Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #11 - Brainstorm!

Brainstorm! is the eleventh of the US Marvel Transformers comic series. It was written by Bob Budiansky, as usual. Herb Trimpe drew it, with inks by Tom Palmer, colors by Nel Yomtov and letters by Diana Albers. Trimpe also drew the cover.

The cover is mostly quite good, with a Decepticon Jetfire swooping in from on high and attacking Bluestreak, Bumblebee and most of our human cast. Jetfire could be a tad more dynamic, but he gets the job done. Sadly, the colors are just way off. The Decepticon symbol on Jetfire isn't colored in, making his allegiance a bit more subtle. Canny readers would probably know about his status as an Autobot, so anything that obscures his current Decepticon status is unfortunate. Worse, though, is that Bluestreak is colored all in green, vaguely Houndish perhaps, and Bumblebee is colored in like Gears or maybe Cliffjumper. (It's definitely Bumblebee though, not just because of the content of the issue but because of his character model.) I don't like putting down Yomtov's work, since I'm sympathetic to how difficult it must have been, but this is a cover. Even if Bluestreak's coloration is intentionally artistic (it does match the logo), the Bumblebee color swap is inexcusable and mars my enjoyment of the book. It's especially sad, since there are some really nice interior panels that could have functiond as well or better as a cover. This Bluestreak image, for instance, is great.

Fortunately, the book itself is quite good, with the art and story coming together nicely. We open on a nice splash page of Buster. He's lying on his bed, reading a book on advanced physics to figure out how he's levatating all the metallic objects in the room. We get the sense that this will be a human-focused issue, but still know that this is a Transformers-centric world. Buster's thoughts are interrupted by his father, who wants the two of them to go fix some cars together. Ever the dutiful son, Buster goes along with it, unable to explain to his father the changes that he's going through. Though he has no interest in cars, he can't bring himself to tell Sparkplug. He's also worried that his dad will reject him as a freak if the levitation abilities come out. This sequence is quite nice, introducing the theme of the issue - becoming your own man.

At the besieged aerospace camp, the army moves aside to allow a pizza delivery truck through. (Shockwave figured out that workers do better with food, it would seem.) Inside the plant, Shockwave gloats that the efficiency of human slaves is up, but wryly observes that Optimus Prime's efficiency has plummeted to 0. With the connections rechecked, Shockwave once again tries to give life to Jetfire, but with the Matrix gone, the attempt fails. Shockwave orders Prime's immediate termination, but then reconsiders. Since the Creation Matrix can't be deleted, it must have been moved somewhere. Shockwave drills into Rumble's brain and, after some computerized visual enhancement (a nice effect), spies Buster, whom Laserbeak recognizes. Optimus laments putting buster in harms way as Shockwave dispatches Laserbeak to bring the troubling human in. Meanwhile, at the Ark, Prowl and Ratchet are listening to the whole conversation through Blackrock's phone bugging system. Prowl (who's drawn with Ratchet's back, but colored in all red anyway) orders Bumblebee and Bluestreak to go protect Buster. This sequence moves the story along, and gives Bluestreak a bit of characterization as someone who runs his mouth. We also get some hints of Prowl's command style, extremely cautious. He doesn't want to go in and rescue Optimus, for fear of imperiling the human workers and army. And yet, when he gets word of a Decepticon objective, Buster, he only dispatches two warriors, rather than perhaps set an ambush. Shockwave remains clinical, acting rationally even in the face of Prime's defiance. While the visuals of Rumble's computer-enhanced vision are nice, it's a little hard to believe. I love the Laserbeak below, squawking in recognition of Buster.

Back at the plant, the pizza man leaves, but not before Shockwave gives him Laserbeak with an encoded message for the army. The Colonel in command (an alien robot force captures an American factory, and they put a Colonel in charge?) listens to the message, a demand that the army pull back or have all humans in the area (military and hostages) executed. The Colonel makes up his mind to comply, even as Laserbeak returns to base amid some ineffective human gunfire. This sequence doesn't add much - all it really does is get the army out of harms way. It works, but it's a bit clumsy.

Back to the main story, Buster. His dad is teaching him how to operate a tow truck, beaming with pride at how good his son is at all of this. Jessie, his girlfriend, interrupts them. She's back, after the fight they had a few issues back, and wanting to take a ride to the falls. Sparkplug agrees that a break would be good for Buster, so off they go, missing the arrival of Bumblebee by a few minutes. Bumblebee tries to explain to Sparkplug that his son is in danger, though the ornery human wants none of it. It's the Autobots who put Buster in danger, he declares, so stay away! Overall, it's quite a reasonable attitude for him to have after what he's been through. Still, despite his bluster, he's shaken, so he goes off to find Buster after Bumblebee departs. Bluestreak, though, is tailing him. Again, it moves the plot along, though it doesn't add much really to the story.

Just a few miles away, Buster and Jessie race along merrily. Buster really wants to talk, Jessie really doesn't seem to want to. She's urging him on to the falls, though she's all smiles. He uses his superpowers to force the issue, disabling her bike with a thought. While they try to fix it, he attempts to apologize to her. She's having none of it, though - it seems that she took him out to apologize to him. She does so with a kiss, but they are interrupted by both Sparkplug and the Autobots. After declining to explain the custom to Bluestreak, buster is informed that he is in danger. Unbeknown to them, though, Laserbeak is watching. Shockwave anticipated the Autobot's move, and had Laserbeak track the Autobots' movements. It's a rather nice move, having Shockwave two steps ahead of the 'Bots. Also, we see that Laserbeak's mission was doubly clever, delivering an ultimatum AND slipping him out of the plant. Shockwave dispatches Jetfire as a non-sentient drone to retrieve Buster. This sequence works well on another level - having a blossoming young romance adds to the subtext of striving towards adulthood.

The endgame begins when Sparkplug gets sick of listening to Bumblebee explaining the Matrix. "Into the truck", he orders the kids, prompting Laserbeak to take action to prevent their withdrawal. Bluestreak and Bumblebee engage and quickly shoot down the buzzing bot, but Jetfire arrives before they can gather their wits. The enormous Decepticon knocks the Autobots about, until Bumblebee realizes that he is a non-sentient drone, and therefore potentially under Buster's control. Buster agonizes about whether to engage the jet, worried about what his father will think, but then Sparkplug gives him unintentional absolution. 'You always do what's right," he says, continuing that "[Buster doesn't] need an old grease-monkey like me telling [him] what to do." As Jetfire swoops in and prepares to grab Buster, the resolute human stands up and disassembles Jetfire with a thought. It's a very nice splash page, though I don't quite like how modular everything is. Some techno-innards would have been nice. This is, of course, the emotional and physical climax of the book, the son eclipsing the father.

We are treated to a two page denouement / epilogue. Sparkplug embraces Buster, literally and figuratively. Buster reassembles Jetfire, sans-brain, and Bumblebee explains that the Decepticons won't stop coming after him. He does have a plan, though, for how they can help each other. Buster solicits his father's advice, as an equal, and Sparkplug defers to his son's judgment. Meanwhile, the remaining Autobots head towards the plant, where Shockwave declares that Prime's usefulness has ended, and that his execution will proceed immediately. Next issue, "Prime Time!" we're promised. Overall, the book functions as an extended metaphor for growing up, asserting one's self in the face of a strong paternal figure. Suitably, the action is larger-than-life, but the underlying human emotion adds nice depth to the story.

Tripe's art functions well. His action sequences are dynamic and flowing, and he chooses interesting angles to show. Bumblebee prone, Jetfire, in jet mode, sporting arms, many shots of Laserbeak, these all make the book exciting and fun. He handles the emotions with equal aplomb, but more impressively is his tendency to make even static scenes dynamic and exciting. Bumblebee and Bluestreak arriving at the falls, for instance, is a great little panel. One awkward sequence was on page 10, when the action doesn't proceed in the usual left to right, top to bottom, and so some arrows were inserted. Quite clumsy. Albers letters are nice, having a certain boldness, though I miss the subtlety of Chiang or Parker. I do find it funny when Bluestreak and Bumblebee roll out, Bluestreak goes 'Vrooom' and Bumblebee goes 'Putt Putt'.

One very nice little easter egg is an unassuming little visual of Shockwave walking through the plant. The character models of Thrust, Dirge and Ramjet are present, some more than than once. While we'd eventually see them as a part of the story, it wouldn't be until issue #21 (in their Earth modes, anyway), nearly a year away at this point. It's a pretty cool little bonus.

This is an issue that's greater than the sum of its parts. It's not without its flaws, but overall it's a great read. Budiansky tells a fundamentally human story while keeping the robot elements plentiful. Tripe keeps things tight with dynamic visuals, and the overall plot progresses. In fact, after a couple of one-off issues for #9 and #10, we're getting ready to move back to the main arc in a big way. Highly recommended.

Brainstorm! is available from IDW Publishing in this anthology: Classic Transformers Volume 1 (Transformers)


Zobovor said...

It seems pretty clear to me that at one stage, Budiansky's plan was for Shockwave to be overseeing the construction of Ramjet, Thrust, and Dirge. I wonder why he went in a different direction and eventually offered up an alternate origin for them?

I understand your sympathy for Yomtov and the inherent difficulty in distinguishing over 30 different box-shaped robots (and TRANSFORMERS wasn't the only comic he colored every month, either), but Sarah Mossoff did a fantastic job for the G2 comic, and she had an even larger cast to account for, so obviously it could be done (she committed only one or two egregious coloring errors that I can recall, like turning Darkwing into Shrapnel).

Of course, Yomtov making coloring mistakes inadvertantly creates new characters for me to play with, so I'm quite thankful for that.

The covers for the TRANFORMERS comic generally aren't as good as the interior art, and I've always wondered why. It's like they were rushed. Isn't the cover supposed to draw readers in and encourage them to buy the book?

Hans said...

I always loved Herb Trimpe's art in these two issues. And this issue is inked by Tom Palmer, who is also a huge favourite of mine (he did lots of issues of Marvel's Avengers, and was the main man of Marvel's Star Wars comics during the "The Empire Strikes Back" era). Trimpe's art is indeed dynamic, with lots of detail (except for the spalsh page of Jetfire being disassembled). In Holland the title was bi-monthly, with two issues inside (and a lot of character models in-between) in order to save on printing costs, so back in the day we got an extra thick book (without ads) filled with Herb Trimpe's art. Very Nice :)

I also expected Shockwave to eventually create the coneheads. I was very disappointed when that didn't happen, as in Holland the comic came out later (this issue appeared way into 1985 at least) and the jets were already in stores by then.

As for Yomtov's colors, I don't remember the mistakes bothering me as a kid, but these days the coloring is done so much better (it's a completely different technique though), one really gets spoiled. And these mistakes tend to jump out because of it.

As for why Sarah Mossof's colors(and Chia-Chi Wang's in issue #5, you know, "Chi", he was a Marvel intern at the time) didn't have the mistakes... well, maybe the coloring process was already different by then? The printing on the G2 comics seemed more crisp as well, and Image comics with their photoshop colors were already around.

Remember, Yomtov worked with color codes. He had to put numbers into every single "box" that had to have a certain color. Maybe Mossof already had a slightly more simple system to work with :)