Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #71: Surrender!

Surrender! is the seventy-first issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  The creative line-up is unchanged from last issue, meaning the tale was brought to us by Furman, Wildman, Baskerville, Parker, and Yomtov.  Amusingly, Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco is listed as 'quitter', apropo for the theme of the issue.  The cover is an Andy Wildman.

It's a fantastic cover, simple and powerful.  Optimus prime crouches in the rain, having removed his Autobot symbol and placed it at Scorponok's feet.  the Transformers logo is hollow, and rain can be seen through it.  'Surrender!' it says, simply, elegantly.  It's a terrific image, one that appears in the book, and one that's thematically perfect for the story in question.  How can you be a Transformers fan and not love this image?

The issue opens in the distant past, during an early turning point in the Civil War between Autobot and Decepticon.  With their position nearly overrun, a soldier begs Optimus Prime to surrender to the Decepticons.  Optimus asks for the white flag, but uses it to bind his wounds.  They're Autobots, he explains.  They NEVER give up ground and they never, never surrender!  "Never Surrender!" echos as Optimus leads a counter-attack.  A simple vignette, but one that's nicely contrasted by an abrupt cut to the present.

Optimus Prime surrenders to Scorponok in the rain-swept swamps of New Jersey.  My, how things have changed!  Scorponok is ecstatic, and his troops are rather pleased with themselves as well.  The Autobots, though, are miserable.  Wildman's expressive faces work well in this story, really selling the emotion.  Kup snaps under the strain, belting Apeface before Optimus restrains him.  Optimus is, naturally, full of doubt about this decision.  Even Scorponok/Lord Zarak is conflicted by the decision.  Part of him knows that trusting Optimus, working together with the Autobots to stand against Unicron, is necessary for the survival of their race.  Still, in the face of the morale boost from this new development, it's hard for him to tell his troops that this is merely a prelude to an alliance.  How simple, it would be, to just accept this victory at face value and let the future worry about itself?  All told, the beginning of this story is fantastic, touring through the emotions of Kup, Scorponok, Optimus Prime, and the various background players.  It's hard to believe how much Furman makes you care about these characters.

Furman gives us a slick transition (with a slicker one yet to come) to Shockwave's crew, when Zarak gloats to himself that Triggerhappy and Mindwipe will be crawling back soon.  He's right that they'll be back, but it won't be on hands and knees.  Three thousand miles away, off the coast of England, Shockwave plans his plans.  He's gathered up Starscream, Ravage, Runamuck, Runabout (remember them?), Triggerhappy, and Mindwipe.  Scorponok, he asserts, has accomplished nothing in his tenure as Decepticon leader, and Shockwave plans to remove him.  Sadly for him, the surrender of the Autobots has stepped up his timetable.  Realizing that time isn't on their side, he plans to strike now, and strike hard.  Mindwipe has some misgivings, but Starscream lets him know that that the only way out of this conspiracy is feet first.  This subplot has been brewing for a while now, and it seems about to boil over.  We get two more cast-off Decepticons of yesteryear joining the conspiracy, Runamuck and Runabout.  Shockwave's been doing his homework, apparently.  I've always loved Shockwave, so it's fun to see him in action here.

After a brief cut back to a frustrated Optimus Prime pacing about a rather large cell, we flash to Cybertron.  (This was the slicker transition, as poor Optimus frets that Unicron may have already reached Cybertron.)   Unicron hasn't, but Galvatron has.  Galvatron makes mincemeat (that's not the right metaphor for robots I suppose) out of  the Autobot resistance, seeminly effortlessly dispatching them.  Emirate Xaaron reluctantly agrees to flee, to rekindle the flames of resistance elsewhere.  Even as he boards a tram in the sewers of Cybertron to flee, he hears the pontification of Galvatron, foretelling of the coming of Unicron.  It's another emotionally resonant scene.  Galvatron seem implacable, unstoppable, and he's just the overture.  Things on Cybertron seem bleak indeed.

Optimus is tired of waiting; he hurls Soundwave against a wall and smashes out of his cell.  He can't passively wait for Scorponok to decide, he has to force the issue.  The cell next to him contains Hot Rod and (of course) Kup, and he asks for their help.  Kup is skeptical, but Optimus convinces him with an impassioned speech defending the decision to surrender.  Zarak and Bludgeon are preoccupied by four incoming aerial Cybertronians, and so are taken unawares by Hot Rod and Kup.  A brief stand-off results when Kup has Zarak by his organic limbs and a headless Scorponok grabs Kup and threatens to decapitate him.  Optimus, ever the voice of reason, orders Hot Rod to release Zarak, who responds by doing the same to Kup.  Optimus seizes on this moment of trust, and implores Zarak to build on it.  Zarak reconnects with Scorponok and accepts the hand of friendship from Prime.  At least, he's about to, when the roof collapses on them.  The four unidentified aircraft were, of course, Shockwave, Starscream, Triggerhappy, and Mindwipe.  Shockwave has made his play; the Decepticon civil war has begun!  The central conflict of the issue has been resolved, in a very comic-booky way.  (This isn't a bad thing.)  This was a fight to prove that trust is possible, and one that Optimus won.

The issue isn't quite over yet, though.  The sewer tram lies in ruins, and Xaaron flees from a monster named Galvatron.  He knows, though, that from this creature, this beast, there is no escape!  NOW the issue's over, with a great ending that keeps the stakes of Unicron's imminent arrival very much in mind. 

Overall, it's another amazing issue.  There is a surprising amount of action packed in, but it's the pathos that really resonates.  Plot after plot thread get woven into the narrative.  The artwork continues to dazzle.  I love Wildman's interpretation of Galvatron, and in fact spent a lot of time trying to track down a piece of his original artwork.  (Sadly, I've never succeeded, though I have an amazing Guido Guidi Galvatron that was used as a lithograph.)  Things continue to get more and more exciting, and we still have four issues to go until the big #75.

Next issue, we're promised 'the wrath of Galvatron! The return of the Dinobots! The coming of Unicron!  All this... and CIVIL WAR 2!'  Sounds fantastic; I can't wait to review it!  Surrender! is available in IDW Publishing's  Classic Transformers, Vol. 5.  If you haven't read it yet, buy this book immediately and do so!


Lara said...

I have to say, I don't get it. Megatron and Ratchet are in such a hideous state with no clear way out, and they put that story on the back burner this soon?

Hans said...

This is the second US issue I ever got, and I couldn't be more impressed with it when it came out. It's strange to see how one could be so excited back then when a new TF comic came out, and how annoyed one can be when a new TF comic comes out these days...
Seriously, when a brand new $ 3.99 comic completely pales in comparison to a comic that came out two decades ago, you're doing something very wrong as a publisher... right?
I'm talking about IDW's G1 ongoing, by the way, despite the fact that I love Guido's artwork.

In any case, the opening pages of this issue (together with the contrast in Prime's actions) are some of the best I've ever seen in a comic (and seeing Ironhide, Jazz and Wheeljack again, as well as Prime's pre-Powermaster form, after such a long time was just fantastic). Plus, the final splash page of Galvatron is probably one of the best in the entire Marvel series. The Unicron splash page in # 74 comes close, but is ruined by Wildman trying to be funny by drawing toilet doors just under Unicron's "ribcage"... :P