and Grimlock must surely know this himself, to be dreaming it. Perhaps he even learns from this eventually, because in the Dinobots’ next (in continuity - not chronologically) story: “In The National Interest” Grimlock backs down and allows Megatron to escape rather than endanger himself and others.

Swoop’s story goes back to his lack of respect for Optimus Prime, already well established in issue #46. Acting alone he manages to capture Soundwave and hauls him skyward. Refusing to hand his captive over to Prime, thinking that the Autobot leader will take all the credit, he disobeys orders and decides to parade the communications officer in front of his own troops. Soundwave, unable to bear the shame, activates a personal self-destruct device and blows them both into atoms.

Swoop is, in general, more even-tempered than Grimlock but he really has no time for Optimus Prime. However, not liking a single individual does not amount to a character flaw. Like Grimlock he suffers for his arrogance and his inability to grasp the big picture. It is, however, far easier to wound Swoop’s pride than it is Grimlock’s. In this story Swoop is worried that Prime will take the credit for his own success - obviously something Prime would never do - whereas Grimlock would just have shouted loudly about his success until there was no doubt who the hero was. Swoop knows how good he is, but he also knows how good Optimus Prime is, and he worries about being overshadowed so he fights back with open hostility, which, in this case, gets him into serious trouble. The character flaw that Swoop needs to battle in order to wake up is inadequacy, a trait that probably isn’t helped by spending so much time with Grimlock (Swoop’s sense of inadequacy and his discomfort with Optimus Prime will be explored thoroughly a year from this story, in the 1988 annual’s “What’s In A Name?”).

Sludge’s naivety is to prove his downfall as he thunders joyfully through a forest before being confronted by the shining image of Joy Meadows the human reporter that he has a crush on. He is overjoyed to see her but lets his guard down. Joy steps back, rips the skin from her head to reveal a terrifying, sharp-toothed mechanoid, and blasts Sludge to death with lasers that emanate from her eyes. Sludge’s last sight is Megatron, grinning smugly as the Dinobot’s life ebbs away into “darkness and voices.”

Unlike the other Dinobots Sludge seems to be merely unfortunate in his nightmare. As personality defects go, naivety is not a bad one to have, but it can still have fatal consequences. The message is simple and clear. Sludge needs to not take everything he sees at face value and to think before he acts.

Snarl’s dream is of a resurrected Guardian. The Dinobot seems to be doing well against the Omega-Class Battle Droid but complacency proves to be Snarl’s undoing. Upon decapitating Guardian, he turns away, not anticipating that this model might have been modified. He does not notice the headless body of the battle droid bearing down on him until it is too late.

Snarl has some of Sludge’s problem with a lot of Grimlock’s. Snarl, like all the Dinobots, is a fierce warrior who revels in combat, but he acts very much on impulse, too confident in his own superiority, and the nightmare is telling him that this will one day be the end of him. Perhaps Snarl is more overconfident than he is arrogant. Unlike Grimlock he has no command ambitions. His is a simpler dream - a dream of one on one combat. Snarl wants nothing more than to fight and to be better than his opponent but a lack of situational awareness will end his life prematurely if he is not careful.

Slag recalls the Dinobots’ battle with Shockwave way back in prehistory. It is odd that it would be Slag in particular who dreamt of this, considering that it was Snarl who buried them all in the fateful tar-pit. This time, however, Slag tries an all-out charge on Shockwave which ends in the Decepticon being badly damaged but Slag, unable to stop, flying into the tar, sinking into a haze of “darkness and voices.”

Slag is similarly oblivious to everything but his target but while Snarl is smug about his victory Slag’s character flaw takes the form of a lack of self-preservation. The pursuit of Victory! leads him to endanger his own life needlessly in order to achieve it. Slag is not so much arrogant as he is careless. When in combat the blinkers descend and he cannot see anything other than his opponent. This can be very useful on a battlefield but is certainly not conducive to a long and happy life.

The voices in the darkness turn out to belong to Ratchet and Optimus Prime as they survey the comatose Dinobots. Ratchet has concluded that they are dreaming but cannot wake up. He is concerned that if this continues the Dinobots will become brain-dead. Prime insists that a way must be found to save them but Ratchet thinks that this is something that the Dinobots have to do for themselves. He has theorised that a personality flaw is preventing them from waking up and they need to mentally overcome it.

“And in their dream-world The Dinobots go to war once more… Give them victory – or give them death!”

Senior’s artwork combined with Hart’s colouring makes this one of the most beautiful Transformers stories you can read from this era. Pretty much every panel is a winner and I have read it so many times that they are all pretty much burned into my memory. As well as splash of Megatron's death we get good looks at all the Dinobots in their Dinosaur modes and the last panel would make an excellent poster. There are some colouring errors in Grimlock’s story. Starscream appears to be coloured as either Megatron or Grimlock, and while I have searched for a long time to find some kind of symbolism here as Grimlock is killed by an enemy coloured like himself, I have to concede that it is more likely to have been a simple mistake, given that this motif is not carried over into the other stories.

Analysis aside, this is one of the few Marvel UK stories that I can be genuinely nostalgic about. Almost all of it was reprinted in the #1992 Summer Special, along with “Grudge Match!” (a tale of Swoop’s psychological turmoil that follows “What’s In A Name?”) and while the actual issue must have been thrown out long ago I have a distinct memory of my father buying it for me and me reading it at the age of five. At the time I had absolutely no idea what I’d missed or why these characters were in these situations, or that this was a reprint of something from the year of my birth. I had seen quite a few episodes of the cartoon and played avidly with the toys, but the comic continuity was a complete mystery to me. Of course, as a five-year-old, I couldn’t have cared less. I knew most of the characters and devoured their adventures without need for context. It has to be said though, that “Victory!” in particular was seared into my subconscious because at that age it was so terrifying! Even though Megatron was the bad-guy, I still found his being slashed in half pretty traumatising, and then all the Dinobots die one after the other. Special mention, I think, should be given to Sludge’s death. I mean look at this thing! The Joy MeadowsBot is pure nightmare fuel and Geoff Senior needs to be applauded for haunting my young dreams with her. Needless to say that this terror only added to the experience and I read and reread this issue over and over again. The version I had only reprinted pages two, three, four, five, six and seven and ended with Snarl seeing Guardian as “Back, but not for long!” Slag was excised completely and the whole dream-sequence aspect was not at all clear. I was very pleased to discover that a long version existed that made more sense, but slightly less pleased to find that there was no resolution beyond “the Dinobots wake up.”

It isn’t an Earth-shattering story. Nothing changes. All the principle characters spend their time comatose and nothing that happens is real. On the other hand, it has brilliant analysis of some much loved characters and absolutely gorgeous artwork. Victory! isn’t my favourite Transformers UK story, but it’s definitely in the top five.

Read it! It’s really easy to get hold of, it's available from IDW as part of  Transformers: Best of the UK - Dinobots collection. Buy it now!


Jimtron said...

Awesome review! Now I'm going to go reread this badboy.

Glyph said...

Nice review! This has always been one of my favourites and it's interesting to hear a more in-depth look at the individual Dinobots' dreams. I'd taken the story as a whole, focusing on the general theme of victory snatched away at the last moment rather than the War of the Dinobots-style focus on their individual character flaws and the need to overcome them, so it's an interesting perspective.

On the odd Starscream-as-Megatron: it's an odd quirk of Gina Hart's colours that Megs gets that gold chestplate, and I've always assumed that she was just thrown off by the fusion cannon. I don't think there's any symbolism intended; Starscream just got confused with Megatron for a panel. Perhaps there just wasn't time / facility to correct the mistake after she figured it out on the next page?

Chuffer said...

A great Transformers story by my favourite creative team. Furman and Senior are at their best here, combining strong action with a character's inner thoughts (I remember something similar happening in a chapter of Ancient Relics). You’re right to praise Hart's colours too - I never properly appreciated the difference between colourists until these reviews made me consider them.

The very first time I read this, I was too young to be familiar with the 'dream sequence' fake-outs, so the sight of Optimus Prime lying dead in the third panel was something of a heart-stopper (back in the days when Prime being dead was a surprise, rather than included with the price of the ticket). Not to mention what happened to Megatron (a little more decisive than the "oh he's been shot, but will probably get up in a minute"). I also remember loving it, which just shows what comics can get away with when robots are tearing into each other, rather than people (can't really see Lion-O being allowed to do that in Thundercats UK, even in a dream).

One point about Slag's dream: the way I read it, Slag was aware of the tar pit and had intended to land there (as opposed to Shockwave's hard landing), not realising it would drag him down. Although the basic moral is the same - reckless aggression was Slag's downfall.
And was Shockwave killed? I never considered it until now, but the way his head is snapped back by the landing, followed by the unnatural way he is lying, particularly with his leg skewed, could suggest that outcome. Slag seems to think that Shockwave is gloating, but his death would certainly fit the nihilistic tone of all the Dinobot's dreams.

Great review as always. Can't wait for 2006! (the review, not the year)

D.M said...

It would be sweet if Geoff was doing upcoming ongoing IDW TF comics.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that can make the title page slightly more awesome?
Imagining the Voltron theme music in the background.

I didn't get to read Victory until the Dinobot Hunt trade, and this was certainly the hightlight. A story worthy to wield the name of the best Japanese TF cartoon.


Sean said...

This came out the year you were born??? WOW-i didn't realise you were a full dozen years younger than me! At 12, i did understand the dream sequence motif, and actually wished they did more of these-especially for Jazz and Prowl so i could see their thoughts (especially since they were at REAL odds over building "ultimate Autobots" in an earlier series.

I too found this issue scary though, which to me shows the relative innocence of the 80s to today where children are subjected to much more violent imagery (such a shame)

Anyway, yes, this is a memorable story and a good one