Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #132 "Kup's Story!"

Kup's Story! was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Dan Reed, coloured by Steve White and Lettered by Anne Halfacree. Although the story is set in the past, the backup story in the comic was the first part of the Headmasters saga so that's where we are if you're used to following along with only the US half of the continuity. We've just been through the Scraplet saga and the Carwash Of Doom!

The cover was also by Dan Reed and is quite a nice piece in his inimitable style. It more resembles a particularly detailed comic panel than a display piece and probably won't be anyone's first pick to mount on their wall but it neatly outlines what the story is about and has some great detail on the alien hand crushing Hot Rod, as well as good colouring to show off Hot Rod's painted body and the alien's slick skin (or maybe metal).

The caption tells us that we are several hundred years ago, in deep space. We see Kup, on the bridge of a small spaceship, sitting dejectedly while the ongoing captions explain that after millions of years of warfare, veterans lose their fighting edge. The Autobots' custom is to give these individuals a spaceship and cast them adrift to while away their remaining years alone.

We flash back to Kup's glory days, destroying Decepticons and daring white-knuckle escapes, but are told that eventually the battles blurred together and Kup found he could not keep up any longer. He accepted exile, rather than putting his fellow Autobots at risk by continuing to fight alongeside them.

He pours himself a drink and is in the middle of toasting the oncoming end of his life (we get the impression he does that a lot) when the ship is shaken by an explosion and we see a transport being pursued by two wobbly organic looking alien ships.

Kup determines that the pursuing vessels are toying with the transport and this gets his dander up! He starts making plans to intervene before his confidence goes again and, worrying he'll only make matters worse, decides that it's not his fight.

He can't convince himself though. In only two panels time, an ugly alien claw is poised over a firing button before an explosion tears him, and the ship's cockpit apart. Kup punches the air in victory as the confidence comes flooding back. Only for a second though, as nausea overwhelms him and he slumps. His battle-fatigue is still part of him and it will take more than this brief victory to overcome it.

He receives a message from the transport, it's pilot asking to come aboad. Kup doesn't want company but has no real choice in the matter as the ship is breaking up.

The pilot turns out to be Hot Rod, who doesn't yet know Kup personally but is delighted to meet a fellow Autobot. He says he was on a scouting mission with Blurr when the Tyroxians attacked them and captured Blurr. Kup says that he cannot help beyond taking Hot Rod to Cybertron. He is retired - an ex-Autobot.

As Kup relaxes, and broods, on his own in the ship he is surprised to hear a proximity alarm. Hot Rod has changed the ship's course and brought it into orbit of the planet Tyroxia! He has landed on the planet's surface and gone off on a solo-mission to rescue Blurr.

We get a nice story-telling device here where Kup, unable to contain his admiration for the younger Autobot, imagines what he must be doing, while the other panels show that this is of course what is happening. Kup, much to his chagrin, comes to the conclusion that Hot Rod reminds him of his younger self.

True to Kup's predictions, Hot Rod has fallen afoul of a gigantic Tyroxian who is tossing him around like a rag-doll. Just as he is about to be taken offline for good, Kup bursts through the window, blaster blazing!

He takes the alien apart in short order, shouting his defiance to the universe! He does not even realise that battle is won until Hot Rod taps him on the shoulder.

Back on the ship, Hot Rod thanks Kup for the rescue and tells him that he can get back to his retirement. Of course, Kup won't have any of it, "Listen kid," he says, "if they're lettin' punks like you fight these days... The Autobot army needs all the help it can get!" Kup is back.

This story is good for a number of reasons. The first and perhaps most important is that it's another story from a time we don't really know much about. We always knew Kup was old, but it's great to see his first meeting with Hot Rod, and find out where their affectionately antagonistic relationship started. It's not really a surprise that he has a past as a risk-taker and hellraiser but Kup has always been a favourite character of mine so seeing him triumph over old-age is a nice emotional beat.

I also enjoy the sense of an expanded universe. We haven't seen a lot of different aliens in the Transformers yet and the Tyroxians are particularly alien, with their twisted bodies and indecipherable speech.

I think stories like this are important for another reason. Here Furman shows us that the serialised nature of a comic can lead to stories of varying lengths. There aren't many single-issue stories, because by their nature they have to be quick, simple, but worth telling, but by having them here and there, Furman demonstrates that it's fine to tell a story that is as long as it needs to be, a talent which is rather lost in this age of "writing for the trade".

Dan Reed's art is as idiosyncratic as ever. His organic style is quite a good choice for Kup because it's much easier to depict age in a more human-like face. I am not always the biggest fan of his action sequences as they do not always look natural, and Kup leaping through the window, I feel, suffers from this, with his shots going off in random directions. That said, the Tyroxians are fantastically horrible and look at the incredible level of detail on Kup slumped in his chair on the first page!

Kup's Story! is a good read all round and was reprinted in the Titan collection of City Of Fear which, while out of print, is still fairly easy to find.


Chuffer said...

Great review, Bishbot. I liked these one-off stories too – forerunners of the ‘Spotlight’ issue, perhaps – although you’re right that there aren’t enough of them (and about half were the dire Christmas issues). They get more frequent in the latter black-and-white stories, although they often hit the opposite problem of being too short to tell a good story.

One question: have you skipped over the ‘Worlds Apart!’ story of issues 130-131, or is that next?

Bishbot said...

Thanks - nope, got to admit, that was an error. Checking the TFwiki I must have seen a Headmasters cover and assumed it was one for a reprint of the US story and didn't fact check. At least these two stories don't really interract with one another

I'll review that story next, and maybe Jim can perform some blog magic and put them in the right order afterwards ;)


Anonymous said...

Because it falls in the middle of nowhere continuity-wise, this is just as good as the '85 annual stories for introducing someone to the comic universe if you fear they'd lose interest in the early UK stuff that doesn't mesh as easily with the US book. A friend I'm trying to get to read it all start to finish liked it, but the effect may have been offset by Reed's artwork. Not bashing it, just saying that it's jarring at first glance.

However, wasn't this a turning point as far as Furman realizing how to use Reed strategically, since he seemed to handle alien monsters better than robots? Half the time, his TFs look like they're melting, so it can't be a coincidence that within the titular story in the City of Fear trade where this story's reprinted, he gets to draw zombots being melted by the Sparkabots. And after that 6-issue arc, he gets to draw tons of random aliens in Deadly Games.

Or am I completely off as to how scheduling comic work went back then?

Great review. Neat to see how a story can be truly ahead of its time; give me 'Spotlight: Kup' before 'Spotlight: Kup'!


Andros Tempest said...

reed is a bit of an acquired taste, at times he's different enough to be interesting, but at other times it just TOO different. Great for one off's like this one, but not great as the middle section of a larger arc.

One thing the UK did much better than the US was use the Movie characters while the toys were still in the shops. Kup, Blurr, Hot Rod, Cyclonus, Scourge, Wreck-gar, Ultra Magnus and Wheelie got much more panels of art in the British comic than they ever did in the US. I still find that difficult to reconcile, but I assume that with so many characters to introduce, the editors decided that everything in the future wasn't part of the current continuity and therefore confined it to the movie adaptation comic only. Shame.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

There's something about Kup and Hot Rod that bugs me. In the comic continuity it's set down that because life can only come from the Matrix, just about everybody is at least four million years old and the war isn't that much older (and was a single conflict, not the multiple wars of the cartoon) with a number of key players having been around since the days of peace. In all that it's hard to accommodate both a youthful hot head learning the errors of his ways as he grows up (just how long does that take) and an aged veteran from a generation of warriors who are otherwise long retired. Old soldiers need old wars, youth needs recent birth. Whilst one could just about accept Hot Rod has the personality of a perpetual manchild (and is never really going to learn), Kup is harder to accept, which is probably why his veteraness is often downplayed in other issues.

Jimtron said...

Interestingly enough, Tim, the G2 comic would specifically address this issue, with Kup musing about how their race is all the same age, so why does he feel like Hot Rod is so much younger.

G2 #5 review

Andros Tempest said...

continuity was always an issue, particularly regarding characterisation. The US title ld fast till Furman came on board that ONLY what was in print in their book was official continuity, not the TV show, not the film, not the tech specs, not the UK book, nothing. The TV show however tried to at the very least acknowledge the tech specs, not always very closely, but close enough generally. Anomalies like Arcee and Hot Rod being "youths" could be explained easily as being creations between 1986 and 2005, big empty space where anything can happen. The UK comic tended to pick and choose which bits to acknowledge. Mostly the tech specs and current US issues, and curiously the Movie as well, despite the movie clearly contradicting US comic cannon.

As for Kupp being an old war horse, I always took it that he'd left cybertron and fought in other wars in the millions of years from Megatron/prime leaving to Scorponox/Fort Max leaving. That it was a relatively short time that he'd been back on Cybertron. Hence his stories of other worlds.

I think most people collecting the toys back in the day, created their own universe cherry picking and retconning elements of both the TV and Comic continuity to create their own version. I know I did since the figures I owned became the heroes and villains most important to the story.

end of the day it was written by multiple individuals, mostly at the same time, without a definitive plan or back story in mind. and this shows in the "make it up as you go along" feel, particularly of some TV episodes.

makes me wonder why I remember it so fondly actually.

Anonymous said...

@Andros Tempest: The amazing part is that talking to other fans, I've concluded that while some Transfans put a lot of thought into their personal fanfiction, most do that creating their own universe thing largely unconsciously, with a mishmash of irreconcilable cartoon, comic, and tech-spec elements, myself included. The strangest part is that some of the conclusions we jump to seem baseless when you go back and examine the media, especially everyone loving the Abe Lincoln/John Wayne/General Patton hybrid that Optimus Prime was supposed to be, despite countless instances of wimpy leadership and violence being his first resort to solving problems. Last time I ran through my DVDs, I counted the number of times he buried someone alive or left them thus because he needed them out of the way but couldn't ethically kill them (3), and then wondered why I hear so much knee-jerk hatred for Rodimus Prime as a totally unworthy successor as I watch him successfully negotiate a peace treaty between warring planets.

This of course led to a wide variety of takes on TF compared to other franchises, and every one from Raksha's to Ben Yee's likely made our community richer and more tolerant for it.

And yet, I recently realized one part of this equation that baffles me: Fair-weather Transfans, the folks that apparently weren't following anything TF related between, say, the 1986 and 2007 movies, also do the unconscious personal universe thing. Far be it for me or anyone to make some silly acid test of who is or isn't a "real" fan, but the personal universe equation fosters in some of them what seems to be actual indignation that the franchise continued to exist after they decided to stop paying attention to it. I've heard Beast Wars dismissed with, "Well, Transformers shouldn't be CGed" by fans of the Bay movies, and my Crosshairs toy once elicited, "Well, I don't even consider that a Transformer", from someone who seemed to fondly remember the Technobots released the same year, implying their cut-off point can be within a matter of seconds. I'm willing to listen to any argument about what TF is and should be, except 'If I wasn't looking, it doesn't count', since this can be instantly countered by citing the concept of object permanence, which usually kicks in before our earliest memories of Transformers. As merely a casual Star Wars fan myself, I actually do have more respect for the opinions of someone who knows the old comics and novels well enough to explain what the Clone Wars were originally supposed to be before Lucas retconned the whole expanded universe into oblivion, so I'm just stumped when I'm conversing fellow pop culture geeks willing to dissect the history of varied anime and fantasy/scifi franchises, and someone suddenly gets pissy when I toss out an anecdote about something from the last decade and a half of TF lore.

Sorry 'bout the rant; A.T. just raised an interesting point, and I agree with his rationalization about Comic-Kup's veteran-ness. TFs surely traveled a bit in that long unknown period between Cybertron's creation and 'State Games', and the fighting instincts Primus imbued them with must have led many to hire themselves out as mercenaries.

Say Bish, did you do an entry on State Games, or would that open the door to pointless reviews of the other largely pointless Annual text-stories?

Bishbot said...

I would certainly be open to doing a review of "State Games" which is pretty good, as I recall, but have been sticking to comic stories thus far. Perhaps I'll do a special series on the text stories at some point.

As for the "personal canon" thing, I can't get too upset. I like a lot of Transformers fiction, probably just about most of it, and it never even occurred to me that the cartoon and the comics could possibly be the same universe or anything like that.

Personally, while I enjoy the cartoon as a light-hearted romp, I wouldn't be a Transformers fan without the comics, but I've met lots of fans at conventions who've never read the comics. I wonder what they talk about, since the cartoon is kind of a continuity mess and not generally that deep, but I don't call them on it, because at the end of the day, they like something I like, and that's cool.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Jim - I must have forgotten that bit, although it did come along over seven years after we first met Kup and Hot Rod. I guess it does at least explain Hot Rod though it still leaves open the question of just how Kup became a aged veteran of conflicts that didn't happen (unless there was yet more forgotten history involving high profile characters).