Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #39: The Desert Island of Space!

The Desert Island of Space! is the thirty-ninth issue of the US G1 Marvel Transformers comic.  The creative line-up from last issue is unchanged, meaning it's a Budiansky scrip, with Delbo pencils, Hunt inks, Yomtov colors and Oakley letters.  The cover is also by José Delbo.

The cover is very nice.  A desert island, complete with palm trees, rockets up from the earth, with a transparent dome enclosing it.  It's just fired a rocket, apparently from one of the aforementioned palm trees, which has totaled Fortress Maximus.  Shockwave is flying out from the island, presumably to finish the job.  Fort Max get the Shaft!, it declares in a mildly bad pun.  It's a nice meeting of the old and the new, with some delightfully absurd notions thrown in.  The damage to Max looks devastating, and is bleeding energy into the void of space.  Pure win.

The book opens on Buster Witwicky, abducted back in 37.  He's passed out on a beach, perhaps just stirring to consciousness.  It's a rather boring image, but Budiansky's prose salvages it a bit.  "Like a solitary piece of driftwood, he lies baking in the tropical sun ... thousands of miles and days away from his home in Portland, Oregon.  And Buster Witwicky's journey has only just begun." Nice foreshadowing.  When something interposes itself between him and the sun, he objects for a moment ... until he realizes it's Shockwave.  The Decepticon leader directed Ratbat to capture Buster, which Ratbat isn't happy with.  The accountant sees the cost-benefit ratio of keeping Buster around as negative, especially after Buster starts insisting on being fed.  Shockwave disagrees, though.  There's an armada of human naval vessels, and Shockwave thinks that Buster will help keep them at bay. Shockwave and Ratbat bicker like an old married couple.  In a way, they think too much alike.  It's true that Ratbat has more fire than Shockwave, but they're both about evaluating a situation and coming up with the most rational answer.  I get the sense that Shockwave doesn't much like Ratbat, but has no logical reason for those feelings and so doesn't act on them.  Ratbat, meanwhile, openly challenges Shockwave's authority in ways that no other Decepticon could get away with, by virtue of their similar outlooks.  When faced with an argument, Shockwave will always respond in kind.

As it turns out, Shockwave is right.  I.I.I. has tracked the recent robot thefts to Shockwave's Caribbean base and is preparing an assault.  Barnett and Forsythe are both here, the former carrying a briefcase full of Autobots to give tactical advice.  Forsythe is willing to overlook Barnett's insubordination in light of his recent epiphany regarding the hostilities between Autobots and Decepticons.  We also learn that the Predacons broke off their hunt for Barnett suddenly, presumably after Ratbat absconded with Buster.  When he spies Buster on the island, Barnett halts the attack ... which seems really silly.  Autobots might behave like this, but I'd think the military would be a lot more rational.  We also get a clumsy error about how many Throttlebots there were ... Barnett and Forsythe both seem to think that there were seven originally, now six given the missing Goldbug.

Cut to a dumpy motel, where Sparkpulug is staying while his house is being rebuilt.  He's chagrined that Spike is leaving again so soon, without any explanation.  They are interrupted by a phone call from Barnett, informing Sparkplug that Buster is alive but captured.  Barnett won't tell Sparkplug where his son is, so Spike has his dad keep Barnett on the phone.  He's shocked when Spike traces the call just by holding the wire, so Spike reveals to his dad that he is now a Headmaster.  We get another recap of what went before, then the introduction of the Targetmasters to the main US book.  It's one of the clunkier recaps, partially because while I can see Spike feeling obliged to show his father his new Transformer body, I can't really see him introducing the Targetmaster gimmick.

With the location of the Decepticon base now in hand, the Autobots prepare to launch an assault.  Kup isn't too happy about Spike's leadership; he thinks it's too rooted in sentiment.  I'm glad that this was acknowledged, though the fact that he's some unknown alien that they just met hasn't come up at all.  When the Autobots are spotted by Triple-I, the humans prepare to attack the shuttle.  After all, they don't have a human shield.  Rollbar objects, though, much to Forsythe's chagrin.  "You expect me to take orders from a *@#!! TOY?!" he ejaculates, to the apparent amusement of Barnett.  By the way, this is the last time we'd see either character.  Forsythe isn't much of a loss, but Barnett was one of the more interesting supporting characters that Transformers had to offer, so it's sad to see him go with so little fanfare. 

Thanks to Rollbar, the Autobots land unmolested on the island and begin their assault.  Kup cautions 'maxie' to stay behind, given his personal stake in the upcoming battle.  Buster dives for cover and discovers that the grass is a fake, made of wires.  Indeed, the whole island is in fact some kind of Cybertronian installation.  Once again, Shockwave and Ratbat have a heated exchange, this time with the latter pointing out, correctly, that it's entirely because of Buster that the Autobots are here.  Shockwave isn't worried, though, he's built countermeasures into the base.  Soon we see them in action, as autoguns pop up and begin to bwam, poom, zzip, pting, and pkow on the Autobots.  They're forced to fall back to regroup, giving Shockwave time to seal off the island and launch it into space.  Yes, the desert island is, in fact, a rocket, which would be an awesome surprise but for the cover.  Ah, well.  It's still a nice reveal.

As the Targetmasters sulk in defeat, Cerebros combines with Fortress Maximus and flies up to the rocket, grabbing onto it even as it begins to climb out of the Earth's atmosphere.  The Targetmasters think that he must be crazy, validating Kup's prediction about sentiment, but Kup himself is impressed by the sheer guts such a move must take.  Shockwave is pleased that all systems are operating nominally, but is puzzled by their lower-than-expected velocity.  Ratbat prompts the 'monocular moron' to look out the window.  Shockwave is baffled that anyone would even attempt such an illogical rescue, but impales Max on a rocket anyway.  It's a lovely image, but essentially the same as from the cover, so I won't repeat it here. 

Shockwave gloats in his own quiet way, but Ratbat needles him when Cerebros detaches and continues to keep up with the island.  Shockwave flies out of the ship, converts to gun mode and blasts Cerebros, disabling that Autobot too.  Spike is forced to detach, prompting Shockwave to come around for another pass at the human.  Using his radio control, Spike has Maximus' machine gun batteries target Shockwave's rockets.  Shockwave observes that he's too close to Earth, and that her gravity will pull him into the atmosphere, where it is only logical that he burn up.  Ratbat, meanwhile, wryly ponders the irony of the timing.  He's just accellerated the vessel AWAY from Earth, and finds that turning it around to attempt a rescue would be 'illogical.'  I'm sure Shockwave would agree.  It's a good end for the character, though he won't stay dead forever.

Said acceleration pulls the island away from Spike, who's left adrift in space.  Fortunately for him, the Autobots aren't far behind.  They're impressed with the courage that he's displayed, and all agree that they won't rest until Buster is returned to them.

This is another strong tale.  Spike continues his heroes journey, learning more about himself and earning the respect of his allies along the way.  It feels very much like a continuation of #38, which itself tied in very nicely with both Headmasters 1-4 and the existing Earthbased story.  The fact that Grimlock and the Ark are still MIA helps cement these new Autobots as the real defenders of the Earth, in a fairly organic way.

Shockwave hasn't had much to do since taking over from Megatron, but at least we see that he hasn't wasted his time.  He's managed to build a pretty impressive spacevessel with a nice disguise.  The vessel is itself a Transformer, dont'cha see?  It's hard to hid a spaceship, but an island is a pretty good shot at doing so.  I find it an appropriately impressive legacy, very useful and just a little dull.  His 'death', which won't be reversed until #65, (at least in the US ... he'd still be active in the UK pretty much continuously) seems perfectly in-character. He's hoist on his own petard, and can't even seem to fault Ratbat for not coming back for him the way the Autobots came back for Spike, Cerebros and Fortress Maximus.  He skips right past denial, anger, bargaining and depression, immediately hitting acceptance.  After his return, Shockwave wouldn't be quite the powerhouse he was here.  He certainly was interesting and menacing under Furman's pen, but it was during Budiansky's reign that the character shined the brightest.

Barnett and I.I.I., on the other hand, end on a whimper.  I see what the problem was, of course.  Budiansky has written himself into a corner.  Triple-I existed as an antagonistic force.  With Barnett and Forsythe acknowledging the heroism of the Autobots, however begrudgingly, they cease to be a foil and become a force the Autobots can lean on.  That's not nearly as interesting, especially since they're actually not bad at taking down the occasional Transformer.  I still feel that Barnett deserved a big final story, though.  Surely one of the late 40s or early 50s could have been devoted to him.  Micromaster wresting seems particularly superfluous.  Since I often saw Barnett as a stand-in for Budiansky himself, having his last issue be Barnett's last issue would have had a nice symmetry.  Alas, it was not to be.  Barnett WOULD show up in a Classics story, a timeline which is a continuation of the old Marvel G1 (but not G2 ... which is a bizarre-as-hell choice, but I digress) series. 

Next month, the question is raised, "is it really Optimus Prime, or just an incredible simulation?" Why can't it be both?  In a perhaps bit of meta-commentary on the state of working on a toy book, there is a slash after that question and the phrase "Also, the Pretenders!"  It's pretty clear what Bob thinks the focus of the next issue really is, and he doesn't even try to integrated the mandated new characters into said focus.  The Desert Island of Space! is available for sale in IDW's  Classic Transformers Volume 3.


Mark Baker-Wright said...

Classics... a timeline which is a continuation of the old Marvel G1 (but not G2 ... which is a bizarre-as-hell choice...)

Obviously a lot of people agree with you. I don't know FP's thoughts behind this, but it seems to me an obvious clue is in the fact that so many "old" characters were killed off in G2 that were... at least more readily revived from the standpoint of the end of Marvel G1. Characters already known to be getting Classics toys, who therefore needed inclusion.

For example, Mirage and Ramjet

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that Busiansky's Shockwave was the best version. This Shockwave was a pure unemotional and rational character with no ego. His best moment was in #19 when he voluntarily gave Decepticon leadership to Megatron because he felt that Megatron was a better leader on that day. His acceptance of his death was in character. He would not have blamed Ratbat for not coming to rescue him because it really was not logical. That was a great death and a great Shockwave moment. It is a shame that his death was reversed.

I never cared for Furman's Shockwave. He presented Shockwave as only superficially logical that wanted the Decepticon leadership because of ego which is basically another version of Starscream.

I also missed RAAT and the human characters after this. They should have continued the stories in which RAAT tries to ally with the Autobots to hunt down Decepticons.

I like that line "monocular moron". Budiansky always writes great dialogue. His dialogue is not heavy-handed.

However, I still can't get past the fact that Autobots accepted the inexperienced Spike as leader so quickly. That was so far-fetched and pretty much ruined the issue, and last issue for me. Why did Budiansky not simply let Galen live and call it a day.

Sean said...

Another nice review! I pretty much agree with everything you said this time round. I also feel that the Throttlebots should have been given more to do later-in fact they could have been advisers to RAAT or something