Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #35: Child's Play

Child's Play is the 35th issue of the G1 Marvel US ongoing Transformers series. The creative lineup is largely unchanged from the previous issue - at least, the previous issue as it was intended to be read, issue #32. Budiansky continues to scrip, with Perlin pencils, Akin & Garvey inks and Yomtov colors. Only the lettering changes, with Jack Morelli joining the crew. The cover is a Frank Springer.

The cover is rather striking, pun intended, in an odd sort of way. Bruticus uses a freight train as a flail and smashes Defensor in the face. The train is mangled at the point where he grabbed it, with coal spewing everywhere. Four children look on in wonder and horror, even as they flee the scene. What makes it somewhat controversial is that the principals are block colored, with Bruticus in blue and Defensor in red. It's possible that this cover was rushed, necessitating this choice, but it actually works pretty well. The stark colors make for a dramatic contrast.

The issue itself begins with a child crashing dramatically to the ground, a toy gun clutched in his hand, while another kid atop a freight car points a weapon at him and yells POW! Nice lettering there, Morelli. Three boys, Sammy, Jed and Allan are playing some sort of game, though Jed's little sister Robin (and her teddy bear Daisy) aren't that keen. An argument about why she had to come (along with who's losing the game and who's maybe a little fat) is broken up when some emergency vehicles drive by. They hide from what they think are the police, but what are in fact the Protectobots.

The Protectobots are taking no chances with Blaster. He's clamped with a mode lock that prevents him from doing anything and keeps him stuck in cassette mode and attached to Groove, who is himself inside of First Aid. Grimlock is satisfied - he wants Blaster punished. Besides, the Ark is finally repaired, and Blaster's retrieval is holding up the launch. Wheeljack, though, is starting to have serious misgivings about Grimlock's leadership style.

Blades, scouting ahead for his comrades, sees some tank treads ahead that match Brawl's vehicle mode. Blaster is hidden away inside a pipe so that they can engage, though Jed sees him d rive by. Not that his friends believe him, though. With the prisoner safely out of harm's way, the Protectobots engage the Combaticons. The kids hear the sound of battle even as Sammy locates Blaster. Blaster encourages them to evacuate the area, realizing how easy it would be for the battle to spill over. Soon five on five combat evolves into one-on-one as the combatants combine. Bask in the bountiful bombast of Bob Budiansky: behold, "the Barbarous Behemoth Bruticus!"

Grimlock, meanwhile, is getting impatient. The mode lock, which is trackable up to a range of 50,000 miles, has been stationary for some time, so Grimlock prepares the Ark for launch. The kids track the towering titans tangle with trepidation. (Sorry!) Blaster suggests that removing the mode lock on him will allow him to protect them. Allan goes ahead and does it, prompting Blaster to quickly Transform. When he sees the fear in their eyes, he kneels before them and swears to protect them.

Defensor, meanwhile, is running low on fuel as his force field fades against the awesome artillery of his adversary. (Sorry!) Blaster is soon forced to make good on his oath by knocking aside a falling electrical tower to safeguard his charges. Bruticus finishes off Defensor with the aforementioned train, then turns on Blaster. Without any power in his weapon (see issue #32), his options are limited. He tries to bluff Bruticus, saying that he was Defensor's prisoner. Bruticus demands he shoot one of the humans. Sammy steps forward, declaring that he's not afraid of the robot, prompting Blaster to shoot him. Down he goes, and his friends start to panic and cry. Bruticus leans forward to examine Blaster's handiwork, allowing the Autobot to fry him with the electrical dower downed earlier.

Sammy gets up. His acting has fooled the 'Con and allowed Blaster to save them all. Blaster helps the Protectobots recover, and Blaster promises not to give them any trouble provided the humans are shown to safety first. Hot Spot, though, realizes that Blaster has been doing a better job of protecting than he has and allows Blaster to go free. The kids spy Blast Off's unconscious shuttle form and express a desire to actually go into space, rather than just play at it. Thanks to the mode lock, they actually can do so. They fly off, feeling free fall and watching the world with wonder. (Sorry!) Unfortunately for them, there is another ship shooting at them. It's the Ark, and they longingly wish to go home now as the book ends. To Be Continued!!, it assures us.

Was it worth the wait of twelve weeks? (Sorry!) Eh, probably not. Even the month it took me to review this, following the previous chapter (thanks to Headmasters and, of course, Man of Iron) seemed pretty long. Timing aside, though, it's a decent story. There's nothing spectacular about it, really, but it hits the necessary beats. Blaster continues to be one of the more interesting Transformers. It seems that he's becoming a sort of defacto alternative to Grimlock's leadership. The Throttlebots, the Protectobots, and soon Wheeljack, all seem to be looking to him for guidance in the face of Grimlock's ineptitude. The kids, on the other hand, fail to compel. Sometimes Bob manages to craft truly interesting humans to view the conflict thorough, but this quartet fails to resonate, at least with me. We'll actually see quite a lot of them, comparatively.

Child's Play is collected as the kick-off chapter of IDW's Classic Transformers Volume 3. (Sorry!  But might still be worth your hard-earned dollars, better stories are to come.) Sadly, even here, it's split up from #32. Next week, we're promised that we "Hitch a ride through the solar system with the the Spacehikers! Plus Sky-Lynx!" Looks like we're back to introducing new characters. Joy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Destron Headmaster Junior Weapons redux

Continuing the trend begun last week and continued by resident artist Iván, I thought I'd finish out the Destron Headmaster Junior's weaponry. This week it's their robot forms. Unfortunately, you'll notice a distinct lack of Cancer. While normally that's good, in this context it's unfortunate. The model pack of Masterforce Headmasters was quite scanty on Cancer. Fortunately some of that was made up for with some guidebooks from back in the 80s, but I still ran a bit shorter on his material than for his compatriots. For what it's worth, I'm also missing the non-gun-toting version of Minerva's robot form. Alas!

Bullhorn looks pretty bad-ass with guns in both hands, doesn't he? Wilder's not bad, but Bullhorn seems like he's the real brawn of this group.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Iván's Gallery: The Destron Headmaster Jr

Wow, almost a week with no posts. I'm slipping. The truth is, I've had a super-busy week, with a board meeting for the dot com where I work, some Transformers stuff, and some personal stuff. I'll try to keep the updates flowing, though things might not get a whole lot better till next week.

It's times like this, though, that I'm blessed with some other excellent contributors. Case in point, another edition of Iván's Gallery. This week, Iván brings us the Destron Headmaster Jrs, no doubt to tie into their weapons from last week's Ark Addendum. Here's what the artist has to say about the piece:

Rare,for this era there was exists the Headmasters, but the Japanese have rejected the initial idea.
These characters were renamed Transtectors, so the robots functioned as armor for the human who happened to be the pilot,
transformers while dormant.
Here they are: Cancer (Squezeeplay in North American version) Wilder (Fangry) and Bullhorn (Horrie - bull).
But unlike Siren - Nightbeat and company, these are not repainted.
In any case I personally prefer the Japanese version, the characters have more character, are better defined and differ more between them, apart from having its own history.

On the figures ..... if I can, also try to always buy the Japanese version, the human component has a picture, and are the originals ... second, those letters have niponas ... magic.

That's it from him! Catch you on the flip-side.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Destron Headmaster Junior Weapons

Another week, another set of models. This week I bring you the weapons of the Destron Headmaster Juniors.

Unlike the Cybertron Headmaster Juniors, this trio remains armed to the teeth, even in their alternate modes. No namby-pamby rescue vehicles these, instead we get vicious crab/cobra monsters, a winged wolf thing, and mighty bull. While Cancer and Bullhorn get pretty cool weapons, Wilder just holds his regular gun. Boo! And yet they made him the leader.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to convince the good folks over at that we really should be cataloging GoBots material. Maybe I'm just psyched now that I've got the series on DVD and most of the animation models. It's an uphill battle, but I feel like I'm winning over some supporters. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 8

The eight episode of War of the Worlds, the series is called To Heal the Leper. It features the desperate measures taken by the Advocacy when one of the trio is stricken with the chicken pox, and with the confusion the disruption in their routine causes for the Blackwood team. The aliens steal human brains to attempt the cure, first from cadavers, then from living victims. When the resources in their cavern prove insufficient, the Advocacy leaves the safety of their lair and travel to a human city. Meanwhile, the complete cessation of alien signals baffles the heroes. Ironhorse thinks it might mean the aliens have left, but Harrison can't accept this. Even when Sylvia van Buren confirms that she can no longer hear aliens, he cannot bring himself to believe it's all over. He connects the missing brains (from a morgue and from a hair salon named 'Out of Your Mind') to the aliens, then, fed up with his doubting teammates, tracks the aliens to a power plant. He witnesses the revival of the third Advocate, then is forced to barricade himself in an office when they realize he saw their procedure. As he records his last thoughts, the barricade is breached ... by Ironhorse and McCullough. The aliens have gotten away, though they left their medical device behind. The two scientists examine it with glee, but it disintegrates the moment they lay a finger at it. Some oddly triumphant music plays as the credits roll.

The Good: Ironhorse likens the strangeness in alien signal patterns to the barking of the Coyote; apparently random, but concealing sophisticated meaning. When Suzanne states that science hasn't found evidence that Coyotes communicate like that, his simple replies that his people, the native Americans, know better. He underplays the scene, which makes it more real than the many over-the-top performances to be found elsewhere in this episode.

Despite myself, I'm putting the "Out of Your Mind" hair salon in the good column. The pun is SO over the top that I'm forced to applaud it.

Ann Robinson as Sylvian van Buren. Always nice to see her back, and letting her play the character as sane, however briefly, allows her to give some more depth than the usual rantings that she does.

The indecisive Advocacy, down a member. It's nice to see what they're like down a member, and how helpless their followers are without them. The makeshift alien tech is, as always, pretty cool.

The Bad: The whole brain-snatch thing seems more torn from horror than from science fiction. The whole thing is pretty hard to believe. Also, the brains are pretty obviously props, lacking the right texture or gore.

Harrison, going to the power plant half-cocked and alone. I understand he was frustrated with the team, but they were the ones who pointed him in the direction of the power plant. If he'd gone in with Ironhorse, they could have eliminated the threat of the Advocacy once and for all.

And in that vein, why did the Advocacy grab new human bodies and go out alone? What stopped them from bringing extra troopers with them?

Finally, Harrison should have known better than to touch the device. What if it had been boobytrapped? Bye bye Blackwood team.

The Ugly: How about all those ripped-open skulls?

An interesting episode. The Advocates are a lot more hands-on than one would expect, which doesn't work all that well. The disease angle feels played out and redundant here, since that was what the movie and pilot were about. It's all a bit too contrived for me. The good character moments aren't really worth shifting through the logical weakness to get to. After the strong previous episode, this is something of a disappointment.  War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season is available for purchase on DVD.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: Marvel Headmasters #2: Broken Glass!

Broken Glass! is the second issue in the four issue limited series, Headmasters. The creative lineup is largely unchanged. Bob Budiansky continues to write the script (and, indeed, the story treatment for the gimmick that would inform both packaging and The Rebirth.) Frank Springer stays on as artist, for both the interior and the cover. Nel Yomtov, as always, colors the book, and inks are by Garvey and Akin. Pat Brosseau picks up lettering duties.

The cover is just about all you could want from an 80's cover. Scorponok dominates the cover, crawling along like some kind of movie monster. He has a brace of Nebulons in one claw and reaches menacingly forward with another. His stinger fires a blast at the ground, and many civillians flee from him. Over his head streaks four members of the Decepticon airforce, giving the sense that the bad guys are well and truly dominating things. In the Marvel box, Galan looks on with horror but Zarak has a knowing smirk. It's not quite the semiotic triumph of issue #1, but it's a solid piece that sells the book well.

Inside, we open on a splash of chaos in the streets of Koraja, capital city of Nebulos. Protestors burn effigies and wave anti-robot slogans around. Galan's decision to allow the Autobots safe-haven on Nebulos is not a popular one, or so it seems. The ruling elite of Nebulos look down. Duros wants to break up the demonstration before it becomes a riot, but Zarak insists that the people have a right to vent their anger. When fists start flying, Galen jumps into the thick of things to break it up, and receives a shiner for his trouble. This prompts the guards to disperse the crowd and arrest both men, though Galen insists that they be allowed to go free. This is, after all, all his fault. However, all is not as it seems. Zarak himself arranged the demonstration. We also meet Llyra, daughter of Zarak and lover of Galen. She doesn't share her father's assessment of Galen's motives, namely, that Galen wants the power of the Autobots for himself.

The opening works moderately well. The decision to allow aliens to live among one's society can't be an easy one, so it's not hard to imagine Zarak (and co-conspirators Spasma, Krunk, Grax and Vorath) stirring up trouble. Adding in a woman with a strong relationship to both Galen and Zarak was a deft touch. It gives more depth to their rivalry. She's also easy on the eyes; you gotta love alien fashion sense. Ironically, Zarak's prediction about Galen coveting the power of the Autobots won't be far from the truth.

Outside the city, Galen confers with the head of Fortress Maximus. They both want so much to preserve the peace, though again the Autobot proves the better 'man.' Galen admits that he may not be able to keep his people from going to war with the Autobots. Maximus, after recapping the events of the last issue, gives him his blessings to destroy them if necessary. The next day, the Council of Peers debates what to do next, prompted by continuing protests. Zarak eloquently advocates violence, which Galen tries to quell not by arguing the underlying facts but by pointing out the costs of total war. However, Gort, the first 'victim' of the Autobots, admits that his injures were an accident, not caused by aggression. This forces Zarak to back down ... for now.

Zarak hasn't quit his instigating yet, though. While on a tour of the new city being built by the Autobots, Vorath manages to clone the frequency to the Autobot headquarters on Cybertron. He then attempts to contact Cybertron to plead for help. Scorponok has by this point found the Autobot base and intercepts the signal. He plays along with Zarak's concerns, telling him that the Autobots will be plundering Nebulos and gets coordinates to a new world to conquer.

This part of the story falls flat to me. While I can pretty much accept Zarak rejecting the Autobots, I have a hard time believing that he would be so reckless as to summon random, unseen robots to fight them off.

Days later, Scorponok's forces arrive at Zarak's location. Scorponok wastes no time in showing his true colors, demanding from Zarak the location of the Autobots. Zarak tries to steer them to the Autobots in the forest, but Scorponok has his spark set on Fortress Maximus. Despite Zarak's protests that Fort Max is too close to a city full of civilians, Scorponok presses on. He launches an assault on the city walls, one which the Nebulons valiantly attempt to repulse.

Galen turns to the one group who can help, the Autobots. Maximus recommends that his head be reattached to his body, but Galen refuses on the grounds that if he broke his word on this, he'd lose all credibility. He attempts to use remote controls to operate the bodies, but this proves ineffectual. Fortress Maximus proposes a radical surgery, a way to blend Nebulon and Cybertron together. LLyra, having heard (somehow) of this, begs Galen not to go through with it, but he and four others go through with it. They give themselves the ability to transform into the heads of the five Autobots, though the original heads still exist and are in fact in radio contact with their bodies.

This is the crux of the story, at least from a marketing perspective. This is the moment when Transformers merge their consciousness with other beings, beings who form their heads. This basic concept would be examined from many different angles. In The Rebirth, we get a very similar origin, though there the Nebulons transform into the original heads of the Transformers, with the Transformer's personality and memories co-habitating the bodies. In the Japanese Headmasters series, the heads were independent robots, sort of proto-micromasters, who operated larger bodies like mecha. Masterforce would expand this idea to allow humans to operate non-sentient mechs. Not until IDW would another continuity return to the idea of an organic controlling a body with the original head still in existence and in contact with the body. It's curious to see all these different takes on the same idea. But I digress.

The Aubotot/Nebulon partnership makes itself known to the Decepticons with a bang. On the two-heads-are-better-than-one principle, the Autobots quickly rout their adversaries. The people of Nebulos are still nervous, though, as they're not sure the Autobots are any better than the Decepticons. They remove their heads and reveal their true selves, which calms the crowds and even produces outbursts of adulation from those that know the heroes of the hour. Llyra, though, is having none of it. She rightly points out that Galen has become everything that he despises, having traded his beliefs for expediency. Perhaps her father's prophecy is still ringing in her ears. In any event, she rejects him, leaving him to savor his victory.

This story isn't quite as strong as the one that proceeded it. There are a few logical inconsistencies which bring it down. Besides Zarak's actions, it seems odd that the Nebulons could hold off the Decepticons long enough to perform five intensive surgical operations.

Regarding Zarak's actions, I understand why Bob wanted to have Zarak contact the Decepticons. It makes him more complicit in his ultimate fate. That said, it strains credulity. He should either have given him different motives, or had Scorponok find his own way to Nebulos. If Scorponok had somehow contacted Zarak first and deceived him, playing on his existing fears, that would have worked better.

That said, the underlying emotional current of balancing idealism with practicality remains strong. Structurally, Llyra should have been introduced last issue, though better late than never. I like the idea that at least some of Zarak's relationship with Galen is colored by unwillingness to let his daughter go. Again, the irony is that his actions actually do push Llyra away from Galen, though not in the way that he would probably want.

Next issue, we're promised "The Decepticons Strike Back!." After the thrashing they received this issue, that'd be pretty necessary, though interestingly we're two issues in and they're still not the real antagonists of the piece. Presumably, that will change. Broken Glass! is available from Titan books in the anthology  Transformers: Trial By Fire from

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #82 "Target: 2006" Part 4

“Target 2006” Part 4 was written by Simon Furman, drawn by newcomer Ron Smith, lettered by Richard Starkings, coloured by John Burns and edited by Ian Rimmer.

The cover was also by Ron Smith and it’s something of a mixed bag. I don’t mind the idea of the picture - the Wreckers standing around happily while the remains of Blitzwing lie scattered all around but the execution is far from perfect. The characterisation isn’t bad. Witness Impactor casually cleaning his harpoon after the battle while the Jumpstarters grin like maniacs. Rack and Ruin just kind of stand there, but they never exactly emote. Whirl and Roadbuster appear to still be throwing bits of Blitzwing around which is... well actually kind of sick if you think about... he’s definitely offline by this point. Of course, in the context of the story, “Blitzwing” is just a facsimile construct, which probably explains a lot of the callousness on display here, but it’s still a weird image, especially as the whole point of the first few pages is that this is not at all clear.

Anyway, this is one of those misleading jokey type covers that comics used to love, so it’s best not to take it too seriously. What I can take seriously, however, are the flaws in composition. Why, for example, does Topspin appear to be floating centimetres above the debris of Blitzwing and why is he clutching the Decepticon’s horribly out of scale leg like a teddy-bear while smiling like a psychopath? Impactor’s body does not seem to quite fit his giant legs and Rack (or is that Ruin)’s hammer is bent at an odd angle in order to not be hidden in the picture.

Strangely, when I first saw this, I thought it was a great cover, but unfortunately the flaws began to shine through and I ended up not very fond of it at all. The actual issue, on the other hand, is another matter.

We open with The Wreckers in mid combat. “WRECK AND RULE!” yells Impactor as he jets dramatically through the air brandishing his harpoon. This same harpoon plunges straight through the head of Shrapnel who dies instantly, his electrical systems overloading and allowing him to be hurled at Octane as a novel weapon. Both explode.

Whirl distracts Thrust while Rack and Ruin sneak up and disassemble him with extreme prejudice. Twin Twist rescues Topspin in the nick of time while Roadbuster takes out the remaining Decepticons, leaving the Wreckers...

“To be annihilated by the Decepticon reinforcements that’ll be pouring through that arch.” Yes, that’s right, this whole battle was a training exercise, and it’s just demonstrated Impactor’s greatest fear: that Operation Volcano cannot go ahead without Ultra Magnus. Impactor recaps this dilemma for those just joining the story and the other Wreckers find themselves in agreement with him. They must tell Xaaron and call off the offensive.

Impactor lets the Wreckers have some time off and they head to Maccadam’s Old Oil House - a Transformer pub. This establishment is special in that Autobots and Decepticons are each allowed in provided they leave the war outside. The Wreckers sit around moping that they gave up, even though they know it was the right choice until a gigantic Decepticon by the name of Fang storms in and complains about the noise.

The source of this is the Transformer with one of the most off the wall alternate modes ever - some kind of Cybertronian piano. Fang is unimpressed with his musical stylings and starts to kick him around. Twin Twist gets up to help, but Roadbuster holds him back. This isn’t their fight.

Meanwhile, Impactor is telling Xaaron why they cannot go ahead with Operation Volcano. The Emirate says he understands and that he has made the right decision but puts a different spin on it, suggesting that if Ultra Magnus does not get back then Impactor will be praised for not attacking but if Magnus does return in time, and the Wreckers are not ready, then the criticism will be far more memorable. Impactor realises that Xaaron has him over a barrel.

Back at the bar Fang is still beating up the little piano guy, until, with a cry of “wreck and rule!” Twin Twist leaps from his seat and removes Fang’s leg with a single punch. Avenging this injustice has done the trick. The wreckers are fired up again and ready for Operation Volcano!

Back at Autobase Impactor turns up to ask for volunteers and is pleased to see that the Wreckers have all changed their minds too. Operation volcano is back on. Wreck and rule!

This is the first issue set completely on Cyberton since the smelting pool arc and it’s a great one, if relatively simple. The exuberant carnage of the first few pages is well written and adequately pencilled, although if Furman really wanted to fool us he probably shouldn’t have wrecked quite so many prominent Decepticons.

The little arc that the Wreckers go through isn’t particularly original and it is reasonably predictable, but it is just fun to spend some time with some Autobots who aren’t from the Ark and I always welcome the opportunity to see a bit more of Cybertron during wartime. Xaaron is probably the standout character here with his ability to scheme for the good of all. A “wily old buzzard” as Impactor calls him. Not a “Robo-buzzard” or something, incidently, but just a plain old buzzard. I wonder where Impactor has seen one of those.

Smith does not distinguish himself on his only issue of Transformers. He is not very practised at drawing robotic anatomy and it shows in a good many awkward poses and some down right strange inconsistencies. Cases in point, Impactor’s weirdly screwed up face while he’s talking to Xaaron and Twin Twist’s strange hopping motion that almost ruins the dramatic impact of his standing up to Fang. Credit where it's due however, I absolutely love the composition of this panel of Impactor, striding over burning Decepticon corpses.

Still, it’s nice to get away from Earth once in a while and this continues the larger story of “Target: 2006” without yet answering the cliffhangers from last week. A great an essential read, with slightly iffy art.  IDW's trade of  Transformers: Target: 2006 is available from

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Charity Auction for Jeanne Robinson

For those of you who don't know, Jeanne Robinson, wife of noted science fiction author Spider Robinson, is suffering from a rare form of cancer. Many people in the comics and entertainment industry have come together to help, and I wanted to do my part. To that end, I've donated my wedding cake topper to the We Dream For Jeanne charity auctions.

The topper features Heroes of Cybertron Rodimus Prime and Arcee, on a wooden stand with a custom veil, bouquet, bow tie and tux tails. It's pretty adorable, if I do say so myself. If you wind up winning, drop me a line and I'll see if I can't do something extra-nice for you.

It's up on ebay now, with a starting bid of about $25, which is more or less the cost of the materials involved. It's for a good cause, so place a bid if you're interested. You can also check out the We Dream For Jeanne blog.

October 14th, 2009 Update

The auction finished out at an astounding $243.27! F***G, I hope to hear from you. Thanks to everyone who bid for making this thing a huge success!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ark Addendum - War of the Dinobots

Another week, another edition of The Ark Addendum. This week, I thought I'd cycle back to season one with the classic episode, War of the Dinobots.

This episode features the introduction of Snarl and Swoop. I've always been a bit intrigued by the choice to split up the introduction of the Dinobots into two unrelated episodes. Generally Transformers introduced a team all at once. If it took two episodes to do so, they were generally a two-part episode. The Dinobots, though, warranted special treatment.

The actual models available to me for this episode mostly concern the unstable meteor that comes to Earth. I have both the meteor itself and the observatory where it was detected.

Finally, the We Dream For Jeanne charity auction of my Transformers wedding cake topper is up today. I must say, I'm impressed and humbled by the response that has already been demonstrated - currently, as of about 1:00 AM on 10/13/09, it's up to $105.50 with 15 hours left to go. To everyone who's put in a bit, my sincere gratitude. And again, if you win, please drop me a line and I'll see if I can't throw in a little something extra. Don't forget to drop by the We Dream For Jeanne blog for more information about the cause.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Despotellis

This week, Iván continues his exploration of the Sinestro Corps. This cover features one of the most unique villains in Green Lantern's rogues gallery: the sentient pathogen Despotellis! Here's what the artist has to say about it:
Well.... quick drawing I did in a couple of hours about a microscopic sentient bio-virus, Despotellis is likely the smallest as well as one of the deadliest members of the Sinestro corps.
Who is not afraid of a virus? who is free from the threat of a virus? anyone.
The earliest activities of Despotellis as a member of the Sinestro Corps were chronicled in the Book of Parallax. As read by Lyssa Drak of Talok IV, Despotellis first infected the homeworld of Green Lantern Reemuz. When the Green Lantern returned to his homeworld, he found thousands dead in the streets. The Green Lantern quickly surmised the cause of their deaths was related the yellow power battery he found. Reemuz took the power battery across the continents of his homeworld. He was searching for survivors as well as their attacker, but finding neither. He grew tired and ill, and just moments before his death realized his attacker had infected him. Despotellis revealed his presence as he took the power battery and headed out amongst the stars. Before returning to Qward, Despotellis infected 85% of the 714 inhabited worlds in space sector 119.
Despotellis next appeared on and in orbit of the planetform Green Lantern Mogo in Green Lantern Corps....

Friday, October 9, 2009

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD review

Today is Bish's birthday! Many happy returns to my intrepid co-blogger. That being the case, he probably won't have time to review Target: 2006 part 4 today. I figured I'd look through my recent purchases for a good review candidate. Lo and behold, there was one: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Two-Disc Special Edition).

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the comics on which this story is based. A friend of mine ran through some of the differences, but ultimately I'm just not knowledgeable enough to point out the differences in a coherent way. That said, any time an adaptation from one medium to another takes place, especially a serial medium to a stand-alone medium, changes have to be made. In some ways, that lets me more readily judge this DVD on its own merits. There will be spoilers ahead.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies tells the story of Lex Luthor's presidency, and the clash that it precipitates. Luthor comes into office as a third party candidate, on the back of a massive economic collapse. These events are briefly summarized in a pre-opening credit montage, complete with a lampooning of the former supervillian by a Daily Show parody and an interview of Luthor conducted by a Larry King knock-off. After his victory, Luthor makes it clear that superheroes are subject to the same laws as everyone else. He's even taken the step of bringing several of them into the service of the government. It's a very slick way to introduce the story. The intersection of the political process and the media, juxtaposed with comic book characters, grounds the story nicely.

Events quickly spins out of control. A huge Kryptonite meteor is going to smash into Earth, wiping out most of civilization. Luthor thinks that he can handle it, but uses it as an opportunity to frame Superman anyway. A meeting, ostensibly to discuss working together, turns into a battle between Superman and Secret Service agent Metallo. Batman shows up to help, but eventually they're forced to flee. A mysterious figure, though, murders Metallo. The Metallo reveal was one of the best moments of the video, and the fight that followed was terrific.

Luthor pins the murder of Metallo, complete with video footage, on the Man of Steel and offers a one billion dollar reward for Superman's capture. We get some truly massive fights as a result of this. One highlight was Batman facing off against Mister Freeze, Captain Cold, Icicle and Killer Frost. Another was the reveal that many of the villains were acting under Grodd's control.

The fight is interrupted by the arrival of Luthor's goon squad of heroes. Power Girl reveals her doubts about Luthor, and Batman tricks Major Force into revealing that he was behind Metallo's death, turning the others against him. It's not quite as satisfying as the massive supervillain brawl, but it's still decent action. Batman proves again his worth, even when teamed with probably the world's most powerful superhero.

From here, though, the story gets weaker. Luthor's plan to destroy the meteor (remember that?) fails. Superman and Batman try to get at government data and run into Captain Marvel and Hawkman. We cut away from the battle with the antagonistic heroes winning. Waller finds out that Luthor has been injecting himself a Venom/Kryptonite mixture and it's driving him a little mad. He's willing to let the Earth burn and rebuild what's left. In the middle of his ranting, he unexpectedly kisses her, a nicely bizarre moment. Hawkman and Captain Marvel then show up at Luthor's anti-meteor base, but it turns out that they're actually Superman and Batman. Luthor tries to erase all government data on the impending calamity, but Waller hands them a jump drive filled with data.

While Superman and Batman go off to save the world, Waller attempts to arrest Luthor. Luthor, though, is ready for this and has prepared one of his probably-not-patented supervillain suits. He's going to prevent the heroes from saving the world. It's a shame that the story went in this direction. Luthor was working so well as the face of the government. While I appreciate where they were going with him injecting himself with Venom, from one of Batman's villains, and Kryptonite, Superman's Achilles heal, it seems like a massive step down from just being President. Him fighting to destroy the world, because chemicals have driven him crazy, just seem out of character for this monomaniacal titan. JLU had the same problem - him as President was much more menacing than him as a partner to Brainiac or, worse, a Brainiac junkie.

With the data in hand, Superman and Batman fly to Japan to meet Hiro, the Toyman. It's a WTF moment, to be sure; Hiro had been alluded to a grand total of twice in this story, and once was pretty late in the game while the other was extremely subtle. He's built a rocket to save the Earth based on an existing design from when he was seven, a massive half-Superman half-Batman behemoth. Luthor pursues them and smashes up the controls, forcing Batman to pilot it manually. While Batman flies into space and saves the world, Superman battles Luthor around the globe, eventually downing him in (where else?) Metropolis. As Luthor is carted away, much too abruptly really, there is much rejoicing in the street. The giant rocket is silly, but it's at least appropriately silly and the writers attempt to justify it by having Hiro bashfully state that he had a bad case of hero-worship when he designed it.

All told, it's an ambitious story that doesn't quite know what to do with itself. The idea of Luthor fighting to destroy the world seems so out of character that they needed to justify it by having him be out of his mind. A huge Superman / power-suit Luthor fight is just about the most pedestrian way this story could possibly end. The animation was beautiful, though I didn't care for Power Girl's design. She just seemed plastic somehow, not very real. The fight scenes, especially the Metallo fight and the Superman / Luthor fight, were amazing. The voice acting was great, and they got a bunch of the DCAU actors to reprise their roles. It's a good story, only suffering from not living up to its own potential. At $17 or so on Amazon, it's mildly recommended.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #33-34 - Man of Iron

Man of Iron is the thirty-third and thirty-fourth issues of the G1 Marvel US Transformers story. It was originally published in the UK and imported to the US to fill in a hole in the production schedule. In fact, it is the very first original UK Transformers comic. In that context, it has already been reviewed by my colleague Bish. You can read his reviews of parts one and two here, and parts three and four here.

Man of Iron was written by Steve Parkhouse. John Ridgway drew parts 1 and 2, the contents of issue #33. Mike Colins drew parts 3 and 4, the contents of issue #34. Letters are by Richard Starkings, and US colors are by Nel Yomtov. The cover to 33 was by Charles Vess, and the cover to 34 was by Tom Morgan.

The cover of issue 33 features an oddly-colored Transformer battling some medieval knights. The robot shares many design elements with Megatron, including his chest and his legs, though the arm and head are very different. The colors are very different, all blues and reds. From context, it would make sense for this to be the eponymous Man of Iron, but the colors are all wrong and he's sporting a Decepticon symbol. Megatron, though, isn't in this story at all, so he doesn't make much sense either. It doesn't make much literal sense, though thematically it does rather capture the flavor of the book. The blurb sells the story thusly, "You won't believe it! Your eyes will bug out!! An explosive saga from the house of ideas!!!" Note the gradual accumulation of exclamation marks, perhaps to compensate for the lack of them in the title. Oddly, nothing is said about this being a UK story, though the Marvel box features a Union flag (with the current Autobot leader, Grimlock) and the subscription box includes a portrait of Shakespeare! That's all a bit much, really. The cover is somewhat interesting - who wouldn't want to know who this strange bot is battling the warriors of yore, but the strange perspective and over-the-top Britishness don't really work for me.

The first page, specifically the text above the image, explains that this is an old British story, thus the presence of Optimus Prime. We then move into the story. Decepticons bomb a sleepy English castle, though they're really just launching a probe. The curator goes to investigate, though not before telling his boy to leave the woods near the castle. His son, Sammy, ignores this missive and runs smack-dab into Jazz. Naturally, the boy is panicked and runs off. His father draws a connection between Sammy's story and an old legend, the story of the Man of Iron. It seems that a metal man of great height and girth has visited these parts thrice before. Sammy recognizes a drawing of this being as looking more or less like what he had seen that day.

Sammy then has a fitful dream of starships and Skywarp and Mirage, a surreal experience of a floating bed and a tumultuous wind. It's not clear how much is real and how much is a dream, but his father witnesses Mirage walk off with the drawing of the Man of Iron. The next day, while his father learns about a massive object buried under the castle, Jazz introduces himself to Sammy while in car mode and asks Sammy to get inside. Sammy is leery about accepting a ride from strangers, but Jazz convinces him to get in and just pretend to drive. Some light interrogation follows, interrupted when Sammy's mother sees him in the car. Jazz slams the door and drives off, as Sammy cries to her for help.

Thus ends part one. Easily the most compelling part of the book are the two pages of historical record. We don't often get to see men on horseback squaring off against Autobots, so it's a nice image to explore. The dream sequence is appropriately bizarre, but unfortunately the mix of fantasy and reality is a bit too blurred. The ending, with Jazz driving off while his mum watches helplessly, is well executed, but suffers from thirty-odd prior issues of good behavior on the part of the Autobots. Anyone who's got an even passing familiarity with the comics knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jazz has benign intentions. It undercuts what is otherwise a powerful image.

Morgan's cover is much more literal than Vess'. Optimus Prime stand before a boy, probably Sammy, protecting him from the twin blasts of a generic Decepticon seeker. Prime is staggered by the blow. A castle is in the background. While it connects more directly to the story inside, it's somehow much less inspired than the previous cover. No elements really stand out as compelling, so the overall effect is underwhelming. "More amazing marvel majesty!!!" the cover declares. It seems really odd that both covers would specifically call out that these issues are from Marvel ... what was it precisely about the UK stories that made the editors think the Marvel-ness specificaly needed to be emphasized?

Inside the book, we start off with more UKisms. "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." It's a pretty funny way to start things off, I have to admit. Way over the top, but clearly intentionally so. At least they stayed off the cover this time.

Sammy, inside Jazz, is being driven to meet the Autobots. Mirage and Trailbreaker join them, but the unlikely convoy is attacked by Thundercracker and Skywarp. An uncharacteristically brutal battle follows. A direct hit on Trailbreaker slags him. We get some great dialogue as he sits there, on fire. "It's no good. Everything's gone ... just plain ... ruined ..." Mirage's electro-disruptor disorients Skywarp, prompting the 'Con to smash into an overpass and keep on coming. Bluestreak takes out the sneaky Seeker, prompting him to crash violently into the ground.

Having defeated their adversaries, the Autobots bring Sammy to meet their leader. Sammy tells Optimus Prime about the Man of Iron, confirming their suspicions. The Man of Iron is an Autobot, part of the crew of a rescue craft. Prime knows that the Decepticons will do anything to keep the ship out of Autobot hands, making it imperative that the Autobots get there first.

Of course, why the Autobots wasted a whole day and a half mucking around with Sammy when they could have been securing the ship is open to interpretation. It seems to me that a bit of literal digging on their part would have unearthed the Man of Iron just as sure as an explanation of the drawing, but then we'd have had no story. It's a narrative flaw. Again, earlier in the run, characters like Sammy may have been necessary to frame the Autobot/Decepticon conflict in human terms, but after almost three years, it feels superfluous.

Back at the castle, humans continue to excavate. This causes the Man of Iron to reveal himself and begin to attack. This is clearly not an Autobot of the Optimus Prime 'all humans are sacred' scool. He's got a ship to protect, and he's not about to let these scurrying creatures jeopardize his mission. Unfortunately for him, Starscream shows up and vaporizes him.

Half a mile to the north, the Autobot shuttle is under attack. Traveling at speed, Jazz has Sammy jump out, then rams Starscream. Four miles up, the
battle goes well for the Autobots, who drive off Laserbeak, Buzzsaw and Thundercracker. Having won, the Autobots are in a position to claim their prize ... but decide not to. Instead, they blow up the rescue craft. Inside, an Autobot named Navigator sleeps, never to awaken. Life around the castle slowly returned to normal. Sammy would never see Jazz again, though the Man of Iron would walk through his dreams.

This issue is marred by logical inconsistencies. If the escape craft was such an important military objective, why would the Autobots blow it up? Certainly, why would they blow it up without at least checking for occupants first, along with usable equipment. As noted earlier, Sammy is more or less completely unnecessary to the plot.

The artwork tends to be very toy-inspired, which makes for some awkward poses. That said, the battles really were top-shelf. Lots of bots blowing up and smashing into things.

There is another factor to these issues. Where we last left our heroes, Blaster was under arrest by the Protectobots. We are promised a showdown between Bruticus and Defensor. Instead, we get this. It's certainly not a bad story, but it's so different from what we were expecting that the already jarring tonal-shift is exacerbated. Had it been placed at a natural break-point in Budiansky's run, say one issue earlier, I reckon it would be a more fondly remembered outing.

Man of Iron is worth checking out. That said, it can be difficult to do so. It hasn't been reprinted in modern times, meaning that you can either hunt down the original issues or look for the UK Collected Comics #3.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Shout! Factory Matrix of Leadership DVD collection

This summer, Shout! Factory came out with their impressive Transformers: The Complete Series (25th Anniversary Matrix of Leadership Edition). This 16 disk set is far and away the definitive Transformers G1 television series collection.

Where to start. Well, how about the packaging. You can see how much love was put into this set just from that. The box looks like the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, and even opens in a similar manner. You pull it open, then lift up a flap. Inside you see the booklet, plus the four cases for the disk. Each one features lovely artwork of Optimus, Megatron, Galvatron and Rodimus. The backs list which episodes are contained within, making finding the right episode trivially easy.

The disks themselves were quite nice, and the booklet is a well-designed episode guide with a few important bios scattered throughout. Oh, and there is some nice line art of Optimus on the inside raised flap, counterbalanced by Megatron at the bottom of the well containing the guidebook and the disks.

Of course, the real meat of the set is contained in the disks themselves. All 98 episodes are present, though we don't get the movie. (If there's a flaw in the set, it's the lack of a place for the movie, but then there have been some great releases of that in the not-too-distant past so it's no big deal.) The episodes have been cleaned up, so we get something a lot closer to the original broadcast version. The Rhino version unfortunately had some errors not contained in the original broadcast, and Shout! Factor was quite diligent about cleaning those up. No added sound effects either. It's nice to be able to watch them as they were intended to be seen - episodes like Heavy Metal War, in particular, do well by comparison to the Rhino version.

There are plenty of extras, too. There are some great interviews and retrospectives. All the Transformers PSAs are present. A few commercials are here, but they're basically youtube quality. In my view, if they were willing to settle for sub-broadcast quality, they should just have gone ahead and shown ALL the commercials instead of just the few they had. There is a fan-art gallery, which is pretty nifty. Finally, there are two galleries of character models, supplied by yours truly. They didn't use everything I supplied - not even close! - but there are quite a few character models present, which makes me all tingly! Anything which promotes character artwork is OK by me. (You can see my name on the last page of the booklet ... bitchin'!)

So, there you have it. Beautiful, absolutely gorgeous packaging. A solid job on the episodes. Chock-a-block with extras. This is everything you could possibly want in a Transformers DVD box set. You can really see how much they cared about every aspect of the production. It's available for preorder on, so buy one if you haven't already. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Hardhead's Transform

Welcome to another edition of The Ark Addendum. This week I bring you Hardhead's transformation.

One thing I notice about this transform is how big Hardhead is. Notice how every one of his pictures breaks out of its frame a bit. He's truly a character who cannot be contained. The upper left panel, in particular, just exudes barely-restrained energy.

I thought that Furman did a terrific job with him in Escalation, Devastation and especially Revelations. E.J. Su's redesign of him into an Earth tank kicks a lot of ass.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: Marvel Headmasters #1: Ring of Hate!

Ring of Hate! is the first issue in the four-issue limited Headmasters series, from Marvel comics. It ran concurrent with the main line, though it caused delays necessitating the insertion of some pre-made British comics to keep up with a monthly schedule. It was written by Bob Budiansky, so unlike the G.I. Joe crossover it integrates extremely well with the ongoing comic. Frank Springer returns to the book to pencil it. The team of Akin and Garvey provide inks, Diana Albers provides letters, and Yomtov provides colors. Budiansky also draws the cover.

The cover is terrific. Fortress Maximus dominates it, violently ripping off his own head before a cadre of armed human-looking fellows, outfitted in sci-fi jumpsuits. Autobot warriors have their weapons at the ready to his right, while Scorponok and some flying Decepticons are on the left. Behind him, a series of futuristic spires burn. The message is clear - Fortress Maximus is besieged, surrounded on all sides by the forces of war. He's caught between the Autobots and the Decepticons, with metaphoric flames at his back. His response to this is apparently self-destructive, though it's actually self-sacrifice. "Introducing an all-powerful, all-new generation of Transformers!" the cover tells us, thematically undercutting the drama a bit. Interestingly, Optimus Prime occupies the Marvel pricing box rather than the current Grimlock or someone from the Headmasters. This helps to instantly tie the book into the main continuity; in effect, Optimus is giving the book his blessings.

This issue itself is no less strong. It openes with a wordy splash, a line of Autobots trudging along while being herded and indeed blasted by Decepticons. Yomtov's coloring makes the guards stand out well from the prisoners; the miserable Autobot prisoners are block-colored in blue, while the Decepticon overseers get their full colors. Scorponok is the visual focus of the series, blasting a hapless prisoner in the face. Springer does flub some of the models, including headmaster heads instead of robots, but it's forgivable. He had literally dozens of models to work with, and they were not all clearly labeled. Despite these flubs, it's a powerful opening image, enhanced by Bob's prose. "The planet Cybertron is a wound that will not heal," he opens with. His bleak language compliments the horrors that we witness. Even the obligatory introductions aren't too bad, and Bob manages to call-back to his earlier Cybertronian tale by having Skullcruncher say that when he's through with the prisoners, they'll be "begging for a swim in the [[smelting]] pool." One gets the sense that he is excited by this new blank canvas. It must be a relief to get to tell a whole new story with new characters, rather than try to shoe-horn these 40 or so bots into his existing monthly run. But I get ahead of myself.

The audience isn't the only one witnessing this trail of tears. Fortress Maximus and a band of Autobots observe this procession and disrupt it with a massive attack. Notice Cog, Grommet and Fasttrack among the combatants. The Decepticons quickly retreat, though not before some more excellent Springer art. A Hardhead-colored Cog urges pursuit, but a Fort Max colored Hardhead declares that there has been enough destruction.

After leading the survivors back to their remote base in the Manganese Mountains, Fort Max puts a damper on the celebrations. The war has been raging for 50,000 Vorns, and they are no better off than they were when it started. He pessimistically observes that Autobots and Decepticons are partners in a circle of war and hate and death, unable to trust the other side enough to break the circle. Even more tragically, he sees no way to break it ... but he CAN remove himself from it. He's been observing Nebulos for a few centuries, a world without war. Hardhead calls abandoning the war cowardice, and Maximus doesn't argue the point. His decision is final, though, and most of his troops mutely agree with his assessment. They prepare a great ship and prepare to blast off. Fortress Maximus is the last to enter. He hopes that, should he ever see its silvered plains again, they will "gleam unmarred by the ravages of war." Sadly, he never will, though Bob couldn't know that for sure when he wrote it.

Having a new set of characters and a new circumstance to play with seems to be sitting well with the creative team in general and Budiansky in particular. His prose is some of the strongest in his entire run. He rightly points out the cowardice of abandoning one's duty and one's homeland, but Maximus' weariness comes through, both in his words and in his facial expressions. I also love the design of the as-yet-unnamed Steelhaven, the vessel that takes Maximus and crew to Nebulos. I liked the name and design so much that I reused it for the name of the Elite Guard flagship in The AllSpark Almanac.

The Autobots arrive at Nebulose and park their ship in orbit. They fly down (standing on the alt modes of their flying brethren or hanging onto their wings and tails, which is pretty silly really) and start to examine their new environment. In the process, we get a bit of characterization and names for the Autobot future-Headmasters. Highbrow is tasked with making peaceful contact with the natives and delivering a message. He interrupts two Nebulons, Gort and Marita, kissing, and in a panic Gort backs off of a small incline and hits his head. Highbrow awkwardly delivers the message-device and hopes that Gort can be 'repaired.'

Inside Koraja, Nebulon capital, the Council of Peers debates what to do. Lord Zarak wants to crush this new threat, and he has some support on the council. The leader of the world-watchers, a fellow named Galen, disagrees. He wants to give peace a chance. Soon his oration holds sway, and the council decides to hear out the envoy. Springer outfits the Nebulons in a mish-mash of futuristic gear, vaguely Greco-Roman apparel and, for the ladies, revealing sci-fi outfits. It helps set the tone for an advanced society, living in a world without war. One gets the sense that this is an Eden, albeit one that the natives fought hard to construct and maintain.

The envoy, Blurr, arrives, but Zarak and Krunk have a plan to disrupt the proceedings. Krunk fires a magnetic polarizer rifle at the Autobot and forces him to attack a fountain, throwing the crowd into a panic. The panicked Nebulons attempt flight, though with varying degrees of success. Poor Marita, still wearing the same outfit, is trampled and seriously injured. Zarak's personal militia assaults Blurr and drives him off, "his audio sensors ringing with the cries of the injured and the curses of the betrayed."

Blurr can't figure out what happened, though some of the Autobots want to give the Nebulons a real fight. Maximus, of course, refuses. His opposite number, Galen, doesn't have the same courage for his similar convictions. He opens an ancient armory in the Arvassian Range and prepares for war. Soon the Autobots are facing a full-scale assault and driven back into a dense swamp. Kup and Hardhead are willing, perhaps eager, for a fight, but Maximus will not have it. He threatens to fight them himself if they won't pull back, then covers their retreat with his body. Injured Autobots sit, dejected, in the corrosive environment. Fortress Maximus won't hear talk of a counterattack, and instead prepares for another diplomatic exchange. "We must be brave enough to wage peace."

Zarak and Galen are among those manning (Nebuloning?) the ramparts. Zarak assures Galen that history will remember him kindly, but Galen is having second thoughts. When eleven Autobots (in fact, the future Headmasters and Targetmasters) stride boldly towards the fortified position, Galen orders his troops to hold their fire. Fortress Maximus gives an impassioned speech, one which fails to convince Zarak. Sensing disbelief, Maximus orders the Autobots to disarm. Zarak still has doubts, so Maximus gives him the most he has to give ... his very head. He offers his head and now-inanimate body as a gesture of peace. When Zarak, half mad, urges Galen not to be fooled by such "grotesque theatrics," Highbrow, Hardhead, Brainstorm and Chromedome follow in Fort Max's lead. Galen orders the weapons lowered - there will be no war today.

This issue manages to be greater than the sum of its many parts, a feat that many Transformers comics in the 80's failed to do. The mini-series approach to this radical departure from what went before works very well. New themes are explored; the toll of millions of years of war, the courage to fight hard for peace. Though there are tons of new characters, they don't always introduce themselves in their very first appearance, which allows them to more organically come to our attention when appropriate to the story. The prose is top-notch, from the dialogue of the Autobots and the Nebulons to the captions describing what is going on.

As well-written as the captions were, they were hardly necessary given Springer's art. He manages to convey both the devastation of Cybertron and the paradise that is Nebulos with equal aplomb. His robots and his humans are nicely expressive, important to a story with such deep emotions as this. Despite, or perhaps even because of, the cheesecake, I actually like the silly Nebulon designs. It would have been easy to put everyone in jumpsuits and be done with it. Instead, the Nebulons have a wide variety of fashions, from Zarak's tunic to Galen's symbolic garb to Krunk and the other soldier's uniforms. I also rather like their war machines. They are clearly instruments of destruction, but are different enough from both Earth weaponry and Cybertronian alt modes to stand out.

Ring of Hate! is available from Titan books in the anthology Transformers: Trial By Fire. Check it out at!