Monday, October 31, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #146 "The Legacy Of Unicron" Part 1

I seem to write a lot of these but once again apologies for the irregular nature of this column lately. I've had a lot of unexpected events in my non-Transformers life but hopefully I've got some breathing room this week to keep to my regular schedule.

The Legacy Of Unicron! Part 1 was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Geoff Senior, coloured by Steve White and lettered by Annie Halfacree.

The cover was by Lee Sullivan and unfortunately isn't particularly brilliant. Death's Head does look suitably confused by the Junkion's sudden appearance but the background is severely lacking which at first glance could make it seem as though the Junkion is bursting out of thin air. A silly speech bubble and a pointless caption conspire to add to the generally lacklustre nature of the image.

Making a return to 2008 we find Cyclonus and Scourge locked in mid-air battle with Death's Head's personal spacecraft, over the planet of Junk.

Scourge is forced to crash but Cyclonus manages to pull up just in time and leave him to his fate. Cursing his partner, Scourge transforms and prepares to continue the battle on foot. He faces down the ship, wondering why it's not reacting, before a voice behind him confirms his worst fear - the spaceship was on autopilot and Death's Head has got the drop on him.

Scourge falls pathetically to his knees and begs for mercy. Death's Head is disappointed in his prey's lack of spine but it is revealed to be a ruse as Cyclonus, still in plane mode, loops back around and strafes the bounty hunter, forcing him to dive for cover.

Scourge gets a good moment here where he mocks Death's Head's lack of foresight: "Hoped for more intelligence, yes?" Death's Head's agility gets him out of a jam as he manages to get Scourge to keep his head down with a well-placed shot.

He launches a missile that Cyclonus easily dodges, mocking him for his aim. Cyclonus is forced to eat those words, however, when the missile changes direction to follow him, drawn by the heat of his jets! In a moment of comic-book physics Cyclonus transforms at the last minute to kill his jets and the missile barely misses him. It doesn't help him much, however, as this distraction is enough for Death's Head to crack him over the head with his mace.

Just as Death's Head is about to finish him off a Junkion appears and begs him for help, telling him that he is the last of his people who still retains his free will, all the others have been enslaved by "a being of vast power." Death's Head is interested but won't do it without there being a profit in it, so the Junkion points out that his people are among the richest traders in the galaxy.

Death's Head agrees to help and goes back to finishing off his previous job but the Junkion tells him to stop, as he may need the help of Scourge and Cyclonus to be victorious.

Meanwhile, on Cyberton, Wreck-Gar is planning to leave for his homeworld. Rodimus Prime thanks him for all of his help and the two part on friendly terms.

Back on Junk, the Junkion and Death's Head have hatched a plan. The Junkion is going to pretend to be enthralled and lay explosives near the still unnamed target. It turns out that the Decepticons have woken up and agreed to help distract the enemy in exchange for Death's Head giving up his contract on their heads. Death's Head agrees, but has no intention of keeping his word, as giving up a contract could be bad for future business.

The flying Decepticons begin their attack and Death's Head goes into action, hoping to get close to the target without being notice (I love Senior's panel here of the bounty hunter vaulting some cover). Before he can make a move, however, he is surprised to see the lone Junkion from early running towards him.

The Junkion can only cry out that "He knows!" before he is blasted to pieces by a beam from off-panel.

A booming (well, the speech balloons are wobbly and ringed in black) voice from off-panel explains that the Junkion was always under it's thrall and that this has been a trap to ensnare their minds.

We finally get the title of the issue, unconventionally, on the last page as we are presented with a splash of a horrifyingly familiar gigantic horned head. The Legacy Of Unicron.

After the Christmas embarrassment of Stargazing this story is shaping up to be much more Furman's usual speed. Returning to the future timeline divorces Legacy Of Unicron effectively from the more Earthbound US stories and gives Furman a lot more room to flex his creative muscles.

In truth, it's a little surprising that Budiansky didn't more readily embrace the Movie characters given how well the film opens up the universe for storytelling possibilities. Then again, Budiansky has gone on record about disliking the pressure of having to introduce whole lines of new toys at a moment's notice so perhaps he would have got there in good time if he had continued with the book. In any event, his disinterest in the future of the universe gave Furman a pretty free ride when it came to telling his own stories and most of Furman's multi-part epics were largely based in this setting.

Reading this as a Transformers fan in 2011 gives it a slightly unusual air that it would not have had back in 1987. These days, Unicron is a mythic figure, a universal singularity. It is seemingly impossible for a Transformers series to get to a certain length without an appearance by him being at least teased, and often he is the focus of much publicity and hype-building (although there were no such plans to feature him in Animated, no matter how many seasons it got). I am not precisely stating that these things are boring - Unicron is pretty exciting - but they're part of the furniture now. In 1987 there were no such rules. No-one had any idea who Unicron was, and the cartoon's explanation for his origins was far too weak for a storyteller of Furman's sentiments. It is therefore, unthinkable, in 2011, that the junior partner, as Marvel US must have considered Marvel UK, would be allowed to take Unicron and do a multi-issue story with him, completely out of the blue, that would never be published or even alluded to in the United States.

What we have is an entertaining continuation of the Death's Head storyline from Headhunt that keeps us interested until the shocking last page, when, suddenly - Unicron! That would never happen now, and maybe it should.

Although the potential for future story developments is obviously huge, the issue itself is mostly interesting for the further glimpses it gives us into Death's Head's character. I especially like his decision to kill two birds with one stone and use Scourge and Cyclonus as much as necessary. His code might not be anyone else's idea of honour but it works for him. I also like the fact that he is not swayed by the Junkion's pleas. Death's Head, at least in Transformers, does not have an ounce of sympathy within him. Time and again in fiction this sort of character is eventually persuaded to fight for something other than money but that won't work on Death's Head, and why should it? He's a mechanoid, built and programmed to kill for a profit.

However, Death's Head's usual entertainment value aside this issue really turns on its final page, so much so that everything leading up to it is readily dismissed as simply moving game pieces to get them into position - an analogy that Unicron himself would no doubt agree with. It's necessary, intriguing, and well-written but the impact of Unicron's devilish visage is such that it hardly matters how we arrive at that point.

Senior's artwork is extremely good, as we expect by this point. Once again, it is in action scenes where he comes into his own, using crisp, strong lines and iconic poses to clearly tell a story. His linework is by no means photorealistic, but where would the point be in that? If comic books were aiming at such realism, why would we even be reviewing them for their art? Senior has a knack at getting to the heart of the drama, sometimes using perspectives and poses that aren't often used by his peers.

Overall an excellent start to Furman's next big multi-issue epic. Who can resist the possibilities inherent in a clash between Death's Head and Unicron?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Death’s Head Review: The Sensational She-Hulk #24: Priceless!

Death’s Head’s only other guest spot was in Sensational She-Hulk #24. The choice of title is perhaps unsurprising when you learn that Simon Furman was the writer and Bryan Hitch the penciller. In addition, John Beatty was inker, Glynis Oliver colourist, Jim Novak letterer and Bobbie Chase was editor.

The cover is also by Hitch: She-Hulk and Death’s Head are grappling over a large vase, speech bubbles arguing, “It’s mine!” and “Saw it first, yes?”, and standing over a heap of defeated villains. The caption spells all this out for us: “Guest-starring Death’s Head (even using his own logo) and a host of inevitably-unconscious villains!”.

It’s not the most inspiring cover, particularly after some of Hitch’s other efforts. She-Hulk and Death’s Head don’t look particularly engaged in fighting each other – she’s has an awkward one-leg-in-the-air stance, and it’s hard to tell if he’s throwing a punch, or trying to push her away. The idea of the lead characters squabbling while villains are littered around them is fun (reminds me of Asterix and Obelix), but I don’t think it works particularly well here.

We begin with an art expert appraising a large blue vase, declaring it to be C9th AD ‘Muk Noo’ (a made-up Chinese dynasty – I guess in the days before Google, writers could get away with that). A bored-looking She-Hulk asks if it is worth anything, only to be told that it is “Priceless!”

She-Hulk leaves the museum, trying to come to terms with becoming instantly rich, and wondering if she should quit lawyering. Her mind wanders to her last case: her client was framed by a criminal named Bono (judging by the art, this was not the lead singer of U2), who destroyed the evidence incriminating him, then taunted She-Hulk about her failure.

Her musing is interrupted as She-Hulk is bumped by a skateboarder, and has to perform some acrobatics to keep hold of the vase. Regaining composure, she is unaware of a gang watching from the shadows and that tree branches have come to life, which narrowly miss grabbing her. The leader of the shadowy group bemoans hiring “bargain-basement bad guys”.

We leap ahead to the future: a graveyard in 2020. A tough guy in a yellow overcoat is escorting Cushing, a nervous informant with a price on his head and a desire to flee the city. They notice a freshly-dug grave, with ‘Death’s Head’ (and his logo) carved on it. Out from the earth springs the mechanoid, shrugging off the tough guy’s submachine-gun fire before killing him with one blow of his mace.

He captures Cushing, then hands him over to his client: a smartly-dressed woman. She takes custody of Cushing, who she wants to testify, and offers Death’s Head another job: to locate and retrieve a large blue vase.

Back in the present, She-Hulk is being bustled out of a crowded subway, still holding the vase. She is picked up by a sudden gust from the super-villain Whirlwind and confronted by his accomplices: Lightmaster, Radioactive Man and Plant-Man. Unwilling to risk breaking the vase in a rumble, She-Hulk is knocked to the ground. Bono arrives and tries to take the vase, indicating that he is the employer of the four super-villains. She-Hulk loses her temper and quickly beats up the quartet, until only she and Plant-Man are left. He sheepishly admits that he can’t attack her in the middle of the street – no plants!

Safe in her apartment, She-Hulk promises that she won’t let anyone take the vase from her. On cue, Death’s Head bursts through a window, riding the TVA rocket cycle from his previous adventure. He snatches the vase, scoots into the air, but the time machine fails to work. He admits that he couldn’t expect better – since he stole the rocket cycle from the Time Variance Authority.

Enraged at the mess caused to her apartment, She-Hulk leaps on the cycle and they both tumble to the ground. As they pick themselves up, vase somehow intact, Bono sees them and sends his super-villains to attack. Death’s Head and She-Hulk forge a quick alliance and they despatch the four in a single page.

She-Hulk then heads for Bono, who threatens legal action if she hits him. Seeing that he has won, Bono can’t resist another taunt, which provokes She-Hulk into smashing the vase over his head (doesn’t that count as hitting him?). This reveals that a 5¼ inch floppy disk was hidden inside.

Finding a computer, Death’s Head and She-Hulk discover that the floppy disk contains evidence against Bono – but 30 years in the future. Death’s Head deduces that the disk is his real goal and, after the briefest concern that she might be losing evidence against Bono for a second time, She-Hulk hands it over.

Days later, She-Hulk gets a letter with a 2020 postmark. It is from Death’s Head’s client: a prosecuting attorney who had gathered evidence against future-Bono on a floppy disk. Concerned that he would try to destroy it, she placed it in her family heirloom, then sent it back to the past – to the attorney that inspired her. Bono also found out and sent his past self to destroy it (hence the super-goons). The letter ends by saying that, evidence retrieved, Bono has been convicted – and the look on his face was … priceless!

Considering this issue reunited Furman and Hitch, two of the key Death’s Head creatives, I was expecting to like the story a lot more than I did. As a guest star, the mechanoid doesn’t add much to the mix, nor does he really sell himself as a character.

To begin with She-Hulk: this was Furman’s first of a 4-issue run on the title, so I can appreciate he was getting a handle on the character. But my take on the Sensational She-Hulk was that its humour was a lot more free-wheeling, disregarding the fourth wall and winking at the audience. This version of Shulkie is too introspective, quietly brooding on her failure. There is some slapstick involved with the vase, although I’m not convinced that She-Hulk would be pushed around by skateboarding kids or bustling commuters. In fact, the funniest joke in the issue comes from a peripheral character Plant-Man’s look of silent hopelessness as he sees a passer-by with a potted plant.

As a simple MacGuffin chase, the plot had potential, and I liked the random assortment of second-rate villains (Furman being a practised hand at utilising overlooked characters). But trying to incorporate the future plotline complicates things into a bit of a mess. It doesn’t make much sense that the future attorney would utilise time-travel and a priceless relic to hide a piece of information that can easily be copied and secured in her own time (even the Bono of 2020 is just a criminal, not an all-powerful supervillain); or that she would choose a time period where Bono is actively able to chase after it; or that if Bono was able to communicate with his past self, he wouldn’t be able to avoid his future fate. Moreover, I don’t see how allowing Bono’s criminality to prosper for 30 years is somehow a victory of She-Hulk.

I know time travel stories are often a continuity headache, but it seems that the final panel was written first (neatly tying up Bono’s ‘priceless’ defeat) and the explanation was made to fit. Even the mysterious letter with the ‘2020 postmark’ seems back to front – the usual convention for time travel is that correspondence lies dormant for decades, then appear at a letter date (so the future lawyer should get a letter from She-Hulk with a ‘1991 postmark’) – or can the postal service of 2020 work back through time?

I guess the reason to get mixed up with time was to incorporate Death’s Head. But this guest spot doesn’t really showcase him. The graveyard ambush was a nice touch (and in keeping with his love of surprise tactics), but the fight dragged on for a page too many. After that, he doesn’t have do too much other than appear in She-Hulk’s era, make a grab for the vase and join a half-hearted battle with some already-beaten bad guys.

He doesn’t really interact much with She-Hulk, probably because their common ground is tenuous. Time-travellers like Doctor Who and the Fantastic Four have a good excuse to adventure with him; mercenaries like Iron Man 2020 and Big Shot have motivation to butt heads. It might have been better to make Death’s Head a straightforward enemy of She-Hulk (working for future Bono perhaps) and just let them go at each other.

Another odd point is how little the character of Death’s Head comes across. There’s not much evidence of his humour or cynicism here. Even his stealing of the TVA cycle seems an out-of-character move: though he’s not averse to bullying free stuff (whether three quarts of oil or half of Keepsake’s gold), he doesn’t usually stoop to outright theft.

Hitch’s artwork seems to have evolved into a more rounded, cartoonish style that I think would have benefited from heavier inks (the splash page close-up of the antique vase looks especially bland). The movement and rendering of the characters is good, although the action scenes feel a bit light: as if some of the punches aren’t really connecting. There is some nice detail work: I particularly liked the reflection of She-Hulk leaping towards Death’s Head’s chrome face.

Next week: Death’s Head finds himself at the business end of a hunt in Marvel Comics Presents #76: “The Deadliest Game”

The Sensational She-Hulk #24 was republished ‘Death’s Head Volume 2’.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Microbots (part 1)

This week in The Ark Addendum... MICROBOTS!  Part 1.  No, it's not a two-part episode, I just have some more designs from the episode.  Unusual ones... but we'll get to that next week.

This week's installment is the backgrounds and props from the episode.  As we all remember, the Decepticons discover the remains of their as-yet-unnamed starship, which Beast Wars would dub Nemesis.  Inside is the Heart of Cybertron, which powers up Megatron and prompts the Autobots to shrink down, Fantastic Voyage style, and infiltrate Megatron's body. 

To me, the stand-out models here are Floro Dery's take on Megatron's insides.  He reused some of this imagery for the inside of Unicron a little later.  It's just a lovely alien landscape, bizarre and compelling.  Hats off to you, sir, hats off.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More than Meets the Eye storyboards!

So, as noted elsewhere, I have been trawling the archives of Heritage Auctions. Way back in the misty days of 2003, it seems they hosted a series of auctions for More than Meets the Eye storyboard segments. Since I thought people might want to see these, I have saved the full-sized images and am rehosting them.

Those two pages were said to specifically be the work of artist Victor Dal Chele. The rest of the storyboard auctions state the artists as "unknown", although some of them seem like they might also be by Dal Chele, going by that sample.

(This Ravage is adorable.)

Looking at these, one of the things that caught my attention was the fact that, in 06, Hauler wasn't drawn as a crane-truck, or really at all as anything resembling the configuration of the Grapple toy. Out of curiosity, I checked the MTMTE script that Jim tossed up some months back, and it turns out that Hauler was originally scripted as a tow-truck. Could it be that Hauler was originally meant to be proto-Hoist instead of proto-Grapple? The name does fit a tow-truck better, but the real answer is probably forever lost...

Anyway, enjoy the history!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Death’s Head Review: Fantastic Four #338: Kangs For The Memories!!!

Series over, Death’s Head begins his brief career as a guest star in Fantastic Four #334. The writing and drawing was by Walt Simonson (who apparently had a liking for the character), lettering by Todd Klein, colouring by Max Scheele and editing by Ralph Macchio.

The cover, by Simonson, depicts the Fantastic Four and their allies for this issue (She-Thing, Thor and Iron Man) falling into some kind of spiralling vortex. The perspective is dramatic, and She-Thing’s fearful expression adds to the peril. The huge pink fingers on the edge of the picture might give too much away about the final villain, but it just about works as foreshadowing. “Maelstrom!” the caption reads, “Guest starring Death’s Head!” (although I can’t imagine there were many who bought this comic for the guest star – myself excepted).

This issue is actually the second part of what will be a long-running saga, and the splash page shows the ‘Rosebud II’ time-sled, with all the aforementioned passengers (Ben Grimm in human form this time). The sled is entering a Time Bubble that has disrupted the flow of normal time, prompting this investigation.

Riding the wake of the sled are three Kangs (from the Council of Cross-Time Kangs, a collection of alternative universe Kang the Conquerors and their successors). Also caught in the time stream are Dr Druid and Terminatrix. They are too far behind to follow, but Dr Druid is able to mentally propel Terminatrix into one of the passengers.

At that moment, Human Torch screams (giving a clue as to who Terminatrix has possessed) and the sled arrives in a city of the future, where time as slowed to a crawl. As Reed locates the source of the anomaly, another time portal opens and out pops Death’s Head on a rocket-cycle!

In the traditional style, the two groups mistake each other for hostile and skirmish for a page or two until Ben recognises Death’s Head from their earlier encounter and a truce is called to compare notes.

Death’s Head has been hired by the Time Variance Authority to investigate and fix the Time Bubble. He assumes that the Fantastic Four are that anomaly, but an attack from one of the Kangs (specifically Kang of Earth-Mesozoic 24) forces him to reconsider and team up with the superheroes. Kang’s defences are quickly subdued by Death’s Head's photon cannon, who then catches him in a big net that swings out from his cycle.

The lizard-Kang is defiant to Reed’s questions, and Death’s Head takes over the interrogation, “Richards is human and feels kinship with all living beings, even scum like you. But I am a mechanoid and nothing would please me more than to rip out your eyes with my bright shiny teeth and feed them to you one at a time. Speak, yes?” Kang spills everything he knows.

Ignoring Johnny’s uncharacteristic suggestion that they kill the helpless Kang, the Fantastic Four join forces with Death’s Head and Thor teleports them all to outer space - the source of the anomaly. There they discover a galaxy-sized construct that is pulling in the whole universe.

Before they can go further, the remaining two Kangs (Chairman Kang and Kang of Earth 123488.2349) attack. Iron Man distracts Chairman Kang, Death’s Head neutralises his defences, Thor's hammer clobbers him and Reed hauls him in. The other Kang identifies the mechanoid as the main threat and shoots his time-cycle. The blast damages the cycle’s probability generator, which means Death’s Head is forced return to his own time. He disappears with a resigned, “This probably means no fee, huh?”

While the Kang is still firing at Death’s Head, Human Torch hits him with a nova blast, killing him instantly and without pity. Chairman Kang recognises Terminatrix and leaps off the sled to save himself. Human Torch/Terminatrix pursue him into the core of the construct – which is a black hole. The sled races after Torch, as Chairman Kang is sucked into the black hole and killed.

Looking around, Sue realises that the construct was actually Galactus, intent on devouring the whole universe. To make matters worse, the black hole is pulling them in…

Not perhaps the best of stories for the casual reader. There’s lots of action, and it tears along at a ripping pace, but there’s not much else. Since it’s part of a bigger story arc, the characters don’t noticeably develop (I assume there will be some ramifications from Johnny’s possession), and the villains don’t really add much tension, since their schemes are either far-reaching (like whatever Terminatrix has planned) or immediate (the succession of Kang attacks).

But I doubt this was intended to draw in Death’s Head’s fanbase to the Fantastic Four title, and he is serving the comic more than it is serving him. Indeed, he does make a pretty good guest star: his motives are clear and in-character, and he adds something to the group (Kang-busting weapons and a mean interrogation technique) without hogging the limelight. Even his rather-convenient departure from the story is useful to the plot, allowing Torch to ‘overreact’ and kill the Kang.

Simonson’s characterisation of the mechanoid is very good. Death’s Head is competent, adaptive and always businesslike (he remembers that Reed betrayed him in their original deal, but quickly dismisses revenge as unproductive). His interrogation of the lizard-Kang is a nice character moment, and wins the approval of the similarly no-nonsense Grimm (it somehow fits that those two would find common ground).

Simonson does a good job with Death’s Head’s verbal style, although it’s a pity that his first appearance has a somewhat clumsy, “All systems green! Arrived at destination, I have!” which makes him sound like Yoda. But for that, and maybe lacking a few dry witticisms, the character is barely discernible from Furman’s version. It’s a testament to the strength of the character (and the writing) that it can be passed around so easily.

The artwork is a little disappointing, particularly after the excellent Simonson cover to issue 9. There is some nice movement in there, but the line work seems a little rushed and some panels could have really benefited from a dedicated inker. The colouring seems uninspired, even taking into account the more limited number of colours on US comics, and sometimes the sense of scale can’t match the rhetoric (such as trying to depict a machine the size of a galaxy.) Perhaps this was in keeping with the style of the title, but it didn’t encourage me to buy more issues to find out.

A housekeeping note about the order of the reviews: chronologically, and in the collected works, the She-Hulk story came before this one. But it makes better narrative sense to have the Fantastic Four issue first, and so…

Next week: Death’s Head takes on She-Hulk and a host of bargain-basement bad guys in Sensational She-Hulk 24: “Priceless!”

The Fantastic Four #338 was republished ‘Death’s Head Volume 2’.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Ark Addendum - German Airstrip

The Ark Addendum for this week is once again drawn from the Masterforce era.  This time, some of the backgrounds: a German airstrip, where Phoenix spends his time when he's pretending to be human.  While most of the vehicles from Masterforce seem to be late 20th century, the architecture certainly is somewhat futuristic.  I'll post a few more over the next few weeks, but this one is pretty representative.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #145 "Stargazing"

The first new UK originated issue after the saga of Used Autobots, Child's Play and Spacehikers!, Stargazing was written by Simon Furman. The pencils were provided, unmistakeably, by Jeff Anderson and inked by Stephen Baskerville. Euan Peters managed the colouring and Annie Halfacree the lettering.

The cover is by Barry Kitson and although there's not a lot wrong with it it just isn't very exciting, although it is tempting to take Starscream's comment as a sly dig at the issue in general.

We find Starscream, fresh from the stasis pod he was locked in at the end of Target: 2006 standing in a snowy landscape and reminiscing about Cybertron. He goes through fond memories of wrecking Autobots on his homeworld and seems to be so homesick that he's ready to give up all his ambitions of taking over the Decepticons and leave Earth behind for good.

He is interrupted by a geeky looking (and insanely brave) human male who turns up and asks if Starscream is a Transformer. Luckily Starscream is so depressed that he cannot even be bothered to squash such an irritation and actually lets it engage him in conversation. It seems that this (still unnamed) human is really keen on Christmas and is determined to let the ambulatory warplane that he has stumbled upon know about it.

Despite himself, Starscream accesses his own datafile on Christmas and reels off the basic facts. The human is horrified to hear it in such clinical terms (genuinely horrified - he really bloody loves Christmas !) and tells Starscream that the Decepticon doesn't understand Christmas at all.

Starscream is understandably peeved at this (who wouldn't be?) and, picking the human up in one giant hand tells him to buzz off. The human seems to get the message and says that he will go home. The mention of the word "home" sets off Starscream's nostalgia circuits again and his anger is replaced, once again, by depression.

Realising that the human (who must have a death wish) has not departed, Starscream is confused. The human has detected Starscream's sadness and tells him that he'd be a lot happier if he just saw what Christmas is all about.

Starscream, for reasons that I doubt even Simon could Furman explain, transforms to jet-mode and agrees to give it a try. He stuffs the human into his cockpit. The suggestion is that they fly around for a while and try to find some people giving presents to one another - hardly compelling to Starscream.

The human tries to explain that the act of giving is the best feeling of all, which is the complete antithesis of the Decepticon philosophy. As they debate these points, they spot a bus that is stuck in a snow drift below them.

Starscream lands and the bus turns out to be full of old people. The human urges Starscream to help them but the Decepticon isn't sure what he'd get out of it. While they're discussing this a police car races up and transforms into Streetwise who blasts Starscream.

They tustle for a couple of pages before a break in the brawl gives the (insane) human a chance to admonish Streetwise for attacking Starscream! Starscream, for his part, decides to help the humans out of the snow drift.

Streetwise is totally confused by this and does not seem to buy the human's explanation that it's because it's Christmas, but then, that is his explanation for everything. Streetwise takes off to escort the bus to its destination, leaving the human with Starscream.

The human, for his part, is elated that Starscream has discovered the spirit of giving but the Decepticon assures him that he only saved the bus in order to humiliate an Autobot.

The human FINALLY gets the message that Decepticons don't do Christmas and turns away, wishing Starscream a sarcastic and disappointed "Merry Christmas."

As he walks away, something completely inexplicable strikes Starscream and he turns back, with a big smile, and wishes the human a sincere "Merry Christmas kid!"

What. A. Crock.

Ahem... sorry. I'll try again. Stargazing is very possibly the single worst issue of the Transformers UK comic that I have ever read. To A Power Unknown is arguably worse, but that was written by random people and stuffed into an annual to make up the pagecount. Only the most obsessive fan would care about its status in canon. Stargazing however, got an entire issue of the main book and is unquestionably canon, despite not making any sense.

Stargazing very much has the feel of an obligatory issue in two ways. For one thing, it came out at Christmas, and Marvel UK policy (I assume) dictated that there must be a festive issue, despite the fact that they were usually awful. For another, Furman had left Starscream in stasis following the events of Target: 2006 but he was about to be used in the US book and therefore had to be returned to functionality. Presumably given that he was about to go into Legacy Of Unicron, which has no place for Starscream's return, Furman decided to kill two birds with one stone, with bizarre results.

The concept of an evil or misguided character learning about the magic of Christmas is hardly a new one. Charles Dickens made a pretty good stab at it and, perhaps more relevantly, a previous Christmas story, Christmas Breaker did almost the exact same thing with Circuit Breaker. It's not easy to do it without being twee, however (and Christmas Breaker is fairly terrible, just not as bad as this one). The problem here is that Circuit Breaker is a mentally ill human character who has a good chance at redemption. Starscream is a ruthlessly evil alien robot. He isn't even liked or trusted by his fellow world-conquering death machines and that's not because he's too nice or anything. It's because he's a backstabbing low-life who wants power for its own sake and has no loyalty to anyone or anything.

Starscream's homesickness is borderline out of character for him but I'll give it a grudging pass considering what comes later. I honestly don't really see this as something that would bother him overmuch, but I suppose we all have our unusual moods. Him having any patience whatsoever with a bothersome human is completely impossible, however.

Lets look at the scenario from another perspective: I like Christmas. You get to see your family, and eat a lot, and more importantly, Doctor Who is on, but I would find this nameless holiday cheerleader extraordinarily annoying, as, I'm sure would many other readers. Now, I admit this is difficult to prove, given the anonymity afforded by the internet, but I am actually an ordinary flesh and blood human, not a millenia old invader from the beyond the stars and I'm guessing most of you aren't either so really we should be on the side of the kindly human trying to persuade Starscream of the magic of our way of life. We're not though, are we? We're firmly with Starscream as he expresses his cynicism for holiday cheer.

I am not against shades of grey. I am not against an attempt to engender sympathy for an inherently irredeemable character but this issue is not that. The reader is sympathetic to Starscream but shouldn't be, because being irritated on Christmas Eve does not make up for the Decepticon's many crimes. If Furman had seriously wanted to turn Starscream to the path of good, then that would have been a valid approach (I believe something along those lines happened in The Unicron Trilogy) but he is not doing that. He is merely churning out a piece of fluff that happens to tick a couple of necessary storyline boxes, without having a tone or characterisation that feels consistent within that storyline.

So, that's bad, and then... AND THEN, Starscream loses our sympathy but not in the way he should - by blasting the human into a wet stain on the snow but by giving in and wishing him a MERRY CHRISTMAS! Starscream, he who goes by the motto, "Conquest is made of the ashes of one's enemies" has been charmed by the spirit of Christmas. I would maybe have accepted the fakeout ending - that Starscream only saves the bus to humiliate Streetwise. It would still have been stupid, but it's the kind of stupid that Transformers can occasionaly deal in and get away with, but this final line is, like Starscream himself, irredeemable.

There's art. Some of it isn't too bad. One of the panels of Starscream transforming is pretty awkward. The bus is a weird shape. Who cares? Deal with it.
The colouring is quite nice.
NEXT WEEK: We start off looking at the next epic storyline: Legacy Of Unicron. I'm excited. Admittedly after this issue I'd have been excited by another look at The Girl Who Loved Powerglide but this should be a step up from that.

Death’s Head Review: The Body In Question, Book 3: Hunted!

The third and final part of the Death’s Head graphic novel was written by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior, letters by Helen Stone and Steve White was editor.

The setting is the strange dimension of Styrakos, but not where we left off. Death’s Head is staggering through a rocky wasteland as the captions narrate his dire straits. Unsurprisingly, Furman’s description of robotic life is first-rate, “A circuit fuses. A hydraulic muscle stiffens and locks. A servo motor sputters and dies. A final reserve system ebbs and fades…”

The mechanoid is babbling to himself and, in a nice touch, repeating punchlines from his earlier adventures: “Excellent party superb food, but must fly...”(4), “Your mothers never teach you to knock...”(6), “Your interior designer...” (9). Before he can regain his senses, the hunter catches up with him.

We get a splash page of Lupex stalking out from the mist. After the teaser of the previous book, this full portrait is magnificent. Both decayed and menacing, his armour reminiscent of Death’s Head, yet decorated with the claws, teeth and skulls of his former kills. Eyes glowing with magic, skin rotting off his bones, Lupex really is the stuff of nightmares (one of the reasons I didn’t think much of the cover was that it didn’t do justice to this antagonist).
Lupex uses his magic to topple Death’s Head, and reaches out to the limp body – only to be surprised by a desperate strike of his mace. By the time Lupex recovers, the mechanoid has gone. Apparently a ‘zone turn’ has occurred, switching from ‘majik’ to ‘techno’, which has given Death’s Head enough of a boost to escape.

As Lupex stalks across the bizarre landscape, he examines his decaying flesh. Time is running out for him, but that very danger gives this hunt more thrill. He flips out a number of ‘techno’ weapons and annihilates the scenery, repeating “The body. The body.” as an obsessed mantra.

Crawling from his hiding place beneath a pile of rubble, a battered Death’s Head concluded that this twisted hunter is a dark side of his own predatory nature, and must be conquered. We flashback to end of Book 2: after the mechanoid has just been transported to Styrakos. Lupex is explaining that Pyra believes he has possessed Death’s Head, which explains the attacks on him. Now thwarted, she will take out her vengeance on Spratt and the vulture. Death’s Head expresses regret about the vulture.

He goes on to talk about Styrakos, and how he is the ‘Ty Rejutka’, wielding the power of majik and techno. Such power is too much for mortal flesh to contain (which explains the decay) and Lupex has been repeatedly transferring his soul/essence to a new body (hence the victims of his hunts), ditching the previous worn-out one. As a solution, he created a metal body to contain his power forever: Death’s Head.

Playing for time, Death’s Head asks why he was given a personality, and Lupex claims that he was given thought and taken away by someone else. He had originally assumed it was Pyra, although her assumption that Lupex had possessed Death’s Head refutes this. He also remembers how Pyra seduced him for the secrets to his power and how he repaid that betrayal (we don’t see how, but Lupex is revealing the face beneath his mask, which is horrifying Pyra).

Death’s Head springs his attack – and his axe is vapourised by Lupex’s eye-beams, who then angrily zaps him against a wall. Undeterred, Death’s Head attaches his shottblaster – which fires a dud. The zones have changed from techno to majik. Lupex marvels at their randomness, before flinging Death’s Head out, declaring the hunt has begun!

Back in the present, Death’s Head is working on a plan. His complete rebuild in 8162 has given him a technological advantage over Lupex, whose arrogant superiority could prove a weakness. He is caught again by Lupex, who challenges him to stand and fight for his body. Unwilling to accept such a disadvantage, Death’s Head flees.

Following him across a twisted road through a boiling lake, Lupex gloats at his greatest achievement – to have broken such a proud hunter. Circuits dying, Death’s Head staggers up the stairwell of a tower. Lupex is in close pursuit, his taunts booming up the stairs.

Finally catching Death’s Head, Lupex holds him by the throat and prepares to possess his body. Lupex suddenly stalls when he realises that his majiks are not working – whereas Death’s Head’s retractable blade works perfectly. He stabs Lupex through the heart, causing him to disintegrate in a cascade of energy.

Lupex falls from the tower, as Death’s Head explains that his onboard computers were able to track the pattern of the zones, allowing him to lure Lupex into a zone change. He considers leaving Lupex to suffer an agonising death, but realises that would make him a sadistic hunter, just like his father. With an executioner’s strike, he completes his personal triumph – killing only for profit or survival.

He is teleported back to 2020 by Pyra, whose previous wrath has been replaced with beaming pride. She explains that her ‘mistake’ that Death’s Head was her husband had been a ploy to trick Lupex into summoning the mechanoid into his own dimension.

Pyra adds her side of the origin story: she did come to Lupex to steal his secrets but, repulsed by his decaying form, took her own consort that she eventually came to love. When Lupex found out, he not only killed her lover, but possessed his body (we see the moment of shock from the earlier flashback, this time from Pyra’s perspective).

Wanting revenge, Pyra sabotaged the metal body – making it a hunter, but with a mercenary personality that would fight back against being possessed and kill Lupex. Before that could happen, someone else stole the mechanoid, forcing Pyra to conduct this entire charade. She departs, warmly congratulating Death’s Head, and telling him to enjoy his well-earned freedom. Spratt, who has just recovered his senses, entreats Death’s Head to kill her. But not only is there no profit in doing so, but Death’s Head admits that he admires her. He shrugs his shoulders, “Huh! Parents, yes!”

A magnificent final chapter to this fantastic graphic novel. After building up for two-thirds of the story, Furman saves the best for last, delivering an exciting, interesting and satisfying finale.

We finally learn about Death’s Head’s origins: not a true robot, but a hybrid of magic and technology, given a hunter’s shape and a calculating soul by two parents at war with each other. Though none of this is mentioned in earlier issues, his subsequent theft by ‘persons unknown’ allows it to fit into Death’s Head’s early memories of a ‘programmer’. Personally, I’m happy to accept that a good story can overrule continuity problems.

We only get hints in the first two books, so this is where the whole story of Lupex and Pyra comes out. The story is a deliciously Shakespearean one of power, double revenge and murdered lovers. Although the notion of a ‘hunter’s dimension’ is a common one (Dr Who’s Survival and Generation 2’s Primal Fear spring to mind), Styrakos is a nice conceit. The vacillations between magic and technology are interesting, as is the idea that to wield both requires a physical sacrifice.

As for the Ty Rejutka himself, Lupex makes a great villain. The idea that he has been constantly swapping bodies to survive gives a great twist to the ‘remorseless hunter’ archetype (unlike say, The Predator, who seems to just collect skulls). It also nicely erodes any humanity, explaining his strange speech pattern (moving it beyond a mere gimmick to link him to Death’s Head) and the constant obsession with hunting and ‘the body’.

This issue also rounds off Pyra, although it was always hinted that she was more than a one-note vengeance character. Her scheme is a complicated one – although it does makes sense in order to dupe Lupex into lowering his guard. Less clear is why she would need to make Death’s Head a ‘businessman’ in the first place (to defeat Lupex, surely an independent personality would have sufficed?). Although her wish to make Death’s Head an opposite to the wanton Lupex just about justifies it. The maternal pride she displays is fun, and there could have been more mileage in further stories with her and Death’s Head.

And Death’s Head gets to face his own extinction and triumph. I like the idea that his ‘dark side’ is to hunt for pleasure – and it’s something that’s alluded to as far back as his encounter with Doctor Who. At a stretch, you could even say it’s why he insists on being a ‘freelance peacekeeping agent’, rather than the more predatory title of ‘bounty hunter’.

The entire issue is basically one long hunt, and it does a nice job of cranking up the tension – Lupex getting ever-closer as Death’s Head gets weaker. It’s a little jarring to begin in media res when none of the other chapters have used it. I think I would have preferred to continue events in sequence, so we would begin unsure of Lupex’s intentions, or how totally outmatched Death’s Head is. But the opening is atmospheric and, taken as a serial rather than a graphic novel, works very well.

It’s good that the confrontation with Lupex didn’t end in a titanic battle (since we already had that with Big Shot in the last book). I liked the twist that Death’s Head is able to outsmart Lupex because of the 8162 upgrade – in the idiom of the hero’s journey, he has returned stronger from his adventures to defeat the evil tyrant.

There’s no further praise I can heap upon Senior’s artwork – it really is sublime and probably the best I’ve seen him produce. Lupex gets the most attention here, and the imagery really gets across the power of the hunter, as well as neatly mimicking Death’s Head’s silhouette. From smoke to lava to magical energy, there is some great work with line and colour here.

One page I especially liked was Lupex’s pursuit of Death’s Head up the stairs – a frame-by-frame match of Death’s Head pursuit of Rogan in Book 1, mirroring the two hunters. It’s the kind of device that only works in the medium of comics and it’s done here to great effect.

Next week: Back in business, Death’s Head teams up with the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Thor as they take on the Council of Cross-Time Kangs!

The Body In Question, Part 3 was republished ‘Death’s Head Volume 2’, and in a larger format in the original graphic novel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Ark Addendum - Weirdwolf's Transform

And, we're back!  This week's Ark Addendum bounces back to the Headmasters!  Yup, it's another extended transformation sequence: Weirdwolf!

As an aside, I really liked how all of the smaller Headmasters from 1987 had head-based names.  Brainstorm, Chormedome, Hardhead, Highbrow, Mindwipe, Skullcruncher... very clever.  And then there's this guy.  I'm betting he originally had a name like Snapjaw or something, and it failed to clear, making him the odd man out.  Shame, though.  I guess it was hard to keep up, because by 1988 only one of the six new Headmasters had a 'head' name.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #138 "Ladies' Night!" Part 2

Simon Furman returned to write Ladies' Night Part 2, surprising no-one. Geoff Senior took over pencils from Dan Reed, Nick Abadzis supplied the colours and Annie Halfacree the letters.

The cover, which is really striking, was by Barry Kitson. It doesn't really accurately represent what happens in the story, but it's hardly the first comic to sacrifice that in favour of an eye-catching image and this is very eye-catching to say the least. Both robots and humans are well-rendered and Joy, Cindy and Susan are actually attractive this time and posed in a great Charlie's Angels style homage, particularly around the haircuts (and automatic weaponry).

Swindle is in the middle of wiring up an explosive charge when he is shocked to discover a flaming jeep heading right for him! His attempt to dodge fails and he is left stunned when, to his horror, he sees a human-controlled tank driving towards him.

Before he can raise his own weapon the tank fires. He is hit in the torso by an explosive shell and goes down in flames (Senior's artwork makes this look really painful - especially if you're a man - I think this might be a subtle reference to the "women fight back" theme).

It turns out that Joy Meadows has some experience in tank driving from a special she did on her news programme, so we'll go with that.

Cindy thanks the other two women for helping her when they had no reason to but Susan Hoffman explains that she could hardly turn down the find of the century - Ultra Magnus and Galvatron - still sealed within the crater. This prompts Cindy to recount what happened at the end of their battle which, since this year's annual which contained the story hadn't come out yet, must have been both really helpful and an incredibly lame way to find out to a reader in 1987.

Joy just uses the reason that she is a newswoman and this is good copy. This is slightly odd because her connection to the Dinobots was actually pretty strong and she built up a good relationship with them but perhaps Furman just couldn't more exposition into this fairly lean story.

Nearby, Soundwave finishes laying his charges. Onslaught asks him why they want to destroy a fellow Decepticon and Soundwave explains that Galvatron is too powerful and dangerous to be contained and would destroy all of their plans. He prepares to detonate the charges but Onslaught informs him that Swindle has not yet returned. He orders them to find their team mate and goes to guard the detonator.

A little way away the Autobots are worried. Blaster suggests that Goldbug goes to make sure the humans haven't got themselves into trouble. Goldbug is only too glad to go against his original decision as he agrees that they cannot leave the humans in danger and he hadn't liked leaving Ultra Magnus to die, despite it being the logical choice. At Goldbug's order, the Throttlebots roll out!

Onslaught and the Combaticons are puzzled by Swindle's unconscious condition. Their musings are interrupted when another driverless jeep comes hurtling towards them. Onslaught stops it easily before noticing that it is full of the explosives that Swindle had been laying!

The Combaticons scatter but Joy Meadows is ready with her tank. She blasts the jeep and the explosion throws the Decepticons in all directions and wrecks the tank. Battered, she crawls out of the wreckage and finds Cindy, similarly shaken up. They remember that Susan was closer to the explosion and turn to look for her, only to find Onslaught still standing, the unconscious archaeologist clasped in one hand.

Joy makes a determined last stand with an assault rifle but Onslaught laughs it off until he hears a voice from off-panel and turns to see the Autobots with guns in hand. Realising he is beaten he transforms and drives off but not before swearing revenge on the Throttlebots (this theme would be continued in the Used Autobots originating in the US comic).

The Autobots are surprised that the Combaticons have all retreated before Goldbug realises that the volcano is still wired up as one huge bomb!

Elsewhere, Soundwave transforms into tapedeck mode and prepares to send the detonation signal. Unfortunately for him, Blaster has anticipated this and also sits in ghetto blaster mode, jamming the signal.

The Autobots disarm the charges and all is well. Goldbug is grateful for the humans' help but tells that they they shouldn't have got involved. He does say they've done pretty well for mere... but is cut off before he can say "humans" by a furious Joy Meadows, who assumes he was going to say "women". Goldbug, predictably, is utterly confused by the ways of women. (just like all of us, am I right lads?). In all seriousness, this joke is pretty lame way to end a decent story and really dates the comic.

Luckily the real ending is much more interesting as we cut back inside the volcano to see that some of the rock has been shaken loose. Could Galvatron be escaping? But that, as the text informs us, is a story for another time.

Ladies' Night, while hardly essential, has been an entertaining dip into a slightly different kind of story. The innovative ways that the humans are able to hold their own with the Decepticons are a lot of fun, and believeable enough for a comic book world.

I could see there being a valid debate over whether the Autobots' riding to the rescue is a good ending or a cop-out but I am inclined towards the former. The Autobots are the stars of the comic, in theory, and it's better for believability to show the titular ladies holding the Decepticons off, but ultimately needing giant robot help at the end than for three squishy humans (and non-combatants at that) to actually defeat some of the fiercest Decepticons out there unaided.

Furman avoids a last minute deus ex machina by setting up the Autobots' dilemma believably and intertwining the two plots in a logical fashion. I especially like the characterisation of Goldbug, looking for any excuse to go back and help Ultra Magnus after making the decision to leave him. Obviously the Autobots cannot leave humans in danger but they have no real evidence that Joy, Cindy and Susan haven't simply slipped away after realising how dangerous the Decepticons are. It makes perfect sense that Goldbug, formally Bumblebee, friend of humans and all round compassionate character is only too eager to go back on his logical, but cold, decision, despite the probable consequences. It marks him out as one of the more "human" characters but also demonstrates that he struggles to be decisive when lives are on the line.

As far as the other characters are concerned Furman does not really portray Goldbug's decision as anything less than the right thing to do but the ominous nature of the last panel indicates that perhaps letting Galvatron go undamaged was a very bad idea indeed. I genuinely cannot remember if it ever is, but it would be very interesting indeed if Goldbug's involvement here is mentioned again when Galvatron does inevitably escape. Even if not, the final panel is enough to make us worried that things are not going to pan out well for our heroes, helping to redeem the story after the final "joke".

The other fun piece of characterisation is Furman's care to make Swindle's few lines all about his mercenary nature. Lines like "There goes my resale value!" after he is blown up are cheesy but almost essential in a comic that has a to juggle an immense number of characters, many of whom appear and disappear with little fanfare.

Senior's art is, predictably, a big step up from Reed's. His humans look more human and, amazingly, his robots look more robotic. You would think perhaps one would affect the other, but this is not the case. The action is clear and crisp although the scale problems from last issue are not completely gone - Susan really is awfully small in Onslaught's hand.

Ladies' Night was reprinted in Titan's Legacy Of Unicron collection. It is, like all of their lovely oversized collections, out of print, but easy enough to find. Unfortunately neither Joy Meadows or Cindy Newell were ever featured in the book again but Susan Hoffman does return in issue #215.

We have a long way to go before we hit that, however, so I invite you to check back later in the week when I will have continued my slow, but inexorable, march to the end of the Transformers UK continuity by reviewing a story about Starscream at Christmas... apparently he's not keen on it.

Death’s Head Review: The Body In Question, Book 2: Mirror Mirror

Part 2 of the Death’s Head graphic novel, and the creative line-up stays the same: Simon Furman writer, Geoff Senior artist, Helen Stone letterer and Steve White editor.

We begin in Styrakos, the same alien dimension that opened the last chapter, with equally atmospheric prose: “There are worlds a stilled heartbeat from our own; dark places that breed the stuff of nightmares…”. The hunter from part 1 is cross-legged and levitating in his sanctum, spying on the events of 8162 via a mystical cube.

The hunter, silhouette resembling the original Death’s Head, comments that Pyra’s wrathful revenge has played into his hands, and she has found his ‘body’. He watches Pyra send Big Shot and the DHII spacecraft through a portal, which opens behind an unsuspecting Death’s Head in 2020. He then claims he will deny Pyra, “…then shall the hunt begin! Oh yes.”

The title splash has the DHII spacecraft bursting from the portal, sending Death’s Head sprawling. It careens down the streets of 2020 New York before crashing into a glass wall. Spratt and the vulture tumble out of the crash, followed by Big Shot, bleeding from dozens of glass fragments and snarling revenge.

Death’s Head seems dumbstruck by their arrival. Despite Spratt’s entreaties, he remains rooted to the spot, unable to compute Big Shot’s drive for revenge. Big Shot blasts him in the shoulder, then follows up with a charge and a severe pounding.

They are interrupted by the arrival of several police on hoverpods, once again on Death’s Head’s side (he really is popular in 2020). Big Shot immediately blasts them from the sky, but the distraction allows Death’s Head to recover and knock his opponent down. While he cannot understand revenge as a motive, he attaches his axe with a look of malicious glee, admitting that, “… I am going to enjoy the next few minutes, yes?”

Despite heckling from Spratt and the vulture in the peanut gallery, Big Shot verbally strikes a nerve when he accuses the mechanoid of enjoying the kill just as much as any bounty hunter. Shocked, Death’s Head stops fighting to deny the claim and Big Shot smashes his cannon over his head. At the cost of his own arm, he stuns Death’s Head (even knocking off a horn) and moves to finish him: gouging his fingers into the optic sensors.

“He is going to die” the captions inform us, reporting on Death’s Head’s inner thoughts. In that moment, a memory surfaces of his creation: a bare mechanoid is surrounded by a number of organic tubes and veins. A woman is standing at a computer terminal, wires connected to her helmet, as we learn that Death’s Head remembers, “The woman and her words”. Having never questioned his origin, he has a sudden desire to know – only to realise it is too late.

Death’s Head is saved as Big Shot is zapped off his feet by a bolt of magic. Pyra appears from the shadows, her magic pinning Big Shot to the wall. The mercenary is confused about why she would stop him from fulfilling her vengeance (as is the hunter, watching from Styrakos) and even Pyra seems lost for an answer. She soon recovers her composure and claims the reason she stopped Big Shot from delivering the killing blow was so she could do it herself.

The mechanoid is ensnared in magic energies as Pyra cries revenge, “…the Ty Rejutka Lupex – has hunted his last hunt!” Death’s Head registers the name and protests that he is not Lupex. Before he can finish speaking, he is vanished away. Pyra screams frustration at being denied, before allowing herself a private smile.

Death’s Head reappears in the Styrakos dimension, still protesting that he is not Lupex. He gets his answer, “Is so, but I – I am! Oh yes.” We see the hunter in full: a man wearing green body armour, metal-banded arms and legs, leather gauntlets and boots, red cape and horned/tusked helmet. Death’s Head response is a bemused, “Dad?”

At half the length of the previous story, this book is basically a knock-down, drag-out fight between Death’s Head and Big Shot. In between the violence, the story moves along smoothly to the final act. Both Pyra and Lupex put their promised schemes into action, Big Shot gets his confrontation, and Death’s Head is transported to the final stage, sufficiently damaged to make his last stand a desperate one.

There even develops a motive to learn about Death’s Head’s origin (very convenient, for sure, but the ‘life flashing before his eyes’ device is a good way of raising the issue without making it too contrived) and the brief glimpse at his creation scene is intriguing.

Given that he was minding his own business before people started leaping out of portals to kill him, Death’s Head is more of a bystander in this chapter. As with previous stories, the mechanoid is not at his best when he’s reacting to events, but the numbed response is still surprising (why does revenge surprise him - does he not remember High Noon Tex?).

Getting beat up for three pages without even throwing a punch is most unlike the character who can usually adapt to any threat, in any era, at a moment’s notice, and I was shouting along with Spratt for him to do something. But in the context of his malaise from the first chapter, this passivity seems appropriate. It not only tells the reader that something is wrong with the protagonist, but sets up Big Shot as a threat so credible, Death’s Head may not live to put it right.

Big Shot is at his psychotic best here. His single-minded pursuit of revenge – even destroying his own arm to do so – shows up Death’s Head’s troubled hesitancy. They still have a great rapport, and even in the throes of combat there is a contrast between Big Shot’s furious rhetoric and Death’s Head’s unflappable cool, “I am the Avenger, the Instrument of her Vengelust! I AM DEATH!” “You’re a loony, yes?”

Apart from a background appearance in the next chapter, it’s the last we see of Big Shot. He was a great antagonist, probably the best of the series, although having come as close as possible to killing each other, I’m not sure where the enmity could have gone from here (although both being mercenaries, it would have been fun to see them forced to cooperate on a case).

The final reveal of Lupex is a brilliant cliffhanger. While his appearance had been alluded to, the full-length image of a precursor to Death’s Head is a powerful one. Clearly Pyra’s plan has worked out, but it seems to be what Lupex wanted too. Either way, it doesn’t look good for the mechanoid.

Senior’s artwork remains of an exceptionally high standard. The cocoon of Death’s Head’s creation looks wonderfully techno-organic and some of the magical energy really crackles with the light and colour.

I prefer the depiction of Pyra’s entrance in this chapter – striding forward purposefully – to her previous one, where she just stands a little awkwardly. Like her character, Senior’s rendering of Pyra appears to be developing throughout the story, and for the better.

The actual fighting scenes are a little flatter than I would have expected from Senior. I think this may be a consequence of the less cartoony artwork – there are hardly any movement lines or small, quick-fire panels, which he can use to good effect. Even so, some of the ‘static’ fight panels are magnificent – the image of Death’s Head clipping on his axe is one of my all-time favourites.

Next week: In the best traditions of epic science fiction, Death’s Head confronts his father: chapter 3 is Hunted!

The Body In Question, Part 2 was republished ‘Death’s Head Volume 2’, and in a larger format in the original graphic novel.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


So, I'm perusing the news section of, as I often do, and what do I spy but some listings for upcoming Sounblaster / Twincast Encore releases.  Ho hum, already got em... wait a moment!  What's this?  They come with new cassettes?  Sweet!  Twincast gets redecos of Ravage and Steeljaw, with weapons swapped, kinda neat.  And Soundblaster... Wowzes!  Soundblaster comes with redecos of Frenzy in all red as 'Enemy' and Ratbat gets an orange redeco as 'Wingthing!'


Let me explain.  Wingthing, if you don't know, was the little animal companion that came with Action Master Soundwave.   He was an orange and black little winged demon thing that turned into a gun.  Not bad, but nothing special either.  Still, Soundwave has always had a menagerie of animals, so why not one more.

Flashback to me working on The AllSpark Almanac II.  Derrick Wyatt gave me some of his late sketches, drawings, and brainstorming.  One of them is a pretty neat drawing of three Laserbeak repaints: one in blue, one in black and gold, one in orange.  Well, nifty!  I could do a page with them.  I came up with a story for them, ran it by Derrick, added his notes
(Originally I had it explicit that they didn't have sparks, unlike Laserbeak and Ratbat.  Derrick rightly pointed out that it was better to leave that ambiguous.)  Still, one page with three of the same image and nothing else seemed off to me.  So, I looked at Ratbat.  What could I repaint him as that would make sense?  There hadn't ever been a redeco of the Ratbat toy, nor a generic based on him.  Hmmm... Ah, yes, of course!  My old pal Wingthing!  So, colored her, wrote up a bio, and we get another piece of canon to enjoy.

So, when I see that TakaraTomy is running with my idea, I get a warm and gushy feeling inside.  Might they have done it anyway?  Of course, I'm not that big an ego maniac.  But I can't help but feel that I had a big part to play in this deco.

Naturally, I'll be picking up a copy.  

(BTW, Wiki folks, yes, I know that a lot of you guys are pretty stoked about Enemy.  I'm happy for you, but it's not my thing.)