Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Ark Addendum - Triggerhappy's Transformation

The summer is over, which means... 113 degrees outside?  Oh, global warming / climate change / global climate disruption... when will you ever learn?

This week's Ark Addendum veers away from the Masterforce backgrounds that I've been covering, to showcase another lovely transformation.  Yup, it's Triggerhappy, Decepticon (nee Destron) Targetmaster supreme.  As ever, I'm impressed with the level of care that are put into these strictly internal (until now) documents.  The very first image is a rather lovely shot of his jet mode, swooping in like some vast predatory bird.  Enjoy!

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 .

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Ark Addendum - The Destron Base of Masterforce (part 5)

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the Destron base of Masterforce.  This week's Ark Addendum continues the trend of the past month or so, the interiors of the Destron's underwater fortress.

Here we see some nice interiors, including a hallway and a waiting area.  Note the recurring motif of eyes woven into the architecture.  The hallway, meanwhile, is nothing but monstrous.  The demon statue, the snake statue... aren't they just delightfully menacing?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 34

The thirty-forth episode of War of the Worlds, the series, is titled Time to Reap. The Eternal hatches a scheme to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment (and/or supernova) to create a time portal to 1953.  Malzor will disguise himself as an FBI agent and inoculate the soldiers from the first wave, thus paving the way for the conquest of humanity.  Blackwood and Kincaid, though, follow him back through time and thwart the scheme.

The Good: Continuity.  There are several nods to continuity in this episode, including the return of the magnetic pulse that disabled watches and clocks WAAAAY back in the 1953 movie.  (The stopped watches also allows for a rather neat transition from our heroes to our villains, by focusing in on Malzor's watch as he prepares for his journey.)  There are also nods to Norton's line of "thunder and lightning, but never any rain," from The Second Wave, the second season premier. Finally, appropriately, Dr. Forrester looms large in the story, though he never makes an appearance. 

I like the creepy imagery inside the carnival, where the time travel apparatus is set up.

An old chestnut is trotted out to quickly let Kincaid and Harrison know where (when) they are after they follow Malzor through the portal; a newspaper!  However, rather than just leave it at that, the scene also introduces us to the reporter, Miranda Watson, who becomes their companion in the past, as well as nodding to the changed premise from the movie to the tv series with the headline "Were Invaders Really From Mars?" 

There are some nice character moments, mostly involving Harrison.  He and Debi bond while discussing the past, setting up the episode thematically.  Kincaid bemoans them driving towards the epicenter of the magnetic disturbance, correctly noting that they are a guerrilla outfit and not equipped to deal with an invasion.  Harrison also has a conversation with his younger self, but that one somehow made me feel like they were trying a bit too hard.  It's not a bad, exactly, but it didn't quite work for me.

Structurally, tying the ability to time travel to astrological phenomena is shrewd.  It explains why they don't just go back and try again.  They should have made up their minds, though, about if it was a supernova causing it, or a rare planetary alignment.

Lots of fun little bits here and there.  Kincaid and Blackwood are mistaken for Soviet agents, and taken into custody.  When General Mann, in charge of the alien clean-up operation, questions Malzor as Agent McGruder about them, Malzor doesn't miss a beat.  He replies that the information about Soviet activity was strictly need-to-know.  Harrison tries to visit Dr. Forester, he tells Sylvia Forester (more on that in a bit) that he's a colleague from Canada, perhaps in tribute to the show's filming location.  I also rather dig the poor alien soldier who kills himself with his own weapon in the house of mirrors.

The Bad: Continuity.  Sylvia Forester?  She'd been in several episodes of the first season as Sylvia van Buren.  Besides, how long after the movie IS this episode?  It can't be too long, there are still aliens moving about.  Did they run to Vegas, get married, adopt a kid, and then come back home?  It just doesn't make sense.

Still on continuity; before the aliens go back in time, they steal blood and manage to create a vaccine for the microbes that laid low the original invasion force.  This makes little sense; obviously they've already handled this problem, since the current batch of aliens are walking around without dying.  Alternatively, if it's only their new bodies that make them immune, it seems that Malzor's bunch achieves in a few hours, days tops, what the entire Mor-Tax contingent of S1 failed to do over the course of a year or two.  Either way, it's most clumsy.

Much as I love Julian Richings' Ardix, his scream of "nooooo" when the humans run through the time portal seems incredibly over-the-top.  I'm going to chalk that down to the director, though, since he's normally so excellent

I find the black and white distracting as a way to inform the viewers of the transition to the past.  I'm a fan of Friday the Thirteenth, The Series, another Frank Mancuso Jr. show, and they did the same thing there.  It just seems lazy to me.

Still on time travel, it seems that time is a closed loop.  Harrison has a marble that comforts him, and gives it to his younger self.  (Where did it originally come from then, eh?  But I won't be pedantic.)  More importantly, Miranda is waiting for the crew at the carnival EVEN BEFORE THEY GO BACK, and gives Kincaid back a handkerchief that he used to gag her.   Therefor, there was never really any chance of failure--they'd already succeeded.  Given that, one would think the Eternal would know how the mechanics of time travel work, and wouldn't' bother to send Malzor on this fool's errand.  They certainly lost enough soldiers along the way.

While normally it's nice to see the classic alien body type, they look really fake this time around.  It's hard to tell, but the silhoette on the left is an alien getting blown away.  You can see that it's a guy wearing a robe with shoes.  Boo!  (I'd have liked to have seen some S1-style alien corpses after our team rampages through and shoots up the inoculated aliens too.  I doubt their budge would have supported such an endeavor, though, even if they'd had the inclination.  I'm pretty sure that the classic aliens still exhibited the new alien glow when they got shot, though.)

After their capture, Kincaid tells Mann about their 12 hour time limit.  Malzor was warned several times that he had only 12 hours, but how did Kincaid know?  Also, how did Miranda know where to go to meet back up with Harrison and Kincaid?  The script doesn't seem fully thought out.

The Ugly: Continuity Alien parasites in the ear of the human general in charge of cleaning up after the aliens.  Of course, we've seen this before, in a much more dramatic fashion, in Star Trek II, so no points for originality here.  Once again, the black and white detracts.  A nice green alien glow might have helped sell the parasite.

So, an ambitious episode, but one that doesn't really live up to its promise.  It's nice to see the 1953 setting, but it could have been a much starker contrast to Almost Tomorrow than it wound up being.  I like that the aliens seem to be getting more desperate, though.  Time travel has to be a risky proposition, even for the Eternal.  On the whole, though, everything seems a little too easy for our heroes. 

One notion I do enjoy is that this inoculation explains why Quinn is running around.  It always bothered me that the ONE alien who was immune was so high ranked.  However, if Malzor had a vaccine, wouldn't he go straight for the command crew?  It's not supported directly by the canon, but it's a notion I enjoy. 

War of the Worlds: The Final Season, is available for preorder now and will be out on DVD this October, if you'd care to watch it for yourself.  You can

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #67: Rhythms of Darkness!

Rhythms of Darkness! is the sixty-seventh issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  José Delbo returns as penciler for one last hurrah; this is his twenty-fifth issue, more than any other single penciler did for the G1 comic.  (For those keeping track, the remarkably prolific Don Perlin clocked in at #2, with twenty-one issues of Transformers under his belt.)  Furman, of course, continues on as writer, as he will through the end of the book and for the entirety of the G2 comic.  Danny Bulandi returns as inker, with Massara and Yomtov on letters and colors, respectively.  The cover is by Jim Lee, Marvel's rising star. 

Galvatron stands triumphantly above the earth.  The bold red and black of space contrasts with t he swirling yellows of the earth, giving a sense of fire and explosions.  His facial expression is one of pure triumph, and his body language is arrogance incarnate.  The color contrast makes the cover appear more violent than it is, and the 'X' that Galvatron makes with his body draws the eye right to the Decepticon symbol, apropos of the theme of the issue.  "The war is over -- and the Decepticons have won!", we're informed.  It's a very solid cover; not Jim Lee's best, but it certainly works very well and might have gotten some new readers to at least pick up the book and leaf through it.

The issue itself more than lives up to the promise of the cover.  We quickly establish that Galvatron is the Decepticon leader of 2009, an alternate (snicker) future where Unicron was triumphant and the Decepticons rule earth.  The ruins of New York are to be the setting of the issue, established in a gorgeous two-page spread.  We even introduce some new toys; the Monster Pretenders are his troops de jour, and Furman squeezes in a bit of characterization for some of them.  Icepick is ambitious, Wildfly rebellious, and Slog like Yoda speaks.  Galvatron, though, is the real star, ranting to his troops and confronting the corpse of Rodimus Prime, strung up between the remains of the Twin Towers.  All in all, the issue is off to a roaring start.

Though the Decepticons seem to hold all the cards, the Autobots aren't quite down for the count yet.  Seven Autobots head towards New York, carrying human resistance fighters with them.  One of them is our old friend Spike Witwicky, though sadly bereft of Fortress Maximus armor.  We learn how Galvatron conquered North and South America after Unicron devoured Cybertron.  We also get an opportunity for some humans to shine, a first in Furman's US run.  Spike and his gal Lisa help rally the despondent Autobots, dragging them back into the fight.  There's even a ticking clock for added tension, with just over an hour to go before North and South America are reduced to radioactive slag by the European and Asian powers.  (Shane McCarthy would revisit this idea later in All Hail Megatron.) 

At T-Minus one hour, three minutes, and forty-six seconds, the attack on the Decepticon Powerbase begins.  There's one last bit of irony, though.  Galvatron plans to absorb the energy from the nuclear strike, to power the Decepticons forever.  The caviler attitude of Cyclonus and Scourge prompts Getaway to freak out and charge at them, forcing Prowl's hand.  Chainclaw and Guzzle help out the Powermaster as Inferno, Jazz, Prowl, and Crossblades charge the main base.  Crossblade, mortally wounded, flies into the shield generator and opens the door for his fellows.  The Autobots lead a desperate charge, hoping to keep the 'Cons off-balance long enough for spike to deploy his secret weapon.  It's all very well done, with desperation on the part of the heroes and cockiness on the part of the villains.  And what could the secret weapon be?

Scourge, Getaway, and Guzzle are all down, and Chainclaw gets the drop on Cyclonus.  The Autobot is destroyed by a blast from Galvatron, much to Cyclonus' relief.  However, his respite is only temporary.  Galvatron destroys his minion for allowing himself, a 'being forged in the fires of Unicron himself,' to be bested by an Autobot.  (This is a continuity headache, as Cyclonus and Scourge have previously shown up as minions of Scorponok.  The UK comic would address it by having them fall through a time portal to end up as soldiers under Scorponok's command.) 

With Galvatron joining the battle, Jazz briefly considers flight, but then stays to battle hopeless odds to buy Spike a few more precious seconds.  The watching world needs more than sacrifice, though, they need victory.  Spike, at the apex of the Decepticon structure, delivers that victory when he unfurls a giant American flag over the structure, claiming the stronghold symbolically in the name of the American people.  It's enough; the launch is aborted.  It's a cheesy gesture, but it has a kind of Red Dawn sort of cinematic optimism that somehow works. 

Galvatron prepares to incinerate the human and the flag alike, but the arrival of three more minions of Unicron throw a spanner in his plans.  In the span of about a page, Galvatron is snared by Hook, tangled by Line, and knocked unconscious by Sinker.  To the paster, presentthey depart.  With this unexpected development, the humans and Autobots rally.  Given the open canvas, Furman appropriately ends on "The beginning... "

It's another very strong issue.  Clearly, Furman has been moving pieces around the chess board for some time now, since about issue 60, getting ready for his big Unicron story.  After the Matrix Quest, things were very nearly ready to begin, but there were just a few more ideas he had to set up.  One of them was Galvatron, destined to play a critical role in the proceedings.  This story, set up last issue, pulls him into the present.  It's a stand-alone story in many ways, painting a brief portrait of Unicron victorious.  The idea is rather deft, as the stakes of the upcoming Unicron battle are made clear. We end on an optimistic note, as even this dark future hasn't yet extinguished hope.

The artwork is also quite nice.  Delbo gets to shine one last time, with some great designs and some rather dramatic scenes.  I love his Powerbase, all cylinders and circles and spheres.  Note how the Autobots seem to be bursting from the final panel of the issue.  Finally, isn't the silhouette of Galvatron, framed by smoke, just a terrific image?  He's a model of power and energy, and Jazz's reaction seems completely appropriate. 

Next issue: Circuit Breaker! G.B. Blackrock! Starscream!  There's a new side in the Autobot / Decepticon war: The Human Factor!  Sounds exciting!  Rhythms of Darkness! is available for purchase in IDW Publishing's Classic Transformers, Vol. 5 .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Ark Addendum - The Destron Base of Masterforce (part 4)

My examination of the Destron underwater base from Masterforce continues.  Now we pivot to the outside of the base, with two underwater radar installations, and a close-up view of one of the launching tubes.

The launching tubes are amazing and terrifying.  I'd be nervous to tangle with any Transtector that shot out of that.  Those tentacles look like they could smash to bits any unauthorized vehicle attempting entry.

The two drawings on the top are not entirely clear to me.  I believe that the three meter tall elements are the various probe things coming off of the structures.  However, the shape and size of the structures are somewhat mysterious.  They're not big enough to be the Destron base, so what are they?  Any insight from hardcore Masterforce fans (Carlos? Ivan?) would be appreciated.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 33

The Defector is the thirty-third episode of War of the Worlds, the series.  It's also the tenth episode of the second season, marking the half-way point.  The Morthren build a machine that allows them to tap into human computer systems, download their data, and kill the operator.  Sadly for them, this formidable weapon backfires on them and maims Kemo, its creator.  As the Morthren have no tolerance for imperfection, Kemo is sentenced to death.  His accident has left him with human emotions, though, and he rebels and escapes.  With the help of Kincaid, he destroys the weapon and wanders off into the sunset.

The Good: We've now had three of the four current team members make peaceful contact with a member of the Morthren / Mor-Tax.  Harrison had his back in season one's The Prodigal Son with Quinn. Debi shared a moment with young Ceeto in Loving the Alien.  And now, Kincaid, who is probably the least-likely, has made a friend in Kemo.  All this will pay off in the season finale.

Charles McCaughan does a good turn as Kemo, the alien who becomes part human.  His desire to live, despite his deformity, manifests itself in many interesting ways; first he insists that only he can finish the weapon, then he appeals Malzor's decision all the way up to their living God, and finally he fights his way free.  (I also like that Malzor's decisions CAN be appealed.  It makes the Morthren feel more like a society.)

Still on Kemo, his flight to the lair of Ace, his first victim, is a smart plot point.  It makes sense; where else in the city would he know?  The way he covers Ace's body sheet is also great, a very un-Morthren moment.  "Does YOUR God accept you," he asks the body.  Classic.

It's also cool that, while Kemo kills three guards on the way out of the complex, on the way back in he has his weapon set on stun.  He's done with killing.

Malzor gets in some good moments.  When Ardix questions his decision to send all available soldiers to search for Kemo (leaving them with minimal security, Ardix notes), Malzor's rebuttal makes perfect sense.  "If Kemo talks, security won't matter."  No, I suppose it won't.  These guys are not set up to fight a war, the title of the series aside.  Keeping the secret of their base's location has to be of paramount importance.  When Malzor confronts Kemo at the end of the episode, Malzor has balls of steel.  Despite the cabbage-gun leveled at him, Malzor boldly strides up to his adversary and thrusts it aside.  I rather like how hands-on Malzor can be. 

Scoggs is back, as a member of the Grapevine computer network.  (Others on the network include Rogue, the alter ego of the Blackwood Project, Roller, Lonelyheart, and Ace.  Aside from Scoggs, all would perish this episode at the hands of the computer weapon.)  She's a more real character this time out, and has some nice chemistry with Kincaid when she tells him to be careful.

The Bad: At the end of the episode, Kemo wears some kind of Phantom of the Opera mask to hide his deformity.  It seems a bit much.  What, is he picking up human vanity now? 

It's very clumsy, how the members of the Grapevine speak out loud all the lines they type into the computer.  I understand WHY they're doing it, but one must imagine there is a better way.  It feels like some high-up studio exec came in and told them that they couldn't just show the words on the screen, they HAD to say it out loud. 

Speaking of clumsy, Suzanne and Debi have one scene this episode, wherein they say that they're off.  Debi has exams to take.  I understand that the writers are generally more interested in Kincaid and Blackwood, but this seems clumsy.

The Ugly: There are numerous charred corpses at the hands of the computer weapon.  I decided to go with Lonelyheart, because that was a particularly good reveal.

So, there you have it.  This episode was a relatively strong offering.  The alien weapon is very powerful, and yet seems plausible.  Kemo's journey is convincing, and takes Kincaid to interesting places.  Most of the flaws are more like nitpicks, and most of the virtues are of substance.  It's a nice addition to the tapestry.

As strong as this episode was, there's a behind-the-scenes missed opportunity.  Greg Strangis had been pushing for the return of the aforementioned Quinn at some point in season two.  This episode grew out of that idea, sadly bereft of Quinn.  Now, mind you, this whole episode actually works very well as written, so it's hard to get too upset on account of The Defector.  However, having Quinn grace this season with his presence would have gone a long way towards making S2 feel connected to the mythology of S1.  To see him square off against Malzor and Mana would have been magic. 

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #66: All Fall Down

All Fall Down is the sixty-sixth issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers, and the fifth and final issue of the Matrix Quest mini-series.  (Note, All Fall Down is not to be confused with ...All Fall Down!, the fourth issue of the G.I. Joe and Transformers crossover.  It's slightly clumsy to reuse a title like this, but it works very well for the story so I'll forgive it.)  The creative lineup is virtually unchanged from the last issue; only the cover artist has changed.  That means that it was written by Furman, drawn by Senior, lettered by Massara, and colored by Yomtov.  Ian Akin produces another cover.

The cover is perfectly serviceable, but uninspired.  Thunderwing decks Optimus Prime, while wearing the Matrix around his neck.  That's about it.  The anatomy seems a bit off, if you try to extrapolate where their bodies have to be to make it work, but that may be nitpicking.  I think the real issue is that it's just a big boring.  It's perhaps too literal for my tastes, after the rather more abstract covers we've been getting recently.  Yomtov's (presumably Yomtov, anyway) bright yellow background contrasts with Thunderwing's blue limbs, making it at least pop.

Thankfully, the issue itself is anything but uninspired.  Furman is clearly becoming more comfortable steering the ship, elegantly mixing in elements from future stories.  He rather shrewdly opens this book in an unexpected quarter of the galaxy; the planet Ghennix, currently being consumed by Unicron.  He destroys three inhabitants attempting to flee, and rebuilds them into new agents (Hook, Line, and Sinker) to do his bidding.  They are to be dispatched to one of Unicron's possible futures to secure an agent.  The silhouette on the monitor makes it clear to the Transformers-savvy that that agent is Galvatron.  It's a great way to open the issue, as it simultaneously lays groundwork for future stories AND ratchets up the tension.  After all, we know from last issue, and from the cover, that there's going to be a massive fight on board the Ark... delaying it for three pages only makes me want to get to it all the more.  Senior's designs on Unicron's latest agents are flippin' awesome, by the way.  I'd love to get toys of these bad-boys.  There actually are toys that name-check them, at least... Astro-Hook, Astro-Line, and Astro-Sinker were repaints of the Giant Planet Mini-Con team that came with the Fun Publications Astrotrain toy.  Finally, props to Jim Massara for his excellent lettering work on Unicron's mind-speak.  It's bold, it's powerful, and it makes it easy for me to hear Orson Welles in my head while reading it.

Unicron sets up the transition back to the main plot, by observing that his preparations may be unnecessary, with the Matrix turned to "the ways of evil."  From here-on out, we're mostly treated to gigantic battle.  At first, Optimus orders his warriors to hold back, lest they destroy the Matrix.  Prime wants to rescue the Matrix, cleanse it of its taint.  Thunderwing and the Matrix are having little of that, though.  I love how much motion is implied by Senior's relatively simple drawings.  There's great economy in panels like this one.

To break things up and keep the pacing from becoming overwhelming, Furman has two interludes. One is a brief flashback, showing Thunderwing's acquisition of the Matrix.  The other is another intriguing scene of Shockwave staking out the Decepticon base on Earth, and observing Starscream skulking out into the night.  He hypothesizes that Starscream could be just the tool he needs to wrest command of the Decepticons from Shockwave.  While the flashback was fairly unnecessary, at least from a plot point of view, the latter flashback proves that even while gods and demons are duking it out, life goes on.  How petty the machinations of Shockwave and Starscream seem when held against the tapestry that is the Matrix Quest.

Inevitably, Thunderwing is possessed by the Matrix.  The words (if not the image) on the cover told us t'would happen, even.  His own men try to save him from this fate, imploring him to shake off control of the Matrix.  For Spinister's efforts, he takes a chest full of blaster.  This temporarily shocks Thunderwing free of his reverie, an opportunity that Optimus uses to clock him one.  Thus distracted, Thunderwing falls prey to a plan hatched by Nightbeat, who had revived and snuck aboard the Autobot shuttle.  Thunderwing is grappled, the landing bay doors opened, the landing clamps released, the shuttle set to self destruct, and the gravity turned off.  Thunderwing and the Matrix are pulled into space and hit with a massive explosion, saving the day.  It's a very slick ending, though I think Furman missed a trick.  Deadly Obsession would have been the perfect time to introduce the grappling hook as gear used by Autobot shuttles.  That's a minor quibble, though.  It's rather elegant, both the plot and the pathos. 

The denouement is brief.  Nightbeat is saved from the sucking vacuum of  space by Siren, the Decepticons surrender to Hot Rod, and Optimus Prime sees the silver lining of the day.  Despite three Autobots deactivated and ten or so injured, and of course the loss of the Matrix, the Autobots faced their own dark side and triumphed.  Optimus is more determined than ever to face the future, 'bonded as one.' That phrase will help foreshadow upcoming events rather niftily.

And thus ends the issue, and the Matrix Quest.  As I pointed out in an earlier review, this story arc was more about Thunderwing's journey than just about any other character.  Optimus and Nightbeat get some good moments in here and there, but Thunderwing steals the show.  It's a sad journey for him; by getting what he wanted, he destroyed all he was.  Thus, it's a somewhat cautionary tale on some level.  I loved him shooting his own trooper, then briefly recovering.  (Oh, and again, Massara did great work here.)  One gets the strong sense that, had Optimus Prime reached out to Thunderwing in his moment of clarity rather than punching him in the face, the Matrix might have been recovered.  Alas, he didn't, and the Matrix was lost.  Deviate from your ideals at your peril, Optimus!

It was also a bold choice, to end the Matrix Quest with a failure.  The Matrix is lost, and remains corrupted by darkness.  The Autobots are, at least physically, worse off than when they started.  I like the idea that Unicron may have to be defeated without the rather literal deus ex machina that is usually employed.  Nightbeat, as mentioned earlier, stood out as a new Autobot worth watching.  And the various seeds planted for future stories, well, they seem like avenues well worth exploring.  All told, Furman seems to have hit his stride, and this issue seems to herald great things for the future.

The next issue plays with Optimus' final "We shall win!" speech. "Don't be too sure, Optimus Prime," the blurb rebuts,  "because the future holds... " Umm... squee?  All Fall Down is available in IDW Publishing's  Classic Transformers, Vol. 5 at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Ark Addendum - The Destron Base of Masterforce (part 3)

Continuing in the vein we began two weeks ago, this edition of The Ark Addendum continues with an in-depth look at the undersea base of the Destrons from Masterforce.  This time, we get the elevator that lowers unsuspecting humans into the dank and mysterious lair, as well as the grand hall inside. 

An interesting element is the sheer size of the lair.  Since it has to accommodate both humans and transtectors, you wind up with an odd mixture of elements for both.  Hence, human sized doors along the periphery, and a Transformer sized portal to the outside that dominates the lower drawing. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 32

Synthetic Love is the thirty-second episode of War of the Worlds, the series.  It features an alien plot to distribute a drug based on human brain matter to the population, in a society with a run-away legalized drug problem.  When Kincaid strong-arms an addict friend of his into going to a rehabilitation clinic where this drug is being distributed, the team learns of the plot and... well, they don't exactly foil it.  The company distributing the drug does that once they find out what's in it, though at great personal cost.
The Good: Not all that much.  Bayda is back, which is nice.  She's a nurse at the clinic, cold and lifeless as ever.

When Mr. Laporte, head of Laporte Pharmaceuticals, rejects his alliance with the Morthren, they kidnap his daughter and use her as raw materials for the drug.  The moment when Malzor (under his alias of Mr. Malcom) hands him the vial of, well, her, is pretty horrible.

Using human brains as a cure, at least, is something grounded in WotW mythology.  We've seen it previously in To Heal the Leper. However... well, we'll get to that.

The visuals in this episode were nice.  I particularly liked the make-up and costuming on both the addicts and on Rene Laporte.  The contrast between her almost Jackie Kennedy Onassis wardrobe and their filth was well executed.

The Bad: There's a lot wrong with this one, unfortunately.  Let's start with the episode structure.  Kincaid doesn't show up till about 12 minutes into the episode, and Harrison for another 8 minutes after that.  In a 44 minute program, that's pretty ridiculous.  The alien plot, such as it is, never really gets stopped.  Sure, Laporte stops distributing the drug, but as Malzor says they can start again at any time.  Basically, Kincaid realizes something is wrong when his friend goes missing, infiltrates the rehab center, gets capture, and gets rescued.  Meanwhile, Laporte distributes a drug, figures out they shouldn't be, and stops.  It's really not very satisfying.

The alien plot, too, makes little sense.  What exactly are they trying to accomplish?  They're giving out a drug that seems to cure humans of their personality defects.  What negative effects there are, if any, aren't clear.  Kincaid seems spacey when he's on it, but that wasn't emphasized in the episode.  Besides, one would imagine that that would wear off.  Was it addictive? Who knows!  Maybe the aliens just wanted cash?

The episode is very heavy-handed in its politics.  Legalized drugs are apparently the cause of a lot of this societies woes, causing the "final collapse of the welfare system" despite what experts predicted would happen.  It seems to be ignoring a cardinal storytelling rule; they tell us, rather than showing us.  We're not told why legalizing drugs was bad, just that it was.

The plot also feels redundant.  So Shall Ye Reap featured the aliens attempting to infiltrate the human drug market.  Been there, done that. (Oh, BTW, it was pretty clear in So Shall Ye Reap that drugs were still illegal.  Now, we learn, they've been legal for four years.  Another timeline hiccup.) 

The Ugly: Aliens extracting human brain matter from living victims... nicely dark. 

Overall, a weak and emotionally unsatisfying episode.  The alien plot had been done before, and didn't make much sense anyway.  It wasn't really stopped, and our heroes seemed almost like afterthought additions to the story.  You can do better, War of the Worlds, so much better.

War of the Worlds: The Final Season, will be out on DVD this October.  Preorder it now, if you're enjoying these reviews and think it's your thing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #65: Dark Creation

Dark Creation is the sixty-fifth issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics series of Transformers, and the fourth part of the five-issue Matrix Quest series.  It was written by Simon Furman, drawn and inked by Geoff Senior, lettered by Jim Massara, and colored by Nel Yomtov.  The legendary Bill Sienkiewicz returns to provide a second cover to the series; if you remember, he did the rather abstract first issue cover as well.

Once again, Sienkiewicz produces a memorable cover.  Grimlock, in his pretender shell, is gripped by a bizarre monster with enormous angled teeth.  The monster is rather amazing, though Grimlock seems just a bit flat.  His face, though, is shattered in horror.  The inking, especially on the monster, emphasizes the irregular and terrifying nature of the encounter taking place.  This is indeed a creature that has crawled out of our nightmares and onto the page.  "Has Grimlock found the matrix -- or has IT found HIM?"  It's a cover that promises a lot, and fortunately the issue delivers.

The story is brisk, action-packed, and very exciting.  It frankly raises the bar from the rest of the Matrix Quest, which after a strong first chapter had been meandering around somewhat aimlessly.  Once again, Furman riffs on a movie, this time Alien / Aliens.  There are several nods to that, especially the name of the moon (VsQs, for Vasquez) and planet (Cameron, obviously named for Jim Cameron.)

It opens with a brief interlude, showing the funeral barge for Optimus Prime crashing here from the perspective of the Matrix itself.  We're treated to a rather inexplicable scene of the Matrix rebuilding a dying euthanizing robot and rebuilding it into a Deathbringer, which is apparently destroyed by Optimus Prime.  (Years later, I would discover that these events had been depicted a few months earlier, in the UK Story Deathbringer, which ran from issues 235-236 and has been collected by Titan Books in their Aspects of Evil trade paperback.  It's a rather good ten page black & white story, and the only UK story directly referenced in the US run.)  The Matrix misses the experience that its vessel provided, and creates another one from a native critter.  This creature exists only to hunt and kill, though it's prey is "neither food nor enemy." It rebuilds the creature into something dark, and horrible.  Time passes...

The interlude, despite the rather odd inclusion of the Deathbringer material, is very strong.  Even that isn't bad, it's just slightly odd.  An editorial note saying where these events were from might have been a welcome addition, given the inclusion of Optimus Prime.  Had he been left out of that part of the tale, I think as a kid I'd have just assumed the creature was eventually stopped off-screen.  The slow corruption of the matrix, though, is potent stuff.  Every aspect of the story, from the coloring (dark) to the lettering (irregular green) to the prose to the art is very strong.  And boy oh boy, does the alien facehugger look familiar or what?

As I said, time passes, and the Autobots arrive.  After four months of second-stringers, we're treated to an a-list team of Grimlock, Jazz, and Bumblebee.  They've arrived at the VsQs base, set up to investigate an object that crashed on this moon.  The object, they're sure, can only be the funeral barge, but the entire base looks like a war zone.  They know they're close to the Matrix, but given the apparent horror it precipitated, they wonder if finding it is actually a good thing.  Grimlock rather darkly informs them that he's found the team, though they won't be telling anyone anything ever again.  It's all dark, moody stuff, and the image of the creature watching the team from the shadows and twitching only enhances the horror.  We the audience are on edge, just waiting for everything to fall apart.

And fall apart it does, though from a slightly unexpected quarter.  Thunderwing smashes through a window and confronts the Autobots.  Furman deftly cuts to his ship, showing Ruckus on guard duty.  Rather cleverly, we see that the computers that he had been punched into last issue are, in fact, connected to the three captured Autobots... and the wire is starting to smoke.  But the main action is on the base, where a brief attempt at dialogue is interrupted by Grimlock, who's efforts against Thunderwing are singularly unimpressive.  Senior takes advantage of his human form to make him rather more emotive than usual, though there is something weird going on with Thunderwing's helmet in the bottom middle panel to the left. 

The battle is joined in earnest when Thunderwing sics Spinister, Needlenose, and Windsweeper on the Autobots.  It's an exciting fight that Thunderwing rather handily dominates.  He shakes off Grimlock rather effortlessly, then casually destroys Bumblebee's Pretender shell and nearly offlines the 'bot.  In fact, things are proceeding so well that Windsweeper stands back and watches... unaware that he's being stalked.  We cut to another interlude as messy organic tentacles wrap around his throat and begin to pull him up towards oblivion!  The fight is exciting, the pacing is terrific, and the dialogue is pure comic book fun.  "Ah, Bumblebee -- how recklessly we throw our shells into battle!  Like you, I am a pretender -- albeit more powerful and durable than yourself -- and I know that whatever damage is done to the outer shell is felt by the owner.  Only more so!"  Pure fun!

The interlude is a great page - in fact, I own the original artwork to it, one of two pages from this issue that I own.  On England's west coast, a man walks his dog, Patch, who growls at something in the sea.  We see the seaweed-laden form of Shockwave explode from the water, then reason that since his plans do not allow for being seen, he must silence the fleshling. We're once again glimpsing life beyond the Matrix Quest, and it's most welcome.  Scenes like this give the universe a bigger, more epic feel, and there will be payoff for it in a few months, in issue 68.

On VsQs, though, the payoff is immediate.  Thunderwing rather beautifully grabs Jazz and has him use his headlights, giving us a clear view of the creature.   Needlenose wants to rescue the creature, but Thunderwing thrusts him aside.  The creature is dripping with matrix energy, and Thunderwing means to track it.  It flees, and the Decepticon leader pursues.  The Autobots limp off and the Decepticons abandon their leader.  His obsession has become too much for them.  It's an obsession we've seen building for several issues now.  In fact, by this point it's becoming clear that the Matrix Quest is more about Thunderwing's journey than about the recovery of the Matrix itself.  He's the only character in all five issues of the story. (Well, him and his team, but they're mostly there as props for him.)

The climax approaches.  Jazz stumbles onto the location of both the Matrix and the creature, and is unceremoniously pulled aside by Thunderwing.  The 'Con calls to the Matrix, which starts to obey, but the creature objects.  They battle while the Autobots flee with their prize, weighed down by the heavy gravity of the moon and their own lack of energon.  Time passes, and the Autobot shuttle approaches the Ark.  Optimus can feel the Matrix on board, and greets the shuttle with open arms.  Sadly, for him, the occupant of the shuttle turns out to be none other than the newest Matrix Bearer, Thunderwing.  The final page of the penultimate chapter of the Matrix Quest has left things dark indeed.

The Matrix, corrupted!  Thunderwing, victorious!  It's a truly fantastic ending, and unlike most previous chapters of this take really leaves me wanting more.  The entire issue was laden with action, suspense and horror.  Incidentally the page to the left is the other piece of original artwork I own from this issue.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, you're envious.  It's natural.  No, it's not for sale.)   We get payoff for Thunderwing's growing obsession and a sense that things are going to get worse before they get better.  The artwork is dark, moody, oppressive.  Senior's stark inking works really well in a horror setting, emphasizing the bleak nature of VsQs.  Event the lettering is terrific, with the green Matrix bubbles feeling sort of warped and twisted.  This is another issue that's pure win, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.

Next month, "The Matrix Quest is finished --- and so are the Autobots!  The battle won't stop until ALL FALL DOWN!"  Needless to say, I'll be there. Dark Creation is available for sale in IDW Publishing's  Classic Transformers, Vol. 5.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Deviating from the norm

Bill Forster has gone ahead and updated his Deviant Art gallery with the last batch of  The AllSpark Almanac II (order it today!) images.  Head on over and check out more pieces from the Great War boardgame, like Bombshell to the left (one of my favorites) and Overlord, Maccadam's heads like Chromia (who is different from the Japanese version), Project Omega captains such as Wedge, and some miscellaneous fun pieces like the Paparazzi shot of Fanzone from ALT2DAY.  Head on over, let him know what you think.