Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #61: Primal Scream

Primal Scream is the sixty-first issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  Having a bit of fun, the creative staff played around with the credits.  This issue purports to be written by Simon Furman Maximus, drawn by Geoffire Senior, lettered by Jim Lock Massara, colored by Shrapnel Yomtov, and edited by Megadon Daley, under the auspicies of Editor in Chief Double Dealer DeFalco.  Cute.  Don Perlin returns to the comic after a lengthy absence to draw the cover.

The cover is an interesting piece.  Grimlock, Jazz, and Bumblebee fall towards a stylized, enormous face.  The glowing mouth and action lines make it clear that the face is screaming.  It's an interesting piece, and certainly thematically appropriate, though I'm not sure that I find it aesthetically pleasing to look at.  Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, I just don't like it very much.  "The Primal Scream!!" it declares, in case you, I dunno, missed the artwork completely.

Once inside the book, things immediately look up.  A mysterious robed mechanoid shouts at the Autobots for daring to intrude on this sacred place, while narrative captions handle the brief exposition.  Furman even integrates these two elements rather slickly.  The narration ends by saying "and face to face with their maker" while the Keeper mechanoid ends by saying "your living god--".  Both of these elements are answered with an oversized "PRIMUS!" on page two, tying them together well.  While the Jazz, Bumblebee and the Micromasters are quick to kneel before their living god, with the Rescue Patrol going so far as to prostrate themselves, proud Grimlock wants answers.  He dismisses the Keeper as a charlatan and demands to know how he was "created."  (The quotes are Grimlocks, by the way, not mine.)  The characterization of Grimlock is rock-solid.  He's a strong-willed robot, one who doesn't accept things at face value.  Demanding the creation myth seems just a bit clumsy, but I'm willing to accept it

What follows is the first US telling of the origin of the Transformers race.  As the age of gods ended and the age of life begun, Primus had a task to accomplish before he could ascend to better things; defeating Unicron.  The two battled across realities, but Unicron proved the stronger.  Nearly obliterated, Primus tricked Unicron into manifesting himself in a lifeless asteroid.  Each of them was locked forever in metal lumps.  In time, Primus learned to psionically shape their new forms, and so Cybertron was born. Unicron, too, shaped his world into a planet-destroying engine.  To combat this menace, Primus created the Transformers, and gave them a genetic matrix containing his life essence.  Unicron scoured the cosmos endlessly, searching for his old enemy, while Primus slumbered to hide himself until the day when the Transformers were ready to do battle with this greatest of threats.

And there you have it, the cosmic origin of the Transformers, almost as far from the Quintesson origin of the cartoon as one could get.  I love this tale; I find that it elevates the Transformers into something timeless, like ancient Greek heroes.  Senior's visuals make a great accompaniment to it too, very stark and powerful.  I love his use of ink, especially on the panel I selected above.  Also, note how the mythological panels have wavering, uneven edges to them that very effectively set them off from the rest of the story.  All around quality, this part of the book was, and we're only seven pages in!

Of course, it wouldn't be a Transformers book without a ginormous fight.  As Emirate Xaaron, frantically working to repair the teleporter, feared, the Decepticons have caught up with their quarry.  After a brief but very effective interlude on Earth, where Starscream's presence has caused the other Decepticons to question Scorponok's judgment, the battle is joined!  Unfortunately, the Autobots have to hold back, lest a stray shot awaken Primus and doom their whole race to extinction.  The Decepticons have no such compunctions and are running wild.  Again, great artwork here.  Furman's dialogue is punchy too: "Prattling fool," exclaims Bludgeon to Jazz's banter, "Your warrior heart is tainted by an idiot's tongue! Perhaps I shall remove both for you!"  Where before Grimlock motivated things, now it's Bumblebee.  When his cries for help to Primus fall on deaf ears, he decides that they've sacrificed enough already and shouldn't have to lay down and die here.  He rallies the troops and leads the Autobots to victory. 

Unfortunately for all of reality, their victory is not absolute.  Octopunch blasts Grimlock in the back, a shot which ricochets  and strikes Primus directly.  His primal scream "shatters audio sensors and rocks Cybertron itself!"  At that moment, the teleport is fixed and all are sent to Earth.  Grimlock worries that perhaps Cybertron was doomed to get them there, but Bumblebee has less faith.  It's possible, he reasons, that no one but them heard the scream.  He's wrong.  In deep space, Unicron senses the return of his primordial enemy and begins his long, slow march to Cybertron.

All in all, this is an extremely powerful and effective bit of storytelling.  Great artwork, high stakes and fun dialogue make the final fight sequence whiz by.  By having the inevitable awakening occur after the battle is over, Furman manages to instill a brief sense of security, then shatter it.  We get an origin, two Autobots having some great character moments, a bit of foreshadowing about the main Decepticon camp, a fun fight, and much much higher stakes than we're used to going forward.  What more can one ask for in an issue?  It doesn't get much better than this.

Next issue, "the only thing that can save them is the thing they haven't got--the MATRIX QUEST begins!"  Of course they don't have the matrix, it died with Optimus back in issue 24... or did it?  Intriguing.  Primal Scream is the final story in IDW's Classic Transformers Volume 4 (v. 4) , and if you haven't read it you really really should pick this up from


Anonymous said...

I liked the art on this issue, and the story for the most part.

The main thing I didn't like (and my only disagreement with your review) was that the Transformers and the universe were created by gods. I thought it was lazy storytelling on Furman's part because it's so easy to think of it (It's the easy way to answer things without much thought--how was the universe created? Gods made it--even a child can tell you the universe was created by God!). Also, it gave the Transformers' tale, a story about robots (which gives the book a scientific feel), an incongruous feel (mythological/religious). Further, since the first issue, the US Marvel book had a scientific feel to it (exceptions were the superheroes on issue # 3 and the savage land issues, but these were isolated stories that weren't heard of again in the series), so this change is very sudden for me, especially considering its long term impact. I would have preferred if Furman remained true to the book's scientific feel by making the Transformers' origin more scientific (similar to the Quintesson origin on the cartoons). It's also a big letdown because the first issue of Transformers made the origin of Cybertron mysterious, only to have the answer be "it was created by a god". I can't help feel that maybe it's because of the book's tight deadline that Furman resorted to this kind of an origin.

My further gripe is that gods are not scientifically proven (you have to have faith to believe them), but Furman made gods a FACT in the Transformers universe (which made the Transformers book a mythological book instead of a science fiction one). What I try to do to explain this away (and to make the series from issue #61 onwards bearable to me) is to think that Primus and Unicron were just delusional robots (sort of like weapons of destruction created by aliens that went out of control and ultimately destroyed most of the universe) and that this revelation hasn't been told yet.

- JAS2

Salt-Man Z said...

I think you're a little too hung up on the word "gods".

Jimtron said...

Well, you know, to each his own. I can completely understand not liking the direction Furman took the book, but the execution of how he took the book there was terrific.

Chuffer said...

Since this origin story began in Transformers UK #150, I doubt it was cooked up by Furman due to a tight deadline. Personally I can't get enough of the mythic origin story.

And would I be right in thinking this was Geoff Senior's first US comic? He was always my favourite Transformers artist by a country mile.

Starfield said...

I never noticed that was a face on the cover.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

This issue is an important one to me, for personal reasons.

That aside, I've never really understood the fury that some fans have about this origin. (I agree with Jimtron that I think it's people get hung up on the use of the word "gods." I can't help but think that if Furman called them, say, "pan-dimensional beings," we wouldn't be having such a problem). But, I really dislike the Quintessons, so I'm not unbiased, either.

What does mystify me about this origin, however, is the fact that Furman is pulling in elements like Unicron and the physical Matrix that, previous to this issue (or, if you prefer, to his use of these elements in the UK comic), were cartoon-specific. Why Furman felt it necessary to pull in such cartoon-specific stuff, yet treat the origin of the Transformers in such an entirely different way, strikes me as bizarre.

(Before someone else says so, I do assume that Furman created this origin before Season Three of the cartoon had actually started. Since we already know that he brought in the movie elements to the UK comic on the basis of pre-release scripts of the animated movie, there's plenty of time available the he wouldn't have known that the cartoon would come up with an origin of its own in short order. Even so, the fact that he emphasized this difference in the US comic, well after Season Three of the cartoon, and where these animated elements had never yet been seen, is more than a little jarring.)

Mark Baker-Wright said...

(Sorry Salt-Man Z. I miscredited Jimtron with your idea in my musings above!)

Jimtron said...

I believe that Furman has stated that the movie was a big influence for him. Given that, it kind of makes perfect sense that he'd pull in elements from the film but not from other parts of the cartoon, which he probably wouldn't have seen.

Congratulations on your letter, all those years ago. I didn't get into the Transformers comic until issue 69, so it never really occurred to me to write in to them.

Bluecatcinema said...

I'm inclined to agree with Anonymous. And I know I'm strictly in the minority around here, but I prefer the Quintession-based origin; It's much more logical then the whole "born from a god" thing.

Hans said...

Yes, this was the first time the Matrix was referred to as an actual object in the comics, because before it was supposed to be a "computer program" that gave life to lifeless Transformers bodies.

However, Optimus Prime explains in an upcoming issue that the physical Matrix was lost (buried along with his old body) because the other Autobots didn't realise it was an actual object residing inside his chest compartment. That was a good enough explanation for me at the time... I didn't realise then they would have found it when his body was blown to bits in issue #24 :)

I also like the origin of the Transformers, specifically Unicron, because it explains the "magical powers" he had in the movie... and later on in the comics as well. It also gives the Transformers a much larger canvas and reason for existence.
I believe the comic mentions that Primus in turn was created as a champion by the forces of life, so I didn't see him as a God per se, but more an artificially created, superpowerful being.

And this was indeed Geoff Senior's US debut, and it took me quite a while to get used to his artwork. I didn't appreciate it until I saw his Generation 2 stuff... :)

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Regarding what Furman used for the origin, I think it's fairer to say he brought in movie elements rather than cartoon elements and in the UK where this began that is a clear distinction.

In the UK the cartoon was somewhat remote to both many TF fans growing up in the 1980s and, it seems, the Marvel UK staff. From recollection only the first season played on terrestrial television early on Saturday mornings in the 1985/6 run and then later stuff, including the third season, popped up on satellite. There were also a number of videos floating about but these were one off treats. So for many fans here the cartoon was a rarely seen thing and instead the comics were their main source (reinforced by the way the comic's letters page repeatedly denounced the cartoon's continuity as an inaccurate mess), especially as the most prominent part of the comic's run (78-205, the Galvatron saga) came without competition on most readers' screens.

The movie, however, did get a cinema release and then a video release not too long afterwards, and so could basically stand alone or even be incorporated into comic continuity without too many problems. So Furman used elements from it without concern that they had been in the cartoon and could easily ignore stuff from season 3 altogether.