Wednesday, June 30, 2010

AllSpark Almanac II: Reaction Thread

It had to happen sooner or later...  The AllSpark Almanac II (order it today!)  is out in stores today.  Let me know what you think, the feedback is one of my favorite parts.  Yes, even if you didn't like something; constructive criticism helps me hone my craft.

Oh, and don't forget to head on over to Amazon and leave reviews there, too.  I credit a lot of the success of the Almanac I to the twenty-nine of you (yes, twenty-nine, I'm humbled and flattered) who took the time to inform the more casual fans of what you thought of this book.

One item of note: some of you have noticed the crossword puzzle in the book.  This is, indeed, a real, working crossword puzzle.  Bill has been working on something special, so if you think you've solved it completely, send us a scan the solved puzzle, tell us what the answer to the Good Tool question is, and send us a picture of yourself holding the book.  The first person to send us those three things will get a hand-made prize from Bill.  Sadly, it's been reported that we have a couple of glitches in the crossword.  Sorry, guys. It was REALLY hard to make, so please forgive me my flubs.  However, flubs aside, I'm pretty sure it's actually solvable.

BTW, reviews are starting to pop up.  While we don't have any Amazon review yet (hint, hint!), plenty of folks on the internet have had nice things to say.  Over on Ozformers, user Stompy writes:

I have to say it's a nice swan song for the series. Vol.2 is much much better than Vol.1. It covers all the bit players and cameos with write-ups and all of season 3 covered and completely dissected. Eg. The members of Prowls old dojo (Cyber Ninja Corps) broken down, size comparisons of all major characters, a board game in the middle of the book, all the different "Supremes", all locations given all the minuteast of detail. Nothing was left untouched. The back end of the book touches ont he toys with pictures and a LOT of prototype shots of existing and non existing molds. This book satiated my hunger for more Animated with every speck of the lore covered.

TFA fans this is a MUST have. G1 fans will get a kick to see all the tributes and Animated versions of oldies.
 Cheers for that!  Kal-el Prime does a rather flattering You-Tube video:

Wow!  Very high praise indeed.

Over on Twitter, VicegripX writes:

Next on the to-read list is Allspark Almanac II, flipped through it and one huge nerdgasm after another, why did TFA have to end?
On one of my favorite TransFan sites, The AllSpark (no relation), Rosicrucian writes:

I think it's official now. The two Allspark Almanac volumes are now the must-own books for a Transformers fan. If you don't like them, you're dead inside.
Incidentally, that's part of a thread that's some 400 entries long about the book.  A lot of the thread turns into a debate about some of the minutia of the book, but it's still great to see so many people so passionate about the work.

There's no shortage of love for the book over on the IDW Boards.  Some highlights include:

  • Jeysie: Whoo, I seriously can't wait until I can pick this up. So looking forward to all the cameo bios and episode tidbits. 
  • bassbot: man, those preview pages are SICK! looks like a surefire pick up for me!
  • Stringycheese: That Yatter page is hilarious! It's amazing how funny and creative the Animated crew is. I can't wait to grab this book.
  • Huffer's Stuntdouble: Got it ... love it! Very nice job all round!  
  • Darth Bombshell: The book makes me appreciate the cameo appearances in Season 3. That alone is a mighty achievement. I still don't like that they happened, but at least I can get them now.
Nice stuff.  Very nice stuff.  And let's not forget good old TFW2005, where 140 or so posts have been made about the book.  Atrayu (love the name) writes:.

The book is totally awesome. It actually makes me very sad (and pissed off) that 1 - we still don't have season 3 on DVD (which is beyond my comprehension as to why) and 2 - that we never got this season 4. TFA was hands down the most well thought out story arc in all of TFs IMO. Very thankful for the book but it's a damn shame that the powers in charge won't give it the time of day.

PS - this book is a MUST have for any TFA fan, period!

On the same thread,  Mechadoom had this to say:
Every second page of this book contains nuggets of "AWW MAN, WHY WAS THIS CANCELLED?!?!?" I am really happy they made the book, but I'd be even happier if the series was continued.

Buy this book. Even if you hated Animated, because it's actually a good insight into the process of making a cartoon show/toy line.
On the international front, we had a lovely review in Chinese.  The game board was that author's favorite part of the book, though the posters seem to gravitate towards the star charts.

So, thanks to everyone for chiming in.  Oh, and amidst all the Almanac II hype, the Almanac I has finally sold out.  Hope you got your copy while the getting was good!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Secrets of the Almanac (ONE) Revealed Part 3

My notes and my patience I have left back in Los Angeles, so I am going to wing this last installment of “Secrets”. Jim was nice enough to fill in for me last installment while I ran around doing errands to prepare for Botcon and the Almanac 2’s release this Wednesday. So here goes...

At the point of which Jim and I decided to convert this book from the ARK style to the Almanac style we thought to include an episode guide. We have found that episode guides are usually boring. So we spiced these up with fun formats and what we referred to as “special pages”. The first thing I did was make up a standard Autobot Incident Report and a standard Decepticon log. Certain elements would be moved around the page in order to make it less static when compared to the page before. Also, due to having different images to present, it allowed for us to shuffle things around. One element was the Cybertronian text. At first I just typed in nonsense as nothing more than a fun design element. Then it quickly occurred to me that we could hide “secret messages” in the foreign font. From there Jim and I just went nuts referencing every stupid thing we ever liked.

Page 108:
Jim started making all the time codes actual Star Trek stardates. He wanted to make sure they all were in order and referenced certain specific events in Trek. Whereas, I am a bit fascinated by the world, so I started adding in coordinates assuming no one would ever look them up. ...I was wrong. This one was for the USS Intrepid WWII aircraft carrier that is now a museum in New York. I was the Art Director there for many years and the ship and my shipmates hold a special place in my heart. If you are in NYC go there. It’s cool. The ship/museum also appears in the movies National Treasure and I Am Legend.

Following the idea behind the Elite Guard symbol, the Maintenance Guild symbol we made up to kind of emphasis different classifications.

Page 109:

I wrote Sumdac’s signature over 200 times until I settled on that one. The photo read “Yearbook Photo” but is cut off. I was rather proud of the ripped spiral bound paper look I drew at the top of the page, most of which is cropped off.

Page 110:

I always thought the Staten Island dump was cool. So Freshkill landfill was the next coordinate. I heard, though I suspect it is a lie, there are two man made structures you can see from the moon. The Great Wall of China and the Staten Island dump.

Page 111:
Fun game. When you see that mode of the jet through out the Almanac, DRINK!

Page 112:

I soaked a sheet of watercolor paper in coffee and then baked it in my oven. Afterward I set it on fire in my kitchen sink and scanned it in. Third attempt was the charm. And yes, I set off the fire alarm. Twice.

Page 114:
The coordinates where for the Bent Pyramid in Egypt. I am a bit of an Egyptphile and figured a Pyramid was perfect for this type of thing. I didn’t want to use the Great Pyramids (even though we found out there is some Transformers reference to it) because I thought that was too...easy. So I chose the Bent Pyramid. If you are unfamiliar with it, look it up. It’s a fun story.

Page 115:
The Megatron’s head that is buzzing with static in the upper right is in fact a model from the show. It was used when Nanosec was contacted by Megatron.

So one night I left Jim alone at his computer and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning and he is still sitting there. Having never left, he mocked up this women’s magazine called Venus. It was funny as hell. Originally he just used Blackarch’s early character model, so I drew up a new picture of her with references to my favorite character’s cap and gown and I designed a logo and worked on the fonts a bit and before long we had VENUS. Jim wanted to reference every female bot, but quickly realized there wasn’t enough room. I liked that Freezon is now a fembot.

Page two is untouched from Jim’s original layout. The models at the top where character color studies created early in the process of making the show. I liked how he made the “call outs” from the article have a double entendra.

Oh! And the bar code actually works. I mean, you can scan it in and that number will pop up. That’s how nutso we get with these things. Wait, it gets better! All the numbers of articles can also refer to pages in the Almanac, and there's some (perhaps tenuous) connection. For instance, tune ups goes to Ratchet.

Page 119:
Jim had me make a ledger background. He had tried to explain the plan to make this page but I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. I drew up the ledger and the next day he shows me this. This has to be the craziest way to explain an episode ever.

The bottom half is obviously a nod to the old card and box backs from the 80’s. I hate the way the word, Skill” came out. Drives me nuts! Look at it. Weird!

Page 120:
Coordinates! I love planet Earth and my biggest, wildest, craziest dream is to climb Everest. But again, that seemed too easy, so I referenced K2, Everest’s neighbor and I believe the second tallest mountain in the world. I hear it’s actually much more difficult to climb. I once had dated a girl that shaved her head and spent several months with a Buddhist colony at the first base camp of Everest. That’s the closest I have gotten to it though!

Page 122:
I am proud of this page! The stickers I drew actually look like stickers! I got an Iron Maiden reference in. I drew Starscream in crayon and I coined the phrase “Deceptipoop!” Jim used this image to promote the book. I was SO afraid people would miss the silliness in it and assume we drew the whole book in crayon!

Page 123:
Coordinates: I long for Alaska!

Detroit Powell Press:
We went nuts with this one. Lets start with the date. We had a date here originally but Marty didn’t like it. So we lost it. But it looked weird a newspaper with no date so I wrote one in and then smudged my finger print across it so it could not be read. (Don’t bother trying” I didn’t write a real date, but rather something like 2ASE.) Then I thought, that’s lame. We have SO many references, why not make it someone else’s finger print? Someone cooler? But who is cooler than me? Well thanks to the Internet and Photoshop the previous person to read that copy of the Detroit Powell Press was John Dillinger.

TODAY IN THE ARTS originally referenced Marty. He asked that it be replaced with a reference to his daughters.

Jessica Benton was just a dumb spelling error. We read that after we got the books from IDW and nearly smack each other in the head. Josie is referenced because I have a HUGE tattoo of her on my leg. She was one of my first crushes along with Princess Leia and Mary Tyler Moore.

Our spell checkers at IDW pointed out that Circiut Guys is spelled wrong. We had to explain, “That’s the way it’s spelled!”

ADA Harrison Schweiloch is a friend of ours who proof reads stuff for us. He is in fact an ADA in New York City. Once he broke his hip and we went to visit him in the hospital. He came out in pain on crutches and was so touched that we came to see him that he gave me and Jim a big hug. At which point we stuck a “kick me” sign on his back! We are a very dysfunctional family.

The electronics and toy store also let us get in a bunch of models that we otherwise had no place for.  Jim's a nut about getting EVERYTHING in, even if it has to be small.

Jim NEEDED Skullgrin in the book and cooked up the idea for the movie poster. I love my reptiles and drew him to be fused with a snake, alligator and turtle. The snake was specifically an eyelash viper, the turtle shell was influenced by Mario Brothers. The alligator is just an alligator but here is fun story that has nothing to do with anything. When I lived in New York I had this one bedroom apartment that I filled with Burmese Pythons, Anacondas and all manor of snakes and other critters. I even had canisters filled with Death’s Head cockroaches I was breeding. Not satisfied with the zoo I already had, I convinced a friend to drive in a snow storm to Pennsylvania to buy a 6 foot American alligator. His name was Spot and he lived in walk-in closet in my bedroom and would lumber out, walk across my house and climb into my tub at his leisure. My friends were terrified to visit let alone use the bathroom. He pretty much had the run of the house. Around that time, the police caught a guy in the Bronx with a lion in his apartment and he was arrested. My friends all thought I would end up in jail. Eventually I gave him to guy who kept crocs and had a proper and legal place to raise him.

Page 127:
We asked Derrick if there was a model for Stiletto. He didn't have one, but Jim got in touch with Dario Brizuela and he sent us one.

Jim drew up the Autobot Medical Symbol. The big symbol in the background was originally from Beast Machines, and was used like a biohazard symbol in that show.

Page 128 or Form 12B:
Look at the page number! I just realized Jim did that Last week. The coffee stain is from the same coffee I brewed for Vector Prime’s page. (see above) Useless idiot trivia: I used my Beverly Crusher mug to make the ring.

Page 129:
51.2 degrees S, 30.9 degrees W is the location of the crater Galle on Mars. Which makes a happy appearance in Watchmen!!!

Page 130:
We refer to this as Javier’s page. Javier, our go-to guy, colored all these versions to Bulkhead’s model. Javier does even more in the AllSpark Almanac 2.

Page 132:
The Cybertronian reads a line from Megadeth’s (hint) song “Peace Sells”. Originally I wanted the line “What do mean I don’t believe in God? I talk to him everyday” from the same song. But...decided against that.

The hidden song lyric from “All Along the Watchtower” was influenced greatly by our passion for Battlestar Galiactica!

Page 134:
The hidden coordinates are for the resting place of the Japanese battleship, Musashi. Destroyed by an air group launched from the USS Intrepid. (among other carriers)

I am...The Tick!
Sentinel's Journal is littered with Tick references in Cybertronian. But no one go the obvious reference on the bottom left of the page which translates into “SPOON”. The Tick’s battle cry.

Also the number RX104a appears. I may never reveal what secret code this is...mainly because I don’t remember. Sorry folks. My memory is shot!

Page 136:
As I was drawing the tape that holds down the poloriod picture of the bots, I had the bright idea of “accidentally” sticking a strand of Sari’s red hair under the tape. Did anyone get that?

By the way, the Hello Nekomimi Pop-Star stationary can be found blank with no words or images for your stationary needs on my deviantart page.

We had no idea what to do with Wreck Gar. We couldn’t really have him do another bot’s bio and we knew we had to do something special for Garbage In, Garbage Out. So Jim and I brainstorm while swimming. There we came up with cereal! Some of the garbage in the image are models from the show, such as the dumpster from Burger Bot. And other rubbish I drew in, such as the cover to Derek and the Dominos: Layla in the left most part of the bowl. I’ll post a full pick of that on my deviant art at some point. The accordion had to make it on the page in honor or Weird Al and of course the bowl has even the kitchen sink, an actual S3 model.

Did you notice Lugnut's destroyed tail sticking up from the back?

The next page you might recognize the “GO!” start position on the maze from G1 Prime’s trailer made further famous from it’s use on the Wiki. We needed a reason to get pregnant Carly’s model on the page. Hence the maze. The bar code, like the other one, works and is the call sign for Zapp Brannigan's ship, the Nimbus. Jim is a big Zapp nut and even dressed up as him for Halloween one year. He died his hair blond and everything. is a real website, by the way!

Jim asked me to get in either a ‘Why my shoulders’ reference or a ‘Died to An hero’. I thought my solution worked well. My favorite part of this page is the line, “If you said the number “C”...”

Page 142:
Drink! The Starscream head with static effect was NOT an actual model from the show but rather one I made up to look like the Megatron head of a similar look. (See above)

Page 143: #X-LN247, the reference that eluded McFeely for so long, is from Max Headroom. It is the project code for Blipverts, as seen on the Rebus Tape. I don't think it's on the internet anywhere. (At least in text form. The whole pilot episode is up on YouTube.) Sadly, no one gets the prize.

The note attached is the actual note I made to remember the number and what to label it. The police use Post-its too! It reads, “Found on top of roof” under the scribble. It wasn’t an Easter egg, just what I happened to have written. I liked the idea of having part of it scribbled out.

Page 146:
Concerning coordinates, McFeely reports: "34 degrees 39' 54.65” N, 133 degrees 56' 9.79” E”, the location of Okayama Castle (the second reference to Okayama in the book)."

Here’s why! Jim moved to Okayama, Japan years ago with his then girlfriend, now wife, Ming-Li. Ming-Li had to move back to the States for family issues and Jim needed a roomate. At the time I worked as a graphic designer for a crazy dude and was looking for some adventure. Jim asked if I wanted to quit my job and move in with him in Japan. I sold my car and flew out the next day. After Jim left Japan, I had nowhere to live so I decided to be homeless and I lived on the streets for a few weeks. I hooked up with other homeless people and we would cook over burning garbage cans and sleep under train trestles. At times I would buy the prostitutes curry at the 24 hour Denny’s.

Well that concludes the Secrets of the AllSpark Almanac (ONE). I am away from home, so I may post some other images pertaining to this blog in the future when I am in front of my own computer. I hope you’ve enjoyed my silliness and remember the Almanac 2 is out this Wednesday. If you are around Burbank California stop my Emerald Knights Saturday July 3rd to meet Derrick, Marty, Jim and myself. Thanks for indulging me!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The AllSpark Almanac II Foreshadowing, Part the Third...

Well, BotCon 2010 is behind us, and the  The AllSpark Almanac II (preorder it today!)  is due out in two days.  It's time to stop teasing and bring out the real meat of things.  That's right, the traditional five-page preview. 

Starting off with our Table of Contents... this gives you a nice overview of everything in the book, and features a bit of really cool box art.  My favorite piece is probably the Thundercracker, by cover artist Marcelo Matere.  That guy has serious talent. you can see how we've broken the book into two parts, with all traditional elements from the first book present.  Well, almost all; we didn't have any new human characters, so that chapter went, and the Detroit chapter was replaced with one on Cybertron.  Still, this page more than any other gives you a sense as to the organizational scheme we were using.

The first two chapters are devoted to Profiles; first Autobots, then Decepticons.  Season three gave us a plethora of new models and characters.  There were 34 pages of Autobots, and then another 16 pages of Decepticons.  There weren't so many Decepticon cameos in season three, but there were a ton of Autobots for us to delve into.  If the character appeared (and wasn't some kind of weird animation error), they got a full bio from us.  Now, some of them were two or three guys to a page, depending on how many images we had for them.  But they all get a bit of characterization, of which Bill and I were very proud.

Episode guides! We only had thirteen episodes to play with, and we took 21 pages to tell those stories.  That works out to about 1.5 pages per episode.  Transwarped, in particular, we had a lot of fun with.  Here's one of the more unusual ones, a page from The Headmaster's Yatter feed.  Yatter, by the way, is the Transformers equivalent to Twitter. I spend time on Twitter (as Sentinel Prime) and it seemed like a channel that the Headmaster would be more than happy to use.  This was one of the most fun pages in the book for me to write; it was almost effortless.  I hope you enjoy it, and the many other funky episode guides we've concocted for you.  Of course, there are plenty of Autobot Incident Reports and Decepticon Logs for you to read as well.

We can't forget the interstitial pages, now, can we?  These are the out-of-universe pages in part one, delving into unusual corners of the universe. We get to look at the Hasbro Style Guides, cover the comedic animated shorts produced, see the story boards of some deleted scenes, take a closer look at the whys and wherefores of The Arrival and the Animated video game, and more.  The size comparison chart was particularly difficult to put together.  Almost every episode that introduced a new character had one, and I was able to compile them all together into one massive sheet.  A few of these showed up elsewhere, in this book and the prior one, but this is the mother load. 

Finally, and I'm being intentionally cagey here, a page from part two.  The audience at BotCon flipped out when we showed them this one, the prototype to the triple changer Marauder Megatron toy.  Sadly, this idea had to be abandoned by Hasbro when the line ended at Season Three, but isn't this just a gorgeous model?  I am incredibly grateful to Hasbro for sharing this and other really cool designs.  We've hardly ever gotten to see material like this in the past, and I'm honored and humbled by their trust in me.  material like this helps make The AllSpark Almanac II really special to me.  We've got 8 pages on toy design, 12 pages on how animation is done, 8 pages on what Season Four might have been like, a complete toy and packaging art gallery, and an overview of the cast.  That last one was made possible by the generosity of the voice acting cast with their time.  I met every main cast member and got the chance to speak with them about their thoughts on the show.  The fruits of those conversations are one of the cooler parts of Part Two.

So, there it is, the five page preview.  Those of you at BotCon got a sneak peak at this material.  Pick up the book this Wednesday at your L.C.S.  And, as a reminder, Marty, Derrick, Bill and I will be signing books in Burbank this Saturday, July 3rd, at 1:00 PM.  The venue is the Emerald Knights comic shop, 4116 West Burbank Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505.  Their number is (818) 588-3631 if you want to reserve a copy of the book. I hope to see many of you there!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

BotCon 2010: random ramblings

In no particular order, recollections from BotCon 2010.  This is all from memory, so if I get a day wrong, don't sue me.

Thursday: Time zone differential between LA and Florida means that I have to take an 8:00 am flight to get there in time to register.  That means a 5 am wake-up time.  Grrrr.

Meers Shuttle is $33 round-trip, not terrible but not great.  Takes well over an hour.  Bill was texting me from the registration line with info on the exclusives.

Registration line went much faster than usual.  F.P. reshuffled the alphabet so now it's Q-S. Breaking the S from the T == great idea.

Toy line went SUPER fast this year.  Not sure what they're doing but keep it up, guys!

The convention theme for this year is bitchin'!  G2 for the win! I just wish they had G2 Ramjet / AM Thundercracker in the classics seeker mold.  As an army builder, I heartily approve of the Sharkticons.

Got my first taste of BotCon socializing in the registration hall, catching up with Bob Budiansky, M Sipher, Trent Troop, Walky, Thylacine 2000 and many more.  Had dinner with some of these folks, hamburgers all around. Borrow Exodus from Walky.

Watch one of the new Futurama episodes with Bill.  It's hilarious.


Friday: Lines restart.  Panel lines are different from registration; they're completely static, then they almost immediately dissipate once the doors open. I spend time with some #wiigii! folks on line, till they ask me to get the line moving.  I do so, and they are suitably impressed.

The panels start! Yoke-san was terrific to hear from, and I got a photo with him.  Normally I don't go in for that sort of thing, but I figured he's worth it.

Bob's panel was also cool, and he gave me a shout-out.  Random thought: He started with Transformers Thanksgiving weekend 1983.  We did our Ark collaboration Thanksgiving weekend 2006, 23 years more-or-less to the day later.  Fun.

Dealers room opens! I am disappointed to find no character models, though I'm happy to pick up All Hail Megatron Coda.  I also nab a couple of Zods.  Yup, GoBot Zods.  KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!  Still, relatively weak haul for me.

Said hi to Marcelo, Alex Milne, Matt Moylan, Chris Mowry, Casey Coller, many many more. Introduced myself to Carlos Guzman, who seems like a really easy guy to talk to.

Caught up with Eric Seibenaler. Gave him back some Hasbro assets that they lent us for Almanacing, which was a relief.  (I take NDAs and custodianship of that sort of thing EXTREMELY seriously.)

Dinner with Bill, the Italian place at the Swan. It's fantastic.

Attend Seibertron party, meet some great dudes.  Agree to an interview tomorrow (Saturday.)

Bump into Marcelo and Aaron Archer at the bar, talk about the new Almanac for a bit.

Read about half of Exodus. Then sleep.

Saturday: Go looking in the dealers room for something for my wife, some sort of souvenir. Find very little.

Panels restart. Hub panel is quite exciting. The phrase "rightfully huge" is coined. I do some networking before/after. Bumped into Brian Kilby, who gets me to commit to a live interview.  NERVE-WRACKING!

Hasbro panel was great, as always.

Voice actor panel, quite entertaining.

Skipped the Cullen panel to catch-up with the wife.

Roundtable panel, they WANTED to do AM Thundercracker. Alas, was not meant to be.  G2 Ramjet, though, is coming.

IDW Panel, with some last-minute slides from me. (I fight hard to promote my stuff!) Casey is full of info on Ironhide, a great mini-series. Read it if you're not doing so already.  I get just a couple of Almanac II questions, which is slightly disappointing.  The response to the three page preview was pretty great, though.

Watch the second new Futurama episode. I love Zapp Brannigan, but it's slightly weaker than the first episode. Still hilarious, though.

Hall of fame dinner: surprisingly awesome. Kudos to everyone who put it together.  Yoke-san is humble, Bob seems a bit taken aback, Cullen seems emotionally overwhelmed.  Fan favorite Dinobot beat out Grimlock, Soundwave, Shockwave and Jazz.  I expect some, if not all, of those other bots induced next year.  While we're on the subject, I expect to see Furman and Welker inducted too. Just my guesses. Dinner is tasty, but portions are small. Got to spend it with Dan Khanna, which is fun.

BotCon 2011 in Pasadena, CA! That's 25 minutes from my house. Awesome.  (It's also a VERY smart place to hold it, since so many of the folks involved in making the cartoons live out here.)

More #wiigii! hanging, this time with more booze.

Finish off Exodus, then sleep.

Sunday: Running on fumes. One last pass through the dealer's room, finally find something my wife will appreciate.

Hasbro spoils us with their design panel. Seriously, guys, you are too cool for words.  SOOOO much cool stuff coming out next year.

Do the Hasbro combat training scenario. Surprisingly, get 7/8 shots in. Have fun yelling "SIR YES SIR!"

Find Walky, give him back his book.

Last minute socializing, goodbyes are said.

Head to the airport via shuttle. Fail to get on an earlier standby flight. Use the opportunity to finish out the new season of Doctor Who. (Am still synthesizing an opinion on that.) Get delayed a bit by a storm. Have to rush to make my connection. Take ANOTHER shuttle home, very slow. Get home, unpack, am pleasantly surprised to have not forgotten anything. 

Wrote this blog post. Am chagrined to find that Hasbro hasn't put up my photo from their combat training, and Bill hasn't sent me any of his photos. This situation eventually gets, at least partially, rectified.

That was my experience; how about yours?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Heading out the door to go to the awesomest convention ever, BotCon! I hope to see many of my readers there.  If you see me, say hi, shake my hand, punch me in the shoulder, whatever. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Secrets of the Almanac (ONE) Revealed Part 4

Well, wouldn't you know it? ANOTHER AllSpark Almanac post! We're scrambling to get everything in place for both BotCon and the book launch, so I'm stepping in for Bill and posting part four of the Secrets of the Almanac (one) series.

Wait a minute - part four? What happened to part three? Well, Bill really wanted to do that one, so I'm going to save that post (the episode guides) for him.  Meanwhile, I'm going to finish out the rest of the book. With a little luck, we'll get the last post out Monday or Tuesday, just in time for the new volume.

Page 158: We cheated a bit here and included Prowl's cybertronian motor cycle mode. Technically this is out of scope, as it's a season 3 model. We thought that for completion sake, no one would mind.

Page 161-162: Both Sentinel's and Blackaracnia's model got updated from the pilot episode to their next appearance. We thought that this was basically an out-of-universe bit of discontinuity, so used those construction borders. Sill, they sort of seem to fit thematically with the idea of Cybertronian, i.e. pre-Earth, modes.

Page 162-163: Javier did a great job coloring the backs of all these guys, no?  I don't call out every bit he colored, but he deserves special credit here for keeping this page from being 60% black & white.

Page 164: Chris McFeely, who is awesome, found all the references on this page; Samus from Metroid, Deckard from Blade Runner, IG-2000 from Star Wars, and of course Death's Head from Marvel.  What he didn't do was put together the common theme; they're all bounty hunters.

Page 169: Fun foreshadowing to Sari's eventual reveal from Bill here. We didn't know if the book would be out before Season 3 aired or not, so we kept things oblique. Still, you gotta have a few hints here and there, right? I think that this page is one of the few that was intentionally incomplete; the destroyed version of the picture wasn't used.  It was just too hideous. We kept trying to find a place for it, but couldn't.

Page 170: This is the first instance in the book of two characters speaking in tandem. Originally we only had the Constructicons doing it, about Megatron's base. Bill came up with the idea of doing Halloween this way to balance things out.

Page 179: The mailbot is a double cheat; he doesn't show up till season 3, and he is a robot that should probably be on the robots page. We realized that, when the time came for book 3, the mailbot would be an odd-bot-out, and so tried to work him into this book relatively late in the process.  He didn't fit into the robots section, but did more-or-less fit in with the buildings of Detroit.  It also helps make this section a bit more dynamic.

Page 182: Bill drew up Prometheus Black's mugshot, which of course wasn't in the show. We really wanted to work the mugshots in somewhere, and the prison page seemed like a natural fit.  However, the aspect ratio of the mugshots were making the page awkward, which is the reason we inserted one more.  Note how all their numbers correspond to their first appearences.

Page 184: We decided to keep Sparkplug (the dude, not the dog) on this page with his fellow construction workers, rather than with the Witwicky family in the acknowledgments. He's just too 1984, and they're all 2005. Also, I don't know why there are five teens with numbers on their shirts, but there are. Bill wanted to mix them up, I wanted to put them in order.  I thought it called more attention to itself that way.

Page 185: I love, love, LOVE Bobby Bolivia in the upper right hand corner.  Derrick drew him up for The Arrival #2, the scene in the used car lot.  Unfortunately, he didn't get used.  Also notice Irineo Maramba, three to his left.  Ah, self insertion... you'll never catch ME doing such a thing.  In retrospect, I wish I'd labeled him, but we had just so many humans to try to put in that it would have been really difficult to name any of them.  Artistically, to name some but not all would look really awkward. 
Page 187: Bill and I try really hard not to use the same exact image twice in the book.  Note the tough guy with Kremzeek on his shirt; he shows up elsewhere in the book, on the Speed Demon page.  No Kremzeek shirt there, though.  The Kremzeek shirt was from a cut scene in season 3; he was to be held up at bowpoint by the the Angry Archer. Some of his fellow racers show up here, but they are also colored differently.

Page 192: Bill just loved that this page was titled "Stupid Organics" rather than "Animals." It cracks him up every time.  Note the S3 wasp model here, another little cheat.

Page 200: Naming the two techs Matt Conroy & Eddie Fairchild was probably my favorite reference in the book.

Page 206: I loved the Nemesis bridge lighting effect. It was one of the few that Bumblebee never experienced, so we made up for it by featuring each of the Decepticons with this lighting scheme, albeit fairly small. I like the way 206 kind of mirrors 207, pre and post crash.

Page 213: Marty Isenberg was the guy who came up with the "We're looking for a few good bots" quip here. 

Page 216: I studied math and physics in college, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to define the Cybertronian measurements in terms of universal constants.  I was a little surprised the science geeks didn't respond more to this page. The Takara stamps were an 11th hour request from Hasbro that we were glad to oblige.  Originally the page just had stamps from Hasbro, Eric, Derrick and Matt.  I love Ejima's happy little stamp.  He had a traditional stamp too that we didn't use, pictured to the left.

The story behind having any stamps at all was that Bill and I were hanging out with Derrick late at night at cartoon network and Bill asked if Derrick had ever drawn himself as a Transformer.  Derrick matter-of-factly told us that yes, he had, and that he used it as a seal of approval.  I sort of demanded he give me a copy for the book, and he was happy to oblige.  He then went and rummaged through Matt's desk and got me his stamp too.  Finally, he told me to write to Eric and get him to send me his stamp, because it is awesome.  Eric did one better and also sent a Hasbro seal of approval.  It was the willingness of people like Derrick and Eric to go the extra mile that really helped put the book over-the-edge.  Bill and I really can't thank them enough for all their time, energy, enthusiasm and general kick-assedness.

Page 219: With the blessing of Derrick & Marty, I named the Witwicky child Nancy, after my mother.  Hi, mom!

So, there you have it! Secrets of the AllSpark Almanac (one), revealed.  After BotCon, hopefully before Wednesday, Bill will round out this series with the final hidden references from the episode guides, including the dreaded XLN247... stick around!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The AllSpark Almanac II Foreshadowing, Part the Second...

So, we're frantically getting ready to depart for BotCon, but wanted to get another The AllSpark Almanac II (preorder it today!)  teaser post up before we left. Since the last post was images that won't be in the book, it seems only fair to this time share some images that WILL be in the book.

This first set of images is four finalized images. I won't say exactly what they are, but most of them you guys should be able to, at least partially, guess. The contexts in which they are used, though, will be VERY hard to guess. But, uh, don't let that stop you. I know everyone's psyched for BotCon, but I'd be very curious to see how close you guys can get. BTW, it's a minor thing, but I'm rather proud that each of these images comes from a different chapter in the book.

For credit where credit's due, the upper left and center images are both from Bill Forster, as are the background design elements in the bottom image. The upper right image is by friend-of-the-blog David Willis, and some processing/updating on the color of the Omega Sentinel was done by Javier Reyes.

The next image is just a sketch, though it's a sketch of something that actually makes its way into the book. Bill and I spent a stupidly huge amount of time on the 2.3 pages that this sketch represents.  It's one of the weirder ideas in the book, but I think (hope) that you guys will appreciate them.

That's it for now! If all goes according to plan, we'll be showing off a couple or three pages at the IDW panel at BotCon. I hope to see you there! Introduce yourself if you see me wandering around.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The AllSpark Almanac II Foreshadowing, Part the First...

How time sneaks up on us!  The AllSpark Almanac II (preorder it today!)  is a mere twelve days away, and betwix now and then there is the juggernaut that is BotCon! So, without further ado, let's start with some previews for the upcoming Almanac.

I figured I'd start in an unusual direction; last year, the first preview images were tiny little snippets and sketches, designed to tease without giving too much away.  This year, that'd be less effective; you all know approximately what the book will look like.  Instead, how about some images that WON'T be in the book? Ideas and characters that we considered using but rejected for whatever reason: time, space, a better idea, etc.

FIRST UP, some of the abstract notions we decided not to use. 

Upper left: As has been reported elsewhere, we'll be covering the Cyber Ninja Corps in some depth.  That seemed like a page that might be worth delving into with some interesting imagery, so one idea we had was to tell some fables in a traditional Japanese art style.  To the left, The Lion and the Mouse, as told with Victory Leo and Packrat. This image would have appeared VERY small in the book, had we decided to use it.

Upper right: A Cybertronian artistic rendering of Fanzone. Obviously they got some of the details wrong.  Note the strong Beauty and the Beast influence that bill allowed to creep in.

Lower left: An unused Kremzeek idea; Kremzeek as Poochie.  I liked the way it came out, Bill didn't. Since Bill is the visual boss, I deferred to his judgment.

Lower right: A political cartoon about Sentinel Prime. I don't remember exactly what the idea was here; I think we were going to label the stuff he was holding.

NEXT, some character ideas that didn't make it into the book.

Upper left:  Animated Wheelie as a GoBot.  Bill and I are both big GoBot fans, so we wanted to pay homage to the design style.  Bill says that, if you look closely, you can figure out which two GoBots are Wheelie's parents.

Upper right: An Animated Jetfire based on the G1 toy. Since there already is a Jetfire in the universe, it would have been hard to work him in.

Lower left: Animated Mirage.  Bill always thought Mirage looked vaguely froggish, and allowed that influence to show here.

Lower right:  Animated Kup, Spotlight: Kup style.  Bill and I are both huge Nick Roche fans, and Bill wanted to pay homage to Nick's design with his own version of Kup.  Note there IS a hint of AHM Kup in the cigar he's holding. I love that damn cigar; it's SO him.

There you have it! Eight drawings that won't be in the AllSpark Almanac II.  However, it'll give you some insight into our thought process.  Next up, rough sketches of ideas that WILL be in the book!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Post No Bills: Secrets of the Almanac (ONE) Revealed Part 2

Hello again. It’s me, Bill Forster. Plucky partner of one James M Sorenson. Bucky to Jim’s Captain America, Jason Todd to his Bruce Wayne, Comedian to his Ozymandias. ...wait a minute. Aren’t they all dead?! Let me try another analogy. Jim’s partner in crime. Heckle to his Jeckle, Han to his Luke, Kirk to his Spock. Yeah. That’s much better! Actually the last one is fairly accurate.

Once again I am here to talk about  The Allspark Almanac (order it today!) . I am simply going through the book and giving random trivia and stories about each page as I remember them.  The AllSpark Almanac II will be out this summer (preorder it today!) and promises to be even better than the first. So jumping right in...

Well left off with the Dinobots. That brings us to...

Page 44:
Arcee’s back was colored by Javier.

Page 48:
Here we didn’t use the standard character model, saving it for Shockwave’s page. Instead we used this real estate to put a similar image but one that demonstrated Longarm’s long arms.

Page 50-55:
We wanted Omega to look super big so we opted to not place any words on the page with him. Putting only the one picture of the ship mode on the facing page helped with making him larger than life.

Page 56 and 57:
Here we have MOST of the different lighting effects used in the show. BB was the character with the most color changes. Unfortunately there is no “Flashback” color effect for him, since he didn't exist back then. Here's one now!

This drove me nuts! Originally I wanted all the layouts to have a title block and then directly underneath have the bio’s text block. But between Megatron and Lugnut I evenually gave in and moved the title blocks away from the bio in order to have a more evenly balanced layout of images.

Page 61:
Why is Blackarachnia the second Decepticon and not Lugnut or Blitzy? Page balance. We needed Megatron to be first and he ends on the left facing side of the book. Lugnut’s first two pages mirror each other so they needed to be across from one another and start on the left. Blitzwing starts on the right and would have fit, but he also ends on the left. Meaning we could not have Lugnut after him. Megatron, Blitzwing, Blackarach and then Lugnut seemed really odd. So Blackararachnia is second. When you make this stuff, so many little details are important. We spend hours on the craziest things.

We wanted to have just the spider mode on page one. The other pages were so well laid out that we had little room for it elsewhere. As I stated before we hate doing a design element only once, so we revisited the Bulkhead pages and made his first page a similar layout. That worked even better for him. He is huge and it is hard to fit all his designs and still have a nice over all flow to the page.

Page 76 -77:
Jim wrote this page. If you know Jim, then you know that he and Swindle share a lot in common. Originally Swindle was just one page. But Jim insisted that we have every single weapon we could displayed. Derrick is a big Swindle fan too. When we would go to his office at Cartoon Network he would have an army of Swindles in various colors lined up along his desk. Or course it’s actually really hard to see Derrick’s collection as it is so immense that it becomes like a Monet painting. You have to stand back and let your eyes soak it all in.

Jim and I share writing duties, but in reality Jim handles the “heavy” writing and edits what I write. Just as Jim handles some design and/or artwork, but I handle the “heavy” stuff. It works out pretty well for us. I often joke, “If there is something really plot heavy in the book, Jim wrote it. If a 6 year old girl talks, It’s probably me.” I am a big nut for the Seekers and I insisted I write them. Jim usually gets to write all the cool stuff, so he was nice and let me go crazy on the Seeker section.

Since the beginning I insisted that Starscream be the ONLY character that talks about himself. And it was from there that I had the bright idea to have all the Seekers talk about each other. And of course you all know the story behind the name Slipstream. If not, go look it up. I am not repeating myself! But heres some trivia, originally we thought about naming her as the third Rainmaker. We decided not to, but we the name is still in our heads waiting to find the right venue!

Jim went in a drew appropriate little expressions on the clones. We felt it got a little boring with the same model just in different colors. Thundercracker, however, uses the clone model's face. It just worked perfectly.

Page 88:
So Jim and I came up with the term “Space Poncho” for Lockdown’s poncho. For weeks we couldn’t stop saying it. If there was a moment of silence one of us would whisper out in quickened almost Spanish accent... “Space Poncho.” If you ever meet us in person we will do the voice for you. ANYWAY, one day I get a box in the mail from IDW. I was surprised when I found that in was copies of a scholastic version of the Almanac. It was smaller and mostly just had the bio section in it. It was really cool, but one weird thing was in order to keep the pages facing the right way and edit out the episode guides they had to fill in a right facing page. At the end of Lockdown’s bio someone added a full page of just the Space Poncho. It’s awesome and started me and Jim up again. ...Space Poncho!!!

Page 89:
We didn’t have a Ratchet at the time so you got Optimus, BB, Bulk, Prowl and ...Starscream. Ratchet makes his way into the AAII.

Page 94:
I LOVE this bio. Jim wrote it. Again, Jim and Swindle were separated at birth. We had no back or glider models for Archer. So sad. See the Grenade Arrow? We cheated. Jim drew that. Once in art school Jim tagged along to a life drawing class with me. My teacher was amazed how awful he was. Now his artwork is being publish and I bet you guys didn’t even know it wasn’t a real model from the show. See kids? See what you can achieve when you buckle down?

Page 96:
When we got to writing the Humans, Jim was eager to get started on the episode guides and had no interest in writing Slo Mo’s voice. So he asked if that was something I could do. I did my best imitation of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character from the Hudsucker Proxy and that’s what ended up in the book. I think what you see there is the “first draft” verbatim what I said.

Slo Mo had two character models. One with and one without a ton of watches. The watches were a little hard to see. Jim had the great idea of removing the color from the rest of the model and then just sectioning off the arms and torso. Then place it next to the other character model and there you have it. A nice little detail of her accessories.

Page 103:
So we needed Grimlock to say something! I wrote, “Mutants Bad!” and Jim edited it to, “Bat-Monster Bad!” in order have Fanzone talk about the other mutant. They say you are your own worst critic. Mine’s Jim.

NEWS FLASH! Jim just told me that Marty insisted that they not be called mutants but rather Fusion Creatures!!! (sigh) See? That’s why I need Jim editing my stuff. err...

Page 104:
We wanted Blurr to talk fast but frankly how do you write that? So his text is slightly smaller than the other characters. Anyone get that? I would like to think on a subconscious level that worked.

Page 105:
So Jim and I reference everything. So needless to say, sometimes we reference stuff in OUR lives not just in TF or SciFi. Jim wanted to name a character after his wife Ming Li. Well I’m not married, so I named a character after a friend of mine, Shana Storey. Shana is one of the most interesting people I know. Shana was a weird little punk rock girl that used to shop in the comic book store I used to work in many, many years ago. We became good friends over the years and she was even my date to Jim’s wedding. I mentioned she races boats because the real Shana repairs and sails boats with her boyfriend. When I asked her if I could use her name she said, “Only if you mention sailing.” She spends a great deal of her time at the South Street Sea Port in NYC. Here's a picture of her! Once she got hit by a UPS truck. That has nothing to do with Transformers. It was just funny.

Next up is the episode guides. Plenty to say about those! See you then! Oh, and don't forget to come and meet us in Burbank on Saturday, July 3rd at 1:00 PM! Marty and Derrick, Jim and I will all be signing autographs so be sure to come out and meet us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #58: All the Familiar Faces!

The fifty-eight issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers is titled All the Familiar Faces!. (What, "Back from the Dead" doesn't warrant an exclamation mark, but "All the Familar Faces" does? I think Furman had his punctuation swapped on this one.) It was written by Simon Furman, drawn and inked by Delbo and Hunt, lettered by Massara and colored by Yomtov.  The cover is by José Delbo. 

It's a very strange cover. I can't decide if it's artistic or merely lazy.  We're treated to an extreme close-up of Optimus Prime's Powermaster face, with bold inking and an angry red color.  There is an abstract background of space or maybe just bubbles.  "Megatron(tm) alive! Ratchet(tm) a prisoner! Optimus(tm) out of control!"  That pretty much summarizes what we'd expect to be in this issue, based on what we've seen before. Well, except that Optimus has mastered his anger issues and is now talking again.  I think this cover might have worked a bit better last issue, when Optimus really did lose it. The red color certainly brings to mind rage, which doesn't quite fit the tone of the book.  Overall, it's an interesting cover but perhaps the effect should have been saved for a different issue.

The issue itself opens on a lovely splash of the Starscream pretender shell turning the mangled and shattered shell of Starscream back into some semblance of Cybertronian life. Ratchet momentarily loses himself in the excitement of the technology, but quickly reminds himself that he's being forced to work for the Autobots' greatest enemy. His thoughts and Megatron's gloating get the obligatory exposition out of the way. We're treated to a bit more unsubtle foreshadowing about the upcoming rebirth of Jazz, Goldbug and Grimlock, as well as a callback to the Mecannibals, who Dreadwind and Darkwing fear may still be on their trail. It's an opening sequence rich in characterization, with Ratchet and Megatron shining but even the Sports Car Patrol and the Decepticon Powermasters getting a brief moment in the sun.

On board the ark, Kup struggles to consciousness even as Blackjack gloats to himself about planning to destroy the Ark whether or not Ratchet helps Megatron. Though Kup takes the diminutive Decepticon prisoner, the timing device on the Ark's explosives is triggered, giving them five minutes to act.  From a narrative standpoint, Kup's revival is slightly clumsy. It seems late in the game to be introducing this kind of new element. Perhaps if there was some hint of Kup's status in the last issue... alas!

Back on Cybertron, Megatron's patience starts to wane, so Ratchet presents Starscream, his mind a blank slate awaiting programming.  With his triumph thus secured, Megatron sends the Sports Car Patrol to the lab to disassemble it and announces his intention to destroy the Ark. Ratchet, thinking quickly, sets some machinery to overload and ditches his Micromaster guards.  Unfortunately for him, Megatron has already prepared a program for Starscream to follow and sends his avenging angel to Earth without delay! Ratchet bemoans that his "little surprise won't kick in for--," but before he can continue he's interrupted by an angry looking Megatron. Things are certainly moving along briskly now. We get a bit of comic book panache and a strong sense that things are building to a crescendo.

As Optimus has realized the there is a mystery afoot, he orders his men back to the Ark while he remains behind to cover their retreat and convince Scorponok of their good intentions.  In the first bit of characterization he's had in the US run, Hot Rod impulsively decides that he'll stay behind and help out.  Scorponok is tempted to just blow these two lone Autobots away, but he can't help feeling that Prime's words echo his own inner doubts. He also remembers Prime saving his life during the Underbase saga, which conveniently sets up his fear and loathing for Starscream.  By the time he decides, though, it's too late. Starscream arrives, much to Zarak's consternation. Once again, we see some rather deft characterization springing from Furman's pen.  This time, it's Hot Rod (love the "whoever it is -- he sure knows how to make an entrance!" quip from him), Optimus and Scorponok.  Though we've known Scorponok for several years now, we really haven't seen much about what makes him tick since the rather excellent Headmasters mini-series.  Kudos to Furman for exploring this human (err... Nebulan) aspect to him.

Finally, we approach the end of the issue and move all pieces into position for the triumphant climax.  Dreadwind stops Megatron from blowing Ratchet away then and there, since there's something happening in the lab.  The other shells are activated, you see.  It only takes Megatron an instant to realize what has happened here. "Oh... no..." he moans, quickly countered by Ratchet's inevitable "Oh yes!" Ratchet pulls a lever and unleashes his three Autobot compatriots, Jazz, Grimlock and... umm.... Bumblebee? More on that next issue, though, as it's To Be Continued!  It's a great cliffhanger to end on; you've got the ticking clock on the Ark, Starscream versus Scorponok's Decepticons with Prime and Hot Rod, and the Autobot Classic Pretenders versus Megatron.  For his initial arc, Furman certainly pulled out all the stops.  And, hey, he's introducing new toys as well, four Pretenders and four Micromasters.  This issue lives up to all of the promise of the first two in the arc, and gives me every confidence that the final issue in the story will be as exciting as what went before.

"Next issue: Ratchet vs. Megatron! Grimlock's Pretenders vs. the Sports Car Patrol! Optimus Prime and Scorponok vs. Starscream! Don't miss the big battle issue as metal meets metal WHEN TITANS CLANG!" Sounds fantastic. Try to stop me from reviewing this book next week! Oh, wait, that's BotCon... well, maybe you'll have to wait two weeks then. Oh, wait, the second Almanac is out in two weeks... ummm.... well, it'll be soonish, anyway.  All the Familiar Faces! is available for purchase in IDW's Classic Transformers Volume 4.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Ark Addendum - Blood's Transformation

Hello, and welcome to another edition of The Ark Addendum, the follow-up to  Transformers: The Complete Ark (order it today!)  book of G1 character models.  This week, in honor of Iván's portrayal of Blood yesterday, I figured I'd dip further into the Masterforce file and find something with him.  Wouldn't you know it, I haven't featured his extended Transformation yet.

It's a rather nice extended transformation at that.  I never tire of pointing out that these were internal reference documents, not designed for publication. Despite that, look how dynamic the drawings are, especially steps three and six.  The sense of motion in three, and especially the excitement of the jet taking off in six is pretty impressive.  Really, one could easily have ended the drawing at five, since the alt mode is fully realized.  Instead the artist gave us this lovely final drawing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Iván's Gallery: Blood

Hullo, and welcome to another edition of Iván's Gallery. Don't let the title put you off too much, this is Blood, the Destron Pretender we're talking about here.  In his own words, here's what the artist has to say about this piece:

Tests tests tests, are only that, evidence.
G.1 design build and deconstruct, trying to guess what would be his best.

He is Blood, or Bomb-burst, as more you like.  It is an idea I have long ne head, and now I'm a bit lively and I have some free time I'm trying to accomplish.

Sincerely ... I do not see too many possibilities to the project, however, is more of a diversion than something feasible. And not because I think it's good, but ....

In any case, it is just that, a lot of sketches that I do on one of the characters, that I did last night in 20 minutes, maybe try something else today .... the truth is that I have enough ideas ..... we'll see what comes out.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 26

The twenty-sixth episode of War of the Worlds, the series is titled Doomsday.  In the face of a massive heatwave and drought, the aliens have concocted a scheme to shut down the city's water system.  As an addendum to this plan, they try to hijack our worship system to get humans worshiping the Eternal.

The Blackwood Team, meanwhile, start to suspect something is amiss when they witness water flowing from the baptismal font of a church. Harrison and Suzanne track the water to the source, the city's blocked-off water supply. Kincaid, meanwhile, witnesses the priest getting abducted by aliens and tracks him to a cloning lab under the reservoir.  Together they blow the alien membrane holding back the water and get the Priest and his son out of the lab.  The priest confronts his doppelgänger and they both die of unclear causes even as it starts to rain.

The Good: There are some neat exchanges between Malzor and his minions. "What kind of life form bases itself on water when the water supply cannot be depended upon?" wonders Malzor after Ardix informs him that their clone templates were cooking in the heat.  Later, a distracted Mana calls the Bible a "blueprint for human control."

Unfortunately, however, there wasn't much else that I really enjoyed in this, the first truly 'typical' episode of season two.

The Bad: Suzanne freaks out while they're underground.  Why? We've seen her underground before in Goliath Is My Name with no issue.  It didn't add anything to the episode and just made her character seem weak.

Why did the priest die at the end? Heart attack? Not at all clear. And why did Ardix then stand up and blast the clone of the kid? And from now on, The team should know Ardix on sight. We'll see if they do.

When Harrison starts futzing with the membrane, the aliens discover this and send guards. Ummm... why didn't they have standing guards there?

The Morthren give the priest several miracles: water; he apparently 'heals' an alien; they replace his son with a clone, who appears dead and then comes back to life (after a way-too-apt reading about Lazarus.)  Only after all this do they replace him with a clone.  Ummm.... why not do it the other way?

And the whole team just happens to be in the church where the 'miracle' takes place? Major coincidence.

The Ugly: How about the membrane over the water supply? It's not much, but it's what we got.  Even the few dead aliens this episode didn't get the full corpse treatment.

After a strong start to the season, this episode seems like a huge step backwards.  We're starting to see the limitations of the new format; whereas before the heroes could get intel on the aliens from anywhere in the country, now they literally have to stumble into the building where the alien schemes are taking place.  We're starting to learn about the bleakness of the new environment, with water shortages and dirty desperate people huddled into churches, which should be a good thing but completely failed to hold my interest.  It's not interesting-bleak, it's dull-bleak.  This is especially troublesome, since this episode is the first 'standard' episode of the season.  This is the template upon which others should be created, and so far it's not looking promising.  We'll have to see if it gets back to the promise of the first couple of episodes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #57: The Resurrection Gambit!

The Resurrection Gambit! is the fifty-seventh issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  Like the last issue, it was written by Furman, drawn by Delbo, inked by Hunt, lettered by Massara and colored by Yomtov.  The cover is by José Delbo.

 The cover is rather fanciful, though more than a bit awkward.  Megatron blasts Ratchet directly in his midsection, causing sparks and wires to flyeverywhere.  They seem to be standing on the some Cybertronian wreckage.  I don't really mind that this exact series of events doesn't happen in the book, it's sort of close enough.  Megatron DOES blast an Autobot in this environment, and while Ratchet isn't physically harmed, he certainly must feel like this.  Hoever, the poses and composition seem really stiff and awkward.  Megatron's leaning back too much, and his arm is at a funny angle.  Ratchet's legs and torso don't seem to go together, and not in a his-torso-was-blown-off way.  Taey're also way too close together.  "The Autobots' WORST NIGHTMARE comes true -- MEGATRON returns!" I actually like the cover, since it really does correctly set the tone, but technically it's all wrong. 

Now, the first page of the book, on the other hand, is just about perfect.  Megatron gloats, while Ratchet falls deeper into despair.  Great lettering work from Massara on Ratchet's escalating "no" bubbles. "It began with a dream--a nighmare in which the dead walked! And though the dreamer--Autobot surgeon Ratchet-- is now wide awake, the nightmare continues..."  Good stuff there, Furman! There's also a double play on the meaning of the title. One's first instinct is to take the resurrection gambit to mean Megatron's return, and in a way it is.  This is Furman's resurrection gambit.  However, it also applies quite literally to Megatron's dastardly scheme-but we'll get to that in a bit.

The Sports Car Patrol openly mocks Ratchet for falling for their ruse. They should, it was shady from the start.  Megatron, though, just oozes smarmy charisma, telling Ratchet that all he wanted to do was help the physician heal the sick.  His creepy smile says otherwise, making it easy to imagine Welker delivering these words with his customary irony.  Ratchet, in a very self-aware moment, asks Megatron for his "how I survived" story, but is instead treated to the "my insane scheme" story first.  The insane scheme, it would seem, involves Pretender armor.  I love how Furman pokes fun at the very conventions he is using, which serves to make them fresher than they might otherwise be.  He makes it seem almost effortless, though I imagine that he really was concerned about giving us too many superhero cliches.  He needn't have worried; despite being a comic, Transformers had managed to stay away from most of the more flamboyant comic book tropes.

Furman then transitions to Earth rather slickly, by having Ratchet wonder why Prime failed to answer his radio call last issue.  We get to see that first hand, as Storm Cloud shoots out the radio once the call goes through.  First, though, Prime arrives and orders the Cons to surrender. Despite being outnumbered two to one, the Air Strike Patrol refuses. After all, can the Autobots really risk a battle with all these humans around? Prime goes along with this, at least until Storm Cloud makes his move.  This causes Prime to go berserk, and a rattled Storm Cloud rattles off a bible verse; "physician, heal thyself."  Prime correctly interprets this to mean that Ratchet is in danger, but before he can act on this knowledge, Scorponok and a Decepticon strike force arrives.  Of interest is that real moral of the proverb is to fix one's own shortcomings before criticizing others; it's synonymous with "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Optimus Prime has abandoned his principles of safeguarding all life first, and this mistake will cost him.  Storm Cloud didn't intend to use the proverb to highlight this, but it's entirely possible that Furman did.

Back on Cybertron, Ratchet refuses to help... at least until Megatron reveals that the Ark is rigged to explode should Ratchet not help him.  Perhaps to give Ratchet a few moments to dwell on this, Megatron favors him with the story of his resurrection. We learn that Megatron was blasted through the bridge and landed, deactivated, in the Dead End, where Cybertronian neutrals eek out a meager existence. Eventually, he recovered his body, and then his wits and began to prepare for his return, and revenge.  When Dreadwind and Darkwing return with the "patient" for the Pretender armor, Ratchet muses about what a waste it is to have three prototype shells just going to waste. In the background, the bodies of Goldbug, Jazz and Grimlock lay, deactivated and useless.  Nice foreshadowing... and, actually, nice shadowing too. 

On Earth, Scorponok and Weirdwolf attempt to bring down Optimus Prime.  He savagly strikes back, even as the Air Strike Patrol flees.  After all, they have no desire to be there when Megatron's surprise arrives.  Meanwhile, the General who was giving the demonstration in the first place manages to get all personnel out of the area... seconds before Optimus Prime punches Bomb-Burst into the bleachers. Both the Decepticon and the General call Prime on it, prompting him to attempt to stop the battle before it's too late. But he'd better act quickly, for Ratchet is shocked and awed to find out the nature of the patient... Starscream! Hence, his gambit really is a resurrection gambit. Nifty, there, Furman, quite nifty.

This issue is terrific, somehow quite a bit better than the last one.  Issue 56 is all set-up, slowly establishing the mood.  While this issue really is mostly exposition, with a bit of action down on Earth, it's very clever and exciting exposition.  Megatron, Ratchet and Prime all get great characterization here. It was very shrewd of Furman to go with Ratchet for Megatron's pawn, rather than, say, First Aid or Fixit.  Ratchet's past history with Megatron makes him ideal.  I love how deliciously evil Megatron is, Furman just nails his voice perfectly. Megatron was never really THAT menacing the first time around; the first four issues were jumbled, and then he mostly seemed to be a rival for Shockwave rather than a threat to the Autobots for the rest of his appearances.  It's nice to see just how bad he can actually be when allowed to cut loose. Even Prime, who can be boring, manages not to be this time out. His tension was evident as of last issue; this issue, he loses it and it works great.  General Campbell, though, could have done with a mite more characterization. When reading this story, I couldn't help but feel that under Budiansky he'd have been a person, rather than just a cipher playing a role in the story.  Still, different writes, different strengths.

Next issue,   "RATCHET might be able to save his patients -- but can he save himself?!?" I'm definitely along for this ride, anyway.  The Resurrection Gambit! is available for purchase in IDW's Classic Transformers Volume 4.