Monday, June 27, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK - 1988 Annual - "Ark Duty"

Ark Duty was the last of the comic stories published in the 1988 annual of the UK comic. It was written by Simon Furman and drawn by Will Simpson.

In the year 2003 Ultra Magnus is presiding over a demonstration of the capabilities of the newly designed Autobot City. Earth has agreed to give the Autobots the resources they need to build the mighty fortress and now all that's required is for a convoy to go to pick them up. This requires almost all of the Autobots so only Blurr and Hot Rod are left to guard the Ark. Kup, meanwhile, has the most dangerous mission of all, to single-handedly transport the tape of the City plans to Earth's government. (A single Earth Government? In 2003? That's a very amusing reversal of the cartoon's suggestion that the Soviet Union will still be around in 2006.)

Hot Rod is peeved at being relegated to "Ark Duty" and mutters to himself while, unseen, Ravage, the sneakiest Decepticon of all (nice to know he'd get out of that mineshaft at least by 2003) lurks, having recorded all of the Autobots' plans! He leaves to tell the Stunticons while the Autobot convoy rolls out and Kup reitterates their responsibilities to Blurr and Hot Rod.

Hot Rod watches the monitor as Kup continues his mission and is shocked to see him come under attack by the Stunticons. He realises that they must be after the tape and immediately leaps into action. Blurr reminds him of his duty and tries to stop him but Hot Rod will hear none of it.

He catches up with the wounded Kup and gets him back on his feet. The Autobot veteran tries once again to stop Hot Rod pursuing the Stunticons but Hot Rod will not be deterred. He catches up with the Stunticons and engages them. Unfortunately he is soon bested by Motormaster and completely fails to retrieve the tape. The Stunticons kick him around for a bit and leave him for dead.

Kup arrives and explains what has actually been going on. Ultra Magnus' plan was to let Ravage find out about the tape and think that Kup was carrying it so that the Decepticons could steal it and think they had access to all of Autobot City's secrets when actually all the information was fake. Blurr was sending the real information via a speeded-up radio transmission. Kup tells Hot Rod that he should have listened to orders and that he needs to learn to be less impetuous. Hot Rod is just grateful that the Decepticons don't have anything useful and that by getting beaten up he may have actually helped the ruse. He does suggest, ruefully, that next time he might stay in the Ark but Kup doubts it very much.

Ark Duty is a very good illustration of the sort of stories that can be told outside of a serialised comic-book format. It's fairly lightweight but tells a complete story and, more interestingly, fills in some detail of a time we know almost nothing about. Traditionally the G1 story jumps from some time in the late 80s to after Autobot City is built so it is nice to visit a different time period. The aforementioned Earth Government is an intriguing titbit and it makes sense that the Autobots must be a good deal more public now if they are allowed to build a gigantic fortress. This never seemed such a big deal in the cartoon because the Autobots had a tendency to hang out with humans anyway, but in the main timeline of the comic the Autobots were still taking the "robots in disguise" motto seriously and it would be interesting to see the events that led to this turnaround.

The story itself is a solid character piece for Hot Rod without being particularly special. We have mostly seen his Rodimus Prime persona up to this point so it is fun to visit his less mature incarnation. His arc doesn't boil down to much more than "Hot Rod should think before he acts" but it doesn't really follow through on this. I'm not blaming Furman here - I don't think I've ever read or watched a story where the impetuous devil-may-care hero learns this lesson in a serious way. As a species we just seem to prefer heroes who break rules and make up their plans on the fly and this is Hot Rod to a tee.

Unfortunately for the story as a whole I find it a little unbelievable that Ultra Magnus would give Kup such a risky mission. There is a very real chance that he could have ended up dead or much more severely damaged. Similarly, it is equally unlikely that the Stunticons would not have taken the opportunity to take Kup offline or to capture him. Perhaps in only eight pages these logical flaws are not particularly severe but they do marr an otherwise well-told story.

Will Simpson's art is decent without being stunning. I especially like his opening couple of panels with Autobot City in full battle mode. This turns out to be a fakeout into Ultra Magnus' demo in the actual story but it is a great way to open with a bit of action.

All of the 1988 annual stories were fairly strong, although finishing the Galvatron storyline in the annual was something of a dirty trick. Check back on Wednesday for a review of Dark Of The Moon and then next week for more classic action from the UK comic with Ancient Relics. Jim will, of course, be keeping up his regular Ark Addendum updates and, I believe, has a special post brewing to cap off his epic journey through the classic US continuity.


Anonymous said...

I'm certainly no authority on the UK stuff, but aren't these last 2 stories from the 1987 annual? I thought the '88 annual was the one with squatty Scorpinok on the cover, and the two lead-ins to Time Wars + Peace. Just checking.

Also, this was collected in the Titan Space Pirates TPB, though I'm not sure IDW reprinted it.

I agree that like the recently discussed Alignment, the fun of an isolated continuity bridge story like this is speculating about just what came before. Like how earth's government got united so fast...maybe the 'con assault in G2#4-6 led up to this future too? Or could another Ark-sized spaceship have crashed onto a Pacific island, say, 4 years prior? Neither of those options would be any nuttier than what Takara's new official continuity tries to shoehorn in just prior to TF:TM...

Speaking of J-continuity, I guess this story is sort of the chronological equivalent of Scramble City, even if Second Generation is that OVA's true thematic counterpart.

And some Movie pre-production stuff debuted on this very blog makes me wonder just what fake info was the tape the Stunticons stole. Did they end up thinking Autobot City would contain a Roboto-Zoo lab, and be roughly bowl-shaped so it could close up like a fist to enter fortress-mode? Ah, how much more fun this story just became within the past year; good timing, and great review!

Bishbot said...

The annual came out in 1987 but the traditional way of titling annuals like this is use the year after publication, so 1988.

Usually this is because the annual comes out around Christmas time but for some reason this came out in August 1987, which is a bit early.

Those are certainly some fun speculations. I have to admit I did not realise Takara had a new official continuity.

Anonymous said...

bish is right, I also own a copy of this annual (the first I ever got in fact) and while it was sold in 1987, it was indeed printed with a 1988 date on it. All UK annuals did this because they were intended to be sold at christmas to be read the next year (when the date would be correct). The tradition of post dating comics is not restricted to annuals. Most comics have the month ahead's date on them, not sure what the thinking is, but I'm guessing it is something to do with release schedules. By the time they reach new stands they are presumably the correct date.

Chuffer said...

Ending the Galvatron storyline wasn't the only marketing trick. The annual is also required reading for the comic stories 'Grudge Match' and 'Ladies Night' (both published before December) to make any sense.

I was one of those kids who didn't get the annual until Christmas, so was certainly glad they never tried to do the same thing again. There was plenty of scope for stories set between present and future timelines (like 'Ark Duty') and the annual was the best place for them.

Bishbot said...

Technically Chuffer I think you can read "Grudge Match" without "What's In A Name?" It might even work better to NOT know that Swoop lied about being rescued by Optimus Prime. I take your point though.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Regarding which year is for which annual there's a lot of confusion because Marvel UK changed their minds on this point.

There is a convention in the UK annual market that the books are published with the following year's date on them - this is primarily because the market is focused on Christmas (but it also gives leftover stock more shelf-life). However not all publishers have followed it and in the early years of TF Marvel UK was one of them. Even at the end of the annuals' run they didn't actually include the date on the cover.

Seven annuals were published, one each year from 1985 to 1991. From memory when I last checked this point (I put a note on a TFwiki talkpage detailing this but currently the server is overloaded) the only one to carry a specific date (beyond copyright claims) is the 1991 published annual which is explicitly called the 1992 annual albeit only at the start of the copyright data. It's notable that other Marvel UK annuals such as Action Force, Thundercats and Visionaries had all been making the equivalent claims from the 1988 published annual onwards (but crucially not before) but Transformers didn't follow suit for three years.

Within the pages of the comic at the time the annuals published in 1985 through 1987 (not just Transformers but also others) tended to be identified in adverts, on the Transformations intro page and on the letters pages as being for that year - hence many people remember this particular annual as being the 1987 one. References to the annual published in 1988 tend to avoid the whole question and go for "this year", perhaps because the stubbies had realised they were caught between a shift in the publisher's policy and a rabid fan audience that would notice the difference. The annuals published in 1989 through 1991 tended to be identified as being for the next year.

Some of the A to Z factfiles did note when a character first appeared in an annual and this just adds to the confusion - Bombshell's entry says "Transformers Annual 1985/6" but the entries for the Headmasters (run in Collected Comics #13 & #14) have "Transformer Annual 1987". (Some of the later published A to Zs avoid the issue completely as they tended to just list the first appearances as the reprint of the relevant US story, possibly because they were prepared by a staffer with neither an in-depth knowledge of the UK stories nor an easily accessible guide to hand.) I also recall that Simon Furman's piece in the last US G1 issue calls the 1991 published annual "this year's".

On comics dates, British comics traditionally have the off sale date on them - i.e. when they should be replaced with the next issue. American comics historically had dates of a few months ahead due to a mixture of sluggish distribution on the news-stands and fierce competition as each title sought to be the most current. Marvel cover dates dropped to just two months ahead at the end of the 1980s, probably due to improved distribution thanks to the Direct Market.

Lagomorph Rex said...

The EDF from Season 3 of the show, though not in the comics, always to me felt like an appropriate earth response to the events of The Ultimate Doom. Though obviously there was some sort of earth government as early as Megatron's Master plan.. or else some other country would have just agreed to take the Autobots.. I mean if the US dosen't want them.. I'm sure some one else would.

But in the Comic, I can't really think of anything that would cause it.. certainly not Generation 2.. I doubt there were enough Humans left after Bludgeon got through with Earth to even form a local municipality.. let alone an earth government.. I mean.. Beyond the obvious "Giant robots from another planet who keep wrecking our cities while fighting"... that kind of is a good reason on its own..

Bishbot said...

Tim - thanks for all that information! It's quite interesting because I don't have access to the actual annuals themselves, only the reprinted stories, so it's nice to have the lowdown from someone with the actual book.

Eugene said...

''I was one of those kids who didn't get the annual until Christmas, so was certainly glad they never tried to do the same thing again. There was plenty of scope for stories set between present and future timelines (like 'Ark Duty') and the annual was the best place for them.''

Except in Altered Image/Time Wars. :)

Chuffer said...

"Except in Altered Image/Time Wars."

Ah yes, I'd forgotten about Altered Image (I must have had enough pocket money to buy my own annual by then) - that was an even cheaper trick, since it was more or less a prequel to Time Wars.