Thursday, April 9, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #19 - Command Performances!

Command Performances! is the nineteenth issue of the Marvel US G1 run of Transformers. Bob Budiansky continues to script the book, and Don Perlin continues to pencil it. Ian Akin & Brian Garvey return for the first time since #4 to ink the book, with colors by Nel Yomtov and letters by Janice Chiang. Herb Trimpe once again draws the cover.

The cover is a bit disappointing to me. Omega Supreme stands amid a group of Decepticons, taking their fire and doing a pretty good job of mangling them. "You asked for him -- you got him! OMEGA SUPREME!" we're told. And while it's certainly possible that kids with the toy were writing in and asking for him, since he's never appeared in the comic before it feels like yet another new character rammed down our throats. The action is oddly static, and the angle doesn't really showcase Omega's size well. We see that he's bigger than the other cons, but they just wind up looking small somehow. Something to indicate scale might have helped.

The inside of the book, thankfully, does not disappoint. We start with a lovely Perlin splash of Omega Supreme in rocket base mode, outside of the Ark with all currently functioning Autobots in attendance. This includes the Dinobots, not seen since issue #8. We learn that this is the secret project that Grapple's been working on since #14, a nice bit of continuity. Omega Supreme is the Autobot's last, unbreachble line of defense.

With the Ark now secured, Optimus Prime is now ready to go on the offensive. First order of business, learn the secrets of combiner technology as represented by Devastator. To this end, he's planning to launch an all-out assault to provoke a combination. This is set against the visual of Omega transforming into robot mode for the first time. Ratchet and Skids both have objections; Ratchet is worried about the safety of his patients, at least until Omega reassures him, and Skids is worried that walking into a fortified Decepticon base is perhaps unwise. Optimus has considered this, which is why the plan is to break off the assault as soon as the information is procured. This part of the plan does NOT sit well with the Dinobots. They're fed up with being stuck at base for lack of suitably discrete alt modes, and won't go to war just to run away. The headstrong bots desert, which prompts MORE anguish from Skids. However, Optimus has already factored their potential reaction into his planning - the mission will procede.

It's nice to see Optimus taking the initiative. Most plots seem to be initiated by the Decepticons; while this is somewhat inevitable, it makes the Autobots seem a couple of steps behind. It's also nice to see an explanation, abliet a not particularly convincing one, for why the Dinobots haven't been seen. Optimus seems poised and confident, definitely a command performance from him.

The Decepticons, though, are dealing with a divided command structure. Having put aside their differences, at least for a while, Shockwave and Megatron seem to be sharing a joint command of the Decepticons. Shockwave seems almost passive-aggressive as he points out the relative value of the Constructicons (retrieved, and indeed created, by him) vs Donny Finkleberg's Robot-Master. Megatron, having reluctantly made the decision to employ this deception, now has to defend his decision to Shockwave. Megatron, unwilling to sit in a fortified hole, takes the bulk of the Decepticon forces to the space bridge rendezvous point to meet with Straxus' troops. The tension between Shockwave and Megatron is nicely done; clearly these two won't be sharing a joint command for long without some kind of resolution.

As the Autobot convoy proceeds, Skids is distracted by how fun being a vehicle on earth looks, with activities like drivethrus and car washes, some nice foreshadowing for next issue. However, as his mind drifts he gets into a slight collision with a purple Lamborghini (who shares a character model with Sideswipe). Though his first instinct is to stop, Prime won't sanction any delay. This prompts the irate driver to pursue. A few short miles away, the Autobots run into a military blockade, probably a sensible precaution. Jetfire creates a diversion while the other 'bots break through the barrier. Though the soldiers are unable to stop them, they DO manage to stop the pursuing hothead. This sequence feels like another one of Bob's attempts to humanize the war, which usually don't engage me much. However, it's nice to get some more screen time for Skids. This is a character who never managed to shine much in the cartoon, but here he has a real presence. Perlin does a nice job getting some excitement out of running the blockade; I particularly like the apprehension of Jake Dalrymple, hothead supreme.

But for now, a full-on attack on the Decepticons by the Autobots! We get some nice excitement and great artwork as the Autobots press forward blowing up gun emplacements and taking fire themselves. Shockwave, not anticipating Prime's greater purpose, orders the Constructicons to unite into Devastator, while Bumblebee captures the whole thing electronically. Donny, worried about his fate should Shockwave gain sole command of the Decepticons, takes this opportunity to skedaddle even as the Autobots withdraw, having accomplished their mission with nary a casualty. Shockwave, for his part, declines to pursue. He wants the Autobots demise to be under his watch.

All is not over, though. Megatron has found not Decepticons but Autobots at the space bridge coordinates. Before he can engage, though, word reaches him of the Autobot's attack. Megatron decides that the time is perfect to attack the Ark, despite Shockwave's warning that the Ark is most likely guarded. Arriving at the ark and seeing only the tank and rocket base, Megatron presses forward. The tank quickly takes out Skywarp, though Megatron presses forward. Omega Supreme reveals his robot form to the stunned Decepticons, and then in one page takes out each of Megatron's remaining minions. Bob REALLY hams it up here with his dialogue, and it works so well. Omega's over-the-top dialogue combined with his actions gives this issue a truly titanic feel. Megatron gets in a direct hit, but it just swishs off Omega's wing shield. Omega then whunks Megatron with a mighty blow, nearly disabling him. Laserbeak, though, was only winged and on Megatron's orders picks up his leader and retreats. It's only four pages, but it feels truly epic. I can't imagine how it could have been better.

As the Autobots continue to return home, they get a radio message from Omega informing them of the many Decepticon casualties. Skids apologizes to Optimus for doubting his plan, prompting Optimus to reply that until they're back at base, they are still vulnerable. Prescient words, because as they retreat past the military encampment, irate driver Jake runs in front of Skids, trying to flag him down. Skids skreeeches to a halt, but the silent Ravage (pursuing the escaping Donny) takes the opportunity to fire a missile into skids at close range. Optimus makes a command decision to continue the retreat rather than put more Autobot lives at risk. It's an odd call; while it's true that Prime doesn't know exactly who the Autobots are taking fire from, one would think that he would have at least ordered the others to proceed while going back for Skids. It's a bit of a misfire in what is otherwise a very strong issue. (I know that this is to set up the next issue, but still, each issue should stand on its own.)

And speaking of command performances, the Decepticons have the inevitable shake-up in their leadership structure following the relative performances of Shockwave at the coal mine and Megatron at the Ark. Shockwave prepares to execute Megatron for gross incompetence, but gives his adversary a moment to plead for his life. Megatron, ever full of hubris, declares that Shockwave should be be the one begging for forgiveness. Old bucket-head flawlessly lays out Optimus Prime's plan before Shockwave, pointing out that Prime had an objective for his attack and that he must have achieved it. He also points out that the loss of six warriors is insignificant with the space bridge, but letting the Autobots know that they can never have a moment of peace is invaluable. Shockwave, a bot of logic and not passion, sees the truth of the argument and voluntarily relinquishes command to the battered and weakened Megatron. This is neatly symbolized visually by Laserbeak perching on Megatron's shoulders. It's another great moment in Bob's run, the difference between these two powerful Decepticon authority figures. Megatron, a creature of passions, is much more in tune with Prime's plans than Shockwave ever can be. Shockwave, presented with a compelling argument, returns full command to Megatron even though he could most likely defeat his wounded adversary.

The Autobots are understandably elated with the success of their plan. The secrets of combination are theirs, six Decepticons are incarcerated, and Omega's power as a warrior has been demonstrated. Prime, though, is a bit morose. The loss of even one Autobot weighs heavily on his massive shoulders. The lovely last panel shows the severely damaged Skids, radio still working and tire still spinning, with the promise that the story is 'to be continued'. We're also promised a Wild West style Showdown!. What that means is anyone's guess at this point.

Overall, another excellent issue. We are invited to dwell on the symmetries between Optimus Prime and Megatron. Both lead attacks on enemy fortifications. Both, despite failing to breach those fortifications, claim success on their missions and solidify their positions as leaders of their respective factions. Megatron, though, loses six warriors and shrugs it off as irrelevant. Optimus loses one warrior and agonizes over it. There is even a bit of symmetry between Shockwave and Grimlock, the other commanders in this issue. Grimlock, unhappy with Prime's decision not to fully commit, angrily wanders off. Shockwave, convinced of the validity of Megatron's decision TO fully commit, voluntarily submits to his authority.

Add to the well-structured story a dash of some great artwork, at times bombastic, at times very touching. Sprinkle with great characterization, with a dash of great dialogue and you've got yourself a winner. One of the stand-outs in the Budiansky run, and hot on the heels of his excellent Cybertron two-parter. Highly recommended.

Command Performances! is available for sale from IDW Publishing in Classic Transformers Volume 2 .


Zobovor said...

Yeah, this issue is essentially one big toy advertisement for Omega Supreme. (I don't think the "You asked for it, you got it!" blurb is meant to be taken literally. It's a play on the old Toyota car commercial that used that slogan.)

I don't like how casually the Decepticon troopers were written out of the story. Granted, guys like Thundercracker and Skywarp were pretty much non-entities in the comics, but even at this early stage, Starscream was compelling and it's a shame to watch him get demolished just to make room for the Triple Changers, Battlechargers, etc.

It also bothers me heartless and dismissive Optimus Prime is about Skids. It's not really very Autobot-like.

Hans said...

Zobovor, I got a completely different vibe from Optimus Prime. In the last panel he says that he cannot celebrate, as Skids is gone. And he looks down and touched by it. I think this is meant to show Prime will have a hard time about this off screen later on.

He simply moved on because he had to, all the others would have been in danger if they'd stopped with Devastator still looming behind.

And in any case, it's better than the way he handled Jazz's death in the movie! :)

I loved this issue as well. Ian Akin and Brain Garvey elevated the art of the Transformers title to great heights back in the day, IMO. I loved how they improved Don Perlin's pencils (and José Delbo's for two issues). And things would only get better from this point on.