Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Complete Ark and AllSpark Almanac - that's a wrap!

In the shadow of the biggest Transformers event since ... well, since the last huge Transformers movie, I finished dotting the jays and crossing the cues on these two books and uploaded the final image files to IDW over the weekend. Obviously, the vast bulk of the work was done months and months ago, but last week I got the copy edits back and had to go in and make sure that all my quotation marks faced the right way and that I never used a dash when I meant to use a hyphen. I have to say, I'm really impressed with how IDW's stepped up its editorial process. They've always been good, now they're hitting excellence. At BotCon, we shared some pages that will be appearing in the book - I figured I'd post a few of them here, along with some impressions of each book.

Transformers: The Complete Ark (preorder it today!) is a fun book. Character models remain one of my strong loves, and this book is chock-a-block with them. If you have either volume, you've got a pretty good idea what this will be like. If you have both volumes, well, I like to think that the more compact size and the extra material I managed to cram in makes it worth your while. This is probably old news by now, but by removing material that was duplicated across both volumes, I had enough space to expand on the Masterforce section of the book. Now the Godmasters get just as much love as the Headmasters and Pretenders before them, something that always bothered me about The Ark II. I also added in a few other pages here and there, like the Decepticon's underwater headquarters as shown off at BotCon this year. Finally, there were quite a lot of pages where I had some extra model appropriate to a character, like say Motormaster's heads, so I added those in when I could. I even got the chance to speak to a few of the original series designers and get their input. But extras aside, I think that a combined volume is the ideal way to consume this material. This book puts models together from every Generation One Transformers season and show, and is as comprehensive as I could make it. I hope you enjoy it.

As fun as The Ark is, my magnum opus (that sounds vaguely like a Transformers name, doesn't it?) is definitely  The Allspark Almanac (preorder it today!). So many things made that book fun to put together. Just getting the chance to work with people like Derrick Wyatt and Marty Isenberg was an amazing experience. We were also fortunate enough that other stakeholders in the Animated universe, like Hasbro, Takara-Tomy, Titan Magazines, even the writers of Bee in the City, were willing to lend us their time to make sure that every aspect of this amazing universe got its due.

But the big difference was the availability of material. With The Ark, I had to hunt down old models, most of which required restoration. Even today, many models from G1 have eluded me, like the episode-specific fembots or the main characters from 1989 and 1990. With the Almanac, I had access to the entire Cartoon Network archives. Color or black&white, characters or props, background paintings, scripts and storyboards .... having this much material to work with was a sheer delight. It shifted the focus of the book from the acquisition of material to the disposition of material. As much as I love the b&w designs, getting to lay out color models and write up bios and character histories is much more creatively satisfying. Some of the pages we got quite experimental with, but given the whimsy that is Animated I think it all works. The decision to do the whole book from an in-universe perspective, while challenging in some spots (I'm looking at you, episode guides!), helped make this an absolute joy to write. I hope you find it as entertaining to read.

Big couple of weeks for Transformers in general and me in particular. Next week, once it's calmed down a bit, the blog will most likely return to its regularly scheduled program of Ark Addendums on Tuesdays. See you there!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Contest Cover

This week's edition of Iván's Gallery features a cover that he did as part of a contest. Here's what he has to say about it:

Well, I did a cover for a contest ... Nothing more... but I must say that quite enjoy making it, I go well with Doublecross, although it was the first time that I draw it. I try to cover works with or without color, I worry too much or that it was very rich in textures and details... I also had to draw Scrapper, one of my favorite characters, and down we can see Cliffjumper, but I think if I had a color version to be better. Perhaps I'll paint it in a future.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Excellent Transformers Toy Resource

I've just learned that the best English-language guide to Transformers Generation-One toys is going to once again become available. Cybertronian: The Unofficial Transformers Recognition Guide (volumes 1 - 3) are being reformatted as the Cybertronian: Unofficial Transformers Guide Pocket Manga #1 . This is excellent news! These books are impossible to find and fetch stupidly insane prices on the secondary market. They cover, in exhaustive detail, every Transformer released in the US from 1984 - 1987. All modes and reasonable permutations are present, along with every accessory.

You can see Metroplex 'powered-up' with scramble-city type robots on his arms and legs, or Trypticon connected to Motormaster and Onslaught. Abominus' unusual posability is demonstrated, and you can see every bit of Fort Max clear as day. It's really a terrific volume if you're at all a fan of the classic toys.

The book also goes into detail about merchandise available at the time and provide brief summaries of some of the television shows and comic issues.

Perhaps the ONLY flaw with this book is that to cover the whole G1 toyline, you need to get five volumes. This repackaging mitigates even that problem. I imagine that the 2nd manga compilation will cover V4-5 plus G2, putting all of these guide pages into just two book. At a price of $15, it's far far far too good to pass up. I pretty much can't recommend this book enough.

June 29th Update:

Doug Dlin, one of the authors, informs me that it's actually closer to the Field Guide, which covers the first three years of toys, with some new material added. So, unlike the Recognition Guide, no merchandise and a little lighter on the text. Still, in my mind, it's the photos that provide the real value and those are present. The book should be out in late July, and there should be some at the SDCC. Doug has also graciously allowed me to show the new cover by Kelsey Shannon. Obviously Transformers and all related characters are owned by Hasbro, but this specific cover image is copyright Antarctic Press, used with permission.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #25: Gone but Not Forgotten!

Gone but Not Forgotten! is the twenty-fifth issue of the US G1 Marvel comics run. It was penned by Bob Budiansky, drawn by Don Perlin, Inked by Ian Akin & Brian Garvey, colored by Nel Yomtov and lettered by Janice Chiang. The cover was a Herb Trimpe.

It's a decent cover, all told. Megatron, battered and
beaten, faces off against the Predacons. There's just a bit of grass to suggest the ground, but mostly it's a plain orange background. "Megatron's Last Stand", we're promised. Rampage is a little off. Megatron has some weird perspective things going on with him, but the injuries are pretty neat.

The book starts out with some soldiers advancing on the Decepticon's coal-mine base. Walter Barnett helps to guide the attack, having finally sanctioned it. The Decepticons, meanwhile, are preparing to abandon the base. With the Hydrothermocline in their posession, they need a coastal base. With a nod to the G.I. Joe series, Shockwave and Soundwave prepare to transport the device to the Florida Keys. However, when Laserbeak arrives with news of the impending assault by the U.S. Army, they have to stop preparation to inform Megatron of the news.

Megatron sits despondently in a throne made of some destroyed cars. He's not interested in fleshlings, only Optimus Prime. Brawl makes the mistake of pointing out that Prime died in the last issue and gets his head crushed for the trouble. Witnessing this, Shockwave realizes that he has no choice but to remove Megatron from command. He begins by needling Megatron, suggesting that perhaps Prime's death was in fact a computer simulation. This prompts Megatron to fly into such a rage as to begin hurtling firepower all over the place. In fact, this random barrage prompts the army to retreat. As the Decepticons embark on their journey to their new base, Shockwave contacts Razorclaw with a disk of instructions. Phase two of Shockwave's plan is for the Predacons to hunt Megatron.

Megatron seems to be getting worse. When he spots a human truck, he mistakes it for Optimus Prime and blasts it to pieces. Sensing the presence of his nemesis, Megatron sends his ride, Dead End, away and awaits Optimus. What he gets is a face full of Predacons! They're wearing Autobot symbols, to prey on Megatron's sense that Optimus Prime is behind it all.

Buckethead takes some great injuries, including getting his gun barrel torn off by Divebomb, his side punctured by Headstrong, and half his face torn off by Razorclaw. Still, he survives their initial assault and rallies. Realizing that their quarry had seized the initiative, the Predacons unite and attempt to face off against Megatron one-on-one. Megatron triumphs, barely, and soon Soundwave finds the disk containing Shockwave's instructions. As Megatron prepares to blast the traitor for giving Predaking those orders, Shockwave points out that he did not merely give orders, he encoded major portions of his personality onto that disk. Megatron, pushed to the edge, makes a final, fatal inference. He realizes that Optimus Prime himself survives, albeit as a computer disk, and freaks out. While on the space bridge, he fires his fusion cannon and hits the structure. There is a huge explosion, and when the dust settles bridge and Megatron are nowhere to be seen. Soundwave congratulates Shockwave for destroying Megatron, though Shockwave clarrifies that it was in fact a memory that destroyed his rival.

The book was somewhat disappointing. Issue 24 featured the demise of Optimus Prime (as well as the introduction of the Protectabots and Combaticons), this issue features the death of Megatron (and the introduction of the Predacons). For the exit of such major characters to be diluted by the introduction of new ones seems like quite a shame. I can see what Bob was going for - he wanted the characteristics that make Prime and Megatron great to bring about their downfall. For Optimus, it was his sense of self-sacrifice, even for characters in a video game; For Megatron, it was his madness and obsession. Despite that, it's not very satisfying. Having seen Optimus and Megatron battle to the death in The Transformers: The Movie earlier in the same year, this exit seems anticlimactic.

There were some strong points in this issue as well. Shockwave was in top form, pulling the strings to bring about Megatron's suicide. The artwork was some of Perlin's best. In addition to the aforementioned injures that Megatron sustained, it was fun to see Perlin's depiction of him cutting loose with his firepower. The Predacons were nicely fluid, and Brawl's apparent death (don't worry, he'll be back) was terrific.

All said, it's quite necessary to the Marvel comics continuity, and readable, but underwhelming given the potential emotional weight of what happens. Gone but Not Forgotten! is available for sale from IDW Publishing as part of  Classic Transformers Volume 2 .

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: Marvel UK #74 "In The National Interest" Part 1

“In The National Interest” Part 1 was written by Simon Furman, penciled by Will Simpson, lettered by Annie Halfacree, coloured by John Burns and edited by Ian Rimmer.

The cover was by Alistair Pearson and is one of the more stylized efforts. The caption reads “The Dinobots ... cut loose!” (the exclamation point here making up for the lack of one in the title of the story) and the cover features Grimlock slicing through an Autobot logo that is drawn to look like part of the cover with his energo-sword. This gives the effect of the Dinobots slicing their way out of the very book itself! Grimlock is backed up by Slag and Sludge and all three are rendered with fairly close adherence to their toys, but sufficient liberties have been taken to make them lifelike and the resultant depictions are quite dramatic, although the main plot point of Part 1, that is, the Dinobots get bored of hanging around the Ark and wander off, doesn’t quite live up to the drama of the cover.

The issue opens with Joy Meadows, the journalist who found Sludge during the “Dinobot Hunt”, being interviewed on television. She tells the interviewer that she is going to expose the terrorist known as Robot-Master as a fraud. The television is being watched by the sinister operatives of Triple-I who, of course, are backing Donny Finkleberg as Robot-Master in order to conceal the fact that the there is an alien war going on in America that the government has no control over. If Meadows has filmed evidence their whole plan will be in jeopardy. With this in mind, Walter Barnett mentions that something called “Project Centurion” is nearing completion and that “one way or another, Joy Meadows must be silenced, permanently if necessary” this will be “In the national interest” of course, which marks the first in-story use of this extremely ominous justification.

The scene moves to a courtroom where Professor Morris is currently on trial for the murder of the security guard that he killed while in control of Swoop, way back in Issue #45. His lawyer is arguing his innocence, which is a bit strange, since Morris accepted his own guilt and turned himself in. Morris himself looks downcast and guilty at this, but for some reason does nothing to stop it. What does stop it, however, is a mob of balaclava-clad heavies bursting in with guns and kidnapping the professor.

Meanwhile, in the Ark, the Dinobots are growing tired of training in the confines of the spaceship. They have been ordered to remain there, after coming out of their comas in the previous issue, because their dinosaur forms are too conspicuous for them to roam about the countryside - an admittedly raw deal. Sludge bursts in, very excited, because he has seen Joy Meadows’ broadcast on TV.

The reporter is herself now driving along a cliff-road listening to a tape of a phone call that G.B Blackrock made to her, saying that he can’t point her at Robot-Master’s actual backers, but some “friends” at Mount St. Hilary will confirm her story. At that moment a blue car speeds up behinds her and shunts her vehicle towards the cliff leaving it teetering dangerously over the edge.

“Talk about your basic cliff-hanger” quips Joy to herself, calling out for help from the other driver. Unfortunately the other car turns out to be full of the same overalled thugs who snatched Morris, and they don’t look interested in helping, as they accuse her of “saying naughty things.”

Luckily, at that moment, the Dinobots are on the same road, having decided (shock!) to ignore their orders and go out on a jolly. They mean to look for Joy in order to help her with the story. Sludge is carrying an Olympic sized torch for the reporter, who looked after him while he was temporarily mindless. Grimlock, however, decides to be uncharacteristically British and calls him a “great twerp”. The argument is cut short, however, when they sport Joy’s distress. Sludge immediately charges into action as machine-gun bullets bounce harmlessly off him. The men flee, but one manages to give Joy’s car the final shove. Sludge is dismayed, but luckily Swoop had anticipated the danger and managed to save Joy from certain death. Sludge pledges to defend her, nuzzling her hair, while Grimlock and Swoop look on in disgust.

Elsewhere, Professor Morris has been brought to a secret Triple-I laboratory where they have need of his expertise. He realizes they mean his robot-control machine and immediately refuses, although he is left speechless when he sees the towering figure of the new government-built robot - Centurion.

“In The National Interest” Part 1 is a great start to the story. Unusually for Furman, this one is a little more human-focussed, with the Dinobots being the only Cybertronians on display. I really like the way the threads come together here, both with the US book and with Furman’s previous stories. The idea that a reporter might have some evidence to embarrass Triple-I is a good story concept, and bringing back Joy Meadows as the object of Sludge’s affections is even more fun.

For a fun toy tie- in comic, “Transformers” is extraordinarily cynical about the way the American government manipulates its people and the media - although that is not a political statement - you get the impression that, with these writers, the same thing would happen anywhere in the world. It is not as immediately apparent as it might be, because the Transformers are, of course, the focus characters, but the whole Robot-Master plotline is thematically, if not tonally, a dark one and Furman kicks it into a higher-gear here with the government sponsored attempted murder of Joy Meadows. This, I could not help feeling, was a far cry from the Autobots teaming up with the United States’ military from Michael Bay’s movies.

The plot is fairly full for the eleven pages. It is very nice to see both Joy Meadows and Professor Morris again and the giant looming figure of Centurion makes for an excellent cliff-hanger. One thing that doesn’t appear to make sense, as well as Morris’ innocent plea, is why Triple-I need him to operate his machine. They have rebuilt it without him, but need him to use it. Presumably it is somehow keyed to his mind. but this is not mentioned in the script.

The characterization is very good throughout. Joy Meadows is instantly likeable and Sludge’s crush on her is very endearing, as is Grimlock’s disgusted reaction. This is all very much in character for the highly idiosyncratic Dinobots and somehow all the more adorable when they’re talking about it in their dinosaur modes. Morris gets little to say, but is a haunted man, looking grim as he appears to be about to be acquitted and is distraught at the idea that he might become addicted to his machine again. The Triple-I brass are suitably shadowy and evil, which is paradoxical, because they are SO evil that in some ways it takes some of the sting out of the storyline, whereas it should really make it all the more terrifying. Their anonymous boiler-suited thugs are more sinister than any Decepticons because they are clearly men, acting in secret against their own kind. At least the Decepticons are clear (despite their group-name) about their intentions, and are alien enough for us to not take them as seriously. “In The National Interest” should not be a sinister title, but in this case, it shows us a world, probably not too far from the truth, where people make decisions for the “National Interest” at the cost of innocent lives, and, perhaps even more frighteningly, seemingly accountable to nobody. The really scary thing is that, as readers, we do not find this the least bit unbelievable.

While I have made no secret of disliking Will Simpson’s art in the past, I have also never denied the fact that he excels at drawing believable humans, and, since this issue is full of humans, the art is pretty decent. Particularly striking, aside from the humans, is the design of Centurion, who is big and powerful enough to make an effective image, but, to a regular reader, obviously not a Cybertronian. This is very important, because he will obviously get involved in the robot fights in future issues, but has to stand apart. It’s a difficult balance to strike - a design that’s not Cybertronian, but that a panic-stricken Earthling would not differentiate, and I think Simpson has managed it very effectively. His Autobots do not bug me as much as usual, either, because the only ones on display are the Dinobots, who are often in dinosaur mode anyway, and Grimlock, who does much of the talking, does not have a mouth. For some reason it is robots with humanoid facial features that Simpson cannot easily do and he does not have to here.

I really like "In The National Interest" and I highly recommend that people seek it out. It's available for purchase from IDW as part of  Transformers: Best of the UK - Dinobots s. I very much look forward to reviewing the final three parts of this mini-epic.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zob's Thoughts on Revenge of the Fallen Ravage

Ravage has become something of a staple character in the Transformers mythos—since his appearance at the beginning of G1, various incarnations of him have popped up in the Beast Wars, Transformers: Energon, Alternators, Robot Heroes, and Transformers Universe toy lines. While other characters have been reimagined multiple times to accommodate the whims of designers and to fit within a specific toy gimmick, Ravage remains, and has always been, a black cat. The latest version of the Ravage character is paired with Soundwave, appropriately enough, and Ravage is sent by Soundwave into the ocean's depths to locate the remains of Megatron.

As a robotic panther, Ravage is around five inches in length at the haunches and nearly nine inches in length from nose to tail. He's covered in dangerous-looking spikes that are actually totally kid-safe due to their rubbery vinyl construction. The juxtaposition of an alien styling mixed with a familiar animal form is not a new one, and his overall aesthetic is decidedly Zoids-like—especially the purple lightpipe in the top of his head that looks a great deal like a cockpit. (This resemblance is particularly appropriate given Tomy's acquisition of the Takara brands.) He's predominantly a muted black with faint traces of metallic flecks embedded within the plastic, accented with silver and metallic blue. In a movie franchise where multiple characters have been completely redesigned, bearing little or no resemblance to their original G1 counterparts, Ravage is surprisingly close to the 1984 version. The original toy was almost perfectly flat, of course, because he transformed into a cassette tape, so the new version is decidedly more round and three-dimensional. That said, all the basic elements are here—he's a mechanical-looking black-and-grey kitty cat with guns on his hips. The only thing that really seems out of place is his single eye, which gives him an H.R. Gigeresque vibe.

Ravage has around 24 points of articulation, depending on how you want to tally them up, with many of them in his legs to achieve a wide range of poseability. His front shoulders, for example, can move on an axis in three different directions, which is particularly rare for Transformers that turn into cats, most of whom have had limbs that simply swivel. His waist has a ball joint that provides some surprisingly limited movement, but due to his built-in gimmick his neck doesn't move at all. It's the lack of a neck joint that prevents this toy from standing upright and assuming an unofficial humanoid configuration, which otherwise would have looked an awful lot like Beast Machines Cheetor. His tail also moves in five different ways, though the swivel joint at about the halfway point is weak, and the tail tends to pop off regularly. This is, for what it's worth, the only major design flaw I think the toy has. Pushing the lever down on the toy's back causes his head to jut forward a little , his ears to lower, and his jaw to spring open; flipping it up returns the head and ears and jaw to their original position. (The packaging identifies this as his Mech Alive gimmick, but I don't think this is right. When you rotate his forelegs, you can see the gears turning in his upper legs; this is more consistent with the other Mech Alive designs and I believe this is the gimmick in question.)

Ravage may have posed a problem for Hasbro because, much like Scorponok from the 2007 movie, he doesn't have an overt vehicular transformation. When Hasbro produced a toy based on the Scorponok character, they invented a robot mode for him so that the toy would be marketable as part of the Transformers toy line, despite the fact that he never used this robot configuration on film. It seems a similar approach was taken with Ravage. In the movie, Ravage does assume a space travel configuration when he is dispatched by the orbiting Soundwave to the Earth below. Clearly, the focus for Hasbro was on the accuracy of Ravage's panther mode, since the toy's transformation—described as a "reentry mode" on the packaging—is a half-hearted reconfiguring of limbs rather than a true transformation. The skill level assigned to his transformation is three, an "advanced conversion," which is a reflection of the toy's price point only, and certainly not its complexity. The upshot of this is that while his alternate mode is fairly lame, his panther mode is very good, without any of the usual design limitations imposed on toys because of the way they transform.

Transforming him essentially involves clasping his front paws together in front of his head to partly hide his face, folding his back legs and tail underneath him, and swinging out his chest panels to reveal some tiny little wings. The swing-open chest components are the only moving parts of the toy that seem to be there specifically for the transformation process; if it weren't for these parts I'd swear the toy wasn't actually designed to transform into anything at all. There are no landing struts or anything on which to balance the toy in vehicle mode, though at least it does hold together fairly well due to some strategically-placed pegs. His guns are independently positionable, with each of them attached to a pivoting mount that allows for a few different options. Just as Scorponok is pretty obviously a robot scorpion that's standing upright, though, Ravage is still pretty obviously a folded-up kitty cat.

Overall, Ravage is a pretty cool toy, particularly if you're a fan of the movie and want to own physical representations of the characters. He's arguably one of the all-time cutest incarnations of the character to date, with his one little puppy dog eye and adorable little chipmunk teeth. If you enjoy transformable robot toys because they're like miniature puzzles, though, Ravage will present absolutely no challenge; he's barely a Transformer in his own right. (Then again, he's still more complex than half the stand-me-up-and-swap-head toys that Hasbro has produced for Beast Wars and Beast Machines over the years, so I guess it's a give-and-take.)


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Revenge of the Fallen - Tonight!

I'm heading out to see Revenge of the Fallen tonight with some folks from Cartoon Network! I'm pretty psyched about it, so I'm not going to try to post other new material on the blog until after I've seen it. Then I'll try to post some thoughts - probably not a review, since I imagine Bish has already covered that nicely.

Hope you all enjoy it! Many thanks to friend-of-the-blog Lonegamer for the tickets!

Hail to the King, baby!

Back in the 1990s, I was really into science fiction fonts. Logo fonts were OK, but what really got my hard drive spinning was alien language fonts. Predator, Ultima VI, Ultima VII, The Last Starfighter, Robotech, Robotech II: The Sentinels, Clarke's Rama books, and Independence Day all featured fonts representing the various non-human creatures. I created and distributed fonts based on these works, which thanks to the magic of the internet are still easily found.

Naturally, being a big Transformers fan, I looked for fonts to represent my favorite robots. Fortunately, there was just a bit of alien writing in the canon at the time: the episode Cosmic Rust featured some Autobot (ancient Autobot, to be precise) writing, and the comic issue Decepticon Graffiti! featured some scrawled Decepticon challenges and insults. Now, neither of these was actually arranged to represent a roman character substition, they were just gibberish. Still, I drew out all those shapes and turned them into TrueType fonts and distributed them for free.

(I've previously written about my experience with the Cybertronix languages from Beast Wars and Beast Machines, which ARE Roman character swaps.)

A decade later, and the roosters have come home to wake me up every day at 5:45 in the DAMN MORNING! The fonts that I made have found their way into the vast Transformers marketing machine. In 2007, Activision's viral marketing campaign for the Transformers Autobots/Transformers Decepticons video game used both the Decepticon Graffiti and Ancient Autobot fonts in their AllSpark Wars mini alternate-reality-game. I was quite proud.

This year, an even BIGGER marketing campaign is using my humble Autobot font - Burger King! Yes, that's right, The King himself is promoting burgers, using symbols that I made back in college. The Cybertronian characters appear, and a red decoder allows you to translate them back into English.

It's good to be the King!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Minerva

It's time for another edition of Iván's Gallery. This week, Iván brings us Minerva. Here's what the artist has to say about this piece:

A few days ago, Jim was talking about Minerva in the entry of Clouder mosaic, well
today we bring a Materforce Minerva with battle armor.
As we see is very different ..
I made this illustration for a project that Jim had in mind, the truth is that I think was a great idea.
In the animated series she was thirteen years old, but I insist that I feel much better idea to do more for reasons of character psychology, in the group, basically it is dedicated to rescue efforts or medical assistance.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bishbot's impressions of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (SPOILERS)

Yesterday I went to see the latest Transformers film “Revenge Of The Fallen.” It wasn’t a special premiere or event or anything: I just happen to live in the UK. What follows is a short but very probably SPOILER LADEN set of thoughts and impressions masquerading as a proper review.




First of all, I think it is important to make clear that I really liked Michael Bay’s first Transformers film without thinking it was the greatest film ever or indeed even close to the greatest Transformers story ever. “Revenge Of The Fallen” pretty much continues in that vein, although I do not think that I will end up liking it quite as much.

First of all: it’s long. It’s really really long. That normally doesn’t bother me in films, but they do need a sufficiently interesting plot to sustain them and I’m not entirely sure “Revenge” completely justified it’s running time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never boring, but the plot becomes increasingly convoluted for the arbitrary reason of including bigger and bigger set-pieces. The set pieces themselves are, of course, excellent, but definitely give the impression of being conceived first, with the plot twisted to fit them in. At times, towards the end, the brief dialogue scenes begin to resemble the cutscenes from videogames - a little bit of context before you get back to shooting bad guys in the face. Nonetheless, since I wasn’t exactly expecting a Bergman-style exploration of the human (or even the robot) psyche, I don’t want to emphasise this criticism too much.

So there’s your basic chase action storyline. Sam Witwicky is once again the bearer of “precious cargo”, at first, knowledge imparted by a fragment of the All-Spark and after that the “matrix of leadership” which is actually a key that unlocks a pyramid that will destroy the sun in order to harvest the explosion for energon. Because of this, he gets chased by increasingly larger and meaner Decepticons, including the most logical use for Pretender technology yet seen, and even Megatron and Starscream themselves, who capture Sam and try to retrieve the knowledge from his brain. I really liked this scene because it reminded me of the stories where the Decepticons were actual characters and had plans of their own. Prime gets killed (imagine that!) rescuing Sam, and it turns out that he can probably be revived by “the matrix of leadership”, which is in Egypt, and which the ancient Transformer, Jetfire, can find. They need Optimus back on his feet, because “only a Prime can kill The Fallen” who is a big scary Decepticon hanging out on Saturn’s moon of Titan who even Megatron kowtows to. It turns out that “The Primes” (how Optimus is related to these ancient Primes is not explored) used to charge about the galaxy destroying stars for their precious energon, but wouldn’t do it to inhabited star systems, and The Fallen is “fallen” because he wanted to do it to ours, despite primitive humans existing. It all seems like a silly thing to fall out over. The galaxy has quite a lot of stars left, and most of them probably don’t support life, but there you have it. Anyway - huge battle - Devastator, pyramids destroyed, lots of generic Decepticons and United States military assets going at it, Prime comes back, wins, everyone’s happy.

So, the action. There is, as noted, a lot of it. This film is bigger, longer, flashier, more expensive and possibly even louder than the first one. There are a number of absolutely stellar sequences from the battle in Shanghai at the beginning to the colossal Decepticon/United States throwdown in the Egyptian desert and, frankly, no matter what you think of the plot, if you like Transformers at all (and you do, since you’re reading this) you owe it to yourself to see them. He’s a bit of an internet joke, but nobody does action like Michael Bay and he is on top form here.

There are Autobots too... they just don’t do all that much. Bumblebee gets some nice action, as does Prime (of course) but most of the time the Autobot presence in battles is very much in support of the human military one. I really liked the idea of a joint Autobot/human strike force hunting out Decepticon infiltrators, but, you know, I’m a Transformers fan, I wanted to see the Autobots a little more. This was especially frustrating because they introduced some new ones, with minimal explanation. Sideswipe gets a couple of cool moments, and Arcee seems largely forgotten before two-thirds of her are destroyed in the desert. The newcomers that get the most time are “The Twins” a pair of wisecracking would be “gangster” Autobots who seem to have annoyed a lot of people. Personally my tolerance for this sort of comic-relief character is pretty high, and there have been many Autobots over the years who have been, well, a bit “special” but they are on screen a lot, and never do very much other than fool about. The Autobots left over from the last film do have a few lines but not all that many and don’t really have any time to shine. Also there seems to be a blue chap called Jolt. He’s there in a couple of scenes... no idea why.

Most of the humans from the first film reappear. Shia LeBoeuf continues to be pretty good, but doesn’t have to carry the film quite as much as he did last time. Megan Fox’s role as sex appeal, while it was never exactly in doubt in movie one, is heavily emphasised here with a lot of slow-motion running and loving camera shots down her top after she has fallen over (again and again). Can she act? A bit, I suppose. I actually gave a sort of mental cheer when John Turturro appeared, which is surprising, since I found his appearance as Simmons in the first film very very strange indeed. Apparently repeated watching has given me a sort of Stockholm Syndrome regarding the character. The military types are decent enough and “bring the rain” in a competent fashion. Sam’s parents have a slightly bigger role in the plot and are consistently amusing, although an early joke where his mother accidentally eats cannabis goes on for a bit too long.

Look. I’ve done my best, but memory is fading fast. Suffice it to say that it’s the same ingredients as the first one. Robot on robot action, rather over the top comedy and ultra-competent American military porn are all present and mixed in much the same awkward fashion. There’s just a lot more of each and the whole thing doesn’t feel quite as new. There is no scene, for example, to rival the initial appearance of Bumblebee, or the other Autobots, from the first film. It’s not really “Revenge Of The Fallen’s” fault. The genie was already out of the bottle. We’d seen the Transformers in live action, and all that was left was to give us more of them. A bigger, more intricate and better crafted story wouldn't have gone amiss, but the tone had been set by the first movie, so anyone expecting a revelation in Transformers story-telling is, unfortunately, way off-beam.

I had done my homework: rewatched the first film, reread "War Within: The Dark Ages" and I could be a relentlessly picky fan and go into depth about every little character and scene and once the DVD comes out, I probably will, but I enjoyed “Revenge Of The Fallen” for what it was: a fun action-fest set in this new movie-continuity. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it, and after the first movie, I wasn't really expecting anything more.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: Marvel UK #63-#65 "Second Generation!"

Part 1

“Second Generation!” Part 1 was written by Simon Furman, drawn by John Stokes, coloured by Jane Firmin, lettered by Mike Scott and edited by Ian Rimmer.

Regular readers will remember that I promised to give the last story, “Devastation Derby!” the benefit of the doubt for it’s relative tedium if its set-up paid off in “Second Generation!” Does it? Let’s find out!


Ok. I will at least try to do this properly. Issue #63 opens badly with a terrible cover, showcasing Superion and Menasor from their packaging art of all things! Professionalism means that I should credit Richard Marcej for the original artwork, which is actually pretty good. However, swiping it for use on this cover is a definite low point, and the style fits very poorly from the normal look of the comic. The fact that there is a giant starburst containing the words: “The incredible new teams!” only serves to cement this cover’s position as the single worst one that I have reviewed to date. We all know that the Transformers fiction is designed to sell toys, but it’s usually a little more subtle about it. Dreadful.

The story opens in an enjoyable enough fashion with Buster in the throes of his nightmare from last issue. He is running from Shockwave, which is nice continuity, and must dodge through a field of skulls as metallic hands burst from the ground to clutch at his legs. The Autobots appear in order to save him but Shockwave blasts them into bits. He is about to finish Buster off when a mysterious giant robot appears (it’s Superion) and dismembers Shockwave with a single shot. Suddenly, just when Buster thinks he is safe, another huge robot (Menasor) lunges out of nowhere and takes down Superion. Superion fights back, and Buster tries to limp to safety, but is confronted by the incongruous sight of five military vehicles (one is a space shuttle, but it’s painted green). Inevitably at this point, they form one giant robot (Bruticus) and menace the human. “NOOOO!” screams Buster, and wakes up.

He is in the Ark, with Sparkplug telling him he is safe, and Optimus Prime looking on curiously, in a pose “borrowed” from “Prime Time” drawn by Herb Trimpe. Sparkplug is angry with the Autobots for making Buster a target by using him to house the Creation Matrix, if only temporarily. Prime acknowledges this and believes that Buster’s nightmares are a message.

Then we cut to see what the Decepticons are up to. After talking to Shockwave last issue, it turns out that Soundwave has now taken his news about Buster to Megatron (sporting an inexplicably green head-piece in this issue). Donny Finkleberg is still there, alive and surprisingly willing to argue with his captors, but Megatron ignores him and instructs Soundwave to let Shockwave decipher the matrix’s message and then bring it to him.

Back in the Ark, Buster talks with his dad about a suggestion the Autobots have made to mind link with Prime in order to work out the nightmares. Coincidently He thinks through a lot of the back story necessary to understand this story and then decides to agree.

Soundwave returns to Shockwave, who is angered by his absence, but mollifies him by telling him what the Autobots are planning. Shockwave has an ill-defined machine that will allow him to tap into Buster’s (and Prime’s) dream and observe from his laboratory. He prepares to activate it as the Autobots prepare the machinery necessary for the mind link.

Furman’s script is a solid “part 1 of 3” the imagery of Buster’s dream is an excellent marriage of writing and artwork. The red sand, bleached bone, and giant looming robots are an effective combination (Furman would have Optimus Prime revisit something similar much later during “Generation 2”). The eponymous special teams are built up in a nicely ominous fashion, appearing with no dialogue and fighting each other in a scarily business-like fashion. The real-world part of the story is less interesting, as it merely serves to set up the mind link which will obviously drive the action of Issue #64. The notion of Soundwave serving two masters is an intriguing one, and appropriate for the character. I enjoyed Megatron being crafty in order to get an advantage over Shockwave, but found Shockwave’s scary machine to OBSERVE Buster’s dream pretty underwhelming.

Stokes’ artwork is certainly an improvement over Simpson’s from “Devastation Derby!” although stealing from Herb Trimpe and other artists is definitely not on. Still, the aforementioned dream sequence is very effectively drawn, and a clear highlight of the last few issues. Buster looks a bit younger here than he is usually drawn, but all the Transformers are more or less on-model, although Megatron’s appearance still seems to confound artists who never seem to get it exactly right. The colouring is solid work, typical of a standard UK issue, with the only oddity being Megatron’s green helmet - I have no idea where that came from.

Part 2

Part 2 was still scripted by Furman, but art duties were taken over by Barry Kitson and Tim Perkins and it is a little difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. The colouring was done by a mysterious fellow called “W&P” who might well be two people. Scott and Rimmer remained unchanged.

The cover was by Geoff Senior and is a HUGE improvement. Rather difficult to summarise, it features portraits of Buster and Optimus Prime sharing a vision of the Decepticon combiners Bruticus and Menasor forcing Defensor to the ground. Defensor looks somewhat evil and is in a very strange position, but it’s still a much more interesting effort than the previous issue. The caption tells us that it is “All in the mind!” which is accurate, but not, it should be noted, a good point to sell a story on.

The mind link has begun. Buster and Prime share a vision of tumbling through space while being aware of an Earth power plant in trouble. The Decepticons want it, the Autobots want to protect it, we’re on familiar ground here, for Buster and Prime, and for the reader...

We are immediately shown a meeting of the Protectobots. They sound off in typical wordy comic-book fashion giving us their names in the third person. It turns out that they want to fight the Decepticons who are after the power plant. Hot-Spot cautions his four subordinates that they need to protect the humans first and foremost. “Wow, these guys are neat!” says Buster, and he doesn’t add “All five Protectobots sold seperately at your nearest Toys R Us” but he might as well have. Prime tells him that they are “more than neat” which is quite fun if you imagine it in Peter Cullen’s voice.

The Protectobots are concerned when they see a group of human vehicles heading for the power plant, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re Decepticons, specifically Stunticons. The Protectobots are surprisingly taken aback by the fact that the Stunticons can merge to form Menasor.

As Shockwave looks on he is very impressed, telling the Constructicons that Menasor is the ultimate progression of the Devastator prototype. He gets very excited about the prospects of this new weapon, before Soundwave draws his attention to the fact that the Protectobots have also combined, forming Defensor.

The two giant robots begin to scrap as Buster continues his commentary for the hard of thinking. Optimus notices that more Decepticons have rolled up to join the fight: The Combaticons! (although Vortex is mis-coloured as Blades). They’re complaining about missing Blast-Off, who it turns out is currently dodging the Aerialbots! This is a particularly amusing segment because Silverbot is at first unconcerned that there is a human space shuttle just flying about, until Air-Raid notices the Decepticon badge. The Combaticons finally form Bruticus and join the fight, prompting the Aerialbots to combine into Superion.

As he tries to shoot Superion Menasor actually talks to his own arm to tell it to shoot. Unfortunately he calls it Dead End, when that arm is actually Drag Strip. Drag Strip answers back, perhaps annoyed by Menasor’s mistake, and gives Superion time to dodge, causing Bruticus to be accidently shot in the back. As he falls, Defensor steps heavily on his head, splintering it.

Menasor tries to retreat, but Defensor causes and earthquake with his “stress-fracture cannon” and the combined robot falls into a huge pit. The message from the matrix is made clear when Superion picks up a distress call and they have to rush off to help Optimus Prime with something. And now, the most hilarious moment of the script (reproduced here for your entertainment). Hot Spot says “There’s never a moment’s rest when you belong to one of the...” And Buster and Prime wake up in unison and yell:
“SPECIAL TEAMS!” Toy-advertising camp at it’s highest.

Buster begins babbling about the Transformers he has seen but Prime is a little more rational, stating that they have undoubtedly seen the future of the Transformer race and for once have the drop on the Decepticons.

Unfortunately, little does Prime know that the Decepticons, both factions of them, are now perfectly aware of the special teams that lie in the (pretty near) future. Megatron correctly assumes that Shockwave has begun construction of the special teams and now determines to make Shockwave aware of his return, first hand!

Simply put, this is where the central premise of “Second Generation!” really starts to fall apart. The “it was all a dream” approach really hurts this issue. There is a considerable unreality to the combiner on combiner clashes (obviously, since it wasn’t real) and Buster and Prime’s interjections are cheesier than cheese itself. One of the problems is that the script can’t seem to decide whether the special teams shown are simply designs that the matrix suggests might come in handy or if this is a legitimate vision of an inevitable future. Still, the issue hints at possible consequences of this future glimpse. Shockwave is beavering away trying to build himself some new Decepticons and the Autobots hope to get Superion and Defensor online before the Decepticons know what has hit them. Surely this paves the way for a titanic clash of the combiners in the next issue? Spoiler: no it doesn’t.

I did enjoy most of the art in this issue. Prime and Buster floating through space is suitably surreal and probably my favourite image of the lot. I do not think enough care was taken to show us the sheer scale of these combined robots, and as such I am more underwhelmed by their clashes than I should be. Their proportions are just normal for Transformers, and without much background detail you don’t get a sense of their power, although the script would like us to feel it.

Part 3

The creative team changes once again for the third and final part of “Second Generation!” While Furman still scripts, the redoubtable Jeff Anderson took over pencilling duties, the colours were handed to Tony Jozwiak and Anne Halfacree provided the letters. Ian Rimmer, however, continued in his capacity as editor.

The cover was by Robin Smith and is one third great and two-thirds terrible, which unfortunately renders it pretty bad overall. It features Megatron and Shockwave brawling over the Decepticon leadership while Donny Finkleberg makes a stupid comment in the foreground. We seem to have been spoiled for awesome depictions of Shockwave in recent issues, and this is yet another great one, although the more disingenuous fan would point out that Shockwave, having a big, flat, featureless face with one round eye is harder to mess up than a lot of characters. Megatron, unfortunately, appears to have been replaced by a gorilla with a loudspeaker in its mouth. I’m not sure what the gridlines are all about, but they look awful. He doesn’t look angry, he looks like he opened his mouth to speak and someone shoved something in there. That, and he is holding his fusion cannon extremely stiffly and is squatting in an odd fashion. The third problem is that Robotmaster is a really terrible looking character to put at the front of a cover featuring a clash that should be amazing, and him quipping “Seconds out. Round two!” is part of a very unfortunate trend on the UK covers to put stupid speech balloons on otherwise decent art (although at least this time it’s not ruining anything very good).

The issue opens with Donny Finkleberg commentating much as the cover suggests he might do. Soundwave looks really dejected with having to put up with his company, which is quite a nice image, and Ravage leers threateningly as Finkleberg’s “minder”. Strangely, he gives a shout out to his “camera crew” who isn’t imaginary, because we see him sitting some way away, despite the fact that the film crew were not originally captured by the Decepticons. It is difficult to say if the continuity error is Furman’s or Anderson’s, since the man does not have any lines and only appears in one panel. Furman could have intended the reference to simply be part of Finkleberg’s playing to a pretend crowd.

Shockwave and Megatron are already in mid-brawl at Megatron’s coal-mine base. For some reason there is an abandoned tank which gets thrown around. Soundwave is aghast at the primitive display he is forced to watch - he had hoped for a peaceful alliance that would have strengthened the Decepticons as a whole but blames the promise of “special teams” as the reason why this is no longer possible, presumably (and this is not in any way explained) because both leaders conclude that if they can monopolise these new super-weapons they will have no need for each other.

In the Ark the Autobots are observing but disinclined to act as no humans are in danger. Wheeljack has prepared blueprints for Superion as Prime hears an alarm in the medical bay. It turns out that the Dinobots have come out of their coma and seem to be back to their old, belligerent, selves.

Back to the Decepticons: Soundwave confesses his disappointment to Finkleberg, who offers him a cigarette in reply, to which Soundwave spits in disgust, with the very onomatopoeic “puttup!” sound, and no, Anderson has not drawn him a mouth for this panel. Soundwave then gets a great moment where he walks over to the battling leaders and tells them that if their enemies saw this display they would “die laughing.” For a brief moment, both Shockwave and Megatron are united in their disbelief that Soundwave would dare to criticise them so openly, and Soundwave uses this as his trump card, to point out that although their methods differ, they both want to wipe out the Autobots and so should try a temporary joint leadership, with the most successful leader eventually taking over.

With this agreed it is time to set up the next issue. The Autobots pick up a message from Earth to Cybertron of unknown provenance, but are confident that with the Dinobots back on their feet and with the secrets of special teams, they are now at any advantage. The best bit of the issue is illustrated here:

What a mess! It took four issues to set up the actually very intriguing mystery of “what is in Buster’s mind?” but it all comes to practically nought. Part 1 is wasted to set up for Part 2 which, as a dream sequence, is mostly pointless, and dramatically conflicted, but could, conceivably, have been redeemed by a Part 3 that made up for it all. Unfortunately the special teams theme is mostly abandoned for a several page scrap between Shockwave and Megatron and not a single combiner has been built by the time the last page is turned. I realise that at least this does help to explain where the idea for these new Transformers has come from, but “a message from the matrix” is the ultimate in plot-device cop-outs. At the very least Wheeljack or Shockwave could have made the intuitive leap, rather than the creation force just deciding that these exact robots will be built for some reason. I believe the term “deus ex machina” - “god from the machine“, is very overused these days, and often used incorrectly, but this is a case of “machinae ex deo” - “machines from god“, and it’s just as dramatically uninteresting, especially as they don’t even appear in the real world of the story!

So, what about the main plot of the third issue, since the combiner teams are apparently off the menu? Megatron vs Shockwave: the rematch, is a very poor second to their first shattering clashes and, although it’s comparative lameness does underscore Soundwave’s point about it’s futility quite effectively, it’s just not that interesting to read. Meanwhile, the Dinobots come out of their coma suffering no ill effects whatsoever, which is extraordinarily bizarre, since you would have thought there would have been a story in that somewhere, otherwise why do it?

Jeff Anderson draws very good Transformers and his artwork for Part 3 is much stronger than the story. I especially enjoy his Soundwave and he can actually draw a Megatron who looks like Megatron, which is surprisingly is quite a relief. Despite the introduction of yet another colourist, the colours remain strong and consistent with the previous too issues. Unlike the story, art-wise, I have no complaints.

And now: a theory. I am pretty convinced that Simon Furman knew he was writing a dog’s dinner when he turned this script in. He had been forced to shoehorn in the special teams against all story logic by Hasbro UK’s marketing division and I think the result of this is him kicking against the tracers, or at least just not caring very much, until he could get back to telling proper stories. I could be entirely wrong here, but I just think the extraordinarily unnatural “toy commercial” atmosphere of Part 2 is extremely unlike Furman’s other writing, and might even be intended as a parody. It showcases the combiners and their unique components almost TOO efficiently, and, to this optimistic fan of Simon Furman, it comes across as him winking at the audience. Either way, “Second Generation!” is a pretty pointless three issues of Transformers story, only managing to set things up the way they already were in the US book, without advancing any new UK plotlines.

However, if you DO want to check it out, the Titan reprint is still available on Amazon: Transformers: Second Generation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mosaic: Human Component Clouder

My first Mosaic piece went out today. As long-time readers of this blog no doubt know, I'm a big fan of the art of fan artist Iván Mas. That's why I decided to collaborate with Iván and Synapse (AKA Carlos Oliveros) on their ongoing 'Human Component' series of mosaics. The first piece in the series was Minerva; look for more in the future.

Basically, 'Human Component' seeks to get into the heads of the 15 men and women of the Masterforce conflict. With Clouder, I felt that the core of his character was his moral dilemma and wanted to touch on why he might choose, initially, to side with the Destrons without hitting the reader over the head.

It's also interesting that, of the folks in Masterforce, he's the only character who actively seeks to get involved in the conflict. Everyone else was recruited by outside forces. I think there is a reason for that, too. Note that the Masterforce Bracelets come pre-adorned with a faction sigil on them. Basically, the Road King transtector was always destined to fall into the hands of someone noble of heart and pure of spirit. Likewise, the Overlord transtector, a pair of Destron bodies, needed to find people ruthless enough to use it. But the Clouder transtector has within it the potential to serve with either side. I think, in a sense, this Transtector needed to fall into the hands of someone outside of the conflict, someone who could approach both sides and then choose for himself.

On a side note, I've seen some evidence recently that suggests that early drafts of Masterforce had TWO humans for Doubleclouder, just as Overlord does. Certainly, with two Godmaster figures, that would have been the more obvious direction to go. I suppose that the human Godmaster components would have battled it out for Doubleclouder's spark. That could have been fun, but putting both sets of armor in one person's hands I think allowed them to tell some interesting stories and explore some interesting themes.

Let me know what you think! If you like it, I've got a few more one-page stories to tell ...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Zob's Thoughts on Revenge of the Fallen Autobot Wheelie

Note: This review contains minor spoilers for the movie Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, specifically the scenes in which Wheelie appears. If you're the type of person who just got angry that I told you that Wheelie will be appearing in the movie, I strongly suggest you stop reading now (and probably stop surfing the Internet for a bit, while you're at it). If you're like me, though, and you want to soak up as much as you can about the movie before its theatrical debut in just under a week, then by all means—continue on!

Wheelie is a tiny little robot gremlin. A self-described scrapmetal drone who takes the guise of a toy radio-controlled car in order to gain access to a surviving fragment of the Allspark cube, he initially has an unpleasant confrontation with Mikaela, but eventually comes to respect and admire her so much that he defects from the Decepticons and professes loyalty to her instead. The toy is part of the second wave of Deluxes and ships with the likes of Chromia, Skids, and Smokescreen (the redeco of Jazz).

Autobot Wheelie, as Hasbro calls him, comes packaged in robot mode—a practice that seems to be popping up more and more lately. I don't think this is done at random, but the reasoning for it seems to vary. (The Fallen , for example, is probably in robot mode because his vehicle mode is one of those indistinguishable Cybertronian things.) In Wheelie's case, his vehicle mode is scaled smaller than a lot of the other Deluxes; even though his wheels and undercarriage constitute nearly half his mass, he's deceptively small. Take that away, and he looks like a Scout-class toy. It's understandable that Hasbro wanted to showcase his largest and most imposing configuration, if only so kids didn't feel like they were getting ripped off in paying twelve dollars or more for such a tiny vehicle. Packaging him as a robot also has the added benefit of presenting him in his most recognizable form, as kids who see the movie will undoubtedly recognize the foul-mouthed little Decepticon on sight

As a vehicle, Wheelie is a little more than three and a half inches in length and just under three inches in height. His oversized monster truck wheels add a lot to his size and help to make him nearly as tall as he is long. (We don't get monster trucks in the toy line very often. He reminds me a great deal of Micromaster Mudslinger.) Wheelie is notable as one of the few Transformers toys that turns into a scale representation of an object—he doesn't turn into a full-sized car; he turns into a toy car, making the Hasbro version of him an example of life imitating art. Wheelie's toy isn't life-sized—he'd need to be a Leader-class toy to be the size in which he's depicted in the movie—but he's closer than the rest of the current Revenge of the Fallen product offering. His wheels roll freely (and true to his name, he can indeed pop a wheelie) but due tho their enormous tread pattern they actually work a lot better on carpeting than on flat surfaces. As mentioned, he's got a lot of undercarriage junk tucked under and behind his wheels that spoils the illusion a little, but other than that, it's a fairly convincing disguise. (Surprisingly, all the undercarriage stuff stays pegged in its proper place very nicely.) He's even got an open truck bed, a comparative rarity in transforming toys, though parts of his robot face are quite plainly visible inside the bed.

His transformation is complex and not very intuitive. A lot of movie toys just sort of explode into their humanoid form, with armor panels and dangly bits hanging everywhere, and it's far easier to start with the comparatively compact vehicle form and then unfold it a piece at a time than try to begin with a robot whose limbs are already pointing every which way and try to figure out how to fold him back up into a vehicle. This is an instance where some detailed written instructions would have been enormously helpful, since the wordless pictorial illustrations don't always convey precisely what you're expected to do. For those of you bemoaning the tired old transformation schemes we've already seen dozens of times, though, you're in for a treat since the act of transforming Wheelie is an entirely unique experience. Essentially, he lays on his back and his arms and legs retract underneath him, but this is a gross oversimplification of a process that took me multiple tries to fully master.

As a robot, Wheelie is nearly eight inches tall, gaining most of his height from his crazy, spindly legs and neck. It's difficult to describe his points of articulation because his design doesn't really match up with human anatomy, but he's got four independantly-moving joints in each leg and three in each arm, plus articulated claws and fingers, to achieve a wide variety of poses. The character rolls around on two wheels in the movie, but the toy is equipped with heel struts that enable the toy to stand up unsupported. He's also got three neck joints, all hinges, that allow various degrees of up-and-down movement but no side-to-side rotation. Close examination of his face sculpt reveals that he's got two differently-styled optic sensors, presumably as a nod to the scene from the movie in which Mikaela attacks and maims him. (His eyebrows are likewise sculpted differently, creating the effect that he's got one evil Decepticon eye and one sympathetic Autobot eye. Too bad they aren't colored differently like they are in the film.) The toy has no weapons, and only has a single gimmick to his name—rotate his crotch knob and you can switch his faction symbol from Autobot to Decepticon. That's it. Nothing spring-loaded, no Mech Alive gimmick, and no other action features.

Toys based on characters from the movie franchise are unlike any other Transformers toys ever designed. Wheelie embodies that design philosophy to a tee—which means you're likely to either love him or despise him based on your feelings about the other movie toys. He's got pretty much the same design aesthetic as Frenzy from the first movie, but Frenzy never really got a good transformable toy (the only version that actually turned into a CD player was the extra-chunky, kid-friendly Fast Action Battlers edition). I anticipate Wheelie being the comic relief character of the movie, so his popularity—and thus the demand for his toy—will no doubt soar enormously following the release of the film. If you're on the fence about him, you'd better grab him now before he gets scarce.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Introduction: Bill Forster

I think a quick introduction is in order. My co-author and partner in crime Bill Forster has graciously agreed to drop in from time to time and post about his various escapades.

Some notes about Bill: he's the more artistic half of our team. If there is an original picture in one of our books, it's about 10:1 that he drew it. He used to be the Art Director over at the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum in New York City, before he moved out to LA to pursue more creatively satisfying endeavors.

He's also quite the adventurer. He's gone to some interesting environments and done odd things, so I thought it'd be neat for him to share some of his experiences here.

This first tale is quite relevant to Transformers - it's about him getting a Transformers tattoo on national television, on the program LA Ink on the Discovery Channel. If you don't know, that's actually quite an impressive feat. While pretty much anyone can walk into any tattoo parlor and get a Transformers tattoo, if you want to get one on TV you need to get Hasbro's permission. Still, Bill can be both persistent and persuasive. Much to my surprise (and thanks to a lot of support from IDW), Hasbro licensed LA Ink to use their intellectual property.

But why should I get all the fun? Without further ado, Bill Forster and his first adventure.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Post No Bills Premier Edition: LA Ink

For some time now Jim has been on me to write a monthly segment on his blog. The fact is, I tend to live a bit of an interesting… or perhaps a better term would be eccentric life. Whether it be working on an aircraft carrier or keeping a six foot alligator loose in my New York City apartment, I have over the years entertained my friends with my hijinx. Needless to say, when Jim started looking for various posts for his Disciples it was clear my stupidity would make good fodder.

I’ve put off writing for him for sometime now, but it’s hard to say “no” to Jim…I’m fairly certain he’s the devil. I wasn’t sure where to start. Should I tell past experiences or should I write about my daily jackassery? Then an opportunity came my way that clearly was the first installment of my weird-ass adventures.

A year or so ago, after writing on some website somewhere that I had a coupla cartoon tattoos, Harley Quinn and Josie of the Pussycats, and mentioning my connection to the world of Transformers, I was contacted by Kat Von D’s show LA Ink. They asked me to appear on their show on the Discovery channel. This was during the end of producing their third season. The idea was to tattoo a Transformer on me celebrating my contribution to the property through my book, the Ark.

Of course I couldn’t let the opportunity to get a tattoo on national television pass me by. I went down to Hollywood for a screen test. By this time the Ark II had come out and I spoke on camera about the two books and the impact Transformers has made on my life. Apparently I did well because they were very excited to get me on the show. I immediately contacted my editor at IDW, Denton Tipton, and as always Denton was supportive and enthusiastic. He connected me to one of Hasbro’s lawyers and the release forms were drawn up. Unfortunately, the paperwork wasn't finished until about four days after the shooting schedule. I was heart broken. This would have been a great story to add to my repertoire.

Time passed.

Darkness crept back into the forests of the world. Rumor grew of a Shadow in the East... And a few months ago I get an email from LA Ink. They want to know if I would be on the show THIS season. And now there was plenty of time to get all our rubber duckies in a row. So after countless phone calls and a little scheduling issue the day had come and I rode my bike down to Hollywood. On a side note; if the opportunity arises to ride a motorcycle through Hollywood …don’t!

I decided to get the cover of the second Ark book inked on me. The Victory Leo Nick Roche drew and Josh Burcham colored had captured my eye. So much in fact that I have a huge poster of it framed and hanging over my bed. I spoke to Nick and Josh at Botcon a few weeks prior and they both thought the idea of tattooing their artwork on me was way cool. Nick lives in Ireland so I rarely get a chance to talk to him face to face. Nick put it best when he said, “That’s awesome!...Crazy, but awesome!”

The crew of the show had me sign some papers and then in true Los Angeles style, drove me the two blocks to the tattoo shop. Actually it wasn’t the shop but rather a house behind the shop. And it isn’t called LA Ink, it’s called High Voltage Tattoo. There I was fitted with a microphone and interviewed. I was a little nervous answering all their Transformer questions. Hopeful I got all my facts right. I was sure to say: Hasbro, Jim Sorenson, Nick Roche, Josh Burcham and IDW as many times as possible.

Then filming began. They had me wait behind a corner and filmed me walking into the shop to meet the artist. Dan Smith introduced himself and immediately won me over with his enthusiasm for the project. We spoke on camera about tape cassettes and how incredible Nick’s artwork was. We were asked by the producer to refrain from discussing Transformers when the cameras weren’t on so that we’d have something to discuss during filming. This lasted about four seconds. Dan was reminiscing about his childhood and how Soundwave captivated him. He regretted not getting a Soundwave tattoo he was considering a few years back. He suggested that perhaps to better balance out the tattoo I was getting by getting Grimlock on the opposite side. …I’m considering it.

It went like a normal tattoo session except occasionally a camera was in front of me and I would have to watch my language. Which if you know me is virtually impossible. Despite taking forever to film the episode segment Dan was relatively quick. Which was nice because it became very uncomfortable. The area around my sternum and neck hurt like the hammers of hell.

When we were finished they filmed us parting ways and I left the shop. The cameras turned off and I walked back in to get all my stuff. I presented Dan with a copy of both the Ark books and left for the second time. Once again, I was driven two blocks to my motorcycle. I packed up my stuff. Put my helmet on and…realized I forgot my keys at the shop. Damn it!! Now I have to walk two whole blocks back!

I don’t know when the show will air, but I will let you all know when it do.

-Up the Irons!

Iván's Gallery: Overlord (base mode)

The Ides of June! As good a time as any for another piece from Iván. Continuing his exploration of Overlord, a really cool piece that was in the background of his last work. This week on Iván's Gallery: Overlord's base! I love the attention to detail here, especially the little car scout thing that came with the toy. Here's what the artist has to say about the piece:

Really, this drawing is not complicated to do. the lineart it´s easy. The original measured two meters by two meters...
That means you can calmly make details. The only difficulty is not to lose perspective, done in pencil, then simply increased the brightness and contrast.
So the most difficult thing was scanned.
Again, a shame that this project is in any drawer closed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: Marvel G.I. Joe and the Transformers #2

Power Struggle (again, no exclamation point) is the second in the four issue G.I. Joe and the Transformers limited series. Continuity-wise, it takes place (more or less) between the Transformers ongoing #24 and #25, though there are a few hiccups along the way. Mercifully, the creative staff is unchanged from the last issue. Michael Higgins continues to script the series, with Herb Trimpe pencils, Vince Colletta inks,Nel Yomtov colors and Joe Rosen letters. I believe that Herb Trimpe also drew the cover, though I'm not 100% sure on that point.

The cover is a bit off. The Joe team defends some civilians on a boat from an aerial strike by Cobra Rattlers. Meanwhile, several Decepticons, seen in black and red, observe the proceedings on some kind of monitor. It's a bit clever, I'll grant, but it winds up making the action a little too small to be effective.

A lack of action is the central problem of the book, too. Picking up where issue #1 left off, Superion confronts the Joe team for destroying his teammate, Bumblebee. Sort of. Mostly he just stands there while the Joes throw more and more ordinance at him. Just at the point when he's starting to seriously consider retaliating, he gets a message from Blaster - Optimus Prime is dead! All autobots have been ordered back to base, and so he breaks off the engagement. Oddly, he leaves Bumblebee's remains behind - I can't imagine scooping them up would have taken more than a few seconds. Of course, there's a plot reason for that,

Meanwhile, at the Decepticon's new Floridian headquarters, Megatron watches the theft of Power Station Alpha but does not really see it. The Decepticon tyrant is barely aware of Bombshell's cerebro-shell based triumph. Shockwave concludes that Megatron must be removed from power. Oh, and Ravage is here, despite the whole mineshaft incident back in #20. Now, that doesn't really seem like a continuity flub, since, really, a mineshaft? But Ravage would stay out of the main Transformers book until #72. Also, Megatron's lethargy doesn't really play here - one would think that the Decepticon leader would be filled with triumph after defeating Optimus Prime. The next issue (of the ongoing) will delve further into Megatron's mental state, but for right now it feels odd.

The Joes and Cobras both observe the remote launch of Alpha with consternation. The Joes scramble to track it, the Cobras decide to take advantage. Doctor Mindbender manages to hijack Bombshell's frequency and brings the station towards the Cobra base. The Joes engage the Cobra forces in the air, though Serpentor (now apparently the Cobra leader) takes advantage of a cruise ship to force the Joes to back off. This is not entirely a bad development, though, since the cruise ship belongs to none other than ... G.B. Blackrock, who overhears talk of giant robots. This development is way too coincidental to accept. One would think that a team as elite as G.I. Joe would have access to the government's full suite of intelligence on Transformers and thus not need such clumsy plot devices to learn about the Autobot/Decepticon war.

Meanwhile, the poor boy Bombshell used as a diversion still suffers from having Decepticon tech in his head - he's near catatonic, though an x-ray reveals the culprit. Hawk gets it on with Senator Larkin, who asks him to "protect what's hers." I mention these things not because they are critical to the plot, but because they wind up being the most interesting aspects this issue has to offer. The Larkin/Hawk romance will have more payoff later, but the idea that some unwitting (literally) pawn in the Decepticons schemes would wind up nearly mindless and require brain surgery is a terrific plot angle. I wish that the comic had explored more themes along these lines.

As Alpha lands at the Cobra base, so too does another aircraft - Dirge! He and Bombshell compliment Cobra on seizing the station and propose an alliance. Mindbender accepts, but not without planting a bug on Dirge. And thus, he overhears Shockwave's plan to use Alpha to ... DESTROY THE EARTH!!!

Overall, a fairly weak effort. It suffers from, among other things, taking place TOO firmly in the Transformers / G.I. Joe continuity. Things like the Death of Prime and the deposing of Cobra Commander take place off-screen and with hardly a blink. Also, the action is just not there. The Robot violence consists entirely of Superion taking lots and lots (and LOTS) of fire from the Joes and then withdrawing. The Joe / Cobra battle wasn't bad, though Blackrock's presence made the whole thing hard to believe. Even the fun idea of a Joe/Autobot team fighting Decepticons/Cobra never really fully comes to pass. In this issue, a Cobra/Decepticon alliance is proposed, but only a few pages later Cobra learns that the Decepticons intend to destroy the Earth. The Joe / Autobot alliance hasn't even really started yet.

Power Struggle is fairly difficult to obtain, having not been reprinted since 1993. Still, given the overall weakness of the story and the lack of anything critical happening to the ongoing Transformers story (with one important exception, but we'll get to that later), that's not the end of the world.