Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #68: The Human Factor!

The Human Factor! is the sixty-eighth issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  While Simon Furman stays on as writer, we get the first and last appearance of Dwayne Turner as artist.  This is probably a good thing.  Yomtov is, as always, on colors, and Parker returns to lettering for the first time since issue 50.  The cover is also by Turner.

The cover isn't particularly appealing.  Starscream gets punched in the face by a muscle-bound human wearing a fairly generic costume, while a chick in a slightly better costume flies by.  Starscream is off model, missing his jet intake shoulders.  Also, the heroine is sort of oddly filling the space left by Starscream's head, making the cover appear a bit too neat.  The Heavy inks are a bit interesting, but overall unappealing.  The rather excessive details around the dude's feet are almost distracting.  "The HUMANS STRIKE BACK!" it tells us redundantly.  Overall, this is not a cover that makes me particularly excited, though it is at least completely representative of the book.

The book itself continues to suffer from the same overwrought artwork.  The story is decent, though like the previous issue it feels slightly disconnected from the main narrative thread that's been established recently.  Furman has one more piece to move into position before he can move into the next act of his story.

We open with GB Blackrock narrating some footage to the super humans seen on the cover, one Lee Gruber and Katrina Vesotzky.  It seems that a third metahuman has been discovered; he trashed the Air Strike Patrol in Louisiana when they attacked an oil refinery where he worked.  Blackrock, last seen as a pawn of Ratbat in Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom, is assembling a team of heroes to replace RAAT.  Apparently the Security Council (RAAT reported in to the United Nations?  Who knew!) scrapped them once the world recognized the distinction between Autobots and Decepticons.  The story is very well structured.  We get some decent action (well, theoretically we would have, had the artwork been more appealing) while reintroducing the audience to Blackrock, tying up the loose end left over from the return of Megatron storyline, we're introduced to the premise of the issue, and we get some sense of who Lee and Katrina are.  It's a wonderfully efficient use of space.  The presence of humans with powers takes a bit of getting used to.  While it's true that Spider-Man guested WAAAAAY back in issue three, so the idea isn't completely out of left field, for the most part any humans with special abilities in this book  (Buster's telekenesis, the Mechanic, the Road Jammers, Circuit Breaker) got them from contact with Cybertronians. I suppose I'm still not 100% on board yet.

Picking up on a plot thread from issue 66, we cut to Starscream.  He too knows about this new metahuman, who seems to tap into the energies of the Earth itself.  Starscream sees the mutant as the ultimate evolution of the Powermaster process, a lovely bit of continuity.  I'm sure Hasbro, by this point, couldn't care less about the Powermaster process, but it's nice that Furman remembers.  As Starscream wanders through the incredibly alien landscape of Florida (seriously, look at the artwork here.  He may as well be on Venus), he's tracked by the mysterious figure that emerged from the water in issue 65 and began tracking Starscream last issue.  OK, OK, it's obviously Shockwave, but Furman still hasn't quite spelled it out for us yet.  Turner uses extreme close-ups to preserve the mystery, but that doesn't always work.  The first panel shows, I suppose, Shockwave's foot coming down, though the angle on Starscream makes that unlikely. 

The plot moves forward with a clunky bit of exposition.  Lee, now in costume, asks Blackrock who the babe in the metal circuitry bikini is.  Blackrock gives him the backstory.  He's oversharing, though, since Lee was just interested in her because she is hot.  It's rather clumsy, and leads to some banter between Lee and Katrina.  Blackrock interrupts them; he's found Mister X, one Hector Dialonzo.  A meeting has been arranged, but 'news of his whereabouts has leaked out.' 

At Matacumbe Key, the forces vying for Dialonzo converge.  Circuit Breaker, incognito, introduces herself, but her pitch is cut short by Starscream's arrival.  She does a decent job taking Starscream out, at least until she gets caught in the back with a blast from Shockwave.  Shockwave, of course, is the bot responsible for her condition in the first place, so now the score is 2-0.  After dismissing his concerns about who fired the shot, Starscream threatens the bartender to force Dialonzo's acquiescence.  Fortunately for him, the cavalry arrives.  Katrina, called Rapture, snares Starscream's mind with a fantasy of victory, allowing Lee nee Thunderpunch to clock him good.  Their momentum is interrupted by... Circuit Breaker, who, in classic comic form, has attacked the other 'good guys.'  She rather pointedly tells Blackrock to stand aside and let her do the job she was 'built for.' It's a well executed take on the old idea that you become what you fight against.  I can't help but feel that the exposition around who she is might have worked better here, though.  It's her story; having her tell it seems only natural.  Blackrock's explanation to Lee seemed forced, whereas she telling it to Hector would have felt more natural.

Josie is, in turn, knocked aside by Dialonzo, who also knocks down Thunderpunch.  Dialonzo won't be anyone's prize; he'll hear each offer in turn.  Starscream offers him the world.  Circuit Breaker offers the chance to be a hero.  Blackrock offers him belonging, while being straight with him about how the world may see them.  Oddly, he brings up the Autobots, which is a bit besides the point for this conversation.  Starscream senses that Hector is choosing Blackrock's offer and pulls a tiny weapon, apparently forgetting that he has enormous cannons on his arms.  He kills everyone, claiming Dialonzo as his prize... in his mind.  Thunderpunch and Circuit Breaker put down Starscream in response.  It's nice that the decision came down to talking, though, rather than fighting.  It's slightly un-comic, but it makes Hector seem more in charge of his own destiny.

Blackrock and team withdraw with Hector in tow.  He offers Josie a chance to join them, appealing to her humanity.  She hesitates... and runs after him.  After they leave, Starscream comes to.  He's vowing vengeance, but Shockwave offers him a better way.  Yes, it's Shockwave, the final panel is that 'reveal.'  Again, look at the over-detailed hands on these robots.  They seem to have full-on human musculature.  Shockwave's proportions are all off, with his arms enormous.  Despite the non-shocking nature of the reveal, it's still effective in that it sets up Starscream and Shockwave as a potent force outside of Scorponok's command.  At last, everything is in place for the final run-up to Unicron's arrival, which smart money would place at issue 75.  One does have a natural tendency to celebrate milestones, after all.

So, there it is.  An interestingly human story, marred by artwork with awkward anatomy, blocky robotic bits, and desolate landscapes.  Also, I haven't yet completely warmed up to the idea of mutants running around in Transformers.  It feels a bit out of scope thematically to what we've been doing.  Perhaps some gorgeous artwork might have swayed me a bit, but the mish-mash we got isn't helping.  The return of Blackrock and Circuit Breaker is nice, though, and the Starscream / Shockwave alliance is definitely intriguing.  Shockwave bears some examination; he was shot down and plummeted to Earth back in issue 39.  At the time, it felt pretty final.  By stretching his return out over four issues, even if we all knew who it was, his return is less jarring.  This was definitely a good call on Furman's part.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it's a shame the artwork wasn't better.  Next issue, Andrew Wildman pencils his first US Transformers comic.  Had he started but one issue earlier, this issue might have been a classic.  As it is, it's a speedbump that disrupts the excellent momentum that had been building since issue 65.

Next issue, we're offered some surprisingly generic promises.  (Shocks, returns, action.)  Perhaps realizing this, Furman pokes fun at himself by ending with "AND MORE STUPID EXCLAMATIONS!"  Well played,  sir. The solicitation does little to make me want to get the next issue, really.  It's too generic. I understand why, though.  The next issue is a little hard to pigeonhole. The title, at least, seems intriguing.  "The EYE of the STORM!"  The Human Factor! is available for sale in IDW Publishing's  Classic Transformers, Vol. 5 .


Salt-Man Z said...

I actually like the art in this issue...kind of. What I mean to say is that I like the style, with the heavy, sketchy inks. The pencilling itself leaves something to be desired, though I must confess that I enjoy the shot of Circuit Breaker posted here, and most of Whisper's scenes in the early pages.

Oddly enough, I own a Wolverine comic that was pencilled (but not inked) by Dwayne Turner, and it's perfectly good superhero comic art. Don't know why his pencils suffered so much in this issue; perhaps it was a rush job? Maybe he had issues with drawing robots? I think the art in this one was inconsistent, more than anything.

Jimtron said...

I don't really mean to be down on Mr. Turner. I hope I didn't make it too personal. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were a rush job.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

I'm generally not one to criticize art too much. Truth be told, I think that a lot of fans are WAY too picky about artistic foibles, and need to just shut up and move on.

That said, I really did hate the art in this issue, and would go so far as to say it's the absolute nadir of the Marvel comic's run.

Anonymous said...

My sentiments are exactly the same as yours, J.

I actually have a memory of receiving this issue in my mailbox when I was child and it's not a good one. I was so upset at what they had done to my beloved transformers that I crumpled it and cursed! Hee. Little did I know that this would be the only time this artist would be utilized, or I'm sure I wouldn't have taken it so badly. :p

I believe this is the only example of Mr. Turner's art I have ever seen, but it seems like his style would lend itself better to b&w rather than color.


D.M said...

Perhaps Wildman was supposed to draw this issue but couldn't do it so they got Turner to do it quickly?

Paul said...

I liked the Shockwave was running around all the time on earth in the UK comics after the US wrote thim out, brushing off the re-entry as nothing his space gun mode couldn't handle.

Hans said...

I have a couple of issues of "Curse of the Spawn" with Dwayne Turner art. It looks absolutely nothing like his Transformers art in this issue, his Spawn art was absolutely gorgeous. I guess he was really having a bad month when he was drawing this :)

Starfield said...

I never realized Starscream was getting punched on the cover. I thought he was simply looking over his shoulder to sneer at the insects swarming around him. But now I see the bit of damage to the corner of his mouth.

It still doesn't really look like he is getting punched. Thunderpunch is just sort of flying there with his back to Starscream.

Anonymous said...

I generally refrain from bashing Turner's art as well...unless someone starts bashing Galan's, to which I MUST respond, "No, Dwayne Turner in fact produced the worst art in TF Marvel continuity".

After seeing his work on a Hulk 2099 story, which may have also been a rush job, I think the problem was his not seeming to care what he was drawing from the point of enabling the audience to follow what was happening, despite including a lot of detail. A good example is when Blackrock finishes explaining Circuit Breaker's story to Thunderpunch, and they're drawn screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, which the dialogue doesn't really support, especially for T.P.'s, "...I just wanted to know if she likes to party, know what I mean?"

As for Starscream's hand weapon, I think the idea was that reaching for it was less conspicuous to humans that leveling his giant arm at them. He also does a one time only move where he destroys an Air Force jet with a blast from his afterburners. Interesting, and I'm not sure a different artist could have made it any clearer; did he just reduce speed to get closer and then accelerate, or was it more focusing his engines' output to perform an attack?


Tim Roll-Pickering said...

I can't recall seeing any of Turner's other work so I've no idea how typical this issue is. However I remember the UK comic openly admitting on the Transformations page that the artwork was bad but urging readers not to write in about this as a straight Wildman or Senior run was on the horizon.

Given that this is a one-off and came at a time when the regular artists were changing it's quite likely that Turner got this as a fill-in assignment. It's hard to not feel sorry for some of the writers and artists who had these - they could have regular good work on series now generally forgotten but wound up with fill-in assignments with very little time to do them in and those turn out to be the only issues people talk about years later.