Monday, February 28, 2011

Ron Friedman auctions - Scripts! (Part 6 of 6)

Well, I suppose that all good things must come to an end, and so we reach the final installment of the Ron Friedman scripts.  At least, it's the final installment for now.  Who knows, more may surface in the future.  This batch rounds out the last binder of S2 material with five classic episodes:

Microbots -
Blaster Blues -
A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur's Cout -
Make Tracks -
The God Gambit -

What an amazing collective effort that was, for so many fans to pitch in together and get all this wonderful material.  Sorry it took a few months to get it all scanned and uploaded, but I hope you think it was worth the wait.

Oh, and while we're on the subject, I wanted to give one last shout-out to the annual AllSpark Charity drive.  You can read about it over on the AllSpark Forums.Long story short, it's an opportunity to give back to the world, via Hasbro's Children's Hospital. They've already exceeded their goal of $5,000 in a month, but that doesn't mean you can't give.  We've got one last day, so make it count!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 prequel - G.I. Joe Starring Snake-Eyes and Transformers Generation 2 #141

The next issue in the G2 prequel invasion of the G.I. Joe ongoing book is titled Sucker Punch.  We've had another creative shake-up.  Though Hama remains the writer, the book is now penciled by Steven Leiber & William Rosado, with Scott Moulter & Chip Wallace on inks.  Colors and letters are still by Sharen and Parker.  The cover is by Rosado and Wallace.

We finally get a cover that lives up to the nominal subtitle of the book, G.I. Joe starring Snake-Eyes (& Transformers Generation 2).  Snake-Eyes meditates, while a Cobra goon swings a sword at him.  In the background, a rather nice silhouette of Megatron grapples with a human in a lab coat, presumably Dr. Biggles-Jones.  It's a lovely cover, with some cool ninja action and some understated Transformers action in the background.  The inking that Wallace turned in is particularly nice, and I like the use of coloring to separate foreground from background.  It's only marred by the text "Continuing the greatest Joes action saga of all time!"  Umm, really?  I hope not.  It's a decent crossover, but as far as Joe stories go I'd assume that there are much better. Ah, well, a little hyperbole seldom hurt anyone.

The book opens with Megatron returning to robot form, much to Cobra Commander's consternation.  It was awkward when he assumed his tank configuration, and it's awkward now.   It's also odd, because Tunnel Rat says that he sees Biggles-Jones with Cobra Commander, but she's nowhere in the scene.  No time to dell on that, though, the recon squad is under attack by Cobra Eels!  Megatron alerts Cobra Commander to the battle, but declines to help his 'ally' as their deal was specific; Decepticon technology for Dr. Biggles-Jones, who's at the hospital.  (See?  They even acknowledge that she's at the hospital, and not hanging out in the street.)  It's nicely ominous, though, that we see what Megatron was really trading for, especially when he offhandedly references the need to pack her in liquid hydrogen.  She's not going to be going along as a partner, that much is clear.

At said hospital, Biggles-Jones confronts Scarlett about her status as a double-agent while the Ninja-Force looks in, unseen, from the outside window.  Their voyeurism is broken by an attack from the Cobra Night Creepers, which they quickly (and silently) dispatch.  The team is sent to back up the recon team in the sewers, though Snake-Eyes is more concerned about Scarlett, and gets the chance to remain behind when the Night Creeper Leader (that's his name) shows up.  They begin a furious battle across the rooftops.

Inside the hospital, Scarlett insists on her sincerity, but Biggles-Jones informs her that she's not just guessing, she knows.  Meanwhile, Mindbender is listening in on their conversation through the simple expediency of having an empty glass pressed up against the wall.   For a couple of secret agents, they sure outed themselves in a spectacularly stupid way.  The artwork, as well, takes a turn for the worse.  I'm assuming that this is Leiber, as the ninja battle seems to match the style of the cover.  After cutting away for some other plotlines, we snap back to Biggles-Jones, who finishes telling Scarlet 'the whole truth.'  Unfortunately, we the audience never learn this truth, which is pretty clumsy. The reason?  Megatron's hand, crashing through the window.  The rendering isn't great, but the composition is fantastic.  It's very much inspired by King Kong, I think. 

Slice and Dice look for Scarlett, who has seemingly vanished, but is actually hiding under the bed.  She manages to defeat the two of them, then lurches outside, making her way to the Ark.  Mindbender blows her cover and she has to battle a pair of Alley-Vipers, which she does effortlessly. 

The conclusion of the Snake-Eyes / Night Creeper Leader battle is anything but effortless, though.  Snake-Eyes drops his weapons and takes the meditative stance he assumed on the cover, leaving the Cobra to puzzle through what's happening.  Bluff or technique?  He decides on bluff, charges forward, and is resoundingly defeated.  Yeah, Snake-Eyes is pretty bad ass.  Unfortunately for him, Hawk has just learned that there's another American security agency with a Cobra double agent, and the Joes have to cede jurisdiction.  Spirit and Storm-Shadow are dispatched to extract Snake-Eyes.  That won't be easy, though, he's ambushed by Slice & Dice, as well as a hundred cobra troopers covering every possible escape route. 

Scarlett, too, has gotten herself into a pickle, as she confronts Megatron, attempting to gouge out Biggles-Jones' brain with a Protoplasm Stripper.  I love the imagery here.  This isn't something that Furman or Budansky would have come up with, but it does seem very Megatron somehow.  Scarlett demands Megatron release her, standing up to the titan in a display of bravery bordering on stupidity.  How will she get out of this one?

And there you have it!  We're all set up for the conclusion of this storyline.  Our heroes are certainly in dire straits, with Scarlett's cover blown and Snake-Eyes surrounded.  However, it does seem like we went to a lot of trouble to set up Scarlett as a double agent, only to have her discovered through sheer stupidity.  What was the point of this whole arc then?  I imagine having to shoehorn in Transformers messed up Hama's plans a bit, but the whole execution seems to have been bungled, I'm afraid.  Oh, well, he has one more issue to pull it out.  Having two different artists on the book also hurt, especially since their styles don't mesh that well.  After the lovely sharp lines and highly detailed pencils of Chris Batista, this issue seems like a step backwards.  Also, the pacing could have been much smoother.  This issue feels overfull, with running battles on the rooftops, in the sewers, Scarlett & Biggles-Jones conspiring, and of course the Machinations of Megatron.  Some of this should have gone in last issue, which was a bit light.  Don't get me wrong, it's a decent issue, there are just some flaws that mar it. 

Since it's yet to be reprinted, it's not super easy to find, but if you're a fan of Transformers Generation Two this is a decent prequel, giving us a lot of Megatron to tide us over till the Transformers book resumes in earnest. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ron Friedman auctions - Scripts! (Part 5 of 6)

OK, getting near the end.  This week, I'll finish off season one, and if all goes as planned next week I'll post the last of the S2 scripts that I have.  That'll pretty much finish off the scanning and posting of the Ron Friedman material gathered by the Transformers Fan Coalition.  Sorry it took so long... scanning in hundreds of pages while juggling writing and a full time job isn't easy!

The Ultimate Doom - Part 2:
The Ultimate Doom - Part 3: coming soon (curse you megaupload!)
A Plague of Insecticons: coming soon (curse you megaupload!)
Heavy Metal War:  coming soon (curse you megaupload!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Megatron's Master Plan (b) and Ron Friedman Scripts

Time for another edition of The Ark Addendum, coupled with, for the last time in the foreseeable future, a script.  This is the last of the 'incomplete' scripts that I got in the auction.  Actually, the script is complete, but it's part one of a two part episode, and part two wasn't up for auction.  Yup, Megatron's Master Plan.  Long time readers may remember that I've done other models from this episode as one of the very first Ark Addendums I ever published.  I've got quite a few more from this episode that I'll get to eventually.

This time we're looking at Berger's rocket ship.  I'll be honest; I never liked the design on this one.  The exterior is pretty cool, I suppose, but the interior looks a bit too much like a commercial airliner to me.  The Autobots all sitting down with nothing to do looks wrong to me somewhere. 

The script itself is pretty interesting.  Friedman directed them to change the name Burger to Berget (pronounced Bur-Gay or Bur-Jay or Bur-Get), since Burger doesn't sound "heavy enough."  I guess that didn't happen.  Here's the script download link:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #101 "Fallen Angel" Part 1

Fallen Angel: Part 1 was issue #101 of the UK Transformers book. It was written by Simon Furman, drawn by Geoff Senior, lettered by Anne Halfacree, Coloured by Steve White and edited by Ian Rimmer.

The cover was by Lee Sullivan. A full headshot of Galvatron - not looking terribly like either his toy or the cartoon model. The actual design is reasonably successful for what it tries to be, but really, this isn't a great image to illustrate this story and the speech balloons: "I'm back and... I'm mad" is too cute. Disappointing.

While Optimus Prime reunites with the Autobots on Cybertron Fallen Angel sees a return to Earth for both the setting and for one particularly menacing future Decepticon. Yep, as per his promise on the cover of the Christmas issue, Galvatron is back!

We open with the Autobots that Circuit Breaker had freed back in Decepticon Graffiti! issues #94-95 of the UK comic and issue #23 of the US one. They are traipising through the countryside trying to find the Ark. While they are talking, there is a massive outpouring of energy and Skids vanishes in a flash of rainbow light! "It begins again!" warns the caption. Regular readers of the comic will recognise this as the signature effect of somebody time-travelling, removing an entity of equivalent mass from the timestream.

Meanwhile, Centurion (piloted remotely by Professor Morris, last seen back in In The National Interest) is patrolling about when he sees an explosion that looks like a meteor impact and decides to investigate. As the human-built robot gets close enough to look into the crater a hand shoots out and grabs him!

We get a nice dynamic Geoff Senior splash for the title page as Galvatron leaps from the hole and attacks Centurion, ranting about someone named "Rodimus Prime". Fighting back proves essentially pointless as Galvatron takes a (strangely miscoloured) page to tear Centurion apart bit by bit, all the while mistaking him for Rodimus. After the deed is done, and Morris is left without a working robotic avatar, Galvatron calms down a bit and realises he hasn't killed Rodimus Prime. He works out that having fought Rodimus inside Unicron in 2006 (Transformers: The Movie - readers - you HAVE seen this) he escaped his plunge through space using the time-jump device that he had previously used in Target: 2006 and returning to 1986 (or '87, it's unclear why the time-jump takes Galvatron to the exact point we are at in the narrative instead of back to his original time-jump pre the events of Target: 2006). He hit the atmosphere at speed and plummetted to Earth, the impact disorientating him enough to mistake Centurion for Rodimus Prime.

Meanwhile, the other Autobots, minus Skids, are puzzling about a mysterious Transformer signature they have located in this area and complaining about being lost, as only Skids knew the way. They do not have to look for the source of the signal, as Galvatron is approaching them, planning in his mind how to take over the 1986 Decepticons and prepare them for Unicron's coming. He sees the Autobots and rushes to attack as Perceptor and Warpath open fire on him. Undamaged, he transforms to Space Cannon mode and blasts them.

Nearby, at the Decepticon base, Shockwave, now in command because Megatron is still absent on Cybertron, sees the massive explosion from Galvatron's attack. He thinks it might be Megatron, ready to take his revenge (which, in a way of course, it is). Shockwave orders Soundwave and Razorclaw to mobilise and meet the new threat.

Galvatron takes Blaster by the throat but is momentarily prevented from destroying him by a swift counterattack by Cosmos, Powerglide, Seaspray and Beachcomber that doesn't really damage him but knocks him off-balance. Blaster sees an opening and hits Galvatron with some high frequency sonics which disorientates him for a moment and brings back his madness.

As he recovers he sees the head of Centurion thrown at his feet. It is a challenge. The Dinobots are here and they mean to make him pay for their former ally!

After the thematic mess of last issue this is a welcome relief. Here we have a fast-moving, straightforward action storyline with big implications for the coming weeks. Moving back from Cybertron before Prime's storyline is concluded is a smart move from Furman, as it once-again expands the canvass on which he is working. There are now sufficient characters and sufficient potential plots to fill the two worlds and the layering that this gives to the narrative makes everything feel much grander and more believable.

Furman obviously loves using Galvatron as an arbiter of destruction and while it might be argued that it is a little cheap to reuse him in this way so soon after Target: 2006 lets not forget that the movie, and, more importantly, Galvatron's toy, were still current. Clearly, while this is not the case in the US book, the UK book treats Transformers: The Movie as canon, albeit still taking place in the far-off time of 2006. I predict continuity headaches in the future!

Right now though, it all fits together, and if I were to have any complaints about the issue it would be that it perhaps fits together too neatly. It seems frightfully convenient that the Autobots and Centurion were wandering this close to the Decepticon base and for Galvatron to happen to fall to Earth within walking distance. I can't judge it too harshly based on this, however, given how skillfully Furman weaves back in characters we might have forgotten about and gives us a story that really raises the stakes for the coming issues.

Senior's art is as superlative as ever and his depictions of the events of Transformers: The Movie are probably the standout. The only criticism I might make are that Galvatron, in his madness, almost looks like a different character from his more sane moments, but I suppose that is probably the intention.

A great, action-packed issue. It was reprinted by Titan and you might be able to get hold of that collection although it is technically out of print. Sadly it has not been reprinted by IDW because they do not hold the rights to one of the non-Transformer characters who will be appearing shortly.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 prequel - G.I. Joe Starring Snake-Eyes and Transformers Generation 2 #140

We are now in month two (and a quarter or so) of the invasion of G.I. Joe by The Transformers.  Well, mostly just Megatron at this point, but he's bad enough all by his lonesome.  Goin' South is the issue, the one hundred and fortieth of the G.I. Joe ongoing series.  The writing is still by Larry Hama, and the pencils still by Chris Batista.  We've settled on Chip Wallace as the inker, and Bob Sharen as the colorist.  The familiar Rick Parker does a nice job as letterer.  The cover  is by Batista and Donald Hudson. 

Once again, it's a lovely cover.  Cobra Commander gestures decisively forward, with Megatron flying as directed towards the camera.  Speed lines give everything a great sense of forward momentum.  Really, the only criticism I have is that we had a very similar (though not quite as nice) cover last issue.  Thematically it's hitting the same beats, these two villains working together.  I suppose you couldn't use this one last issue, though, as it'd have given away the surprise of Megatron's new design.  I almost wonder if this wasn't originally designed as last issue's cover and then shelved for this reason.  Aside from that clumsiness, though, it really is quite fantastic.

We open on a mobile Cobra task-force, who have arrived at their destination in Canada.  It's a rather nice opening page, which is good because I own the original artwork for it.  Megatron reveals that the hillock they've come to is, in fact, the Ark, hidden while extensive battle damage was repaired.  Biggles-Jones scans the vessel, and is astounded by its many wonders.  Slice and Dice wonder if she's up to the task of reverse engineering it all, but Scarlett observes that she won't have to.  Soon Cobra Commander will revive Doctor Mindbender, and won't need the good Doctor Sid.  The Ark gets a two-page spread reveal, which seems excessive.  Also, it seems pretty clumsy that it'd be in nigh-perfect shape.  Megatron himself was in terrible shape, and yet he's spared the resources to repair the ship to apparently beautiful condition? 

Cut back to the Silent Castle, where Destro, The Baroness, and Zartan execute a ruse to take control of the castle back.  Thus does that plotline end.  After all we've gone through in the past few issues, it seems rather anti-climactic.  Perhaps the reason is that we're setting up shop in a new locale; Milleville.  Megatron wonders if this town can provide adequate security, and soon we learn the secret of this 'uliginous hamlet.' (I had to look that up; it means 'marshy.')  The residents are under the control of Doctor Mindbender's Brainwave Scanner.  Biggles-Jones seems skeptical, but Cobra Commander sees it as a paradise, free of crime, stress, even rap music.  Paradise is soon threatened when a baker breaks free of his mental bonds.   In his struggles, Mindbender's tube is shattered, and his body shocked.  Predictably, this results in his early resurrection.  Kudos to Parker for some great lettering here.  Mindbender is skeptical of Cobra Commander's overture of friendship, but the sight of Megatron convinces him that he should at least consider shelving his animosity for a time.  Mindbender, of course, was one of they key players in the last G.I. Joe / Transformers crossover, so it's nice to see him instantly recognize Megatron for what he is.  I rather love Cobra Commander's philosophy and vocabulary as well.  Megatron's interest in cloning technology seems a bit out of character, though, as he's got little but contempt for organic life. 

We learn that the Cobra sanctuary of Milleville won't last for long, though.  Freedom, the trained eagle of Spirit, reports that Cobra has approached Milleville.  They've been staking it out, based on some intel from a D.O.D. agent inside of Cobra.  Gee, I wonder who it could be?  Actually, we never find out, but presumably it's Dr. Biggles-Jones.  The Joes move in to gather some intel, including sending a team into the sewers and sneaking some ninjas onto an A.R.B. co truck.  (A.R.B. co, Cobra... see what he did there?)  They leap from a Yo Joe Cola truck, too... ugh.  Snake-Eyes (who's the semi-title character of the book and not showing up until page sixteen) quickly makes his way to the hospital, to check up on Scarlett.  He arrives in time to hear Biggles-Jones speak to Scarlett in private.  Sidney knows that Scarlett is a Joe double-agent!  Shocking!  What will Biggles-Jones do with this info? I know this is a big dramatic beat, but I find myself not caring all that much.  It's pretty clear that Biggles-Jones isn't a loyal Cobra, so there's no real tension here. 

The sewer-Joes also observe something interesting... Megatrons transformation into a truck.  (Cobra Commander worries about interstate traffic and low flying aircraft, thus requesting no giant robots milling around (yuk yuk) his secret base.  Once again, clumsy.  It's like there was a mandate that Megatron Transform at least once per issue, lest we forget that these aren't just giant robots, these are giant TRANSFORMING robots.  Hawk quickly contacts Mainframe, who beams a message to a different sector of the galaxy 'within ten minutes.'  Really, the Joes have FTL communication now?  Of course, that's all so we can get our final page of the issue, an establishing shot of Cybertron and a bit of banter between Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.  Looks like it won't be just Megatron for long!

This issue was a lot weaker than the last one.  Much of the plotline that had been building for months, around Cobra's relocation, is abruptly jettisoned in favor of a new location.  I don't know the full context, obviously.  Maybe Hama was having Cobra get chased around the globe.  After all, he had just abandoned his island.  Still, it seemed strange to me, dramatically.  And for all Cobra's trouble, the Joes track them down IMMEDIATELY.  We learn the Cobras have moved, then we learn that the Joes were tipped to this.  Awkward, all around.

Also, I'm not keen on the Snake-Eyes focus in the title, especially since he's hardly in the issue.  He really was the focus (well, him and Scarlett) from 135-138, but now it seems more like a team book.  I prefer team books, but it makes the title rather a misnomer. 

Basically, this is a book where seemingly a lot happens but really it's just the status-quo.  Scarlett is still in the hospital, the Joes are still on to Cobra, Snake-Eyes is still separated from Scarlett.  All the apparent momentum just shifts pieces around the board without changing their relative positions.  The big news is that the Autobots are coming, and that Mindbender is alive again.  We could have gotten there a lot sooner. 

Goin' South has yet to be reprinted, to my knowledge.  While it's not the strongest chapter in the Joe/Transformers saga, it's nestled within a fairly strong series of issues and is at least worth a glance-through if you can get it. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bish's Review Space: Above and Beyond Episode 2: The Farthest Man From Home

The Farthest Man From Home was written by the series creators Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by David Nutter.

After the defeat of the Chigs in our solar system at the end of the pilot, Earth begins to take the fight to the enemy. The Saratoga is at anchor within reach of Tellus, the world that Kylen and West were going to colonise. A group of Special Forces land on Tellus to scout the wreckage of the colony ship and find a survivor (French Stewart) , raving mad, who calls himself "the farthest man from home".

West, catching a glimpse of the survivor, manages to sneak in to speak to him, and is given hope that Kylen might be alive. Before a scouting mission to the planet he goes AWOL, steals a Hammerhead and flies down solo. McQueen does not order Vansen and Hawkes to pursue him, but does not explicitly forbid it either.

West, exploring the wreckage, finds Kylen's ID tag with a recorded message for him, telling him to look to the high ground. Before he can gather himself he is attacked by Chig ground forces who pursue him until he finds shelter in a cave, filled with the dessicated remains of Chig bodies. He finds two more survivors here who tell him that the Chigs won't enter the cave because they're scared of their own dead, but the others have been taken to a prison camp.

West sets off in pursuit as Hawkes and Vansen come under anti-aircraft fire. Hawkes is hit and ejects, while Vansen manages to escape. McQueen orders an army APC, with Hammerhead air cover to be despatched to extract the marines.

Hawkes and West meet up and argue about West's actions before coming under fire. They are forced to retreat from the prison camp, rescuing the two survivors en route and make it to the APC just as West sees a Chig transport taking off, carrying the prisoners, possibly including Kylen, along with it.

Back on the Saratoga, Commodore Ross, played by the excellent Tucker Smallwood (a different commodore from the pilot) gives the marines, including McQueen, a severe dressing down, but ultimately the whole incident is hushed up. McQueen tells the jubilent Wildcards that they should be careful about celebrating, because "someone higher up obviously pulled a string" and "if we're not careful, we could be hanging from it." In the last few shots of the episode we find out that this string-puller is very likely Sewell (Michael Mantell), a leading light in Aerotech, the company that sponsored the colonisation efforts, and who has been taking a great deal of interest in the Tellus survivors.

Tellus is declared lost and the Saratoga moves off to help elsewhere in the fight.

The first episode after the pilot of any TV show is a tricky beast to get a handle on. It needs to tell its own story while simultaneously laying out the framework for a typical episode. As is the case in most ensemble shows, each episode of Space tends to focus on one or two of the main characters, with the others in supporting roles, and, because this is the second episode and he is ostensibly the lead character, West took centre-stage in this one.
I have decided to adopt Jim's Good and Bad format for these reviews, so without further ado:

The Good

The cast continue to perform very well together. None of them, with the possible exception of James Morrison, are exactly top-level actors, but they do well with the material they are given and even if I don't quite believe that they are United States Marines, I don't find it hard to believe that they are these characters.

Nice confirmation that the Wildcards are a team now. Hawkes and West argue on the planet about West going AWOL, but there is no question that Hawkes would go to get him, and everyone is in it together when Commordore Ross is dressing them down. We also get to see the lengths McQueen will go to for his team. Unlike the rest of the Wildcards, he knows that this will probably cost him his career but he does it without hesitation. It is only the intervention of Aerotech that saves him.

A lot more detail that expands the universe: It was good to see the army Special Forces teams. Clearly the Saratoga does not only carry marines. There is always a danger in these stories that the giant spaceship appears to serve only the few title characters. This is not the case here.

While relaxing West watches a documentary which features Kennedy's famous "Why go to the moon?" speech. Taking this along with the pilot, wherein the UN Secretary General quoted Winston Churchill's "Never in the field of human conflict was so much, owed by so many, to so few", it is clear that Space will be a show with a sense of history, sometimes unusual in Science Fiction.

Obviously the most important details are those that are not fully spelled out yet. Sewell and Aerotech are so far portrayed as unambiguously sinister (mostly with lighting and music cues) and the fact that there are Chig tombs on Tellus is a clear indication that they were there before us, which might provide a motivation for their attack. I also like the idea that the Chigs are frightened of their dead. Once again the world-building is smooth and naturalistic.

Another good moment is Hawkes taking a knife to the padding in his helmet so he can fit his neck "nipple" in without chafing. "They don't make nothing with In Vitroes in mind" he says, but, in a nice performance from Rodney Rowland, it's with resignation rather than angst. He is explaining to a genuinely interested Damphouse. The episode would lose nothing without this scene but it is a good indication that the In Vitro storyline is not going to be forgotten.

The Bad

The problem with that episode is that it assumes a certain amount of investment in the West and Kylen arc. Unfortunately, since this was the least interesting part of the pilot, it once again proved difficult to care here. West going AWOL happens too early in the series for it to be dramatic. If we had had a few more episodes of the team following orders and fighting the Chigs and then had this storyline, it might have had more dramatic impact. As it is, we don't yet know whether this will be a show where the characters disobey orders every week. While intellectually we know that what West has done is wrong, the show doesn't do anything to earn an emotional reaction.

The acting from the survivors in the cave was a little dodgy and I could have definitely done without West's last, yelled, "KYLEN!" as the Chigs flew off. That was a needlessly hammy moment in a show that tends to avoid them.

I am not going to use Jim's The Ugly category in my reviews as Space tends to avoid out and out blood and gore. However, this moniker certainly applys to the CGI of West shooting down a Chig satellite. The Hammerheads generally look pretty good, but the satellite shattering into regularly shaped purple polygons was just dreadful, even for 1995. The aggressively 90s intro sequence might also qualify, but I think the urgent, martial nature of the theme really saves it.

While I would not go as far as to describe The Farthest Man From Home as bad television, it does lack a certain drive. The main character gone AWOL plot feels like we've seen it too often and while the pilot was able to get away with this sort of borrowing as it introduced the characters it would have been nice to see something a little more original and surprising in this slot. While there are lots of well-presented details that make the episode fun to look back on and pick over, as a story ultimately the second episode comes to less than the sum of it's parts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ron Friedman auctions - Scripts! (Part 4 of many)

For today's scripts, we go deep into season one, with scripts from the first half of the season.  That's seven, count 'em, seven scripts from Ron Friedman's collection.

Episode 1: Transport to Oblivion -
Episode 2: Roll for It -
Episode 3: Divide and Conquer -
Episode 4: Fire in the Sky -
Episode 5: S.O.S. Dinobots -
Episode 6: Fire on the Mountain -
Episode 7: War of the Dinobots -

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Ark Addendum - The Core (part 1) and Ron Friedman scripts

Since this seems to be working out pretty well, I've decided to do another incomplete Ron Friedman script, with accompanying designs.  This week, it's The Core.

The Core is a pretty odd episode, mainly because the plot revolves around the Autobots mind-controlling Devastator.  That really doesn't seem very in character for them.  Ah, well.  There are some lovely designs for this episode, though.  I especially like how we delve deeper and deeper into the center of the Earth, with new backgrounds each time we go lower.

Oh, and here's the script upload link:


Oh, by the way, the rest of the models from The Core are now uploaded.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #100 "Distant Thunder!"

As befits the hundredth issue, Distant Thunder! was a full 19 pages instead of the usual 11. It takes the time to fill in some backstory and gives us a closer look at Optimus Prime and his personal philosophy.

It was written by Simon Furman, drawn by Will Simpson, inked by Tim Perkins, Lettered by Anne Halfacree, Coloured by Steve White and edited by Ian Rimmer.

It has a special anniversary wraparound cover, drawn by Alan Davis which does not depict anything to do with the issue itself but instead goes for a more iconic view of a typical Transformers conflict. I feel like the image of Optimus Prime knocking Megatron's fusion cannon aside while they clash in hand-to-hand combat is a much-repeated image. Where else have we seen it used? The cover is fairly spectacular and mostly speaks for itself, so take a look up-page.

Distant Thunder! begins where we left off: with Outback dying in Optimus Prime's arms and the Wreckers still on the hunt as they believe Prime to be a Decepticon spy. The little Autobot does not have much time left and Prime realises that with the Wreckers' search still going on he has little hope of recovery. To keep Outback's spirits up Optimus tells him a previously untold story in the Autobots' recent history: exactly what happened while the chronally displaced Transformers were sent to the other dimension by Galvatron's time-jumping.

Prime describes a world where cybernetic and organic technology mingles in a nightmare jungle of cables and wires. The inhabitants are simian in appearance but heavily augmented by various attachments and implants. The Autobots find themselves fighting a seemingly endless horde of these beings and are barely holding their own because they are reluctant to open fire. Prime is about to reconsider his no-killing philosophy when there is a colossal flash of light and a group of Decepticons appear. The Decepticons, of course, have no compunction about using lethal force and the tables are soon turned. This is portrayed in a scene that while tame by comparison to modern comic books is actually shockingly violent in a children's book from the 80's. There are multiple panels showing the monkey-things scorched, burnt or exploded to death. There is no blood, but plenty of burning fur and exploding circuitry. Prime is horrified and calls it a "charnel house" which certainly doesn't detract from the imagery - Check it out and make your own judgement:

Interestingly it is Shockwave, rather than any Autobot who first suggests an alliance to figure out how to get home. Prime is initially too caught up with rage at the Decepticons' casual approach to killing an unfamiliar species but is persuaded by the logic of the suggestion and tells Shockwave (and the reader) what has been happening before the Decepticons appeared:

It emerges that the Autobots have been here a while. They have made contact with the Cloran - a peace-loving faction of the monkey-things who begged the Autobots to help them stop an invasion by their neighbours - led by the vicious and evil Zenag. Zenag proposed a counter-offer. He has the machine that will take the Transformers home and is willing to give it to them in exchange for his invasion force being allowed to advance. Prime, of course, refused, which brought them to today's battle, but Shockwave is unimpressed by this solution and tells Prime he will deal with Zenag himself.

Prime tells him to stop because it was not simple principle that kept him from dealing with Zenag. There was also the matter that the evil being simple could not be trusted - much like the Decepticons. Here Prime begins to have suspicions about the scenario, but we do not yet know the specifics. Shockwave waves these concerns away and the Decepticons fly off to retrieve the device.

The Decepticons accept Zenag's offer and come back to finish off the Autobots so his army can pass. The ensuing battle looks like a massacre as Frenzy's sonics lay waste to all before him but as the Decepticons are savouring their victory, Ratchet springs a surprise attack and reveals that the Autobots, correctly guessing the Decepticon strategy, have shut down their audio sensors and are merely playing possum. The Decepticons are completely off-balance and easily vanquished. "Heck!, Heck!, Heck!" yells Frenzy, but you get the impression that if this had not been a kids' comic he would very much have liked to have said something stronger - this was before the days where there was an entire lexicon of censor-safe Transformers swears.

With the Decepticons defeated Prime once more tries to get Shockwave to listen to reason. It is Prime's theory that the plight of the Cloran is too close to being a complete retread of the Autobot - Decepticon war and that they are being manipulated somehow. As Shockwave is considering this Zenag appears and orders him to fight. Shockwave tells him that they are not slaves and that he should destroy the Autobots himself. Zenag is enraged and attacks Prime who tells him that he is unarmed and defenceless. The monkey-thing tosses Prime all over the place and looks close to killing him before he orders Shockwave to do it. Shockwave points out that this is illogical as Zenag has Prime at his mercy. Zenag tears a gash from Prime's side and tells him to fight back, but does not actually kill him. Prime comes close but ultimately holds firm and Zenag vanishes, even as he flails at the Autobot leader. The world fades away and is replaced by a black void, in which the Transformers are floating.

They all have disgusting green parasites attacked to their heads - parasites that seem to be withering and dying. Ratchet theorises that these creatures were feeding off of violent emotion and growing stronger as the Cloran scenario became more violent. Prime agrees but reveals a chilling coda to this theory as he shows that his side is still damaged. If these creatures obtain enough power they are able to actually manipulate reality. The truce was only called just in time...

The action cuts back to Prime and Outback on Cybertron and Optimus realises that his own story has given him the correct course of action. He surrenders to the Wreckers and begs them for Outback's life, calling him a "truly heroic Autobot". Prime does a bit of soul-searching here when he castigates himself, in front of the Wreckers, for fighting back against his fellow Autobots and dragging an innocent into his "personal war". He tells the Wreckers that he will not fight back but begs them for Outback's life. If his own death saves one more Autobot then it will not have been in vain.

Just then, Ultra Magnus appears with Emirate Xaaron. Apparently he has had suspicions that this might actually be the real Optimus Prime since observing him covertly last issue and fetched Xaaron to get his judgement. Xaaron wastes no time in embracing Optimus and welcoming him home.

It is a good place to end the hundredth issue - bringing the Earth Autobots and the Cybertron Autobots closer together and hopefully in a way that will change things for both of them.

As a landmark issue I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, one of the stories is pretty good, and pleasingly out of the ordinary. On the other, I feel that perhaps it is a little too incidental to fulfil this role and the framing device is much weaker.

Then again, there is no law that says that an anniversary issue must be groundbreaking and taken on its own merits there is a bit to like. We get another good look into the psyche of Optimus Prime and his overwhelming nobility in the face of impossible odds. The Decepticons are as nasty as ever but for once Shockwave actually lives up to his own hype and does the "logical" thing. Unlike in the framing story, the characterisation is rock solid and the story intriguing enough to be a decent page-turner. I am not convinced that Prime is given enough clues to come to the conclusion he does, but the same point would have been reached eventually, and something was bound to fall by the wayside a little in trying to tell two stories, even with an expanded pagecount.

I am a big fan of the illusionary world that is depicted here as the blending of the organic and the technological is always a good bet for effective (sometimes nightmarish) imagery. I was wondering at first why the parasites chose such a meld for their illusion since we had seen nothing like it before in the comic but perhaps it happened as a side-effect of mixing their own organic thoughts with those of the Transformers. One could also question why the illusion wasn't more complete - why didn't they simply pit Autobot and Decepticon against each other in a more recognisable scenario - but then, since we're not really given any information about their capabilities, this feels like nitpicking.

What does not feel quite so much like nitpicking, however, is the damage I feel that this storyline is doing to Optimus Prime's character. A lot of the following criticism is more about the previous two issues but taking these three as a whole I find there is much to say. I have no idea why Furman seems to be reiterating the idea that running away from Magnus' firing squad was somehow a weak thing to do. Yes it is unfortunate that Outback was injured in the process, but that was a random event - the sort of thing that happens in the sort of war that Optimus Prime is used to fighting. I understand his war-weariness, the guilt over the countless lives that have been lost while he survives, but while this makes him a believable and sympathetic character, it does not make him the great leader we are constantly told he is. Furman writes Prime's dilemma as either flee and leave Outback to his fate, or stay with him and wait for the end. The obvious third option: "stay with Outback and hope to get another chance to chat to the Wreckers later" only presents itself after Prime thinks back to his story. Are we really supposed to believe this is a real dilemma?

I am not against a storyline that puts such a character through the wringer and makes him question his decisions - that is good drama and it is always worth shaking these types of character up - the problem I have here is the idea that Prime did anything wrong during the firing squad escapade. He was unable to convince the Wreckers of his innocence so he ran, to hopefully convince them another day. That makes sense. Dying might have saved Outback's life but it would have been a colossal waste, both of Optimus Prime's life and possibly the entire Wreckers unit, and Ultra Magnus, if the truth ever got out.

Ultimately, thanks to Ultra Magnus (and some convenient writing), Prime gets to have his cake and eat it anyway, as he convinces the Wreckers of his innocence and saves Outback's life, further undermining the pointlessness of this whole scenario. Although Furman frames this story as a great personal journey for Prime he ultimately gains nothing - no insight he did not already have. A better lesson for Optimus to learn would be that you can't save them all, not that it is better to take the easy way out than face having the death of another on his conscience. He is a leader - a general, for want of a better word, and although he should not ever forget the value of the lives under his command, his willingness to die pointlessly is more than a little troubling. It is not his "personal war" and he is not the only one fighting it. While he may call the shots more often than not he did not start the war and the burden of fighting belongs on all Autobots. To think otherwise is monomaniacal and extremely dangerous to the bigger picture.

Furman is clearly fond of this storytelling device. Not only do these parasites come back in later stories but he also reuses the entire "aliens which feed on hate" plot for his halloween special in Generation 2. Look for Jim's review of that in the coming weeks.

I was also struck by the similarity of the story (sans framing device) to a number of classic Star Trek episodes. It is basically Day Of The Dove, with a large slice of The Cage, and perhaps a pinch of Wolf In The Fold. The Generation 2 storyline is actually closer to Day Of The Dove than this is, but I'll mention it now in case Jim doesn't. I'm not going to criticise the story based on this. It's different enough not to be a rip-off (and in any case, Day Of The Dove ripped off Wolf In The Fold) but I'm fairly sure it's at least a homage (I'm sure there are other science fiction stories about beings that feed on negative emotions, but sometimes it felt like Trek did it every other week). I always like it when Transformers branches out into the space opera arena and this is certainly one of those times, giving the characters a credible alien threat to face other than each other.

Simpson's art, for once, is not really a source of complaint. It is still not my preferred style but I quite like his rendition of the techno-organic jungle and the Transformers, while still not exactly "on-model" do start to bear a stronger resemblance to their more conventional appearances. The colouring is typically solid, save for one panel on the second to last page where Prime's head is white for some reason. The speech bubbles in the illusionary realm are yellow, presumably as a clue that there is something wrong. This isn't remotely necessary and probably passes by unnoticed on first reading, but is a nice demonstration of a technique that can only be used in comic books.

This issue is a strange one. I really like the one-off story at its centre but strongly dislike the framing story, which has, for the last three issues, squandered a potentially exciting plot by smothering it in wrong-headed psychological trappings. This feels like an attempt to add depth but really just expose that Furman's approach to the Optimus Prime character, at least at this point in his Transformers run, is the wrong one to take. A thoroughly incorruptible character like Optimus Prime is a difficult character to make interesting and I feel that Furman has the germ of a good idea here, one he will expand upon much more successfully later in the book's run, especially in his US issues. Ultimately, however, he takes the wrong road and ends up undermining the character he sought to strengthen by making him seem self-absorbed and borderline suicidal.

Next week we are promised Fallen Angel! which means nothing to the new viewer but is very exciting if, like me, you know where we are headed. I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Marvel G2 prequel - G.I. Joe Starring Snake-Eyes and Transformers Generation 2 #139

Continuing where we left off last week, we cover the TF G2 / G.I. Joe crossover that served as a prelude to the Transformers Generation 2 comic.  Issue 139 of the Joe book was written by Larry Hama, of course.  Pencils are by Chris Batista, with inks by a plethora of folks: Baskerville, Hudson, Williams, & Wallace.  Rick Parker provides letters, with colors by Sharen & Witterstaetter.  It sounds like they had a bit of trouble putting this issue together, what with the shift in artists and the large number of people working on it.  I wonder if there was an unusually long approval time on the script; it'd make sense, since this crossover was almost certainly mandated by Hasbro.  The cover is also by Chris Batista.

The cover is quite nice.  A blue-faced and green bodied Megatron smirks at the reader as he holds Cobra Commander's scowling form up.  Simple, effective, and gets the job done.  It looks like a Transformers baddie is aligning himself with the forces of Cobra.  The coloring in Megatron is a bit intriguing, though.  If one were inclined to be slightly churlish, one could point out that the anatomy on Megatron seems a bit off.  Try to hold up your hand like he's doing; it's difficult to do so naturally.  Still, I'm inclined to let that flaw go as the composition of the image works really well, demonstrating both scale and emotion and theme.

The book opens up, though, pretty far from that image.  Cobra Commander, Zarana, and Dr. Biggles-Jones run away from an irate Megatron.  It seems that our dear Decepticon was outraged at Cobra Commander's temerity in proposing a deal last issue, and is proceeding to demolish the transforming castle that lured him all the way from Canada in an amazingly lovely two-page spread.  Yup, right around here I fell in love with Chris Batista's artwork.  I even have a few originals, sadly not this one.

While Cobra Commander and Zarana flee, Biggles-Jones strikes back with her rail gun, firing a projectile that bisects Megatron and continues to go into orbit!  Yeah, pretty impressive tech, that is.  Megatron think so too, and quickly identifies the source of his pain.  Before he can smash the 'disgusting carbon-cycle creature cluttering it up,' though, Cobra Commander stop him by informing him that she is the very designer of the not-quite debugged weapon system that's caught his attention.  Megatron proposes a trade; the contents of the Ark for the rail gun and a complete system refitting and upgrade.  After all, he looks like he's still suffering from the impact of a forced planetary landing, with cracked armor, exposed wires, and two new rail gun holes in his chest.

Of course, it's not all Transformers, all the time.  Scarlett's wounds are treated by a medi-viper, even as Slice remains skeptical.  Meanwhile, the Joes continue their withdrawal from the castle with Destro and the Baroness in tow.  Destro attempts to comfort Snake-Eyes, telling him that he had little choice but to act as he did, but is silenced with a glare.  Storm Shadow lets the former Cobra officer know that Snake-Eyes blames Destro's actions for putting Scarlett in harm's way in the first place.  Batista handles the facial expressions well, which is important with a mute character.

Back to the robots, though!  Megatron is being disassembled, with much exposed wires and circuitry.  I rather like the various pieces of detritus being carried away by pulleys, including part of his back and his beloved fusion cannon.  (Note - I don't quite get why Megatron would give up the fusion cannon though.  Sure, a shoulder-mounted rail gun is nice, but why not both?  That's why the 17-year-old me got a spare beat-up Megatron from a comic shop and did some surgery, adding back his fusion cannon to the G2 Megatron toy.  By the way, it looks AWESOME!  The G1 Megatron toy's cannon was always a bit too big for his arm, but it looks perfect against the monster that is G2 Megatron.)  Zarana suggests pushing Megatron around now that he's at their mercy, but Cobra Commander opts to stick to the letter of the deal... which amuses Megatron.  Somehow I don't think he's quite as helpless as Zarana thinks, disassembled or no. 

More Joe business (hey, can't begrudge them that, it's their book) occurs when Biggles-Jones checks up on Scarlett, who is in amazingly good shape; wound parallel to the muscle striation, no ragged edges, no arteries severed.  This, of course, does little to blunt Slice's suspicions.  The Baroness and Destro land on Cobra Island, which was of course the site of much of the first G.I. Joe / Transformers crossover.  There they meet Destro, who shows off his new toy look for them awkwardly.  They are investigating the abandoned Cobra facility, with an intact brainwave scanner but missing Mindbender's cloning vat.  Zartan speculates that it might contain the secret of Mindbender's resurrection...

The time has come for the big unveiling.  A green and purple camouflaged tank rolls out and effortlessly destroyes three remote-controlled HISS tanks.  The Cobra leadership is impressed, and Megatron is pleased.  Much like the Zartan reveal from a few pages earlier (a bit too much like it, actually - compare the two drawings and judge for yourself), he transforms and shows off his goods.  He reveals that he heard Cobra Commander reject a betrayal a bit earlier and brags about his sensors.  This bragging leads him to talk about an experiment in the basement, 'inert organic tissue percolating in an electrolyte-rich protein bath with a pure oxygen aerating system.'  Cobra Commander is dismissive, at least until Megatron informs him that the inert organic tissue has just started breathing.  Yup, you (and Zartan) guessed it, Dr. Mindbender is back!  Of course, if you weren't following the Joe book, you wouldn't have known he was missing but it still seems like a decent (and appropriately Joe-centric) ending for the book.

Unlike the last book, this one squarely splits the focus between the Joe cast and plotline and the appearance of Megatron.  While I can see how that might have been frustrating for long-time Joe readers, as a Transformers fan like myself it's like a breath of fresh air to read about these characters again.  Hama's writing and Batista's artwork feel very much like the latter-day Furman/Wildman collaboration in tone and style, which helps keep a feeling of continuity.  Hama really nails Megatron's personality, running from hot to cold very very quickly.  He's really a very different kind of villain than the political and conniving Cobra Commander.  Megatron is shrewd but mostly gets what he wants through force of arms.  Cobra Commander is far more devious. Hama does write Megatron a bit robotty in places, especially the line "I need to reconfigure for optimums efficiency!  Anthropomorphic dexterity and mobility are also unessential for present tasks... which are best accomplished by a dedicated weapons system!"  OK, it's a fair bit of rationalizing him turning into a gun, but I have a hard time believing Megatron would actually say that.  Shockwave, sure, but not Megatron. 

On the Joe front, the Scarlett / Snake-Eyes plot seems mostly to be on hold.  Since that was the main emotional driving force of the past few issues, that's unfortunate.  We don't really advance from where we were last issue, except to know for sure that she'll live.  I suppose we see a bit of Snake-Eyes' reaction to stabbing the woman he loves, which is nice, but it feels like there should be more of that.  I suppose that toy concerns brushed that aside.  After seeing how effortlessly Furman seemed to dance around the new-toy requirements, it's slightly jarring to go back to something a bit more akin to the middle Budiansky period of awkward (re)introductions. 

I do like Hama's use of military jargon and information when appropriate.  Things like page ten, where we get information about the C-130 aircraft and the acronym MRE for food are nice.  Batista also seems to have done his homework (or a great job of faking it) when drawing the interiors.  I can see why his run on the Joe book is considered so seminal by their fans, and hope to get around to reading the whole book from the beginning at some point.

So, overall, a fairly strong offering, both from a hardcore Transformers perspective and a casual Joe perspective.  Great writing, great artwork, and a mostly pretty good plot marred only a bit by corporate concerns.  Sadly, this book has not been reprinted to my knowledge, but who know?  IDW owns the publication rights to both Transformers and G.I. Joe, so mayhaps it's possible they'll reprint this rather fun little tale in the future.  We can hope, anyway.  "Next: Dr. Mindbender?!?"  Let's see how that works out, one week from today!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bish's Review Space Above and Beyond Episode 1: Pilot

"In space, no-one can here you scream... unless it is the battle cry of the United States Marines!"

Space: Above and Beyond is a military science fiction show by X-Files producers Glen Morgan and James Wong. It ran from September 1995 until June 1996 on Fox. Like many such programs it was cancelled prematurely and is not especially well remembered fifteen years later. In the spirit of Jim's excellent War Of The Worlds reviews I intend to review one episode a week, for 23 weeks, and explore the themes that Space was trying to portray, its success in doing so, whether it deserved to be cancelled and, simply, whether or not it was actually any good.

The show opened with a 90 minute pilot episode that introduced the characters and setting of the Space story. Set in the year 2063, it follows The Wildcards, a squadron in the (sadly still fictional, even fifteen years later) United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry during a war with an implacable alien enemy known as the Chigs, named for their resemblance to a kind of Central American flea.

In the grand tradition of such stories we discover how the characters all end up in the Marines and how they learn to function as a unit, with the requisite amount of tension and resentment along the way. The pilot episode does not seek to reinvent the wheel, rather to use well-worn tropes to get the story where it needs to go.

Our lead character (although the show is very much an ensemble) is Nathan West, played by Morgan Weisser. He is a young man who wants nothing more than to be part of the colonisation of another world with his girlfriend, Kylen. Due to political wranglings, one of them has to be taken off of the colony program and it is West who is forced to watch as the rocket takes off without him, carrying the love of his life to her new home. Vowing to follow her into space, he joins the Marine Space Aviators.

More interesting than West to begin with is Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland). He is an In Vitro, a member of a race of humans created in laboratories to fight humanity's wars for them. When this program turned out to be a failure, with many In Vitroes refusing to fight, they were turned loose and now make up an underclass in Earth society. We first meet Hawkes as he gets arrested for fighting back against a lynch-mob and sentenced to the military.

Shane Vansen, played by Kristen Cloke, is another character with a backstory steeped in the history of the show. Her parents were career officers in the US military before being slaughtered by the Silicates, a race of Artificial Intelligences also created by human military minds.

The other two members of the Wildcards who we will follow through the series are Paul Wang (Joel De La Fuente) and Venessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman). They do not emerge from this episode as distinctive as the other three but both have their parts to play. Wang in particular gets a wonderfully awkward moment, as he fails to demonstrate a battle-cry of sufficient ferocity for the squadron's drill instructor, which gets a fantastic callback in the very last episode.

(Trivia note, the instructor is played by R Lee Ermey, of Full Metal Jacket fame - does including him as a drill instructor in your show take you dangerously close to parody? I'm not sure it matters, he's so good at it, and if you can just imagine him yelling "HOT ROD ROCKET-JOCKS OF PRECISION AND STRENGTH, TEAR-ASSING ACROSS THE COSMOS HUNTING FOR HEAVEN! you'll have some idea just how entertaining these scenes are).

The episode opens with a devastating attack by persons unknown on the first Earth colony, Vesta, and although news of this does not get out straight away it becomes obvious fairly quickly that Kylen's colony ship is going to suffer the same fate. It is these attacks, by the Chigs, that precipitates the war that becomes the driving narrative of the show. During the episode our characters go from raw recruits, to their first encounter with the enemy on a partially terraformed Mars, to finally winning a significant victory in space.

As stated, none of these ideas are especially new, but for the most part they are used efficiently enough. The story drags a little whenever West and Kylen are together and the animosity between him and Hawkes is a little cliched. West in particular is problematic for a reviewer because he is by far the least interesting named character. It feels rather as though a script was written that did not have a white male lead and he was parachuted in at the last minute to save the day. That is not a criticism of Weisser. He does the best he can with some very standard material but West just isn't much fun to watch and his angst over Kylen, while understandable, comes across as rather petulant.

Hawkes' angst, by contrast, is better written and much more interesting. Hawkes is both brash and awkward. His bravado comes from his mistreatment at the hands of naturally-born humans and, given that his forerunners were created to fight and die with no say in the matter, it is entirely understandable that he kicks against the tracers while in the military. West does not like him because he was removed from the colonisation program in order to include a group of In Vitroes in a sort of government outreach program, but of course, to Hawkes this is indistinguishable from the hatred he has endured his entire short life. Ultimately, of course, he is looking for a place he can belong, and thanks to combat bringing them together, he finds it in the Wildcards.

Although she is reasonably well fleshed out and played efficiently enough by Cloke, Vansen's function in this episode is mostly as a wedge between West and Hawkes. They end the episode as friends and Vansen will have her own stories as the show progresses, but in the pilot she is mostly the voice of by-the-book common sense.

The other important character introduced is Lieutenant Colonel Tyrus Cassius McQueen (James Morrison). He is an In Vitro, but unlike the dissenters that made the In Vitro program a failure, he has become a career soldier. When the episode begins he is a member of the elite Marine squadron the Angry Angels, who have customised uniforms and strut about treating other recruits like dirt. All of them except McQueen. Vansen's dream of eventually joining the squadron she admires is soured somewhat when she is insulted in a bar for proclaiming her admiration for the squadron and a fight ensues. (Is it possible to have an "everybody joins the military and learns to trust one another" episode without a barfight? As far as I can tell it's never been tried...). McQueen does not get involved in this and is clearly marked out as different from his swaggering comrades. When the Angry Angels are massacred by the Chigs later in the episode, McQueen is grounded by damage to his inner ear and, by the end of the episode, has become the Wildcards' new squadron commander.

McQueen is a clear standout character and Morrison plays him with an admirable intensity and commitment. On paper, it is possible that many of McQueen's lines, things like "It's ok to be scared" could appear to be nothing more than military-fiction cliches but Morrison's delivery transcends any such concerns. He is able to portray McQueen's pride in his new recruits, combined with anger over the loss of the Angels and his own disability with almost no change in expression. Perfect for a gruff military-type, Morrison's acting is all in his eyes and it is consistently brilliant. It is clear by the end that McQueen will not rest until the Wildcards have the same reputation as his old squadron. Even at the medal-giving ceremony after their victory he chews the squadron out for pulling an unorthodox manoeuvre that probably won the battle. You can tell by Morrison's performance that McQueen is extremely proud of the young pilots but will not risk the safety of the squadron by praising reckless behaviour. It's a fantastic moment.

However, although it does not come up in this episode, McQueen is still an In Vitro and he has clearly been written this way for a reason. During the final battle, Hawkes ends up with a Chig fighter on his tail and McQueen shouts at him with genuine concern to "kill the right thruster, you stupid tank!" This line speaks volumes. The In Vitro storyline is obviously not just going to be backstory and these two have a journey to go on. Hawkes is badly in need of a parent figure. Has he found one in McQueen?

While the story and characters are certainly compelling enough to make you want to tune in again for the second episode it is probably in the world-building that the true successes of Space's pilot lie. It is always a problem in shows like this to explain what is different and what is similar about the setting and keep it from becoming a massive dump of exposition. Space learns the "show, don't tell" lesson well and, aside from a couple of slightly awkward passages explaining the origins of the term "In Vitro" everything is painted in very efficient, delicate strokes. From dialogue the viewer can piece together that the Silicates were originally created as humanity's soldiers, rebelled, and the In Vitroes were created to replace and to fight them. Nobody comments on this but the irony at work here is brilliant and, more importantly, frighteningly believable. Surely we can all picture the generals pitching this to the president? We do not really see the Silicates in this episode, although we do get the threat of them from a flashback where they kill Vansen's parents, but we know they are still out there, and are bound to have a part to play in future events.

In Vitroes are looked down upon because they refused to fight a war they had no say in and are now downtrodden and referred to by derogatory names like "Tank" (for their method of gestation) and "nipple-neck" because they have a "nipple", which in function is actually more of a misplaced navel, on the back of their necks.

Presumably due to budgetary reasons we do not see a lot of Earth but it doesn't look especially welcoming. Certainly this is no Star Trek style utopia and the nations of the Earth are decidedly not united. These are the UNITED STATES MARINES not the troops of some fictional one-Earth government. I actually find this approach curiously refreshing. After all, does anyone really believe we're going to be pooling our military resources by 2063, or even 2263?

The Chigs are presented as fairly mysterious. They wear black armour that sometimes looks menacing and sometimes looks a little ridiculous, depending on how much movement the stuntman has to attempt. One of the most important, and most mature themes on the show is that while this alien enemy is unknowable in many ways, their individual soldiers are perhaps not all monsters. This is certainly not a new theme for military fiction, but again, it is refreshing to find it in a science fiction setting, played straight by black-clad aliens. The attacks on the colonies appear unprovoked and the Chigs are clearly ruthless in combat but that is not all they are. This is presented most clearly in a scene where The Wildcards capture a Chig prisoner. It sees West's picture of Kylen and indicates that it carries something similar into battle. When Damphouse tries to give it water it kills itself out of fear.

Space's production values, for 1995, are pretty good. The space-planes the squadron flies (called Hammerheads, for their resemblance to the shark) are well designed and believable (one nice touch I like is that they have a rear-facing machine gun that can deal with pursuers) and the CGI that portrays the space action gets the job done very well. Another good detail that few other depictions of space combat have managed (Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica excepted) is that the Hammerheads have to fire retros constantly to maintain position and can exploit the freedom of movement in space to pull off some exciting zero-g manoeuvres. Another cool scifi detail is that the ships use LIDAR, rather than RADAR. In practical terms it is unlikely that this would make any difference to their ranging and detecting abilities, (my physics PHD friend thinks that if the Chig ships aren't made of metal than LIDAR might make some sense, but that the beam required would probably be too narrow) but it's a nice use of a real-world but futuristic term. I have some complaints about the logic of using unguided kinetic weaponry in space and the ranges over which combat is conducted, but, as a long-time fan of almost every show and movie featuring space combat I am used to sacrificing logic on the altar of cool visuals (seriously though - real space combat probably won't be a rerun of World War Two).

It's not perfect, explosions in space look a little pasted on, and the larger models, like the Chig and United States carriers suffer somewhat from a low polygon count. If we are to compare contemporary shows, Space suffers a little next to the various Star Treks (Voyager started the same year) as we were still at the stage where model work tended to trump CGI for believability. That said, any fan of Babylon 5 will tell you that direction can make up for a lot and the advantage that Space's choice to use CGI has here is the ability to produce kinetic, exciting battle scenes, on a weekly television budget, without having to resort to too much stock footage (lets hope so anyway!).

Once we get off Earth and onto the space carrier Saratoga it is clear that the show has come home and the sets improve accordingly. The set for the ship is believably shadowy, military looking and relatively high-tech and there are plenty of extras around to demonstrate this is a massive ship with a lot of personnel.

Mars is represented by pink sand and a green-screened in sky and while not totally realistic it certainly sells the illusion well enough. What I appreciated was that they mentioned terraforming but did not show it. Excellent world-building - they wanted to show that we were settling Mars but did not cheap out and use it as an excuse to portray it with Earthlike visuals. I approve.

The civilian costumes are very 90s, but the military uniforms are excellent, mostly because they are basically just military uniforms. I don't really know much about contemporary American uniforms but I can't imagine these are very different, if at all. Space aired before the current belief that it is ok to just give future people contemporary firearms because the audience won't care, so, pleasingly, the Wildcards carry large, chunky looking weapons that go well with the setting. Nice touches of detail abound, like the helmets that snap into place like a clamshell, or the fact that the cockpits of the Hammerheads are detachable and lower into place before a mission. Not remotely necessary, but a nice visual.

Overall my thoughts on this pilot are very positive. It's not perfect, it drags in places and many of the plot points are cribbed from other sources but the characters and setting are interesting and well set up. To my mind it is a much more successful start than many series get. Even much-loved (and deservedly so) shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation or Babylon 5 had extremely creaky pilots, a syndrome that Space: Above And Beyond does well to avoid.

The DVD box set of   Space Above and Beyond - The Complete Series is available and can be purchased at