Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #41: Totaled!

Totaled! is the forty-first issue of the US G1 Marvel comics run of Transformers. Bob Budiansky continues his tenure as writer and José Delbo continues on as penciler.  Danny Bulanadi does his first stint as inker, with letters by Bill Oakley and colors by Nel Yomtov.  The rather busy cover is by Delbo. 

I go back and forth on this cover.  It's a bad image, really, without much sense of composition.  The Autobots are on the right, the Decepticons on the left, and they're about to go at it.  Very little action is actually shown ... Swoop is about to bite Ramjet, Cloudburst is about to crack a whip, and ... that's about it.  The flying characters, in particular, just sort of hang there in space with no rocket exhaust or speed lines to imply motion.  From a technical standpoint, it's pretty mediocre.  On the other hand, the fanboy in me sees this picture and thrills a little. We haven't had a battle royale between Autobots and Decepticons since .... gee, I want to say issue 12.  Everything else has been a limited engagement here or there.  This cover promises so much more.  So, in execution, sub-par, but in concept terrific.  This was one of the few G1 transformers comics I picked up on the newstand before I discovered Furman, so it must have been doing something right.

This issue starts off by revisiting an image that we've seen before ... Optimus Prime, coming apart at his joints as energy shoots through him.  Really, this image is pretty spot on with the climax of issue 24.  Not only is his weird contrapposto the same, but each image features block-colored spectators, sound and energy effects, and some descriptive words ('Game Over! and the title, 'Totaled!')  The memory of Prime's death is thus effectively evoked.  Fortress Maximus' crew has failed to revive him, having expended most of their resources to make the Pretenders and rebuild Goldbug.  Have no fear, though, Hot Rod has located the Ark, and with their facilities, rebuilding Prime should be a snap, right?

Goldbug, though, seems nervous at the prospect, and with good cause. Cut to the Ark, where Ratchet is attempting to serve as Grimlock's conscience.  Grimlock, though, is enjoying his petty reign. He's far too busy having his joints lubricated to worry about Decepticons. Oh, and he's still wearing his crown.  Word of another ship of Autobots snaps him out of his complacency, though.  Sensing a threat to his authority, he agrees to meet them. Soon Fortress Maximus of the starship Steelhaven (which finally gets a name, which I've since applied to the Elite Guard flagship of Animated) is introducing his officers to Grimlock. Grimlock wastes no time in making his move, declaring that there is only one true leader of all Autobots. Fort Max stammers at this a bit, then comes to the mistaken conclusion that Grimlock is talking about Optimus Prime. Max explains his mission, to rebuild Optimus Prime, prompting reverence from Ratchet and violence from Grimlock. 

Things go from bad to worse.  Grimlock calls Optimus a coward for defending humans, which prompts Spike to reveal himself. When Goldbug's name comes up, Grimlock demands he be turned over immediately as a traitor. Goldbug agrees to try to keep the peace, but Grimlock invokes trial-by-combat for the right of supreme Autobot leadership anyway. Grimlock also comes up with his first of many derisive monikers for Maximus; 'Fruitloop Multipuck.'

In the brig, Goldbug encounters Blaster, who has indeed been hooked up to a Variable Voltage Harness torture device.  Months of such treatment have left him bitter and cynical, though not too cynical to spit out a lot of backstory. Goldbug asks that Blaster champion Fortress Maximus, who's still reeling from the injuries received at Shockwave's hands.  At first Blaster refuses, since he cares little for the Autobots. But when Goldbug points out that he could use it for Revenge, Blaster acquiesces. Grimlock presents Blaster (wearing restraining handcuffs) to 'Forktongue Maxiface' with glee.  But a fight for Autobot leadership isn't the only thing brewing.  Following Fort Max's attack on Ratbat's ship, they've been tracking him.  Thus, observing two Autobot ships docked together, Ratbat senses an opportunity for an energy-efficient sneak attack.

On the surface of the moon, the two mighty ships land and disgorge their many occupants.  Delbo gives us a nice image of all of the Ark-based Autobots exiting their ship, then an equally nice image of most of the Steelhaven-based Autobots exiting theirs.  I say most, because Fort Max had the foresight to leave a trio of guards, Slapdash, Joyride and Getaway.  (Hmmm ... an interesting choice to guard the soon-to-be Powermaster Optimus Prime.)  Omega Suprme kicks things off by blasting a cube to bits, and the gloves are off!  Blaster and Grimlock battle each other savagely, with some wonderfully kinetic poses by Delbo.  The battle takes them away from their makeshift arena, much to the disappointment of the crowd.

They needn't have worried, plenty of action was heading their way.  Ratbat launches a savage sneak attack on the Autobots, crippling the Ark and damaging at least a quarter of the Autobots with their opening salvo.  Prowl attempts to rally the Autobots, which is nice characterization for him, but he's given little chance before Onslaught leads the Decepticon charge, nice characterization for him as well. It's not all Autobot carnage, though.  Bonecrusher leads the Constructicons into the Ark, where they first rip it to pieces, and then liberate the Decepticons offlined by Omega Supreme way back in issue #19.  Though the Decepticons are technically outnumbered 2:1, they've got the initiative and the high ground, and they're exploiting it.  This actually makes a lot of sense; not every battle goes to the army with the biggest numbers.  I think it's a credit to Ratbat's leadership that he's willing to take this kind of risk, and I like that it paid off. Having a working capital ship might have something to do with it too, since neither the Ark nor the Steelhaven is in fighting form.

Miles away, Grimlock and Blaster continue their battle, until the sight of the Decepticon attack draws their attention. Keep in mind, no sound in space, which is why they didn't hear it.  Good science there, Bob.  They return to the battle to try to rally their troops, even as Fortress Maximus realizes the futility of the fight and sends Goldbug on a special mission.  He's to board the Steelhaven and have it depart the moon immediately.  As he does so, Grimlock and Blaster put aside their differences (after Grimlock gets in another good one, 'Fullstrength Motleypuss,") to spearhead a counter-attack on the Decepticons.  When they successfully penetrate the shields of Ratbat's vessel and electro-scramble the ship, Ratbat loses his nerve and orders a retreat.

Grimlock wants to follow, but Blaster demurs.  Without a ship, repairing the Ark has to be the first priority.  Also, there are many Autobots needing repair.  Maximus reveals that he's sent the Steelhaven to Nebulos to have a new body built for Optimus Prime, for what he's witnessed today has convinced him that there is no bot truly fit to lead the Autobots.  He finishes with some nice prose: "Let us pray that Goldbug's journey is a successful one, for amid the smooke of the battlefield, it suddenly became clear to me that whatever future we Autobots have lies encoded on a single magnetic disk labelled 'Optimus Prime.'"

It's a good ending.  Certainly, Grimlock's rule appears to have been a bitter failure.  Spike's short tenure as leader of the Autobots hasn't really been all that much better.  For all his good intentions, he's failed to recover his brother, taken severe damage to his body and now got the Autobots embroiled in a barbaric fight for leadership.  I can believe that these weary bots would turn to the past for answers.

It's nice to see some old characters shine a bit, like Prowl and Ratchet.  It's a little odd to see bots like Sunstreaker and Gears, who have been out of commission since the miniseries, back, but then I suppose Ratchet's had plenty of time to patch them up.  It's also fun to see just how large the cast of characters has become.

Grimlock vs Blaster is a fight that's been a long time coming, over a year really, and it doesn't fail to satisfy. These two characters have been out of the limelight for a bit but they continue to dominate the story whenever they're the focus.  Grimlock's nicknames are downright classic, though Blaster gets in a good "Grimmy" and "Grimbo" too.  It's a shame that they'll once again move off-stage as the action follows Goldbug for a while, leaving almost the entire Autobot cast stranded on the moon where they can lick their wounds.

Next month, we're promised "Optimus Prime Returns!  (No kidding!)  Plus -- the newest, strongest Transformers yet -- the Powermasters!"  Yawn.  It's probably not an accident that the most satisfying issue we've had in months featured no character introductions. (Well, Broadside makes his one and only appearance in the US G1 run here, but it's just a cameo.)  Optimus Prime's return, though, must have seemed exciting and new.  Audiences hadn't been jaded by his long cycle of destruction and rebirth.  Indeed, Optimus is a veritable phoenix.  (The actual Transformer named Phoenix, the Pretender from Masterforce, has never died to my knowledge.)  Still, while my 2010 eyes are well used to such resurrections, when I cast myself back to 1988 I'm a lot more forgiving. Totaled! is available for purchase in IDW's  Classic Transformers Volume 3 .


Glyph said...

That cover... Looking at it, I'd put money on it that the composition is poor because it's been assembled by cut and paste. Half the vehicle modes seem to be taken straight from the Universe profiles, line thickness and character scales are all over the place (check out ?red-chibi-Red Alert? sitting a few feet behind Fort Max!).

The robot mode characters don't fit together either, stylewise - I can't identify specific panels off the top of my head, but they look like they've been traced from past issues. Soundwave looks like he's been pulled out of a very early US issue (purple and no faceplate!); Octane looks like he's come from a UK issue, as do Hook, Goldbug and Blaster; whatever Max was originally looking at, it's certainly nothing in this scene.

I don't think I've ever looked at this cover in detail before, but... wow. I can't decide if it's an incredibly lazy job, or if trying to get all those cut-n-pasted characters onto one cover actually took longer than drawing a typical cover would.

ShadowWing Tronix said...

Can you still play "Spot the Shingo" with the IDW version? I feel sorry for that poor guy. Whoever did the letter collum for The Transformers just wouldn't leave him alone until he finally wrote in. Probably sorry his friend mentioned him in HIS letter.

Even as a kid I was wishing they'd shut up about "Shingo" writing in, like they were a mobster hunting someone in witness protection or something.

Anonymous said...

I remember disliking this issue as a kid, because Blaster was able to give Grimlock a good fight. I thought that Grimlock should have chewed up Blaster and spat him out with ease.

Looking back on the issue, I consider it one of the best because it featured such a large cast of forgotten characters. It was good to see, that Ratchet had been able to fix Sunstreaker.

Daniel said...

I have to agree with you on the idea of Optimus Prime's resurrection. In 1986, Optimus died not just once but twice. He was brought back in 1987 in the cartoon and 1988 in the comic and toyline. It was fantastic. And the best Optimus storylines were yet to come. But twenty-two years later, through many deaths of Optimus Prime, it becomes an expectation. It's like the destruction of the Enterprise. We know it's going to come back, but it gets old. I loved the issues between 38 and 42 and the Underbase saga yet to come. For a very long time, it was hard for me to read this series, especially the early issues because they didn't seem to go anywhere. I liked the later issues because they made progress and lots of characters got to do lots of things. Thank you Simon Furman!

Anonymous said...

Before I spotted the Shingo, I noticed something "hidden" on the cover. I agree that it's a cobbled-together mess, but one possibly-intentional visual gag shines through:

Look at Blaster's gun, and notice that it's also Waverider's axe! Yes, it's just as likely another mistake but still...

Yeah, this is the closest the US book ever came to acting out the kind of battle a kid might stage with every toy they'd collected over the course of the G1 line, and for that we should love it! The Underbase saga technically came closer to having everyone, but the all out slugfest is cut short, and while Masterpiece Starscream would be a perfect stand-in now, there was no giant Starscream toy to pit your other toys against back in the day...well, except...

Yeah! That one TF puzzle that became a stand-up Starscream! It was almost as tall as Omega Supreme, and despite the guns having to be the arms, and the fact that it only looked right from one angle because of the battle scene on the other side...and I broke/lost mine by the time I finally collected all the comics in '94...guess I should have saved that for the issue #50 discussion.

Oh, my one minor complaint, despite the fact that it would've made this awesome issue overcrowded, is that we got no gestalt action. Both Budianski and Furman seemed to dislike combiners enough that they never used them except when mandated by Hasbro. I suppose robots combining is one thing that just can't work as well in comics as in animation, partly since the sequences would eat up too many panels, but having Predaking mow down some Autobots would've made the situation seem more dire, and have been awesome since he never got to fight anyone but Megatron in the US book, and wound up looking unimpressive for it.


Sean said...

That's true about gestalt action come to think of it, but the action here was a bit strange too (with Laserbeak taking down Omega Supreme!) It DOES seem like even the fight was a mismash and just an excuse to bury 1984-1985 characters