Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #60: Yesterday's Heroes!

The sixtieth issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers is called Yesterday's Heroes! The creative line-up is unchanged from the last issue, meaning that we have a tale brought to us by Furman, Delbo, Hunt, Massara, and Yomtov. The cover is by José Delbo.

 The cover leaves me colder than it should.  Grimlock, Jazz and Bumblebee look up as an orang samurai leaps down at them, sword drawn.  There's nothing wrong with the rendering, but the composition isn't so much action-packed as it is confusing.  We're supposed to get the impression that the Autobots are at the bottom of a shaft, but havign the white floor and colorful walls makes the eye confused about where to go.  Bludgeon's back is to us, which robs us of some of his impact.  Perhaps to try to compensate for some of the flaws of the cover, there are a lot of words on the cover.  "Introducing: BLUDGEON!" is written above the logo.  We're also informed that "They're Back! Jazz! Grimlock! Bumblebee! The Classic Pretenders!" Neither one of the above blurbs are particularly prominent, but you can't help but notice the box stating that "The Autobots have three great heroes...", which is answered by a word bubble from Bludgeon stating "BUT NOT FOR LONG!" I do rather like how Bludgeon's sword slices through the logo, though. 

The issue itself, though, is nothing but solid.  We open on a scene that had not yet become cliched, Optimus Prime despairing over the loss of a friend.  He has a dialogue with a semi-sentient computer about Ratchet's choice from the last issue, with the emotionless computer applauding Ratchet's one-life-for-three choice and Optimus bemoaning the endless grind of self-sacrifice. Furman goes over-the-top here, but not in a bad way.  Rather, he's delving into the mindset of Optimus Prime in a way that we haven't gotten to see much of, at least in the US.  Delbo's art manages to be expressive through eyes and body language.  I especially like the third page, where a dejected Prime straddles the page, breaking out of his panel both above and below.  It makes him seem isolated and alone.  He decides that he's done, he's had enough.  He has the Autobots land the ship on the moon and just walks out into the lunar landscape.  Hot Rod, though, has a plan.  He's going to fire up a Mark V Guardian droid and have it pretend to run amok. 

Predictably, the robot ACTUALLY runs amok, prompting Optimus Prime to return and kick some robot ass.  Delbo's art really shines here, as does Massara's lettering.  The fight is punctuated by some great lettering effects, and I rather love the expressiveness of Kup's exclamation mark to the left.  As Optimus fights the droid, he philosophizes as can only happen in a comic book.  "Of course, I'd been fooling myself! Giving up wasn't the answer! Giving up is never the answer!" He concludes the fight by cycling back to the beginning of the issue, asking the computer if it understood the lesson that he himself had just learned.  The computer, indeed, picked up on the moral of the story.  "The heroes of yesterday provide the motivation and impetus for the heroes of tomorrow."  It's a nice little self-contained plot, taking Prime on a brief emotional journey and giving us some great action along the way.  I rather like the reuse of some UK concepts, this time the Guardian Robot.  It's a newer model, but it's recognizably of the same ilk as the droids seen in early UK plotlines.  Neat.

The other plotline of this issue is the resurgence of the Autobot resistance. With Grimlock, Jazz and Bumblebee leading the way, the Autobots have started to take back the night.  We get two pages of them just tearing through Decepticon opposition, while simultaneously introducing a few new characters.  There is quite a bit of exposition here, but Furman cleverly mixes it in with the action to hold our attention.  Heroes back, will be heading to the main battlefield, Earth, Decepticons are on the defensive.  Simple, but effective.

Naturally, all this  activity has attracted an official Decepticon response.  The Decepticon leader, Thunderwing, doesn't want to see his hard work slip away, and so sends Bludgeon, Octopunch and Stranglehold, the Mayhem Attack Squad, on an Autobot hunt.  As much as I love all of these characters, the artwork here lets the story down a bit.  Thunderwing's body language makes him look like he's slumping.  He seems like a rather decadent figure here, far different from the dashing and competent leader we'd come to know in future issues.  Meanwhile, the Mayhem team winds up looking stiff and weird, rather than monstrous and frightening.  Undead samurai and tentacled creature from the deep should be terrifying, but by copying the character moedl a little too closely they became rather dull.  And, um, there's Stranglehold.  He's just a dude.  It was a very weird choice, on Hasbro's part, to break from the concept of 'Decepticon Pretenders are monsters, Autobot Pretenders are humans' here.   I can't help but wonder if Longtooth was originally going to be the Decepticon in this assortment.  However, that's neither here nor there, and certainly not the fault of anyone on the Marvel side. 

The Decepticons manage to track the Autobots back to their lair, thanks to irradiated fuel set up by Thunderwing.  (Ah, now we're starting to see how Thunderwing's mind works.  No dilettante him, no!)   They're just in time, too, because the Autobots are about to transit to Earth. Emirate Xaaron wishes the blessings of Primus on the group, prompting Bumblebee to remark that he had forgotten the Transformers even had a God. After some very heavy handed foreshadowing, Bludgeon intervenes just as the space bridge activates, fiddling with the controls and sending his squad and Autobots alike deep into the heart of Cybertron.  What do they encounter there, but.the aforementioned Primus!

It's all terribly exciting, though more than a bit contrived.  Since Furman's been on this title for five issues, you'd think he could have dropped some Primus hints beforehand and then more casually mentioned them here.  Of course, the idea of Primus (as well as the Mayhem Attack Squad and Emirate Xaaron) was  already well established over in the UK, but since most of his US audience wouldn't know that it's still rather clumsy. It's also quite odd that a random space bridge jaunt with Earth as the destination would take them right to Primus, but since that actually could be some sort of divine intervention I've decided to give it a pass.

For all the logical contrivances, though, it's actually an intriguing development.  Whereas Furman's first arc was rock-solid but rooted solidly in what had already been established in the book, this new one is starting to look like it's much much deeper.  A God of the Transformers... how fascinating.  I also rather like the narrative structure here, with a complete story about Optimus in the foreground and the Primus stuff brewing in the background.  One quibble, though; Thunderwing and Bludgeon will go on to be some of the most memorable characters from the Marvel series, but in this, their introductory issue, they're fairly underwhelming.  I suppose that Furman had rather a lot to do in 18 pages, though, and at least the seeds of greatness are here, though buried very very deep. 

Next issue, we're promised "The honest-to-gosh origin of the Transformers," which sounds fantastic.  Only, they missed a trick here.  "honest-to-god" would have worked better in context.  In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that that's what the copy originally read, until someone higher up decided not to risk offending their readership or said readership's parents.  Yesterday's Heroes! is is available in IDW's   Classic Transformers Volume 4, and it comes highly highly recommended.  Order yours today.


LBD 'Nytetrayn' said...

I thought the "portal to Earth leads deep into Cybertron" had something to do with Bludgeon or one of the MAS members messing with the portal while the Autobots were in mid-transit, before following.

But it's been forever since I last read this one, so...

Jimtron said...

Oh, it absolutely did, but it's still rather coincidental that a teleporter that could send them many light years away wound up sending them merely a few thousand miles instead, and to such an interesting place.

Hans said...

I think you're right about Stranglehold originally being an Autobot at the design/development stage. Hasbro did the same thing with the Triggerbots/cons, where Windsweeper was supposed to be an Autobot, and Dogfight a Decepticon.

Stranglegold and Longtooth break with the "Decepticons are monsters, Autobots are large humans" idea as Dogfight and Windsweeper break with the "Autobots have chrome weapons, Decepticon have colored weapons" idea.

And I have no idea why Hasbro did this at the time. Very strange. Windsweeper's face is way too friendly to be a Decepticon ;)