Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ark Addendum - The Destron Base of Masterforce (part 2)

The Ark Addendum, like a thuggish brute shouldering aside all in its path, continues! This week, it's part two of the Destron base from Masterforce.

After seeing the outside of the base, we now go deep underground, to the caverns beneath the base, and a long shot of the command center of Devil Z.  Once again, this touches on material in  Transformers: The Complete Ark (order it today!), where we featured a zoomed-in view of the bottom picture as well as a nice close-up of Devil Z itself.  I think it's very interesting that the Cybertrons lived amid technological splendor, whereas the Destrons lived in the natural caverns of this base, with organic trappings all about.  Transformers often explored this sort of juxtaposition; in Beast Wars II, the good guys were the animals facing off against technological foes.  Beast Machines explored a similar dynamic.  Car Robots / Robots In Disguise reversed that, with the heroes as vehicles and the bad guys as technoorganisms, at least to start.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Iacon's Last Stand

This blog, and indeed much of my work, wouldn't be possible without the help of talented collaborators.  One such person is Javier O. Reyes, who did much additional coloring for both AllSpark Almanacs.  The other day, he sent me a new original piece and I wanted to share it with you, the readers.  He calls it Iacon's Last Stand.  Here's what he has to say about it:

This is what happens when you crave a game but don't have anywhere to play it. This piece was inspired by the game Transformers: War for Cybertron. I tried to achieve quite a couple of things, especially in the colouring. I really like how this one turned out.

If you'd like to see it in glorious high-resolution, head on over to Javier's Deviant Art page.  

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 31

The thirty-first episode of War of the Worlds, the series, is titled Night Moves.  Following its usual formula of parallel story telling, both the aliens and the humans are running low on food.  Suzanne takes Debi to the countryside to live with Rebecca Owen, her mother, Debi's grandmother.  There, they find that the aliens have done the same thing, taking over the farm and using it to incubate alien plants to harvest for food under the guise of working for the Department of Agriculture.  Much alien carnage follows, though sadly Mrs. Owen perishes in the crossfire.  Suzanne and Debi go back to the city, realizing that there's pretty much nowhere to run from the aliens.  The aliens, in turn, find the loss of one farm acceptable; they've got 10 more, with an additional 20 under consideration.

The Good: This is a well paced, well acted, logical adventure with a lot of action.  All around, the quality was quite high.  We even got a nice explosion when Kincaid chucked a grenade at some aliens. 

The humans get some good characterization this time out.  When Debi wonders why things always have to change, Kincaid replys that they don't.  It's such a naive view for such a worldly character to take.  He also characterizes her purportedly permenant move as "getting out of here for a while."  He may be tough and world-weary, but he's very immature in some ways.    I also like the drunken brawl that Harrison and John get into in a strip club.  It seems very natural for some healthy male bonding, now that the girls have gone away.

The healthy male bonding through conflict, by the way, is immediately followed up with an ugly physical confrontation between Suzanne and Rebecca, drawing a sharp contrast. Violence is also used well earlier on in the episode, when Debi tackles and then starts kicking a food thief.  The city is certainly making her vicious!  The scene that lead up to Debi's confrontation with the thief was rather fun too, with the barter economy of "Almost Tomorrow" explored.  Harrison wound up trading a pair of boots and a nice knife for some apples.

The alien interaction, too, is mostly terrific, though this is no great surprise.  Forest and Disher continue to have delightful tension between them.  I'm thinking in particular of a scene when Malzor asks her when new food will be available, and she dodges the question by talking about her experiments.  He's too shrewd for her, though, picking up on the ploy.  Richings' Ardix, too, gets in a juicy line here or there, especially when he confronts Suzanne's mother.  "Mrs. Owen.  I'm glad you could join us."  It looks so flat in print, but the menace just drips off his tongue!

Well, what appears to be coincidence turns out to be not so much.  Suzanne's family farm being targeted would be a bit much, but if it's just one of eleven...

The Bad: That said, eleven farms, each one of which has some three or four guards, means around 35 aliens devoted to the food-raising operation.  Since it seems like Malzor's forces number, at most, a couple of hundred, this seems like quite a lot.

In the aforementioned strip club, we meet a new recurring character; Belinda Metz's Scoggs.  She's a stripper-hacker.  Though I like recurring characters, this seems like pandering to me.  That said, it also seems somewhat ahead of its time in a way, juxtaposing her physical vulnerability and exhibitionism with a big juicy brain.

Paul Fox, the main alien, seems way too human.  He seems to have genuine psychological insight into the relationship between Suzanne and Rebecca, and exhibits none of the alien's characteristic awkwardness.

Alien plants grow awfully quickly!  They seem to have set up the greenhouse and grown a garden in about two days.  More time passing wouldn't have been a bad thing. 

The Ugly: Right at the beginning of the episode, a starving alien made the mistake of ingesting some human food.  He boiled, then popped.  Malzor's reaction to this was fantastic, by the way.  To Mana, he quipped that this saves her the need for an experiment.  Cold, Malzor, very cold!

Overall, a surprisingly strong episode.  Maybe getting out of the city gave the writers a bit more freedom; it certainly feels like a breath of fresh air after the gritty urban stories we've been getting.  It also expands the world, showing that really the countryside isn't much better than the cities.

War of the Worlds: The Final Season, will be out on DVD this October and is available for preorder now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #64: Deadly Obsession

Deadly Obsession is the sixty-forth issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers, and the third chapter of the Matrix Quest.  It was written, as always, by Simon Furman.  Pencils are by José Delbo, with inks by Dan Reed (along with Al Williamson for the first four pages.)  Massara and Yomtov provide lettering and coloring.  The cover is by Ian Akin.

The cover is very comic-booky.  Longtooth stands on a ship, spear in hand, as the tail of a techno-organic whale splashes away from him.  They're block-colored, which actually makes them stand out fairly dramatically from he background.  In two circles on the right hand side, Longtooth's fellow Autobot Pretenders look on in shock.  The cover narration explains the action: to save Longtooth from himself... and a race from extinction... his fellow Autobots may just have to kill him!  I think the Longtooth cover would have worked well enough without the words or his Autobot brethren.  With them, the whole thing seems a bit too busy.  The shame is, I rather like both Longtooth and the whale (technically a Klud) in this rendering.

Once we move into the issue, we're confronted with an odd morass of flashbacks.  We open well enough, with a one-legged Longtooth hunting the whale-like Klud, overlaid with Melvillian narration, beautifully rendered by Massara as a scroll.  "Call me Longthooth..." perfectly sets the tone of what is to follow.

Before he can pull the trigger, we slip to a point a few minutes earlier in the story, where we see Pincher and Doubleheader zipping along the surface of one of Pequod's mercury seas in their modified shuttle craft.  Their goal is to save Longtooth from himself, we find, before they shift into a nested flashback sequence where they start with some exposition about the Matrix Quest and go on to explain the interest in the Klud in the first place.  This race, long thought extinct, seems to have made a comeback, and the Autobots suspect Matrix involvement. The narrative structure is clumsy, though, with a flashback within a flashback, and is therefor more confusing than it had to be.  One can certainly follow along, but it seems like a long way to go to open on the image and the phrase that Simon chose to go with. 

Back in the present, both the Autobots and the Decepticons act to safeguard the Klud from Longtooth.  Thunderwing wants to mindlink with the beast to find out where it encountered the Matrix, the Autobots just want to save Longtooth's spark.  Echoing the theme of obsession that Longtooth exhibits, Thunderwing too seems to be going over the edge, though in his case it's with Matrix-fever.  His backhanding of Ruckus is rather nice.

The Autobots show up in time to save Longtooth from the 'Cons, though not before Longtooth is dumped into the drink.  We go to the rest of the flashback, where we see Longtooth loose his leg to the beast in the course of their investigation.  This, combined with the vision of the creature sends him over the edge. Again, there's not much reason to have this part of the story be in the middle, rather than the beginning, but at least the artwork is especially gorgeous.  (More on that later.)

All that's left is the shouting.  Needlenose and Windsweeper engage the Autobots, while Thunderwing learns what he can from the beast.  It's enough; he's to go to the third moon of the fourth planet, VsQs, where the Matrix awaits!  Pincher convinces Longtooth that it's his sacred duty to allow the Klud to live, though he has to leave Doubleheader all alone in the sky to do so.  Sadly for the Decepticons, they're unable to exploit this vulnerability due to Thunderwing's own deadly obsession; he yanks their leash and they abandon this briny world.  Pincher doesn't see it as a defeat, though the Decepticons apparently got what they wanted.  In his mind, the real victory was Longtooth's choice. The climax feels rushed and somewhat perfunctory.  One or two more pages might have helped.  I'd posit that a more linear plot might have given Furman some extra room to play with.  It also hurts that we never really see Longtooth make his choice, or indeed the aftermath of that choice.  For a story ostensibly about him, this seems like a big oversight.

Overall, a somewhat odd middle chapter.  After the strong start the Matrix Quest got itself off to, I'm finding myself less and less interested.  The genre-straddling narration seems to divide rather than unify the five-part story.  It almost seems self-indulgent.  Keep in mind, Furman hasn't been on the book all that long at this point.  This is only his ninth issue in the US, so it seems odd that so soon into his run he'd shift the book into this sort of experimental phase.  (As it turns out, I needn't worry; from issue 65 on he'll return to more traditional comic-book storytelling.)  It's not a bad story, it just seems like there's a bit too much going on.  On the plus side, unlike last issue it seems like the story is legitimately advancing now.  We know where the Matrix is, and we have two whole issues to go.

The art of the issue is a bit mixed.  Reed's organic inking and Delbo's mechanical drawings don't always mesh well.  However, there is an absolutely gorgeous splash page that's well worth the price of admission all by itself.  It's a BEAUTIFUL piece of Delbo / Reed / Yomtov / Furman / Massara collaboration, absolutely gorgeous.  The colors, the inks, the pencil, the prose, the lettering... this one page is what this whole book was about.    

Next issue, we're promised Bumblebee, Jazz and Grimlock, along with Thunderwing's Decepticons, in an all-out war with the DARK CREATION.  That sounds fairly exciting.  Deadly Obsession is available in IDW Publishing's Classic Transformers, Vol. 5, at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

War of the Worlds, Season Two, coming out on DVD!

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.   War of the Worlds: The Final Season , is to be released in DVD format.  It'll be out in October, and is available for pre-order now. 

I've been reviewing them, episode by episode, on the blog.  I'm still relatively early in the season.  I think I have to say that it doesn't deserve the horrible reputation it has.  Its biggest sin is deviating from the format of season one, but it still manages to tell some interesting stories, many of which really couldn't have happened with the old format.  That said, neither season one nor season two can really properly be considered good.  Interesting, sure.  Campy fun, especially season one, yeah.  But they're not actually quality.  I'm going to be picking up season two, but I'd really only recommend that you the reader do so if you've already got some kind of nostalgia connection to the series.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Ark Addendum - The Destron Base of Masterforce (part 1)

Is it that time already?  Yup, it's Tuesday, and that means that it's time for another edition of The Ark Addendum.  This week I thought I'd expand out the models of the Destron base, as used in Masterforce.  In  Transformers: The Complete Ark (order it today!) , page 353, I included a one-pager on the Destron base.  This was also in The Ark II, though I don't have the page number handy.  That shows a map of the base, and some exterior shots.  What I sadly didn't have room for was extensive close-ups of several of the rooms in the base.  If only I had some kind of forum with which to share these models...

Wait a moment! I do!

This will be the first of several close-ups of the Destron's underwater base.  I don't want to repeat the external and map shots of the base that I used in the book, so you might want to flip open your Complete Ark or Ark II for reference.  These pages work best in tandem with the published page of the Destron base.  (What's that you say? You don't have the book? For shame!  Get thee to an Amazon noweth!)

Once again, I find it fascinating how organic and natural everything about the Destron base is.  The roof of the base is full of rocky crags, and the openings looks like some kind of ominous orifice, ready to swallow you whole.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Deviations from the Norm

It's that time again; my esteemed colleague Bill Forster has updated his Deviant Art gallery with yet more of his original artwork from  The AllSpark Almanac II (order it today!) . 

This time around, he's uploaded our Reverse-Pretender alter-egos, Octus and Megadeath, some heads from the Great War like Moonradar and Gigatron (a.k.a. RID Megatron, Animated style), some Maccadam's heads like the adorable Clipper, and more.

I think my favorite might be Skids.  While, obviously, it was movie-style Skids that inspired the design, the idea that he'd be infested with brain parasites came from G1 Skids, where he spent well over 100 UK issues in limbo after Galvatron time-displaced him there.  I thought it funny to include this element, but with the much uglier RotF Skids.

Swing by, let Bill know what you think of his work!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #63: Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Kings of the Wild Frontier. is the sixty-third issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  Yes, there's a period in the title.  No, I don't really know why.  Furman stays on as the writer, and indeed will do so through the end of the run, and for all of the G2 run.  In fact, the only stories I'll be reviewing in this series not by the esteemed Simon Furman are Larry Hama's G.I. Joe issues guest starring Megatron.  José Delbo returns to penciling duties, with David Hunt as inker.  Jim Massara and Nel Yomtov remain as letterer and colorist, respectively. Ian Akin, who had done inks on many previous issues, does the cover. 

Sadly, it's not a great cover.  Thunderwing and his Decepticons stand amid the backdrop of a old west-style town.  "Ah've come fer mah MATRIX!" he proclaims, rather amusingly.  The idea is great, but the exection is lacking.  Thunderwing has some kind of bizarre contrapposto going on, and his gun is off-balanced to his fist.  There's a strange off-model Decepticon symbol floating above Needlenose, and there are serious perspective issues.  Jim Massara, though, does some amazing stuff with the logo.  It looks fantastic.  The cover gets the job done, just not very well.  (EDIT: That's a branding iron - I totally didn't get that, thanks to a coloring flub and the incorrect perspective on the symbol.)

Inside the book, we open on a lovely sight, the Autobots coming in out of the sun with sand sweeping by.  Furman cleverly juxtaposes a bombastic, western-style narration with deliberately pedestrian dialogue for the characters.  To wit: Narration: "They came with purpose! They came on a mission! They came with dual phase concussion blasters on their hips!"  Override: "Nng.  Got sand in my optical sensors!"  Funny stuff.

The comedy ends soon enough, when some  rapscallions nearly bowl the Autobots over in their pursuit of a harmless-looking alien child.  Wearily, the Autobots spring to the rescue of the child, ignoring some subtle warning signs that there may be more than meets the eye going on here.  Nevertheless, they drive off the lizard-riding banditos and are soon enjoying the rather insistent hospitality of the family.  Furman does a good job making us believe that the Autobots would pick this fight, while planting little textual and visual clues that there's some kind of deception going on here. 

Up in space, the Decepticons approach Cheyne, the western world, while interrogating Hosehead, Nightbeat and Siren.  I love the visual of the interrogation chamber, and Thunderwing's status as a majorly cool Decepticon leader continues to grow. 

 Planetside, things keep getting weirder in the little alien homestead.  Every time the Autobots try to leave, they're gently but firmly rebuked.  Soon they're hoeing away on the farm, wondering what it was that seemed so important that they've forgotten.  Ironically, it's Thunderwing who saves Dogfight from his raptured statue.  The Decepticon leader and his posse show up and question Dogfight while he's escorting the seemingly docile alien around town.  Dogfight thinks that Thunderwing his here for the alien, prompting Thunderwing to conclude that the Autobot is under mental control.  The cruel Decepticon abandons the Autobot to his fate, though fortunately the distraction has given the townsfolk time to drive off the alien.  Dogfight realizes he's been befuddled and goes to rescue his fellows.  After Thunderwing's surprise introduction at the end of last issue, this confrontation is a little unsatisfying.  True, the real climax of the book is yet to come, but he almost can't be bothered with the Autobot.  It works for the character quite well, but it doesn't service the story  as well as it might have.

In the climax, the aliens reveal themselves to be psychic vampires who have molded the Autobots into passive food sources.  They're far less friendly looking in their true forms, with tentacled mouths and huge eyes.  The Autobots kill them off, which is something we don't often see in the G1 comic, though the one death that occurs on-screen is really initiated by the alien firing a bent weapon.  They wax philisophical for a moment, lamenting having their brief peaceful interlude snatched away, though it never quite rings true.   

I see what Furman was going for, but I don't think he quite achieves it.   He doesn't quite make their life on the farm idyllic enough for their sacrifice of it to have the resonance that he wants.  It's also clear that the Matrix Quest is something of an excuse for Furman to play with different genres of storytelling; last time it was detective novels, this time it's the western.  It's an interesting experiment, but it sort of undercuts the idea of this being a mini-series within the main series.  The Matrix hardly seems to be Germain to the plot here at all.  Overall, a somewhat weak issue, especially following last month's much stronger offering.

Next issue, we learn that Longtooth, Doubleheader and Pincher are facing the last of the techno-organic whales in DEADLY OBSESSION!, which sounds Moby Dickish.  We'll have to see how it turns out.  Kings of the Wild Frontier is available in IDW Publishing's Classic Transformers, Vol. 5 at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Incoherent Auto Assembly 2010 Ramblings

Well, wow.  That was... intense.

A few months ago, Billy Edwards from Auto Assembly contacted me and asked me if I'd be interested in donating anything to their charity auction.  Since I'm a big fan of a: charity and b: small conventions, I said sure, and Bill and I scrounged up some of the original artwork that he had drawn up for the AllSpark Almanac II.  In the end we wound up donating three pieces, headshots of Overlord, Impactor, and Sunstreaker & Sideswipe.  I thought that was the end of it.

A few weeks later, they wrote back to us and asked us if we'd be interested in making some sort of flier for the convention book / CD-ROM, so we said sure.  Bill drew up this piece, and they seemed very taken with it, and we thought THAT was the end of it.

Not too long after that, Billy starts asking me what my availability is for the weekend of Auto Assembly.  As it turns out, I was free, but I couldn't quite believe that they'd seriously consider flying me out.  I mean, sure, the books I write are pretty awesome, but even still, it's a long and expensive way from Los Angeles, California to Birmingham, England.  Nevertheless, a few days later, I get an email from Steve Mapes from the Transformers at the Moon website.  He asks me if I'd like to come over.  I replied that I'd be thrilled, but added the caveat that all the stuff donated so far had really been more Bill's doing than mine.  After all, he's the artist, I'm the writer.  (Though, as has been frequently noted, there IS some crossover both ways.)  Steve asks if we'd BOTH like to come over, and in pretty short order, we gave him a definite yes. It seems that he and his brother really want us to come out, and are sponsoring us above and apart from the regular convention.  I can't think of a nicer compliment anyone could give to us than that. 

We wanted to scare up some books to bring with us, but our stock is sadly depleted and it didn't look like we'd have much luck getting them before the convention.   Instead, we decided to make a few prints of various pages from and inspired by the Almanacs.  We brought 10 each of 7 different prints, including Venus, Garbage-O's, the map of the milky way, and four wanted posters based on our work on alt2day.com

There was also a little communication flub about what we should be doing.  I misinterpret something Billy (or maybe Steve and Dave) wrote to me as them asking for a presentation, rather than a traditional Q&A.  When I mention that I have quite a lot of rare artwork that might be interesting, they practically began salivating and in short order it was determined that I'd be giving a brief show before the Q&A began.  Unfortunately, I was super busy, so I only had time to scan in the pieces I was considering and not put it all together in context.

Cut to Wednesday morning, 5:00 AM.  We've got an 8:30 flight, and it's actually pretty brutal to get to the airport in LA from the valley.  The alarm blares and I wearily get out of bed.  This will be a recurring theme over the course of the next few days.  I stagger into the shower, get my last minute toiletries stowed away and stumble down to the curb to wait for Bill.  The plan is this: Bill will swing by in his motorcycle, load his stuff into my suitcase, then use my car to drop me off at the bus station.  He'll then return to my place, drop off the car, pick up his bike, and ride to the airport where he can park for free because it's a motorcycle.  It sounds overly complicated but it's actually a LOT cheaper than taking a cab or a shuttle bus would be, and doesn't add all that much time to our trip.  Thankfully, everything works out fine and the security lines are pretty minor, what with it being 6:30 AM when we get there.  (I beat Bill to the airport by about 20 minutes, find a place to charge up my laptop, and get to work on that presentation.)

The first leg: Los Angeles, CA to Philadelphia, PA.  Bill and I are seated across the aisle from each other, which works out well for us.  We can talk, but we each get legroom too.  There's no movie on this flight... lame!  Although I have a 12 volt adapter, this plane doesn't support it and I've soon killed my battery watching Mad Men.  I also read some essays by Arthur C. Clark about the future.  Since it was published in the early 70s, it's interesting to see what he got right (men will access their newspapers via computer screen, only printing out hardcopies of stories that they are interested in, and personalizing the news to their individual tastes) and what he got wrong (by the year 2000, there will have been a child born on the moon.)  Five and a half hours later, we land.

The second leg: Philadelpha, PA to Zurich, Switzerland.  This is a seven and a half hour flight, and it turns out there are three movies, two of which star Queen Latifah.  Ugh.  The middle movie is Date Night, so at least I get that out of the way.  I get very little sleep on the plane.  Fortunately, I charged up my battery a bit in Philadelphia so I watch some more of my own programs.  In Zurich, we exit the secure area, going through immigration in about 2 minutes, and enjoy some brief shopping.  I get some Swiss cheese, Bill gets some Swiss chocolate.  Ultimately, he eats at a Starbucks and they're amazed when he orders two rolls for himself.

The final leg: Zurich, Switzerland to Birmingham, England.  This is a short little flight, uneventful except for the tasty chocolate they give us on disembarkation.  We stand on the line for immigration, which is fairly short and also fairly slow, but within half an hour we're through.  The train station is easy to find, and some 20 minutes later we're walking onto the streets of Birmingham at about 2:00 PM, Thursday.  Yes, with the 8 hour time zone difference we've lost more than a day from when we started.  Ah, well. 

We check into our shared room, shower off the road, relax in the hotel room for a bit and then Bill takes a nap and I head down to the hotel bar with my book.  No time for reading, though, there's a pod of nerds in the bar which I quickly attach myself to. Rather than making a big deal about who I am, I just casually join in the conversation with David Wallace aka Kal-El Prime, Andy Millman aka CobraCommanderTFW, and some other folks that I didn't yet know but would soon come to do so.   They twigged to my presence soon enough when Andy gave me his (AWESOME) business card and I gave him mine.  Then there was some sheepishness.

I called up to the room around 6 and collected Bill for dinner.  We bumped into the incomprable Mr. Wyatt and the three of us had a nice Indian dinner.  Well... the service was pretty slow, actually, but the food was tasty.  Great conversation was had, though sadly Derrick forgot his camera and so couldn't document our splendid feast.  After that, not too much more.  A few more bar shenanigans, but by midnight or so I was asleep.

Friday comes, and Bill and I enjoy a very nice English style breakfast buffet.  I enjoy the thick English bacon, a banger, some packaged cheese, some peeled grapefruit, some orange juice, tea, hash browns, toasted whole-wheat bread, beans, and fried eggs.  It's all very nice.  There's fried bread, but it's a bit too much for me.

We've got several hours before the convention starts, so we spend about 4 hours walking around Birmingham.  We see a nice statue of Lord Nelson, an architecturally interesting building that turns out to be an electronics store, we meet a nice policeman who's driven from San Francisco to San Diego with a stop in LA on the way, we walk though a park / tiny graveyard, find an outdoor market, and enjoy one of the malls.  It's not a lot, but at least we got out of the convention hall for a bit.

My friend Bish arrives at around 2:00 or so, so we collect him and enjoy some lunch.  We then rest up for a bit in the bar, which is getting more and more crowded as things progress, before finally it's 5:00 and we make our way to the convention hall.  Apparently most of the dealers are still setting up, so the dealers and the guest area is roped off.  Really, not too much going on Friday night.  At least, nothing official.  We wind up going out to dinner with HdE and Sprite from the IDW boards and her sister Janna after the fire alarm drives us out.  Sadly, we miss out on Bish, who's nowhere to be seen.   Dinner is at Wetherspoons, and is decently tasty English cuisine.

We come back, link up with Bish and head back to the bar as the convention closes for the evening.  NOW things are starting to happen.  There's a gentleman dressed as Matt Smith's Doctor, complete with fez.  If you don't know, you should: fezzes are cool!  It turns out that his name is Phil Scott, and Phil Scott is cool!  (Also in the picture is the lovely and talented Isa Shizzle-Abulizzle, who would rock the house the next day with her Megatron... but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  The fez got passed around a bit, and it wound up on my head where it stayed for quite a while before I passed it off to Janna.

As the evening wore on, I got to spend some time talking to folks like Nick Roche, who I'd met a few times before.  It never gets old, though, he's one of the sharpest guys I know.  He was kind enough to introduce me to James Roberts, who I'd corresponded with a bit but had yet to meet in person.  He, too, is a lovely fellow.  But the highlight of my evening was getting the chance to spend three or four hours chatting with Simon Furman, one of my heroes, first at the bar, then over by Bill and Bish in the fairly comfortable chairs they had set out for us.  I first met Simon at BotCon 1997, though I was just a young kid then and didn't have too much to say to him beyond 'could you sign my books, please?'  Since then I've been fortunate enough to have a few dinners with him at various BotCons where we were both guests of IDW, but this was by far the longest we'd conversed.  There's no feeling quite like sitting down for a beer (or three) with one of the people whose work has helped shape your life, especially when that person has as much class as Mr. Furman does.  I get to bed at around 3:00 maybe.

Saturday, the REAL fun begins!  Most of the guests, excepting voice actors, get down by about 10:00.  (Bill and I are a few minutes late, thanks to breakfast with colorist Kris Carter, but we quickly get set up and begin to sign our share of the autographs.)  Opening ceremonies are set to begin at around 10:30 or so, but don't kick off till maybe 11:30.  Once they do, though, they're a lot of fun.  Each of us walks into the room with some appropriate theme music, culled from both Transformers (such as the BW theme song for Garry Chalk or the Animated theme for Derrick) and popular culture (What's New, Pussycat for Kat Nicholson... see what they did there?) Bill and I walk in to the strains of Lion's The Transformers theme music, which is pretty flattering.  You can't quite see it on the video, but I stumble over the 'E' in TRANSFORMERS, which Bill then attempts to pick up only to cause more damage.  Ah, well.

After a very warm welcome from Birmingham, we go back to our table and proceed to sign a good number of books.  We also get quite a lot of interest in our prints, which is gratifying.  They were a good idea; they gave something for people to look at and converse about, as well as providing an opportunity for something unique to get our signatures on.  We even brought free black & white Burger Bot placemats for folks on a budget.  Billy had sat me next to Simon when he found out how much I admired him, so I got to chat off and on with him throughout the con.

Plenty of people came up to us and introduced themselves, which was really nice.  I know that people like the books, I hear that often enough online, but it's different to shake someone's hand and hear it in person.  Around 2:00, we were all getting pretty hungry, so the con staff came around and took some orders for us.  We got some pretty dinky ham sandwiches.  The shame of it was, there were some lovely burgers on the menu that looked terrific! Ah, well, maybe next year.

The cosplay was terrific.  Megatron, Optimus, Hot Rod (x2), Perceptor, Smokescreen, Grimlock and the Dinobots, Verity... we had some real winner costumes.

5:30 rolls around too soon and we head upstairs to rest for a bit.  I finish up the last of the presentation (thanks to David Mapes, who lends me a power adapter for my laptop) and then Bill, Bish and I head out to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner.  The veal was terrific!

We get back in time for the script reading, which is of course hilarious.  Given the presence of Scott and Garry, Simon went with a Beast Wars plotline.  Some highlights included Andrea Tang's Blackarachnia, Simon William's Wheelie, and Nick Roche's Beast Wars Megatron... yeeeeeeeeees!  I duck out to give the Mapes bros a sneak preview of the presentation and go through some TV Magazines with them, looking for some specific lucky draw material.  Alas, I don't have the material in question.  Still, I get back in time to see Garry Chalk on the guitar, which is great.

Following this is the karaoke night.  Foolishly, I'd agreed to sing backup vocals on Transformers: Evo, the Japanese version of the Animated theme song. Chris Evans, who's the real talent here, put our names in, though it seemed to take forever for them to come up.  I went to the bar to wait it out, chatting with Chris McFeely and Simon Furman, when the call came.  I bolted out of my seat and ran down the hall, apparently knocking someone over. (Whoops, sorry!  Excited, is all.)  Fortuantely, Chris Evans, the bloke I'm singing with, is very talented and carries the song.  I, however, contribute by getting the crowd good and riled up with my enthusiasm. 

BTW, you'll notice that the fez has found its way back to me.  No matter how many times I gave it away, it always seemed to find its way back to my head.  Ah, well, fezzes are cool!

The evening goes on and on, and by about 3:00 AM we head back upstairs... only to wind up talking for a couple of hours as one tends to do when one gets riled up.  Bill, Bish and I covered a wide range of subjects, from BSG to philosophy to religion to, perhaps unsurprisingly, Transformers.  We go to bed as the sun starts to rise.

Three hours later, we awaken and somehow manage to get to breakfast.  It's Sunday now, and we're all tired but still excited.  Our presentation is a hit, and is covered in detail over at TFW2005.  As a footnote, I got an email from Hasbro asking me if I could provide them this material for their archives, which made me feel pretty proud.  We get asked some great questions, including how we feel about our work getting dissected by the wiki (we love it) and what our thoughts are on Alignment (we declined to comment, on the basis that authorial intent shouldn't play much of a part in the debate on these things.)   I think we wound up running just a little bit long, which is far preferable to running out of questions and going short. 

The next big event (for us) is part two of the charity auction.  The aforementioned original artwork Bill donated was auctioned off by Garry chalk.  The first piece, Overlord, raised an impressive 40 pounds for charity.  The next, Impactor, generated 80 pounds despite being on a lesser grade of paper.  The final one, the pair of Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, managed to generated an amazing 150 pounds for charity.  My word, that's 270 pounds.  Bill recorded the last auction, and though you can't see much, you can hear the excitement in the crowd.

As 5:30 rolls around and the convention comes to a close, we head upstairs to an interview with Chris McFeely.  Obviously, we'd been very keen to spend some time with the gentleman who spent 11 days decoding all the hidden messages in The AllSpark Almanac II, and I think the interview went fairly well considering how exhausted we were.  Hopefully you'll see that up soon.

We said goodbye to Bish, who had to head back to his real life, and then went to dinner with Steve and David Mapes.  By this time, we were getting accustomed to the accents and we had a very nice conversation with them, once again fairly far-ranging.  They're great guys, and I hope to see them again in Pasadena this year if they can make it out for BotCon.

Finally, it's back up to (you guessed it) the hotel bar.  The fez has made it back to me, and I am unable to give it back to its original owner.  Phil Scott thanks me for turning his gag into a huge hit, and he has indeed gotten one of the two fezzes autographed by, well, everyone.  This time I spend most of the early evening hanging with the Titan crew, including Kat Nicholson, Jason Cardy, Liam Shalloo, and Kris Carter.  They're all terrific folks, and I'm far richer for my time spent with them.  I also managed to get almost all of their work into one of the two Almanacs, which is pretty cool, so I can collect their autographs in Bill's working copy of the book.

We've got a 6:30 AM flight, so we need to leave for the airport by 4:30 AM.  Since I've never left the bar before 3:00 AM, though, it seems foolish to attempt sleep and so Bill and I decide to tough it out.  As the evening wears on, we get more and more punch drunk.  I come up with the idea of writing a letter to my wife, since when I lived in England I'd send her two or three a week.  (Yes, I'm an incurable romantic.)  I write it out, THEN think that it'd be fun to try to share the spirit of the con.  I get as many people as a I can to sign a napkin for her, then include it in the card which is to be airmailed to the states.  Kat and Jason agree to mail it off for me as they head up to bed.

There are inevitable shenanigans, including much hilarity when a fellow named Colin Paul fell asleep in the mens room.  As the evening gradually became morning, people would leave and there would be heartfelt goodbyes.  When 4:30 came around, it was our turn.  Bill and Nicole Hale and I (we were sharing a cab to the airport) sort of tearfully said goodbye to everyone, hugging and waving and shaking hands and whatnot. 

We were, of course, exhausted.  3 hours of sleep the day before, none this day, and still 20 hours or so before we land in LA.  The trip to Charles De Gaulle airport was uneventful, landing some 1.5 hours before our connection to Charlotte, NC was to depart.  There was some hiccups at security since we didn't have a boarding pass nor an itinerary showing Charlotte as our destination, but the flight number was enough to convince them to let us through.  One inside, though, we had to wait to get our tickets.  What followed was a beurcratic nightmare of standing on one line to get a piece of paper to fill out, standing on another line to hand them that paper to get a passport stamp, and then standing back on the first line to get our boarding pass.  There were maybe 5 families in front of us on the second line... the first one took 20 minutes.  Oh, and the line didn't even open till 10:00.  I thought Bill's head was going to explode.  We got our boarding pass while the plane was still boarding, but for a while it felt like a pretty close thing.

The plane ride to Charlotte was much nicer than the one to Zurich.  We had our own entertainment systems, so I watched 500 Days of Summer (good movie) and Alice in Wonderland (OK movie.)  I kept trying, and failing, to sleep, and eventually turned to Clash of the Titans, which was pretty mediocre.  I didn't get through it before it was landing time, though.

In Charlotte, we had to clear immigration and then customs.  The agent questioned me about the fez (yes, I was still wearing it and yes, my answer was the same: fezzes are cool.  In fact, I wore the fez all the way to my front door) and let me through after a moment.  I breezed through customs, Bill had his bag searched.  Soon I was plugged into the wall, recharging the old laptop for the final leg home.

Charlotte, NC to Los Angeles, CA was a six hour flight.  I watched True Blood and Futurama on the laptop, though once again no in-flight movie.  Really, US Airway, 6 hours and no movie?  I'm slightly chagrined to realize I've left Report on Planet Three on my previous flight, but then I'd only had one more essay to go anyway, so no great tragedy.

We land, I take the bus back to the depot near my house, Bill takes the bike back to my place to get my car to pick me up, and before we know it the journey is over.  It's 8:30 PM on Monday; the 8 hour time difference has worked in our favor this time.  I do... something.. for an hour and a half, since I won't go to bed before 10:00.  (That's just asking to get your schedule screwed up for days and days.)  I honestly have no recollection of what I did Sunday night.  Facebooking maybe.  In any event, I'm asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Overall thoughts: what a fantastic convention!  I met so many fans and pros, made so many friends and business contacts, and had such a good time that this'll be hard to top.  Don't get me wrong, I love BotCon, but the atmosphere here is indescribably different. I can't thank Steve and David Mapes, Simon and Billy and David, and everyone else responsible for the con for both bringing me out and for throwing such an excellent shindig.  My facebook has been distracting me every 5 minutes for the past three days with messages and friend requests and comments and photos I've been tagged in.  It was exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting. Thanks for having me, guys.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ark Addendum - Roll For It (part 4)

Well, Auto Assembly is (presumably) behind me, but I have no confidence in my energy level following a 20 hour flight, so I write this a good couple o' weeks in advance.  I figured I'd finish out Roll for It, an episode with quite a lot of background models to it. 

This time, we move to the interior of the science complex, a maze of computers and lab equipment.  The close-up of the key pad was because it was a minor plot point; Reflector observed it from some distance away to allow the Decepticons to gain entry to the complex. 

Hopefully I'll get my Auto Assembly notes organized and into blog form for you pretty soon.  I'm sure I had fun, but exactly what the details are we'll just have to see.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Ark Addendum - Skull's Transform

I'm less than 24 hours away from the start of my journey to Auto Assembly.  I'm very much looking forward to heading back to the UK. (I spent a semester studying math, ah, mathS, in London) Hopefully, if you're a UK resident and are reading this blog, you'll show up and say hi.

Since I'll be away, this will probably be the last blog post for the next week or so, depending on what the internet situation is.  I figured I'd leave you with a cool Ark Addendum.  This week, it's a transformation sequence from Headmasters, the villainous Skull, the Japanese counterpart to Skullcruncher. 

Actually, Skull isn't that villainous really.  He owes more to the bumbling thug archetype than to anything really nasty.  The transform, though, makes him look pretty bad-ass.  I like that he neither starts nor ends in his traditional character model pose.  The ending, in particular, has a nice feel to it, what with the extended sword and the bend knees.

BTW, one of my favorite D&D characters ever was a half-orc barbarian, very high STR and CON, very low INT and CHA, named Grax Skullcruncher.  I wonder where I got that name from...

Oh, and don't forget, there are still five more days to bid on the LOOSE exclusive from SDCC, Wonder Woman's invisibible jet.  Remember, all proceeds go to charity.  Head on over to ebay to place your bids.  Right now it's a steal at $1.50 or so.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New Deviations + an unusual charity auction

Two updates today.  1: Bill is sponsoring an unusual charity auction: Mattel's Hot Wheels SDCC Invisible Jet, loose!  This item is easy to find MISB, but no one seems to have them loose.  So, go on, take a gander, and bid on this rare and unusual item while you still can.  Look how excited I am to be handling this amazing item.  BID NOW!!!  (All proceeds go to support Mattel's charity of choice, the Children Affected By AIDS Foundation.)

And while we're on the subject of my intrepid partner, (get it? He used to be the art director of the Intrepid museum?) Bill has updated his Deviant Art Gallery with even more AllSpark Almanac II Goodness!  This time around he's put up more Maccadam's heads (including the jawsome Sky-Byte), ALTernity Today material such as the Astroscope constellations and logo (HINT! The logo is a reference that hasn't been cracked yet.), Rosanna, and Alexis, more planets, and of course more material from Project Omega and the Great War boardgame.  Swing by, check it out, drop a comment, and let him know what you think.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 30

The thirtieth episode of War of the Worlds, the series is titled Loving the Alien.  Debi, tired of living in a sewer underground, rebels and heads to the city alone.  There, she encounters Ceeto, an alien youth who has done the same thing.  They befriend each other, which survives the revelation of his otherness.  However, their friendship puts them on a collision course with an alien mission to retrieve a missing weapon, precipitating a confrontation between the Morthren and the Blackwood project.  The weapon is destroyed, some newly introduced human allies of the Blackwood Project get killed, and the adolescents are returned to their respective societies.

The Good: Quite a lot, actually.  The episode is very well structured, directed and paced.  Each part flows logically into the next. I like the symmetry between Debi and Ceeto, though there's also an issue with that that I'll get to.

When Debi first realizes what Ceeto is, thanks to a cut on his arm, she immediatly levels a gun at him.  Kincaid has trained her well.

There's a bit of nice continuity with Debi's use of pepper spray.  We saw her armed with this last week when she headed to the market.

I rather like the idea that a cut to the aliens is quite dangerous, due to infection.  It carries on the theme from season one about Earth's bacteria being dangerous to them.  Even with these new, better-adapted bodies, there is still some risk.

Alien teaching tech is fun too; the episode opens with some alien youths learning about both Earth and the wider galaxy.  "In the battle of Meanties in the fourth quadrant of the Lor galaxy, how would you have deployed your troops to defeat the rebels?" is a great question.

It's also cool to see other fighters against the aliens besides the Blackwood project.  It seems like the team would have a hard time going it alone; apparently, they don't have to.  However, I'd have liked to have seen this idea set up earlier with some recruiting.  Marcus and Joe Crane meet bad ends, but now I'm wondering if there are other allies out there we haven't seen yet. 

Good acting.  Ceeto, especially, as played by Keram Malicki-Sánchez, pulls his weight.  He looks great when wandering around the city, very much capturing a kind of tourist feel.  He's got the stoicism of the Morthren down, but brings with it an earnest youthfulness that works well.  Forest's Malzor is also strong this episode.  He has more to do here than he sometimes does. 

The Bad: Coincidence.  Debi runs away from home on the same night that an alien does, and then they just happen to run into each other.  The episode is strong enough that you don't notice, but this is definitely a flaw.

Timing.  Last week, Harrison fell in love with an alien woman.  This week, Debi finds one.  These episodes would have worked better if spaced further apart.

"You are the only species that kills its own kind."  Umm... really?  Do you not remember The Second Wave, when the Morthren executed all of the first season aliens?

The Ugly: Again, it's not as horrific as anything we used during the first season, but after the aliens are done with the original Joe Crane (played by a very young Mia Kirshner) they have no use for her.  She gets cooked on the cloning bed rather painfully as Ceeto looks on. 

Overall, a very strong offering.  If only it wasn't immediately after Seft of Emon, I'd have almost no complaints.  By the way, now we've had two members of the team make peaceful contact with an alien.  This meeting, in particular, will have payoff later in the series.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #62: Bird of Prey!

Bird of Prey! is the sixty-second issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  The creative line-up is unchanged from the last issue, which helps get some nice creative momentum going.  For the record, that puts Simon Furman in the driver's seat as the writer, with Geoff Senior as the artist, Nel Yomtov as the colorist, and Jim Massara as the letterer.  The cover is by newcomer Rodney Ramos, and marks his only contribution to Transformers. 

It's a very clever cover, perfectly suited to the contents within.  Nightbeat, Siren, and Hosehead star in a dimestore detective novel, which lies piled among a bunch of Cybertronian possessions that include keys a microscope, a remote control and more.  It's a clever tonal indicator of what the book's going to be all about.  The Autobot symbol in the logo is also replaced with a new graphical element, proclaiming this to be part 1 of 5 of the Matrix Quest.  The whole thing takes a bit of thought, but it works.  By the way, the book is put out by Timely Publications, a nod to the original name of Marvel Comics, Timely Comics.  

The issue itself is a fun detective romp, borrowing liberally from The Maltese Falcon.  It starts out with Nightbeat searching the planet Pz-Zazz for the Matrix, per the last issue.   He's interrogating some well-armed mobsters much bigger than himself, provoking a fight.  They're saved by some mob violence, which dumps a stone bird into Siren's lap.  Nightbeat has found a mystery! It's an exciting alien-centric story, one where we jump in with both feet.  The various Maltese Falcon nods could easily have gotten too derivative, but obvious visual nods like the Humphrey Bogart billboard Senior placed into the second page help ensure the audience that this is a homage, not outright theft. Senior's artwork is a real treat, with slithering critters and ugly mobsters everywhere.  He does a nice job of portraying a run-down seedy alien world, the perfect setting for a hard-boiled detective story.

A brief two-page interlude sets up the reason for all of this; Prime and Xarron are sending out teams to hunt the Matrix, lost to space when Prime's body was loaded into a funeral barge.  It's short, sweet, and to the point, letting us know what's going on and why.  Furman puts in a bit of ominous foreshadowing, when Optimus muses that finding the Matrix might leave them somehow worse off.

Back on Pz-Zazz, Nightbeat is disappointed that his teammates want to focus on the Matrix, to the exclusion of this new mystery, but the arrival of Miss Fatale (heavy handed much?) changes that.  She offers to take them to a sacred, life-giving place in exchange for the bird.  They agree, and do what every D&D player knows you should never do; they split up the party.  Nightbeat goes to retrieve the bird, Hosehead and Siren go with Fatale to find what they presume is the Matrix.  Shadowy figures wonder if they should take out Nightbeat, but decide to instead follow him to see where he leads them.  Ominous.  He grabs the bird and gets into a fight with one of the three big mobs in this city, B'hgdad's boys.Our intrepid hero nearly gets away, but one of the goons gets the drop on him.  All seems lost, until the goon gets shot in the back by a person or persons unknown...

At the top of the pinacle, where the sacred object should be, Hosehead, Siren, and Fatale meet Gutt and his gang, the second mob in the city.  Nightbeat's arrival helps them overcome this obstacle.  He's figured it out; the bird IS the sacred object that everyone is after, not the Matrix.  Fatale tries to convince him to hold on to it, use it for selfish purposes like reviving his deactivated comrades or fighting Unicron, leaving enough for her to live forever.  As tempting as the offer is, Nightbeat replaces the idol and gives Pz-Zazz a second chance.  It's a good ending, warm and bright, helped along by some great coloring.  Nightbeat's sacrifice rings true to the Autobot way.

Sadly, for him, the issue isn't quite over yet.  The third major power in the city, the robot mob, blasts our heroes into submission.  They inform Miss Fatale that they prefer the name Decepticons.  Thunderwing, looking awesome, has every confidence that the three captured Autobots will soon tell him all he needs to know about the various search parties scouring this sector of the galaxy.

This is an even better ending, well set up (it was they who saved Nightbeat earlier) and making the next issue all the more intriguing.  We now see that this is not just a stand-alone issue, but legitimately part of a greater narrative thread.  Thunderwing made his debut a few issues earlier, but now he really gets to shine.  He'll only get better as the issues progress.  It's also our first introduction to Nightbeat, Autobot detective.  Nightbeat is a hoot to watch, and Furman will continue to feature him prominently for the rest of the run.

The artwork is perfect for this story.  When I first saw Senior's stuff, I didn't care for it that much, but with more mature tastes I can say that he brings much to the table.  His liberal use of inks create stark, dynamic images. His designs are strange and fluid, while still being very angular.  He's clearly a very talented artist.

Another note: the opening text about what the Transformers are all about has shifted dramatically.  Before, it spoke about the civil war.  Now, it reads "They were the dream--mechanical beings able to transform their bodies into vehicles, machienery and weapons; a last line against the chaos bringer, Unicron! They are at war, heroic Autobot pitted against evil Decepticon, both on their homeworld, the metal planet called Cybertron, and here on our Earth.  They are the galaxy's last hope, they are-- TRANSFORMERS."  Good stuff.  It signals how important the narrative changes introduced recently are going to be. 

Next issue: "The matrix quest continues as Backstreet, Override and Dogfight become Kings of the Wild Frontier!"  Sounds like Furman is going to continue to borrow from other genres as this Matrix Quest progresses.  That could be fun, or it could get tiresome.  Looks like we'll have to see which.  This issue kicks off IDW Publishing's  Classic Transformers, Vol. 5, available for purchase at Amazon.com, and is worth perusing if you haven't already.