Musings from Jim Sorenson and a few guest bloggers about Transformers, character models, science-fiction, comic books, and whatever else is on our minds.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Review: Marvel G1 #79: The Last Autobot?
The penultimate issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers is titled The Last Autobot?. For the fourth consecutive issue, the creative team is Furman as writer, Wildman as penciler, Baskerville as inker, Parker as letterer, and Yomtov as colorist. Rob Tokar and Tom DeFalco are listed as 'the last editors.' Excepting #75, with some gorgeous Senior artwork, this creative lineup has been together since #70 and their chemistry continues to produce magic. The cover is also by Wildman.
Spike stands rather dejectedly, floating in space with his shoulders slumped, against the grinning background of Galvatron's manic face. "The Last Autobot?" the cover asks, in what is probably the most effective use of text on a cover this series has seen. Spike seems isolated and alone, and certainly can't be too optimistic about facing Galvatron by himself. It sums up the issue nicely, while at the same time (like the title of the issue) playing with the quest for The Last Autobot, guardian of Cybertron.
The issue opens with a close-up of Spike's face, wondering much the same thing as the cover asked. It's a slightly redundant opening, what with the same question, one of the same characters, and a very similar visual. Aside from that clumsiness, though, the story gets off to a roaring start. Against a lovely two-page spread of the Ark's crashlanding, we juxtapose Spike's lamentation about being pulled back into the conflict and Galvatron's escape from the debris. We continue in this venue, as Spike argues with an all-too-real voice in his head and we flashback to Galvatron's rampage against the Canadian army. Galvatron's panels all have rounded edges, setting them off subtly from the action in the present. Spike's dilemma feels real and natural and human. He didn't sign up for an eternal war, he just wanted to rescue his brother. But with all the other Autobots off Earth, and indeed the Neo Knights gone as well, there's no one else to turn to. He is... the last Autobot. It's all very powerful stuff.
The OTHER Last Autobot remains elusive to our band of six humans. (Well, five and a Nebulon, but who's counting?) Cybertron's self-destruction has stepped up, leaving them battered about and pessimistic. They worry that they're on a fool's errand, lead by a madman. Hi-Q insists that he is, in fact, Optimus Prime, and there's a great bit where I actually start to believe it as a reader. When Rapture complains that they're all going to die 'for a planet that's not even ours' he realizes, internally, that he's 'broken my most basic rule and involved non-Transformers in our war!' It's such an Optimus Prime thing to say that I'm finally sold on the concept. It's also ironic, because the whole a-plot of the issue is a non-Transformer trying to clean up a Cybertronian mess. Things start looking up, though, when Dynamo manages to finally tap into Cybertron's energy and sense the presence of that which they seek.
We get one (well, two) other interlude before checking back to Spike's choice. Prowl impatiently urges Silverbolt forward, despite Silverbolt's protests. Prowl worries about how slow they're going, but Grimlock is the very model of relaxation. (Once again, Wildman's command of body language pays dividends.) He gives a bit of exposition in the form of a rebuke to Prowl who, despite being one of my all-time favorite Autobots, comes across as whiny and ungrateful here. Besides, given the small head start they 'Cons have, how much damage could they really do, the Dinobot wonders. What a perfect transition to a page of destruction and devastation as the 'Cons run amok on Klo. It's a bit too easy for Bludgeon, but Krock informs him of an Autobot tracking device. Immediatly seeing the possibilities, Bludgeon begins to prepare an ambush. How much better the Decepticon command team seems to be than the Autobots. There's no tension here, no recrimination, no gloating. I rather like this contrast. I also like how quickly Bludgeon sees not just the dangers inherent in the situation but also the possibilities. He's a fantastic leader, and his unique visuals don't hurt either.
Back on Earth, Spike is hesitant to put on the helmet. No going back now, he rationalizes, and plunks it on. In moments he's rejoined with Fortress Maximus, who takes total control of their collective consciousness and charges forward. Soon he catches up to a bewildered Galvatron, dazed and damaged by the crash. As the Decepticon attempts to fight off madness and pull himself together, he gets a rude awakening in the form of a photon blast to the back. With Spike's voice ringing in his head, he battles against the savage Galvatron, who has once again succumbed to the blood red rage. In one of my favorite sequences ever, Galvatron rips wires out of Max's shoulder WITH HIS TEETH! Oh, brilliant stuff, this is! Galvatron really shines in this, his last outing in this continuity.
Spike mentally mocks Max for his errors in judgment, and it's not unwarranted. Fort Max reneged on their agreement, then blundered headfirst into a battle that might have been avoided. Worse, he did it right in the middle of a human town. When Maximus relents, and pleads with Spike to help him, Spike momentarily takes charge, and then they begin to fight back together. Once again we see the possibilities inherent in a human / Cybertronian partnership, and Galvatron is given a mighty blow and sent hurtling into an icy lake. The action is fantastic, and the whole simmering conflict between Fortress Maximus' desire to act and Spike's desire to just go home give it an extra weight of pathos. This is the last we'll see of Earth in this series, and it feels like a nice end to the human portion of the Transformers saga. They've left us, for the most part, but with a human guardian to protect us. It's not a bad way for Fort Max to retire, really. In fact, it's pretty much the same way he retired in The Rebirth, so there's some unintentional symmetry. Oh, and speaking of unintentional symmetry, Galvatron met an icy grave in the Japanese Headmasters series as well. It's all just coincidence, but it's the kind of coincidence that makes Transformers feel so much larger than life.
The issue isn't quite over yet, though. Dynamo has located the Last Autobot over an apparently empty set of old ruins. When he does so, from the ground rises the seemingly enormous Last Autobot, an ancient looking being with a very familiar face. He's got a nicely primitive look to him, with screws and rivets visible around his body. They've found him... rather easily. Of course, this plotline would have gone on a lot longer, but for the cancellation of the book.
Which brings us to the next time. "All Good Things..." it tells us, then refers us to the letter page where they explain the shortly after #75 was finished off they got word of the cancellation. Sadly #75 was perhaps a too optimistic about the future, getting our hopes up and making the eventual end all the more sad. The shame of it was that G2 was really just around the corner. If they'd just held out a bit longer, we might have had one large, more connected storyline.
But I get ahead of myself. This issue went from strength to strength. Fortress Maximus was not really a character that Furman ever did much with before, so to pull him out here was surprising yet entirely effective. Galvatron gets a nice ending as well, exiled to a watery grave for however long by a human. Given that it was Spike who struck the most effective blow against him in his introduction in issue #67, this seems appropriate. We even got a bit of foreshadowing for this issue in the form of a throw-away line from issue #74. I love how deftly Furman uses continuity to tell these powerful, resonant stories.
The central theme of this story, one man standing up to immense forces, is such a resonant one that it was selected as the cover of the hardbound version of the Titan collection containing it. Isn't this a rather lovely image by Brian Hitch? Meanwhile, over in the UK, this issue would be split into two parts, and the second cover would focus on the death of Galvatron. Stewart Johnson does a nice job here. I like how the characters are obscured so you don't really know which of them ended up going down.
The Neo Knight story is a lot more rushed. They don't seem so much like characters as chess pieces, pushed about to where they need to be for the story. I understand why it had to be this way, but it's still unfortunate. Finally, the main body of the Autobots and the Decepticons are positioned to rush headlong into their final confrontation. Grimlock's arrogance pitted against Bludgeon's steely pragmatism should be fun, and doesn't bode well for the good guys.
The Last Autobot? is available for purchase in IDW's
Classic Transformers Vol. 6 . It's a great story, so do yourself a favor and buy it if you don't already have it.