Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #9 - Swarm and Tales of Earth (part 6)

The ninth issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers again contains two tales: Swarm, and Tales of Earth (part 6).  Despite this duality, there is only one creative crew.  Writing is by Simon Furman, pencils by Manny Galan, inks by Jim Amash, colors by Sarra Mossoff, and letters by Richard Starkings with Comicraft.  The cover, as always, is by Derek Yaniger.

The cover is effective, though it's a bit hard to know for sure what's going on till you read the story.  Three of Jhiaxus' G2 Cybertronians are in pieces, perhaps being consumed by the black smoke that whorls around the cover.  Optimus Prime, faded out, is in silhouette.  "Waking NIGHTMARE!" it says, which is actually somewhat shrewd, as we'll come to find.  It's intriguing, and the artwork certainly conveys what it intends to, but I think the subject matter is just a bit abstract.

We open on a familiar scene, Optimus Prime walking among dessicated bodies, indulging in a brooding (or 'bro-ding', as my wife would say it) narration.  "A dream, a vision..." it asks.   Alas, this is the reality he finds himself in.  An Autobot science crew pores over a devastated industrial plant, while the security team looks on impatiently.  Since this isn't the work of Jhiaxus, Megatron wants to move on, and Grimlock agrees, but Optimus is having none of it.  He suspects a connection between this, his visions, and the G2 Cybertronians. The most effective bit here is the misdirection around the dream state.  Furman seemingly realized that he was overusing this trope, and poked a bit of fun at it.  The cover foreshadows this rather effectively.

Elsewhere, Jhiaxus' massive onslaught continue, this time under the command of a sub-commander named Mindset.  He's systematically and dispassionately eliminating the local life, but the arrival of the Swarm brings all of that to an end.  We get many pages of action as the Cybertonians make a futile last stand, exciting stuff and it puts the cover in the proper context.  When the swarm gets to Mindset, it pauses for a moment and imitates him.  It senses familiarity in this being, though that doesn't save the Decepticon from being absorbed.  Half a galaxy away, Onslaught reacts as his presumed offspring is consumed.  Optimus Prime feels it too, that a turning point has been reached.

Swarm has one more dramatic beat left, though.  Jhiaxus surveys the wreckage of his crew on Ethos, handed to him last issue by Megatron's timely (or untimely, depending on perspective) arrival.  A figure arrives, but Jhiaxus stays his men.  He knows this one... it's Starscream.  The miscreant is looking to switch sides!  (Galan manages to capture Starscream's evil sneer perfectly here.)

The last stand of the native is a nice moment.  Though he's outmatched, his courageous stand provokes sympathy from the reader but contempt from his opponents.  One cannot help but draw connection with the similarly futile stand the Cybertronians would make scant pages later and feel that justice has been served. 

The moment with Onslaught, though, is iffier.  It's not exactly stated, but it was heavily implied that the Combaticons were made on Earth just before issue #25.  With so many hundreds of Decepticons to choose from, why Onslaught?   I do like the visual similarities between him and Mindset, though.

The final twist of the first tale of the book was a bit telegraphed.  After all, with Starscream missing last issue, where else would he go?  I think that it might have been more effective to leave this meeting undepicted.  We'd have gotten the picture, I think.

It's not over yet, though, we still have Tales of Earth!  Back at the Autobase, Perceptor educates the assembled 'Bots and 'Cons as to what they've found.  The residue from the destroyed world, J'Asik, shares  a 'genetic sequence and celluar configuration' with that of the Transformers.  I think it's a bit odd to think of the Transformers as having a genetic code, but I suppose the budding idea already introduced biological analogs to the mythology.  I absolutely love the panel I excerpted here, by the way.  Galan's abstract prime looks so down, yet it's such a simple rendering.  Well done.

Optimus fills Megatron in on his visions, connecting the dots for him (and the audience.)  They face not just the unchecked growth and accompanying amorality of the G2 Cybertronians, but also this monstrous outgrowth of their race.  However, they have no time to dwell on this... Jhiaxus has found them!

The full might, one presumes, of this far superior foe is now free to rain down on the assembled Autobot/Decepticon forces.  It's a great ending, though perhaps telegraphed a bit too much by Starscream's defection at the end of the main story.  It's a bit sad to have no Yaniger artwork.  Galan still seems to struggle with the style.  Though he has some nice moments, on the whole the imagery still seems a bit awkward and uncomfortable.

We now have three issues to go and the big confrontation has seemingly arrived already.  One has to wonder a bit where we go from here.  Three issues of Jhiaxus versus our guys?  Retreat and counterattack?  The story has certainly become exciting, and I look forward to seeing it climax.  This issue is reprinted in its entirety and available for purchase in  Transformers Rage in Heaven  from Titan publishing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Enter the Nightbird (part 2)

Let's finish up some old business with this week's The Ark Addendum.  While I was working on scanning in the scripts from the Ron Friedman auction, I uploaded some of the models from Enter the Nighbird.  Why not finish it out?

To make the Nightbird's entry into Autobot HQ more impressive, the writers added a cover to the top of the volcano.  It makes sense, Laserbeak flew in and grabbed Sparkplug back in The Ultimate Doom, so why not add in some extra security?  They also added in cameras and motion sensors.  Smart to get rid of the 'open door policy.'  I really wanted to do an extra page on the crashed Autobot HQ in The Complete Ark, and these two images would have gone in there.  What held me back was no really high quality version of the front entrance.  I had a nice shot of the volcano, which I did sneak in, but felt that to not have the main entrance (except for a snowy version) defeated the point. 

The real stand-out on this page, though, is probably the Decepticon base, shaped like their sigil.  Floro Dery spoke fondly of designing this, and I have to say he did an outstanding job.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #120 "Fire On High!" Part 2

Fire On High Part 2 was written by Simon Furman, drawn by Geoff Senior, coloured by Steve White and lettered by Richard Starkings.

The cover is by Jeff Anderson and is a great image, somewhat let down by the colouring. The three figures are well-depicted and pretty dynamic. Galvatron in particular looks brilliant, although I would have liked a little more perspective on Death's Head, who is looking a little flat, but that's a minor nitpick. The problem here, however, is that Galvatron is a really strange colour. Admittedly, we should be used to seeing Galvatron in any number of different purple and grey combinations by now but I have no idea at all where the teal has come from and, worse than this, to my eyes, is the unpainted background that gives the cover far too much white space. The intention may have been to emphasise the fact that the scene is just about these three characters but actually it just makes the image much duller than it should be.

Ultra Magnus is dead and Galvatron triumphant. The issue opens with a fantastic splash panel by Geoff Senior with a dynamic angle that really shows off Galvatron's size and power. While ranting to himself he recaps the events of the previous few issues while mentioning that he did not even bother to watch Ultra Magnus' fall into the lava (hmm....). Despite his madness he correctly determines that the time jump trigger is the only thing that can stop him now so he goes to where he has left it and is dismayed to find that it has been taken. The culprit can only be one being - Rodimus Prime!

Meanwhile, Wreck-Gar is still working on the device but it is slow going because the technology is complex and unfamiliar. He is interrupted when Galvatron appears, striding, with purpose towards them. A quick Mexican stand-0ff ensues and both Rodimus and Galvatron go for their weapons. Galvatron is quicker on the draw, of course, because his gun is attached to his arm but Rodimus pulls off a athletic diving move and fires back, blasting Galvatron in the face and neck, willing him to "FALL!" - Much the same words as Megatron says to Optimus Prime as he blasts him over and over in Transformers: The Movie. Richard Starkings turns in some great lettering here as well, with energy blasts passing through their own sound-effects.

Despite the hail of energy Galvatron says standing until Rodimus spots a cable that is feeding energy into his volcano siphon. He blasts it and the energy is discharged into Galvatron finally stunning him enough to knock him face-down.

Rodimus moves in to finish him off but Galvatron is no ordinary Transformer. He is up and fighting before Rodimus can even cross the distance between them. Senior's art on his furious expression as we realise he is not even stunned is sublime - a moment straight out of a horror movie.

His fist connects with Rodimus' jaw and starts a beatdown that ends with the Autobot leader facedown in the dirt, the ground cracking with the impact as Galvatron's foot lands on the back of his head.

Rodimus' salvation comes from an unlikely quarter. Death's Head, recovered and ready for battle. He is determined to keep the Autobot alive so that he can be paid once he has finished Galvatron. He has the advantage of surprise but a lucky shot forces him to replace his right hand. Galvatron rallies and is able to grab the bounty hunter's other hand and tear it clean off!

Meanwhile, Goldbug is reviving Rodimus Prime and the time-jump override device is finished. Without wasting any time Wreck-Gar hits the button and the device activates. Death's Head, having finally got the better of Galvatron, is shocked as he is swept away by a torrent of time energy. Goldbug breathes a sigh of relief that proves to be short-lived as although the future Transformers and Death's Head are gone... Galvatron remains!


What an issue! Furman manages to keep the "Galvatron beats everyone up" routine tense and exciting with Wreck-Gar's technical race against time in the background and Death's Head's timely reappearance. The twist at the end is a shocking one and sets up a seemingly impossible confrontation for Goldbug. My only real complaint is that mentioning that Galvatron never saw Ultra Magnus die is something of a sledgehammer. Magnus will presumably come back next issue and I can understand setting it up in advance but really I think Furman could have got away with that without mentioning it this issue. It might be usually the done thing to drop a hint or two of an upcoming plot twist but this was too much.
As good as Furman's writing is, this issue is all action and therefore Geoff Senior's contribution is as, if not more, important. In an obvious contrast to Dan Reed's messy, inky style, Senior's lines are crisp and well-defined. Both use stylisation to give the illusion of movement but rather than bend the character models to his will Senior elects to render them as cleanly as possible using only the minimum of inked detail, giving no doubt at all as to what is happening in each panel. Steve White's colouring is praiseworthy as well, lending depth to Senior's figures and adding atmospheric shadow and lighting effects. Check out how effective this is in the sequence where Galvatron is stunned by the energy discharge -
This was undoubtedly a fantastic issue and the cliffhanger really upped the ante. Unfortunately even reasonably astute readers can probably see where it is likely to go next, but that doesn't stop the action from being exciting along the way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #8 - Escalation and Tales of Earth (part 5)

The eighth issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers is, as usual, a two-part tale, though this time the back up story was placed in the middle of the main story. Very strange. Both were written by Simon Furman, with colors by Mossoff and letters by Starkings with O'Neil. The artwork on Escalation!, the main story and not the excellent IDW miniseries of the same name , was by Manny Galan on pencils with Jim Amash on inks. The Tales of Earth (part 5) artwork, pencils and inks, was done by Derek Yaniger, as was the cover.

Yaniger  delivers another excellent cover.  Optimus and Megatron stand, back to back, guns smoking, a sword dripping oil.  They stand amid the wreckage of many G2 Cybertronians.  Powerful stiff.  Megatron's hip looks just a bit off, but that's a pointless nit.  Even the cover text seems somewhat necessary: "Optimus Prime and Megatron: Old Enemies / New Allies!"  Yes, the image shows that, but it's so unlikely that it's worth calling out.  Lovely work.

The issue starts off with a middling splash by Galan, Jhiaxus looking wrathful.  Jim Amash's inks definitely give it a certain energy and excitement, but overall it's a bit too static for my taste.  He (Jhiaxus, not Jim Amash) is ranting about how his mercy has emboldened his enemies, and perhaps he's right.  He's had both Optimus and Megatron in his power and let them get away in a futile attempt to bring them into the modern era.  No more, though.  The next page is a rather interesting two-page spread depicting the carnage that his forces are enacting in an effort to draw out Optimus Prime.  Jhiaxus stands in front of it, which works very well.  The coloring helps sell the action here, and the angle on the picture makes him seem contemplative.  Great storytelling, really.  The image of him in the upper right, though very clever, is perhaps a bit redundant.  It's a good three page start to the issue, though, setting the stage for the action to come.

From there we bounce into Tales of Earth, only three pages in.  Optimus and Megatron, both looking worse for wear, start to hammer out the terms of their alliance, with just a bit of interference from Grimlock.  It seems that their alliance is doomed for failure when an alien distress signal lures the Autobots on a mission of mercy, one that Megatron has no interest in.  The Autobots blast off for the frontier, leaving Megatron behind.  Aside from some rather gory Yaniger artwork, like the drool that spews from Megatron's mouth, the most interesting bit comes in at the end.  Starscream suggests that the 'Cons trash the Autobots base while they're off saving the universe, and Megatron dismisses him offhandedly.  Starscream realizes that it's time for him to come up with a real backup plan, and fast, because his time as Megatron's lackey is rapidly drawing to a close.

Thus ends tales from Earth, but the story is far from over.  Escalation continues!  Jhiaxus' troops destroy the peaceful dreamers of Ethos, and Optimus has no choice but to engage.  There's a nice character bit early on where Optimus wrings his hands about the devastation even as Grimlock calmly orders his troops about.  The action is decent, but it's clear that the Autobots have walked into an ambush.  Jhiaxus wanted this confrontation, and he's ready for it.  Help comes from an unexpected quarter, though... The Decepticons ride in to the rally.  (I love Starscream's lack of enthusiasm in response to Thundercracker's rallying cry - "Yeah, yeah. Ra-ra-ra."  Hard to do sarcasm in this format, but it plays well here.)

Optimus is glad that the Decepticons arrived to save their butts, but of course he's worried too.  Despite his lofty speech, it was the brutal edge of the Decepticons that won this battle.  He and Megatron confer aboard the Warworld, attempting to build on the success of this day, when Soundwave shows up with disturbing news.  Starscream is missing!

It's another decent offering, though moving the back-up tale to the middle of the issue feels really strange to me.  I'm not sure just having a different title block makes the changes in artwork any more or less jarring, and clearly Furman feels compelled to keep some portion of each story on Earth.  Leaving that aside, it's a pretty simple story.  Good guys show up, fight, get overwhelmed, and then the cavalry shows up even though they said they wouldn't.  Galan's artwork seems a bit off this time around, which in an action-heavy issue like this is quite a shame.  The brutality of the G2 Cybertronians, though, is a highlight.  Furman's prose does a good job of selling the beauty and wonder of the living computers of Ethos, even if Galan's artwork just shows a bunch of blobby alien creatures.   The real payoff, though, is seeing Autobot and Decepticon fight together.  As well, Starscream's desertion at the end is a nice way to end an otherwise fairly predictable story.  

Sadly, this is also the issue where we find out that the series will end at issue 12. Shame.  It took them a while to hit their stride, but they seem to have done so.  This story, while not brilliant, is solid on its own.  In the context of the overall story, it's really quite good, with Optimus and Megatron poised on one side and Jhiaxus on the other, and Starscream a wildcard. At least we get four more issues to finish things out, which is more than the G1 comic got after the axe fell.  Escalation (and Tales of Earth 5, of course) is available for purchase in the out-of-print titan collection,  Transformers Rage in Heaven.

The Ark Addendum - More than Meets the Eye

A day late, but time for another Ark Addendum!  I'm a bit pressed for time, so minimal commentary this time out.  It's More than Meets the Eye, the very first episode or three of The Transformers.  I've already posted some of the models from this episode, including some stuff from about the Autobot's ship in The Complete Ark.  Here are some of the landscapes that I haven't used yet.  Quite nice, I think.  They really help set the tone for the series to follow, especially season one.  Two broadened the artistic palate, and three went in many fantastic and bizarre directions.

Oh, I've also got some models of the construction of the Victory, the Decepticon spacecraft built in this episode, kicking around somewhere.  I'll try to post them in the near future. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bish's Review Space: Above and Beyond Episode 9: Choice Or Chance

"I caused the deaths of innocent beings" - Wang

Choice Or Chance was written by Glen Morgan, James Wong and Doc Johnson. It was directed by Felix Alcala who previously directed Eyes and some very good episodes of Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica, a show that simply must have been inspired at least in part by Space: Above And Beyond.

The escape pod crashes and McQueen and Hawkes manage to escape into the countryside while the remaining Wildcards are picked up by a group of Silicates. They are taken to a prison-camp where they are subjected to physically and psychological torture. Wang is particular is singled out and eventually breaks, making a recording for the Chigs where he admits to committing war crimes.

The Good

Another excellent episode and a good conclusion to the story set up in Hostile Visit. Like last episode, each of the main characters got their time to shine and the various parts are woven together satisfyingly enough that none of the seperate stories drag.

In some ways Choice Or Chance is a completely seperate episode from Hostile Visit in a way that two-part episodes of television rarely are - this explains why it is not simply Hostile Visit Part 2 I suppose. Any episode could have started with the 58th already captured and covered most of the same ground without losing much but it is a logical continuation and the story is set up very neatly.

Dramatically, the meat in this episode is Wang's torture and breakdown and Joel De La Fuente convincingly delivers probably his strongest material in the show so far. His Silicate tormentor, Elroy-El (played by Doug Hutchison) is wonderfully terrifying and grotesque and the scenes between the two of them are grim standouts. I found myself torn between wanting Wang to stay the course and willing him to give in so the pain would stop. There's an interesting nod to Wang's race, which normally, in true science fiction tradition, isn't really commented on:

"This war is being run by a bunch of Harvard white guys."

McQueen and Hawkes are always a good pairing because of their shared identity as In Vitroes and this story brings that to the fore again. The scenes of them stalking Silicates and taking them down are exciting but the best scene is undoubtedly one where Hawkes asks McQueen why he fights for natural born humans and McQueen answers:

"I do it so no-one, human or In Vitro, will ever be able to say that all In Vitroes are lazy, or cowards, or don't stand for anything."

Vansen and Damphousse have a rather more pedestrian strand where they are studied by a Chig to see how they react to imprisonment. It provides a few good conversations and a fun jailbreak where they turn a pretend brawl into a real one and kill a few Silicates as well as the the Chig. It's well done and certainly not boring but nothing we haven't seen before.

The conspiracy plot concerning Aerotech continues with this episode as a marine on Sewell's payrole delivers him a box from the penal colony that glows with a sinister red when opened...

The crash of the escape pod is fairly nicely done although the switch from slightly dodgy looking cgi planet to location filming is still extremely jarring. At least it is obviously a real location and not a model or sound stage however.

The Bad

Unfortunately the fake reunion between West and Kylen lacks the punch it should have. This has been a common theme throughout the series so far: a large chunk of the pilot and the entire second episode were dedicated to West's story but here it feels oddly flat. This is a shame, because we do not necessarily know that this is not Kylen. We have been given no inkling that the Chigs or the Silicates can produce duplicates of people. If this were something like Star Trek, with a technology of the week, then the show would have had to fight against audience scepticism, but as it was we have every reason to believe that this storyline was coming to a close. As it appears though, both the writers and Morgan Weisser seem to be oddly uncommitted. There is a chunk of almost fifteen minutes in the middle of the episode where West does not appear at all, which seems very incongruous for the character first-billed in the credits advancing his major storyline. The problem here is probably deeper than this single episode. For the audience to care about this stuff we really need to care about West and, by extension Kylen, but the it appears the writers are just as disinterested as we are and in recent episodes we haven't had anything approaching the level of emotion necessary to make this work. West searching for his lost love has all the hallmarks of a hook that sounded good on paper but proved less interesting to everyone involved as the series developed.

Not bad, as such, but slightly odd is that Wang now has, arguably, a greater connection to the Silicates than Vansen does. This storyline is a great way of giving the character something of his own to do but the thus far the Silicates have been Vansen's particular nightmare. It will be interesting to see where Vansen's character goes in upcoming episodes, and Wang's, of course.

It is perhaps a slight cheat to bring back the Silicates here with the excuse that the Chigs find it hard to breathe the planet's air. The Silicates are obviously used because they are basically human and therefore can be used for the sort of drama the writers wanted to portray here. It is almost certainly better to keep the Chigs as relatively unknown, for now, though so I will not hold it against them.

Future History

Several plot threads to wrap up meant that there was nowhere near as much ruminating on the past as in the previous week's episode. Although the term "history" is stretching it, it is interesting to note that the Chigs (named for fleas) have their own derogatory term for us humans which translates roughly to "red stink creatures" as they find the sight and smell of our blood disgusting.

Past History

Wang tries to hold out against the torture by reciting fantasy baseball teams. At least some of them have to be real players.

Production detail on this show is reasonably scarce because it's been rather forgotten but the biggest behind the scenes controversy centres on this episode. In an interview for an article entitled: Formation of ethnic and racial identities: narratives by young Asian-American professionals actor Joel De La Fuente said of this episode:

"Whenever I see Asians in military uniform, I cannot help but recall common images of Asians from the Vietnam War and World War II. They were “yellow-bellied cowards” who took the lives of loyal Americans. They were treacherous and crafty, impossible to gauge. Wang could be seen as all of these stereotypes, I thought."

As a reviewer, and a fan, I find it unfortunate that De La Fuente was unable to take pride in the work he put into this episode. I am open to accusations of naivety here but I really do not think that Wang's race was ever supposed to be the point. As I have noted, Elroy-El does mention it but not in the context of weakness or cowardice. Wang comes across as miserable and broken, certainly not "impossible to gauge" and he does not give in due to treachery but because he cannot take any more. Wang is barely in his right mind when he finally agrees to make the tape; one certainly cannot say that he planned for it to happen or did anything crafty.

What this storyline really does for Wang is to give him something of his own. West already had the Kylen plotline, Hawkes and McQueen have a monopoly on In Vitro drama, Damphousse hasn't got a lot as of this episode but it is possible that giving this storyline to a black female would have raised even stronger questions than De La Fuente had. Wang now joins Vansen as having a special reason to hate the Silicates. His character grows with this episode and, while I do not agree with him, it cannot be said that De La Fuente let his misgivings holding him back from giving a great performance.

A very good episode, minor complaints aside and a great conclusion to the set up of last week, and one that is bound to have repercussions in the stories to come.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #119 "Fire On High!" Part 1

Fire On High (Part 1) was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Dan Reed, Coloured by Steve White and lettered by Mike Scott.

The cover is by Will Simpson and is... really good actually. The perspective on Wreck-Gar and Goldbug is spot on and look at the detail on the dust and debris churning up from Wreck-Gar's tyres. The speech balloons are annoying, as usual, but at least they depict dialogue from the actual comic. The only possible downside is that Goldbug's legs are, on closer inspection, weirdly far apart and look a little unnatural. Wreck-Gar is very wide for a motorcycle. It doesn't detract much from a punchy and exciting image however.

The Autobots, and Cindy, are holding a council of war. Cindy uses the ever-helpful device of turning Galvatron's plan into a simple analogy that the audience can understand. The volcano device will build up the pressure "Like shaking up a bottle of extremely fizzy liquid." I can't help but think that these millenia old beings with computers for brains would be able to understand in somewhat more complicated terms, and I can't imagine what use a Transformer would have for a bottle of fizzy liquid anyway, but it works to get us up to speed and is a time-honoured science-fiction technqiue.

Galvatron is planning to cause a massive eruption, the one that Cindy and Ultra Magnus lived through earlier was a mere test run and siphon off the energy, transforming him into something akin to a god. That much we knew. What we didn't know, however, was that the effect of this eruption will be to trigger eruptions along the entire Cascade mountain range and to set off earthquakes along faultlines all across the West Coast. The death-toll will be in the millions.

Rodimus is appalled but has no plan beyond a vague suggestion of getting Galvatron back to 2007. Wreck-Gar comes up with something, but Rodimus has no time for his television-themed gibbering until Goldbug interjects and points out that without Wreck-Gar he'd still be lying in pieces. Rodimus gives Wreck-Gar a chance to explain and the scene jumps to...

Ultra Magnus explaining his part in the plan to Cindy. He must face Galvatron once again in order to distract him long enough for his time-jump device to be stolen. Cindy is distraught and angry, pointing out that Galvatron has beaten Ultra Magnus every time they have fought (and she wasn't even there for Target: 2006). Ultra Magnus is prepared to go to his fate but Cindy storms off in tears.

Magnus tries to explain but she is gone and Wreck-Gar gets a lovely moment where he quotes Monty Python's seminal Nudge-Nudge, Wink-Wink sketch. Especially good given that in Transformers: The Movie, Wreck-Gar was voiced by Eric Idle. Ultra Magnus has no time, however, for Wreck-Gar's lewd assertions about Cindy being a "sleek, economy model".

Later, Galvatron is hard at work repairing the damage Ultra Magnus has done to his energy siphon, cursing all of the Autobots by name. He is interrupted by a shout and sees Goldbug riding up the slope of the volcano astride Wreck-Gar (mercifully in motorcycle mode). He manages to get in a couple of good shots that throw the future Decepticon off-balance as Wreck-Gar rams him and transforms, throwing his axe at Galvatron's head.

His work done, Goldbug leaps from the mountain and sends Kup and Blurr to carry on the assault. Galvatron is in full fighting rage now, his face contorted and his eyes blazing with energy. His particle cannon spits energy and once again Kup and Blurr are disabled. Goldbug leaps aside to narrowly escape the same fate.

Galvatron turns to find Ultra Magnus calling him out for a fair fight. As he keeps up the tough-talk, knowing all the while that this will almost certainly be the end of him Rodimus and Wreck-Gar work furiously to rewire Galvatron's time-jump device.

Blinded by fury, Galvatron takes a titanic leap at Ultra Magnus and after a couple of swift punches, throws him headlong and screaming into the crater of the volcano...

Obviously the shocking end of this issue is its high-point and its most dramatically successful moment. Furman does well to avoid the convention here and offs Ultra Magnus without much ceremony. We have seen so many desperate battles for survival, dramatic last stands and final sacrifices that it is actually far more powerful, if sobering, to be shown that sometimes, you just won't be good, strong or fast enough. Sometimes being overmatched means just that. The reason Ultra Magnus has fought Galvatron so many times is because he cannot beat him and maybe he never will.

I admit that it's almost inconceivable that Ultra Magnus will not return at some point but this is serialised story-telling and it's up to the writer to sell each moment as it comes, not to hedge their bets. We, the audience, might become cynical about these things, but if the writers start letting us know that they're in on the joke, then the whole medium threatens to fall apart. Ultra Magnus is, for all intents and purposes, dead, and it's a good, shocking death.

The rest of the issue, with the Autobots using strategy to keep Galvatron off-balance is exciting and varied. This, combined with Magnus' surprisingly rapid defeat goes a long to keep the action from becoming repetitive. We have seen knock-down, drag-out battles with Galvatron several times before and we know how powerful he is. Furman has definitely picked the right time to move from the characters wondering how Galvatron can possibly be defeated to them actually enacting a plan to do just that. The difference is perhaps subtle as the carnage is still extreme, but there is definitely a sense that the end is approaching.

Dan Reed's art, which is sometimes pretty great, unfortunately lets this issue down a bit. I am not as big a detractor from his "wobbly Transformers" as some fans, (I mean, he pencilled City Of Fear so he's always going to get some love from me) but there is a certain slapdash nature to his work this time, starting, disastrously, with Rodimus Prime being given a Decepticon badge on the opening page. Steve White at least coloured it red, but the damage is done. Not only does Reed enjoy drawing organic looking robots, he also always gives them weirdly stubby guns, almost funnel-like at times, and renders their weapons-fire in thick multi-shaded streams of energy. It's not a look I mind as such, it's just very different from everyone else's take on the Transformers and it feels especially jarring in the middle of a long arc like this one. He has had one other issue in this arc, and in general the art has been all over the place, due to the weekly schedule, but Reed's work stands out the most and at times appears rather too busy with unncessary lines all over the place.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Super Ginrai's Transform

Welcome back to the latest edition of The Ark Addendum.  This week, we head back to Japan to get some nice Masterforce transformations.  This is the transformation sequence for Super Ginrai.  I've already posted the transform for vanilla-Ginrai some time ago - over two years ago, my how time flies.  I think I've got one more Transform for him somewhere.  I'm sure I'll get to it before too long.

I like how toy accurate this one is.  There's very little cheating going on.  That might have been a bit of a weakness on regular-Ginrai (the fake chest thing is a bit weird) but here it works out just dandy. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #7 - New Dawn and Tales of Earth (part 4)

The seventh issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of Transformers once again contains two stories; New Dawn and Tales of Earth (part 4).  Both were written by Simon Furman, colored by Sarah Mossoff, and lettered by Richard Starkings with O'Neil.  Manny Galan penciled New Dawn, which was inked by Jim Amash.  Derek Yaniger was the artist on Tales of Earth, as well as the cover.

The cover is mostly fantastic.  Jhiaxus stands with his foot planted squarely on Megatron's neck, guns blazing.  It's another fantastic Yaniger cover, and in fact if I could have any one piece of his original artwork this would be the one.  (Sadly, this one is not in my collection.)  The only thing that mars it slightly is the pun on the cover, "Death is Afoot!"  Ugh.  It's like adding a big dollop of ketchup to a perfectly cooked steak.

The story starts off with a bang, as Megatron's new generation of Decepticons assault Tykos for its precious, precious rheanium, a gas that renders metal ultra-dense.  Are these new warriors the new dawn heralded by the title?  We get four pages of toy ads here, which really isn't so bad for the seventh issue of this series.  A particularly nice ad is Darkwing, based on the Dreadwing toy.  Didn't Galan do an outstanding job with this pin-up?  Sadly, I don't think we'll see this design again anywhere in G2.

It's not all toys, though.  We get to see Megatron be hard when a mechanoid attempts to surrender to him and is promptly blown away for his troubles.   We also get a bit of characterization, when Starscream reacts to a menial assignment with paranoid.  Then again, is it paranoia if Megatron really is planning to off him at some point?  In any event, all this carnage is merely a prelude.  A Deceptiocn shuttle sent to investigate the K'Tor Cluster and Jhiaxus' forces returns, but so badly damaged that it burns up on reentry.  Thus challenged, Megatron has little choice but to respond in kind, and rallies the troops for some blood - er - oilshed.  The story is slick, mixing in action and character development and some new toys and some plot advancement.  The set-up of the previous six issues is starting to pay off.

As the Warworld engages the Twilight, we swiftly learn how outmatched our 'heroes' are as the G2 Decepticons seemingly effortlessly dispatch Megatron's motley crew.  I like how diverse the original Decepticons are in comparison to the forces of Jhiaxus.  You've got werewolves and octopus-men and purple tanks and white cars on the one side, versus beings with a much more uniform look and feel to them, spikey and white / green cybertronian forms.

Despite Starscream urging retreat  Megatron refuses.  He only has eyes for one being, the enemy commander.  We get a nice close-up on Jhiaxus' mouth, similar to the one of Megatron's from the last issue.  The battle will take a similar course as well.  With the same apparent ease that his troopers dispatches those of Megatrons, so does Jhiaxus thrash Megatron about even as he lectures him on his lack of a place in the cosmos.  Megatron is knocked off the ship and can only watch, helplessly, as Jhiaxus transforms and blasts him down onto a planet below.  The narration is nicely poetic: "In seconds he is a fading speck in the upper atmosphere, passing the terminator... night becomes day."  It seems that the new dawn is not Megatron's bolstered army, but rather a reference to this battle, and it belongs to the Cybertronian Empire. 

But surely that can't be the end of Megatron.  The ever-loyal Soundwave leads a search party for his remains, which they eventually locate in a crater.  Incredibly, Megatron has survived his descent, and there is only one thing on his mind... revenge!  It's a powerful ending, and the understated surprise on Soundwave's silhouetted face is also very nicely rendered. 

This, the main story of the issue, was very well done.  Megatron really does seem like some kind of dinosaur here, refusing to grasp the reality of the situation before him.  The dawn metaphor is nice, partially because it's pretty subtle.  One mention in the cover, and then a bit of payoff right at the climax of the Megatron-Jhiaxus battle. 

Moving on to the backup story, Tales of Earth continues.  The story has shifted from the Decepticons to the Autobots.  Optimus Prime is being repaired after the drubbing Megatron handed him.  His metaphysical musings about what the loss of the Matrix means to him are well done.  What really does it for me, though, is three pages (including a lovely two-page vertical spread) of flashbacks to Metatron over the years.  We get reference to issues 1, 4, 8, 24, 25, 59, and 70, all fit together rather perfectly.

Of course, all this is going somewhere.  Megatron is here, looking like he might fall apart at any moment.  (Derek Yaniger has said that this image of Megatron was his favorite piece from this run.  I can't say I blame him, it's fantastic.)  It seems that Megatron has reconsidered Optimus' proposal for an alliance. The artwork is lovely, but there's a subtle touch that I appreciate.  When Megatron shows up, Optimus Prime's line is "at last..."  How apropo.

Once again, the Tales of Earth were short but punchy.  We're starting to build to the idea that the war without end between Optimus and Megatron is a not just a political tragedy but also a personal one.  It's a great idea, one that is surprisingly intuitive.  These sorts of themes wouldn't really be explored again until Alex Irvine's Transformers: Exodus.

Taken as a whole, we're again given a tale where the primary and secondary stories play off of each other, and both are stronger for it.  In fact, this is probably the first time in the G2 run where the result is actually better with a one-two punch than it would be as an integrated story.  Each story climaxes in a very satisfying way.  G2 #7 kicks off the moderately out-of-print titan collection,   Transformers Rage in Heaven, available at Amazon used.  It's quite good, so check it out if you haven't done so.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bish's Review Space: Above and Beyond Episode 8: Hostile Visit

"This is Lieutenant Nathan West 58th Squadron, United States Marine Corps, Planet Earth! Open wide you Chig bastards!" - West

Hostile Visit was written by Glen Morgan, James Wong and Peyton Webb.

The episode opens in the midst of a tense battle with the Saratoga being strafed by Chig bombers. The carrier is able to fight them off but one remains, adrift but intact. Recognising an unprecedented opportunity to understand Chig technology, Commodore Ross orders the 58th to explore and retrieve the ship.

The marines are aghast when it turns out that Aerotech, rather than the military, have been given permission to reverse engineer the bomber but the plans are changed when McQueen proposes a different use for it - a risky raid on a major Chig base, using the bomber as a Trojan horse - a propaganda mission similar to the Doolittle Raid from WW2. Ross gives the okay and the 58th set about learning to fly the ship. Aerotech make an attempt to prevent this by deleting some vital data, but the Saratoga crew are able to fill in the blanks and the mission continues.

McQueen learns that the flight window for the mission has to be brought forward and offers the 58th one last chance to back out - none of them do and he petitions Ross to be allowed to accompany them.

The mission sets off and the 58th manage to dodge a couple of Chig patrols and enter orbit of their base on Cerus. Unable to give the correct authorisation code to a sentry sattelite they come under attack and meet heavy resistance as they begin the bombing run. With weapons fire on all sides the bomb misses and the bomber is disabled. The 58th eject in an escape pod as the ship explodes.
Back on the Saratoga, Ross is unable to justify sending an entire carrier to Cerus to look for six marines and is about to rejoin the fleet when Sewell, the Aerotech representative, tells him to set course for Cerus - he will not be disappointed.

To Be Continued...

The Good

Where to start? This is an excellent episode of Space: Above and Beyond on almost every level although the reasons it is so great are perhaps not apparent from my summary above. Reading it back, the episode sounds packed with action and incident and it is, but the focus is really on the implications of these people going on what is probably a suicide mission.

We get a real sense of how the war is going - humanity has been on the defensive for six months because there have been no Chig bases discovered and it is taking it's toll on morale. The central question; the probable trading of lives and useful technology in order to turn the emotional tide is explored a little but never truly debated. This feels realistic, however, in the universe of the show and in the mindsets of our characters. References to World War Two help to keep the context relevant, noting the difference between a kamikaze mission and one that is just extremely risky. McQueen keeps a copy of a poem by a Japanese Kamikaze pilot in his flightsuit:

"With my mission now at hand, my dear old town, my dear old people, I now abandon everything and leave to protect this country. To preserve our eternal and just cause, I now go forth. My body will collapse like a falling cherry blossom but my soul will live and protect this land forever. Farewell. I am a glorious wild cherry blossom. I shall return to my mother's place and bloom."
- Mayumi Ichikawa.

to remind him that "[the man] died foolishly. He gave his life in a lost cause." This is a neat reversal of McQueen's usual admiration for the historical figures he studies and prompts a nice moment where Hawkes, last to volunteer, says slowly, "I ain't no kamikaze..." and when the faces of his colleagues fall he finishes with "'cause I'm coming back!" It is easy to scoff at chest-thumping moments like this but it really is very touching and utterly true to the character.

They talk about death, about their lives meaning something. McQueen openly admits, to Ross, of course, not the squadron, that he loves them and gets the most important arc of all as he is allowed to accompany the rest of the Wildcards despite being nominally grounded. We get a real sense of what makes McQueen tick as he recites a poem that I immediately began to google before he'd finished:

The dim glow falling upon the dried blood of Union brothers in the Manassas eve
Still guides our path.
Constellations hidden by fierce Pacific storms in the Bataan sky
Remain obscured by day.
The stars -- a billion -- for every life laid down in Vietnam
Still shine on us, And will guide those who follow.

but was unsuccessful as it turns out that it was McQueen who wrote it. He has always been a fierce student of military history and philosophy but only a mission like this would get him to lay his soul so bare to the men and women under his command. Ross asks him why an In Vitro would risk his life for humanity and McQueen replies:

"I would consider it my gift to you sir, to have you wonder why I did."

Wang, too, gets a couple of good moments. The beginnings of a romance with Lieutenant Strowd (Melissa Bowen) is touching although probably doomed to failure and his pitch-perfect impression of McQueen hits a comic high note and expertly punctures the growing tension. McQueen, entering at the wrong time, doesn't call him on it, as he realises how hard the situation is.

Hawkes and Vansen have a lovely little scene in the quiet of the flight-deck in the dead of night before the mission. Hawkes wants to go on the mission because "what's the point of sitting around [missing everyone]." and Vansen has a lovely speech about how it is Autumn back on Earth and how she "always fell in love in Autumn". This is arguably slightly overwritten but performed with incredible conviction by Kristen Cloke and has all the more veracity given that this could be her last night in the universe. Rather than going for strict naturalism the script is much more poetic than most things on television and is all the stronger for it.

As well as every scene being filled with good character moments, including a memorable first appearance for Commodore Ross's guitar, there is a good level of continuity, with elements like Aerotech, still represented by the incredibly sinister Sewell (Michael Mantell) right down to a throwaway line about Sergeant Major Bougus (R. Lee Ermy from the Pilot) making his recruits read The Naked And The Dead.

A couple of references to some real-world propulsion concepts, pellet-stream and bussard ramscoops along with the usual smattering of military terminology keeps things pleasingly grounded and the trivia minded might like to know that Hammerheads are armed with "short range kinetic pods" and a laser cannon.

The Bad

A more recent show might have trusted more in our grasp of continuity and showed that the war is going quite badly over time rather than have a scene with a mouthy extra as this episode does. It gets the point across but is extremely heavy-handed.

When the Chig bomber is on its bombing run it appears to be in the Cerus atmosphere but when the Wildcards bail out it has switched to a space background - extremely jarring.

A recognition code that works just by repeating it back doesn't seem very secure, but then it doesn't work the second time.

Chig technology is organic. It fits and is a great concept but I find the idea is a little overused these days. It works very well for the creep factor though, which is presumably why it's such a popular trope.

Future History

None of any note this week. I would have been tempted to include something futuristic made up in McQueen's war poem, but that might have pulled audiences out of the moment.

Past History

So much it cannot all be listed, and I have mentioned some already. McQueen's poem alone mentions three seperate wars and of course there are numerous references to the Trojan Horse and the Doolittle Raid. References to Kamikaze pilots also abound and the Wildcards adopt their tradition of cutting fingernails and leaving them behind for burial. The book McQueen gives West about these men is called Thunder Gods.

A fantastic episode with a great cliffhanger. Probably the most perfect example out of the episodes I've reviewed so far of the show that Space could be when it was firing on all cylinders.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Chaar

After an computer-related absence of over a month, The Ark Addendum is back!  As is often the case when I am away for a while, I try to find something extra juicy to remind you of just how cool character models can be. But I've been doing this for a couple of years now, and my stock is running low... what to share, what to share?  Ah ha, got it.  How about a lovely landscape of Chaar, the new Decepticon base after they are driven from Cybertron following The Transformers: The Movie?  I'd like to thank Monzo for making these available to me.  I actually did have a page on Chaar (well, Jaar, the Japanese name for Chaar) in  Transformers: The Complete Ark  (order it today!), but had I had this landscape I'd have probably featured it in the season three portion of the book, rather than the Headmasters portion of the book.  (I probably wouldn't have gone with a double-page spread like this, though.)  Hope you enjoy!  Next week, perhaps some Masterforce.

Monday, May 2, 2011

BotCon, Original Artwork, and you

So, BotCon is just around the corner and I'm super psyched.  Why wouldn't I be?  This year is celebrating Transformers: Animated, on of my favorite continuities of all time.  Not only that, but it's in Pasadena, a stone's throw away from my North Hollywood domicile.  Yes, good times will be had by all.

Those who regularly read my Transformers comic reviews will no doubt be aware that I'm a big fan of the original artwork behind the comics.  I just love to see the black and white illustrations, love the whole PROCESS of making a comic.  Some of the highlights of my collection are up on Flickr.  (My all-time favorite is the original to Transformers #78.)

Well, my interest in BotCon and my interest in original artwork intersect today.  Yup, some of the artwork behind Moving Violations, the two-page preview comic for this year's BotCon set, is now up for auction.  It'd drawn by Greg "M Sipher" Sepelak.  I love the feeling that I own a unique piece of history that comes with the collection of original artwork.  Most of mine is splash pages featuring prominent Decepticons, so this isn't QUITE what I normally go after, but it's pretty darned awesome if you ask me.  I love that he drew out the Autobot characters by hand, rather than lettering them in afterwards.  Anyway, be sure to check it out.

Moving Violations: Page 1 (color) (auction)

Moving Violations: Page 2 (color) (auction)