Saturday, February 28, 2009

TMNT: Wedding Bells and Bytes

The seventh season finale of TMNT: Back to the Sewers aired this morning, and overall it was a damn fun episode. It's not without flaws, but it's enormous sense of whimsy pulls you along and makes you forget.

With the last few databits of Master Splinter collected, the gang uses their cyber-portal to reassemble Splinter. It's tense, but the procedure is a success! He's glad to be back, and his sons are glad to have him back. But when Donny suggests that Splinter go lie down, Serling has other plans. It's off to the wedding of April and Casey, so into their latest high-tech van/truck/thing they pile. We are treated to an ominous sight, though, a glowing red technological device in Splinter's ear.

The ride over gives us a bit of late-in-the-game character development. Raph drives like a maniac, even though they're heading to country farmhouse of the Jones family. Mikey, though, is enthusiastically looking forward to the ceremony. He LOVES weddings, which prompts Serling to ask if he's ever actually been to one. 'No,' he replies, 'but he watches a lot of TV, and every show eventually does a wedding episode.' It's a nice tongue-in-cheek moment of the writers (Matthew Drdek and Robert David) acknowledging that yes, this is a bit of a cliche, but not to worry, they're aware of it.

Casey and April are glad to see them, especially Master Splinter. Things get nervous when there's a knock on the door, as the guests aren't set to arrive until tomorrow . . . though, Casey does admit that in calligraphy all those letters and numbers kinda get mixed up. No worries, though, it's just Casey's mom. And so begins the real fun of the episode, the cavalcade of guest stars. Cousin Sid is next, followed by The Ancient One. There are a few brief moments of revelry as guests continue to arrive, but the audience sees Khan with a fleet of trucks parked nearby and knows that danger is coming.

The day of the wedding! Raphael is fulfilling his duties as best man, attempting (rather unsuccessfully) to tie Casey's bow tie. Michelangelo is oddly more helpful to April as a maid-of-honor stand-in. Casey is all nervous energy, but April is the picture of radiant joy. Veronica Taylor and Marc Thompson both turn in great performances, and Adrian Barrios' wedding designs are just gorgeous.

Our gang of heroes waits in the Jones barn, swollen to ridiculously large portions by people such as the Ninja Tribunal and acolytes, Usagi Yojimbo, The Professor on the piano (from the episode The Garbageman), Angel (the teenage girl from The Darkness Within), Leatherhead, Gennosuke, a whole bunch of Ultroms in tuxedo-clad robot suits, Ultrom captain Mortu in a futuristic walker, Doctor Chaplin and a kimono-clad Karai, and more, with Professor Honeycutt (aka the fugitoid) officiating. Splinter stumbles upon the enormous Foot camp, and is soon tossed into the barn along with some gas grenades. Who should stride in but the reconstituted Cyber-Shredder!

A Battle Royale commences! This is when you have to kind of tilt your head and squint a bit. The Ninja Tribunal, for instance, should be nearly on the power level of the Demon-Shredder. The Ancient One is no slouch either, and Karai has consistently been shown to have a skill level comparable to Leonardo himself. Really, Karai's relationship to the rebuilt Foot clan could be an episode all to itself. All told, this was probably the worst possible time the Shredder could have planned his attack. To be honest, though, I found myself not really caring about all of that. Mostly the focus was on the turtles vs Shredder, and April and Casey vs Khan.

The Shredder proves nearly impossible to beat, and collapses the barn on most of the guests. The heavy hitters prop up the debris long enough for everyone else to run outside, but they find themselves surrounded by legions of Foot soldiers. Not to fear, the Justice Force is here! They give the guests a needed boost to fight off the Foot. Meanwhile, Shredder inadvertently reveals that he has a data core, which allowed him to survive and rebuild himself following his defeat in City Under Siege. Dontello uses this information, along with the electronic bug planted as code among Splinter's databits, to develop a decompiler program that should work on him. Shredder throws up a force field to prevent his decompiling, but it doesn't keep out flesh and blood. Splinter engages the Shredder in single combat and disables the shield, allowing Don and Serling (in attack mode) to decompile the Shredder . . . once and for all? Casey, meanwhile, has finally figured out his bowtie - it's binding Khan's hands behind his back.

The bad guys routed, the wedding commences, though outdoors now. EVEN MORE guest stars cameo here. Though not among the wedding guests, The Rat King (from Bishop's Gambit) watches, hidden, from the trees. From the Battle Nexus, the Daimyo and the child version of The Ultimate Ninja watch on a screen. Agent Bishop, in an undisclosed location, also watches, his smile containing no hint of malice. Codey, too, is watching this joyous event through a time portal. Renet, apprentice to Lord Simultaneous, doesn't need a portal, and watches from the treeline for the umpteenth time. No matter how many times she sees it, it always makes her cry. And so, Honeycutt pronounces Casey and April man and wife. They share a kiss as the audience cheers, the sun low in the sky. It's a rather beautiful moment to end the season, perhaps the series, on.

So much works about this as a possible series finale. The Turtles have been to many different locales, dimensions, planets, even eras. Along the way they've made dangerous enemies but more importantly, valuable allies. The fifth season finale worked well because the threat was so huge that only the combined good and evil forces of the major 21st century forces could stand up to it. (The Ninja Tribunal, Turtles and Justice Force on the side of good, with the forces of Agent Bishop/Baxter Stockman, The Foot Clan and the Purple Dragons on the side of evil). This season explores a similar idea, but just lets us see many of the allies. The Justice Force has already become a depot for the super-powered 21st century allies, like Nobody and Nano, but this episode takes the concept to the next level. Whether the allies are merely friendly humans, like The Professor or Angel, or trans-time/dimensional forces like Renet or the Daimyo, or even aliens like Honeycutt and the Ultroms, they show up. It's a nice reminder of how much the series has accomplished, how much our gang has accomplished. The choice to focus on the human allies is slightly odd, shifting the focus a bit away from the brothers, but gives an extra emotional weight to the episode.

I've been a big fan of this new series - the designs, the writing, the characters. Season seven isn't quite the high point that season 5 was, but it works a lot better than season six. I would have liked to see more Stockman, and episodes focusing on Bishop and Karai, my three favorite villains. I certainly hope there is a season eight at some point, but if there isn't then we've had a pretty good ride, and this episode serves as a nice capstone. We've come a long way from Things Change, the series premier. Over 150 episodes later, and a whole universe has been created and explored. Kudos to all involved!

3/1/09 EDIT: BTW, if you're a fan of character models (and I think that, if you're reading this blog, there is a decent chance that you are), then you might be interested to see the character models from this episode on the Fox Kids blog.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: Marvel UK Annual 1986 (Part 1)

Since I am reviewing the UK material in chronological order, it is now time for the 1986 annual. Annuals in this form are largely a British concept: a larger book containing stories in either comic or text form as well as other articles, fact files and puzzles. They aren’t as popular with kids today as they used to be, but things like the Doctor Who annual are still big Christmas sellers. In the eighties, however, every property that was remotely popular with kids got a Christmas annual and Transformers was no exception.

(Chronological note - the annual was actually out for Christmas 1985, but the convention for annuals is to date them for the following year.)

I can’t actually review the text stories in the album, because I don’t have access to them, but the book contained two comic book stories that are worthy of comment:

Plague Of The Insecticons

The first, and by far the longest, at twenty pages, is “Plague Of The Insecticons,” which was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Mike Collins, inked by Jeff Anderson, coloured by Gina Hart, lettered by Richard Starkings and edited by Sheila Cranna. These are some of my favourite creators of the UK book so far, so why is this story such a mess?

The story starts as Optimus Prime, Prowl and Warpath roll into Washington D.C. for a meeting with the president of the United States (his name is not given, but the art makes him look like Ronald Reagan). Before the talks can get underway, the Insecticons; Kickback, Bombshell and Shrapnel burst onto the scene and starting shooting up the area around the Whitehouse. To make matters worse, they’re calling for this destruction in the name of the Autobots! The Autobots had kept the meeting secret in order that the Decepticons not disrupt it, but unfortunately, the humans had reckoned without Soundwave’s considerable wire-tapping abilities.

As the Autobots fight back, it becomes clear that for some reason the Insecticons are not giving the battle their all. They pretend to submit to “Great Optimus” in order to ruin the Autobots’ good name. The Autobots are forced to retreat as the human military turns on them. As Prowl and Warpath streak back to the city, they find the Insecticons at the centre of an orgy of destruction. The Autobots transform to stop them. This served as a mini cliff-hanger in the annual, because the story was split into two parts.

Meanwhile, Prime has noticed that the Insecticons, despite their “potential for fast, decisive action” appear to be acting as though they are under duress. He theorises that they have not yet mastered their potential, and are being put through their paces by some outside force. His scanners pick up a signal, which he begins to track.

The battle is going fairly well for Prowl and Warpath, until Shrapnel gets in a lucky shot with a splinter grenade, taking Prowl down. This sends Warpath into a battle-rage, screaming curses at the Insecticons. Prime, still feeling guilty about leaving his comrades behind, realises that he can use deploy Roller to aid them. The little drone is still inside Prime’s trailer, which he had left on the Whitehouse lawn. It is a strain for Prime to keep track of the two parts of him at once but as Roller charges to the rescue, Prime continues to chase down the signal. At its source, he finds Ravage, guiding the Insecticons with a remote control. Just as Prime transforms to confront him, Ravage brings Bombshell back to him, to try to use his cerebro-shell on Optimus Prime!

Unfortunately for Ravage, at that exact moment, Roller, at the battle-site, is hit and apparently destroyed. The shock causes Prime to convulse, and he ducks involuntarily. Bombshell goes sailing over his head and collides with Ravage, accidentally hitting him with the cerebro-shell instead.

The Decepticons thus defeated, the Autobots leave Washington D.C. without explaining themselves, as Prime thinks they would not have been believed. The humans look over the wreckage of their struggle and the president decides that he must never make the mistake of trusting the Autobots again.

Well, sad to say, I really didn’t like “Plague of the Insecticons” at all. One thing that hurts it right off the bat is the fact that it cannot possibly be in continuity with the other Marvel comics. I don’t mean it stretches continuity in the way that some of the earlier UK stories do, I mean, it just doesn’t fit. The Insecticons and Warpath are introduced too early and via the wrong methods and the Transformers have been at least somewhat incognito, so there it would be extremely unlikely for the Autobots to be planning to meet Ronald Reagan.

Of course, a lack of continuity does not necessarily make for a bad story - a good idea can still be an entertaining read. Unfortunately, “Plague” fails to stand up by its own merits. It’s just too illogical and arbitrary. Why use Warpath when any already introduced Autobot would have done the job? Why does Megatron decide to use the newly protoformed Insecticons when they are so inexperienced they need to be remote-controlled by Ravage, using a signal that can be tracked? At first I thought that it was because Bombshell’s cerebro-shells would be part of the plot, but he doesn’t deploy them until right at the end, so any Decepticons would have done. Over-complicated plans are, admittedly, nothing new for Megatron, but this one seems especially pointless. Showing up in force would have handed him Optimus Prime on a plate. For that matter, what happens to the brain-dead Ravage and the Insecticons after the Autobot victory. We don’t see them retreat, but they clearly aren’t captured or destroyed. Why does Prime, who usually agonises about such things, decide not to try to explain himself to the humans at the end of the story?

I’m not usually one to attack plot-holes too severely. I am usually sympathetic to the difficulties of writing a long-running comic book that tries to remain in continuity with another version of itself from across the ocean, but “Plague Of The Insecticons” is lazy and deserves to be vilified. There are never any excuses for plot-holes within a single story, especially one spanning only a single issue, and this story has several glaring ones. If Furman wanted to free himself from the bounds of continuity for the annual, then fair enough, but he should have at least attempted to be internally consistent and to create an interesting story. Sadly he fails to do either and the whole thing smacks of something dashed off at the last minute to fulfil a contract. Are there things I like about the story? Yes, to be charitable, there are. I like the use of Roller, who gets forgotten far too often, and, plotting issues aside, Furman’s scripting is always worth reading, but overall, its not worth bothering with. You'd be much better off watching the similarly named Sunbow cartoon episode "A Plague of Insecticons" (there's actually more than three in that one).

The art most closely resembles that from “Raiders of the Last Ark” because it is the same art team. Its not bad, but the three stories since then have really raised the bar and this feels like a major step backwards, especially since the characters are, once more, very much based on their toys. I usually love Hart’s colouring, but for some reason it never quite works for me when she’s colouring Collins/Anderson work and Warpath is miscoloured a few times. The Insecticons are never their familiar, purple, black and metal colours, and instead have turned up in purple, black, red, and brown for reasons I don’t understand. They, however, do appear to be drawn using their animation models.

All in all, not a great story, but since its from an obscure publication, rather than a numbered, dated, issue of the regular comic book, its easy to ignore its place (or lack thereof) in the great scheme of things. Hopefully that will not be the case for the other story in this Annual: “And There Shall Come A Leader”

(Check back on sunday for the review of that one.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #13 - Shooting Star!

Shooting Star! is the thirteenth issue in the Marvel US G1 Transformers series. As usual, it was written by Bob Budiansky. This issue was penciled by Don Perlin, inked by Al Gordon, lettered by Janice Chiang and colored by Nel Yomtov. Perlin also did the cover.

All told, it's a pretty decent cover, true to the spirit of the book while also a dynamic image in its own right. Megatron is clutched in a human hand, presumably belonging to Joey Slick. He's thrust forward, aimed at some tanks and some police officers who are staggering about. Black smoke bellows forth from the silencer. 'THE MENACE OF MEGATRON", the cover states, and Megatron is written in a computery font. It's a pretty good teaser image, gives a sense of action. Perlin decided to go with the fully decked-out version of Megatron's gun mode for the cover, which was a better choice. It lets him have the glass in the scope be cracked and allows Megatron to go off the page. In the interior, Megatron is merely the pistol, without silencer, stock or scope. One missed opportunity was the Autobot symbol in the logo. Since no Autobots appear in this issue (except for Ratchet, in flashback), a 'Con symbol would have worked better.

Once inside, we're treated to the offbeat tale that last month promised us and this month reiterates. It seems like Bob (or his editor) knew that this was so different that what went before, and wanted to set audience expectations appropriately. We start on the title page, with Joey Slick running through a ditch while two goons are shooting at him. Our sympathies are firmly on his side, right from the first page. As far as Transformers splash pages go, there are better ones, but this is quite appropriate for such a human story. Immediately on the next page, he trips over an oddly colored rat and lands face down with a "PLISH" (nice lettering by Chiang, as always). This allows the goons to corner him and express their intentions - Joey must die, since he's absconded with mob boss Jake Lomax's money. They (literally) kick him around a bit, but this proves to be a mistake. Under some shallow water, he spots a gun: Megatron. As they get ready to shoot him, he swings it around and pulls the trigger! 'Clik", nothing. The goons look suitably shaken for a panel, as they weren't expecting Slick to fight back. When it's evident that the gun is a dud, they exchange some nervous laughter. One of them even tells the gun to blast them . . . which it does, much to everyone's surprise. Joey notes that he didn't even pull the trigger, but runs off from the injured men.

Slick eventually finds a barn and asks the gun what it is. It reveals itself to be Megatron, and gives some brief exposition about the series, and his battle with Ratchet in issue #8. Alas, Megatron's higher brain functions have been disconnected, so he's quite obedient. This gives Slick some ideas.

Lomax, meanwhile, is furious that his improbably-still-alive thugs have failed, and sends them after Slick again, this time with some extra help. Slick has hitched a ride back to his home neighborhood, where he is apparently beloved. An Asian grocer, some multi-racial kids and his hispanic landlady are all glad to see him back. It's a sequence that feels a bit dated, but it's clear that Budiansky is trying to show that Slick is not only accepted by those around him, but a somewhat multi-cultural fellow. Once inside his dumpy studio apartment, he wallows in his despair for a moment until he hears footsteps coming up the stairs. A quick glance outside confirms that someone who doesn't belong is here. He quickly flees up to the rooftop, but Lomax's men aren't far behind. Desperately, he orders Megatron to knock them out, which the insensate Decepticon does. Joey gets a nice boost of confidence from this.

Not so much confidence that he wants to face Lomax again, though. Slick heads out of town, but realizes that he doesn't have even enough cash for a fleabag hotel. Still blaming Lomax for his trouble, he decides to use the gun to do something about his finances. He robs a convenience store without having to fire a shot, though he does have to stop some police cars who come after him. When he blows up an overpass to stop some cops, he seems to fully grasp exactly what Megatron can do.

Thus begins Joey Slick's stardom. Using his super gun, he robs banks, jewelery stores, gold shipments and presumably more. He decks himself out with fancy clothes (80s style!) and fast cars. Even the national guard can't stop him, as he effortlessly blasts through soldiers and tanks. All this makes Lomax furious. Apparently every west coast gang boss is laughing at Lomax because this guy is still walking around. That doesn't' quite track, to my mind.

Joey, meanwhile, is getting tired of the parasites who are leaching off of him. He's got his own gang now, though he's really the one doing all the work. Craving someone to talk to, he commands Megatron to transform and has a heart-to-spark with the mindless automaton. He feels that all of his success is empty, so he tries to go backwards. You can't go back home, though. His grocer friend, Mr. Kim, is terrified of him, while the neighborhood kids all want to be bank robbers now. Realizing that this all started with Mr. Lomax, Slick decides that that's where it will end. He drives to the Lomax mansion and announces himself, saying that he's here to discuss some business. Lomax sends his goons out again, and Slick effortlessly deals with them a third time. Lomax begs Joey for his life, prompting Slick to toss the gun aside. Thus, mano-a-mano, Joey decks Lomax and pays him back the money he owes the mob boss, $600.

However, Megatron looms large. The impact of tossing him aside reconnected his higher brain functions, and he's none too thrilled with his status as Joey's tool. Joey, though, accepts his fate. Lomax was his nightmare, and he faced him down. Megatron's vengeance won't change that. Megatron finds this mix of courage and fatalism appealing, and decides that Slick is deserving of life. Off he tromps, a war to win! Slick is pleasantly surprised to be alive. Police, responding to reports of a wrecked mansion, apprehend him, and he seems happy to go along with it. When asked about the departing Decepticon, Joey informs them that it used to be his, but it just wasn't his style.

This is one of the least-Transformery tales in the G1 Marvel run. Surprisingly, it works pretty well. I actually cared about Joey and his plight, far more than I cared about Megatron in this issue. Even Joey's sanguine acceptance of his arrest at the end seemed like a happy ending. He's not a loser, because he faced his fears unaided and came out ahead.

Perlin's art got the job done well. Joey, in particular, goes from shlumpy to slick (lowercase s) very nicely over the course of the story, while remaining recognizably the same character; same crooked nose, same high forehead. Gordon's inks are likewise servicable, though I though he did a very nice job on the panel of Megatron crouching. Chiang's letters, as always, subtly enhance the story.

A quick word on the title. Bob seems to be having some fun here with the double meaning. Certainly, the rise and fall of the super gangster Joey Slick would qualify him in the idiomatic use of the term 'shooting star'. But consider, clearly Joey is the star of both the book and, for a brief while, the media and his old neighborhood. And he does it with his magic gun, that shoots . . . get it, a shooting star?

After this unconventional little tale, the teaser asks us "what happens when the biggest rock star in the world meets the biggest robots in the world? Find out in -- Rock and Roll-out!" It's a not-particularly enticing pun for next week. Fictional rock stars in comics don't seem like a huge dramatic potential. Especially after a story that breaks format like this one, a more conventional teaser might done a better job.

Overall, a good story. Unusual, compelling, a nice breather from the 12 issues of non-stop machinations. It didn't have to be a Transformers story, but I'm glad that it was. Shooting Star! is available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zob's Thoughts on Robot Heroes Rhinox vs. Waspinator

Unlike a lot of the G1-themed Robot Heroes two-packs, which pair together unrelated characters, sometimes from different time periods, in a seemingly random fashion (SEE: Sunstreaker vs. Galvatron), the Beast Wars-themed sets have fared considerably better. The cast of Beast Wars was so small that nearly any pairing would potentially make sense, since just about any two characters are bound to have interacted together at some point. That said, the pairing of Rhinox with Waspinator seems particularly appropriate, given that—while other characters were either killed off or given Transmetal upgrades in the name of selling new toys—these are the only two characters in the show who survived all three seasons while still retaining their original bodies (despite the fact that Hasbro produced Transmetal toys for both of them).


The animators at Mainframe did take some creative liberties when designing the look of the characters for computer-generated animation. Where the original Rhinox toy seemed to be designed with a Japanese samurai theme in mind—decorated in ornate armor panels and head gear, complete with a curved katana-like sword—the approach to his CGI incarnation was less elegant, placing more emphasis on his physical bulk. The animation design also omitted the large decorative panels on either side of Rhinox's head that closed together to form the toy's alternate mutant head, a gimmick that was ignored altogether in the cartoon. The open helmet halves have always looked like absurdly large ears, to me, so I'm more than happy that they changed his look. The Rhinox toy was part of the second wave of Beast Wars toys to hit stores in 1996, but despite being an important character on the show, the toy was a pegwarmer, due in part, I suspect, to the different appearance of the toy.

While the Robot Heroes version of Rhinox is mostly consistent with his appearance on TV, a number of details inspired by the original toy were also thrown into the mix. His head was clearly sculpted with the cartoon in mind (and the elephant ears are mercifully absent), but his squared-off shoulders, the circuitry detail on the lower rhinoceros jaw mounted on his chest, and the samurai cod piece are all taken from the Hasbro toy. Rhinox had a number of other design changes that set his CGI model apart, like the way his robot feet appeared to replace his center rhinoceros toenail, and the way the rhino hide completely enveloped his upper arms instead of hanging loosely to the sides. Portions of his front rhino legs were actually split in half on the Robot Heroes toy like separate armor panels attached to his upper and lower arms, which is found neither in the CGI model or the original toy. On the upside, he does have only three fingers per hand, which is fairly typical in the Robot Heroes line but generally not accurate—except in Rhinox's case. He's posed in a semi-crouching position, with his fists clenched tight like he's ready to pummel some hapless Predacon for giving Rattrap a hard time.

His colors are a little bit off, sadly. Rhinox was a muted greyish-brown in the TV series, so when the toy finally came out and was revealed to be a light tan, it looked wrong somehow. The Robot Heroes version corrects this by darkening his main color to almost a mud-colored brown, but they may have gone too far in the other direction because he seems too dark, somehow. The toy is bright green in places where his robot parts are visible, mainly the head and fists and arms, accented with a metallic gold color. While he's wearing the square-shaped shoulder armor from the original toy, it's colored gold as if it were the rounded shoulder pads from the CGI model, so it's an odd bit of juxtaposiiton. In place of the Maximal symbols on either side of his helmet, which admittedly would be nearly microscopic, there's a comparatively gigantic insignia on the top of the rhinoceros head (which also just happens to be on his butt). All in all, it's a decent representation of the character, though I feel they relied too heavily on the original toy for reference, when something more faithful to the animated character would have been more enjoyable.


Waspinator began as a fairly unremarkable toy with an eminently silly name (he's referred to in his own tech specs as "The Waspinator"; Hasbro very clearly intended for him to be a Beast Wars version of The Terminator) but was almost instantly propelled to star status due to Scott McNeill's skillful voice performance and the insanely goofy antics in which he was frequently a part. Waspinator took so much abuse during the course of the show that fans began to liken him to Kenny from South Park, knowing full well that by next week's episode he'd end up getting smashed or blasted apart or pulverized somehow. It's ironic that the accident-prone Waspinator would go on to have the greatest longevity among his teammates; while characters like Terrorsaur and Scorponok were quietly written out of the show, and others went through multiple upgrades as Transmetals, Waspinator not only went on to last through all three seasons of the show in his original body, but—not unlike Sky-Byte of Robots in Disguise fame—he was the only of the bad guys to get his own happy ending, remaining on prehistoric Earth and worshipped by the primitive humans, in what can only be described as the ultimate example of art imitating life.

Like Rhinox, the Robot Heroes incarnation of Waspinator takes most of its cues from the CGI model with a little bit of the Hasbro toy thrown in for good measure. Mainframe took the basic details of the original head sculpt and exaggerated them for comic effect, and the Robot Heroes toy is true to that look, featuring enormous segmented bug-eyes, head-mounted antennae, and a segmented jaw that's opened completely the wrong way. If you look closely you can even see tiny little serrated teeth inside his mouth, which might seem like something they threw in there to be cute, but this is actually pretty accurate to Waspinator as he appeared on TV. They remembered other details specific to his CGI design, like the ribbed yellow plating on his legs and his pointy little three-fingered hands. He's sculpted in a fairly menacing pose, with arms poised like he's going to throttle one of the Maximals for stuffing him inside a trash compactor. Like a lot of aerial characters in this toy line, he's actually in mid-flight, suspended by a blue-colored column of indeterminate origin. It could be splashing water or thruster exhaust or some kind of energy propulsion field; whatever the case, it's coming right out of his butt. Make of that what you will.

Unfortuantely, Waspinator's animation model has a lot of color detail to it that may have been too cost-prohibitive to accurately reproduce at this scale and price point. He's got the yellow-and-black stripes on his abdomen, but he's missing them completely on his upper legs and antennae. Also, the circular panel on his left shoulder is painted, but the one on his right shoulder isn't; it's a glaring oversight and one I'm surprised they missed. Some additional color detail that's missing (like his yellow lips or the black rings around his eyes) would have gone a long way towards turning a merely good figure into an exceptional one. Also, the inclusion of design features from the Hasbro toy (like the obtrusive ball-and-socket connections on his wings or the panel on his back that originally allowed him to switch from his robot head to his mutant head) really mars an otherwise dynamic and impressive sculpt. I don't know why the sculptors felt the need to look to the Hasbro toys for inspiration when the Mainframe computer models were practically begging for three-dimensional toys in their likeness. (I shudder to think of what they'll end up doing to Dinobot, if they ever get around to doing a Robot Heroes version of him!)

AllSpark Almanac help

OK, another help request. Titan Magazine in the UK is willing to help me out with info on their Animated comic, so I should be able to include info on it in the book. The trouble is, I haven't read any of them and my local comic shop doesn't carry them. Anyone know of a good place to buy the Titan animated comics 1-3, and the titan main transformers comic #17 (featuring a backup animated comic)? I'd really like to have read them before I try to summarize them.

AllSpark Almanac cut images

I've been lucky enough with The AllSpark Almanac to get some help. Marty Isenberg and Derrick Wyatt have been invaluable in making sure that the information in the book is as accurate and true to their vision as possible. My friends Harrison and Bish have been lending their proofreading eyes, trying to make sure that what we submit to our editors is as error-free as possible. And of course, I couldn't do it at all without Bill, my coauthor who's Birthday just happens to be today.

And a very talented fellow named Javier Reyes has been lending his coloring abilities to the book. Quite a few of the models were only produced in black & white. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, Javier's been using his considerable coloring abilities to help bridge the gap, which frees me up to work on other things.

Which brings us to The Arrival #4. It's a great little story, written by Marty Isenberg, drawn by Dario Brizuela. In it, Porter C. Powell (one of my favorite animated characters) takes advantage of the fact that he owns the rights to the S.W.A.T. assault vehicle that Bulkhead is based on to mass-market them to the public, capitalizing on the popularity of the Autobots. Naturally, Bulkhead isn't too pleased with that.

In the course of the story, we get to see well over a dozen differently colored Bulkheads. Javier went ahead and made up models for a few of them, for use on the page of the book for this issue. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), he made SO many that I was left with a dilemma. Include them all, but smaller than I felt they warranted, or include just a few and leave some out. (I suppose there was a third option, give it another page in the book, but my pagecount is already tight.) I opted to include my favorite models at a large size. That meant that The Angry Archer's Bulkhead was snipped, since compared to many of the others it's kinda plain. Since it's extremely unlikely that I'd include it in a follow-up volume, I thought I'd post it here. As usual, I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Hound

Happy Monday! Well, maybe not, but it's about time for another edition of Iván's gallery. This week, Iván brings us Hound. Here's what he has to say about it:

Hound ... example of a committed warrior.
Also form part of one of the original g.1 and, why not say it, the jeep is very handsome, as all the cars then had a special character.
Is a character that has some significance in the series, even enjoying good times.
Original figure was just as beautiful, in both modes. But I think it is somewhat small.
The binaltech was a delight, great size, great design, very faithful to the original, but very expensive.
But it is a wonder is the absolute classic. Not only has great solutions, like the seats and the relation price - quality adjusted. Well, if not worse, as we have extra Ravage, to pay homage to the chapter in which Hound makes vigilant when Ravage is in a cell, great.
So I think what the definitive figure is the classic line or henkei.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Transformers: Headmasters – "Rebellion on Planet Beast"

A welcome aspect to an episodic series is that when there is a sub-par episode or two, it is fairly easy to omit these from your repeated viewings and yet not miss any essential overarcing story elements. In the case of the original U.S. Transformers series, this means I can happily skip "City of Steel" and "The Autobot Run" and advance to long time favorites such as "War Dawn" or "The Golden Lagoon". However, in the case of the more serialized Japanese Headmasters, this means that by skipping a mediocre episode there might be some crucial bit of information missed that will play a part in subsequent episodes. "Rebellion on Planet Beast" is an example of this conundrum.

While on patrol in deep space, Fortress and his team of Headmasters encounter two refugees, called Beastformers, from the Planet Beast. They have fled to find help, as they reveal that some inhabitants of their planet have been enslaved by the Decepticons, while other inhabitants have actually joined up with the oppressors. Fortress agrees to help liberate them, contacts Rodimus on Athenia and is soon joined by him in the fight. Daniel and Wheelie have stowed away on the giant battleship, which is the transtector Maximus, and figure prominently and most annoyingly in this episode. The only item of consequence gained here is we learn the Decepticons built a factory on this planet and enslaved the Beastformers in order to construct one very large component. The suspicion is raised that similar factories exist elsewhere on other planets, each contributing components to a massive, as-yet unknown threat. The seeds of a long term plan are planted here.

This Planet Beast consists of walking, talking, fighting, armor-wearing reptiles, amphibians and mammals, adding to the absolute strangeness in an already odd episode. It is an isolated incident of product cross-over in Transformers, outside of the subtle G.I. Joe elements which popped up from time to time. Seeing as how the Beastformers was a separate toyline introduced in the late 80's (I am pretty sure I even owned a few), but one which never garnered its own series, I guess Takara decided to grant them "special guest star" status. The enslaved guest stars could have been any number of races, there is really nothing about the Beastformers involvement here that is integral and unique and much about them goes unexplained due to lack of time. The leader, Pirate Lion (yep, a Lion who wears an eye-patch) continues to consult some sort of oracle, Saber Sword, with whom he communicates through what looks like a picture frame. This Saber Sword fellow seems to have an answer for everything, but who knows why or how. Personally, I just can't get used to watching frogs, snakes and bears behaving as human, using weapons and whips, etc. I can't even stand seeing talking animals in live-action movies. Once I saw this episode, "Carnage in C-Minor" didn't seem to terrible anymore.

Plus, when the episode is not spending far too much time with such unnervingly anthropomorphized characters, then it is spending far too much time with Daniel and Wheelie behaving like insolent, shrill brats who end up getting themselves captured.

Once Galvatron is alerted to Fortress' presence on Planet Beast, he and his Headmasters meet up with Cyclonus and Scourge to attack the Autobots. Rodimus arrives with the Trainbots and the Monsterbots, the latter in their first appearance – Repugnus, Double Cross and Grotusque. The struggle to free the Beastformers is brief, completely underwhelming and embarrassingly played for laughs from start to finish, as Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge are portrayed almost as Cybertron's answer to The Three Stooges. We witness the Autobot Headmasters' penchant for swapping heads during battle, in order to increase one another's strength or intellgence, such as Brainstorm's head on Chromedome's body helping him out of a bind. Finally, in the end, Rodimus orders Repugnus and Grotusque to remain on Planet Beast as guardians, where they should fit in nicely and to my memory I don't think we ever see them again. Hey, nice cushy job for the Monsterbots!

This is the first in a cadre of episodes which do not involve Cybertron or Earth, instead taking a more "Star Trek" approach of "seeking out new life and new civilizations". This focus helps to add color and diversity to the series in the same manner as seen and argued about in Season Three of the U.S. series. I was always a fan of this approach, for better or worse, feeling that there were few limits in terms of storytelling in the Transformers universe and appreciative that the makers broadened the scope, even if attempts such as this fell far below the mark.

Next time out, "Approach of the Demon Meteorite" returns to some familiar ground and features the absolute worst temper tantrum from Daniel. You must be intrigued!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The AllSpark Almanac - cut page

Well, it looks like Bish won't be posting his review today, so I thought I'd throw something up. I'm in the final phases of The AllSpark Almanac, finishing up the episode guide and then adjusting all the levels to give a nice, constant brightness. As usual, I've made too many pages. Don't worry, this is a good thing, it means what makes it into the book will be even better. I figured I'd share a page that I'd played around with.

This page was designed to . . . well, I'm not sure what exactly it was designed to do, which is one of the reasons I'm not using it in the book. Starscream's jet mode is the most frequently recurring image to appear in the show's model pack, followed by the Starscream robot model with various lighting conditions. I thought it would be interesting to show it off in the day/high-con/night colors, along with the bottom row which is the human jet that Starscream scans, the Crimson Angel model, and the first sycophant clone. (The first coward clone never Transforms, so they never colored a jet in). I think I was considering this as maybe an interstitial page, an inside cover page, or to go opposite one of the literary pages to get the facing to work right. Ultimately, there just wasn't room, and there were too many other, more interesting elements to use as interstitial / literary elements.

Incidentally, if you're wondering, a partial inspiration for this came from a set of wallpaper that I had in my room growing up. It's called The Wrong Brothers. I hope you enjoy it. And if you're sad that this page won't appear in the book, have no fear. 8 of these 21 images are slated to appear in the book, and much larger than they'd be on this page. At least, that's my current thinking, these things do change a bit. Yes, Starscream and clones get plenty of love.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #12 - Prime Time!

Prime Time! is the twelfth of the US Marvel Transformers comic series. Bob Budiansky continues to write the series. Herb Trimpe again provides the artwork, drew it, with inks by Al Gordon, colors by Nel Yomtov and letters by Janice Chiang. Trimpe also drew the cover.

And it's a pretty kick-ass cover! Optimus Prime stands while Sideswipe, Ironhide and Prowl all fall, felled by his mighty blast! Optimus Prime: Autobot Killer! it declares, and the image is so jarring that I don't mind the redundancy. The non-barcoded version of this issue has dropped the spidey-head, in favor of declaring the issue 'More than Meets the Eye', which is kinda nice. Overall, it's a dynamic cover that draws the reader in, and bonus points for depicting events that actually occur.

Fortunately, the book manages to sustain the level of excellence that the cover promises. It starts out with a splash page of Jetfire flying along, Buster inside. Despite all that's happened, being in control of a super-jet leaves him understandably excited. The second page gets the exposition out of the way, and is somewhat integrated into the story, since his reminiscing causes him to miss out on the Air Force's warning to him. When the human jetfighters engage the massive Transformer, it goes into some preprogrammed evasive maneuvers and shoots them down. Unfortunately for Buster, Shockwave's programming didn't account for human frailty. He blacks out, and Jetfire resumes its original mission; returning him to the Aerospace plant.

Speaking (well, writing) of the plant, Shockwave punishes Rumble for allowing Buster to sneak past him by putting him in charge of guarding the humans. Rumble isn't too worried . . . until Shockwave picks up one of the proto-Decepticon jets and crushes it, declaring that this fate will be Rumble's if even one human escapes. Moving on, Soundwave has found the phone tap, at Shockwave's orders. It seems that Shockwave figured out that there was a bug, given that Bumblebee and Bluestreak had attempted to stop Laserbeak from his mission. This actually doesn't quite track, given that Laserbeak's plan was to watch the the Ark and look for Autobots. One can fanwank that Shockwave ALREADY suspected a bug, but the dialogue doesn't make that clear. In any event, the Decepticon Commander continues to have plans within plans. He has Soundwave stop blocking the bug and plants a false message, that Prime's head is to be dropped into the swamp to slowly corrode. Prowl and the Autobot convoy, already en route, divert to the swamp, unintentionally moving to the spot of their own ambush.

Events rapidly moving to a head, Jetfire returns to base and hands the still unconscious Buster over to Shockwave. No time is wasted in hooking Buster into a pretty nasty looking machine. Jetfire's next mission is to fly out and drop Optimus Prime's head into the swamp. He does so, but the waiting autobots form a robot-chain and pull him out. Since Prime's body has been brought along, the head is able to remotely operate it and reattach itself. All is well . . . or is it? As Prowl reaches out his hand to welcome Optimus back, He gets unexpectedly shot. Trailbreaker, Windcharger and Cliffjumper are mowed down in short order. Things go to bad to worse when Soundwave, Buzzsaw, Frenzy, Ravage and Laserbeak unexpectedly appear. Though it's not shown, I presume that they were hiding nearby in their tiny alt modes.

In the plant, things have never looked worse. Buster awakens to find that he's strapped down and about to have his skull violated by advanced Cybertronian machinery. Shockwave continues to gloat to Optimus, but an unexpected opportunity presents itself when Jetfire returns. Concentrating, Buster takes command and has the large robot deck Shockwave. The human captives, seeing that there is only one, comparatively small, Decepticon left, intuit that this is their best chance to escape and rush out. Rumble is somewhat paralyzed by his fear, and doesn't move to stop them. Under Buster's orders, Jetfire flies back to the battle with Prime's head.

The battle does not go well. Prowl leads the Autobots as best he can, despite his injuries, but the five Decepticons are proving to be too much. Trimpe's art is terrific here, as he gives a near splash page depicting the Autobot's last stand. Yomtov's block coloring puts the focus squarely on poor Prowl, and it really works. But all is not lost! Jetfire, unnoticed, returns the real Prime's head to his body. Even as the Decepticons finalize their victory, Optimus Prime throws his fake head into the swamp and is whole once more. Soundwave doesn't quite realize this right away, and in a nice parallel to the earlier Autobot ambush, the five Decepticons are disposed of in short order.

Inside the plant, Shockwave recovers from his unexpected assault. As a cowering Rumble begs for forgiveness, Shockwave lurches into Prime's chamber only to find his captive missing. He immediately deduces where the Autobot Leader has gotten to and blasts his way out of the plant. Tripe does a great job with the body language here, as the ever-logical Shockwave finds all his careful planning going awry. Seeing Optimus Prime standing and the other Decepticons fallen, Shockwave notes that he had never planned to destroy Prime personally, but now finds it irresistibly logical that he should do so. Prime proves his better, though, and hurls him into the swamp. The shrewdly calculating Shockwave points out that his operations continue, and that a hundred new Decepticons might even now be receiving life! Prime opts not to finish Shockwave off, but instead to go to rescue Buster. As it turns out, Buster was already freed. They've both learned from each other, and now the time has come to return the Creation Matrix to Optimus. Prime declares that even one human life knowingly endangered is too much, and prays that the Autobots will take this lesson to heart.

And thus concludes the first major Transformers comic story arc. The Autobots, for the first time really, have achieved a real victory over the Decepticons. The aerospace plant is liberated, Prime is restored, the Decepticons are defeated, and all (or most) is well in the world. This is a very strong issue, presenting a good mix of characterization (Prime and Buster, Rumble and Shockwave all have some nice moments) and action sequences (Shockwave vs Prime, the Decepticon ambush). Trimpe's artwork continues to have a terrific dynamic quality. Prowl's last stand, in particular, is just a brilliant image. Trimpe also uses his panels in unusual ways. Page 13 and page 8 each have Jetfire from top to bottom, emphasizing his size, with other side panels for additional story elements. The excellent artwork and writing combine to make a satisfying conclusion, and helps to make Transformers 1-12 a strong introduction to the Transformers saga.

Next month, we're promised that "The Malevolent MEGATRON returns -- in the weirdest Transformers story yet!". It's a good time to break format, with a new status quo established. Aren't you glad that you don't have to wait a full month?

Prime Time! is available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Zob's Thoughts on Robot Heroes Ironhide vs. Kickback

I've actually had these guys since Christmas, and intended to write a more timely review of them, but there have been so many other great toys coming out lately that I've had a steady supply of new material to write about for several weeks running. This is the first week in a while that I haven't found anything new (aside from some Smurfs figures that I'm sure nobody here wants to hear about), so I'm finally taking the opportunity to write a little bit more about these wonderful little toys.


Most of the Robot Heroes based on G1 characters have taken their cues from both their Sunbow animation models as well as the original Hasbro toys, creating an interesting amalgam of design features that still makes the characters recognizable, no matter which medium you may be the most familiar with. This certainly isn't the case with Ironhide, who bears absolutely no influence from his 1984 toy; he's completely the product of Shôhei Kohara's original animation design. Now, it just so happens that Ironhide and Ratchet were two 1984 toys that I never owned as a kid; I simply had no desire to spend my hard-earned allowance money on gimpy, headless robots that looked nothing like the characters from the TV show. I only just barely picked up the Takara encore reissue of both toys last summer, in fact. I'm at a point now where I can look past the inherent un-cartoonishness of the toys and appreciate them for what they are; the early Diaclone designs have a certain charm in and of themselves.

That said, I certainly don't begrudge the fine folks at Hasbro from using the cartoon version of Ironhide as the basis for the Robot Heroes toy; it's a far more recognizable and iconic look for the character. A more toy-inspired Ironhide would have wheels on his arms and feet, which would have ruined the quaint simplicity of his cartoon styling. (While a headless Robot Heroes figure might be an interesting novelty, can you imagine the endless string of complaints from fans?) On the other hand, it would be a little more consistent with the rest of the toys in the series; Ironhide almost looks too plain and lacking in detail when compared with some of the other figures in the line.

Ironhide isn't completely unlike the PVC version available in Japan in the Super Collection Figure line and later through Hasbro under the Heroes of Cybertron banner. The PVC figure actually suffered from a misproportioned sculpt, since I suspect the person who designed the figure was taking the foreshortened human's-eye-view of his model sheet far too literally, resulting in large feet and a disproportionately tiny upper body. The Robot Heroes incarnation of Ironhide, meanwhile, was created this way deliberately, with the characteristic oversized head and gigantic, chunky arms and hands typical from this toy line. He's advancing on one foot, with one fist closed and the other hand open as if he's about to either give a well-deserved high-five to a fellow Autobot, or deliver a smackdown to some unsuspecting super-deformed Decepticon. Whatever it is that he's up to, he's smirking delightedly so he's clearly quite happy about it.

Ironhide's cast entirely in bright red plastic, with the parts that are normally black or grey in animation (his fists, shoulders, and upper legs) depicted here with shiny gunmetal paint. It's not an altogether horrible look for the character, but it's a little different from the way he looked in the original cartoon series. What's really distracting, though, is the placement of his Autobot symbol, which somebody decided would look really good smack-dab in the center of his chest—which is, of course, also his front windshield. I realize that the proper placement for his Autobot badge (between his windshield and his front bumper) may have been too difficult to apply with a tampograph, but the windshield thing really bothers me. It's just a pet peeve of mine. You need to be able to see through that windshield when he's in van mode, and you can't do that when there's a giant red robot face badge blocking your view of the road. What would have been wrong with, say, putting the Autobot symbol on his shoulder instead? In any case, it's only this one flaw that mars an otherwise excellent representation of the character.


Kickback was the first of the three original Insecticon toys I owned. He's not really my favorite, though. (That distinction belongs to Bombshell, because of his cool cerebro-shell stinger, and the fact that I love all of Michael Bell's voice performances.) It always bothered me how cheatsy Kickback's transformation was, since all you do, essentially, is lay him down on his back and rearrange his limbs a little. It also bugged me how his head was visible even when he was transformed into insect mode—at least until the cartoon came along and depicted him in the exact same manner, thus validating the toy's design in my mind somehow. The Robot Heroes version of him is the first time the character has appeared in any form in many years, ever since he died a fairly ambiguous death in The Transformers: the Movie (and may or may not have returned briefly for "Five Faces of Darkness," depending on how much you want to trust the third-rate Korean animation studios).

The sculpt is a really good likeness, though it's based far more heavily on the 1985 toy than the cartoon design—right down to the rub symbol indent on each of his wings and the screws holding his shoulders and hips together! The most significant change here is that Robot Heroes Kickback actually has hands; the Hasbro version of the character actually had claws (when he transformed, each of his arms split in half to form two of his grasshopper legs). His head sculpt does show some influence from the cartoon model, sporting more conventional square-shaped goggles as opposed to the strange triangular-shaped visor that also appeared on toys like Swoop and Blaster. Where the Robot Heroes incarnation of Shrapnel (aka "Insecticon") had long, prominent antennae on his shoulders, Kickback's grasshopper wings are sadly understated here, giving him almost Action Master style proportions. He's the most dynamically-posed of the three Robot Heroes Insecticons; with his left hand raised, he looks like he's greeting an old friend (and is about to con him out of his lunch money); with his right hand raised to his head, he looks as if he's proclaiming, "Eh? What's that? Can't hear you because I'm too busy screwing you over!" He's got three points of articulation, at both arms and the head; his right leg also looks like it should be able to move (it was cast as a separate piece of plastic in the production mold) but it is firmly glued in place.

Kickback is colored very much like his original toy, with plenty of color applications that are designed to mirror the consumer-applied stickers, as was done with Shrapnel (and Bombshell, aka Hardshell, to a lesser degree). The only major gaffe is the color of the insect legs embedded within the backs of his robot legs, which should be purple instead of silver. Aside from that, his colors are sensible and accurate, and they come very close to matching the hues used on the other Insecticons (though the purple on Bombshell is a little muddier). While Shrapnel and Bombshell have some awkwardness to their sculpts, Kickback is really quite dynamic, making him my favorite of the Robot Heroes Insecticons.

Now, if only Hasbro would get cracking on those Robot Heroes Constructicons!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Slugslinger's Transform

Good morning, interwebs! (Little known fact - the interwebs isn't like a big dump truck that you can just pile stuff onto . . . it's a series of tubes!) It's Tuesday, so I figured it's time for some new Transformers material. This week I bring you another installment of The Ark Addendum - Slugslinger's Transformation!

I think that they did a particularly nice job with his transform - very dramatic. I love how much work was put into making the Transformation exciting, especially for an internal document that really wasn't designed for publication.

In other news, The AllSpark Almanac chugs along. I printed out a color, two-sided copy of all that I've gotten to date and it's looking sweeeeeeeet! Sometimes pages in isolation are tricky to visualize in context, but seeing it in a form approximating the final product fills me with confidence. I think this will be my best book yet, and I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Golobulus

Happy President's Day! It felt like a weekend, so I got a little behind on my posting. Anyway, Monday's are Iván's time to shine. This week he brings us Golobulus. Here's what he has to say about it.
I was a child when I first saw the G.I.joe movie.. the opening is wonderful.
I love it. Long after the saw again, and I could see surprised that the movie had a great pace.
I also believe that Golobulus is one of the great characters of GIJoe was not easy to overcome serpentor or cobra commander, but , this new rage is extremely interest, the civilicitacion of Golobulus was very attractive ,
and gave a sense of the strange origin of the commander. Pity that, as tends to happen in these cases, the potential golobulus was not maximized, and only remained in the film.
But as I said, the idea of the spores, or the idea of destroying humanity as I found then and I still seem very good.
The animation was just as good, could have been done today and the official movie as well.
I found it strange that there was no one in the comic adaptation, Golobulus, Nemesis Enforcer and Phytona, great characters.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Transformers: Headmasters – "The Autobot Cassette Operation"

The first episode following the expansive three-part season opener function both as a stand-alone, "threat of the week" story and also as another link in the more serialized structure of this series. The specific bit of continuity which carries through here concerns the demise during battle of both Soundwave and Blaster, as seen in "The Mystery of Planet Master". So without this being labeled as part four of an ongoing story arc, it nevertheless plays such a role, akin to unofficial season three episodes "The Big Broadcast of 2005" and "The Quintesson Journal".

The episode begins with detailed schematics of Soundwave, a revisit of the fatal fight between he and Blaster as well as seeing Ratbat, Laserbeak and Buzzsaw fly away carrying the charred pieces of their commander. We see a new body constructed, informed by the narrator that this is due to the technological skill of Zarak, leader of the Decepticon Headmasters, who obviously learned by building Transtectors on Planet Master, same as the Autobot Headmasters. Soundwave's head is lowered onto his new body and he is rechristened as Soundblaster, much to the delight of his cassette team. His first words as he descends from his CR chamber and towards them are "Sorry to have kept you waiting" – what a dry wit and it's a small, surprisingly sincere moment presented between these fellow Decepticons.

The story proper begins with Galvatron informing Soundblaster that he went through the trouble of reviving him (if only Soundblaster knew the outrage Galvatron displayed upon watching his loyal officer perish!) so that he might help deploy the newly-invented Madmachine. We are not told of its purpose, but it does fall in line with other one-off threats displayed as far back as the days of Megatron, such as the solar needle in "Changing Gears" or electro-cells in "Traitor", so keep that in mind. We next join Sixshot, still the commander of Decepticons on Earth, using Trypticon to attack an oil refinery. Ultra Magnus and Jazz deploy Metroplex to stop him and another brawl between these two behemoths is shown. Suddenly the Madmachine, looking not unlike a blood-red beetle with long antenna, burrows up from underground and fires on Metroplex. I love Ultra Magnus's casual "What the Hell?" statement when he first spies the device! It immobilizes Metroplex completely, but this has expended all its energy. Galvatron considers this a successful first test and orders Sixshot to withdraw, revealing that he will increase Madmachine's power, which disrupts computer circuitry, and use it to control Vector Sigma.

Rodimus and his team deduce this plan with Chromedome insisting that they must attack Charr directly. Rodimus instead advises gathering information first on weaknesses in the Madmachine and so enlists Blaster's cassette force, who are still despondent after his demise. In fact, they refuse to Rodimus in this mission, explaining that they have no confidence in their abilities anymore. Chromedome expresses anger at this, Daniel defends them and soon Rodimus tries to console them all. He reveals that Blaster will soon be revived, thanks for the technological skill of Fortress, mirroring the skills of Zarak. Blaster is reborn as Twincast and immediately put to work (what, no welcome back party?), while the Headmasters are sent to Cybertron to protect Vector Sigma.

In the following sequence, Twincast enlists the help of Springer (yes, Springer makes an appearance!) to help him infiltrate Trypticon on Earth. There is a battle involved the triple-changers on both sides, the Combaticons and Arielbots, Bruticus and Superion. Twincast and his cassettes sneak into Trypticon, but as this occurs the Madmachine is transported to Cybertron, escorted by Weirdwolf and his team. Of course they encounter Chromedome, his Headmasters and the Throttlebots. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Twincast discovers that Madmachine is being controlled by Soundblaster on Charr. He informs Rodimus and immediately races to the Decepticon space bridge, which looks to be in the same dried up river bed from way back in first season episodes. He quickly dispenses with the Constructicons guarding the location, transports himself to Charr and fights his way through Decepticon HQ. In a move that is simultaneously brazen and asinine, Twincast surprises Soundblaster, Galvatron and Cyclonus and effortlessly blasts the controller in Soundblaster's chest. He then waves farewell and happily exclaims, "That's all for now, folks!"

On Cybertron, the Autobots, who had been pinned down, now find the Madmachine out of control and easy to destroy. There is then a happy reunion of all Autobots, with Twincast reminding Daniel not to call him Blaster anymore. I remember when I first watched this episode how much it did remind of those aforementioned season two episodes, when Megatron would roll out a threatening weapon or energy gathering device, soon disabled by the Autobots. These stand-alone can still be great fun to watch, although the ease with which Twincast infiltrates Charr and destroys the device controlling Madmachine is pretty unbelievable. Essentially, the writers knew they were resurrecting Soundwave and Blaster, which is the only integral aspect of this episode, but didn't bother to add much to the episode's overall threat. Time is of course spent on the reintroduction of those two well-loved characters, leaving less time for plot. There is still some good action, Soundblaster and Twincast both display their own unique sense of humor, one dry, one effusive and Galvatron is surprisingly still bent on controlling Vector Sigma.

And yes, although Zarak was mentioned earlier in the episode, the viewer has so far only heard such references and has not yet actually seen or heard from this character directly, only Weirdwolf and his gang. The mystery surrounding is slowly and successfully revealed over the course of first third of the series. Next up, in "Rebellion On Planet Beast", we will see further aspects of his grand plan…

Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: Marvel UK #32: "The Wrath of Grimlock!"

“The Wrath of Grimlock!” script was by Simon Furman, art duties were divided between Barry Kitson and Mark Farmer. It was coloured by Steve Whitaker, lettered by Mike Scott and edited by Ian Rimmer. Will Simpson provided the cover.

Which is excellent. Not complicated, it shows Grimlock’s dinosaur-mode head in close-up, roaring in defiance (or wrath) against a flaming background. The caption is evocative too: “In the flames of battle - The Wrath of Grimlock!” The Dinobot leader’s wrath might be a little over-stated by this cover, and by the title itself, in fact, throughout the story, he is mostly just a bit peeved, but that does not detract from such a striking portrait.

We are treated to a little summing-up of the situation as left by the cliff-hanger ending of Issue #31. Grimlock is about to execute Guardian, ignorant of the nuclear payload that the Battle Droid harbours within himself. The other Autobots have picked up the problem on sensors, but are unable to communicate with the Dinobots. Suddenly, Wheeljack hits upon a plan. Using a computer signal he is able to manipulate the headless body of Optimus Prime (which stands impassively beside the Dinobots) and use its hand to grab Grimlock’s to stop him pulling the trigger. In the understandable confusion, Guardian sees his chance and punches out, escaping once more into the bowels of the ship. In the fight, Grimlock gets his hand torn off by Prime’s unfeeling touch. (I enjoyed this use of Prime’s body because the explanation for it is one that Furman will use again much later in the UK run, in the excellent re-animated Transformer zombie story “City of Fear”).

We cut to Ratchet fixing Grimlock up. It seems to be a simply procedure, and Grimlock does not seem to be in any pain from his injury, but he is understandably upset, and, in a classic Grimlock moment, punches Ratchet in order to “test” his new hand (actually he punches Ratchet with the wrong hand, but the intent is amusing in any case). We get a nice bit of continuity as Ratchet goes back to work on the fallen Autobots and Prowl tells him he should revive Windcharger because his magnetic abilities “stopped Guardian during that Auntie business”. While it is quite difficult to actually fit “Raiders of the Last Ark” into continuity without squinting a bit, it is good to see it acknowledged, and we finally get a definitive answer to how Windcharger was able to floor Guardian with one punch.

Meanwhile, Guardian rests up and assesses his options. He concludes that he cannot reasonably hope to defeat the fourteen Autobots now operational and activates his failsafe program. Which triggers a flashback of Shockwave and Soundwave discussing how Soundwave has implanted Guardian with the bomb that nearly went off earlier in the issue. I especially like seeing this, because it fits in neatly and explains why Shockwave let the Ark full of Autobots, albeit deactivated Autobots, seemingly unattended. He did not need to remain, having left the Battle Droid as both sentry and living weapon, thus freeing up his Decepticons for other plans.

As Grimlock hassles Ratchet about fixing Swoop Prowl and Wheeljack pick up the reading of the bomb again, seconds before Guardian smashes his way into the command centre! Grimlock leaps into action immediately, ordering the Dinobots to transform and rip Guardian to pieces. The in-panel clock-counter ticks down as the Dinobots tear off Guardian’s arm and generally rough him up. Windcharger is on his feet but not quickly enough.

Swoop, rising just in time, spots the bot who took him out and tries to shoot him. Ratchet stops him, succinctly explaining the situation. Faced with no alternative, Swoop does not hesitate as he immediately transforms and hauls Guardian off into the sky, as the bomb ticks towards zero. The winged Dinobot drops Guardian as the timer reaches 002 but there isn’t enough time. The Autobots look on in shock as Swoop is enveloped in the titanic explosion.

In the epilogue, the Autobots hold a funeral for Swoop, beside a beacon placed to mark his loss. The Dinobots stand silently as the other Autobots fire their blasters into the air. Shortly afterwards, the Dinobots take off to find their own destiny (explaining their absence from the upcoming US stories) and we are told that Swoop’s sacrifice enabled Ratchet to repair the other Autobots while a final teaser shows us Josie Beller in a hospital bed, testing her integrated weaponry and preparing us for “Dis-integrated Circuits!”

Although there’s no real distinction between “The Wrath of Guardian!” and “The Wrath of Grimlock!” in terms of story, I’m going to go ahead and say that this issue was Furman’s best script so far for Transformers. The opening narration, with its musing about how much can go wrong in a few seconds of time is effective in showing the situation and what can easily go wrong, and it is picked up again nicely as Swoop is just slightly too slow to release Guardian. Grimlock, Ratchet and Swoop get the lion’s share of characterisation in this issue. Grimlock’s anger at losing his hand, even though it does not inconvenience him terribly, and does save all their lives, is perfectly in character, and our sympathies are more for Ratchet this time, who only did what had to be done. Still, Ratchet does not seem overly bothered by Grimlock’s animosity, which, in reality, is mostly frustration because he was unable to stop Guardian.

The Dinobots are pitched perfectly. Despite their superiority complex, they always leap into action when they are needed, with the right amount of heroism and battle rage. They aren’t thugs, or unthinking barbarians, but warriors with a code of honour. It is extremely telling and, I think, poignant that when informed of the situation Swoop does not hesitate. For all the stubbornness and bitching and moaning that the Dinobots are capable of in their downtime, Swoop knows that he is the only one who can do what needs to be done and he does it without ceremony. His parting words to his comrades are simply “Well, we can’t have him running around here.” Of course, it can be argued that Swoop doesn’t know that he’s going to his death, but he has to know that its a very real possibility, we’re talking about a nuclear bomb here.

Similarly, it is entirely within character for the Dinobots to take off at the end. The narration might say that grief over Swoop was not assumed to be one of the reasons, but it seems more likely that this is intended to show the divide between Dinobot and Autobot. The Autobots cannot really understand the Dinobot way of doing things and the Dinobots are content to leave them in ignorance. As a unit they do not fit into the situation that the Autobots are currently in and, although it can be argued that simply letting them leave was rather irresponsible, the beleaguered Autobots are in no position to prevent them from doing anything that they want to do. Best to let them become an autonomous unit that can be asked for help later than resentful prisoners. The script does not say all of this, or even much of it, and it could be argued that this interpretation is a bit farfetched for an event that’s mostly included in order to correct a continuity error in the US book but I think that with the Dinobots and their unique status among the Autobots, Furman has really found a niche he is really eager to explore.

The art is mostly as good as the previous issue. suggests that it are “a large number of drawing errors” but I feel this is needlessly nitpicky. I am inclined to forgive the artist for using Windcharger’s toy model, rather than his cartoon model, because this is his first appearance since toy models were the norm, so there’s really no precedent that has to be followed. The last page does have a strange number of generic Autobots at Swoop’s funeral and to illustrate that Ratchet has revived his comrades, which is an odd choice and cannot really be explained away. Other than that, however, Kitson and Farmer do a bang-up job and Whitaker’s colouring is virtually indistinguishable from Hart’s in the previous issue. The panel for Swoop’s funeral, generic Autobots aside, is especially well done, because it really shows off the difference between the Autobots and the Dinobots. The Autobots are very formal, saluting with their blasters and standing around the beacon, but the reader gets the distinct impression from the clumped way that the Dinobots are standing that they consider this unnecessary, that they can pay their respects with silent recognition, nothing more formal, and, in any case, Swoop was their comrade, they will mourn how they like.

So, an excellent issue, slightly mis-titled, as Grimlock’s wrath is not a particularly major story point after about the fourth page. The issue really belongs to Swoop, but admittedly, calling it “The Death of Swoop!” would rather have given the game away. This two-part story really helps to bridge the gaps between the US issues in a way that none of the previous UK stories had previously done, and comes highly recommended.

The story was reprinted in Collected Comics #6, and the 1994 Holiday Special but both reprints omit the final scene with Circuit Breaker.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #11 - Brainstorm!

Brainstorm! is the eleventh of the US Marvel Transformers comic series. It was written by Bob Budiansky, as usual. Herb Trimpe drew it, with inks by Tom Palmer, colors by Nel Yomtov and letters by Diana Albers. Trimpe also drew the cover.

The cover is mostly quite good, with a Decepticon Jetfire swooping in from on high and attacking Bluestreak, Bumblebee and most of our human cast. Jetfire could be a tad more dynamic, but he gets the job done. Sadly, the colors are just way off. The Decepticon symbol on Jetfire isn't colored in, making his allegiance a bit more subtle. Canny readers would probably know about his status as an Autobot, so anything that obscures his current Decepticon status is unfortunate. Worse, though, is that Bluestreak is colored all in green, vaguely Houndish perhaps, and Bumblebee is colored in like Gears or maybe Cliffjumper. (It's definitely Bumblebee though, not just because of the content of the issue but because of his character model.) I don't like putting down Yomtov's work, since I'm sympathetic to how difficult it must have been, but this is a cover. Even if Bluestreak's coloration is intentionally artistic (it does match the logo), the Bumblebee color swap is inexcusable and mars my enjoyment of the book. It's especially sad, since there are some really nice interior panels that could have functiond as well or better as a cover. This Bluestreak image, for instance, is great.

Fortunately, the book itself is quite good, with the art and story coming together nicely. We open on a nice splash page of Buster. He's lying on his bed, reading a book on advanced physics to figure out how he's levatating all the metallic objects in the room. We get the sense that this will be a human-focused issue, but still know that this is a Transformers-centric world. Buster's thoughts are interrupted by his father, who wants the two of them to go fix some cars together. Ever the dutiful son, Buster goes along with it, unable to explain to his father the changes that he's going through. Though he has no interest in cars, he can't bring himself to tell Sparkplug. He's also worried that his dad will reject him as a freak if the levitation abilities come out. This sequence is quite nice, introducing the theme of the issue - becoming your own man.

At the besieged aerospace camp, the army moves aside to allow a pizza delivery truck through. (Shockwave figured out that workers do better with food, it would seem.) Inside the plant, Shockwave gloats that the efficiency of human slaves is up, but wryly observes that Optimus Prime's efficiency has plummeted to 0. With the connections rechecked, Shockwave once again tries to give life to Jetfire, but with the Matrix gone, the attempt fails. Shockwave orders Prime's immediate termination, but then reconsiders. Since the Creation Matrix can't be deleted, it must have been moved somewhere. Shockwave drills into Rumble's brain and, after some computerized visual enhancement (a nice effect), spies Buster, whom Laserbeak recognizes. Optimus laments putting buster in harms way as Shockwave dispatches Laserbeak to bring the troubling human in. Meanwhile, at the Ark, Prowl and Ratchet are listening to the whole conversation through Blackrock's phone bugging system. Prowl (who's drawn with Ratchet's back, but colored in all red anyway) orders Bumblebee and Bluestreak to go protect Buster. This sequence moves the story along, and gives Bluestreak a bit of characterization as someone who runs his mouth. We also get some hints of Prowl's command style, extremely cautious. He doesn't want to go in and rescue Optimus, for fear of imperiling the human workers and army. And yet, when he gets word of a Decepticon objective, Buster, he only dispatches two warriors, rather than perhaps set an ambush. Shockwave remains clinical, acting rationally even in the face of Prime's defiance. While the visuals of Rumble's computer-enhanced vision are nice, it's a little hard to believe. I love the Laserbeak below, squawking in recognition of Buster.

Back at the plant, the pizza man leaves, but not before Shockwave gives him Laserbeak with an encoded message for the army. The Colonel in command (an alien robot force captures an American factory, and they put a Colonel in charge?) listens to the message, a demand that the army pull back or have all humans in the area (military and hostages) executed. The Colonel makes up his mind to comply, even as Laserbeak returns to base amid some ineffective human gunfire. This sequence doesn't add much - all it really does is get the army out of harms way. It works, but it's a bit clumsy.

Back to the main story, Buster. His dad is teaching him how to operate a tow truck, beaming with pride at how good his son is at all of this. Jessie, his girlfriend, interrupts them. She's back, after the fight they had a few issues back, and wanting to take a ride to the falls. Sparkplug agrees that a break would be good for Buster, so off they go, missing the arrival of Bumblebee by a few minutes. Bumblebee tries to explain to Sparkplug that his son is in danger, though the ornery human wants none of it. It's the Autobots who put Buster in danger, he declares, so stay away! Overall, it's quite a reasonable attitude for him to have after what he's been through. Still, despite his bluster, he's shaken, so he goes off to find Buster after Bumblebee departs. Bluestreak, though, is tailing him. Again, it moves the plot along, though it doesn't add much really to the story.

Just a few miles away, Buster and Jessie race along merrily. Buster really wants to talk, Jessie really doesn't seem to want to. She's urging him on to the falls, though she's all smiles. He uses his superpowers to force the issue, disabling her bike with a thought. While they try to fix it, he attempts to apologize to her. She's having none of it, though - it seems that she took him out to apologize to him. She does so with a kiss, but they are interrupted by both Sparkplug and the Autobots. After declining to explain the custom to Bluestreak, buster is informed that he is in danger. Unbeknown to them, though, Laserbeak is watching. Shockwave anticipated the Autobot's move, and had Laserbeak track the Autobots' movements. It's a rather nice move, having Shockwave two steps ahead of the 'Bots. Also, we see that Laserbeak's mission was doubly clever, delivering an ultimatum AND slipping him out of the plant. Shockwave dispatches Jetfire as a non-sentient drone to retrieve Buster. This sequence works well on another level - having a blossoming young romance adds to the subtext of striving towards adulthood.

The endgame begins when Sparkplug gets sick of listening to Bumblebee explaining the Matrix. "Into the truck", he orders the kids, prompting Laserbeak to take action to prevent their withdrawal. Bluestreak and Bumblebee engage and quickly shoot down the buzzing bot, but Jetfire arrives before they can gather their wits. The enormous Decepticon knocks the Autobots about, until Bumblebee realizes that he is a non-sentient drone, and therefore potentially under Buster's control. Buster agonizes about whether to engage the jet, worried about what his father will think, but then Sparkplug gives him unintentional absolution. 'You always do what's right," he says, continuing that "[Buster doesn't] need an old grease-monkey like me telling [him] what to do." As Jetfire swoops in and prepares to grab Buster, the resolute human stands up and disassembles Jetfire with a thought. It's a very nice splash page, though I don't quite like how modular everything is. Some techno-innards would have been nice. This is, of course, the emotional and physical climax of the book, the son eclipsing the father.

We are treated to a two page denouement / epilogue. Sparkplug embraces Buster, literally and figuratively. Buster reassembles Jetfire, sans-brain, and Bumblebee explains that the Decepticons won't stop coming after him. He does have a plan, though, for how they can help each other. Buster solicits his father's advice, as an equal, and Sparkplug defers to his son's judgment. Meanwhile, the remaining Autobots head towards the plant, where Shockwave declares that Prime's usefulness has ended, and that his execution will proceed immediately. Next issue, "Prime Time!" we're promised. Overall, the book functions as an extended metaphor for growing up, asserting one's self in the face of a strong paternal figure. Suitably, the action is larger-than-life, but the underlying human emotion adds nice depth to the story.

Tripe's art functions well. His action sequences are dynamic and flowing, and he chooses interesting angles to show. Bumblebee prone, Jetfire, in jet mode, sporting arms, many shots of Laserbeak, these all make the book exciting and fun. He handles the emotions with equal aplomb, but more impressively is his tendency to make even static scenes dynamic and exciting. Bumblebee and Bluestreak arriving at the falls, for instance, is a great little panel. One awkward sequence was on page 10, when the action doesn't proceed in the usual left to right, top to bottom, and so some arrows were inserted. Quite clumsy. Albers letters are nice, having a certain boldness, though I miss the subtlety of Chiang or Parker. I do find it funny when Bluestreak and Bumblebee roll out, Bluestreak goes 'Vrooom' and Bumblebee goes 'Putt Putt'.

One very nice little easter egg is an unassuming little visual of Shockwave walking through the plant. The character models of Thrust, Dirge and Ramjet are present, some more than than once. While we'd eventually see them as a part of the story, it wouldn't be until issue #21 (in their Earth modes, anyway), nearly a year away at this point. It's a pretty cool little bonus.

This is an issue that's greater than the sum of its parts. It's not without its flaws, but overall it's a great read. Budiansky tells a fundamentally human story while keeping the robot elements plentiful. Tripe keeps things tight with dynamic visuals, and the overall plot progresses. In fact, after a couple of one-off issues for #9 and #10, we're getting ready to move back to the main arc in a big way. Highly recommended.

Brainstorm! is available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)