Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #98 "The Harder They Die!"

Although this issue continues straight on from Prey! Part 2 it has its own title: The Harder They Die! perhaps to reflect the massive change in setting that occurs here. The script was Furman's, the pencils were by Geoff Senior (yay!), the colours were by Steve White, the lettering, Annie Halfacree and the editing was by Ian Rimmer:

The cover art was by Phil Gascoine and unfortunately it's basically terrible. The idea of Megatron striding triumphantly through a bombed out Cybertron is a good one but the composition is all wrong. Megatron looks like he has been pasted into the environment after the fact. He has a white line around him and the lighting is completely wrong. The background is decent enough but the disparity between the Decepticon and the cityscape just kills the image, irredeemably. The speech balloon saying "Home sweet home" certainly does not help but unlike some better images, does not detract too much. (I do kind of want a free Galavatron badge though)

The Harder They Die! starts in my favourite way for a comic: in media res. Optimus Prime is on Cybertron. How did he get here? No time for that; he's got to rescue a little Autobot from a big mean Decepticon!

While Optimus is standing up against the bully Furman's captions give us wonderfully purple descriptions of Prime's impressions of his ruined homeworld. He is in a thoroughly depressive mode and talks about his "warped good fortune" at surviving when so many comrades have died. He underestimates the Decepticon's power and is surprised by the old eye-beam trick.

Blinded, Prime waits for the killing blow but it turns out, as the little Autobot tells him, that in his reflex flailing Prime managed to hurl the Decepticon onto a conveniently placed spike. The caption talks of cheating death. "How many more times?" he wonders. Optimus is the ultimate sufferer of survivors' guilt. Not only has he stayed online (and off) for milennia while countless Autobots have been crushed beneath the Decepticon jackboot, as the Autobot leader he has ordered many of them to their fates. We know this will not bring Optimus down in the end, but his guilt here is compounded by two factors. The first is that he is the only one of the Earthbound Autobots who have managed to get back to Cybertron, albeit, not on purpose. The second is that he was lying dormant in an Earth volcano while his comrades were fighting and dying.

The Autobot introduces himself as Outback and Optimus explains to him the fate of the Ark which gives us a nice excuse to drop in on the Autobots we left behind. We find them sadly loading the wreckage of the Optimus Prime facsimile into the back of Ironhide. This is, unfortunately, ridiculous. Wheeljack knew that Prime was going to fake his own death: he built the construct! Not only can he not tell his own work from the real thing but he assumes that the ONE wrecked Prime they find is the real one, despite his knowledge of Prime's plan! Luckily this plot strand is not going to come up for a few issues.

Prime reflects sadly that they will have to learn to get by without him and strides off, alone, like John Wayne about to right a wrong (which is fitting on both counts, I suppose).

Meanwhile we find that Megatron is also on Cybertron. He is pleased by the Decepticon domination and is trading barbs with an off-panel entity who seems to have some power over the Decepticons. Megatron finds a good spot here to explain exactly what happened to cause these events:

When the Predacons had Prime at their mercy they had suddenly ceased their attack and come after Megatron. They releaved Megatron of his fusion cannon and left him to Prime's mercy, however Prime fled in the confusion. Megatron caught up with what he thought was Prime and destroyed him, however he swiftly realised that this was a facsimile when the real thing tackled him from behind.

The two robots tussled, with Megatron on the back foot. His last ditch move was to summon the space bridge, possibily to escape, but Prime, sensing a chance to make a worthwhile sacrifice, hurled them both through the portal before it was fully open, causing massive instability and an explosion, and transporting them to random locations on Cybertron. This is a reasonable explanation but unfortunately Furman once again suffers for overthinking things. It makes little sense that Shockwave would have commanded the Predacons to merely set up a fair fight between Optimus Prime and Megatron when they could have destroyed both of them, especially if Shockwave bothered to help. What would be in it for Shockwave or for The Predacons if Megatron won. Shockwave predicts an Optimus Prime victory but it's far from certain, and why not remove both threats when they are at his mercy? I am not going to sit and rewrite it, but I am confident that the three-way fight could have been written convincingly enough to end with the same result - an accidental teleport to Cybertron.

Things pick up rather at this point as we discover that the wobbly off-panel voice is none other than Straxus, still just about alive after Blaster's defeat of him in The Bridge To Nowhere! He is now a head in a glass jar, being kept online by a network of tubes and wires. It's an effective image and although it doesn't make a lot of sense given what we know about how easily Transformers can be rebuilt and reformatted I think it would be churlish to complain about it. In any case, this is a universe where a bat-shaped cassette can be Deceticon leader, why not a head in a jar?

Megatron reveals his devious plan: he has passed word among Straxus' informants that there is a Decepticon spy abroad who is pretending to be Optimus Prime. The Autobots will do his job for him!

Unaware of this threat to his continued functioning Prime visits Iacon and finds it ruined. He can scarcely believe it. Before he can fully absorb the image he is smacked upside the head by a familiar looking hammer. Rack and Ruin have arrived! While he is trying to reason with them a Guardian unit appears behind him and beats him into the ground.

As Prime flickers back to consciousness he finds himself confronted by the Wreckers, led by Springer and Ultra Magnus, accusing him of being a spy and sentencing him to death! TO. BE. CONTINUED.

This issue is quite an improvement over the last two. The biggest complaints deal with the detritus left over from that storyline. The scenes of Optimus walking around a blasted Cybertron are effective and rendered even more so by some excellent work by Geoff Senior -surely by far the best artist working on the book at this time. Megatron's plan at least makes sense and is simple enough that it might work. Prime is bound to head for Autobot occupied areas and may well arrive before the Decepticons can find him. If he reaches his fellow Autobots then he will be a major boost to both their morale and offensive capabilities. This is not really spelled out in the issue, but since Megatron does not actually know exactly where Prime is, trying to drive a wedge between him and the Autobots is probably the smartest move. This also allows Furman to set up a cliff-hanger that is fairly decent, although obviously not going to end in anything other than Prime convincing the Autobots that he's the real deal. That's not really anyone's fault though, and the drama is still good for it's own sake. The audience is more interested in how Prime will get out of this than if he will, but that's the same for ninety-nine per-cent of these situations.

Prime and Megatron's disparate reactions to seeing their homeworld again after so long are believable and in-character and the lot of the Autobots certainly does not seem to have improved since The Smelting Pool and Target:2006. It's nice to see the Wreckers again a few issues down the line from Operation Volcano and Straxus is as brilliant as ever. One wonders what Megatron's endgame is. Surely he can defeat a head in a jar and take his planet back? Currently, however, he is fixated on Optimus Prime.

One of the problems that a reader who is more familiar with the US book might have with this storyline is that Bob Budiansky would soon be writing a very similar story involving traitorous Predacons, Megatron and the Space Bridge to Cybertron in US issue #25 and UK issues #107-108 (Gone But Not Forgotten!). Naturally this comes across as very awkward when you read the issues in the continuity that a UK reader would have done but credit should not be taken from this book for the mismatch. It was, after all, published first. I will deal with the continuity issues in more detail in a later review but suffice it to say that it does get worked out, the problem is that the workaround is very obvious.

As previously mentioned I am absolutely in love with Senior's art and although it's not quite as amazing with this style of colouring as it was back in Victory! I always look forward to a Senior issue.

The colouring is very good, as usual, with very few mistakes. A particularly effective usage is in a panel where we can see Megatron from Straxus' perspective and everything is green, seen through the fluid and glass of his fish-bowl.

A definite step in the right direction. Far from the best issue the UK book ever saw but certainly worthy of reading and hopefully leading to better things in the next few issues.

IDW has reprinted these issues in their Best of the UK collection, Prey, along with several other stories.  Check them out.


Moonscream said...

Dang, Blogger's being a pain in the ass for me today...

All I wanted was to click that little box that says 'email'...

But for the sake of everyone else reading it who didn't see the original comment, I asked if you'd like a copy of or to at least have a scan of the cover with a badge on it. And if so, contact me privately to let me know which, 'kay?

Youseph said...

How does one get their hands on UK copies of the Transformers comic? any Suggestions? Do they have them bound up in graphic novels like the US version?

Jimtron said...

There are trade paperbacks containing these stories. I edited the post so that the last paragraph reflects that.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

It's been a long time since I last read this run, but IIRC Shockwave's reasoning is that what he saw of Optimus Prime in issue #100's flashback has convinced him that Prime can destroy Megatron in a fusion canon-less fight. He's presumably assuming that in such desperate circumstances Prime will fight to the death, but this isn't my recollection of issue #100 - a classic example of why these things should be presented in order.

It's possible that Shockwave is also trying to avoid anything that smacks of assassination, perhaps because it might be harder to secure and retain the leadership under such circumstances - some Decepticons would not easily transfer their loyalty to their old leader's killer, some would see their chance, some might even question the new leader's wisdom since he'd wasted resources in disposing of one of the more powerful warriors (the very reason Shockwave himself didn't kill Megatron after their first fight) and so forth. All of that would mean even if he did become leader it would be an uneasy command. Jumping ahead there are actually very few cases of the leadership being secured by killing the incumbent - Scorponok over Ratbat in the Underbase saga, Megatron over Bludgeon in G2 and Cyclonus & Scourge over Shockwave in 2008 are all I can think of, and in the last case they don't immediately secure the loyalty of the troops without threats. This does suggest the nature of the Decepticon leadership is more complicated than is sometimes thought.

Alternatively it could be coherency sacrificed on the altar of fast story telling and advertising new toys.

About the similarities to the US story, it's not clear if that was deliberate or not but I'd bet that it was. The US story was published first in the US comic in October 1986; the UK story didn't see publication until late January 1987. And given the problems with introducing the Special Teams early it seems doubtful that Furman would have voluntarily introduced new toys without checking if & how they would be introduced in the US strips.

Bishbot said...

Thanks for your thoughts everyone! And thanks to Jim for correcting my oversight regarding IDW's collection.

I don't think that by this point Shockwave is worried about losing Megatron's potential firepower. They have the space bridge now: what's one more warrior compared to a planetful? And it seems that if Shockwave did not want to be associated with killing Megatron himself (which is a reasonable assumption) that using the Predacons as catspaws would do the job for him. One could perhaps make a case that if the Predacons had killed Megatron they might make a bid for the leadership themselves, but if they wanted to do that they could always disobey Shockwave's orders either way.

Whichever you hold to be most likely, I just find this plan too messy, with too many variables, for it to be very believable for Shockwave to have come up with it.

I certainly disagree that the parts of a story need to be presented in order. Sometimes it works best to keep vital information in reserve. In this case, however, there is nothing in #100 that really goes to explain Shockwave's convoluted plan here.

It also seems very unlikely that the parallels with these two storylines were intentional, given how much wrangling is required to set the timeline straight afterwards. I have no idea how it happened - Jim and I speculated that Bob and Simon might have been brainstorming ideas and both liked that one - but nothing is gained here and much plausibility is lost.