Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Marvel Transformers trade paperbacks

I just can't give up on this series of posts.  Thursdays roll around I and feel compelled to talk about the Marvel Transformers comics!  I figured this week I'd tackle the trades collecting Transformers that have come out in recent years.  (I.E. I'm not going to go in-depth on the G.I. Joe and the Transformers trade from 1993, nor the Transformers Universe trade from 1987.)  Two companies have tackled this problem, Titan Books and IDW Publishing.  Since Titan Books did it first, I'll start with them.

Back in 2001, Geewun fans were having a ball.  Dreamwave Productions had the Transformers comics and were selling insane numbers of books, so the time seemed ripe to revisit some of the old Marvel material.   Titan Books deigned to do so.  However, they didn't start at issue number 1, no.  You see, most comics that have runs in the dozens don't have every story reprinted.  Instead, publishers opt for highlights.  Since Furman was involved, it's unsurprising that they started with what he considered to be his best work, The Unicron War.  And so, come summer of 2001, All Fall Down was published, containing issues #69-74.  Shortly thereafter, End of the Road came out and collected #75-80.

It's clear that titan was pleased with the sales on these books, because by the end of 2002, the rest of Furman's US run was collected.  Issue 56-68, and G2 #1-12 were collected over four volumes.  (Sadly, the Halloween Special from G2 was skipped, as was the G2 G.I. Joe crossover.  The latter I can understand, since it was probably a separate license, but the former chafes.)  Since these apparently sold well, Titan drew up plans to reprint the rest of the G1 Marvel run, issues #1-55.  The out-of-continuity stuff, Man of Iron and The Big Broadcast of 2006, was skipped.  The Headmasters mini-series was folded into the run, but the out-of continuity movie adaptation was skipped.  This wasn't too problematic, though G.I. Joe and the Transformers mini-series was likewise skipped, with slightly more serious continuity implications for the book.

Generally 5 to 7 issues were printed per book.  Each book came out in a softcover edition first, followed shortly thereafter by a Diamond edition.  An exception was the first (chronological) volume published, All Fall Down.  This first appeared as a Botcon exclusive hardcover with a Geoff Senior cover.  Actually, it's good that I've gotten to the covers.  The softcovers had some pretty nifty CGI / pen&ink designs by Andrew Wildman.  Each featured a few characters that were prominent in the story, along with some large background element.  Book were published in pairs, so All Fall Down's cover linked up strongly with that of End of the Road.  What was really fun, though, was that all the books linked weakly together, and the final book from G2 (Rage in Heaven) linked up with that from the first G1 book, Beginnings.  Slick.  The choice of background elements ranges from the likes of Unicron and Primus to the Space Bridge to the Mecannibals.  The Diamond hardcovers were by an impressively large number of artists, including familiar names like Don Figueroa and Pat Lee, and more well-known comic artists like Dave Gibbons and Howard Chaykin.

Titan didn't skimp on the extras either.  Given that the project started off as a few isolated stories, they took care to frame the stories in the proper context.  Many of the books had newly-commissioned forewords, from guys like Greg Berger and Bob Forward and of course Simon Furman and Bob Budiansky.  Also included were sketches, original treatments, and in two of the later, shorter books, galleries of the Titan covers.  Slightly meta, maybe, but since I had all the hardcovers I liked getting a gallery of the softcover covers.

All in all, it was an excellent collection.  Sixteen volumes, available at $19.95 each for softcover or $24.95 each for hardcover, came out to $320-$400 for the collection.  Pricey, yes, but far less than purchasing the 93 issues individually would have been.  The collection was not, however, without problems.  It was clear that some of the originals had degraded, leading to a few issues with washed-out colors or a VERY slight blurriness to the lines.  This mostly impacted the earlier volumes, later volumes tended to be of higher quality.  Also, the original covers were all present but they tended to be presented two to a page.  I'd have preferred a whole page each.  Finally, and this is a nitpick but it's always bothered me so I'll say it, it annoys me that every one of the 16 books uses the latter-half of G1 logo.  (There were three logos, the classic G1, the *Masters G1, and then the G2 logo.  All sixteen volumes use the *Masters G1 logo.)

The last of the Titan trades came out in early 2005.  By this point, Dreamwave had declared bankruptcy and the future of the Transformers comics was uncertain.  Enter IDW Publishing, a much more professional outfit who swooped in and started publishing some really excellent stories.  In early 2008, they published the first of six omnibus editions collecting the G1 Marvel Comics run on Transformers.  Each one covered thirteen to sixteen issues.  At a $20 price point, they are a much better value for your dollar than the Titan collection.

However, as nice as they are, they too are sadly not perfect.  Circuit-Breaker, a fairly prominent character, was owned by Marvel Comics, a competitor to IDW.  Whereas Titan was able to reprint her stories, IDW was not.  (Issue #3, with the infamous Spider-Man guest appearance, was likewise stricken from this collection.)  A guy named Stuart Denyer wrote up some pretty decent summaries to fill the gap, but of course it's not the same.  (Thankfully, by volume 5, this issue appears to have been resolved, as Circuit-Breaker stories are included.)  Secondly, while the Headmasters mini is printed in this collection, it's not printed until Collection #6.   Thus, it's far out of place from the reading order.  Third, this collection ends at G1 #80, skipping the entire G2 saga.  Finally, the collections are pretty bare-bones.  No new forewords, no sketches, none of the sizzle.  They didn't even spring for new covers, instead making a collage from existing comic panels.  This is a shame, because IDW has a terrific stable of talented artists who could have done amazing things with it.  Remember that Nich Roche cover to Buster Witwicky and the Carwash of Doom?  (I'll admit that I don't have any of these books in front of me right now, and I don't quite remember how they handled the original covers.)

Comparing the two, it's apparent that neither one is perfect, but the Titan editions get a whole lot closer.  They just put a lot more effort into them.  The few Titan omissions that IDW fixes are hardly critical, and the extras are very nice.  However, even at retail the Titan Books books were more than twice the price of the IDW books, and the IDW books are considerably easier to find today.  For someone who is looking to just read the comics, IDW is the clear winner.  Plus, it's always possible that IDW will come out with a volume 7 covering G2 and, who knows, maybe even the Halloween Special or the G.I. Joe crossover that was skipped by Titan.  But if you're looking for a display collection, I think Titan edges it out.

By the way, as the lead photo indicates, I went with Titan hardcovers, including the Botcon exclusive version of All Fall Down.  Moreover, I've been fortunate enough to get each of them autographed by either Bob Budiansky or Simon Furman.  Normally I don't go for autographs, but this run of comics meant so much to me that I felt it appropriate.  It sits proudly in my living room, and I frequently pick one at random to peruse.

Next week is, I think, my very last formal post on the subject.  I'll try to gather up all my thoughts and recollection from the run and turn that into something coherent.  Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bishbot's impressions of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (SPOILERS)

I just got back from seeing Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and thought I would hop on the old internet and share some fannish thoughts:

As you can imagine, there will be spoilers. I will NOT be summarising the plot but I will also not be too shy about mentioning characters and events. If you care at all about spoilers you should already have stopped reading!

Right - that's got rid of those guys. Looking back on my now two-year old review of Revenge Of The Fallen I become aware that I liked that film a lot more on first viewing than I have done subsequent times. Oddly, for Dark Of The Moon I feel that this situation might be reversed. Do not take that to mean that I didn't enjoy myself or don't think the film is worth watching. On the contrary, Michael Bay has created a gigantic explosive story filled with Autobot vs Decepticon action that a Transformers fan has no business skipping. The only problem is; he did that last time.

Lets leave the first film out of this for a while. Transformers (2007) was a great first attempt. It had problems, as most summer action blockbusters do. There were some oddly broad performances (I'm looking at you Turturro!) and the pacing was a bit wobbly but it basically did what was necessary to kickstart a franchise and delivered an action film that anyone who likes that sort of movie could admit to enjoying.

What we really have to consider Dark Of The Moon in relation to is the hugely problematic sequel. As I've stated, I enjoyed Revenge the first time I saw it. I enjoyed it the second time, and the third, but to a much lesser extent. It was gigantic, ridiculous in every way. The action from the first film was ramped up to an insane degree and as a fan of robot carnage (and lets face it, aren't we all?) I couldn't help but be swept away. When examined as an actual story the scripting and pacing problems from the first movie are now ratcheted (ha!) up to an unforgiveable degree and the plot is essentially the fetch and carry the maguffin last third of the first movie stretched out to two and a half hours. I enjoyed it but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done without the Transformers trappings and that's not really good enough.

Dark Of The Moon, lets get this straight, is a better film than Revenge Of The Fallen, but it achieves this in the shallowest ways. It is still too long, two and a half hours again, and the pacing is still way off. On a first viewing this doesn't present much of a problem as you're constantly assaulted by new kinds of robotic action but I think it will show itself more and more as familiarity sets in.

The script probably is marginally better, but it's never anything above serviceable. The "comedy" moments are reduced, and, surprisingly, so are the American military hardware porn sequences. Some of the comedy works, some doesn't. None of it is on screen for so long as to really make you cringe and I even laughed at a couple of things Wheelie says, which will probably be a new sensation for most of you.

I'm not really going to go into the plot but suffice it to say that the film has one and it makes more sense than Revenge Of The Fallen but won't win any prizes. It does borrow from The Ultimate Doom though, which is fun for fans.

The robots get a lot more to do than ever before and even get a few sequences where there aren't any humans around to ask dumb audience questions. I'm not a human-hater, I understand perfectly the need for these movies to include prominent human characters, and not just for budgetary reasons, but hey, I'm a Transformers fan, I'm going to be counting the sequences that contain robots. Unfortunately none of the Autobots other than Prime or Bumblebee are really fleshed out, again. Rather than try to build up the character of some of the background 'bots in the last two pictures, Bay elects to introduce some new Autobots to also not be properly fleshed out. I couldn't even tell you all their names, and when the guy in the Transformers cufflinks can't do that, you've got a problem with your Transformers movie.

The Decepticons fare even worse, predictably. Megatron is in there, and you know who he is - Hugo Weaving continues to be pretty good. There is a robot called Soundwave. You know the one, he growls in a deep baritone, laughs at humans and turns into a sports car. Laserbeak features, and I rather enjoyed him. He turns into a lot of innocuous household objects and has a mission to hunt down specific humans. I wouldn't go as far as to call him creepy, but he's a pretty good update. Shockwave, sadly, despite all the promotion, is not up to much. He has none of the calculating coldness of the comics or the sycophantic loyalty of the cartoon. In fact, I'm not sure he even speaks a single audible line. Including Shockwave in a movie but not putting him in opposition to Megatron was a severely dropped ball (I know, I know - new continuity, but come on guys!).

The biggest new figure was Sentinel Prime, voiced rather well by Leonard Nimoy. He features heavily in the plot and is the main reason that Shockwave was essentially a pointless addition. It's a new take on the Sentinel character but that's not a bad thing, at least he HAD a character.

You've got basically all your humans from last time around and if you enjoyed them last time you will again. Obviously Megan Fox's Mikaela is now gone, replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whitely playing Carly but it is very obvious that they barely had to change anything to make the script fit around this change. It would be a bit jarring if anyone watched these films for the character relationships but luckily...

So, meanderingly, we come to the real reason that Dark Of The Moon is a better movie than it's immediate predecessor - action. Now in 3D, the battle sequences are simply astounding. Bay seems to have (slightly) slowed down his editing style and it is definitely easier to determine exactly what is going on. This is especially important because the things that are going on are a fantastic spectacle. I actually feel worse about spoiling specific action beats than I do about plot points because I can't help but feel that is the level you want to be surprised at with these films. Suffice it to say that everything explodes, all over the place, the CGI is basically seamless and the transformation sequences have to be seen to be believed. If you like that sort of thing you need to see this movie for this reason and this reason alone.

I hope you enjoy it. I did, despite my slightly peeved sounding article. Just for the love of Primus don't expect it to correct anything you didn't like about the previous one. That brings me to my original point. I fully expect Dark Of The Moon to please me more and more as I rewatch because it is technically better than Revenge in most ways so will grow to replace it in my affections. It's just a shame that the improvements are so marginal that I don't really have room in my spark for both of them.

Brief edit: One thing I really disliked that should never have been included - Autobots intervening in the Middle East. That was all kinds of wrong. It was only a brief scene, but it sure appeared like they were killing humans. Even if those humans weren't great guys, that's a line Optimus just doesn't cross, and I don't care which continuity he's in.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Lightfoot's Transform

Hail and well met, loyal blogosphere!  It's time for another edition of The Ark Addendum.  Since I've been hitting the US cartoon for the past few weeks, I thought I'd bounce over to Japan for another nifty Transformation.  This week, it's Lightfoot!

Lightfoot, the Japanese version of Getaway, was one of the Godmasters of Masterforce.  Light Foot, son of Left Foot (get it?  To the Japanese, L and R sound the same, so... ugh) is the heir to the British Motor Company, which is naturally based in Canada.  When I was putting together The Ark II, Hydra helped me get as much funny trivia like this as possible to help contextualize all these guys.

As far as the image goes, it's pretty lovely.  As usual, more effort than strictly necessary seems to have been put into this purely internal document.  I do find it slightly awkward that the Godmaster controlling the Transtector winds up on his back, though.  Not a problem with the transform, a problem with the toy, but still something that bugs me a bit.

Monday, June 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Transformers Alignment

Well, I wasn't planning on doing this, but the feedback seemed pretty clear that it was desired.  This will be the review of Simon Furman's novella, Alignment, produced for two Transforce conventions unofficially.  It tells the story of the Liege Maximo, and also bridges the gap between the Marvel Comics continuity and the Beast Wars series.  After keeping it off-line for years, the convention organizers eventually decided to share an on-line version, which is available for download here making it by far the easiest of all my comic reviews for you to follow.  I'm going to be reviewing the 2002 printed edition, though, which features a different cover. 

Alignment was written by Simon Furman, with artwork interspersed between by Jeff Anderson, Kev Hopgood, Geoff Senior, Lew Stringer, Lee Sullivan, and Andrew Wildman.  The cover of the 2002 print edition is a piece by Sean Bastick.  (The cover of the on-line edition is by Lee Sullivan, and is reproduced in black & white in the back of the print edition.  It was originally used in the magazine edition that covered part one of the story.)

The print cover by Bastick is a CG piece, featuring an attack by Grimlock on the Liege Maximo.  It's just a bit flat, a bit too regular.  The web of planets that make up the Hub seem to be merely a large room.  Obviously scales such as expressed in the book are hard to convey visually, so I might be inclined to give that a pass.  However, there is a sort of regularity to the image that is unappealing.  The Liege Maximo's cannon, for instance, looks like a tool you'd buy at Sears rather than a weapon that seemed to be powered by a 'small sun.'  Note that I actually am a fan of Bastick's work, but in this particular piece he falls short of the mark.  (The other cover, Sullivan's Optimus versus Megatron, is much stronger as a visual, though thematically a bit odd to focus on a one-sentence line of backstory.)

The book itself is broken into two parts.  In part 1, a critical but horribly dull expedition by Grimlock, Swoop, Blaster, Springer, and Perceptor to hunt for energon accidentally uncovers a massive threat to the existence of Autobot and Decepticon alike, a mind-shatteringly gargantuan web of little Cybertrons linked together into a galaxy-spanning Hub.  At the center of this web sits the Liege Maximo, who is preparing for a once-in-the-lifetime-of-the-universe Alignment of certain stars that will allow him to become a god.  As this event is happening quite soon, he unleashes massive forces against Grimlock & co, then sends about a quarter of his forces each against the Autobot and Decepticon camps.  Their ship is destroyed, but they've managed to find some measure of safety by abandoning it and hiding in the Hub.

The Autobots are licking their wounds after their last massive battle with the Decepticons.  The Autobots emerged on top, but are critically low on energon and are considering severe options such as downsizing.  The Decepticons are holed up in their fortress, desperately attempting to formulate a new strategy.  The Autobots get a bit of warning about what is coming in the form of a log from Grimlock, but the Decepticons have nothing and are soon being razed to the ground of New Cybertron.  They have a slender strand of hope, though, in the form of Soundwave's machinations.  He and a cadre of misfits and loyalists have resurrected Megatron!

Thus ends book one.  I hate the idea of coincidence, and here we get two.  Not only does Grimlock just stumble upon the bad guys, but he does it practically on the eve of the Liege Maximo's ascendance.  I might forgive the first one.  Grimlock intentionally plots a search trajectory through realms of space rumored to harbor monsters and devils, and he finds them.  But the timing of it all seems lazy.

What is of more interest to me is the casual backstory hinted at in the book.  It's a technique that Roche and Roberts would later expand upon to great effect in the superb Last Stand of the Wreckers.  A list of epic threats not quite as big as Unicron includes Jhiaxus, the Swarm, Mogahn the Mass, Praetorian, the Ebon Knights, and Pinea Omicron, the site of the final confrontation between Optimus Prime and Galvatron II.  We also get a bunch of new Decepticon high-commanders name-checked, guys like Direwolf and Mantissa, Saberjaw and Mindgame.  I also like that Furman has given Cybertron's solar system a name, and that New Cybertron has a prior name (Pyrovar.)  These sort of universe-building details are very appealing to me.

The big ending of the book, the return of Megatron, felt a bit overdone.  How many times can Optimus and Megatron come back, I wonder? It's the sort of thing that, in theory, SHOULD make a good climax, but in practice it feels like we're retreading over well-worn ground.

Part II features three plot threads that converge.  Ultra Magnus lures the Liege Maximo's forces close to Cybertron with an energy field, then sets off an ambush from the asteroid belt that destroys them all.  Megatron, meanwhile, fakes a desperate last stand on New Cybertron and blows it up, annihilating most of the fleet set against him.  And Grimlock's band tries and fails to blow up a substantial portion of the Hub by messing with a critical energy juncture, J654.  It would destroy 0.5643 percent of the Hub, leaving a hole 'the size of a small galaxy.'  Guh, really?  Half a percent of the Hub is a small galaxy?  Maybe he meant 56% instead.  The scales are hard to imagine, and I think Furman had some difficulty with it himself.

The Autobots and Decepticons, victorious, launch what fleets they have at the Hub and manage to do some damage.  Meanwhile, Grimlock engages the Liege Maximo head-on and actually distracts him for a moment before being blown away.  This points to the other guerrilla fighters a strategy, cause any distraction they can.  With all Autobot and Decepticon ships coordinating for a moment, Megatron manages to engage the Liege Maximo's physical body and win.  Swoop, meanwhile, completes the original mission and blows up J654, destroying the Alignment and all that remains of their foe. 

Another happy ending!

This latest burst of cooperation heralds the rise of the Predacons, downsizing, and hope for enduring peace.  "With hindsight, they really should have known better."  Cute.  Oh, and three pages later, "It never ends..." 

Chapter two is definitely the stronger of the two chapters.  The desperate cunning of Ultra Magnus and Megatron seem to be about right.  Grimlock's long trek to J654 is described as boring and desolate, which brought to mind to me the journey of Samwise and Frodo.  Perhaps he was going for that, though he didn't really have the space to summon those kinds of emotions.  Swoop gets to be the hero, which was a bit surprising.  I suppose Furman was setting him up as The Veteran, who he would eventually evolve into. There is a sort of weird symmetry to Swoop's future name change, since as Bish covered yesterday he used to be called Divebomb.  How odd that Swoop would become a lens through which Furman would view the entirety of his run on the Marvel US / Marvel UK / Beast Wars / Transforce / 3H BotCon continuity. 

The artwork was decidedly mixed, though that final image of Swoop by Jeff Anderson is absolutely lovely.  The Wildman piece I posted above is decent, and Senior does a lovely Liege Maximo that is indeed the stuff of nightmares and legends.  Many of the other pieces, though, fail to elicit much of an emotional response.  The prose, though, is consistently fresh and easy to read.  Furman invokes some nice imagery from time to time, especially when he gets more technologically inclined. 

How does the book work, as a story on its own?  Not wonderfully, I'm forced to admit.  It's not nearly as strong a conclusion as the final issue of G2 is, or even the last issue of G1.  It seems large for the sake of being large, but doesn't go deep enough into any one character to make you really care.  It's more like the outline of a six-issue comic series than like a novella.  What it does do very well, thanks to things like Sparks and downsizing, is to be an effective bridge between the G2 comics and the Beast Wars. As such, it isn't so necessary for it to be a massive climax itself.  Furman had already written that, and Bob Skir had added a new finale on top of that for Beast Machines. 

So, final verdict: worth reading, if only for the expanded universe building, but you'll be better off picking an earlier or later climax for the continuity depending on where you want to draw the line.  Interesting to see the ideas, but not emotionally satisfying.

Next week (or so), I'll review some of the ways that this continuity has been reprinted.  Then, one more big-picture post, and I'll turn the comic review space over to a new feature.  I won't say what it is, but I think you'll enjoy it, yes?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK - 1988 Annual - "What's In A Name?"

Time today for another story from the 1988 Annual - published in August 1987. Only a little one for today but the third and last story from this book Ark Duty will also be reviewed in the next few days.

What's In A Name?, written by Simon Furman, is a prequel story set while the Transformers were still all on Cybertron and Optimus Prime was not even the leader of the Autobots, merely a field commander. It is told in flashback by Swoop:

Swoop explains the situation - how he used to be known as Divebomb before an unknown Decepticon came out of nowhere, defeated him in battle and rubbed his nose in it by taking that name. Unable to take the insult Swoop tracked the Decepticon down, against orders, and engaged him once again.

Divebomb surprises Swoop - I am a big fan of his dragonlike Cybertronian alternate mode here - and the pair battle while trading insults. As Swoop takes to the air Divebomb hits him with a fragment rocket and forces him to crash. Swoop is able to surprise the grandstanding Predacon with a quick blast from his afterburners but is soon down again thanks to Divebomb's energo-sword.

Swoop says that he could have lived with this defeat but for the fact that he is suddenly saved by his least-favourite commander - Optimus Prime - whose orders he disobeyed to find Divebomb.

The story cuts back to the present where we are treated to the reason behind this reminiscence - Sludge has shown Swoop a news story about the Predacons recent deprivations on Earth. Swoop recognises Divebomb and begins to plan his revenge.

- this story will begin to pay off in Issue #135

Even given it's scant pagecount - only five - I really like this little story. It stands in good contrast to the modern trend of "decompressed storytelling" that you get a good slice of what makes Swoop tick as well as a few pages of decent action. Furman is obviously fond of the Dinobots because there was no real need to revisit the theme of Swoop's rivalry with Optimus Prime but it adds good context to the longer and more epic stories as well as threatening to pay off in the present. Furman could have done this story either way, of course, but it is highly unlikely that he would have had the idea if "Divebomb" hadn't been a Bob Budiansky suggestion for Swoop's name which Hasbro ultimately rejected before repurposing it for the Predacon flyer. Dinobots vs Predacons certainly makes a good deal of thematic sense and having a personal grudge like this raises the stakes in exciting ways. I cannot wait to cover Grudge Match.

The art, by Will Simpson certainly tells the story in an effective way. This is particularly important because with such a small amount of pages to work with the action needs to be clear and easy to follow or a reader will skip over the pictures and miss half the point. It is always good to see Cybertron again and as mentioned above, I love Divebomb's alien-looking bird mode as well as Swoop's Cybertronian plane mode. This is very effective in the way that this is clearly Swoop but still very different from the prehistoric Pteranodon we're used to, even to the point of him folding his wings slightly differently in robot mode and gaining thrusters in his feet. As it is, Will Simpson, whose art I have had a lot of issues with in previous stories, really turns in a strong piece of work this time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Desertion of the Dinobots (part 2)

Last week, I uploaded the models I had from Desertion of the Dinobots, Part 1. This week, I finish out part two. 

Part one gave us a nice survey of some Earthly structures.  This time, we had to Cybertron!  We'd previously seen the surface of Cybertron, in episodes like More than Meets the Eye and Divide and Conquer.  This time, we go much deeper, seeing some mining pits and computer screens.

Two models that almost made it into the books were an interior shot of Swoop's chest, which looks somewhat primitive to me, and a Decepticon Drone.  Not sure why he didn't make it in, probably just not enough room to squeeze him in. 

Actually, this is one that I dearly wish I had the full model pack for.  We get to see some of the history of Ancient Cybertron, and get models to match.  There were also other type of drones employed by Shockwave, and I wish I had their model sheets too. Perhaps some day, I'll find it!  Till then, wish me luck, and I'll continue to seek.  (Also to strive, to find, and not to yield.)

On a semi-related note, one of my all-time favorite authors, Peter David, has asked a question on his blog that I think is worth repeating.  In a nutshell, Crazy 8 Press is going to be going live soon, with e-books as well as possibly print-on-demand.  It's a way for authors and readers to directly connect, and it's definitely worthy of support. 

The question, though, is how much is an original novel of some 100K words by Peter David worth in this format.  The broader question, I suppose, is how much is an ebook worth as compared to a printed edition.  Feel free to chime in here, or to head over to his blog to weigh in

Friday, June 17, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Desertion of the Dinobots (part 1)

Well, look at that.  It's coming up on time for another Ark Addendum.  We did some Japanese material last week, so I figured I'd bounce back to Sunbow.  This week, it's Desertion of the Dinobots, Part 1.

Usually on multipart episodes I just mix up the models, as they tend to be pretty similar thematically.  Not this time though, no.  Part one gives us a nice variety of Earthen backgrounds.  We start out at the EJK Science Complex - I love the vault there.  When the Decepticon attack on that is foiled, Spike relaxes at the Fun A Rama amusement park before heading to the Central City Airport to pick up his dad.  Finally, after the Decepticon base there is rooted out, they go to recharge at the DLP Electric plant.  One thing that's interesting to me is how each of the places they visit has a name, at least on the model sheet.  I wonder what that's about. 

Next week, I'll bring you Desertion of the Dinobots, Part 2, where it's all Cybertron, all the time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK - 1988 Annual - "Vicious Circle!"

Apologies for the absence of this column in recent weeks. I spent ten days in Los Angeles for Botcon and had a lot to catch up with when I returned. I figure you'll all forgive me as it's Botcon...

Marvel UK's insistence on publishing annuals means that the story of Galvatron and the Volcano was not, in fact, concluded in the weekly comic book but in the 1988 Annual (published August 1987). It's a shameless marketing tactic of course but also something of a British tradition - although August is an odd time - usually annuals are printed around Christmas time to give confused aunts and uncles something to buy for their young relations.

Anyway, this strange publishing tactic means that we can continue with the saga without deviating too much from the chronology of the main book, so without further ado:

Vicious Circle! picks up from the great cliffhanger from Transformers #120. It was written, of course, by Simon Furman, pencilled by Jeff Anderson and inked by Dave Harwood. This being an annual story rather than a regular book one meant that the credits are laid out differently and there are no credits for letterer or colourist, which is actually a shame, because I could pick out Anderson's artwork and Furman's writing anywhere, but both the lettering and colouring in this story are pretty different from the norm and it would be nice to know who was responsible.

As for the cover of the annual, I'm not sure who drew it, but I'm trying to find out. It seems like a promotional image I've seen a lot of variations of and... well.. look at it. I'm not going to waste my time and yours pointing out all the ways it's just dreadful. It's not surprising the artist is anonymous.

Perhaps not unexpectedly Ultra Magnus turns out to have survived his plunge into the volcano crater by clinging onto a narrow ledge and is now recapping the story for those readers who have not read the previous parts while laboriously clambering up the rock wall (this being an annual there were probably a LOT of those readers). Goldbug is there to help him out. No explanation is given as to how he escaped Galvatron last issue. He gets Ultra Magnus (and the reader, again) up to speed and says that they have to try to stop Galvatron.

To Goldbug's shock Ultra Magnus sinks to his knees and wants no part of it. His endless battle with Galvatron has left him emotionally drained. It has become a "vicious circle" if you will. Goldbug is disgusted and goes off to face Galvatron alone, even though he has no chance.

Back at the power siphon, Galvatron is monologuing about the raw energy he is about to absorb when he is interrupted by the little yellow Autobot. Goldbug gets in a few good shots but is soon overcome. Just as Galvatron is about to deliver the coup de grace who should appear but... (no prizes for guessing)... Ultra Magnus!

Galvatron is furious, sure that he had managed to kill the Autobot, and leaps at him, leaving them both wrestling in a tangle of limbs. Too close for blasters, this hand to hand struggle goes on for a couple of pages before we cut away to see Goldbug discovering a dangerous looking rent in the side of the power siphon. He realises that an unlucky blaster shot has rendered the power siphon non-functional - the eruption will not be absorbed!

He rushes to warn Ultra Magnus who is still battling valiantly but Magnus orders him to get out of the way of the blast. He has seen an opportunity to break the circle. Magnus distracts Galvatron long enough for the eruption to explode around them. Ultra Magnus' last words are to claim victory.

Goldbug is left alone. There is no sign of either Magnus or Galvatron and the power siphon has collapsed into the crater, plugging it and preventing a more dangerous eruption. The day has been saved but the cost has been too high.

The story of Galvatron's second rampage around Earth has finally come to a conclusion and it was probably about the right time. This is an action-packed issue but there are few surprises here and a few too many coincidences. I have no problem, for example, with Ultra Magnus surviving his death plunge but it would not have hurt to have had a more inventive explanation - the fact that Galvatron did not watch his hated enemy's demise does not really ring true.

Similarly, while Galvatron letting Goldbug go because he was "beneath [his] notice" is totally in character it does feel rather cheap after the great cliffhanger of the last part.

Lastly, I am not sure that I like the idea that the power siphon is destroyed by collateral damage. This feels like something of a cop-out after all the failed strategising of the last few issues.

The meat of the story, however - Ultra Magnus facing Galvatron - is very well done. You really feel for the determined Autobot and I love his smile when he tells the Decepticon that "Neither of [them] were supposed to get off that easily." It's hard to tell if it's calm acceptance or if Magnus has realised he needs to go a little crazy to fight back but both are equally valid interpretations, and the truth would probably be somewhere in the middle.

His initial refusal to fight is a little less successful though as it shows up the limitations of such a small page-count per issue. After factoring in all the recaps and a one-page establishing splash there are only eight pages of story, so Magnus' turnaround happens artificially quickly, despite having great dramatic potential.

Galvatron is the same as ever: an insane, power-crazy force of nature. This is not a bad thing, as he is a very effective enemy for our heroes, but I have to admit I won't be sorry to go back to a world where the Decepticons have as much characterisation as the Autobots.

Jeff Anderson's art is as good as ever (just look at the unnecessary, but very cool, mechanical detail in Magnus's mouth there) but as I previously mentioned the colouring is rather off. Everything seems a little pale and shaded much differently to normal. Goldbug's head should also not be blue (although informs me that the Titan reprint colour-corrected this).

Ultimately, then, a good conclusion to a good arc. As a sequel to Target:2006 it is not quite on the same level but it is probably still the second best arc the UK comic has produced up to this point. I would go as far as to say that the whole saga is pretty much obligatory reading for any fan of the Marvel Transformers comics and you should do your level best to pick it up if you can. Need more convincing? It introduced the world to Death's Head and showed us more of the horrible situation in one possible future. Can you really ask for any more?

Next week - more Annual stories, probably.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 #11 - Dark Shadows! and Tales of Earth (part 8)

We're almost done!  The penultimate issue of the US G2 Marvel Comics run of transformers was, once again, split into two parts.  The creative line-up is unchanged.  Both stories are penned by Furman, lettered by Starkings (w/ Comicraft), and colored by Mossoff.  The main story, Dark Shadows!, is drawn by Manny Galan and inked by Jim Amash.  Tales of Earth, part 8, the final in the series, is drawn by Geoff Senior.   They played with their titles (writerbot, inkerbot, etc), with editors Tokar and DeFalco listed as busybot and deactivated.  Oh, and the cover, as every, is a Yaniger piece.

Yaniger's piece is a striking image, with a gigantic Starscream veiled in red willing cackling yellow energy into Optimus Prime and Megatron.  The actual rendering is fairly simple, except for a beautifully rendered oversized hand.  To me it's the color that really sells the image.  Slightly marring it is some dialogue, "Optimus Prime (tm) and Megatron (tm), now you shall experience --" "A WARWORLD of PAIN!"  I don't think it adds much, and it's repeated almost verbatim inside.

And inside we go, picking up exactly where last issue left off.  Starscream's gloating conveys some nice exposition, tormenting Op & Meg with words before he gets down to it with action even as he directs the warworld against Jhiaxus' forces.  On Earth (but not Tales of Earth yet), Jhiaxus is disbelieving when informed that the Warworld has gone rogue.  It doesn't take him long to figure out that Starscream is to blame.  Furious, he rockets up to the Twilight, leaving a concerned subordinate calling The Hub (no, not Hasbro's new channel!) with urgent news for the Liege Maximo.  Hmmm... heard that name before. It feels like Jhiaxus is approaching his character's apex.  While Optimus and Megatron seem to have grown, the leader of the G2 Decepticons is regressing back to the state he was in back in ancient times.  It's fun to see this kind of convergence.

Op & Megatron face the interior of the Warworld, an ever-twisting maze of spikes and fusion energy and twisting metal.  They're quite a force when fighting together, but Starscream seems to be more than a match.  However, occasionally the environment seems to alter to their favor, such as a corridor that brings Optimus where he needs to go, or a cable that's lower than it seems.  Hmmm....   The pounding that the Cybertronian Empire is dishing out provides a welcome distraction.  Optimus contacts Jhiaxus from the control room of the ship, attempting to convince him that an even GREATER threat is nearly upon them.  Jhiaxus hears these words, and decides to blow up a large piece of the Earth!

It's a pretty straightforward tale, a moody piece mostly focused around the Warworld.  Optimus, even at this late point in the game, seeks rapprochement.  Jhiaxus, having devolved into a tyrant worse than the likes of Straxus, has no place for it.  It's ironic that Optimus and Megatron are able to work so well together this issue, and yet they are the ones he considers to be evolutionary throwbacks.  Starscream remains the big unkown, with his matrix-infused Warworld.  I find it funny that, in a way, his ambition is so much greater than Jhiaxus' or Megatrons'.  They seek to mold the galaxy to their liking, Starscream seeks godhood.

We're not done yet!  Senior seems to take a sadistic artistic glee in depicting the destruction of San Fransisco, matched by some pleasantly contrasting text from Furman.  "Clear skies, with a cool breeze rolling in across the bay to keep temperatures in the balmy mid-seventies.  It's hard not to smile at total strangers." 

Optimus is besides himself.  The guilt is clearly overbearing.  Grimlock and Razorclaw are awed by a mushroom cloud topping the horizon.  The end seems nigh.  Jhiaxus is elated, ordering more strikes even though, as an underling points out, some of his own troops are down there.

But salvation comes from an unexpected quarter... Starscream engages the Twilight.  Optimus questions the conniving 'Con's actions, but Starscream has no explanation.  Prime does, figuring out that the Matrix, ever willful, is rewriting Starscream into a suitable host.  This is not the dark energy that possessed Thunderwing, no, this is the Matrix purified and noble and good.  For a moment, there is hope.

And just like that, it is gone.  The Twilight and the Warworld together are engaged by the Swarm, and we are all set for the final confrontation of the Marvel Comics Transformers continuity.

Despite the final Tales of Earth (which only half takes place on Earth) being much shorter than the main story, it seems much meatier somehow.  While there's plenty of Indiana Jones style action in Dark Shadows!, Tales of Earth is all payoff.  The destruction of San Fransisco is a level of devastation never before seen in the Transformers, and I struggle to think of a comparable example since.  I mean, sure, Unicron has destroyed some worlds, I'll grant, but this is Earth!  This is HOME!  I've been to San Fransisco.  Destroying it takes balls.  This in and of itself would be enough to make this a stand-out issue, but Furman throws two more curve balls thrown at us in rapid succession.  Starscream, becoming good!  And then the arrival of the Swarm, which had of course been telegraphed way in advance, still manages to catch my by surprise thanks to the many metaphoric blows Furman rained upon my head.

After reading this issue, I feel certain that the final issue will be larger than life and probably far better structured.  The elements seem to be gathering together, and I want to see how the tapestry is woven together.  Dark Shadows! and Tales of Earth (part 8) are available for purchase in the Transformers Rage in Heaven book, published by Titan, and they come highly recommended by this not-so-humble Transformers scribe.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Brainstorm's Transform

Well, BotCon has come and gone, and my good friend Bish is back on his way to jolly old England.  My life can start to get back to normal.

And what is normal, for me, if not character models?  This time, I bring you another Ark Addendum transformation sequence.  This is for Headmasters Brainstorm.  While there are really only two intermediate steps in this transform, the second one (step 3 of 4) is pretty action packed.  Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Botcon 2011

Well, that was fun. Fun and exhausting, but definitely with an emphasis on the fun. Jim has been bugging me about attending Botcon since we became friends so this year I decided to finally take the plunge and fly out to Los Angeles to hang out with Jim, his Allspark Almanac co-creator Bill Forster, and several thousand other Transformers fans.

Other sites will run a blow by blow breakdown of all the news, hints and exclusive toys from the convention this year but I figure it'll be more effective if I just give my impressions as a first-time Botcon goer.

Even given all I knew about the convention, I was not quite prepared for the sheer size. I attended Auto Assembly in the UK last year and, while that was highly enjoyable and will no doubt become a yearly event for me, Botcon was on a different scale.

We arrived to register and pick up our exclusive toys at six o'clock on the Thursday and the queue was incredibly long. The atmosphere was excited and lots of fans who hadn't seen each other for a long time, or were just meeting new people were having a great time. Even so - you could tell that this was going to be a long evening. I was very glad that I could get it out of the way before the convention began in earnest. Pleasingly, the unavoidable tedium of standing in a relentless queue was offset delightfully by an enormous fondue meal with Jim, Bill and some fans we knew from Auto Assembly.

How was the convention proper? Incredible wouldn't be too far off. For one thing, I had never been to the United States before, which was special in itself, for another, it was just all Transformers, all the time and, given that I am more into the fiction aspect of the hobby than the toy-collecting, having the con' in Los Angeles was fantastic because it enabled a great number of voice actors, writers and artists to come together in one place. (It also enabled me to stay with Jim, making things much more affordable, but that's not especially relevant).

After a hearty breakfast we kicked off the Friday by attending the script reading session for the convention exclusive comic Transformers: Animated - The Stunti-Con Job, by Marty Isenberg. It was a very amusing script made hilarious by excellent performances. The ever-reliable David Kaye continued his sterling work as Animated Optimus Prime but really shone as the ludicrously fatalistic Dead-End. Neil Ross (G1's Springer) narrated the piece as a new character, Sideswipe, and brought exactly the right tone for a slightly washed-up police-bot on the verge of retirement. Greg Berger, usually heard booming out the voice of G1 Grimlock, showed his versatility by giving us an excellent interpretation of Cheetor. Unfortunately Jack Angel could not attend but superfan Vangelis stepped up and gave an admirable performance. Marty Isenberg's enthusiastic Sentinel Prime was also not to be missed. Morgan Lofting (Firestar, although most famous GI-Joe's Baroness) made what amounted to two highly memorable cameos as Drag-Strip and Strika. Special recognition in particular has to be given to special guest Abby Collins, daughter of the late, great Chris Latta (G1 Starscream) who put in a very funny performance as Minerva, an annoyingly persistent Autobot medic.

Moving on from that reading it was at last time for the Dealer's Room to be opened. I was blown away by the amount of different toys at Auto Assembly, so you can imagine how wide my eyes must have been when I walked into that hall. I'm not actually a massive toy collector, as space and money are both concerns, but that doesn't mean I didn't want everything I laid eyes on - especially the five Autobot vehicles from the live action movie - all buffed to an otherworldly sheen. In addition to this you had artist's alley where numerous prints and original artwork from Transformers' artists could be found and various booths from Hasbro and their partners displaying current and upcoming products. This included stuff like Kreo - a line of build it yourself toys, and Transformers: Universe, an upcoming massively multiplayer game, among the more obvious new movie and Prime toys from Hasbro.

When five o'clock came we retired to a local Japanese Barbecue place for a wonderfully tasty all you can eat meal and, naturally, more Transformers talk.

Saturday was when the meat of the more formally timed events of the con' really began. We started off with a very interesting panel from IDW who laid out their (mostly spoiler-free) notions for the upcoming Chaos event and what they had planned for Transformers into the future. Current ongoing writer Mika Costa was in attendance as well as veteran Transformers scribe Flint Dille, who is going to be working on a new web-only Transformers venture: Autocracy. Also of note was the last goodbye from Andy Schmidt, who has now stepped down as Editor-in-Chief in order to go to work for Hasbro.

We remained in our seats for the next panel which was delivered by Hasbro and gave us hints and examples of upcoming Transformers products. Obviously there was a great deal of Dark Of The Moon but Prime was also featured, even though they don't intend to release until December - those toys in particular are looking great.

Hunger, and not wanting to be spoiled for an episode I had not yet seen meant that I skipped the Transformers: Prime script reading and went on an epic quest to find a burger - harder than you'd think in Pasadena but that was mostly my fault for being cheap.

We made it back in time for a lively panel celebrating twenty-five years of Transformers: The Movie with several of those who had been involved in its production. Flint Dille, Greg Berger, and Neil Ross appeared from earlier, Ross in particular proving to be an asset at his first Botcon with his warm but very dry sense of humour. Paul Eiding (the voice of G1 Perceptor) had been bussed in to replace the sick Jack Angel and the four provided a good mix of insight, witty banter and character voices. Naturally much time was given over for questions and the panel fielded fan queries and requests with aplomb.

Deciding to hang out in the hotel lobby we spent some time talking to various fans before very fortunately being given two and a half free pizzas by someone whose eyes were bigger than their belly. This provided ample sustenance before we hit a bar. As neither, Jim, Bill, nor myself had tickets to the Hall Of Fame event we went for a few beverages before coming back to the hotel and chatting with other fans in the bar until it was really way past time for bed.

Once again we need to be at the hotel bright and early on Sunday to catch the first panel - an interesting one where the Collector's Club explained the development of the Stunti-Con Job comic. Writer Marty Isenberg and fan contributors Trent and Greg provided some commentary on the comic while Animated art director Derek Wyatt talked about the designs used in the story that were then translated into the con' exclusive toys, including fan-favourite Ironfist.

Straight up after that was a panel by the writers and producers of the Transformers: Prime cartoon that talked about the history of the production while giving us some intriguing hints as to where it might be leading. Questions were enthusiastically answered but with a minimum of spoilers. Still, the end of Season 1 and start of Season 2 seem like they're going to be a thrill-ride.

Almost as a sequel to the previous day's Transformers: The Movie panel we then went straight into a panel populated by G1 voice actors. Everyone from the previous day was there, minus Flint Dille, and Michael McConnohie (G1 Tracks), Morgan Lofting and Arlene Banas (Carly in the G1 cartoon) joined them. Once again it was a very genial gathering with a group of funny and talented people who seemed genuinely touched to have had such an impact on such a large number of fans.

Rounding off the weekend as far as panels were concerned was Hasbro's second of the weekend, featuring only Aaron Archer and Rik Alverez. They discussed some of the challenges and rewards from being the custodians of Transformers continuity and showed the audience some exciting titbits of things to come as well as some highly obscure unreleased product - Actionmaster Cliffjumper got a big cheer. Most significant going forward were the hints about the Original Thirteen Transformers that were accompanied by some wonderful Warcraft style artwork that really spoke to the mythic nature of these entities. The panel struck a delicate balance between simply giving us Transformers history and leaving intriguing hints that stories can be told in. Exiles, the sequel to the novel Exodus by Alex Irvine got a pretty big plug and looks to deal with a lot of this backstory.

Less chronologically, but just as important as the official panels there were numerous entertainments for the Transformers-loving punter. A row of cars parked across the street had been decked out as Autobots, with a particularly impressive G1 Ratchet; costumes abounded, and ranged from the impressionistic to the fiercely accurate, with a movie Starscream that has to be seen to be believed. In general everyone was very friendly, fans and professionals and while the mingling of the two was not quite as pronounced as I experienced at Auto Assembly, everyone had time to chat and seemed genuinely pleased to be there.

So that, apart from a quick pass of the dealer's room and a few conversations with some fans, was that. There is definitely a post-convention shell-shock to contend with. It takes a few hours of adjustment to realise that not everybody you see knows or cares about Transformers and when you get home and sit quietly, and realise you're not going to do it again for another year a kind of malaise creeps over you (except for me, WHOO! Auto Assembly in August!). This was the second convention I have been to and obviously the biggest. In terms of sheer information and things to see and do it is clearly unparalleled and I really hope I can manage to attend next (and every) year.