Monday, January 31, 2011

Ron Friedman auction - Scripts! (Part 2 of many!)

More scripts!  I've gotten a few more of the Ron Friedman Transformers scripts scanned and OCRed, so I hope you enjoy.  Some of these you can see the original dialogue before his revisions, like these examples from Day of the Machines. 

Original Dialogue: 

Skyfire: What're you doing, Spike?

Spike: You've got metal bodies, so you couldn't do a thing with this.  But they shouldn't have locked a human in here...!

Spike (cont.): That's Megatron for you! Always thinking like a machine.

Revised Dialogue: 

Skyfire: Careful with that thing, spike.

Spike: Hey, I don't have a metal body so it's no problem for me.  Megatron should have thought of that...
Spike (cont.): ...because it's going to cost him!

Neat stuff, huh?  here are the download links to Auto-Berserk, Day of the Machines, The Insecticon Syndrome, and The Master Builders.


Day of the Machines:

The Insecticon Syndrome:

The Master Builders:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 42

The second to last episode of War of the Worlds, the series, is titled The True Believer.  With alien resources running dangerously low, Malzor hatches a scheme to turn the human authorities against the team by framing them for robbery and infiltrating the police.  It meets with initial success when Blackwood is nabbed.  The plan is thwarted, though by Officer Thresher, a rare honest cop amid the apathy and corruption of Sector 7 of the city.  (No relationship to Sector 7 of the Transformers.)  He discovers what the aliens are and helps deliver a stunning reversal to the Morthrai.  The episode ends with the aliens on desperate footing and The Eternal demanding to see Malzor. 

The Good: Great acting all around.  Timothy Webber, in particular, did a nice job as Thresher, the most likely candidate for the true believer mentioned in the title.  (I'd say that Harrison, Kincaid, Debi, and Malzor are all possible candidates, a bit of ambiguity that I like.) I liked Kincaid informing Debi that she may have to carry on the fight. Blanchard also does a nice job when she thinks her mother and adopted fathers are murderers.

Desperation.  At the start it's the aliens, with Suzanne's tissue samples revealing that they're low on protein, amino acids, and chlorophyll.  (Nice touch on that last one.)  Their watchers are running out of power, and their cloner won't work.  But after Malzor's initial success, it's the team that is desperate.  Suzanne is shot, Blackwood captured.  With Thresher's help, though, the balance of power shifts back to the humans by the end.

The directing.  There is great use of lighting and staging throughout.  I especially enjoyed a bit of symmetry in the opening and the closing, wherein people run through reflective water.  

The continuity is pretty good as well.  (But see below.)  When Debi turns a gun on the team, thinking they just robbed a bank, Kincaid points out his scar.  Clones don't have them.  Also, the aliens start out the episode knowing who Kincaid is, and figure out the rest with a watcher.  Presumably they know John's face thanks to the events of the previous episode.  Finally, Salo, the namechecked minor alien introduced in Path of Lies, returns, only to be one of the many soldiers gunned down in the ambush. 

Nice action this episode.  From the opening, where Kincaid leads two soldiers into an ambush, to the showdown with the cops, to the final ambush (but see below), we get plenty of firefights.  Don't Harrison and Suzanne look hard here?  (Again, nice directing.  The alien blood spraying the camera a few seconds before this still was nice too.) 

I got a little kick out of seeing Malzor infiltrate the police to hunt the humans.  It's almost a mirror image of So Shall Ye Reap, though I'm sure that's unintentional.

After almost a full season, we finally get to see the police of Almost Tomorrow.  I like how run down and beat up all their gear is, and how they spend all their time keeping the safe parts of the city safe and leave the run-down parts to fend for themselves.  I also like the idea of cops unmotivated by anything other than the bounties they bring in.  As an extra treat for BSG fans, Michael Hogan does a stint in the small but fun role as Captain Nash. 

Finally, the last scene where Mana dresses down Malzor is fantastic.  Workers guarding the perimeter?  Rations cut 20%?  If I were Malzor I'd be pretty worried about speaking to the Eternal too.  Probably wise of them to set up The Eternal here, if they're planing to use him in the series finale.  (Spoiler alert: they are.)  It's been an awful long time since we've seen their resident deity.  I think Time to Reap is the last time it showed its ugly... well, not quite face, but...

The Bad: The episode makes a big deal about the aliens finding out exactly who they're fighting, but shouldn't the aliens already know who the team are?  They were smart enough to target General Wilson a year ago, and set up an ambush for Blackwood WAAAAY back in The Second Wave.  I guess they think their operation against the cottage was a complete success?  Clumsy, anyway.

The ambush.  Yes, it was exciting, but... A, how did Malzor get an ambush set up so quickly?  He only just found out about it.  B, how did the team survive?  OK, inexperienced malnourished aliens shouldn't be as tough as the hard dudes who took down Omega Squad in the aforementioned The Second Wave, but it looked like Kincaid and Thresher (and a dazed Blackwood) took down about nine aliens, who had them surrounded and held the high ground.  Exciting, sure, but ludicrous.  Malzor's plan was perfect, it failed due to writer fiat apparently.  Much better to just have Kincaid get the drop on Malzor's forces I think, which is both more logical and more believable.

Perhaps not a bad so much as a missed opportunity, but the episode makes a point of showing that the team doesn't entirely trust Thresher, leading him to the surface from their lair with a blindfold.  First off, that's very Adam West Batman, but secondly it's the second to last episode of the series.  If ever there was a time, dramatically, for them to be gathering up some new allies, it's now.   (I usually would put 'things that could be done better' outside of the G/B/U schema, but the blindfold tipped me over the edge.) 

The Ugly:  Failed clones will do it, though actually it's especially gruesome.  It's official, that arrow has been removed from their quiver.

Overall, it's a pretty good one.  The few flaws do little to detract from an exciting, fast paced, well acted and well directed story.  So, the series prepares to end itself and does so by making the ALIENS desperate.  Interesting choice.  Usually you would make the heroes on their last legs.  The episode makes me curious to see how it'll play out.  A cornered enemy can be an incredibly dangerous enemy.

 War of the Worlds: The Final Season is available on DVD.  We've got one more to go, folks, let's see how it all turns out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Marvel G1 #80: End of the Road!

Well, this is it.  As the cover puts it, issue #80 in a four-issue limited series.  It's the End of the Road!, the final issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers.  It was brought to us (with lumps in throats, they assure us) by the same talented troupe that has done every issue since #70, with the exception of #75.  Simon Furman, scribe extraordinaire, was the writer.  The fluid and dynamic pencils were by Andrew Wildman.  The bold inks came from the pens of Stephen Baskerville.  Rick Parker lettered the issue, and Nel Yomtov colored it.  Rob Tokar was the editor.  The cover was also by Wildman.

It's a great cover, suitably epic.  Bludgeon prepares to execute Wheeljack, with flames and smoke all about.  But, in the background, lurks a shadowy figure... who could it be?  The design isn't particularly ambiguous, but then I suppose that any long-time fan must know that Optimus Prime would somehow come back.  Having him in shadows puts the focus squarely on Bludgeon, where it belongs.  Though his tenure of leadership has only just begun, between his design and his competence he's one of the most menacing 'Con leaders we've ever had.  The way he holds Wheeljack by his wires is positively frightening.  Wildman has really outdone himself.  In addition to the gag about how far they'd come, the title informs us that 'when all hope is gone... one shall rise!,' touting the issue as 'THE EPIC CONCLUSION!'  I rather like the way the phrases dance among the flames, and it makes sense to bill this as the final issue.  Anyone who had been following the book even casually would probably want to see how it ends. Oh, and by the way, Grimlock's gone from the Marvel box, with a Decepticon symbol taking its place.  This helps subtly reinforce the message that the cover is conveying, that the Decepticons might just win the day after all. 

The rather amazing opening page to the book does little to dispel that notion.  With so little time left in the story, things move along rather briskly.  Getaway is being hunted by Dreadwing, who blows him up rather handily, though not without nearly crashing into a canyon.  Bludgeon grouses about the rabble under his command, but then relents.  After all, they've pretty much won.  Only five Autobots remain, and his best men are tracking them down.  It's rather startling to see how far things have gone downhill since the last issue, almost jarringly so.  The stakes are high, which is good, but starting in media res like this almost telegraphs that this isn't the story of the Autobot's defeat, but something else.  After all, if the book were trying to tell the story of a last stand, it'd show it and not skip past it.  Perhaps I'm reading too much into it; after all, I don't think anyone really expected the book to end on a down note.

Those five Autobots, Kup, Prowl, Snarl, Blaster, and of course Grimlock, hide from their pursuers in some mud.  Prowl's complaining  let us know how we hit this point; Grimlock saw a Decepticon and led them into an ambush.  Prowl's almost-insubordination is interrupted when Blaster gets blasted to pieces by Octopunch; the Decepticons have tracked them down!  For the tactically shrewd Grimlock that we've come to know, this seems out of place.  Maybe Prowl's being an unreliable narrator?  Nah, not too likely. And I really don't care for this interpretation of Prowl, who is placed in the role of making Grimlock look good by comparison.  Overall, much of this scene feels clumsy, probably because the ending was so rushed.

Back to the initial battlefield, Bludgeon has found another live Autobot to slaughter.  Why, it's Wheeljack!  We've caught up to the cover.  His stint as executioner is interrupted by... no, not Optimus Prime, the Neo Knights!  They battle the 'Cons for a moment before the real star shows up.  Riding inside The Last Autobot's spaceship mode like a white knight on his steed, none other than Optimus Prime arrives to save the day!  He explains the details of his resurrection, and implores the Decepticons to cease this mindless struggle.  Bludgeon, though, is having none of it.  He's studied The Ultimate Warrior, and considers this whole line of reasoning to be blasphemy.  He orders a full on attack!  Prime makes a pretty grand entrance, and I must say Wildman draws his Action Master design awfully pretty.  No matter how bad things get, it's hard to imagine that Optimus Prime won't be able to put things right.  Bludgeon's newly minted religious fervor, on the other hand, seems to come from nowhere.  I'd have liked a bit more setup, or perhaps to just leave this plot element out all together. 

With Optimus getting dogpiled, the Knights implore The Last Autobot to help.  With shades of Primus' indifference, he seems to ignore them... but what he's actually doing is raising the fallen Autobots.  Optimus doesn't seem to need the help, shaking off his pursuers with so much panache that he makes it look easy. "Do you not understand, Decepticons," he asks.  "It's over -- finished!"  This mirrors almost exactly what Bludgeon said to Siren just a few pages earlier, a shrewd little trick.  Optimus is joined by the returning five Autobots, who have beaten their pursuers.  The Autobots and humans thus merrily do battle, even as their fallen comrades return to life.  We've somehow gone from total defeat to total victory in just a few pages, and yet it doesn't feel like a cheat.  Indeed, this triumph seems well deserved and hard fought, probably due to the 79 issues of build-up we've had.  It seems odd to say this, but there aren't all that many issues where we get a huge Autobot/Decepticon brawl. (Not Brawl.)  Certainly we haven't had any in quite a few issues, not since #67 by my reckoning, and that one was in an alternate timeline.  Thus, this triumphant rout of the Decepticons seems long overdue.

Bludgeon realizes that the tide has turned; he's lost the day.  He declares that honor demands the Decepticons go into exile following this defeat, but then orders his men to get back to the ships.  They'll live to fight another day.  Shrewd, Bludgeon!  Hot Rod wonders if it's really over, and Prowl, in his role as resident pessimist, wonders where to go now that Cybertron has self destructed.  Optimus Prime informs them that, thanks to the magic of The Last Autobot, Cybertron is reborn.  They will rebuild Klo, take the Neo Knights home, and then, finally return to a Cybertron free of the scourge of war.  The book ends with a picture of a healed Cybertron.  It's just the standard S3 cartoon model for Cybertron, but since the S1 model had enormous gashes and rends in the surface it serendipitously reinforces Prime's words.

And that's it.  The End.  Was it rushed?  Yeah, sadly, it was, though the book has finally crept back up to 22 pages, which we haven't seen since issue #55.  Furman had to up the stakes, then save the day, while tying up all remaining loose ends.  It's a big task, but he definitely managed to do it.  If it's not the most brilliant issue of Transformers ever, it's at least a worthy conclusion that allows the amazing issues of the past to have some meaning.  It's always annoying to watch a great show or read a great series of comics or novels, only to find out that it was canceled halfway through and that the characters will never get resolution.  That's absolutely not the case here, and if G2 never happened we'd still have been left with a great run, especially from issue #56 onward.  (I'm not knocking Bob, but his work was at its best when he was telling isolated tales, whereas Furman works best with a sweeping canvas.)   

If the story was a bit too packed for my taste, the art was anything but.  This issue was Wildman's best, filling the panels with a tremendous level of energy and movement and action.  There are so many stand-out sequences, like Optimus kicking Bludgeon or pounding Crankcase on the noggin, Bludgeon flying across the page to strike at Optimus, Grimlock impaling Fangry on his fist, Bludgeon's superstitious terror at seeing the return of Optimus Prime, and many, many more. 

At the end of the issue, in lieu of a letter page, Furman and Yomtov share three columns of their thoughts.  It's all very melancholy, right down to the little gag about "Next Issue."  Furman lets us know about how the sales figures were dwindling, despite the new levels of creative success the book was experiencing.  (Ironically, the levels that in 1991 warranted cancellation would in 2001 put Dreamwave on the map.)  Though Transformers was unlikely to ever come back (snicker) he hoped that the Neo Knights might return to the pages of Marvel comics.  (Hehehe.  Time makes fools of us all!)  Furman goes through the various creators who worked on the book, and ends up by saying somewhat prophetically "For me, personally, IT NEVER ENDS."  How right you were, Simon, how right  you were.

As Yomtov and Furman reflect back on the eighty issues and four mini-series, so too do I.  The four issue limited (purportedly) series kicked things off unevenly, though once Budiansky took the helm things steadied out a bit.  The drama of the alien civil war sometimes took a back-seat (see what I did there, with the car metaphor? eh?  eh?) to the fish-out-of-water aspects that Bob liked to explore, which lead to some nicely human stories.  Still, he was saddled with dozens of new characters to introduce over relatively short time-spans, and the book definitely suffered from that.  Sure, some characters like Ratchet, Blaster, Shockwave, and Fortress Maximus got to shine, but so many others were introduced, only to never again play an important part.

The tone of the book shifts dramatically once Furman takes over, as we focus more on the space opera aspect.  Suddenly, the characters are more than just soldiers, they're avatars of a god standing between the universe and eternal oblivion.  Fortuitiously, though, the shift in focus isn't too abrupt.  As it happens, one of Bob's last stories was set in space, and Furman's first tale heavily involves both humans and some old favorite characters.  It eases us into this new paradigm gradually.  We meet some new favorite characters, like Nightbeat and Bludgeon and Thunderwing, and pay renewed attention to the likes of Kup and Hot Rod and Scorponok. 

The book hits its emotional climax in #75, tying together many disparate threads.  This wouldn't have been a bad place to end things, but as it turns out we got five more issues, the decision to pull the plug being made after this issue was put to bed.  Thus, we get an epilogue, a chance to wrap up even more.  This hurts the climax in the last issue, since it'd be impossible to duplicate the stakes we saw when Unicron came to Cybertron, but overall is good for the pacing of the story.  It was  five months of denouement, more than most books get but in the scheme of an 80 issue run (plus G.I. Joe, plus Headmasters) it's actually just about right.  More serendipity.  

So, is it a book worth reading?  Parts of it, very much.  Some parts can safely be skipped, but surprisingly most issues have a gem of an interesting idea in there somewhere.  It's clear that, despite this being a toy book, the creators working on it endeavored to tell real stories that resonated with them, and therefor their audience.  On the whole, the good really does objectively outweigh the bad by quite a lot, and the build-up form issues #60 - #75 tell a nicely massive story.  Not until Furman's run on IDW will we get a Transformers comic story as ambitious as this one.  This saga touched me when I was a child, and rereading it as an adult it remains compelling, even when I consciously set aside the blinders of nostalgia.  To all involved in the making of this story, thank you for helping my imagination to soar.

End of the Road!, which is also (perhaps not coincidentally) the title of the last original UK comic, is available for purchase in IDW's Classic Transformers Vol. 6. It caps off a run on Transformers so classic, so definitive, that I don't think you can reasonably call yourself a fan of Transformers fiction if you haven't read it.  Next up, G.I. Joe?  Guh?  Stick around, we're far from done.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Darkwings' Extras

An Ark Addendum on a Wednesday?  What is the world coming to?

Actually, my colleague Bish wanted to get his UK comics review up yesterday, so I yielded the floor to him so he could finish out Prey.  I didn't think anyone would mind.  Now, though, it's time to return to The Ark Addendum.  As promised last week, we go back to Japan.  I figured I'd look at the Darkwing brothers some more.

In The Ark II, I had three pages of material on these guys.  I put the human and robot forms on one page each, then had a third page with all the jets, including the combined mode.  This was a bit awkward, but given the amount and quality of material I had available to me at the time I didn't have much choice.

By the time  Transformers: The Complete Ark  (order it today!)  rolled around, I had a good deal more, and the Darkwing Bros got 5 pages.  Each human got a full page, each robot/jet got a full page, and the combined version got a full page.  This was much more satisfying to me.

And yet.... there was still all this cool stuff I had to leave out, like alternate angles on the interior of the jets, specifically focusing on the seat.  There were drawings showing the jets from dead on with pilot, a rough transform for Buster, and some details on how Buster's mouth can open.  So, I gathered them together and present them here.  (I've got a polished Transform for Buster, and Hydra as well, so expect that to show up here at some point.)  They're neat designs, but I imagine you can see why I left them out rather than have a page like this or shrink all the other elements in the Darkwings section.  Hope you enjoy!  And, if you missed it, I've featured their weapons and the combination transform in the past.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #97 "Prey! Part 2"

The 97th issue of the UK version of the Marvel Transformers book contained the second part of Prey by Simon Furman, which I began reviewing last week. The art duties switched to Jeff Anderson but Steve White continued to provide the colours and Annie Halfacree the lettering. Ian Rimmer edited.

The cover depicts the Predacons charging at the viewer in a very savage group. I love this image. It's considerably more successful than last week's and is just a dynamic, savage piece that showcases the attitude of the Predacons perfectly. The caption reads "TERROR OF THE PREDACONS!" which is redundant but at least placed low enough not to ruin the impact of the image. The little Transformer head next to the title has switched from Optimus Prime to Megatron, presumably to warn the readers that slag is about to get real. Unfortunately I cannot find out how drew this fantastic image. If anyone knows or has any theories, let us know!

We pick up a little while after the cliffhanger ending of Part 1. Prime has escaped the Predacons momentarily and is reflecting how bad his situation is. This might be seen as something of a cheat given just how surrounded Prime was but I don't begrudge Furman having his cake and eating it with a great cliff-hanger followed by this "in media res" opening. Besides, it's Optimus Prime, if anyone can do it, it's him.

It doesn't take the Predacons very long to catch up to Prime and Razorclaw and Rampage leap to attack. Prime responds by stunning Rampage and then landing on Razorclaw with a brutal curbstomp that shatters parts of his head and mane (although I'm sure he'll be fine by the next panel). Tantrum and Prime exchange a few insults before Prime transforms and tries to get away from the mechanical bull. I've always found the inclusion of a bovine alt-mode with a group of elite trackers to be rather strange but I suppose Decepticon understanding of Earth life-forms is not exactly complete.

Prime realises he's caught between Tantrum and the oncoming charge of Headstrong (a metal rhino - another creature not known for it's relentless pursuit of prey). Luckily the ever-resourceful Autobot spots Divebomb circling overhead and, transforming back to robot mode at the last second, grabs the Predacon's undercarriage and hangs on long enough for the two charging beasts to collide head on, knocking each other out.

Prime now has breathing room and time to reflect on the irony of the situation. He planned to fake his own death originally and now may face it for real! This also serves the purpose of catching any readers up on what happened last issue as well as the intervening time I was wondering about earlier. It turns out that Megatron gave Prime a ten-minute head start in order to prolong the inevitable. Prime is just thinking to himself that if he survives for a bit longer Wheeljack will alert the Autobots when a colossal robot bursts out of the tree-line. The Predacons have combined to form Predaking!

Prime fights as best he can but is hopelessly overmatched. He is quicker, however, and runs to reach his trailer section to get whatever is inside. Unfortunately he is surprised by Megatron, who blasts the trailer. The script reminds us that Prime and his trailer are linked and he is stunned by the sudden pain. Razorclaw arrives (mane intact - see!) and it emerges that this was the plan all along. Megatron correctly predicted exactly where Prime would try to flee to, which is a nice bit of insight into how well these two know each other. Megatron quite often appears entirely insane in this era but he's still a deadly combatant and can be a shrewd tactician. He gives the order to the Predacons to finish the job. Before Razorclaw attacks he thinks about Shockwave's plan and if he should put it into practice after all. The editorial box-out says "see Part 1 for details" but Part 1 doesn't really give any more details beyond "Shockwave has a mysterious plan for advancement that involves the Predacons."

Without us finding out the resolution to Razorclaw's dilemma the Predacons leap, Prime shouts "NOOO!" and we cut to the Autobots, led by Wheeljack, still in a quandary about keeping up Prime's ruse. He surveys the devastation and is concerned that Prime seems to have gone to an awful lot of trouble to make his plan succeed. Suddenly the Autobots stop, in shock, when they discover, in a cliff-hanger shock final panel, Optimus Prime's shattered remains!

Like the previous issue, this is a mixture of some quite successful material and some that is... less good. The problem with this story is that it reads like a first draft. Perhaps Furman was under the gun for a deadline here but it reads like he had a great idea, "Prime gets chased by the Predacons and has to use his wits to survive" but couldn't quite work out how to get him into this situation. If the "Optimus Prime planned to fake his own death but did he die for real?" question was ever going to work it wasn't in this story. The ending is supposed to be ambiguous but it's hard to take seriously a cliff-hanger that Wheeljack can solve by walking over to the "corpse" and saying for sure whether it's really Prime.

There isn't a lot to say about the beginning of the issue. The action is fun and varied, if not exactly believable, and it's nice to see Optimus in "fighting for his life" mode instead of "staying back at base and fretting" mode.

This ending though... Shockwave's plan is not elaborated on in any way and because it's so obvious that this is not really Prime in pieces, the question of what has really happened to him because irritating rather than annoying, because the issue doesn't really go anywhere that could not have been reached pages earlier. It's almost as though Furman is over-thinking it. This entire setup could have been achieved (and the new combiner team suitably showcased) with a much simpler setup.

Furman's decision to leave the contents of Prime's trailer ambiguous is confusing and borderline insulting to the audience. Clearly the intention was to set up the shocking image on the last page but even the dullest reader would only express a simple "oh, so Prime was keeping a decoy version of himself in his trailer" and the rest of us would already have figured out that it couldn't be anything else.

In my personal readings of this story I have usually forgiven these last two issues because they go past quickly and set up a series of events that in general I like very much but when subjected to analysis they really miss the mark. Prime is wildly out of character and the second issue is essentially pointless because the ending does not work as a cliff-hanger. Considering I expect the next issue to really pick up in quality I hope I am not as disappointed in hindsight as I have been with Parts 1 and 2!

The art of Part 2, however, is a big step up over Part 1. Jeff Anderson draws the Transformers in a much more recognisable (to modern, or indeed, American, audiences) and his Megatron in particular is light-years ahead of Simpson's. I think the Predacons are some of the best looking Decepticons ever so it certainly doesn't hurt to have them front and centre. My only (very slight) gripe is that Anderson draws Optimus Prime's head slightly too large. It's almost human in it's proportions, whereas, of course, most Transformers have quite a bit smaller heads than a proportionally sized human would have. This has the effect of making Optimus appear smaller and less powerful than he should be.

Not a great issue then, not even a good one, but hey, it's only eleven pages. Hopefully Furman has something special for us next time!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ron Friedman auction - Scripts! (Part 1 of many!)

Well, all the details that were hampering me uploading the many, many scripts have been put to bed, which means that I can now start to upload these pretty awesome scripts.  What makes them especially neat are all the cross-outs and handwritten comments by Ron Friedman.  You can really see how he helped shape the dialogue, keep it consistently Cybertronian from episode to episode.

It's late, I'm tired, so I'm gonna start with just two - Dinobot Island, part one and two.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 41

The forty-first episode of War of the Worlds, the series is titled Max.  The aliens take the remains of one of the first human casualties of the Morthren, Max Kincaid, and turn him into a cyborg.  His mission: to eliminate the sophisticated underground military network that hinders alien operations, primarily John Kincaid.  Max eliminates the rest of his unit and dogs John, eventually confronting him in the warehouse where Max was first captured/killed.  He manages to salvage the tattered remenants of his humanity, only to be laid low a second time by Malzor and Mana.  This time, at least, John gets to grieve.

The Good:  At its core, this is a powerful story.  Brother against brother, dealing with grief and loss, trying to live up to a seemingly perfect role model... there are many terrific elements here.  For the most part, the story coherently brings these themes together and explores them in a manner both mature and consistent with the science fiction backbone of the series.  That counts for a lot.

The episode was also one of the more action-packed ones.  We get a cool car chase (but more on that later), some great firefights, even a few big explosions.  I'm a sucker for a big explosion.  (I remember hearing one of the producers on The Flash talk at a convention about how they somehow stumbled into a car carrier full of cars that were rigged to blow up and then wrote it into their series finale.  Sure enough, Mark Hammil's Trickster has a car carrier full of cars that he detonates.  Fun stuff.)  Better still, the action is highly integrated into the plot, rather than being gratuitous in any way.

Oh, and speaking of gratuitous, our favorite stripper/hacker Scoggs buys it this episode, taking a bullet intended for John.  She's one of the longest running recurring character in this series and has always been there for Johnny.  Usually she's just there to advance the plot, but this time we got to see her softer side.  That was smart, since as of her last appearance (just last episode, Totally Real) she'd still be a bit of a cipher.   Now, though, we find her as a lover of both Max and John, which also helps to further connect the two brothers.  Her sacrifice, therefor, takes on a greater significance.  I guess with the show ending soon, it's time to start cashing in these kind of chips.  I'll miss you, Scoggs.

I do like the symmetry of the final confrontation taking place where Max died the first time.  Indeed, he dies at the hands of the same aliens, Malzor and Mana.  Those two don't often leave the base for a firefight, so I assume that their situation is getting pretty desperate.  (The Obelisk, the series finale, will confirm that.)

John and Max have great chemistry in their flashbacks.  I love the easy way in which they horse around, and the range of emotions they display.  In short order we see Max's pride in his brother, John's admiration for his brother, Max's protective feelings, John's insecurities, and of course their underlying affection.  It made their firefight all the more poignant.

Finally, John gets a real chance to grieve at a military funeral for Max.  It's all fairly moving, much more so than the fakey funeral they gave us at the end of Among the Philistines. (I'm going to be charitable and not list it as a 'bad' that they're having it.  I mean, the guy went on a rampage and killed a dozen soldiers at Fort Sepulveda, they wouldn't be giving him a funeral.  Hmmm... Fort Sepulveda.  It's not a real thing, but if it were it'd pretty much have to be in southern California.  I guess we can assume that the nebulous city this season takes place in is Los Angeles.  I've thought that before, especially when one of the roads was named something like Central Canyon Road, fairly reminiscent of many other SoCal roads. )

The Bad: This story is highly derivative of the first Terminator movie.  Sure, in broad brushstrokes, sending a cyborg against a target is bound to bring The Terminator to mind.  This, though, takes it a step further.  Many scenes, beat for beat, seem to be lifted.  Max confronts punks and taking their weapons, as did the T-800.  Oh, and why?  The aliens never had trouble giving out guns before.  Breaking into an armed base, check.  Here it's the military, there it's the police.  The fight in the bar, check.  Plato's here, Tech Noir there.  A car chase, wherein the cyborg crashes and then goes missing, check.  Plucking out his own eye was a dramatic beat from the Terminator movie, though the context was different.  Heck, even the music feels very much like Brad Fiedel's pounding synthesizer tracks.  No points for originality here, no.

Colonel Bradley's subplot seems unnecessary.  Yes, it alerts Blackwood and McCullough to the threat, but they'd have found out pretty soon anyway.  It just took screen time away from the more important aspects of the story.  Oh, and a nitpick: Colonel Bradley is incredulous about the idea of cyborgs, but back in Path of Lies the term 'military cyborgs' was tossed around pretty loosely.  

This whole thing takes place on the one year anniversary of Max's death... yup, another coincidence.  They use this as justification for a lot of flashbacks and reminiscing about Max, but I wonder if all that was necessary.  At least using Max himself wasn't a coincidence, it was a specific choice on the part of the aliens.  I can easily believe that Mana would have his remains 'on ice' for study.  BTW, the flashbacks are in black & white, always a clumsy device.  I didn't like it in Time to Reap, and I'm not crazy about it here.  Perhaps it's not really a 'bad,' just a matter of personal preference, but it's not to my taste.  Oh, but in one of those flashbacks, we General Wilson gets what may be his last namecheck in the series.  Drink!

This one we won't QUITE find out about for sure till next episode, but an alien agent was actually in their home this week.  Yet, there is no talk of relocating.  Sure enough, next week they're back in the shelter.  This strains credulity to the breaking point. 

The Ugly: Plucking out his own eye?  Gruesome!  It was also a nice moment, him recapturing his humanity by mutilating himself.  Cool stuff.

We're entering the home stretch, for sure.  Max has been a gun on the wall since the first episode of the series, and now he's used to good effect.  I almost think it'd have made more sense to save him for next week and set up the finale a bit more.  Still, I won't complain about things like that.  On the whole, this was a strong episode, ambitious but with enough punch to pull it off.  It could have been more streamlined, for sure, and it really should have been more original, but nevertheless it manages to work fairly well. 

 War of the Worlds: The Final Season  is available for purchase on DVD.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Marvel G1 #79: The Last Autobot?

The penultimate issue of the US G1 Marvel Comics run of Transformers is titled The Last Autobot?.  For the fourth consecutive issue, the creative team is Furman as writer, Wildman as penciler, Baskerville as inker, Parker as letterer, and Yomtov as colorist.  Rob Tokar and Tom DeFalco are listed as 'the last editors.'  Excepting #75, with some gorgeous Senior artwork, this creative lineup has been together since #70 and their chemistry continues to produce magic.  The cover is also by Wildman.

Spike stands rather dejectedly, floating in space with his shoulders slumped, against the grinning background of Galvatron's manic face.  "The Last Autobot?" the cover asks, in what is probably the most effective use of text on a cover this series has seen.  Spike seems isolated and alone, and certainly can't be too optimistic about facing Galvatron by himself.  It sums up the issue nicely, while at the same time (like the title of the issue) playing with the quest for The Last Autobot, guardian of Cybertron.

The issue opens with a close-up of Spike's face, wondering much the same thing as the cover asked.  It's a slightly redundant opening, what with the same question, one of the same characters, and a very similar visual. Aside from that clumsiness, though, the story gets off to a roaring start.  Against a lovely two-page spread of the Ark's crashlanding, we juxtapose Spike's lamentation about being pulled back into the conflict and Galvatron's escape from the debris.  We continue in this venue, as Spike argues with an all-too-real voice in his head and we flashback to Galvatron's rampage against the Canadian army.  Galvatron's panels all have rounded edges, setting them off subtly from the action in the present.  Spike's dilemma feels real and natural and human.  He didn't sign up for an eternal war, he just wanted to rescue his brother.  But with all the other Autobots off Earth, and indeed the Neo Knights gone as well, there's no one else to turn to.  He is... the last Autobot.  It's all very powerful stuff.

The OTHER Last Autobot remains elusive to our band of six humans. (Well, five and a Nebulon, but who's counting?)  Cybertron's self-destruction has stepped up, leaving them battered about and pessimistic.  They worry that they're on a fool's errand, lead by a madman.  Hi-Q insists that he is, in fact, Optimus Prime, and there's a great bit where I actually start to believe it as a reader.  When Rapture complains that they're all going to die 'for a planet that's not even ours' he realizes, internally, that he's 'broken my most basic rule and involved non-Transformers in our war!'  It's such an Optimus Prime thing to say that I'm finally sold on the concept.  It's also ironic, because the whole a-plot of the issue is a non-Transformer trying to clean up a Cybertronian mess.  Things start looking up, though, when Dynamo manages to finally tap into Cybertron's energy and sense the presence of that which they seek.

We get one (well, two) other interlude before checking back to Spike's choice.  Prowl impatiently urges Silverbolt forward, despite Silverbolt's protests.  Prowl worries about how slow they're going, but Grimlock is the very model of relaxation.  (Once again, Wildman's command of body language pays dividends.)  He gives a bit of exposition in the form of a rebuke to Prowl who, despite being one of my all-time favorite Autobots, comes across as whiny and ungrateful here.  Besides, given the small head start they 'Cons have, how much damage could they really do, the Dinobot wonders.  What a perfect transition to a page of destruction and devastation as the 'Cons run amok on Klo.  It's a bit too easy for Bludgeon, but Krock informs him of an Autobot tracking device.  Immediatly seeing the possibilities, Bludgeon begins to prepare an ambush.  How much better the Decepticon command team seems to be than the Autobots.  There's no tension here, no recrimination, no gloating.  I rather like this contrast.  I also like how quickly Bludgeon sees not just the dangers inherent in the situation but also the possibilities.  He's a fantastic leader, and his unique visuals don't hurt either.

Back on Earth, Spike is hesitant to put on the helmet.  No going back now, he rationalizes, and plunks it on.  In moments he's rejoined with Fortress Maximus, who takes total control of their collective consciousness and charges forward.  Soon he catches up to a bewildered Galvatron, dazed and damaged by the crash.  As the Decepticon attempts to fight off madness and pull himself together, he gets a rude awakening in the form of a photon blast to the back.  With Spike's voice ringing in his head, he battles against the savage Galvatron, who has once again succumbed to the blood red rage.  In one of my favorite sequences ever, Galvatron rips wires out of Max's shoulder WITH HIS TEETH!  Oh, brilliant stuff, this is!  Galvatron really shines in this, his last outing in this continuity.

Spike mentally mocks Max for his errors in judgment, and it's not unwarranted. Fort Max reneged on their agreement, then blundered headfirst into a battle that might have been avoided.  Worse, he did it right in the middle of a human town.  When Maximus relents, and pleads with Spike to help him, Spike momentarily takes charge, and then they begin to fight back together.  Once again we see the possibilities inherent in a human / Cybertronian partnership, and Galvatron is given a mighty blow and sent hurtling into an icy lake.  The action is fantastic, and the whole simmering conflict between Fortress Maximus' desire to act and Spike's desire to just go home give it an extra weight of pathos.  This is the last we'll see of Earth in this series, and it feels like a nice end to the human portion of the Transformers saga.  They've left us, for the most part, but with a human guardian to protect us.  It's not a bad way for Fort Max to retire, really.  In fact, it's pretty much the same way he retired in The Rebirth, so there's some unintentional symmetry.  Oh, and speaking of unintentional symmetry, Galvatron met an icy grave in the Japanese Headmasters series as well.  It's all just coincidence, but it's the kind of coincidence that makes Transformers feel so much larger than life.

The issue isn't quite over yet, though.  Dynamo has located the Last Autobot over an apparently empty set of old ruins.  When he does so, from the ground rises the seemingly enormous Last Autobot, an ancient looking being with a very familiar face.  He's got a nicely primitive look to him, with screws and rivets visible around his body.  They've found him... rather easily.  Of course, this plotline would have gone on a lot longer, but for the cancellation of the book.

Which brings us to the next time.  "All Good Things..." it tells us, then refers us to the letter page where they explain the shortly after #75 was finished off they got word of the cancellation.  Sadly #75 was perhaps a too optimistic about the future, getting our hopes up and making the eventual end all the more sad.  The shame of it was that G2 was really just around the corner.  If they'd just held out a bit longer, we might have had one large, more connected storyline.

But I get ahead of myself.  This issue went from strength to strength.  Fortress Maximus was not really a character that Furman ever did much with before, so to pull him out here was surprising yet entirely effective.  Galvatron gets a nice ending as well, exiled to a watery grave for however long by a human.  Given that it was Spike who struck the most effective blow against him in his introduction in issue #67, this seems appropriate.  We even got a bit of foreshadowing for this issue in the form of a throw-away line from issue #74.  I love how deftly Furman uses continuity to tell these powerful, resonant stories.

The central theme of this story, one man standing up to immense forces, is such a resonant one that it was selected as the cover of the hardbound version of the Titan collection containing it.  Isn't this a rather lovely image by Brian Hitch?  Meanwhile, over in the UK, this issue would be split into two parts, and the second cover would focus on the death of Galvatron.  Stewart Johnson does a nice job here.  I like how the characters are obscured so you don't really know which of them ended up going down. 

The Neo Knight story is a lot more rushed.  They don't seem so much like characters as chess pieces, pushed about to where they need to be for the story.  I understand why it had to be this way, but it's still unfortunate.  Finally, the main body of the Autobots and the Decepticons are positioned to rush headlong into their final confrontation.  Grimlock's arrogance pitted against Bludgeon's steely pragmatism should be fun, and doesn't bode well for the good guys.

The Last Autobot? is available for purchase in IDW's  Classic Transformers Vol. 6 .  It's a great story, so do yourself a favor and buy it if you don't already have it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ron Friedman auction - Hasbro Briefing Binder (ancillary material)

Well, the binder may be done, but as it turns out there was a little folder that came with it with some extra marketing material.  There were two cool folded-up posters, which I've done a quick job digitally putting back together, and a series of pages detailing why you should do business with Hasbro on this soon-to-be-huge franchise, as well as a list of existing licensees.

The posters are right here, the documents are OCRed and available for download here:

Right from page one, I find this to be fascinating insight into the mindset behind the launch of a juggernaut.  Observe:

• The Transformers is a unique new "conceal-reveal" fantasy action figure concept
introduced February '84 at Toy Fair.
• Trade reception to date is phenomenal with first year sales estimates indicating
Transformers will be the most successful introduction in Hasbro's history to date.
• Product delivery in stores across the U.S. begins mid-to-Iate April '84.
 The document goes on to tout the benefits of their integrated marketing approach, the three-episode television series, why Transformers is an 'ensured success' and more.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Tantrum's Transform

As promised, the fifth and final chapter in a series examining the detailed transformation sequences of the Predacons

In some ways, I tired to save the best for last.  Tantrum has two nicely detailed call-outs that show exactly how his panels shift about to enable him to turn from robot to buffalo.  (Note: there seems to be some confusion about his alt mode, but his instructions clearly identify him as a buffalo.)

Hope you enjoyed this in-depth look at the Predacons and how they transform.  Next week... umm.... I'm not sure yet.  Maybe something from Headmasters or Masterforce.  Hope you'll join me then!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #96 "Prey! Part 1"

Before we get the review proper it's time for a continuity note. This issue was the 96th of the weekly Transformers comic book published in the UK. I reviewed issue #93 last week – the extremely forgettable Christmas story “The Gift”. The two issues following that one were used to print the US originated story, “Decepticon Graffiti!” which was issue #23 stateside. As you can see, we are way behind Jim's reviews of the US book, but I am going to link to all of his reviews of in between issues in my reviews so anyone keeping score can follow along with continuity.

Issue #96 begins a multi-part saga of the type beloved of Furman. The first story in this arc is called “Prey” and this is “Prey: Part 1”. Simon Furman wrote the script, Will Simpson provided the art, Steve White the colours, Annie Halfacree the letters and Ian Rimmer was the editor.

The cover, depicting a cowering Optimus Prime, was by Jeff Anderson and is a mixed effort. Optimus is portrayed rather well, blocky and dependable, as we've come to expect and, even without a mouth, the expression in his eyes and face is clearly one of concern, perhaps even terror. On the other hand it's hard to see exactly what is going on here. Having read the issue it is easy to tell that this is a representation of the moment where Prime has his gun smashed by Headstrong's foot, in rhino mode. The problem is that Prime's gun is indistinct, and miscoloured pink, as it is in the issue, and Headstrong's foot is grey and textured like rhino skin and thus looks like a rock. I always thought this was Prime going on a scouting mission and peering out from behind a rock until I investigated it more closely for the review. A much better idea would have been to have chosen a different Predacon so that we could see an orange and red robot foot, but still not know what Prime's attacker looks like.

However, a slightly wobbly cover does not necessarily effect the interior content so we move on, without further ado, to the script.

We open on a splash page with Optimus Prime reviewing the events of the past few issues. We can see screens depicting the Conehead Seekers arriving through the Space Bridge and Scourge looking particularly fierce. Prime is cowed in panic at the enormity of the threats the Autobots have faced recently. “Optimus Prime has never felt more threatened!”

The real source of Prime's concern is the fact that the Decepticons have control of a fully-operational Space Bridge which they can use to bring troops to Earth at a moment's notice. We see the effect of this in a flashback to “Decepticon Graffiti!” Prime concludes that the Space Bridge must be destroyed because capturing it would cause the Decepticons to attack all out in order to get it back. Prime is about to do vow to do this even if it costs him his life until he reviews the events of “Target: 2006!” and reveals his disappointment in how his troops handled “the Galvatron” incident. Prime does not feel confident that the Autobots could function if he were to die in battle.

I am not sure I agree with Prime here. Perhaps he would not have gone cap in hand to Megatron but he does not seem to fully grasp just how powerful Galvatron and his lieutenants really were. This cheapens “Target: 2006” a little, to think that had Optimus Prime been there everything would have been all right, and given that Prime does not seem notably more powerful than Ultra Magnus, it seems doubtful that much would have been different.

Prime's logic leaps a little further and he comes up with a new plan to test this. “What a fool I've been!” he curses himself when he finally thinks of it and any reader who guesses what this plan is ahead of time can't help but think that the foolishness isn't over yet.

Meanwhile, back at Decepticon headquarters, Megatron is going not-so-quietly insane. It appears that Motormaster has made the mistake of suggesting that the Stunticons could beat Optimus Prime in battle and this has angered the Decepticon leader enough that he almost crushes him with a giant boulder.

Soundwave watches this and broods. He has been warned of Megatron's paranoia by Shockwave, former leader, still cowed by Megatron but always plotting. Shockwave has given Soundwave some cryptic instructions which include giving Megatron a plausible plan for the assassination of Optimus Prime. He suggests recruiting a group of hunters to flush Prime into the open where Megatron can finish him off. Megatron agrees and Soundwave suggests the very Decepticons for the task, currently waiting on Cybertron, elite trackers: The Predacons!

Meanwhile Shockwave monitors events and in a nice little bit of foreshadowing reveals that he knows about Optimus Prime from an event that occurred while they were both in limbo, during the events of “Target: 2006” The editor box-out caption informs us that we will find out what he is talking about in issue #100 which is a little disappointing. I'd rather the story evolved a little more organically, but I suppose was part of the hype surrounding the hundredth issue. The reader had probably worked out by now that Shockwave is planning to once again make himself ruler of the Decepticons but he tells us this with no ambiguity now, shouting, hands (well, hand and gun) to the sky.

A week later, we return to The Ark and Prime has shocked his troops by telling them he intends to go on a solo mission to scout the Decepticon base. He leaves Wheeljack in charge – the only Autobot who also knows what Prime is really planning to do. They load something into Prime's trailer and he starts to leave. Wheeljack is not at all happy about what is about to happen and questions it. “Save the long faces until I'm actually dead!” Prime tells him. That's right, you guessed it, Prime is going to fake his own death, using a facsimile created by Wheeljack, in order to test the reactions of his Autobots. I don't know about you but I can't see any pitfalls in this plan at all...

Back at Decepticon HQ, the Predacons have arrived and amuse themselves by taunting the hapless Motormaster. They shoot all around him without scratching his paintwork and Megatron congratulates their marksmanship. It occurs at this point that most Transformers are usually pretty good at shooting exactly everywhere but at their target, but that's just me being snarky. Shockwave calls Razorclaw aside to check that they're still in agreement and Razorclaw assures him that he has not forgotten.

Meanwhile, Prime is driving towards the Decepticons in truck mode. He decides to stop as he does not actually want any contact with the enemy. An explosion goes off in front of him and he transforms as he hits the crater it has made. He lands heavily and loses his gun. As he reaches for it we get a version of the cover as Headstrong's armoured foot comes down and crushes it to fragments. “Wh-who?” he asks shakily. Megatron is only too happy to answer: "The Predacons!"
The beginning of Furman's next big epic is rather shaky. I like a lot of the elements that are being set up here, especially the continuing rivalry between Shockwave and Megatron, with Soundwave caught in the middle. The idea that the Space Bridge has become a major problem for the Autobots is a good one, although we are never really given a reason why the Decepticons do not pour through it en masse and crush Earth (Straxus has them all toiling for energon, I suppose). The Predacons are certainly intriguing and are great designs, even filtered through the lens of Will Simpson's art. It's perhaps a bit of a cliché that they prove their worth by looking better than the previous big scary combiner team, but it works well enough.

The big problem here, as I already hinted at, is that Prime just feels out of character. The “faking your own death” thing is a hoary cliché as it is, and more worthy of a sitcom than this comic. Prime is always concerned that he and his team won't be good enough, especially the way Furman writes him, so I can buy his worry about recent events, I just can't really bring myself to believe that he would go to such foolhardy lengths.

The other problem is that we have no explanation of how the Predacons find Prime. Their original plan is far too vague. We know that the Decepticons know where the Ark is, so why did they really need the Predacons? Certainly they would be useful in an all-out assault but we are told that they have been recruited for their hunting talents. If it came to a battle, it is unlikely that Optimus Prime would be anywhere other than front and centre, so hunting him out would be unnecessary. The only time the Predacons' unique talents would really be of any use would be if they happened to detect him dangerously close to the Decepticon base for no real reason, as conveniently happens here.

These grumbles aside, I like where this issue ends. The next one looks like it will be a tense, exciting, fight for Prime's life and the Predacons will make worthy opponents. I just think the set-up could have been more convincing.

Will Simpson's art is as murky as ever, the robots are still looking pretty toy-like (Megatron even has his embarrassing crotch) and there are no humans to redeem him this week. His best work is probably on Shockwave and the Predacons and his rendering of Prime's crash is pleasingly kinetic.

The colouring is mostly pretty good although Steve White does not seem to put in as much effort as Gina Hart does. There is a lot more colour blocking and simplifying than in some of the best issues of the UK book but it still beats the US issues for variety and care.
In short, not a great issue, but next week we have Prime vs the Predacons and art by Jeff Anderson, so I'm quite optimistic!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 40

The fortieth episode of War of the Worlds, the series, is titled Totally Real.  The aliens use a completely immersive virtual reality fight simulation (ending in death) to probe human creativity and unpredictability, and for some reason they choose to do so in full view of human bettors and spectators.  Hey, whatever floats their boat, I guess.  Things get weird when Debi is snatched away from a career fair to participate in the game, prompting the team to go on the offensive.  They infiltrate the club, shoot up the place, and slip Kincaid into the Totally Real game.  He gets taken out (by lightning!) but Debi's mastery of the VR environment saves the day.

The Good: Hmmm.  Well, once again, it's a lackluster episode, though there are some nice details here and there.  The alien probe device, brought down last episode, factors in here.  The transmitting / receiving mechanism is replicated, and can allow the team to see through the eyes of another.  It's neat continuity, although structurally the ability doesn't integrate well into the plot.  Since it doesn't show up again, it seems like a lot of work to go to for not a lot of payoff.  (Oi, and this is something I liked!)

Ardix is great, as usual.  Oh, and he looks smashing in a tux. (So does Kincaid, I must say.)  Harrison even gets a POV shot of the alien murdering Nikita, the booker, through the magic of the alien probe technology.  (This scene is neat, but doesn't really justify the transmission / receiving tech in the first place.  I wonder if originally that's how Kincaid entered the virtual world?) 

Scoggs shows up again, helping the team out.  She won't be in many more, sadly... 

Debi's bizarre vision of some kind of idylic 1950's family was kind of neat.  The actors seemed to have fun, hamming this scene up.  It might have been nice to use this as an excuse to go back to the cottage, or even feature some bygone actors, but I suppose that would have been too much. 

The Bad: A lot.  Once again, coincidence abound.  Debi is kidnapped, because she's the best at simulated games?  Ugh.  And the alien plot makes little sense.  I can accept that the simulated combat gives them valuable insight, but why the wagering?  Could it be that hard for them to procure their own test subjects that they need to rely on petty bookers?  If so, why not clone him and then get his organization working for them.  And career day?  Not really very 'Almost Tomorrow' if you ask me.  Sure, they made it more high-tech, but there's a weird 'life goes on' quality to the whole idea that doesn't resonate thematically with the stories told to date. 

The brainy kid in a wheelchair felt very cliche.  I mean, we already had Norton, and now him?  It'd have been better to use one of the kids from Candle in the Night, just two episodes gone by.  Heck, we're mentioning the probe from there.  The steampunky wheelchair itself, though, is pretty cool.

It's odd to watch Harrison and Suzanne fire at ordinary humans.  I don't think we've actually seen that before.  I suppose all the violence has desensitized them.  It does seem to be another line crossed, especially since at the time they did it they were completely unaware that the Morthren were involved in any way.  I'm not entirely sure this is bad, since I can readily accept it, but it's definitely jarring.  I'd have liked less time devoted to the POV weirdness and more time spent exploring this new milestone.  The actions I accept; it's the lack of consequences that bothers me.

A nitpick: Malzor and Mana using chess metaphors?  Do they play?  They seem to have such contempt for humans that this feels out of place.  Also, a lot of Malzor's dialog seemed to be narration or exposition, giving Forest less to do than usual.  I do think it's fun that the opening back-and-forth between Mana and Malzor occurs while she's examining a human brain, perhaps that of the human who fell to Sendac, the alien champion.

The Ugly:  Not a ton, really.  I guess the fake virtual Kincaid, a trick that Debi does not fall for.

Another weak episode, with a whole lot of work going on to get our heroes and our villains in the same room at the same time.  There is very little payoff here.  I'm absolutely not a Debi hater, but her as a video game prodigy seems like something out of left field.

War of the Worlds: The Final Season is available on DVD for pretty cheap, and I've just started the last disk.  Just 3 more to go.  Fortunately, if memory serves, the last three edge up in quality at least a bit.