Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #12 - A Rage in Heaven!

This is it!  The final issue of the US Marvel Comics continuity.  This is issue #12 of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  Abandoned is the primary / back-up story, in favor of a four chapter epic structure.  Simon Furman pens this tale, naturally.  Manny Galan draws and Jim Amash inks chapters 1 and 3, with Geoff Senior as artist on chapters 2 and 4.  Richard Starkings (w/ Comicraft) letters, and Sarra Mossoff colors.  They played with their titles, though, so it's listed as Furman, Automatic; Galan: Autocad; Amash, Autolysis; Comicraft, Autograph; Mossoff, Autochrome; Tokar, Autoknowbetter; DeFalco, Autopsy.  Cute.  Yaniger drew this cover, confirming that in fact he'd draw every cover of this tragically short-lived series.

It's the END of the ROAD for: Transformers Generation 2, or so the cover proclaims.  This is itself a cute little meta-gag, as the last issue of the US series was also titled End of the Road!.  In point of fact, so was the final original issue of the UK G1 title.  It's quite a good title for a book about car robots.  But what of the cover itself?  It's some decent Yaniger work, not his best, but servicable.  Optimus Prime is literally... CONSUMED by the SWARM!  The inking is quite good, with black closing in ominously on the white background and Optimus Prime being broken down into his component atoms.  The emotion is nice, both in his face and in his body language, but the rendering seems to lack the sort of overly detailed mechagore that mark Yaniger at his best.  This image kind of reminds me of mid 90's CG models in how it breaks apart, like the robots are empty polygons.  Details like the underside of Prime's arm are nice, but there aren't enough of them.

The story kicks off with a prelude, a one page overview of the Transformers mythology to bring the reader up to speed.  Perfunctory, but gets the job done.  Perhaps shrewd to get it out of the way so quickly and leave 47 pages for the real story.  The most interesting bit is this line: 'shorn of its mystical trappings, it is a tale of evolution.'  That seems like a loaded statement to me, pulling back from the fantasy elements that characterized the end of the G1 run in favor of a more secular book.  This is a slightly odd choice, given the resolution... but I get ahead of myself.

Book One: Judgement, opens in space, with the Swarm about to menace the Warworld and the Twilight alike.  Four faces adorn the page, representing each faction involved.  Jhiaxus is there, as is Starscream, Megatron, and... Grimlock?  Odd choice, him, but then Prime's face was on the previous page and maybe Furman was avoiding redundancy avoidance.

It's all Starscream can do to keep from engaging the thing, and he begs Optimus for help.  Jhiaxus, though, has no such compunctions and opens fire, initiating hostility.  Prime is mortified, he saw a chance to reach the Swarm slip through his fingers.  Jhiaxus's underlings realize the futility of the situation, but when they point it out to him Jhiaxus crushes the life from one.  The Cybertronian has come full circle; he is back to being the vicious tyrant he was originally, um, budded as. 

Optimus, meanwhile, convinces Starscream to return what was stolen, and Optimus is once again one with the Matrix.  Off he heads, via skysled, to the Twilight, for a detente with Jhiaxus.  Jhiaxus seems more than happy to allow the Autobot aboard.  It's a good opening chapter to the book, shifting a few pieces around for the big finales.  Starscream has now played his part in the book, and won't be doing a whole lot more.  Jhiaxus and Optimus are set for their confrontation... and what of the Swarm?

Book Two: Twilight opens with Megatron and Starscream making their way through the bowels of the Warworld.  Megatron seeks to combat (Note: he's very clear on this - 'combat,' not 'defeat') the Swarm, and he gathers up the Rheanium gas taken back in issue #7.  Nice continuity, but I wish there was a bit more set-up for this.  Maybe one more mention of Rheanium in issue 10 or 11.  BTW, I liked the idea of Rheanium so much that I namechecked it in The AllSpark Almanac when talking about Omega Supreme.  Also, lovely Senior art in this, both in the depth of the Warworld and in the hangar bay.  Isn't that shuttle awesome?  Lovely and alien, no doubt stolen by Bludgeon from some hapless alien race.

This isn't even the real meat of the chapter, though, no.  That would be Optimus, arriving on the Twilight.  (Oh, Furman, double meaning on that word.  It does feel like we're about to fall into night, and here we are on that ship.  That's solid writing, that is!)  The ship is being obliterated by the Swarm and the crew is in a panicked flight.  If only he could find Jhiaxus, he thinks, this could all be resolved.

Sadly, Jhiaxus finds him first and crushes his vocal circuits.  Denied a voice, Optimus becomes a vessel into which Jhiaxus can vent his frustration.  Optimus never even gets in a good punch!  The beating that ensues is brutal and savage, and is a fitting climax to the Optimux/Jhiaxus rivalry that has been brewing since issue #1.  Our hero is saved only by the arrival of the Swarm, breaking through the mighty vessel.  Jhiaxus, Leige Centuro of the the Decepticon Elite, High Commander of its forces, challenges this force of nature in an epic but futile gesture.  The swarm even mimics his appearance, before consuming all that he is.

The artwork, needless to say, is terrific, and Jhiaxus' end seems almost tragic.  He has set himself up against the universe, and the universe has smacked him down.  In some ways, perhaps, Jhiaxus represents the futility of battling entropy.  No matter how hard you try to impose on the universe, eventually time grinds you down.  Jhiaxus wanted nothing more than an orderly cosmos.  Yes, he was a heartless bastard who though nothing of those in his way, but his goals on some level were sympathetic.  Here he is, reduced to the primitive version of himself before ultimately destroyed by the antithesis of all he strove to be. 

The chapter ends with Megatron, witnessing all of this from afar.  He's preparing to make planetfall with his precioius cargo, but between him and Earth is the all-consuming Swarm.  Can he make it?  We'll just have to see.

Book Three: Siege opens on Earth.  Here at last is Grimlock and the rest of the Autobot/Decepticon alliance, desperately attempting to turn an emergency rendezvous site into a fortified position in which they might hold out against the Swarm.  Megatron's shuttle is late, and they can't raise him, so they'll need to hold out on their own.  Despite the lack of prep time, though, the battle is upon them.

We get some payoff on Megatron's new Decepticons, when one of them ignores an order from Razorclaw and looks to Grimlock for leadership.  Razorclaw attempts to dispatch Manta Ray, but is saved by Leadfoot.  After all... Autobots have to stick together.  It's not a bad little plotline, though it doesn't seem to fit in in this book, which is really about Autobots and Decepticons coming together. 

And come together they do.  Robot after robot is destroyed, or sacrifices himself to take out a bit more of the Swarm.  Ramjet buys it, Frenzy sacrifices himself as a sonic weapon, Slag refuses to abandon Slingshot, Nightbeat (NOOOO!) and Dirge self destruct rather than allow themselves to die as a meal. It's all rather touching, though I think Frenzy's death gets me the most.  I love Nightbeat, but he's been a non-character since late G1.  In just a few panels here, though I come to really appreciate Frenzy and what he's capable of.  Nice way for him to go out, too, as an instrument of one of Wheeljack's inventions.

It seems like it's all for naught, until Megatron walks through the swarm.  With Rheanium, he survived the Swarm's onslaught.  His shuttle did not.  Hardcore.  He distributes the Rheanium among the troops: it's payback time.

We get an interlude in space, when Optimus is saved by Starscream, who has himself taken some Rheanium and is about to flee this sector of space.  Optimus declines his offer of Rheanium, though.  He's come to some insight about what the Swarm is and how to deal with it. For his plan to work, though.. he must die!  Of course, a cynic might point out that Optimus Prime dies a lot - twice already in this continuity alone.  I'm not too cynical, though, it's a rollicking good story.

By Book Four: Creation, we've caught up to the cover, and indeed the nightmares that Optimus has been having since about issue #4.  I rather like that. Bit by bit, he's disassembled, though he's in this position by choice.  He seeks an inner peace and tranquility, belying the 'horror of this protracted death.'  I still love Furman's turn of phrase.  To pieces he crumbles, till he's just the shredded remains of a robotic torso, and then, he explodes, releasing the light and purity of the Matrix.  To nothing he is reduced, nothing and everything!  He sees that which is, and that which was.  He flashes to Ratchet, to Fortress Maximus' sacrifice, to the victory over Unicron!

And on Earth, Grimlock and Megatron notice the swarm getting brighter, as a light dispels... no, changes the swarm!  They feel it, witness a miracle as empty voracious hunger is replaced with nobility and purpose.   And from this new beginning strides... life!  Optimus Prime is reborn, and in a new body.  (Combat Hero Optimus, to be precise.  Yes, three pages from the end of this run, we get our final new toy.  I find that hilariously apropos.  It's not even bad thematically, I kind of appreciate that tearing down Optimus to his atoms and rebuilding him wouldn't give him his exact same old body.  Of course, we've seen this before...  ) 

Optimus explains what he did, how he gave the Swarm purpose by giving up the life essense of Primus.  He takes the opportunity to give his last speech of the series, to the assembled Autobots and Decepticons.  They have an opportunity for peace, for creation.   He rallies them, and makes them believe, though maybe only for a moment, that peace between Autobot and Decepticon is truly possible.  And who knows, perhaps with Optimus and Megatron helming things, instead of the more pragmatic and less idealistic Grimlock and Bludgeon, peace truly might be possible.  One can't help but hope that maybe, JUST maybe, peace can win out in the end with enough hard work and sacrifice, that maybe the Autobots and Decepticons have earned their happy ending.

The End.

Except, of course, it's not. There's that Liege Maximo fellow that we've heard teased a bit.  In The Hub, he sits, brooding, listening to Rook tell the tale of Jhiaxus' descent.  He isn't concerned, though.  Evil cannot be destroyed, for there must always be balance.  Evil is infinite.  "This ridiculous, fragile Autobot-Decepticon alliance has destroyed but a fraction of my empire's total forces, irritated rather than wounded."  Indeed, "The day of reckoning will come!"

And that's the real end!  A teaser.  Senior pulls out all the stops, making this guy look huge and ancient and terrifying.  He's more monster than mech.  The idea, though, that his empire is so vast that all we've seen of the G2 Cybertronians are merely a 'fraction' doesn't sit that well with me.  Really, there are whole galaxies out there of this guys minions?  Seems a bit much.  How did no one notice?  I'm quibbling, though.  Emotionally, this ending is perfect.  We get a semi-happy ending, and yet with ominous overtones.  It never ends, after all!

And there you have it.  The final issue in this wonderful continuity.  Furman knew that he might have to end at issue 12, and structured the plot accordingly.  I'm glad he did - this series ending seems much more measured than the one we got in issue #80.  (Which I've already hyperlinked to twice and won't be hyperlinking to a third time.)  Plot threads gathered together over the series pretty much all pay off.  We get some huge battles, some pain, some joy, and have unleashed a new wonderous creation upon the galaxy.   Intellectually, emotionally, structurally, it's a great climax to a strong story.  The universe has been expanded to one that is indeed grittier, darker, less mythic.  These seem a bit more like real people and a bit less like titans, perhaps because those they fight are so much larger than themselves.  

I think I've got about one more post in me, reviewing the entirety of this continuity.  I won't rush through it today, though, so my thoughts are mostly limited to this issue and, to a lesser extent G2.  A Rage in Heaven! is the title story in Transformers Rage in Heaven. Given the very strong finish that this book, and indeed the entire latter half of the G2 run, it's a must-have in the collection of all Trans-fans, so order it if you haven't already.


Anonymous said...

Wha? No mention of the other "conclusion"? Or is that review coming up? It's not official cannon or course, but like "If the president does it then it's not illegal", if Furman writes it then it's not non-cannon. :P Kinda. Sorta.

Mr. Drath

Anonymous said...

I assume you refer to 'Alignment' ( ) about which I think the less said the better. Far too over-the-top in its sense of scale and galactic importance, in my opinion.

The original and best conclusion to the Marvel continuity for me is Simon Furman's 'Another Time and Place' ( ) from the 1992 UK annual, endorsed and made available to US readers through the letters page in issue #80 at the time. I think it's possibly the best thing SF has written - certainly in prose.


Anonymous said...

Not saying it was the best, or even giving an opinion on it. But Furman wrote the entire G2 run and he deserved the right to conclude it as he saw fit, even if it were without official approval, and even if (as you believe) it wasn't good.

Personally it felt strange, the story as text, after some 92 issues in comic form, that's the reason I'm on the fence about judging it. I feel that sort of messes with my perception of it.


Anonymous said...

And this leaves only one thing I wonder, what's next?

Beast Wars comics? The Dreamwave continuity? The IDW continuity? I look forward to the future.

Anonymous said...

any chance of a review of the UK G2 title? It was incredibly short lived and mimicked (some) plots from the US title. Art wise it was pretty poor by comparison (yeah I know something was actually worse than yaniger?!). Just for completeness it would be interesting to see how it compares.

As for the US book. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I got about 3 issues in the entire run and missed the ending. It was ugly and distribution was haphazard leading me to give up in the end. reading the story here I can see plot wise I was unlucky, but I remain unchanged on my view of Yaniger's art, it wasn't suited to Transformers IMO then or now.

Anonymous said...

I've learned the hard way not to fan the flames of Transfan polarization any further...but no way in The Pit of avoiding that when it comes to end of the longest continuity, so here's my argument for accepting Alignment:

1. The greatest strength of the Beast Wars 'toon is that it was written just vaguely enough to be the distant future of either the G1 Cartoon or Marvel Comic universe, potentially pleasing as many of us die-hards as possible, as both continuities are G1, despite being irreconcilable.

2. The Beast Machines series on the other hand can only have continuity with the G1 'toon, due to more specific references.

3. While there are a few ounces of good story to be had in Beast Machines, it achieves them only by ret-conning about 5,000 tons of organic garbage into both prior cartoons, sort of like that "fracking" method of extracting natural gas at the expense of leaving the local groundwater flammable. Instead of respecting the prior 15 years of TF history, it seemed to want to rewrite them in order to cash in on the flavor-of-the-month "organic=good/machine=bad" dynamic of Keanu's 'Matrix'.
In other words, it kinda' works against everything Beast Wars achieved.

4. Therefore, any story that connects Marvel continuity to the Beast Wars series croquettes BM off of BW's coattails and out of continuity, freeing Beast Wars from the taint of the organic core.

5. This reminds everyone that like TF:TM, Beast Wars can be interpreted as falling into different universes as we fans see fit.

Why is this so important? Because multiple interpretations are the only way to keep everyone happy. Takara has recently imposed a more linear continuity on it's official version of TF lore, screwing up beloved stories like Call of the Primitives to allow Beast Machines a better fit. If Hasbro goes through with a similar revision, the comic continuity we're celebrating on this blog ain't gonna' be a part of it. One half of being a responsible fan is not crying "childhood-memory-rape" at each new official take on a beloved property, but the other half is knowing when to put your foot down and say "NO", usually when that new concept is a particularly destructive ret-con.

Whether or not Alignment is "official", its author damn sure is, so I not only accept it, but also named my HMW team on Seibertron "The Misaligned" in it's honor.

(Like others here, I'm anonymous not out of cowardice, but 'cause I'm too lazy to create a permanent ID)