Friday, July 31, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK 1987 Annual: To A Power Unknown

“To A Power Unknown” is the second comic story in the 1987 Transformers annual. It was written by two people - Ian Mennell and Wilf Prigmore. The art was by Will Simpson, the letters by Anne Halfacree, the colours by Josie Firmin and the editing by Sheila Cranna. There was no cover.

Normally my reviews contain a very detailed summary of the events of an issue and what it means for the characters involved. However, since “To A Power Unknown” probably isn’t canon and reads like it was written by a man who once heard about Transformers from a third party and decided to write a story based around what he thought a Transformers story might be like, I can’t help but feel I would be wasting everybody’s time.

The plot concerns a device of extraordinary power. The PARD or “Purnel’s Auto-Reverse Defense System” can “reverse computer controlled instructions.” Professor Purnel (from jolly old England!) designed this to deflect enemy missiles back onto their points of origin, but unfortunately for our heroes, it also works, quite by chance, on Transformer circuitry, with the effect of making Autobots mean and nasty and Decepticons saying we should “give peace a chance”.

The Autobots and Decepticons are understandably shaken by this and decide to track the energy back to it’s point of origin, which turns out to be the UK, for no discernable reason other than this is the UK book. Unfortunately this means that the Autobots have to fly to get there which violates everything we know... Anyway, moving on: While the Transformers are still afflicted, Professor Purnel’s assistant, Zeke Heilmann (Egads! A foreigner!) turns traitor and tries to steal PARD. He hijacks Jazz, who is too messed up to stop him, and finds Starscream in a similar state in a field. Leaping aboard, he is surprised when the talking plane takes off by itself. Jazz, in an uncharacteristic display of callousness which would have Optimus Prime committing seppuku from guilt in a normal story, fires a heat-seeking missile at the departing Decepticon. Starscream transforms to robot mode, forcing Heilmann to fall from his cockpit. Somehow this completely dissipates the heat from his jets, making Heilmann a hotter target for the missile. Heilmann and PARD explode in a gratuitous fireball. There is a bit of a fight, the humans show up, the Decepticons withdraw, PARD is destroyed and the story is mercifully over...

I can’t really recommend reading this but luckily you don’t have to. I could have forgiven a script like this back when the UK book was finding it’s feet but by the time this annual rolled around, there had been seventy-eight issues, most of which were far better. I can’t imagine anyone considering this a proper part of the UK story unless they really wanted to. I’m sure there are some gaps you could squeeze it into but really... what’s the point? Everyone is out of character, nothing changes and the most notable event is that a human being is killed by an Autobot missile and no-one cares. The best bit for me was the depiction of characters from the long-running British soap opera “Coronation Street” The character, Ken, whose likeness is drawn has been in the show since it began in 1960 and is still there in 2009 - a record-smashing lack of ambition for an actor. Things look up at this point when Starscream also briefly watches Doctor Who (although it must have been a repeat - there weren't any Dalek stories in 1986).

The biggest question this story raises is how did it take two people to write it? It’s eleven pages long and reads like it was sketched out between pints on the back of an envelope. I suppose the kindest thing I can say is that it sort of felt a bit like a plot from one of the Sunbow episodes. They typically featured one-off inventions, sometimes human, that made crazy and implausible things happen. Of course, they also had decent writers, talented animators and versatile voice actors creating indelibly loveable characters, whereas “To A Power Unknown” was written by the work-experience kid and drawn by Will Simpson in his typical “Why won't you just let me draw humans?” style.

All in all. If you like Transformers, "To A Power Unknown" is a waste of your time. If you don't, then a) What are you doing here? and b) Please don't judge us based on "To a Power Unknown".

Anyway, that's more than enough words about this story no-one has ever, nor will ever, read. Bish out.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #27: King of the Hill!

King of the Hill! is the twenty-seventh issue of the US G1 Marvel Transformers comic. It was written by Bob Budiansky, with pencils by Don Perlin, inks by the duo of Akin and Garvey, colors by Nel Yomtov and letters by Janice Chiang. The cover was by Herb Trimpe.

It's quite a nice cover, too. Trypticon wades through a forest, battling the Dinobots as a perky young girl runs away from the carnage. Grimlock's got his teeth buried in the gargantuan Decepticon, but the rest of the Dinobots seem to be overwhelmed. Slag, in particular, is in a bad way, as Trypticon has just picked him up. It's a dynamic cover, full of motion and action. Trypticon is impressively huge compared to the Dinobots, who we already know are among the largest of Transformers. It's a real win.

The issue, for the most part, manages to live up to the promise of the cover. It starts with a paleontology professor and some students, examining some dinosaur footprints. I'm sorry, did I say dinosaur? I meant dinoBOT footprints. The professor at first believes them to be an elaborate hoax, but a glimpse of Swoop convinces him that SOMETHING is, ahem, afoot. They decide to camp for the night.

The Dinobots, meanwhile, indulge in some stolen oil, courtesy of Swoop. The scene of him stealing it was shown but seemed redundant; we've already got the human perspective in this issue. We haven't seen the Dinobots since issue #19, when they defected rather than engage in a sham attack on the Decepticons. (Of course, in the UK that's not the case, but I'll let Bish cover those issues in his own time.) They're surly, even with each other, and have little concern for the property rights of humans. But it's the Autobots that Grimlock has his sights set on. He sees the death of Optimus Prime as an opportunity to not just end his exile, but to take command.

And in the Florida Keys, Shockwave takes a call from Cybertron. Ratbat, fuel auditor of Cybertron, introduces himself and quickly gets down to business. He's done an analysis, and it seems that the space bridge is consuming more energy than it's producing! He's cutting Shockwave off. Shockwave argues that this sort of inefficient operation was due to Megatron's faulty leadership, and convinces Ratbat to send his mightiest warrior for one last attack on the Ark. With its resources, Shockwave in sure that the Decepticons can act without further aid from Cybertron. Ratbat agrees, but warns that it's Shockwave's last chance.

With Optimus Prime now well and truly gone, the Autobots prepare to choose his sucessor. Each of the Autobot sub-commanders gather to discuss what traits their new leader should have. Blaster suggests they need a warrior; Hot Spot's criteria is wisdom; Silverbolt wants compassion; Ratchet's attribute of choice kindness; Omega Supreme asks for courage; Jetfire points out the benefits of charisma. Unexpectedly, Grimlock bursts into the scene and demands that strength be the criteria. He disrupts the proceedings by smashing a holo-projection of Optimus Prime, and unsubtly puts himself forth as the best candidate for leadership. Perceptor, chairing the proceedings, allows that as Dinobot leader he's welcome to speak at the session, but Grimlock is having none of it. He storms off, ominously saying that what Grimlock wants, he takes.

Freshman Rachel Becker, camping with the professor, is startled by a bright light. She witnesses the opening of the space bridge and the arrival of Trypticon. Perlin and Yomtov do a good job here. Rather than reveal everything at once, we get blurred and shadowy glimpses before a page turn yields a full-page splash of the deadliest Decepticon. Rachel runs away, and in her panic loses her light. She decides to curl up by a log for the night and find her camp in the morning.

Trypticon approaches the Ark and transforms to battle station mode. He dispatches Wipe-Out, a scout, to look for any interlopers who may be nearby. Wipe-Out piles on some effusive praise before Trypticon tells him to just shut up and go. Trypticon then begins his attack, luring the Autobots out of the Ark with a sonic-scrambler missile before beginning his barrage.

Grimlock and the Dinobots approach the Ark, ready to do battle with those within for the mantle of leadership. (Isn't that bunny cute?) He's surprised to see a battle already in progress. The Dinobots are gleeful, except for Grimlock, who doesn't really want to rule over a pile of corpses. Rachel is also surprised by the battle, and more so by Grimlock. This time, though, she doesn't panic but approaches him openly. He's impressed by her courage, but doesn't have time for it right now. Unfortunately, Wipe-Out has plenty of time for her and snatches her up.

Trypticon continues to lay siege to the Ark, blasting anyone who comes out but shaking up those inside with his sonic-scrambler mines. The Dinobots, except for Grimlock, are actually cheering him on, but when Grimlock sees Trypticon about to mercilessly kill Rachel he's galvanized to action. He leaps onto Trypticons' back, giving Rachel time to get away. The Dinobots quickly rush to Grimlock's side, and a pitched battle ensues. Trypticon gets in some good shots, blowing a hole in Swoop's wing and scoring direct hits of Slag and Sludge. Ratbat, though, has been monitoring the battle and recalls the Decepticon titan. It seems he's exceeded his energy budget for the mission. Grimlock's troops are happy to have driven off the larger dinosaur, but still want to make their man the top Autobot. To the Ark they head.

Inside the Ark, Jetfire thanks the Dinobots for saving them and offer Grimlock the leadership, thanks to his show of strength. Grimlock defers, having realized that there's more to leading the Autobots than being strongest. Perceptor points out that while it's true that there's more to being leader than being the strongest, Grimlock has demonstrated those traits. During the battle he exhibited wisdom, compassion, courage, charisma and tactical aptitude. Ratchet and Perceptor agree - HAIL GRIMLOCK!

This issue is an interesting one on a couple of levels. Grimlock's quest for a leadership that he is ill-suited to hold is fun. Had Trypticon not shown up, I have no doubt that Grimlock would have engaged in a small Autobot Civil War, the outcome of which would be at best uncertain. Even after Trypticon starts his siege, the Dinobots gleefully watch. Having decided that the Autobots are, at least temporarily, enemies, they enjoy seeing them knocked about. Even Grimlock seems less concerned about their well being than about their future potential as his soldiers. In some ways, this story is about a series of blunders that thrust Grimlock into a position of power; any human other than Rachel (and perhaps Joy Meadows from the UK) he would happily have let Trypticon slaughter. The subsequent stories would show just how ill-suited he is to lead the Autobots, but we'll come to them in their own time. I can't help but wonder if Grimlock's refusing the crown for being unworthy was just part of his strategy. If it's a genuine moment, it undercuts the theme of the book, but if it's a case of Caesar refusing the crown then it fits right in. (Of course, the next issue would literally put a crown on Grimlock's head, so maybe there's something to this interpretation.)

The transition in leadership of the teams, from Optimus vs Megatron to Grimlock vs Shockwave, is an interesting one. Whereas Optimus and Megatron seem to be fundamentally similar in their leadership style, leading with power and charisma, Grimlock and Shockwave couldn't be more different. Shockwave is about logic and reason, completely dispassionate. Grimlock is about emotion and passion and ego. Unfortunately, this dichotomy will never be explored in depth, as the Autobot plots and Decepticon plots start to diverge.

This issue also features the introduction of a character of great import was introduced. No, not Trypticon, he'll never show up again in the US. I'm talking, of course, of Ratbat. As if Shockwave's cold logic wasn't enough, we're now given an accountant who's making sure that energy is used in an efficient manner. Megatron would have laughed in his face, but this sort of argument is immensely appealing to Shockwave. The two characters would go on to have some great chemistry together.

Finally, this issue features an unusual character - Wipe-Out. Wipe-Out is subservient to Trypticon, almost slavishly so. He carries a grease gun, and gets his own character model. Yet, he seems to be completely original to the comics. Trypticon's toy comes with a small scout car, Full-Tilt, but it looks nothing like Wipe-Out. Wipe-Out's design is based on a Tailgate toy, though Tailgate gets his own completely unique model. With a decently established personality and a special weapon, it really seems like Bob was drawing from something specific here. He was asked about it in an interview recently, but didn't have much insight.

Overall, this book tells an interesting story, one that works better the more you put thought into it. If you think that the book is trying to tell you that Grimlock is actually right for Autobot leadership, you may find it frustrating. But if you think it's a sort of comedy of errors, showing how a wrong leader can get appointed, it's subversively interesting. King of the Hill! is available for purchase from IDW Publishing as part of  Classic Transformers Volume 2 .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Iván's Gallery: The Oregonian

Iván's Gallery comes again on a Wednesday this week. He brings us an experimental piece this week, The Oregonian. It was something he did up for the mosaic project but didn't quite fit their needs. Still, I think it's quite interesting. Judge for yourself.

(It's a full-sized image, so if you click on it you should be able to read the whole thing. BTW, this sort of experimental style found its way into The Allspark Almanac (preorder it today!), so it's almost a thematic preview of some things to come.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ark Addendum - The Shadow Emperor, Scorponok

I thought I'd get an early start on the day, since poor Iván is still having computer problems. This week's edition of The Ark Addendum features about half of the models from The Shadow Emperor, Scorponok. This episode features Scroponok's first action as leader of the Destrons, the theft of the Solar-1 satellite.

I like the technique that the designers employed to give a bit more variety to the extras, having one body but multiple heads. Note how the head is blurred out to make clear what's going on with the heads. Each reporter, though, gets his own model, though note how they declined to draw the same camera twice.

Also, these models are a bit worse off than I'd normally use in a finished product. I hope you'll forgive me for not redrawing the feet and hands that trail off, I think it's pretty clear what's going on.

Jim Out!

January 2010 Update: Solar-1 also gets its own Ark Addendum!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 2

War of the Worlds, the series began with a two hour pilot that gave a broad sketch of the world. It falls to the second episode, though, to set the pace for the average episode. The Walls of Jericho, in essence, establishes the formula for the series.

For the first time, we see the opening credits for season one. "In 1953 Earth experienced a War of the Worlds. Common bacteria stopped the aliens, but it didn't kill them. Instead, the aliens lapsed into a deep state of hibernation. Now the aliens have been resurrected, more terrifying than before. In 1953, aliens started taking over the world; today, they're taking over our bodies!" Appropriate images are juxtaposed with this dialogue, showing some carnage from the movie before moving on to images from the pilot. We then get a very 80's montage of our main characters being vaguely actionish. Except for poor Norton Drake, he's pretty much sedentary. In a bit of a cheat, they climax with the heroes running away from the war machines from the end of the pilot. It's undoubtedly a highlight of the season, though a bit misleading since we'll never see them again. The credits get the job done, but they aren't particularly inventive.

The episode itself isn't 100% in-line with the formula for the episodes yet to come, but it's pretty close. It's been six weeks since the defeat of the aliens at Hanger 15, and the team hasn't heard a peep from them. This prompts General Wilson to contemplate a declaration of "Mission Accomplished" and sending our team home. The Colonel doesn't seem unhappy with this prospect, though the rest of the team thinks the call premature. They feel betrayed that Ironhorse shared with Wilson data indicating that the radiation that kills off alien-incapacitating bacteria is ultimately fatal to them.

The aliens, meanwhile, attempt to deal with the killing heat of the radiation. The Advocacy is literally rotting away, as are many of their minions. Blood baths (literally, baths of bovine blood) help slow the process, but not reverse it. A plan to steal special plastics to build cooling suits is successfully executed, though an initial attempt to steal liquid nitrogen from a rocket base results in an alien fatality. The team, in the process of packing, puts together the attempted theft of the liquid nitrogen and the plastic and the radiation heat and realizes a probable alien target - Jericho Refrigeration, Inc.

Blackwood and Ironhorse go undercover to the plant, posing as members of the Department of Health and Safety. They quickly realize that folks are acting strange and that radiation levels are way too high. They return that night, with Wilson and McCullough, to plant a homing beacon on a delivery truck and trace the aliens back to their lair. Unfortunately, they are spotted and engage the aliens in a pitched battle. Things go well for our heroes, partially because only three of the twelve aliens spotted actually fight. What happened to the other nine isn't clear. The General blows up the truck as it flees, which kind of defeats the purpose of the mission, but convinces him to allow our heroes to continue their mission.

The Advocacy, now ensconced in their coolant suits, laments the loss of the plant, but observe that they've already got enough coolant to see their invasion through to the end. "TO LIFE IMMORTAL" they declare as the credits roll.

The Good: The Advocacy. The leadership of the aliens continues to prove one of the most interesting aspects of the show. They refuse to contact the council until they have good news to report, wishing to report only of victory. When one of the three succumbs to the radiation heat and must be submerged in the tanks, they lament that there may not be three other worthy candidates to take their place. This is also the first episode that they will mutter the alien's memorable catch phrase, "to life immortal," though in the pilot they do express a longing "to live life immortal."

The use of the alien's hand as a third appendage with which to fight. This would be used many times in the first season, but it's first used in the fight at Jericho Refrigeration. I love the imagery of the alien arm bursting from the stomach of the hapless hosts.

A scene in the Jericho Refrigeration plant when a woman comes to ask her husband why he hasn't been home in days. "I've been working," he calmly replies. "Who is she," she hysterically demands. "I've been working," he reiterates. She then demands a divorce, which prompts another alien to move to her and assure her that, "he's been working." The alien workers stare at her and Ironhorse and Blackwood realize that things here are very wrong. It was a nicely creepy scene.

Biblical allusions (but see below). The title of the episode, The Walls of Jericho, references the book of Joshua, sixth book of the Old Testament of the Bible. The story is of the conquest of the city of Jericho by Joshua and the Israeli army, wherein the walls of the besieged city crumble allowing the slaughter of the inhabitants within. The imagery involves a mighty fortress crumbling due to divine intervention, though it's difficult to see exactly how that applies to the episode. After seeing this title, one can't help but revisit the title of the pilot (The Resurrection) with new eyes.

John Vernon's performance as General Wilson. Certainly, any genre fan has seen or heard him in numerous roles including Doctor Strange, Rupert Thorne, General 'Thunderbolt' Ross and Doctor Doom. He's wonderfully charming as he subtly brings around the idea of evicting the team from The Cottage, and almost manages to sell the very shaky 'selective amnesia' theory. Almost.

The Bad: The very shaky 'selective amnesia' theory. It is mentioned for the first time here that many people who have encounters with aliens simply forget, possibly because of something mesmerizing about them, possibly because of our own subconscious desire to not experience these kind of horrors, most likely a mixture of both. It's a weak explanation for allowing the extras to be incredulous about the existence of aliens and smacks of lazing writing. Which brings us to ...

The writer of the episode, one 'Forrest van Buren.' The pseudonym indicates that this episode was written by a scab during the writer's strike of 1988. Bad, scab, bad!

Reusing a scene from the pilot. Specifically, when an alien runs into an electric fence at a facility making rocket fuel and melts, the shot of her remains is the exact same shot as the image I used of an alien body from the pilot. Her face melting against the fence was a pretty cool and gruesome image, though.

The acting. Leaving aside Philip Akin (I'm not going to blast him week after week), the extras playing the cops who investigate the plastic factory and the farmer and sheriff discussing the cows drained of blood were really off.

Our heroes going undercover. While this would be a standard device throughout the series, it never quite gelled for me. They are legitimate government operatives, so they shouldn't have to engage in this level of subterfuge. It's a bit overlookable for now, since they were on the verge of having their funding cut, but it's a trope that would be employed time and again.

Forced Biblical allusions. Don't get me wrong, I like the Bible-inspired titles. But to justify this title, both the refrigeration plant and the rocket base have the name Jericho in them. Also, the fort where alien bodies were stored in the pilot was Fort Jericho. It's a bit much.

The Ugly: If ever there was a show that lends itself to this style of analysis, War of the Worlds is it. I'm tempted to go with the scab-covered Advocates, especially once one of their numbers is immersed in cow blood. The face-melting electric-fence killed alien is another good candidate. But the real ugliness of the episode would probably be the alien who gets sprayed with two canisters of liquid nitrogen and shattered. Aliens normally dissolve into a gooey mess, but this takes things up a notch - bam!

Overall, a fairly representative episode, one that fits the last few pieces of the puzzle left over from the pilot in place. Both the virtues and the flaws of the series are apparent. I'd say the virtues outweigh the flaws ... but not by a huge margin.  War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season remains readily available on DVD from

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Marvel G.I. Joe and the Transformers #4

...All Fall Down! (HUZZAH!! EXCLAMATION POINT CITY!) is the fourth and final part of the G.I. Joe and the Transformers limited series. It is not to be confused with
issue #66 of the Marvel ongoing G1 series, All Fall Down. (You gotta love comic titles that are only differentiated by punctuation.)

The series had a consistent creative team throughout. Michael Higgins was the writer, Herb Trimpe the penciler, Vince Colletta the inker, Nel Yomtov the colorist, and Joe Rosen the Letterer. I'm not sure who did the cover, since it's not signed.

The cover is a bit busy for my tastes. There is no real focus - Alpha sits in the middle of the page, with the Autobots to the upper left, Cobra to the lower right, and the Joe team to the lower left. There are some jets flying, having perhaps just finished bombing something, but it's not clear to me if they're Cobra, Joe, Decepticon or even Aerialbot. OK, probably not Aerialbot, Superion is among the Autobots. The Decepticons are only really represented by Alpha, which might have worked better if there was a mighty Decepticon symbol on it. On a symbolic level it doesn't work either, since these three teams are nominal allies for the span of this issue, but that doesn't come across either.

The issue is only slightly less muddled. Power Station Alpha begins to execute Shockwave's plan to destabilize the structure of the Earth, allowing the Decepticons to collect the enormous energies released by its destruction. The Autobots, Cobra and G.I. Joe aren't too happy about this, huddled up inside the Ark. They begin to devise a plan, but it's obvious from the beginning that this alliance is not meant to last. The Autobots are concerned that Alpha has been modified enough to be considered a sentient being, hampering their effectiveness. Neither the Joes nor the Cobras are too impressed by this argument, but the Joes worry about the consequences of blowing up a nuclear power plant over a populated area. Quite pragmatically, Cobra points out that if they don't act soon, these concerns will be moot.

I like this exchange, actually. The Joes live in a world with more shades-of-gray than the Autobots seem to inhabit. I'm sure the Autobots aren't keen to spread radioactive fallout around, but they naively don't even seem to realize that this might be a problem. I suppose Transformers have better shielding. The Joes, on the other hand, are perfectly willing to sacrifice a possible sentient being to save billions, which really is quite sensible. The ever-Machiavellian Cobra will take any steps necessary to save the Earth.

Shockwave, meanwhile, has sprung his plan and sees no reason to keep Mindbender around. Bombshell is dispatched to take out the human, but the Baroness shows up with a bazooka and takes out the Insecticon. As the pair of terrorists flee, Mindbender stops to pick up Bombshell, now in tiny insect form. After 25-odd issues of Transformers being virtually impervious to anything a human can dish out, Circuit Breaker excepted, this is the third time that we've seen a Transformer defeated by a human in four issues. It's a bit jarring, all told. Moreover, Bumblebee was taken down by an army and Dirge had his own weapon turned against him. Bombshell here is defeated by a mere hand-held cannon.

Speaking of Transformers defeated by humans, Bumblebee is in the final phase of his resurrection. Ratchet arrives at the Joe base in time to help finish the job. The Joe team, though, didn't quite know Bumblebee's original specs; consequently, he is now in his Goldbug character model. He requests a name upgrade, to be taken more seriously. It's a decent explanation for his new body, though I prefer the alternate explanation that the UK folks would get. (Since they didn't get the Joe / TF crossover till years later, an alternate explanation involving Death's Head and Wreck-Gar was concocted.)

The final offensive begins! The Autobots, G.I. Joe and Cobra launch an all-out offensive on the Decepticon base to keep the Decepticons occupied. Meanwhile, Goldbug, the Baroness and Scarlett are to plant explosives on Alpha to be used if necessary. We get a nice gestalt battle between Superion and Devastator as the battle rages. Mindbender uses the captured Cerebro-shell and his own mind-control gear to seize control of Alpha and direct it into a low orbit. This prompts the Baroness to activate the explosives without authorization. With their mutual enemy defeated, Cobra wastes no time in withdrawing. The Baroness, though, has another mission.

I like that Cobra was the real savior of the human race here. Thematically, it wasn't the force of their arms that they brought to the table, it was their ruthlessness. I do think that the idea of holding off on Alpha's destruction because it might be sentient was pretty silly, but it's the sort of silliness that the Autobots love. I also like the idea of the same cerebro-shell that helped Bombshell take control of Alpha in the first place being used to wrest control away from the Decepticons.

Hawk watches regretfully as Barbara Larkin is arrested. He then gets to witness the Senator's assassination by a Cobra operative. The Baroness has tied up the last loose end. Anthony Duranti, though, seems to have fully recovered. Even brain surgery is no match for the resilliancy of youth. The Autobots direct the Joes to leave the Decepticons to them in the future, with Blaster not quite sure if the Joes were in on the destruction of Alpha or not.

The Duranti plot works for me, the Larkin one does not. Larkin's plan was, build a powerstation cheaply to funnel funds to her state, then have Cobra blow it up. Cobra tries to steal it instead, but the Decepticons actually DO steal it. So ... why did Larkin have to die exactly? Because she could, what, identify the Baroness? They had photos of the Baroness. This whole emotional arc sufferes from being poorly planned. Anthony, though, seems like a good proxy for the collateral damage in the Autobot-Decepticon war. To me, he represents one of Higgins' most sucessful contributions to the Transformers mythos.

Trimpe's art continues to work moderately well. His battle royale was a high point of the episode, and he drew Bombshell's convulsions (when the Cerebro-shell was prodded) convincingly. His expressive humans helped sell some of the Joe / Cobra conflict, and gave Duke some genuine sorrow.

As a four issue story, G.I. Joe and the Transformers offers up what it promises. We get to see most reasonable permutations of alliances played out, which was probably the real point. (The Autobots as Cobra allies though, wouldn't be seen until the first Devil's Due Joe / TF crossover almost 20 years later.) Higgins decision to focus on just a few characters from each team was a good one, grounding the conflict. The stakes were raised suitably high to justify the Decepticons-vs-everyone-else climax - this marks the only time in the U.S. G1 run when the Decepticons would attempt to actually destroy the Earth.

For all that, the story seems perfunctory in many ways. If Funeral for a Friend! was a textbook example of how to write a Transformers story, G.I. Joe and the Transformers is an example of writing a Transformers story in a textbook way. All the right beats are hit, but the story never quite gels into something greater than the sum of its parts. It feels like the collection of necessary scenes that it is.

It also suffers from attempting to shoehorn it into continuity. Things like the transitions in leadership for three of the four teams is a distraction. The destruction of Dirge and Bombshell wouldn't quite take - Dirge would show up in G2, presumably rescued from Autobot incarceration in issue #41. Bombshell would cameo in that same issue, though I don't believe he shows up again, possibly making that an error. The origin of Goldbug is the main contribution to the actual G1 Marvel Transformers continuity, and even that is bypassable.

All told, a decent story but not worth going out of your way for. That it isn't readily available isn't such a tragedy then. If you have access, give it a whirl, if not, you're not missing so much.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Destron Pretenders



Excuse me, I was having one of my fits. But really, this week has been a bit off, between Iván's computer issues and Bish's large party for tonight. I myself have been crazy busy lately, though I should still get my review up tomorrow. Hopefully Iván will have his computer problems behind him soon, though there may be some lingering impact to our schedule here. But enough about real life, let's talk Transformers!

This week, Iván brings us the Destron Pretenders. It should come as no surprise to see more Masterforce-themed artwork from this talented fellow. Here's what he has to say about this piece:


When I saw these guys first time thought. - hey ! wait a moment, this is not transformers.

They appeared in a marvel comics number that we had the Pretenders.
Later in the Masterforce series would have more importance, act as leaders of a small vanguard force decepticons on earth. And the supreme commander is Blood, Bomb-burst in the U.S.A version.

This was an unexpected twist to the traditional concept of transformers
And the truth is that I love this new trend.

This illustration is a tribute to the Decepticons actors appearing in the first episodes of the series, and my friend Rafa, helps me with the amazing colour of the pin-up.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK 1987 Annual: Victory!

“Victory!” is a ten-page story from the 1987 Annual which came out, naturally, in the autumn of 1986. It tells the story of the Dinobots living through their coma (post “Dinobot Hunt!”) and fits into the annual format well by being in continuity but showing as something from the past, rather than competing with the regular book.

It was written, as ever, by Simon Furman. It was drawn by Geoff Senior and lettered by Anne Halfacree. The colours were by a returning Gina Hart and Sheila Cranna took editing duties.

As an annual story it has no cover but the second page is a brilliant splash page of Megatron being bisected by Grimlock’s energo-sword. This is a shocking image and I would love to own the original artwork.

The basic structure of this ten page story takes the form of glimpses into the minds of the five Dinobots as they lie comatose (between issues #50 and #65).

The story of the Dinobots’ coma was something of an anticlimax in the main book as they went into it at the end of “Dinobot Hunt!” and woke up, suffering no ill-effects, at the end of “Second Generation!” In “Victory!” however, Furman is able to mine it to create an atmospheric and entertaining character study as the Dinobots struggle to overcome defects in their personalities that are preventing them from waking up.

There is a fair amount of room for debate as to which character flaws apply to which Dinobot. Certainly there would seem to be an overarching theme of arrogance. This is a characteristic that all the Dinobots unquestionably share. Confidence and pride in their own abilities are parts of what makes them such effective warriors but it can get them into trouble, and it would appear that in “Victory!” their subconscious minds are trying to tell them this. The only Dinobot’s story which does not fit this model is Sludge’s, as he is undone by his trusting nature, rather than overconfidence, so perhaps there is some merit in dissecting the stories individually:

Grimlock’s vignette is a tale of hubris. Having killed Megatron and disabled several other prominent Decepticons he fails to pay Starscream enough mind. Starscream bolts on the fallen leader’s fusion cannon and, pretending to be wounded, allows Grimlock to approach him, before blowing him apart at point-blank range. The Dinobot feels his life slip away and is left with only “darkness… and voices.”

In his dream, Grimlock is the leader, not only of the Dinobots, but of all the Autobots. In fact, while it is not completely clear, it is possible that he is the last Autobot left alive. Certainly, it is made abundantly obvious that Optimus Prime is very, very dead. These dream sequences appear to be part-fantasy, part nightmare, always taking the form of something that the Dinobot would like very much to happen, before it leads to their death. However, this dream demonstrates why Grimlock would (and will) be a bad choice as Autobot leader. While he is certainly powerful and inspirational enough his vision is too narrow. He is at his happiest while wading through corpses and fighting in close-combat with the Decepticons. The reader gets the impression that this sort of death is inevitable for one of Grimlock’s temperament and Grimlock must surely know this himself, to be dreaming it. Perhaps he even learns from this eventually, because in the Dinobots’ next (in continuity - not chronologically) story: “In The National Interest” Grimlock backs down and allows Megatron to escape rather than endanger himself and others.

Swoop’s story goes back to his lack of respect for Optimus Prime, already well established in issue #46. Acting alone he manages to capture Soundwave and hauls him skyward. Refusing to hand his captive over to Prime, thinking that the Autobot leader will take all the credit, he disobeys orders and decides to parade the communications officer in front of his own troops. Soundwave, unable to bear the shame, activates a personal self-destruct device and blows them both into atoms.

Swoop is, in general, more even-tempered than Grimlock but he really has no time for Optimus Prime. However, not liking a single individual does not amount to a character flaw. Like Grimlock he suffers for his arrogance and his inability to grasp the big picture. It is, however, far easier to wound Swoop’s pride than it is Grimlock’s. In this story Swoop is worried that Prime will take the credit for his own success - obviously something Prime would never do - whereas Grimlock would just have shouted loudly about his success until there was no doubt who the hero was. Swoop knows how good he is, but he also knows how good Optimus Prime is, and he worries about being overshadowed so he fights back with open hostility, which, in this case, gets him into serious trouble. The character flaw that Swoop needs to battle in order to wake up is inadequacy, a trait that probably isn’t helped by spending so much time with Grimlock (Swoop’s sense of inadequacy and his discomfort with Optimus Prime will be explored thoroughly a year from this story, in the 1988 annual’s “What’s In A Name?”).

Sludge’s naivety is to prove his downfall as he thunders joyfully through a forest before being confronted by the shining image of Joy Meadows the human reporter that he has a crush on. He is overjoyed to see her but lets his guard down. Joy steps back, rips the skin from her head to reveal a terrifying, sharp-toothed mechanoid, and blasts Sludge to death with lasers that emanate from her eyes. Sludge’s last sight is Megatron, grinning smugly as the Dinobot’s life ebbs away into “darkness and voices.”

Unlike the other Dinobots Sludge seems to be merely unfortunate in his nightmare. As personality defects go, naivety is not a bad one to have, but it can still have fatal consequences. The message is simple and clear. Sludge needs to not take everything he sees at face value and to think before he acts.

Snarl’s dream is of a resurrected Guardian. The Dinobot seems to be doing well against the Omega-Class Battle Droid but complacency proves to be Snarl’s undoing. Upon decapitating Guardian, he turns away, not anticipating that this model might have been modified. He does not notice the headless body of the battle droid bearing down on him until it is too late.

Snarl has some of Sludge’s problem with a lot of Grimlock’s. Snarl, like all the Dinobots, is a fierce warrior who revels in combat, but he acts very much on impulse, too confident in his own superiority, and the nightmare is telling him that this will one day be the end of him. Perhaps Snarl is more overconfident than he is arrogant. Unlike Grimlock he has no command ambitions. His is a simpler dream - a dream of one on one combat. Snarl wants nothing more than to fight and to be better than his opponent but a lack of situational awareness will end his life prematurely if he is not careful.

Slag recalls the Dinobots’ battle with Shockwave way back in prehistory. It is odd that it would be Slag in particular who dreamt of this, considering that it was Snarl who buried them all in the fateful tar-pit. This time, however, Slag tries an all-out charge on Shockwave which ends in the Decepticon being badly damaged but Slag, unable to stop, flying into the tar, sinking into a haze of “darkness and voices.”

Slag is similarly oblivious to everything but his target but while Snarl is smug about his victory Slag’s character flaw takes the form of a lack of self-preservation. The pursuit of Victory! leads him to endanger his own life needlessly in order to achieve it. Slag is not so much arrogant as he is careless. When in combat the blinkers descend and he cannot see anything other than his opponent. This can be very useful on a battlefield but is certainly not conducive to a long and happy life.

The voices in the darkness turn out to belong to Ratchet and Optimus Prime as they survey the comatose Dinobots. Ratchet has concluded that they are dreaming but cannot wake up. He is concerned that if this continues the Dinobots will become brain-dead. Prime insists that a way must be found to save them but Ratchet thinks that this is something that the Dinobots have to do for themselves. He has theorised that a personality flaw is preventing them from waking up and they need to mentally overcome it.

“And in their dream-world The Dinobots go to war once more… Give them victory – or give them death!”

Senior’s artwork combined with Hart’s colouring makes this one of the most beautiful Transformers stories you can read from this era. Pretty much every panel is a winner and I have read it so many times that they are all pretty much burned into my memory. As well as splash of Megatron's death we get good looks at all the Dinobots in their Dinosaur modes and the last panel would make an excellent poster. There are some colouring errors in Grimlock’s story. Starscream appears to be coloured as either Megatron or Grimlock, and while I have searched for a long time to find some kind of symbolism here as Grimlock is killed by an enemy coloured like himself, I have to concede that it is more likely to have been a simple mistake, given that this motif is not carried over into the other stories.

Analysis aside, this is one of the few Marvel UK stories that I can be genuinely nostalgic about. Almost all of it was reprinted in the #1992 Summer Special, along with “Grudge Match!” (a tale of Swoop’s psychological turmoil that follows “What’s In A Name?”) and while the actual issue must have been thrown out long ago I have a distinct memory of my father buying it for me and me reading it at the age of five. At the time I had absolutely no idea what I’d missed or why these characters were in these situations, or that this was a reprint of something from the year of my birth. I had seen quite a few episodes of the cartoon and played avidly with the toys, but the comic continuity was a complete mystery to me. Of course, as a five-year-old, I couldn’t have cared less. I knew most of the characters and devoured their adventures without need for context. It has to be said though, that “Victory!” in particular was seared into my subconscious because at that age it was so terrifying! Even though Megatron was the bad-guy, I still found his being slashed in half pretty traumatising, and then all the Dinobots die one after the other. Special mention, I think, should be given to Sludge’s death. I mean look at this thing! The Joy MeadowsBot is pure nightmare fuel and Geoff Senior needs to be applauded for haunting my young dreams with her. Needless to say that this terror only added to the experience and I read and reread this issue over and over again. The version I had only reprinted pages two, three, four, five, six and seven and ended with Snarl seeing Guardian as “Back, but not for long!” Slag was excised completely and the whole dream-sequence aspect was not at all clear. I was very pleased to discover that a long version existed that made more sense, but slightly less pleased to find that there was no resolution beyond “the Dinobots wake up.”

It isn’t an Earth-shattering story. Nothing changes. All the principle characters spend their time comatose and nothing that happens is real. On the other hand, it has brilliant analysis of some much loved characters and absolutely gorgeous artwork. Victory! isn’t my favourite Transformers UK story, but it’s definitely in the top five.

Read it! It’s really easy to get hold of, it's available from IDW as part of  Transformers: Best of the UK - Dinobots collection. Buy it now!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ark Addendum - Galvatron's Transform

Well, it looks like poor Iván is having some computer problems, so he has to skip his gallery this week. To make up for it, I thought I'd upload an extra cool Ark Addendum this week. Behold: Galvatron!

I love how dynamic the drawings here are. Especially the start and end poses; you get a nicely dramatic angle on his cannon, and his flying robot form makes him seem like he's dominating his environment. There aren't so many US G1 characters that I have transformations for, so I'm quite glad that Galvatron is among them.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 1

War of the Worlds: The Series starts off with a two hour long pilot titled The Resurrection. It introduces us to the premise of the show and all of our main characters and settings for at least the first season.

The premise of the show is introduced gradually. We start off witnessing a large tractor-trailer truck approaching a military storage depot. The two drivers shoot the guards, then let their compatriots out of the back to roll around the base in ATVs. Much delightful carnage ensues as the terrorists (they're with the People's Liberation Party) hunt down the poor army men. It's a bit silly, seeing how easily the terrorists mow down the armed soldiers, but it's just the prelude. During the battle, some stray bullets hit drums of radioactive sludge. These drip down onto the steel drums below them, marked "Classified 1953." Ominously, a three fingered hand emerges from one as the credits start.

From there, we get to meet most of the main cast. The male lead is Jared Martin as Dr. Harrison Blackwood. Blackwood is an astrophysicist who's parents were killed in the invasion. He was raised by Dr. Clayton Forrester, protagonist of the 1953 movie. Kudos to Martin for his excellent portrayal of this quirky scientist - he at times seems to be channeling Gene Barry's performance. The female lead is Lynda Mason Green, playing microbiologist Suzanne McCullough. McCullough has just come to work for the eccentric Dr. Blackwood. She's a bit uneven, at least in this episode. Some of that might be intentional - Blackwood keeps her off-balance with his unusual style. Her new job (at the New Pacific Institute of Technology no less, a nice reference to the first film) is to daydream about other alien life forms. The reason is to narrow down their search for extra-terrestrial life from a few billion areas to a mere hundred million. The third member of the team, Norton Drake, is played by Philip Akin. He's a wheelchair-bound computer scientist / hacker and a good friend of Blackwood. Unfortunately, I find Akin's portrayal of Drake to be almost painfully bad. He drifts from a neutral accent to a (mercifully faint) Jamaican accent and is rather over the top. The moment when he tells McCullough that she better like her coffee black (he himself is black) is particularly cringeworthy.

By this point, though, the team hasn't quite realized the trials ahead of them. The terrorists patrol the base, getting ready for a broadcast. It seems that their plan is to threaten to make dirty bombs if the President of the United States won't back down. (For those keeping track, that would probably be Ronald Regan - the series starts in 1988, 35 years after the 1953 invasion.) Before they can make their demands, they are one by one grabbed and dragged off by aliens. It's a true horror-film moment, and Director Colin Chilvers does a good job selling it. It helps that he keeps the aliens to the shadows, only giving us an occasional glimpse of their hands or eyes. I'm sure that the full-on alien suit would look very silly, but we never get the chance to realize it. He also does some alien POV shots and they're quite reminiscent of a scene from the movie where we see what a view from an alien camera might look like, a nice touch.

The aliens have merged with the bodies of the terrorists, and after a bit of consultation with 'the council' back on their home world, the Advocacy (the triumvirate of alien leaders) decide that their best bet is to go elsewhere with the bodies of their brethren. Off they drive, their bodies already starting to decay from the radiation that kills off the bacteria that laid them low in 1953. They need to regroup before they can renew their invasion and secure for themselves 'life immortal.' Still, decaying or not, the bodies provide some measure of protection from prying human eyes.

Norton has been monitoring odd signals from space for years, but when he finds those same signals coming from Earth he is intrigued. Intrigued enough to call Blackwood away from a black-tie event with his fiancee Charlotte (Gwynyth Walsh, who would go on to play Klingon femme fatale B'Eator on Star Trek: The Next Generation.) The dissolution of Blackwood's relationship with Charlotte would play out over the course of the episode. Perhaps symbolizing the abandonment of his old life in favor of the alien-hunting life he would be forced into, it never really resonates. This is probably because she is so obviously wrong for him, trying to push him into the private sector where he could make some real money. One wonders what they saw in each other in the first place. But I digress.

Based on Norton's research, Blackwood and McCullough head out to Fort Jerico, the alien-compromised base. There they encounter the last main character, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ironhorse. Ironhorse, played by real-life Vietnam veteran Richard Chaves of Predator fame, is heading up the investigation into the attack on the base. Blackwood convinces the Colonel to let him be a part of the investigations with some bogus tapes of the intercepted transmissions. What he sees terrifies him - six barrels, burst from the inside. But what he doesn't see terrifies him more - there should be hundreds, perhaps thousands of barrels, and yet there are only the six burst ones.

Blackwood attempts to warn the military about his fears, going to General Wilson (John Vernon), who happens to be Suzanne's uncle. Wilson does not dismiss the pair out of hand, but wants some hard proof. This brings Blackwood and McCollough smack-dab into the middle of Ironhorse's anti-terrorist operation. Despite Blackwood's dire warnings, Ironhorse launches an all-out assault which is promptly defeated. Most of his men become hosts for newly freed aliens, though Blackwood improbably rescues the military man while McCollough hides in the trunk of a car. Ironhorse demands to know who those 'terrorists' were, but is skeptical about aliens. Which brings us to one of the fundamental flaws of the series - if aliens leveled a large number of cities in 1953, no one would be skeptical about their existence now. The film left no doubt - the aliens were systematically leveling our infrastructure, and doing it damn quickly. No one would ever think humanity alone in the universe after that.

Thus armed with new eyewitness testimony (and some dissolved alien tissue, though that doesn't come up in dialogue,) Wilson decides to give Blackwood a blank check to pursue the aliens. Blackwood, Ironhorse, Drake and McCollough are moved to The Cottage, a secure government mansion outfitted with the most advanced gear money can buy. Debi, Suzanne's eleven-year-old daughter (Rachel Blanchard, who would grow up to play Nancy in the awesome Britcom Peep Show, which isn't as naughty as it sounds) isn't too pleased with the forced relocation. At least, not until she finds out that they have horses. It's a fine performance of an annoying child, which means that it's an annoying performance too. Don't worry, Debi will get a lot better as the series progresses. Drake and McCollough are quite pleased with their new labs, though Blackwood is oddly chagrined to find that his office has been duplicated exactly here. It's as if his old life doesn't matter, he muses. It's true - the subplot about his fiancee went nowhere. The last time we see her they seem to be making up after a big fight.

At the same time as our heroes settle into their new home, the aliens are doing the same. An abandoned nuclear testing facility in the Nevada desert is perfect for their needs - far from humans and full of bacteria-killing radiation. They have also located some war machines, and are preparing to seize them. Fortunately, Harrison provided Drake with a critical clue (the aliens do everything in threes) necessary to crack part of the alien's language. Our heroes, and villains, converge on Hanger 15, site of three war machines. The villains look particularly good as the Advocacy watches a helicopter take off to bring back their greatest technological triumph. It's not all good, though. In one of the biggest plot-holes of the episode, the heroes trick their way into the base so they can plant plastic explosives on board the ships. Why they don't just warn the Airforce that there is a lightly armed group of aliens on the way, I don't know. They were warned by General Wilson to 'keep things quiet', but this is absurd.

The aliens board their craft and rise up, blasting through the ceiling. The FX guys do a fantastic job here. The war machines look and feel like the 1953 versions. The sounds they make are spot-on, and the heat ray effect is perfect. The machines blast some aircraft on runways before taking potshots at our running heroes. The explosions do their job, though, and all three ships are destroyed. The team pats themselves on the back, but Harrison feels that the aliens are still out there and will be back. He's right, of course. The Advocacy communes with the council from their caves, bemoaning human cleverness and revealing that they have a deadline of some sort. Alien hands play across a keyboard connected to a makeshift computer as the credits roll.

This is a fairly campy continuation to the classic film. Between the dissolving alien bodies and the idea of alien bodysnatchers, we've crossed over from what is basically a war story to what is basically a horror story. Aliens can be anywhere, heck, be anyone! However, they lack the gear that made them invulnerable in the movies, necessitating guerrilla tactics on their parts. Though they would make the occasional attempt to secure new tech, they'd never get quite as close as they do this episode. The performances range from quite good (Martin, Chaves) to adequate (Green) to downright terrible (Akin.) The production values are pretty good this episode - we're given two big fight pieces and both work fairly well. Bringing back the immortal war machines gave some great emotional continuity with the movie. Hearing those mantas click and chitter again was fantastic.

There are some great moments. Chaves is at his best when he shows his human side, telling Debi a story about his ancestors, a tribe of Native Americans, possibly encountering a non-human artifact. When Blackwood tries to connect with him over the story, Ironhorse immediately withdraws. "It's just folklore," he replies. Just about every moment with the aliens was fun. We never got inside the alien's heads in the movie, but now we get to see their leaders deliberate. Their guttural language is suitably alien, though seldom spoken. I also love seeing them meditate in threes, back to back to back and softly chanting. The Advocacy, the field commanders here on Earth, are terrifically macabre and will only get more so as the series progresses. Doctor Forrester, while not in the script, looms large over their world. His notes inform their research, the lessons of his life informing Blackwood's cynicism towards the government.

Unfortunately, there are some terrible moments too. Martin and Walsh have no chemistry together, short-circuiting their subplot. The plot holes (people not believing in aliens, not warning the Airforce) are glaring. The acting is too uneven - Akin aside, there are a couple of hillbillies that are painfully over the top, as well as some drunken helicopter pilots. One wonders if the director was telling them to keep hamming it up, though there is subtlety in other performances.

Overall, I feel that the good outweighs the bad. I don't think that being a fan of the original is enough to recommend the series - there aren't enough of the same elements, and the quality just isn't as high. That said, if you enjoyed the first movie and like science fiction horror, this series delivers very well.  War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season  is available on DVD from and other places DVDs are sold.