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.


Mark Baker-Wright said...

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.

Wholeheartedly agree on the noteworthy nature of the coincidence and the symmetry, but I have to make a (somewhat less positive) comment on the nature of this "death."

When I first read this issue, I was reminded of the way Shockwave was dispatched by Optimus Prime back in issue #12. Granted, even as he was sinking into the mire, Shockwave told Prime right there that he wasn't destroyed. And, indeed, Shockwave shows up again (with apparently very little effort) in issue #14.

Galvatron is, by all accounts, MUCH more powerful than Shockwave, yet is apparently destroyed forever (he never reappears in this continuity, or any of it's now-numerous official branch-offs). It just doesn't ring true.

(Even worse is the Japanese version, which had just had Galvatron survive being at the center of a planet-destroying explosion, yet he is again "destroyed forever" by taking an ice bath. Ice just isn't THAT powerful, folks!)

Rant over, this is otherwise one of my favorite issues ever. It left such tantalizing possibilities open, I'm sorry that they've never been explored officially (let's face it, the "Classics" storyline of the TCC doesn't really pick up from here...).

Hans said...

Well, in fairness to the Japanese continuity, Galvattron does rise from the ice again, being resurrected as Super Megatron :)

Also, a loose remark about the opening page of this issue: at least in the old days the Marvel artists were actually capable of drawing humans as well.... :S

D.M said...

I always thought that was Bludgeon on the cover. :P

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

This was the first issue of the US comic that I found. What wonderful timing...

One thing I've always found the comic a little unclear on is just how the Headmaster process works over time. Spike and Fortress Maximus are shown as clear independent personalities right up to the end, but once they get to Earth Scorponok is presented pretty much as Zarak in total control, as though one personality has consumed the other.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

I would agree that the way that Fortress Maximus and Spike are presented here is inconsistent with previous portrayals of "how Headmasters work," but it certainly does seem to fit the needs of the story, and I've personally always rationalized it away as stemming from the long separation that Spike Witwicky imposed on the duo.

LBD 'Nytetrayn' said...

What was the foreshadowing from #74?

As for Galvatron's demise, I figured that if he's frozen or buried (or both) in Headmasters, that may just be enough.

Here? Unlike Shockwave, Galvatron was pretty much the sole survivor (barring TFCC fiction) of the Ark's crash, which apparently took a considerable toll on him. So I can see how the battle with Fort Max might have finished him off.

Jimtron said...

Tim and Nicodemus, while you're technically right about some inconsistencies, the drama made it worth it to me. Besides, Spike not only had a long separation from his partner, but he's a different species than all of the other *Masters. That could have an impact, no?

Nytetrayn, one of the Dinobots reported that Earth had only one Cybertonian life sign, and that one was in two parts. To me, the foreshadowing was clear.

And I have to agree with you about Galvatron. I don't see much of an issue with Galvatrons' demise, and

LBD 'Nytetrayn' said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LBD 'Nytetrayn' said...

Ah, right. I remember the line about the signal in two parts now... just forgot when it was.

Yeah, that was an interesting bit at the time, though it seemed odd in retrospect, what with Fort Max actually being on the Ark, rather than on Earth.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

And I have to agree with you about Galvatron. I don't see much of an issue with Galvatrons' demise, and

...and, what?

Jimtron said...

Ummm... and posting error?

...and I can accept that, following the traumatic crash to Earth, an ice-bath might lay him low for a while. Who's to say that he'll never come back some day? A few loose ends are desirable, really.

Anonymous said...

While Galvatron's final fight is the main event, I'm surprised how little has been said about the massacre on Klo. Three things spring to mind:

1. This was probably the most extreme Transformer-on-organic violence to date in the franchise.

2. Speaking of franchises, I think Furman was making some sort of statement about inappropriate examples of commercials being passed off as entertainment. I should probably rewatch the movie to be sure, but the aliens they're slaughtering look like the ones in the greatest McDonald's promotion of all time, 'Mac and Me'. If Klo is indeed their home planet, I'm not sure just what resourced the 'cons thought they'd capture besides the natural Coke springs.

3. Klo is German for toilet. Another non-coincidence.

I never followed the comic until #78, and when I saw this book's letter page, it compelled me to spend the rest of '91 finding all the back-issues, and burn all my Ninja Turtles possessions, as I blamed their popularity for killing TF. An emotional time...

cat joint health said...

For me, the transformers movies could be a bit more "botty". More emphasis on the bots and their transformation.