Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #130 "Worlds Apart!" Part 1

(Real world note: Apologies to regular readers for my sporadic updates in the last couple of weeks. I recently attended Auto Assembly, which was terrific, but both tiring and time-consuming and have been attempting to find a new job, which is also quite the drain on my free time. Excuses aside, on with the show, and I will attempt to maintain a more regular schedule from now on.)

World's Apart! Part 1 was written by Simon Furman, drawn by Will Simpson, inked by Tim Perkins, lettered by Anne Halfacree and coloured by Steve White.

The cover was by Geoff Senior and John Burns and is a little bit dull, really. The Headmasters remove their heads, which is pertinent, at least, but as the heads are not transforming into Nebulans, it doesn't really explain anything, especially given that decapitation has been shown to be non-fatal to Transformers several times in the past. According to tfwiki Geoff Senior also isn't too fond of this cover and says it wasn't his idea, although I will say that at least the characters themselves are very well depicted, if in rather a boring layout.

Leaving Earth behind for the moment we are on the lush ringed planet of Nebulos. It's idyllic locales are shattered by the thunderous clash of Autobot and Decepticon. But which Autobots and Decepticons? Well, if you were a UK reader at this point they'd all be new, but luckily they make a point of saying all their names while fighting the enemy. We first meet Chromedome, a Cybertronian car, Hardhead, a Cybertronian tank, and Highbrow, a Cybertronian helicopter.

Highbrow is being chased by the Horrorcons, two triple-changing Decepticons, currently in plane mode. Chromedome has problems on his own, facing off against Weirdwolf (the clue is in his name) and Skullcruncher, an enormous mechanical crocodile. Brainstorm, an Autobot jet, flies overhead, but has his own problems dealing with Mindwipe, a Decepticon bat-creature.

Mindwipe uses his signature ability, a kind of hypnosis, to confuse Brainstorm and send him hurtling into the ground, smashing into Hardhead.

Meanwhile, Chromedome has escaped the main battle zone but is still being pursued by the Horrorcons. Ape-Face (he's an ape AND a jet) goes down to a well-aimed blaster shot but Snapdragon keeps coming. Luckily Highbrow has Chromedome's back and his well-timed shot sends the Decepticon running.

Hardhead is still surrounded by foes when Highbrow's timely reappearance causes them to scatter. Mindwipe retreats, but his thought bubble reveals that this might all just be staged...

Highbrow's analysis of the battle leads him to conclude the same thing and Chromedome concurs but points out that they have to press on regardless, as their Targetmaster (that term is about to become super important) comrades (Sureshot, Pointblank and Crosshairs) have been captured by the Decepticons and need rescuing. Interesting sidenote: in a fairly terrible error, in the panel that introduces these characters, Sureshot and Crosshairs are given each other's colours. The Decepticons are trying to perfect the process of turning a Nebulan into a Targetmaster weapon and the Autobots need to prevent this from happening. This wouldn't have meant much to any of the readers who weren't keeping up with the toys, but the issue does go some way to explaining this.

While Highbrow tries to reply to Chromedome he breaks off and the secret of the Headmasters is revealed! Thesse Autobots have partnered up with Nebulans (human-like natives of the planet Nebulos) in order to share brain activity and improve combat efficiency. Highbrow removes his head, which transforms into the Nebulan, Gort. Chromedome does the same and soon another Nebulan, Stylor, is standing before us.

They both want to press the attack and, when rebonded with the Autobots, this is the course of action that is pursued. Highbrow is concerned though, that the Headmaster process has gone wrong, because although he and Gort share one mind, in their thinking they are - title drop - "World's Apart!"

When the Autobots arrive at "The Decepticons' notorious fortress of despair" they find the place deserted and the power off. Highbrow immediately expects a trap "come into my parlour" he says, although he has never been to Earth to pick up that particular idiom.

Sure enough, the trap is confirmed when the Autobots stumble upon Crosshairs bound and dangling from the ceiling. He shouts a warning but it is too late. The wall explodes to reveal a whole team of Decepticon headmasters, led by the terrifying beast form of Scorponok!

Okay kids. This is where it gets complicated: We've hit the part of the Marvel continuity where the Headmasters miniseries was supposed to come in to explain why there are suddenly about thirty more Transformers, each with their own organic partner. Unfortunately while Hasbro UK were getting serious about advertising the new Headmaster toys the US miniseries wasn't quite ready for publication in Britain so Furman and company had no option but to whip up a new Headmasters story to feed the demand for advertising. As circumstances conspired, by the time Worlds Apart! came out, the first part of the mini could actually be published, and as such, it ran as a backup story in this very issue. Indeed, the subsequent parts would continue to do so in the next seven UK issues to come. That meant that you had the very odd experience of reading a story containing characters and concepts you knew nothing about, turning the page, and discovering the very start of their origin.

Given more time and clearer direction, perhaps Furman could have tied this together more elegantly, but, really, he was under the gun, and at least the schedules were close enough together that he realised he didn't need to tell a new origin story, unlike the Goldbug situation, so the Headmasters miniseries is canon for the UK at least, albeit unfairly stuffed into the back of the UK issues.

Given these circumstances it seems only fair to review this issue as a story of the Headmasters, rather than an introduction to them, which is pretty lucky, because it's not a bad story but a terrible introduction! Most of the characters get nowhere near the time they need to become memorable. By the end of the issue the reader has a fairly good idea of what Highbrow, Chromedome and Hardhead are about but that's pretty much it.

However, it is certainly good to have a change of pace and the seemingly all-out war on Nebulos is an intriguing place to visit. Assuming familiarity with the characters, the story is serviceable but not particularly well thought out. It is never really clear why the Decepticons feel the need to trap the Headmasters. After all, they have the Targetmasters alive if they want to reverse engineer that particular technology so, if they could have destroyed the Headmasters in the field, as Highbrow suspected, why did they not simply do so? Luring them into the fortress (of despair) might work very well, but ultimately it puts them within rescuing distance of the Targetmasters, which seems unnecessarily risky...

Logical issues aside, World's Apart! is a decent enough story with some fun, varied action. I am particularly fond of seeing the more bestial Decepticons in their quite terrifying alternate modes and dropping us straight into the battle really works in the issue's favour, giving us enough pace and incident that the flaws only really appear once you've finished reading. However, it is tricky to place it satisfactorily within the Headmasters miniseries. Nominally, that is where it fits, but there is not really enough downtime in the four issues to fit this entire plotline. We're talking about actually adding a story between panels here which is a little excessive given that this story is hardly essential.

Either way, I've always had a soft spot for the Headmaster and Targetmaster characters. Although an argument could be made that they were the first in a long line of unnecessary gimmicks that plagued the G1 toyline after 1987. Personally, however, I feel that overall they expand the universe in many potentially interesting ways. It would have been easy to make the smaller figures simply more Autobots and Decepticons and adding organics to the war is a much braver step. Admittedly the process is inherently strange and not really explained very satisfactorily in any of the Marvel comics, but it does at least have a great deal of potential - something Furman would return to in his run on the modern IDW book.

Will Simpson's pencils were getting better and better by this point and he's no longer a source of irritation for me. The work on Worlds Apart! is hardly up to Geoff Senior standards but Simpson delivers a decent, easy to follow book, with characters who actually look like Transformers. The colouring on the other hand is a little simplistic, with more mono-coloured blocks than UK readers were used to - the last panel with the Decepticons all in red behind Scorponok was particularly egregious, but White's not quite at Yomtov levels of laziness yet.

Overall, Worlds Apart! Part 1 is really more interesting for the bizarre story of its genesis than the actual plot or characters. If you are a fan of the original Headmasters miniseries then it's worth checking out (if you don't mind playing some imaginative continuity games) but if continuity drives you insane, it can be safely discarded.

Next review will be Part 2, somewhat inevitably, hopefully later this week to make up for my extra-curricular activities.


Eugene said...

I agree with your comments on the cover. Seems like a complete waste of Senior's and Burns' talents.

Simpson really improved post the painted-era. He left just when he was getting pretty good though.

Anonymous said...

Sureshot and Crosshairs had the right names but the wrong colour schemes, I think.

The depiction of Crosshairs and Cerebros in the comics and cartoons always puzzled me. They were rare examples of Transformers whose toys had human faces with mouths but who lacked them in the media. (It's usually the other way round - the comics/cartoons giving characters faces that the toys don't have.)


Bishbot said...

Upon closer examination I think you're right about the colours and have changed my review to reflect that. Weirdly this carried on into part 2, which I've just posted a review of, and I have no explanation for the mouth/faceplate issue!

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The Headmasters would not have been completely new to all readers - they appeared in a long text story in that year's annual. Spread over three parts it was called "What's in a Name?"/"Stylor's Story"/"The Final Conflict" and tells a version of the origin of the Headmasters that starts out the same as the mini-series but takes a different turn by the end. (In fact Worlds Apart quite easily fits into the continuity of that version of events.) Brainstorm, Chromedome, Hardhead, Highbrow, Mindwipe, Skullcruncher & Weirdwolf all also had AtoZ style factfiles in there as well. Of course if readers hadn't yet read the annual (and it had only been out for a few weeks) then that knowledge would have been unavailable. Fortunately Worlds Apart and the Transformation pages didn't explicitly mention the annual to rub things in, but there are some upcoming stories that rely heavily on the book having been read already.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

"It would have been easy to make the smaller figures simply more Autobots and Decepticons and adding organics to the war is a much braver step. "

I'm glad to see someone else thinks so. I've long since given up trying to defend the "human-style" Head/Target/Powermasters to (what seems to me to be) the majority of fans who just complain that "it makes more sense" to have them as robots (as in Japan).

Jimtron said...

I think I agree with both positions. Organic parters ARE the more daring choice, and with greater potential for drama. Both Budiansky and Furman would explore these choices very well. However, robots seems like the more obvious and, dare I say, sensible choice. I think I'm glad that the US didn't go this route, though.

(Masterforce's premise, however, seems like the least interesting and least thematically appropriate - mindless vehicles with organic drivers. I like the execution of Masterforce, mind you, but the idea behind it isn't one that I care for.)

Bishbot said...

I tend to think that the Masterforce rather misses the point of what makes Transformers unique but then I must admit to having seen nothing of it beyond a few minutes.

Robotic partners for the Headmasters and Targetmasters would have worked in the US but it would have taken a very interesting story to make it anything other than a gimmick. Not to say you couldn't tell such a story, and not to say that by using organics you automatically have an interesting story, but you do start from a more unique and explorable position.