Friday, December 5, 2008

Review: Marvel UK #11 and #12 "Man of Iron!" Parts 3 and 4

Time for our next foray into the UK originated stories of our favourite robots in disguise. This week I look at the second half of the very first UK exclusive story: Man of Iron.

The script for both of these parts was, as with the first two, provided by Steve Parkhouse, but art duties have been passed to Mike Collins. The
colouring on the original issues was by Gina Hart, but on these American reprints, in all likelihood the recolouring was done by Nel Yomtov.

Man of Iron Part 3

The cover has a very dynamic picture of Thundercracker, in jet mode, blazing away with his weapons making various exciting noises. The picture is actually a reproduction of half a page from inside the issue and therefore Thundercracker’s panel is surrounded by others. Sammy at the wheel, Jazz dodging explosions, and another one that is mostly obscured by text promising us “Action and adventure inside!” Because it is a copy of an interior page, the cover must have been by Mike Collins, and it is certainly interesting looking enough to grab our attention, but I can’t help but feel slightly cheated that this story, bar the first issue, doesn’t have new art for its covers.

We join the action as Sammy is still contained within Jazz. Sammy isn’t freaking out as much as you might think, seeing his mother’s distress at this abduction in the last issue and his own panic. Jazz tells him that he is going to take him to see some friends, and we get a neat introduction to the concept of Transforming robots using Mirage as an example. Jazz meets up with Mirage and Trailbreaker and they form a convoy on the motorway. Immediately they come under attack from Thundercracker and Skywarp. Trailbreaker is seriously damaged by the assault, but Mirage is able to take out Thundercracker with his electro-scrambler and Jazz survives a bombing run by Skywarp because Sammy grabs the wheel and takes control to dodge the blasts. Bluestreak arrives, takes out Skywarp, and Jazz takes Sammy to the Autobot shuttle in order to meet Optimus Prime. The Autobots tell Sammy that they think there is a rescue ship full of Autobots hidden under the castle and that the Decepticons must not capture it. The stage is set for a final confrontation at the castle.

For reasons best known to himself, Parkhouse switches back into the unconventional past tense narration for this segment, even after he has got readers up to speed on parts 1 and 2. It doesn’t matter in the context of one issue, but its a bit disorientating if one reads the story as a whole. Jazz, always a smooth talker, apparently has no trouble getting Sammy onside here, which is a little unbelievable, but necessary to keep the story moving forwards.

The battle is straightforward and the Transformers weapons appear to be extremely powerful here. It takes one hit to knock out Trailbreaker. He survives, but he’s in a bad way: “Everything’s gone, just plain ruined!” Sammy’s heroic driving to save Jazz doesn’t make that much sense in the light of everything else we know about the Transformers. I don’t think there is another instance of control being taken away from a Transformer by its passenger in the entire Marvel run, and, logically, you would not think it would be possible. Nor would you think that an eight-year-old boy would be a better evasive driver than an alien who is, literally, a car.

Bluestreak’s wordless arrival and merciless blasting of Skywarp is a very nice sequence, although somewhat out of character for the chatty Autobot. His laconic: “Just brushed something off your tail Jazz, try to be more careful in future, hmm?” Doesn‘t exactly say Bluestreak to me either, but its a nice line. Skywarp, like Trailbreaker before him looks to be almost in pieces. Most of the robots hit in this battle will need serious repairs. Neither of the Decepticons speak, they just turn up, blast things, and get defeated.

The logical flaw in the story emerges when Sammy meets Optimus Prime. In theory the boy is there to tell them everything he knows about the Man of Iron, but he doesn’t know anything that the Autobots don‘t already know, and none of them seem concerned about this, or even remark upon it. He gets the standard “we are Autobots from Cybertron, the evil Decepticons... etc etc” speech and then the issue ends with the Autobots vowing to get the spaceship and its crew before the Decepticons do.

Collins’ art is up to snuff. The destruction in the battle is nicely handled - I particularly like the panel of a wounded Trailbreaker on his hands and knees, and the robots, while still looking almost identical to their toy versions, have expressive faces and look like actual characters. Sammy is the only human in this issue and he doesn’t look notably different to the Ridgeway version. Yomtov’s recolours veer a little close to the impressionist at times, notably on the second page, where Sammy’s face and Mirage’s body appear to be missing some crucial lines, but I don’t know what the original pencils look like, so its hard to judge. There is what I can only assume is a mistake in the American version. The panel that forms the cover depicts Thundercracker on the UK cover and Skywarp in the US internal colours, but since neither plane speak, and they share very similar fates, its not in any way a problem.

Man of Iron Part 4

The cover is, once again, a panel from inside, this time depicting Jazz, in car mode, ramming what appears to be Skywarp, in robot mode. It is very eye-catching and action-orientated. Text promises us a “Showdown in Man of Iron!”

At the castle, the army and Sammy’s father are having trouble identifying the huge object buried beneath it. They debate this problem for a while and we are told that the police are looking for Sammy after his kidnap and that the previous issue’s battle has closed a large section of motorway. Suddenly the ground shakes and a lift appears, carrying the titular Man of Iron from the buried spaceship to the surface. He attacks the gathered soldiers and then encounters Starscream, who unceremoniously blasts him to pieces. The Autobots arrive, leaving Sammy with his father, and enter the fray, even remembering to use their shuttle as air support. The Decepticons are driven off “leaving the Autobots victorious, but far from jubilant.” Optimus Prime decrees that as the Decepticon threat is growing, the Autobots cannot abandon Earth, therefore the spaceship has to be destroyed, before the other side can get their hands on it. They do this, and, apparently unknowingly, kill the Autobot within. Jazz seems kind of sad about this. The story ends.

Sadly I consider this a disappointing ending to an already crushingly average story. Sammy’s plot ends almost immediately, rendering his character development as useless to the reader as he proved to be to the Autobots. The Man of Iron turns out to just be some generic boxy Autobot who doesn’t speak (although he does have a cute teddy bear looking head) and is taken down almost as soon as he appears. The final confrontation lasts barely two pages as by this point the Decepticons (who never say anything in the entire story - like the 2007 movie, but even worse) have been whittled down to Starscream, Lazerbeak, and some generic black flying blobs. The script gets the job done until the actual ending which, I feel I’m not being uncharitable in saying, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. We have been told that the Autobots think that the ship is a rescue craft for them and might contain a crew, the Decepticons are defeated, for the time being, but still the heroes choose to destroy it without looking inside, thereby killing a perfectly innocent Autobot who probably volunteered to come to Earth looking for them. I think Parkhouse was trying for pathos with this ending, but he fails to achieve it by completely throwing logic out of the window. Incompetent plotting and muddled character motivation aside, however, the actual captions and dialogue are perfectly serviceable, although none of the characters come across as particularly memorable.

The art and colouring is as good as the previous issue. Starscream’s brutal annihilation of the Man of Iron is the highlight for me (I love a bit of robot gore) but the image of the Autobot pilot, in suspended animation beneath the ground is a very good one. However, neither he, nor the Man of Iron have particularly inspiring designs, both look like they might transform into dishwashers or refrigerators. I also like the look of Jazz’s special combat mode, which is his robot mode, but bristling with guns.

The colouring for the cover and the internal panel it represents is different in this case as well. Here the cover depicts a dark Seeker, probably Skywarp, whereas inside the victim of Jazz’s charge is clearly Starscream. I don’t know, but its possible that when the story was repackaged for the American run, Yomtov changed the colouring so Starscream would be the last Seeker jet operational. Since none of them speak it doesn’t really matter, but it works slightly better for anyone who knows the characters to have him as the last man standing.

Well, that’s the end of “Man of Iron “- a pretty rum story all told - next week we have “The Enemy Within”, the first issue of Transformers written by some guy called Simon Furman, so wait and see what he has in store.

PS. The first page of “Man of Iron 3” as reproduced for America, has a few misconceptions about British people: “Tally-Ho faithful ones! Here it is, Straight from Marvel U.K., Man of Iron! Get a Hold of yer Wig-Hat! Dear old Aunt Petunia never read anything like: MAN OF IRON!”

I’ll have it be known that not every British person is secretly a huntsman or a WW2 fighter pilot, only members of the legal profession have to wear wigs and only 75% of British Aunts are named Petunia. Frankly this sort of racism has gone on for long enough. Now pardon me but I have to go and apologise for something that wasn't my fault and then eat this lime. See you next week.


Jimtron said...

Awesome review, Bish! I like the US / UK thing we've got going. I hope other readers find these reviews as interesting as I do.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Jim, but these reviews interest me not. They're just far too long for me to want to read. I mean, I read longer things on a regular basis, but I would rather read fiction than reviews, unless the review is about half as long as these and doesn't spend so much time going over the plot as discussing what works/doesn't work and why I should/shouldn't read it. Any review that focuses on giving me the plot urges me to skip to the last paragraph to see what they say about the experience of reading it and not the events tran scribed within.

Jimtron said...

I appreciate the feedback, NuclearConvoy. Maybe 'review' isn't the right word. I consider these to be more an analysis of the issue, going into considerable detail. It's the detail that I like, though I can see how it might not be to your taste. I suppose you'll always have the option of skipping to the end and reading our conclusions. Cheers!

Unknown said...

thank you for the closing line about "racism". One of my biggest bug bares is the way Americans portray English people. We don't all come from London or Liverpool, there are other parts you know.

As for the review of the story. I read "man of Iron" originally in the UK collected comics run, so I've no idea why the colour changes happened from the covers to the internal art. But I totally agree with the critique of the ludicrous ending and the weird logic at play here.

It was also very difficult to place this in continuity with the US issues, as presumably we are looking at a story which falls before issue 4 of the US run. If so how do the Autobots have enough fuel to reach the UK in the first place? Though it would partly explain why only Gears was dispatched to rescue Sparkplug if Jazz, Prime, Tracks and Mirage were all in England, but it doesn't explain how the Decepticons seem to be in two places at once.

I think you have to treat all the UK material as "a parallel world where events were similar but slightly different".

For a kid reading Man of Iron back in 1985 (I didn't get into the comics till after the movie) this was one of those stories that tied into the idea that "they live amongst us in disguise" which is how the toys were originally advertised. So it didn't feel that disjointed. But in context of the American run it is so completely off the beam as to be irrelevant.

The other thing that struck me, even then, was how awful the robots looked. A far cry from the IDW and Dream Wave comics of today. But as was mentioned in the reviews of issues 1 and 2 of the US run, the artists didn't have the character sheets from the TV show for reference for the first 3 months of production - so most of the robots looked like the box art from the toys. In other words, bad.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

For what it's worth in the early years the UK comic occasionally ran features called "Robot War" which retold the events so far. The ones in issues #36 & #63 place Man of Iron and the Decepticon Dambusters flashback between Sparkplug's capture and the rescue mission in US issues #2-3/UK issues #4-6 of the US run, and The Enemy Within and Raiders of the Last Ark are summarised after the rescue as "meanwhile".

There's at least one fan guide to the comic on the web that opted to place Man of Iron at some point after US #12/UK #40 on the grounds that it's the earliest actual gap for most of the characters and the Decepticon leadership isn't identified. I'm not sure if that would work for placing it in the US continuity (they just said it was a story in the past, never when, in the spirit of Marvel fill-in issues) but isn't there inconsistency about which Autobots are and aren't functional after Prime Time?

Anonymous said...

My favorite TF site is the Obscure one, and I have to agree with it's proprietor, Jhiaxus, on a couple points about this story:

1. When the last Seeker shows up at the castle, a human remarks that he just appeared out of nowhere, indicating he teleported in, meaning it really should be Skywarp. The coloring in CC#3 is a tad vague, but he's clearly in cool colors, not red.

Of course, I've sometimes wondered if this story wouldn't fit into cartoon continuity easier, and having just watched the Rhino DVD's, I have to say that Yomotov's recolor is consistent with the fact that every time Skywarp teleported in robot mode, he was miscolored as Starscream. That's just one more reason Starscream could never be one of my personal favorites: he just has to hog the spotlight from everyone else, not even letting the other jets have unique powers.

And speaking of continuity concerns...

2. The whole point of this story was to make a brush with TFs actually feel like an encounter with aliens, so who cares about logic or where it fits in? I just pretend it's the adaptation to some lost TF movie made in the UK in 1985 that I'll never get to see, but keep an eye out for in every dying video story. As Sammy drifts off in the last panel, I can even hear the theme from St. Elmo's Fire with lyrics changed to work in the Man Of Iron.

If you want to fit this in after issue 12, just remember that the 'Cons cracked Cybertron's location in #10, though it may have eluded the Autobots. As for the Autobots not having enough fuel, didn't it ever bother anyone else how long Ratchet was able to keep going without refueling, and still have fuel to burn in that pact with Megatron? Well, the more stuff the other Autobots did in the UK book in those early days, the more that part of the US book makes sense, to me anyway.


Anonymous said...

I always felt this was a very special TF story simply because of what is not shown or explained as opposed to what is. Yeah, some of it makes no logical sense, but the basic plot idea is a very interesting one only rarely touched upon.

The story challenges you to question a few things, namely who the man-of-iron was and just what was his mission? Sometimes leaving things open like that will work against a story but in this case I think it only adds to it.