Musings from Jim Sorenson and a few guest bloggers about Transformers, character models, science-fiction, comic books, and whatever else is on our minds.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Review: Marvel G1 #75: On the Edge of Extinction!
The seventy-fifth issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers is titled On the Edge of Extinction! Naturally, it sprang from the pen of one Simon Furman. Our old favorite Geoff Senior returns to do the artwork on this double-sized extravaganza, with Parker and Yomtov on letters and colors. Continuing the trend of playful credits, editors Tokar and DeFalco are listed, collectively, as 'certainly doomed.' The cover, too, is by Senior.
The cover is certainly evocative. Unicron holds Cybertron, which is way too small, but it's not a literal cover so I can accept that, and cracks it open to pour out the juicy Transformers within. Grimlock, Hot Rod, Kup, Galvatron, Optimus, and Scorponok pour out. I'd have swapped Hot Rod out and put in Starscream or Shockwave, given the recent prominent cast members, but that's a nit. It's a powerful image of doom and gloom, with the bold inking and stark geometries that Senior is good at. "Double-sized all-out action anniversary issue!" entices us up above, while in the corner it asks us if this is "THE END?! ... or the beginning?" I don't know if the bit about the beginning was necessary. I can't help but think that, when Furman took over the book, getting to 75 must have seemed like a real stretch goal. I'm glad that, after his initial four-issue foray into the field, he started laying groundwork for this milestone issue. He made it, and five issues on top of that. Sadly, by the time this issue saw print, behind-the-scenes the cancellation was already finalized. Still, even had things ended here, this would be considered a seminal run of Transforms.
But I get ahead of myself. We open immediately as the last book left off, with Unicron's enormous hand crashing down into the land stood on moments before by the fleeing Transformers. Bombastic text accompanies bombastic imagery, retelling the origin of the Transformers. The opening page leads to a GORGEOUS two-page splash of Unicron floating above Cybertron, gorging himself on the meat of his ancient enemy. (If I may brag for a moment, I own the original art for this piece. It hangs proudly in my living room.) The sheer scale of things is apparent as Unicron chows down on the landscape, with his ominous shadow falling across that which he devours. We even homage the movie a bit as we cut to Unicron's internal organs, processing this feast into energy. "Certain doomed" indeed.
Echoing the earlier panicked retreat, sheer terror is the only emotion that the Transformers seem capable of processing. The normally clever Brainstorm, when prompted for a course of action, just shuts down and starts firing. Nice lettering by Parker here. Brainstorm's reward for this course of action is to be impaled on a fingernail and ingested as a snack. The last line of defense by Primus is, according to Unicron, pathetic... but tasty. Primus, through Xaaron, implores his warriors to fight, but how can they do anything but flee in the face of this monster. The normally indomitable courage of Optimus Prime falters. "It's - so big! So impossibly big. We -- we can't fight that!" Optimus isn't the only one shutting down against this. Shockwave, the shining beacon of logic and logistics, looks a Unicron and simply... cannot compute. I love the idea of the living computer that is Shockwave basically crashing in the face of a data input like this. Using Optimus and Shockwave as the voice of despair was a clever trick by Furman. Optimus represents emotions, ideals. Shockwave represents reason and intellect. Both, however, in the face of this titan, seem helpless. By the way, I love how virtually every important character from the past 20 or so issues has a role to play in this story, sometimes several. (The big exception is Megatron and Ratchet, their story will come later.) Shockwave (and Starscream) has now played his role in the story, that of the coward. It's a bit part, but an important one, and putting him in the role is a sort of casting-against-type that I appreciate. Starscream, on the other hand, plays the part to a tee.
The first voice of hope is, oddly, Thunderpunch, the human displaced to Cybertron with the rest of the Neo Knights. He won't run -- after all, there's no where to go. He convinces his team to stand and fight, something that ironically Unicron wants. Astride Cybertron he stands, blasting away at his ancient enemy, cajoling them to fight back. For a battle that he's anticipated since literally before the beginning of the universe, it's too easy for him. Primus seeks to give him what he desires, as the god of light snares Primus in bonds of 'nauseating, choking pureness.' Primus tries to bluff his ancient adversary into submission, but Unicron sees through it and obliterates his enemy. "Xaaron!" calls out Scorponok, and an almost comically wide-eyed Optimus cries out "Primus!" They've lost their god today; they're on their own. This moment comes in most good stories, when the mentor dies and leaves the young ones (even if the young ones, in this case, are millions of years old. It's a relative thing) on their own. By placing Primus' demise so early in the story, it gives that much more weight to the battle about to erupt.
The battle is kicked off in earnest by Galvatron. It was him, after all, that woke Primus and the god to call home his children. Galvatron seeks to humble Unicron, make the dark god pay for humiliating the ultimate Decepticon. He taps into Cybertron's energy and blasts off to do battle with the Chaos Bringer, hoping to rally the panicked Transformers into action. He hits Unicron full in the face, stinging the monster, but he's promptly swatted aside. The artwork here is terrific, from the amazing energy of Galvatron blasting off, to the casual backhand that chnnks Galvatron aside, to the way Galvatron flies through a building and bounces off the ground. Galvatron has thus played his role, that of the instigator. It's the part he was born - er, created - to play.
Amazingly, though, it worked. Faced with such courage, Autobort and Decepticon alike begin to fire back, showing Unicron exactly what four million years of war can do to military innovation. Darkwing and Dreadwind, Cloudburst and Nightbeat and Siren and Jazz, Highbrow and Finback and Misfire and Hardhead and Bomb-burst, Quake and Joyride and Waverider, and presumably many more, all go off to do battle with what is just about literally the devil. For most of them, it doesn't go well, as robot after robot is destroyed. Optimus takes a mighty blow and crashes to the feet of Scorponok, who he begs to carry on the fight.
Scorponok, faced with perhaps the death of his entire race, reflects again that this isn't his war. He's a Nebulon, a man, amid a war bigger than anything he could have imagined. His moment of weakness passes, though, and he charges boldly forward. It does not go well. Unicron hits him with flame breath and destroys the poor robot. In what is hands down the best death scene in the entire run of Transformers comics, a badly melted Scorponok asks Optimus if he did good. Prime reassures him that he did, and he gives up the ghost. Thus does Scorponok play his roles, that of the reluctant hero, and of the martyr.
Another hero, boldly charging forward, is Thunderpunch, who somehow managed to get beat up but not killed. I'm not sure how that works, but I'll accept it for the sake of drama. Dynamo is trying to channel Cybertronian energy, but his body is having a tough time of it. Circuit Breaker is still catatonic, so that leaves Rapture. She snares Unicron's mind, but only for a fleeting instant. His fantasy, by the way, is of... nothing. Emptiness. The void. Blackrock does the unthinkable, and attempts to rouse Josie by slapping and mocking her, all the while hoping he can forgive himself.
The late arrival of the Ark gives the Cybertronian warriors some badly needed reinforcements. The Ark rams Unicron, causing him some damage but totaling the ship. When Prowl criticizes this strategy, Grimlock shoves him out a hatch to 'go fight.' Wheeljack asks Grimlock if battle at this point is wise, given the unstable energy reanimating them, prompting a fantastic exchange. "Should what!? Have holiday? Put feet up?" Grimlock mocks. He charges forward, with the Dinobots (and a reluctant Wheeljack) in tow. Thus does Grimlock play his part, that of the impetuous and fearless warrior.
Optimus, meanwhile, is starting to rally, though he's hit with another of his gut-wrenching bouts of pain. He is imploring his unnamed friend, which is clearly Hi-Q, to stay with him just a bit longer, when what should arrive but Thunderwing and the Dark Matrix. It desires vengeance against the Transformers, and won't let anything stand in its way... not even Unicron! Optimus frets that they may have to turn around and destroy the Matrix, should it destroy Unicron, but he needn't worry. The tainted Matrix is in the realm of evil, where Unicron has no equal. He shatters the enormous Matrix projection, sending numerous warriors flying and dismembering Thunderwing in the process. Thus does Thurnderwing play his part, that of the tainted and impure warrior, he who fights for the wrong reasons and is thus doomed to fail.
Optimus has one last gambit; to retrieve and purify the Matrix. Before he does so, he insists that Hi-Q exit his body. This task he must do alone. He'd better hurry, though, as Unicron converts to his planet mode and begins to devour Cybertron once and for all. He's had his sport, now he seeks unadulterated victory. Blackrock's cajoling has finally worked, though, and Circuit Breaker ignites his body in pain as his circuits sizzle and crackle with energy. Her sanity is gone, shredded, but she's bought Optimus a few precious seconds. Thus does she play her part, that of a madwoman. With Unicron distracted, Optimus seizes the Matrix and battles its demons. Though it seeks to control him, he has seen so much nobility, so much courage, so much sacrifice, that he has no doubt whatsoever in the power of goodness. He's also purged his doubts about his god, who he realizes created them not as pawns but as successors. Truly the Transformers are his children. When Unicron recovers from Circuit Breaker's assault, he's confronted with the advance of Optimus Prime, weilding a purified Matrix brimming with pure white energy. Optimus flies into his maw and overloads the monster. "Thoughts - fears - doubts - pain - love - death." It's all too much for Unicron, who explodes in a very nice splash page. (Oh, and thus does Optimus play his part, that of the self-sacrificing hero.)
The story isn't quite over. A tale that big deserves an epilogue, and we get one, a nice page that reiterates the mythology. "They were the dream," it tells us, mechanical beings created as a last line of defense against Unicron. "That battle is done, the story told. But life goes on, and the story of the Transformers is far from told!" Accompanying this rather uplifting text are some nice images of Cybertron from space and some battered but living warriors savoring a moment's peace. If the entire comic ended on this page, I don't think there would be too many complaints. (Though there would be a few dangling plotlines.)
Even this isn't enough for Furman, though. We get one more page, one shrewdly marked "Prologue:" and thus promising more tales to come, wherein Battletrap and Runabout take a walk and muse about how even this hasn't really changed who they are. From the shadows, Hi-Q watches as a hand grabs Runabout and pulls him into the ground, where he is promptly devoured. It's actually a slight anti-climax, but labeling this section a prologue salvages that somewhat.
And that's the end! It really was a fantastic story. So many characters, big and small, got to shine here, though the stand-outs were Optimus and Scorponok, Autobot and Decepticon. The emotional arc, from sheer terror to resolve to triumph, is masterfully executed. I also love how many pieces of the story come together here, including Grimlock's Nucleon arc, the Matrix, Galvatron's abduction from the future, and the Neo Knights. Plot, character, and emotion, all of them working together to make this the biggest Transformers story ever brought to the comics. The artwork, too, is great, a perfect accompaniment to the powerful story. Though as a kid I didn't really appreciate Senior's style, I now could hardly imagine anyone else tackling this story.
Next Month: "A holiday? A chance to put your feet up? NAH!" We're promised even more action, shocks, thrills and intrigue. Frankly, I find that hard to imagine, though I love the call-back to Grimlock's line to Wheeljack. On the Edge of Extinction! is the first chapter in IDW's Classic Transformers Vol. 6, available for purchase at Amazon.com. This volume also contains both the Headmasters and the Movie miniseries, for some extra added value. Again, if you haven't read this story and you're reading this blog, you're doing yourself a disservice.