Thursday, March 17, 2011
Review: Marvel G2 #1 - War Without End!
The cover, available both with and foil, as was in vogue in 1993, is a pretty slick piece of work. We get a tight close-up on Optimus Prime's face, with a smoking gun held up to it as if he's just fired. There are a few bullets lodged in his helmet, and oil and fluids leak down. "THIS is NOT your father's AUTOBOT." it states, borrowing from the classic Oldsmobile slogan. Of course, in 1993, most kids father's wouldn't HAVE Autobots, but it gets the message across. (Nowadays, though, that statement could be pretty accurate. How many eight-year-olds have dads who played with Transformers? A lot, I'd reckon.) We also get our first hints of the new art style, though one still image can't really convey that. It's an effective cover, though, violent, bold, setting itself apart from what went before enough that maybe you wouldn't be too daunted to pick up this book.
We open "many billions of light years from our galaxy..." (Science geek interlude - the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest proper galaxy to us, is 2.5 MILLION light years away. The most distant galaxy that we've observed is about 13 billion light years away, and the Hubble didn't spot that till just this year. That means that some of the action in this issue takes place pretty much on the other side of the universe from us.) Some new robots with an unfamiliar design are aboard a ship, and we learn that one of their outposts has been attacked, with no survivors. Their report segues into...
In true comic-book fashion, the fight serves as the backdrop to a philisophical argument between Blades and Hound. Hound points out that the Autobots were almost as violent as those they were fighting, but Blades retorts that Hound is weak, claiming that the 'surrendering' robot was about to turn on him. I've always liked this kind of confrontation. Comic books can do it so well, and Furman does not disappoint. Grimlock ends the argument, calling for an end to the infighting since, after all, they're all Autobots...
Cut to Optimus Prime, having an apocalyptic dream which ends in him turning to dust. While I'm not sure it was intended this way, it feels finally like familiar territory. Everything that had gone before, these new dispassionate Decepticons, the incredibly savage Autobots, this all feels very new. Not necessarily bad, but new. But Optimus dreaming about the end of everything? Yeah, we've seen this before. When he snaps back to the present, he, Hot Rod, and Kup are all on 'a dead planet in the butt end of the galaxy,' which means that Jhiaxius was VERY far away from where we are now. They've been summoned by Grimlock, but they don't yet know why. He does feel that he needs to gather up his 'scattered Autobot army,' in light of his recent premonitions.
It seems that Grimlock's stumbled on something... big. He's found seventeen Cybertrons all over the galaxy. This planet the they're on now was a failed attempt to make one - Grimlock didn't expect there to still be guards. Optimus quickly realizes that Bludgeon's little band couldn't possibly have anywhere close to the resources necessary to pull off a trick like this. The problem is, in fact, a lot bigger than he's realized.
Indeed it is, Optimus, for at that moment Jhiaxus shows up with his starship, the not-yet-named Twilight. I do rather love this scorpion-looking ship. He blasts the Autobots from orbit, destroying their ships and bringing them aboard. Soon Optimus and Grimlock stand before the second-generation Decepticon commander, who informs them calmly that he has chosen to not annihilate them from space but rather educate them as to the current state of Cybertronian affairs.
The war ended almost four million years ago. Once Megatron was no longer in command of the Decepticons, a faction of them left the empty husk that was their world for greener (um... greyer?) pastures. Only a 'token administrative presence' of 'small-minded tyrants' (cue picture of Straxus) was left behind. DEstruction has become CONstruction. Optimus, on some level, wants to believe it, but he just can't. It's still all conquest and oppression. Jhiaxus doesn't help his case much when he tries to clarify. It's not so much that they hate other species, it's that lesser beings have no value to them. If they can coexist with the Decepticons, great, if not, they're exterminated without malice. In a way his cold indifference is far scarier than Megatron's anger ever was, because on some level it seems more realistic to me. I have a hard time imagining an alien race showing up that just hates everything we stand for, but the idea that some hyper-advanced beings might bulldoze the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass seems somehow more plausible. It's definitely an interesting direction to have taken the story, in any event.
(We also get a tiny, two-page interlude that lines up with the events of the G.I. Joe books. The timing of the distress call might account for the rag-tag nature of the Autobots sent to stop Megatron.)
Well... wow! It's a big issue, worthy of being a #1. Clearly this is no mere continuation of the Generation One storyline. Sure, it's in continuity, but that tale seems to have been told. This story is suitably new and epic, and even plays off of the idea of a Generation Two. While it's not definitively spelled out yet, it does seem like Jhiaxus and his crew are from a very different era than Optimus, Megatron, and their respective armies. Their cold indifference seems as far removed from Megatron as Megatron is from Optimus. Even now, it's clear that a confrontation between Megatron and Jhiaxius' minions is inevitable.
There are certainly some parts of it that are a stretch. It's hard to believe that Cybertron would have been abandoned so completely that the events of the G1 comic went completely unnoticed. After all, if there were a diaspora of Decepticons, you'd expect for them to spread out from Cybertron at the center, not go to the other end of the Universe and work their way back. Still, I rather like the idea that the four million year time gap actually means something, that significant events happened during the long twilight sleep on the Ark. (An aside... doesn't Shockwave seem like the kind of bot that would have done VERY well among the G2 Decepticons? I can't help but feel that there's a fanfic in there somewhere.)
Also, the prophetic dream thing that Optimus experiences... I've decided that I don't care for it. We've seen a bit too much of it in the latter days of Generation One. It worked there, with the cosmic threat that was Unicron. Here, though, it feels like we're treading on old ground. That might not be such an issue if the rest of the book weren't so darned new and fresh and interesting. As it is, though, it feels out of place.
The art style is different than anything we'd gotten in the 7 year run of Generation One. It's grittier, more violent. At the time I didn't care for it, but I've come to appreciate it for what it is. It's also a slick move, creatively, as it helps distance G2 from the G1 book that went before. The more mature themes of the book go along well with this newer, more stylized, darker artwork. Wires and weapons are everywhere, and mistings of ink make the whole work feel worn, used, even dirty. There's definitely a war on here.
It's not just the pencils. The coloring and lettering is also pretty top notch. Notice how the flashbacks are flushed green, making them pop out. Also, pay attention to the lettering. The robot speech bubbles all have little markings on the side, with squares for Autobots, triangles for Decepticons, and trapezoids for Dinotots. That must have been a lot of work, but it's appreciated.
So, there you have it! A mostly very very good tale, not without flaws but basically a creative success. By recasting Optimus in the role of a resistance fighter, rather than a great general, the stakes are ratcheted up. It's a book that clearly acknowledges what went before but is charting its own future. I think this is one of the more ambitious bits of Transformers storytelling, and so far that ambition is paying off. War Without End! finally brings us back to reprint territory. It was included in the Titan collection Transformers Dark Designs , which is out of print but pretty reasonable second hand through Amazon.com. If you loved G1, I'd highly recommend you check out the first half of Generation Two.