Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: Marvel Headmasters #4: Brothers in Armor!!

Brothers in Armor!! (note the DOUBLE exclamation mark ... how exciting) is the fourth and final issue in the Marvel Headmasters limited series. The creative line-up remains largely unchanged. Budiansky was the writer, Springer the penciler, Akin & Garvey the inkers and Yomtov the colorist. Only the letterer changed from issue to issue, with Morelli taking over for the final chapter. The cover is by Frank Springer as well.

The cover suffers from being too gimmick-focused. Hot Rod (lacking a spoiler, no doubt for compositional reasons) stands front and center, battling against a yellow and a green Terrorcon. An orange Kup stands to his side, but the real action is the dramatic transformation of the Nebulon Sparks (aka Firebolt) into his gun. It's a rather dramatic image, but it lacks some of the depth of prior covers in this mini-series. It certainly does sell the concept, though. "Enter: The Targetmasters!" it proudly tells us, as well as promising that it is the "Fierce Final Issue."

The issue begins with some more lovely Budiansky prose. His pleasant words about the Mercury Gardens of Melanossus contrast with the devastation of a battle between the Decepticon Headmasters and the Monsterbots. Soon the Autobots realize that their stand is causing more harm than good and retreat, a theme that will be revisited again and again in this issue. Zarak enjoys a little rant as they flee, but soon composes himself enough to give the NNN (Nebulan News Network) an interview. This is, of course, another slick way to impart to the audience the events of the past three issues, though from a thoroughly biased point of view. When the reporter asks him if he considers this battle a victory for planet Nebulos, Zarak glances over to the devastated national treasures and succinctly replies 'yes.'

The Autobots, meanwhile, are sick of hiding in the swamps. Some Nebulons have joined them, criminals to their government, which is why they all use codenames. They're dressed in robot suits and want to help defend the Nursery from Decepticon aggression. Crosshairs grouses that many of them don't even have weapons, but Pointblank cryptically mentions that between their new allies and a twist on bio-mechanical engineering, that won't be an issue. Hot Rod also picks up a distress call from the Autobots on Earth, something that we'll find out more on later. Crosshairs wants to use the message as an excuse to leave Nebulos forever, but Blurr and Pointblank won't leave while Fortress Maximus and the other Headmasters are in custody. So, naturally, they ... head for the Nursery. It's a slightly muddled exchange, probably made so by the need to get Targetmasters explained in this issue.

In Koraja, site of the Decepticon base and the captive Autobot/Nebulons, Vorath has also picked up the transmission. Zarak has other concerns - his daughter, Llyra, has come to see Galen with her own eyes. Galen is hooked up to a macro-restraining harness, that keeps him alive but inert. Zarak wakes Galen for Llyra, who storms out when the captive attempts to restrain himself. Zarak can't help but gloat, but Galen warns Zarak that the Decepticons are no ally to Nebulos. The exchange is interrupted when the Decepticons learn of the Autobot advance on the Nursery. "Transform and roll out," Zarak commands the horde of beasts without legs.

At the Nursery, six Autobot cars arrive. They're ready to defend the structure, and the opportunity comes moments later when Scorponok's bestial crew arrives. Shockingly, the six Nebulon allies convert into weapons and the Autobots strike at their hated enemies. In a very nice touch, each of the Autobot's weapons is shown to have a different type of blast. Springer did his homework - Blurr's partner Haywire, an electo-laser cannon, is drawn spitting out lightning bolts. Pointblank's partner Peacemaker, a sterophonic sonic blaster, fires a wavy line. The others are similarly appropriate. Soon they too, like the Monsterbots before them, realize that the longer the fighting lasts, the more the structure they seek to protect will be damaged. With the nursery in ruins, the Targetmasters retreat. Zarak observes the carnage mid-rant and has a moment of realization.

Several days later, the Decepticons have succeeded in duplicating Targetmaster technology. Zarak has no interest in that, nor his daughter, and instead goes to see Galen. He revives Galen and tries to tell him about what he's discovered. Galen doesn't want anything to do with his mad adversary and can barely comprehend what Zarak is trying to tell him. Zarak orders the ever-loyal Krunk aside, and when his minion hesitates WUMPs him unconscious. He then reactivates Galen and the others, who waste no time in recombining with the Autobots. Zarak flees the Autobots and runs into Llyra. Together they attempt to escape, which is made easier when the Decepticon Targetmasters engage the retreating Autobots. (They're given a similar panel, showing off their weapon blasts.) Meanwhile, shrewd Llyra wants to know how Galen escaped. Zarak is distracted by the sounds of battle. When she demands to know if he freed them, he storms off. The battle calls to him, and he must answer. He has once again surrendered to the siren song of Scorponok, and his shadowy countenance is all too appropriate.

Llyra observes the recklessness of the Decepticons first hand, including her father, shouting like a loon. Fortress Maximus, in a bit of irony, grabs the statue of Nebulos and hurls it at the Targetmasters, allowing them to retreat. This same statue was the cause of the initial Autobot/Nebulon hostilities back in issue one, so its return is a rather deft touch.

The Autobots reunited, Galen follows Zarak's instructions and asks about Earth. When he learns that other Autobots there need his help, he orders an immediate withdrawal from Nebulon. He's not abandoning Nebulon, he's drawing the Decepticons away. When Llyra arrives and asks Galen to tell her the truth, wants him to tell her that he was a good guy all along, he tells her that he's going to 'escape this wretched mudball,' driving her away. He couldn't bear to leave, knowing that she still loves him. And so, Autobots and Decepticons alike depart for Earth, leaving behind the dream of robot and organic cohabitation. We end with a shot of Nebulon rebuilding, lead by a tearful Llyra who has lost so much.

Thus ends one of the strongest Transformers tales in the Marvel series. Even the pages devoted to the Targetmaster gimmick couldn't derail this very powerful conclusion. The dreams of Fortress Maximus and Galen lie in ruins. Lord Zarak has lost his mind, reprogrammed by his union with Scorponok. Llyra has lost both a lover and a father, and Nebulos suffered devastation after devastation. And yet, in a way, organics and mechanics DO learn to live and work together in this story. Zarak and Galen are briefly united in their desire to spare their world further harm, and act in concert. Springer's art works very well for the organic-heavy story, with plenty of emoting from our primary three actors.

Brothers in Armor!! is available from Titan books in the anthology  Transformers: Trial By Fire, and highly recommended for purchase.


B-W said...

Quick nit-pick. Isn't the planet called "Nebulos" (rather than "Nebulon") in the comics?

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time believing that every Nebulan that is binary-bonded to a Transformers willing left Nebulos behind for Earth. At the very least, Stylor, who is binary bonded to Chromedome, would not want to leave his societal lifestyle behind or Grax, who is binary-bonded to Skullcruncher on the opposing side, would not want to leave his business interests behind. The only possible explanation is that, they, like Lord Zarak, and possibly every other binary-bonded Nebulans on both sides, have been reprogrammed such that their Nebulan personas have been lost and been replaced by the dominant Transformer personas of those Transformers they were binary-bonded to.

I also have a hard-time believing that Lord Zarak, who is misguided in his actions but cared about Nebulos, and his Nebulan allies would willing join the Decepticons when they knew first-hand how evil the Decepticons were.

I also have a hard time understanding what distinct advantage that a Transformer being a Headmaster would have in the battlefield.

fairplaythings said...

I loved how the mini-series deviated from the norm by having Galen as the head of Fortress Maximus, and how the regular series returned to Nebulos for the Powermasters storyline.

And I for one love Burning Kup.