Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #6 - Tales of Earth (pt 3) and The Gathering Darkness

The sixth issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers contains two stories; Tales of Earth, part three, and The Gathering Darkness.  Both were penned by Simon Furman.  Tales of Earth was drawn by Derek Yaniger, while The Gathering Darkness was penciled by Manny Galan and inked by Jim Amash.  Both were colored by Sarah Mossoff, lettered by Richard Starkings with Gaushell, and edited by Rob Tokar and Tom DeFalco.  Nothing clever in their titles this time out, perhaps because the dense titleblock of Tales of Earth came first this time out.  Cover, as always, is by Derek Yaniger.

The cover is competent.  Optimus Prime is completely surrounded by Decepticons, with a nice variety of guns pointed at him from all angles.  "Prime:Target" it says, which is a little bit clever, I guess.  It certainly conveys the idea that Optimus is in trouble pretty well, but something about it doesn't quite work for me.  Maybe it's Prime's face, which is a little too blank somehow.  Maybe it's the composition of the image, which is pretty darned busy.  Regardless, not one of my more well-loved covers from this run.

Fortunately, the issue itself is a strong offering, the best we've had since the powerhouse that was issue #1.  We open on Tales of Earth, part three.  Megatron tours the Warworld, and despite himself he is impressed.  In fact, he almost regrets the finality with which he removed Bludgeon from the picture... almost.  Given Bludgeon's obvious alacrity as Decepticon leader, Megatron is perplexed as to the purpose of the seemingly random attack on Earth, but when the nervous Swindle shows him an army of not-yet-living Decepticon warriors, Megatron gets it immediately.  I like Furman's characterization of Swindle here, the first real bit of personality my favorite Combaticon has demonstrated in this universe.

Down below, Starscream, Thundercracker, and Ramjet battle the American military for a 'strategically unimportant bit of land,' AKA the White House. (Lovely lettering/art integration again, one of the techniques of this book that I really enjoyed.)  Ramjet can't help but wonder why Starscream was the 'bot Megatron reanimated.  Back on the Warworld,

Soundwave obsequiously asks the same question as Rumble and Frenzy attempt to keep Darkwing alive on heavy life support.  (Nice continuity there from last issue, and it'll pay off next issue.) Megatron concedes the point.  (Though, really, who else was Megatron going to revive?  Shockwave?  Galvatron?  I think Megatron chose the lesser of two evils here.) While Starscream was necessary when Megatron was all alone, he's outlived his usefulness.  Megatron fully intends to give Starscream 'a well deserved rest' after his new army is up and running.  Shrewd, though one wonders if Megatron is waiting a bit too long to pull the trigger on this one.  (Spoiler alert: he is.)

Thus ends Tales of Earth, part three, a most interesting prologue to the story about to come.  It's mostly set-up, but what action there is has really quite nice artwork, which helps.  Besides, it IS only five pages, and it flows so smoothly into the next tale that one hardly notices how little actually happens.

Speaking of the next tale, The Gathering Darkness.We open on the good folks of G.I. Joe, who has been given the unenviable task of salvaging the U.S. Army's efforts to resist the Decepticons.  General Hawk has pinned his hopes on an Autobot counter-attack.  He's disappointed to find that Skydive has only been able to rustle up one Autobot. Hawk is, understandably, furious.  Optimus tries to explain that a full-scale war would do even more harm to the Earth than the wanton destruction visited upon her by the Decepticons.  What alternative, then, asks Hawk.  Even surrender doesn't seem a viable option, given the lack of demands on the part of the Decepticons.  Prime tells them the truth, that there is a greater threat out there than Megatron's Decepticons, and that the plan is to convince Megatron to stand with the Autobots.  Flint spits on that plan, as well he should.  It seems to me that Optimus is more-or-less selling out the human race to get a chance to ally with Megatron.  While that's an interesting emotional direction to take the story, the true ramifications of it never seem to be explored.  This is also the last we'll see of G.I. Joe in the pages of this book.  I'm glad we got one last look at them, though.  It makes sense that they'd be one of the few groups on Earth with a ghost of a prayer against the Decepticons.  I suppose that the Neo-Knights should probably have made a stand somewhere, but then this really isn't their book.  The Joes, at least, have been introduced already, back in issue #2.

Did'ja notice Starscream flying overhead during Optimus' conversation with Flint and Hawk?  Nice set-up there, when Starscream reports to Megatron that their target has arrived.  Love the pannel of Megatron's mouth here; it seems very Frank Miller to me.  Megatron gets ready to confront his nemesis.  Grimlock, too, gets ready for a confrontation.  He thinks Prime's plan of going to Earth alone is sheer lunacy, and wants to gather a strike force to back Prime up.  Prowl, though, argues against it.  Grimlock is left with a choice...  Really, though, is there any doubt what he's going to do? 

Back on Earth, the conflict heats up.  Tantrum (remember him?  Predacon, got a bit of facetime with his teammates back around issues 25-50?)  runs around, destroying houses that seem out of scale with him gleefully... until Optimus Prime blasts him, then runs him over.  (I think it's funny, but the little radar dish module arm on the platform that comes with Prime's trailer is sticking up from the roof of Prime's trailer.  Yes, the toy can do that, but it's kinda funny to see it done in artwork.)  Optimus demands that the chaos end now, declaring that it's time to talk.  This seems somewhat hypocritical to me, as he stands amidst the wreckage of one of Megatron's soldiers. 

Perhaps Megatron thinks so too.  He blasts Optimus in the back, setting the tone for their fight.  Megatron brutally savages Optimus, ignoring the Autobot's pleas for alliance.  Before long, Optimus' chest is ripped open, and the Matrix energy siphoned from him.  As Megatron prepares the coup d'etat, he's interrupted by the arrival of a squad of Autobots.   The battle rages for a bit, but Megatron knows a losing fight when he sees one.  With his objective secured, he has the drop ship retrieve him.  Prowl (why did he even come along?) frets that this must truly be their darkest hour, but his maimed leader isn't so sure.  Optimus has a sense that Jhiaxus will be on the receiving end of Megatron's new army.

It was an exciting fight, over quickly but for all of that possessing a jagged energy.  I love Megatron ripping off Prime's torsoplate.  I find it a bit odd that the Matrix is seemingly back to being just energy again.  I suppose that the vessel that we'd seen in the Matrix Quest storyline was destroyed along with Unicron, and whatever energy Optimus has was put back there by The Last Autobot.  I also like Megatron's almost gentle last words to Optimus... "Hush.  Darkness gathers... "  It seems very fitting, though of course it's not yet Optimus' time. 

The book's not quite over yet, though.  A race of mechs, nomadic clones, is gathering solar energy on a world without clouds or night.  They will be the first victims, at least that we learn of, of the swarm that was introduced last issue.  It's legitimately terrifying; a black mass in the sky, reaching down and absorbing them in seconds.  Now I'm starting to get why Optimus had such a bad feeling, even above and beyond the threat posed by the Cybertronian Empire of Jhiaxus.  Oh, and I absolutely love the almost musical script that represents the Esk speech.

Finally we're getting to some real a-list material.  This time out, the two-act structure to the story really works.  Optimus and Megatron have a very satisfying fight, really the first they've had since, what, issue 4 of the G1 book?  I mean, they fought in 69, but Megatron was half Ratchet and entirely mad.  They fought in 24, but that was a computer simulation.  In any event, it's been a long, long time coming.  Megatron's boiling resentment seemed entirely justified.  His plans have been thwarted by Optimus time and again for millenia.   Manny Galan seems to be getting more comfortable with the art style he's emulating.  There are still some clunky pages, like the splash where Optimus gets shot by Megatron, but he does some very nice things too.  Perhaps most imporantly, the book feels like it's starting to get real direction and momentum now.  We get some hints as to what's to come; Megatron will confront Jhiaxus, and the Swarm will surely be drawn closer to our heroes.  A very satisfying tale.  This issue closes out the Transformers Dark Designs book by Titan publishing, available used at Amazon.com.  Glad to see they ended it on a high note.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #118 "Hunters!" Part 2

No prizes for guessing that this issue was by Simon Furman. The pencils were by Jeff Anderson, inks by Stephen Baskerville, colours by Steve White and letters by Mike Scott.

The cover was by Lee Sullivan and, while dramatic, it's just... awkward. It's one of those images that gets worse the more you look at it. At first you're struck by the dramatic composition and giant particle cannon staring you in the face but the longer you look you realise that Galvatron is gurning more than he is scowling, his legs and weirdly short and pointing in the wrong direction and his torso is at a weird angle. Nice idea - executed poorly.

This issue opens with the story thread that has not yet paid off - what Wreck-Gar has been doing. It turns out that the TV-loving Junkion has found the remains of Bumblebee, tragically destroyed by Death's Head back in issue.......... He uses his inimitable television-tinged speech patterns to explain the backstory to those just catching up and has decided to employ his considerable talents rebuilding the little Autobot (talents he previously demonstrated on the similarly afflicated Ultra Magnus in Transformers: The Movie).

Back at the volcano there is a stand-off going on. Death's Head has Rodimus Prime and Galvatron covered while they argue about the bounty on the future Decepticon's head. Rodimus wants to cancel the contract but the bounty hunter won't have it, which is a position I can sympathise with, because he's been to a lot of effort already. Rodimus really could have played this better. It's understandable that he is wracked with guilt when he realises that the sort of people willing to hunt Galvatron for cash are not exactly nice but Galvatron is clearly the main threat here and really, what was he thinking to begin with? I get that he has made a mistake and unleashed a dangerous adversary but couldn't he just fight Galvatron with Death's Head's help and then pay the bounty hunter to go away. Or even double-cross Death's Head once the real work is done. Making two enemies here is a very bad move indeed, and unnecessary.

Luckily for Rodimus, Galvatron interrupts the posturing by shooting Death's Head in the arm, incapacitating it and forcing the mechanoid to retreat. Rodimus falls down the slope and Galvatron leaps after him, slamming him into the ground.

As Death's Head makes his tactical withdrawal past the already disabled Autobots Cindy emerges from beneath their shadow where she has been hiding. She hammers on Ultra Magnus' faceplate to try to wake him up, yelling that Rodimus Prime needs him.

This cuts us neatly back to the Rodimus, Galvatron fight, where Galvatron is gleefully explaining his volcano energy siphon plan while choke-slamming Rodimus intro the ground.

We find at this point that Ultra Magnus is up and about again, but a little confused by events, particularly Rodimus Prime and the future Autobots. Luckily Cindy is on hand to explain and Magnus determines that the best way to distract Galvatron is probably by shooting holes in his energy siphon. This takes his attention enough to give Rodimus time to transform and run him down, planning to rejoin the Autobots. Galvatron does not give chase, but warns him that next time they meet will mean Rodimus' death.

Meanwhile Wreck-Gar has been working hard with the remains of Bumblebee and now, in his place, stands the newer, shinier and more powerful - Goldbug!

A word on continuity, or lack thereof. If you have been following Jim's reviews, or have been lucky enough to read the original comic, you would know that in the US stories Bumblebee was destroyed by GI-Joe in the the aptly named crossover GI-Joe and The Transformers and was rebuilt by GI-Joe and Ratchet into Goldbug. Marvel UK did not print this crossover and therefore an origin for Goldbug was required. Obviously there is no way to reconcile the two versions, so this makes one of the clearest ways that the UK title had at least some of its own continuity.

Either way, and this is not Furman's fault, but the Goldbug thing has always been pretty inexplicable in-universe. Rebuilt characters with different names are one of the biggest indicators of Transformers' toy-commercial nature and with Goldbug it's not even as though Bumblebee has changed much. At least when Megatron turns into Galvatron he can legitimately be said to act and think differently - Bumblebee is only dead a few hours before he comes back with seemingly the same personality so why the name change? Unless, of course, Goldbug is actually a completely new personality that just has access to Bumblebee's memories and is created from his corpse, but that's worse! It's horribly creepy, and obviously not the intention (Unicron can pull that sort of stunt - he's the Lord Of Chaos - Wreck-Gar is not - not in that way).

That sadly inevitable, gripe aside, this was in general a great issue. I loved Death's Head becoming involved and his tactical withdrawal was very much in character and keeps him on the board as an unpredictable element. The rest of the issue was mostly just a big fight, as issues that heavily feature Galvatron tend to be, but it was still exciting to see that while the Autobots survived, it was only to retreat. Ultra Magnus, in particular, obviously still has his work cut out. Rodimus' position is tactically naive but believable when born of guilt and Cindy continues to work well in her slightly implausible capacity of the voice of reason.

Jeff Anderson provides some fairly lovely artwork here which Steven Baskerville elevates somewhat with some very precise inking. I particularly like the fine lines on Death's Head's outfit to show that it is made of some kind of futuristic kevla rather than metal.

Not an issue packed with shocking twists but as part of the whole saga of Galvatron and the volcano this one does the job very efficiently.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Baskets!

Happy Easter, everyone.  I figured I'd share this basket I made for my wife.  It includes Lindor chocolate carrots and bugs (ladybugs, fireflies, and bumblebees) and a traditional solid chocolate (Lindor again) bunny, marshmellow peeps, some kind of candy/marshmellow hybrid tings shaped like a duck, a bunny, and a frog, a lamb-headed Pez dispenser, a plastic egg full of Skiddles, a plastic egg full of Jelly Bellies, hard-shelled Hersheys chocolate mini-eggs, Reeses Peanutbutter eggs, Butterfinger eggs, Nestlé Crunch eggs, some gummy easter shapes, plastic grass (pink, green, and orange), and a stuffed animal monkey with bunny ears.  The basket is wood with a cloth lining.  I had a lot of fun making it. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bish's Review Space: Above and Beyond Episode 7: The Enemy

The Enemy was written by Marilyn Osborn and directed by Michael Katleman.

"Born in the
woods
Trained by a bear

Double set of dog teeth
Triple coat of hair
M - Mean as hell
A - All the time

R- Rough and tough

I - In the mud

N - Never quit

E - Every day

S - Semper Fi!" - the 58th

The 58th land on Tartarus, a hellish planet with a toxic atmosphere that is the site of a battle that has lasted since the beginning of the war. When they arrive they come under friendly fire from a lone marine who appears to have killed his comrades - corpses litter the landscape. The situation deteroriates when they realise that they have been affected by a new Chig weapon, some kind of energy discharge that can affect the area of the brain that controls fear. As their phobias begin to mount so does the paranoia, and before long the Wildcards are facing each other in a tense mexican stand-off...

The Good

The basic story, while not exactly a new one for Science Fiction, is a strong way of getting into the heads of the characters and showing us a more vulnerable side. It is also a good way to create tension in a show that generally has to focus more on fairly professional behaviour. Marines, in general, cannot spend their time pointing guns at each other and arguing against superior officers - they would be court-martialled. This sort of thing works brilliantly on TV, however, so you can expect to see one of these in pretty much any Science Fiction show with a universe that can justify it. For the record, series creators Morgan and Wong wrote the similarly themed Ice for The X-Files which is generally regard as one of the best early episodes of that show, so they know their stuff.

Particularly pleasing to me is the fact that the 58th almost immediately realise something is wrong with them. Too often in this kind of story the characters start acting oddly but only the audience seems to notice for most of the episode. This can get really annoying so Osborn has the characters work out what is wrong quite quickly. This changes nothing dramatically, as the characters can't neccessarily resist the effects of the weapon, but it does require less suspension of disbelief.

The various phobias of the 58th aren't brilliantly original but they do give us some insight into their formative memories. Wang is scared of bugs because he grew up in "that hellhole" - no more detail than this, but it's enough to make you believe he joined the marines to escape from a life of poverty. Vansen is frightened of the dark because it was dark the night that the Silicates came for her parents and while trying to repair the radio she hears some electronic clicking and freaks out because it sounds like Silicate transmissions. Hawkes is claustrophobic because of the In Vitro gestation process, which is fairly plausible. West's fears revolve around losing Kylen - could they be anything else? And Damphousse is afraid of blood. Unless I missed something, I don't think this is explained, which is a shame, because I feel Damphousse could use her own episode right about now.

The atmosphere of the episode is generally very well handled. The marines they meet who have been affected by the weapon are terrifyingly unhinged and I love the scifi touches such as Chig mines that activate a beam that slices you to pieces and the corpses strewn about, while hinted at rather than shown, are still very eerie. The sound design is excellent, with echoes and alien fizzing noises and the fact that the Wildcards have to use breathing apparatus adds palpably to the sense of isolation from each other.

While the budget obviously wouldn't support a gigantic multi-front battle and, in fact, we do not even see a single Chig in this episode, the idea that there are planets out there covered in human and Chig ground forces that have been locked in battle for months adds a lot to the sense of how this war is fought. It's not just about the Saratoga and our little band of heroes.

The climax is quite touching as well, as the Wildcards, trying desperately to keep it together as they cross a minefield yell out the marine marching cadence I have quoted above. I especially love Damphousse's soulful rendition of her line. As with anything like this, there's a chance for it to become cheesy or flag-waving. This comes across as neither. Whatever your position on the military and its rituals, this stuff is important to these characters and it comes across as very heartfelt. Not only do the Wildcards have each other, they also have their training, and it would be a heck of a comfort in a situation where you're not even sure of your own mind.

The Bad


The episode is told in flashback as McQueen and Commodore Ross interview each of the Wildcards in turn to try to determine exactly what happened on Tartarus and whether anyone was guilty of deriliction of duty. This is more of a different framing device than a serious dramatic one because it is quickly clear that none of the Wildcards would have betrayed the others or neglected their duties unless something strange was going on. Space just isn't really that kind of show. It works well enough but the events of the episode proceed in a linear fashion so having them narrated by different characters really doesn't add anything. If there had been more of a Rashomon style setup - something very possible with the psychological effects of the Chig weapon - we might have ended up with a more memorable hour than we actually got. As I noted above, Ice really was excellent, so maybe the lack of inspiration here comes from Morgan and Wong having used all their good ideas in that, or maybe the blame is down to the third writer.

Tartarus, for all the excellent sound design and shot choices, is, unfortunately, very obviously a soundstage smeared with dry ice. Most of the time this doesn't matter too much, and a lot of the episode takes place inside the ISSCV, which is a decent standing set, but there are a few too many times where the planet looks like somewhere we've been before, but with more dry ice and lower lighting. I do like the description of it though:

Wang: "They say this planet didn't have what it took to become a star."
Damphousse: "Looks angry about it"

Space does at least try quite hard to acknowledge that a lot of planets won't support human life.

Lastly, Hawkes' last line: "The enemy was down there but it wasn't Chigs" falls rather flat. I get what they were going for - the idea that at any moment a person's fears and weaknesses can take them over, but no-one would really say that line and it feels especially strange coming out of Hawkes' mouth. This is just after McQueen has informed the Wildcards that their story about the weapon has been believed and it's just a weird tonal shift that feels somewhat rushed.

Future History

Not a lot this week, except the aforementioned stalemate over Tartarus having been going on a long time and a joke that if you used the Chig mind-altering weapon over New York or Los Angeles, no-one would be able to tell the difference. Stand by for incoming satire!

Past History

I tried to find some provenance for the marching cadence that the 58th chant at the climax. It seems to be a varient on the famous Mickey Mouse March, used ironically in Full Metal Jacket and I have found it mentioned on a couple of US Marine websites but without a date or a writing credit.

Vansen makes a joke about doing "The Hustle" - will 70s dance crazes really still be known in 2063?

Strangely, The Enemy was an episode I wasn't wild about but in the end I had a lot of positive things to say. I craved a bit more psychological insight, and the flashback in structure could have paid off, but overall a tense, well-presented forty-five minutes of television.

 Space Above and Beyond - The Complete Series  is available on DVD fairly inexpensively at Amazon.com.

(PS. Apologies for the illustrations in this review. The Enemy is a very dark and murky episode of a very dark and murky show. It looks good in motion, but is hell to get good screencaps of)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #5 - The Power and the Glory and Tales of Earth (pt 2)

The fifth issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers contains two tales.  The creative teams for both stories are mostly the same.  Furman scribed the tale, Galan penciled it, Amask inked it, Starkings with Gaushell lettered it.  Only the colorist changed, with Chia-Chi Wang on Power & Sarah Mossoff on Earth.  Oh, and editors Tokar and DeFalco are credited as 'Power' and 'Glory,' continuing that fun tradition.  The cover artwork is, of course, by Derek Yaniger, his only contribution to this particular G2 issue.

However, as far as contributions go, it's quite quite lovely.  Megatron clutches the severed head of Bludgeon, still dripping oil and exuding smoke.  "Alas, poor Bludgeon" it says, one of the most effective uses of text in a Transformers cover that I can think of.  This particular scene from Hamlet would be homaged again in The War Within.  In fact, I've got the original Figueroa artwork from that piece.  I'll stop bragging now and get back to the review.  Once again, Yaniger's style proves dramatically successful when depicting robots that have been beaten and battered.  Megatron looks hard, and Bludgeon, well... he's seen better days. The homage certainly works well with a skull-faced 'bot and lends a bit of extra literary weight to the issue.

Our first story opens with some Cybertronian landscapes.  Bustling around on Cybertron are Wheelie, Blurr, and Scourge... pretty odd choices, really.  The Primus origin of the Transformers is restated, as Optimus Prime straps himself into some kind of contraption surrounded by robed robo-monks.  He's a bit nervous about allowing the natural properties of Cybertron to be used to better tune himself to the Matrix, but what choice does he have?  Down he goes, with some lovely lettering on his screams.  Once again, all of this is starting to feel a bit familiar to me, a bit repetitive.  It's also a bit of a letdown, since last issue we were promised 'Cybertron.'  It seems like we're getting more dreamscapes instead. 

Cut away, briefly, to a world teeming with life getting colonized by G2 Cybertronians.  A nervous functionary reports to Jhiaxus, though he has only good news to report.  Really, though, Jhiaxus is more interested in bad news... he was hoping to lure forth the Autobots, and yet nothing.  The silence disturbs him, as well it should.  What could Prime be up to?  The highlight of this scene is probably the scurrying administrator mention the "flourishing deceptic -- er, Cybertronian Empire."  I also like the designs on the futuristic construction vehicles bulldozing the landscape.  I can't help but think that, if this story was told in 2005 or beyond, those would have been Constructicon green.  Much as I like the designs, though, it's all a bit silly.  If they're going to cyberform whole worlds, they wouldn't be doing it by hand, now, would they? 

Back to the past, though, Optimus sees the first robot crawl from the primordial nanobots of Cybertron, then seemingly get imprinted with a unique design.  It's kind of an odd visual, but it's so in synch with things like the protoforms of Beast Wars that I have to wonder at the coincidence.  To me, the logical way that robots would come about would be off of some kind of assembly line, so this organic-analog of creation is simultaneously interesting and counter-intuitive.  Prime's vision continues, and one of the creatures starts to bulge out, in some kind of bizarre process reminiscent of Akira.  It's not apparent to the reader what's happening, though Prime gets it right away. 

Cut away again, this time to Autobase.  Hot Rod trains with the Aerialbots, leading them into an ambush.  This somewhat awkwardly leads to Kup wondering about Hot Rod's 'youthful exuberance' being odd, what with all Cybertronians being the same age.  Aren't they?

Nope, as Optimus Prime learns, they aren't.  What he's witnessing is some kind of budding.  He sees the birth of Jhiaxus, and realizes that the racial memory of their species budding was lost for a reason.  The race wasn't meant to grow as large as it did, their morality diluted as the spark of Primus was spread too thin.  He rips himself free of the contraption, as he resolves to get help fighting the G2 Cybertronians.  Upon a moment's reflection, one realizes that the only beings who he could reasonably look to for help would be the G1 Decepticons.  Intriguing!  Sadly, he missed the last part of the vision, sort of dark residue of the process drifting into space and becoming a kind of massive amorphous cloud, moving 'with direction and purpose!" 

Thus ends this exposition laden tale.  It's certainly a new idea to try to digest.  While I'd never given much thought as to the specific mechanism by which Primus endowed his creations with life, budding would have been pretty far down on the list.  Also, while I can grasp the idea that too much duplication would spread the essence of Primus too thin, resulting in a race more amoral than immoral, the idea that this process would as a side-effect produce a mass of black energy in space seems pretty odd.  There IS a kind of comic book logic to it, but I'm not sure I fully accept it.  Since this issue is all about exposition, there's not much more to say.  The interludes we get serve more to remind the reader of who the other players are than to do anything to advance the plot.  All told, a bit weak.  No action, a repetitive means of conveying new information, and artwork that isn't particularly compelling.  I'll admit that having a title cribbed from The Lord's Prayer is somewhat clever, given the divinity central to the Transformers creation. 

Once again, it falls to the back-up story to carry the issue.  (It's telling that the cover is from this six page story, rather than the longer The Power and the Glory.)  Bludgeon laments how things have turned out.  His glorious symphony of carnage was meant to draw out Optimus Prime... not Megatron.  Megatron declares his intentions, though could there ever have been a doubt?  Darkwing is the first casualty, but then the battle begins in earnest.  Bludgeon disarms Megatron, but gets beheaded in return, a pretty uneven trade.  But wait, Bludgeon is a Pretender, and Furman remembers this.  Beheading his shell doesn't kill him, and he manages to score, in his tank configuration, a direct hit on Megatron.  Megatron transforms and returns the favor, and just like that the fight is over. Skydive watches from behind cover and realizes that he's in way over his head. 

I can help but think that, as awesome as Bludgeon was, he deserved a cooler death.  Sure, Megatron is pretty amazingly bad-ass, but Bludgeon was always written as a very canny fighter.  Two and a half pages of battle just doesn't seem adequate, especially one where he commits a tactical blunder, survives it, and then gets overpowered in a tit-for-tat tank exchange.  Still, finally, it feels like the pieces are where they belong.  Megatron is once again standing at the head of the G1 Decepticons.  With Optimus Prime on the hunt for another alliance, we seem poised to get to the real meat of this story.

Taken as a whole, another weak offering.  Too much exposition in part one, just not quite enough of part two.  We could have cut out the Autobot training exercise from Power and given that space to the Bludgeon/Megatron battle and I'd have been pretty happy.  Galan's artwork fails to excite here, though I really do love the clever use of lettering in this story, like Prime falling or Megatron shooting through his own cannon's onomatopoeia.  However, when the biggest praise I can muster for a book is the lettering, however nice, you know it's not top shelf material.  Still, I feel like finally the pieces are positioned, the backstory told, and we're ready to start moving forward.  Unless I miss my mark, issue #6 will be a big step up in quality.  Here's hoping, anyway.  Both parts of this story have been reprinted in   Transformers Dark Designs  by Titan publishing, available used at Amazon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #117 "Hunters!" Part 1

Hunters Part 1 was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Will Simpson, inked by Tim Perkins, coloured by Steve White and lettered by Richard Starkings.

Geoff Senior provided the cover and while I'm usually not a fan of the attempts at humour on these images I don't mind so much on this one, mostly because Death's Head seems to carry a kind of western air around with him, maybe due to his rights-securing one page story High Noon Tex. The three images are well drawn and the colouring work by John Burns really raises the bar. Senior's work looks great with flatter colours for internal panels, but when someone puts the extra effort in for a cover, it really shows.

Death's Head has made it all the way to the Decepticons' tropical island base. He has determined that Soundwave will probably have the answers he seeks (having access to historical records about the time you've travelled to is QUITE the advantage) and wastes no time in stalking and attacking him.

I love the title splash page, more for Death's Head than for Soundwave, who is merely adequate, but look at the way Death's Head's cape billows out dramatically. It's a great image - Will Simpson pulls out a great panel here.

He interrogates Soundwave mid-battle, but the Decepticon is confused by the questions, until he reads Death's Head's mind and realises he too is from the future. He redoubles his efforts to stop Death's Head, saying he doesn't want "space scum" neutralising Galvatron, even though the 1987 Decepticons do want him stopped. I think this is a little out of character for Soundwave, who is usually fairly calculating. It surprises me that he doesn't think letting Death's Head having a crack at Galvatron is a good idea. They have nothing to lose, after all.

Soundwave deploys Laserbeak, who distracts the bounty hunter momentarily before he is able to replace his arm with a cluster-rocket that takes the little flying Decepticon right out. Death's Head, always sensitive about other people's opinion of him, is feeling a little wounded by the "space scum" comment and begins to interrogate the defeated Soundwave rather roughly...

Back in the forest, Rodimus Prime is explaining the current situation to Cindy while observing Galvatron's volcano base. She is torn up with guilt about accidently leading Galvatron to Ultra Magnus and is frustrated that the Autobots don't seem to be doing anything.

Rodimus agrees it's time they acted, but not before having a page long brood whereby he remembers recent events for the benefits of unfortunate people coming into the middle of this storyline.

At the volcano's crater, Galvatron is still ranting to Ultra Magnus about how he's going to absorb the energy of the volcano and become all powerful. The Autobot tries one last punch but is painfully slow and Galvatron puts him down, hard.

As the Autobots charge the crater (this is apparently what Rodimus's careful watching and planning has resulted in - a headlong, uphill charge) Galvatron hoists Magnus over his head and hurls him down the slope, knocking over Kup abd Blurr like ninepins.

Apparently this is enough to knock them out, leaving Rodimus and Galvatron, about to face each other in a one-on-one struggle to the finish...

... For a moment, before Death's Head turns up, brandishing an enormous blaster and demanding the bounty on Galvatron's head. An exciting cliffhanger!

Furman has picked a smart time to reintroduce Death's Head. He's a great character, but he's better when you don't expect him, and after two issues centred around the volcano it's great to see him in a completely different location. I like that Soundwave puts up a decent fight. You don't often see him as a full-on warrior, and it is better that Death's Head wins through being a canny fighter rather than just having him set to God mode. We already have Galvatron in that role - two utterly indestructable future mechanoids would leave the regular characters somewhat sidelined. Death's Head is a threat because he is clever and dangerous - not because he is is unstoppable.

As human characters go, Cindy is pretty good. I don't really find it that believable that she has accepted the Transformers for what they are so quickly, but that seems to be the default setting for humans in this continuity, so it works within the wider context of the other humans we have seen.

We don't really learn anything new about Galvatron or Ultra Magnus but the Autobot continues to be convincing in the hero role. Rodimus is mostly there to provide exposition, unfortunately, but his grim resolve resonates very well - shame about Kup and Blurr going down so easily though - they'll be back.

Will Simpson turned in a good issue. He seems to cleave much closer to the toy designs in these issues and generally does pretty good work - as mentioned above, his Death's Head is very nice and the Transformers, especially Ultra Magnus, are all servicable to good. He needs to stop adding distracting little star shapes to indicate gleaming metal though. It doesn't really work, although it is an interesting contrast to many of today's Transformers artists, who often try to make them look as tarnished and cracked as possible.

The stage is set for a three-way clash atop an active volcano. What could possibly be more exciting?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #4 - Devices and Desires! and Tales of Earth (pt 1)

The fourth issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers contains two tales.  Both were penned by Simon Furman, colored by Sarra Mossoff, and lettered by Richard Starkings with Gaushell.  Devices and Desires!, the main story, was drawn by Manny Galan and inked by Jim Amash and Marie Severin.  Tales of Earth, part one, was illustrated by Derek Yaniger, who also provided the cover to the issue.

It's a great cover, featuring the five Dinobots.  Grimlock is, appropriately, the focus, and looks colossal.  The ground-based Dinos, Snarl, Sludge, and Slag, stampede towards the viewer, while swoop flies point.  It all works very very well.  Dino-MIGHT! it declares, redundantly.  Ss it turns out it's not really a Dinobot heavy issue, which dings the cover slightly.  Still, I'll overlook that given the superb rendering here.  Oh, and Prime is back in the Marvel box, this time sporting a big-ass gun. 

Devices and Desires! opens on a desolate dreamscape.  Optimus is surrounded by robotic corpses.  When he approaches, some kind of black gunk sprays over him and he begins to burn, alien and corrupting and yet... familiar.  He's awoken from his foreshadowing vision by Kup, who trots out the old 'wake up - wait, we don't sleep!' line.  It seems that Grimlock has defied his orders to turtle-down in the Autobase and taken a crew to hit Jhiaxus. 

Cut to another full-page splash of the Twilight, though Galan's rendition is not quite as spectacular as Yaniger's was back in issue one.  Grimlock and some commandos are approaching in a stolen maintenance scow, the Kiro.  His plan is simple, land, drop a huge bomb, skedaddle.  He's got the troops nice and rallied, though internally he knows he's using them to reassert his position as number-two Autobot.  Running to Optimus for help back in issue one really grates on him, as it turns out.  Unfortunately for him, his unpure motives have lead him into a bad outcome, as the shuttle is surrounded with troopers, his move anticipated.

Jhiaxus lays it out for him.  With the resurgence of the Autobots, security has been throttled way up, with many extra layers of security.  When Jhiaxus strikes Grimlock, Red Alert suicidally points a weapon at the Decepticon and is promptly and brutally killed.  This pacifies the Autobots, who are loaded onto a prison ship for transport to someone or somewhere or something called the Liege Maximo.  Thus does Furman lay the groundwork for the next story, though one he won't get to finish in this particular comic book series.  I do love this aspect to his storytelling, though, the layers within layers.

Grimlock's grim reflections on his failures as a leader are interrupted by the cavalry.  The Saber, a delta class strike ship in the Cybertronian Empire, is fireing on them despite having ALL of their security codes check out.  Grimlock takes advantage and leads a jailbreak, and soon he's got control of the ship.  (Not before Mirage is dispatched, though, with some fantastic lettering work.)   Particularly well done is the parallel between an anonymous G2 Decepticon and Grimlock.  When the captain of the Saber feels guilty for not putting up more resistance, Optimus calls his decision a noble one, putting the safety of his crew first.  Grimlock, alas, put his own ego first. 

Grimlock frets that his next meeting with Optimus will be worse than anything the Decepticons can dish out, but instead finds himself left in charge of the Autobots.   Optimus needs to go to Cybertron to find out what his visions really mean.  I love the bit where Grimlock wonders aloud that Optimus would trust him again "After this m -- miscalculation."  Mutiny almost tripped from his vocal processor.  Optimus explains that Grimlock simply didn't go far enough, and should have captured a crew as well as a ship.  Of course, this mutiny got two Autobots killed, but that fact is glossed over in true comic book fashion.

The story is a bit thin.  I think that, in abstract, the choice of a character study on Grimlock in issue four is a good one, given that the last issue was really all about Prime.  Still, this does feel a bit like retreading old ground.  It's not bad, but neither is it great.

Tales of Earth, Part One, a six-page little story, gets it more right.  We open with four panels of devastation, with a spooky narrative about the carnage.  Human skulls, fires, craters, destroyed bridges, wrecked cars, grounded boats, scorched trees, this and more opens the story.  From orbit, the Warworld rains down fire and death as Bludgeon watches.  There's a certain irony that what might well be the end of the world would be wrought by a demon with a skull for a face, confirming so many old mythologies. 

Down he leads his Decepticons, into the fray.  His goal is simple, draw Optimus Prime into the open.  In a nice bit of continuity, his forces are much the same as the Decepticons active in issue #80 of the G1 continuity.  They continue to devastate all before them, until a blast knocks the sword from Bludgeon's hand.  Is it Optimus Prime, here to save the day?  Nope, no indeed.  It's Megatron and Starscream, here to wrest control of the Decepticons back from Bludgeon!

A short story, very simple, but it certainly packs a punch.  We got so little carnage in the G1 run, and now it's just savage, wanton fury.  Furmans prose compliments the images of death and destruction beautifully.  Yaniger's artwork works well here, though I'm not as keen on his final shot of Megatron and Starscream. 

Taken as a whole, we get one excellent, though simple, story, and one more ambitious but merely good story.  It's better than the previous offering, but still not all that compelling.  The main story didn't really advance the plot much, except for a bit of foreshadowing.  The backup story at least has some nice momentum to it.  It's still hard to see exactly where the Cybertronian Empire plot is going to go.  The threat is so huge, so massive, that it's hard to see how they'll start to combat it.  Worse, I find myself not all that interested in finding out.  The G1 Decepticons on Earth, at least, are fairly compelling.    Transformers Dark Designs , from Titan publishing, contains both parts of this story if you'd care to check it out used at Amazon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #116 "Burning Sky" Part 2

Burning Sky Part 2 was written by the ever-prolific Simon Furman, pencilled by Geoff Senior, lettered by Richard Starkings and coloured by Steve White.

The cover was by Jeff Anderson and unfortunately doesn't quite live up to the art actually within the issue. Once again I like the idea behind a cover much more than the cover itself. The foreground is pretty good. Anderson always brings a believable, solid approach to the robots which works very well and in particular his rendering of Ultra Magnus's head and shoulders has always been very good. Galvatron, however, is perhaps a bit too blocky, looking a little like someone wearing a cardboard box as part of a robot costume rather than an actual living entity. Similarly the anatomy is also a little off as Ultra Magnus' legs appear rather foreshortened. It's a tricky perspective and it's still an arresting image (albeit one about which my first thoughts were somewhat childish when I first came to review it - once you've seen it, you can't unsee it).

Following Galvatron's explosive entrance at the climax of last issue we, in time-honoured dramatic fashion, cut to a location nearby, where everything seems tranquil and the head of the local rangers is discussing the forest fire and saying how it's all under control. This proves overconfident, however, when another ranger runs up to him and tells him that they've got trouble - "BIG trouble!" Making for an effective page-turn to title splash! And what a splash it is. A nitpicker (like myself for example) might suggust that Galvatron and Ultra Magnus are actually slightly too large here compared to the humans, but really, not by much, and it does nothing to devalue the power of the image here. Senior seems to love drawing these two, and putting Ultra Magnus through the ringer - look at the pain on his face!

The next page gives us a brief summary of the end of the previous issue but, unusually, it's all in captions while it shows Galvatron beating on Ultra Magnus in the present. When Magnus thinks about Cindy's safety we get a more conventional recap, including a reproduction of some of last issue's panels, with a lovely little Senior version of Dan Reed's fantastic "Galvatron leaping through flames" final panel.

Galvatron taunts Ultra Magnus, and calls him a follower of Rodimus Prime, which confuses him, as Rodimus is unknown in this time. He tells Galvatron that he follows Optimus Prime but Galvatron does not react, as he is in full fighting fury. Magnus asks Galvatron what his plan is but again the Decepticon does not answer, preferring to make grandiose boasts like "I am power incarnate!"

He shrugs off multiple blaster shots and then crushes Magnus' weapon before reaching out and gouging the Autobot's optics, which crack painfully. Forcing himself to remember that Cindy still needs his help, Ultra Magnus summons some more strength and hurls Galvatron away piling on the reeling Decepticon with blow upon blow.

Galvatron is down and appears to be unconscious so Magnus turns away to try to find Cindy. He does consider finishing Galvatron off but thinks it would take too long while Cindy is still in danger. This proves to be the wrong choice as Galvatron springs up almost immediately, transforms to cannon mode and shoots Ultra Magnus square in his back. The Autobot goes down - hard.

Meanwhile, Cindy is still lost amid the flaming trees, calling out for the Ultra Magnus and beginning to lose hope when she is surprised by a blinding flash of light that gives way to reveal yet more robots! At this point we can only see a glimpse of their legs but anyone with a fair grounding in Transformers ought to be able to make a fair stab at guessing they are Rodimus Prime and Blurr. Nonetheless, considering what happened with Galvatron, Cindy's panicked reaction is very understandable. I find myself wishing they could have hidden Rodimus Prime's identity better, but I don't think this story was designed to be read after twenty-four years of exposure to his character model in all forms of media, so I think it's safe to let that slide.

Back to Galvatron who is now dragging Rodimus Prime up the slopes of the volcano that Cindy mentioned. He explains that he wanted Ultra Magnus to see his grand plan before despatching him and shows him an enormous machine that he has built over the volcanic crater. He plans to use it to draw power directly from the Earth's core and turn himself into "Galvatron the god!" (I guess we know what the forest fire was keeping people away from then...)

Rodimus does his best to calm Cindy down and assure her that they are on Ultra Magnus' side. To her credit she goes from terrified to angry very quickly when she talks about Galvatron's deception, given the circumstances and Rodimus seems very impressed with her. The issue ends with Rodimus telling her, and the reader, that he, Kup and Blurr are the best chance there is to stop Galvatron and Death's Head.

We've been here before: Ultra Magnus locked in combat with a raging Galvatron against an apocalyptic background. The good news is, however, that this feels more like a sequel to Target: 2006 than a retread. These two have definitely gained the status of arch-nemeses and it's hard not to be gripped by Ultra Magnus' battle against an enemy who at every turn proves his superior. Hopelessly outmatched heroes who don't know when to quit are a pop-culture staple and Ultra Magnus fills this role nicely, although in a tragic mold, rather than a plucky one.

Galvatron's plan is sufficiently grandiose and insane. We saw last week that he was capable of a certain degree of cunning and the volcano contraption indicates a great deal of technical know-how but there is little of that on display here. He is in full-on berserker mode. This isn't necessarily a problem, fitting, as it does, with his previous appearances and battles with Ultra Magnus but there is a chance that if he spends too many issues like this he will cease being an interesting villain and become more of a force of nature than a character. This does not preclude a good story from being told, of course, but there is always a danger of diminishing returns with such a one-note approach. Nonetheless, this has not happened yet, and Death's Head is returning next issue which should provide us with a good contrast to Galvatron.

Geoff Senior's art is, as always, superlative and although the recent issues have not had the depth of colour that the earlier ones (like Target: 2006) did, his crisp style is well suited to the rather flatter, less realistic colouring. It should be pointed out, however, that these issues are still far and above the colour-work that was going on on the US book at this time. My only art nitpick, and I think it is a colour issue rather than a line issue, is that the visuals of Magnus' smashed optics don't work as well or as shockingly as they should. The cracks are too broad and don't look real to me.

A great issue with a great rematch and the promise of escalation in the near future with the arrival of the Autobots and Death's Head primed for an explosive return. Get ready for Hunters!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

War of the Worlds: Promos

Well, it's been a little while since I've done a nice War of the Worlds post, what with having finished reviewing all of the episodes.  However, thanks to friend-of-the-blog The Sultan of Sarcasm, I've got a bit of new material for you, my loyal readers!  It seems that many of the promos have been uploaded to youtube, so, without further ado, the promo for the pilot:



Fun stuff. But wait, there's more! Most of the season one promos:



And, finally, the season two promos:



The Sultan points out that the major spoilers with that last one... "Who will survive" asks the narrator, while McCullough frantically states that "Norton is dead." Hmmm... I'm guessing not him! And I thought the opening credits were a big give-away!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bish's Review Space: Above and Beyond Episode 6: Eyes

"Tell My Mother I Died For My Country, I Did What I Thought Was Best" - John Wilkes Booth, April 12, 1865
Eyes was written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá. The Saratoga returns to Earth and the 58th are looking forward to some R&R when the news comes through that the Secretary General of the UN, Spencer Chartwell (previously seen in the pilot) has been shot and killed by an In Vitro. With leave cancelled the Saratoga becomes the base for political wrangling between the two candidates to take over from him, Ambassador Nicholas Chaput (George DelHoyo), the undersecretary and therefore de facto leader until an election is held and Ambassador Diane Hayden (Harriet Sansom Harris), who was recently on the Aerotech board of governers. Chaput is the leader of the very right-wing French "Partie Nationale D'Identite" and has recently caused France to secede from the European Union.

In addition to this, In Vitroes are being made to take loyalty tests (heavily influenced by the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner) and it soon becomes obvious that there is a plot afoot to kill Chaput. McQueen refuses to take the test and is incarcerated. Hawkes takes the test and is brainwashed into becoming an unwitting pawn to assasinate Chaput. McQueen, who realises what is happening after Hawkes pays him a visit in the brig manages to talk him down and no harm is done. Meanwhile, West has been approached with information suggesting Aerotech, and therefore Hayden, knew about the aliens before setting up the Telus and Vesta colonies and it looks like the conspiracy might go further than that. Nonetheless, Hayden wins the election and the 58th are left with their suspicions and nothing to back them up.

The Good

Six episodes into the series, this seems like an apt time to get a bit more information on Earth politics and the wider situation. It appears that the United Nations is extremely powerful in this time and the Secretary General can be said to "rule the world" but bodies such as the European Union still exist, as do individual nations like the United States. It is perhaps not surprising given Morgan and Wong's impressive X-Files credentials that there would be a conspiracy of some sort at the back of the show and the idea that the Aerotech corporation knew that the aliens were out there before the colony missions certainly has legs.

I also appreciated that the right-wing (and French no-less!) politician was actually the potential victim here. Although his politics would not have made him a good choice for Secretary-General at least he wasn't trying to assasinate the competition. We get no explicit confirmation that Hayden was in on the plot, but of course she was, and of course Aerotech knew about the Chigs. A lesser show would have made Chaput the villain, or at least had the real threat apprehended by the end of the episode but neither of these things really happen. Clearly Hayden is going to be a recurring character and the shadiness of Aerotech is only going to deepen.

The other thing I enjoyed about the episode was a real sense of continuity. Several specific incidents in the past few episodes are mentioned, including The Battle Of The Belt from the pilot and the fight with the Silicates on Bunuel in The Dark Side Of The Sun. Specifically the squadron get some replacements in order to shore up their ranks after the losses there. I complained in that review about the anonymous characters going to their deaths, so at least these new guys get some lines (actually one of them, Swerko, played by John Verea turns out to be a would be assassin). Whether any of the remaining reinforcements recur later remains to be seen, but this is a step in the right direction.

The Bad

My thoughts about the implications of this episode are largely positive but the actual story left me pretty cold. A little bit like the pilot I feel that the episode was working despite a rather pedestrian tone. I could have done without West being so trusting of the creepy United Nations agents that he was almost persuaded to leave his guard down while on duty so that the two ambassadors could "meet" - ok, he was promised information about Kylen, which is a legitimate blind-spot for the character, but this is still dereliction of duty so severe it could only happen on television, and the obviously evil UN men are too broadly portrayed for West to come off as looking anything other than an idiot.

Speaking of which, while I appreciated the extreme right-wing French politician as the innocent party and the sweet blind American lady being the real threat, I felt that the agents carrying out the In Vitro loyalty test and plotting to assassinate Chaput were too generically foreign and sinister looking. For a conspiracy to be believable we should be shocked and while the final twist isn't bad, it was still all too hampered by convention. Before The X-Files collapsed under the weight of it's own mythology it was much better at giving us layers of paranoia and government intrigue and Morgan and Wong should have tried harder to recapture this unsettling feeling. I also just plain wasn't interested in the brainwashing plot for Hawkes. I liked the idea of the loyalty test, because that seemed like a good way to challenge these characters in different ways: Hawkes because he doesn't always know if he actually is loyal to Earth and McQueen because he's so thoroughly loyal that the more question offends him to the point of mutiny. When it turned out that there was something more sinister at work though I lost interest. The test was unsettling enough, giving it an actually evil purpose was a step too far towards comic-book villainy.

Future History


There was a bunch in this episode but the most memorable is Vansen's mention that the US President was shot and killed by a Silicate in 2051, although as a Brit, the reference to France's secession from the EU, which I already mentioned, was pretty close. (I wonder if we were before them...

Past History
There is no better example of the seriousness with which this show takes history than the fact that the very first shot of the episode is the quotation I have reproduced at the top of the page.

An episode that fleshed out the universe of the show very well without actually telling a very compelling story. I take marks away by forcing one character to be an idiot and the other to be a pawn but kudos for taking the time to carefully construct a world and build a mythology. Hopefully future visits to this plotline, which are surely inevitable, are more nuanced.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Causes, One and All

Due to the computer problems I experienced last week, I'm pretty far behind where I'd like to be in terms of Ark Addendums, so I'll be taking another week off from them.  Perhaps next week I'll be back, we'll see.  In the meanwhile, I figured I'd highlight some worthy causes.

First up, one of my heroes Simon Furman has expressed an interest in picking up the old Marvel Comics series at issue #81, similar to how Larry Hama did with GI Joe.  Personally, I'd be very curious to see where he'd take the story, since the old US/UK G1/G2 continuity was and is my favorite Transformers saga.  (Beast Wars and Animated are both amazing, but the sheer scope of those hundreds of issues are so magical to me.)  There is a petition to be signed, and they're closing in on 1000 signatures.  Let's make that goal happen, and we'll see where to take the movement from there:  http://www.petitiononline.com/tf81idw/petition.html

Next up, I've had some folks write to me and ask if I'd help promote their petition for more Animated in comic form.  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes please.  I'd love to see Marty and Derrick return to the universe as a comic.  I, more than most, know how cool S4 would have been and I'd love to see it continue.  Oh, and if that means that I'd have enough material for an Almanac III, so much the better:  http://www.petitiononline.com/TFAIDW/petition.html

Finally, the good folks at Auto Assembly, the most amazing Transformers convention ever, are working feverishly to try to raise enough money to bring the one, the only, the amazing Geoff Senior, to their convention.  Sadly, I won't be attending this year, but if you will be (and if you're anywhere in Europe, you should be) then consider heading to their Geoff Senior page and possibly contributing a few dollars... er, pounds, euros, whatever.  With Death's Head starting to pop back up in the Marvel Universe these days, could there be a better time to get this amazing artist down to Birmingham to mingle with the fans?

Three excellent causes.  If any of them seem like something you might be interested, then do what you can to make it happen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #115 "Burning Sky" Part 1

Burning Sky! Part 1 continues the story begun with Wanted: Galvatron Dead Or Alive! Simon Furman wrote both story and script. Dan Reed cut his Transformers teeth on the pencils, Steve White coloured and Richard Starkings provided the lettering.

The cover was by Lee Sullivan and works quite well. I certainly like the idea of Galvatron being reflected in Magnus' shocked optics but something doesn't quite work for me. I find it a little hyper-dramatic, as though this would have worked better as an internal splash than it does as a cover. Maybe I just prefer prettier cover art. Either way this was a weekly book and variety must have been difficult to maintain so I think Sullivan deserves praise for trying, and for telling a story while doing so.

We pick up from the ending of Resurrection Part 2 by joining Ultra Magnus as he looks for the Ark. He is not over-exerting himself, as he is very much enjoying wandering Earth's tranquil forests and resting under the stars.

He is shaken from his reverie by a massive explosion that jolts him off his feet and is just picking himself up when he hears a human crying for help from over a kilometre away. Rushing to assist he finds a camper van toppled onto its side. There are two women struggling to get a third from the wreck before it explodes!

Ultra Magnus lends his strength to assist and manages to rescue the trapped woman even as the vehicle detonates. Magnus transforms and gives the women a ride in his cab, explaining all the while about being an Autobot from Cybertron and his part in the war (note how all the Transformers in the Marvel comics are quite free with this information - "robots in disguise" indeed...). The women (Cindy, Judy and Corinne) explain that they are on a trip to see the volcano that is nearby, which, in a nice bit of continuity, causes Ultra Magnus to freeze up briefly at the mention of the word. Volcano was the codename for the Operation where Impactor was killed back during Target: 2006.

Ultra Magnus' wish to know what the future holds for him echoes ironically when we cut to the year 2007 and find that era's Ultra Magnus counselling Rodimus not to jump to Earth's past in pursuit of Death's Head and Galvatron. I'm not sure the drama in this segment really makes sense. Magnus' problem is that they need Rodimus to lead the Autobots against Shockwave's Decepticons, which may well be true, but this is TIME travel, he can pop to the past and come back seconds later (or earlier, but that WOULD be complicated). Of course there is always the danger that he could be destroyed, or lose the ability to time jump (although, come to think of it, that one wouldn't matter either) but Magnus doesn't seem concerned about those possibilities, merely the time factor. This dilemma worked in Target: 2006 because Ultra Magnus was on Earth at the same point in time he had been on Cybertron, but the normal temporal rules shouldn't apply here. Time travel has always been shown to be fairly precise in the book so far, and even if Rodimus gets it wrong once, why not try again?

Rodimus disagrees with Magnus on the grounds that Galvatron is his responsibility (and possibly because he knows how time travel works) and takes Kup and Blurr with him into the past, with Wreck-Gar tagging along uninvited.

Back in 1987 Ultra Magnus and his female companions are stopped in their tracks towards the volcano by an enormous forest fire. Cindy suggests he knock down trees to create a firebreak and he happily obliges. As Magnus goes about this task he discovers something strange about the fire. It rings the volcano, despite there having been no recent eruptions, and it seems to be acting as a barrier.

His reasoning is interrupted as Cindy runs up to him babbling about encountering someone she thought was his friend, until she saw the different badge. Ultra Magnus barely has time to ask "Who?" before the mighty robot leaps dramatically through the flames and announces "Me! Galvatron!"

This storyline is turning into quite a slow burn but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I have always felt that Ultra Magnus is a character with a lot of potential and I like seeing his contented reactions to 1987 Earth, although he does know that there is a war going on here as well, so arguably he should hurry himself up a bit.

The three humans aren't especially interesting yet but do go a long way to tie the drama into our planet, which is important, otherwise these battles could be happening anywhere. I have already outlined my problems with the badly-manufactured drama of the future segments but I really do love seeing the future version of Ultra Magnus. Some might argue that knowing he survives until the future kills the tension but, really, drama is not about who lives or dies, but about how we get where we're going, and clearly Ultra Magnus is going to go through a lot. And that is disregarding the notion that the future can be changed, which is surely possible otherwise future Magnus would know that everything will be fine with Rodimus' mission.

Oh the art front this issue sees the debut of Dan Reed with his famous "wobbly" Transformers. I think that for this issue at least he is only partly successful. I approve of different art styles being used to depict our favourite characters and I think Reed's sort of semi-organic approach is certainly a valid one but oddly enough it is some of the posing and staging I find a little off here, which you would think would be the strongest point of giving them humanlike characteristics. Panels like the splash of Magnus being jolted by the explosion are very awkward indeed, although I do like the exaggerated sense of height he gets in panels that include Cindy, to properly show off the size difference.

A solid issue with a great ending, slightly marred by logical inconsistencies and occasionaly subpar art but in general an enjoyable (and essential) installment in the "Galvatron's back!" storyline. What's happening at the volcano? And whither Death's Head? Find out next issue! (except for that second question, because he's not in that one either).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #3 - Primal Fear! and Old Evils

The third issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers contains two tales, necessitated due to difficulty in having one artist do a full 22 pages per month.  In fact, the rest of the run will continue in a similar fashion.  The single cover is by DerekYaniger, as indeed all twelve are.

It's a very nice cover, stronger than the last one.  Optimus Prime deals a savage blow to Jhiaxus' midsection, ripping out material and exposing his spine.  Gusts of fluid spurt from severed hoses while glass and metal shatter.  Prime, too, isn't much better off, with spikes impaling his arms.  Derek kinda went nuts here, and it works.  This is the kind of raw power his art style can exhibit. 

The first story, Primal Fear!, is written by Simon Furman, with pencils by Manny Galan, inks by Jim Amash & Marie Severin, with Starkings w/ Gaushell as 'letterbots' and Sara Mossoff as Colorbots.  Editors Tokar and DeFalco are credited, respectively, as 'primal' and 'fear,' continuing the tradition of keeping things cute on the title block.

It opens with a lovely image, one of my favorites of Manny Galan.  If I can brag again, I own the original art to this piece, a recent acquisition.  A tight close-up on a jaggedly split pane of the faces of Optimus Prime and Jhiaxus, while Furman waxes rhapsodic on Fear -- what could be nicer?  We quickly shift from philosophy to fracas, as we get a battle scene not unlike the cover, though not nearly as well rendered.  (Sorry, Manny.  I know you had a hard time drawing in someone else's style.)  They battle an incredibly violent battle, complete with escalating taunts and bravado, which seems out of character for both participants.

Ah, but this isn't a flaw, this is a plot-point.  Up on the Autobot shuttle, a lonesome Hound broadcasts an expository warning.  It turns out that, while fleeing the craft trailing them, Optimus ducked into a quadrant of space where none return.  Tempers on both sides flared until a battle erupted.  Hound took a stray blast, which is why he didn't participate.  Something here is exacerbating the combative tenancies of all who enter, dooming them to oblivion.  Seems like a familiar plot somehow...

Back on the planet, Jhiaxus and Prime continue to battle, as do their men.  Prime manages to get away for a moment and collect his thoughts.  Deprived of a venue to vent his battle-lust, Jhiaxus begins to freak out, remembering himself as the petty tyrant he once was, a rather lovely image.  Optimus sees this as the breakthrough it is and approaches his opponent with calm reason.  As his words start to sway the Decepticon, shadowy parasites begin to erupt from their very bodies.  It seems that these are emotional parasites, feeding off of conflict.  The two sides have little choice but to call off their fight.  Optimus wistfully remarks how sad it is that no creatures before them could safely traverse the nebula, while Jhiaxus internally debates what he's learned today.  Ultimately, he rejects the notion that all life has value, at least in part to justify the last few million years of his existance.  He orders the planet destroyed from orbit even as he resolves to crush the lingering doubt within him... by destroying the Autobots.

If this tale seems familiar, it's because it is.  Not only has it appeared in countless science fiction stories and television programs, but it's actually appeared in a Furman-penned tale before, admittedly in the UK.  It wasn't all that long ago that my colleague Bish was reviewing Distant Thunder, where dimensionally displaced Transformers battled for the amusement and nourishment of alien parasites.  No points for originality here.  It's also a bit odd to get a sort of pseudo stand-alone tale so early in the run.  Yes, it deals with the pursuit craft launched in issue #1, but the emotional focus of the story is on dealing with the alien infestation.  Odd choices, all around.  The artwork, too, is fairly mixed.  Galan is clearly a talented artist, able to produce some lovely images, like the split faces or Jhiaxus' brief flashback or the rather dynamic shot of Optimus Prime in truck mode racing away from Jhiaxus, but when he's trying to do the Yaniger style it comes across as forced.  Between the repetitive and slightly off-focus story and the gangly artwork, this is a fairly weak offering.

Luckily, there is one more story in this book, albeit only six pages long.  Old Evils shares a writer, colorist, letterer, and editor with Primal Fear!, but the artwork is all Derek Yaniger.  We open where Primal Fear left off, with Jhiaxus storming back onto the Twilight in a state of disrepair.  The primitive Autobots have left a bad taste in his mouth, but, he reasons, at least there are no analogous primitive Decepticons.  A lovely transition point, that is.

In another galaxy, some disgusting reptilian aliens are worried by a planet on their monitor.  You see... it isn't SUPPOSED to be there! A massive ship bearing Decepticon markings (G2 Decepticon markings, actually, which really is a bit awkward, but I'll let it pass) has them in a tractor beam.  These aliens are no pushovers and attempt to fight back.  Inside, we get some familiar faces.  Bludgeon is running this operation, and orders Fangry to slaughter the occupants but leave the craft mostly intact.  (The piece to the left is another one that I've got the originals to, if I can continue to brag.)

With this minor obstacle out of the way, Quake asks Bludgeon for a new course.  Bludgeon thinks on that.  He's got a new army built, just awaiting the spark of life.  (I almost wrote 'sparks', but that idea is still a few years in the future.)  Optimus Prime, though, is a difficult target, protected by Cybertron or the Autobase... how to draw him out? Ah, but an idea occurs... he orders their massive ship, which will soon be revealed to be called the Warworld, to Earth!

It's a very small story, reintroducing to the audience the mainstream Decepticons.  It seems that Bludgeon has been busy during his self-imposed 'exile', somehow scavenging up a mighty vessel.  He looks amazing here, doesn't he?  When Yaniger is good, he's very, very good. The story is much less ambitious here than the first tale is, but also much more solid. It's a tale that upon first examination seems ancillary to the main plot, but it feels connected somehow.  In this way, it's very much a mirror to Primal Fears!, which is more of a stand-alone tale wearing arc's clothing.

So, G2 #3.  More mixed than I wish it was, but certainly worth a read.  Both parts of it are available for sale in the only slighty out-of-print Titan collection  Transformers Dark Designs.  I'm still hanging on for the ride, but so far G2 hasn't yet lived up to the potential promised in the very strong first issue.  Let's hope that changes.