Friday, November 4, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #147 "The Legacy Of Unicron" Part 2

The Legacy Of Unicron! Part 2 was scripted by Simon Furman, drawn by Geoff Senior, coloured by Steve White and lettered by Annie Halfacree.

The cover was by Robin Smith and unfortunately does not really live up to the excellent issue that it is wrapped around. Firstly, it's too yellow. In lieu of a proper background we have a yellow sheet with Unicron's gloating face etched onto it. I understand that the figures in the foreground are the important bit, and Unicron's face lurking in the background is quite a good idea, and thematically relevant, but really, your first thought upon looking at the cover is "man, that's pretty yellow," rather than "look at those cool robots fighting."It fails to emphasise the important parts of the issue. Really the eye should be drawn first to Death's Head and Shockwave, as their battle is the main part of the issue and the Unicron head should be noticed second, but the huge block of yellow messes this up and detracts from this aim. Then again, Smith's versions of Death's Head and Shockwave are both pretty awkward looking, so perhaps it doesn't really matter.

Despite the shocking appearance of Unicron's head at the end of the previous issue, Part 2 does not pick up immediately after that. Instead we are back on Cybertron where we find Shockwave preparing to deal with the return of Death's Head, bearing the remains of Scourge and Cyclonus and demanding payment for them wrecking his hit on Rodimus Prime. It's both funny and creepy to see Shockwave throwing his arms wide and telling the bounty hunter that it's good to see him again. It's unlikely that Shockwave would be able to carry off this forced jollity but luckily Death's Head isn't interested in greetings, he just wants his money.

Shockwave is happy to pay if they really are dead, as he may need Death's Head in the future but he has not risen to the ranks of Decepticon commander by trusting people so he has Soundwave conduct a mental sweep of the room (Furman loves Soundwave's tech-spec mind-reading ability, no other writer really bothers with it). This sweep reveals, as Shockwave suspected, that it's all a ruse and Cyclonus and Scourge are still alive!

Death's Head, his cover blown, fires on Shockwave but the Decepticon is too quick for him. Hear starts a game of cat and mouse between the two of them while Scourge and Cyclonus "miraculously recovered" face a tide of Decepticon reinforcements. Death's Head pursues Shockwave and seals a blast door behind him, proclaiming "Shockwave's mine!"

Meanwhile, back on the planet of Junk, Wreck-Gar has come home (ostensibly this is ten minutes ago, and each subsequent panel on this page ticks down a few minutes until we get to NOW! but it's a little bit pointless - a potentially nice device rather ruined by being crammed into one page). He, Smokescreen and Inferno are a little surprised by the lack of a welcome from the Junkions. Wreck-Gar finally spots some and the trio set off to see what they are up to. Nothing can prepare them for the sight of Unicron's disembodied head giving orders, mentally, to his current pawns, Death's Head, Scourge and Cyclonus!

Back on Cybertron, Death's Head follows Shockwave into a target range featuring facsimiles of prominent Autobots. He is struggling with Unicron's influence, revealing it is based on reward and punishment, rather than a complete takeover. Original thoughts are possible, but punished with pain. Distracted, he is barely able to dodge Shockwave's surprise attack and rails against Unicron for clouding his thoughts and nearly getting him killed.

Shockwave, his usual veneer of icy calm gone, blasts furiously at the locked blast door, desperate to get hold of Scourge and Cyclonus. Soundwave is trying to get through to help him, by having Menasor attack the barrier, but he will be too late.

The Decepticon leader is unimpressed when an Autobot dummy rolls out of the darkness, thinking that Death's Head will attack from another angle. Unfortunately for him, the bounty hunter is actually hiding behind the dummy and pops out to shoot Shockwave square in the back. Further shots blast holes in Shockwave and wires pour out like entrails.

Another shot tears his arm from the shoulder and leaves him helpless on his knees, smoke and sparks pouring from horrific wounds. Death's Head approaches him and tells him that he was a worthy opponent and on a different day he might have enjoyed their fight but that in these circumstances, with his mind not his own, it just makes him feel sick. He blasts Shockwave at point blank range and the Decepticon literally comes apart. Death's Head opens Shockwave's disembodied head, removes his brain module, and crushes it between thumb and forefinger, promising all the whole to "avenge [them] both."

Meanwhile, Soundwave has Scourge and Cyclonus at his mercy. Death's Head emerges and explains that he has executed Shockwave and that Scourge and Cyclonus must take his place as leaders of the Decepticons. Soundwave disagrees but Death's Head backs his point up by threatening to blow his starship, and everyone in the base, into pieces. Soundwave, ever the pragmatist, does not argue and immediately hails Scourge and Cyclonus.

Back on Junk, Unicron is talking to himself. He explains that with Scourge and Cyclonus in command of the Decepticons, he will force them to lead a devastating attack on the Autobots which will leave few Transformers alive, paving the way for his return to Cybertron and its destruction!

The decision to take us to an unexpected place after the shock reveal of Unicron's survival pays off enormously for this issue. What could easily have turned into a simple story of Death's Head fighting the diminished Unicron on the Planet Of Junk has turned out to have dire consequences for Cybertron and the entire Transformer race - as any Unicron story really should.

One aspect I like so far about The Legacy Of Unicron! is that it focuses on Unicron's tendency to act through catspaws, as Death's Head is treated similarly to the way Galvatron was in the animated movie. This is important because Unicron himself is hard to relate to. He's so big and so destructive that he needs smaller minions to carry out his more subtle plans and to give the audience something less cosmic to follow.

Shockwave's destruction is a genuinely shocking moment. Of course this happens in the distant future (2oo8) so readers can still enjoy stories about Shockwave from the present day (1987) but we have never quite seen a major character, even a Decepticon, dismembered in such a brutal fashion. The crushing of the brain module is a particularly memorable and disturbing touch, telling us, without being so crass as to put it into words, that Shockwave isn't coming back.

Unicron's plan makes a fair bit of sense as well and has a bit more intrigue behind it than simply wanting to get stronger and attack Cybertron. I like him using Scourge and Cyclonus as his puppets, since they were created by him in the first place but I rather get the impression that picking Death's Head might have been a mistake. The strong-willed bounty hunter gives several indications in this story that Unicron's control might be less than total and one slip and he is going to come looking for revenge.

When it comes to artwork, really only Geoff Senior could be relied upon at this point in the comic to deliver the kind of dynamism that the death of Shockwave demands. He steps up, giving us one memorable panel after another. It says a lot of his art that we can feel empathy for a being without a proper face.

We're in an exciting place here. The Autobots are approaching Unicron and clearly have a big part to pay but we cannot count Death's Head yet, and will the Autobots and Decepticons be forced to break the stalemate they've been mired in at Unicron's bidding? We are promised "TOTAL WAR!" next issue, so there's a chance!


Chuffer said...

Great characterisation, superb art – this issue was one of my favourites from the Marvel UK run.

Although it builds into the bigger Legacy of Unicron storyline, these last two issues make a nice pairing with the ‘Headhunt’ storyline (it helps that it was ¾ drawn by Senior).

The seeds of Shockwave’s own downfall were sown from his hubris that he could manipulate the Death’s Head/Rodimus/Cyclonus & Scourge situation to his advantage – only to have it all rebound as he gets caught in the web of a greater schemer. A fitting end for the character.

Bishbot said...

Inciteful thoughts Chuffer. I've actually always thought that Shockwave and Unicron would make for a pairing with interesting story potential. Megatron (and subsequently Galvatron) is mostly rage and bluster and raw power, but Shockwave (in the comics at least) is a schemer, as is Unicron, even with the might at his disposal.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, an issue so awesome that only devout nitpickers could really find a minor it's a good bet that someone in Transfandom will:

On the Obscure TF website, "Jhiaxus" points out that Shockwave apparently hires his Decepticon elite guard right off the set of Doctor Who. Senior designed his best generic TFs when he could focus on just one, like the Autobot technician in US#61, and the green guy in UK#98 who apparently went on to influence the appearance of both Death's Head and Dragon (of Claws fame). When he had to make up more than one in a panel it was a bit of a mixed bag. Even the greatest TF artist of all time ain't quite perfect, an argument I use when I'm trying to sell more casual fans on the comics and they complain about art inconsistency; we have variety because no one gets it all right all the time.

Granted, that argument's pretty easy to counter by citing any ep of the cartoon animated by AKOM, but I stand by it.

Another thought on Shockwave's death: Was it that draft of the TF:TM script released a year ago that confirmed Shockwave was supposed to die in it? Interesting that so many fans assumed he was killed by Unicron at the end because he led the counterattack, and in the cartoon universe his death would be emblematic of Cybertron's transition from Decepticon to Autobot hands, yet it doesn't actually happen onscreen. In the comics however, Furman flat out tells us no, only to have Unicron make it so a year later, in a much different fashion. Sort of like the reveal of Wheeljack's survival in Space Pirates (though presumably everyone but Hopper got better, and that might have been the artist's mistake).

And kind of like how in Japanese continuity, almost immediately after The Return of Optimus Prime, Op is soundly re-killed in the 3rd episode of Headmasters. Whether you thought it undermined his heroic death in TF:TM, or thought cartoon Op deserved to die for his creepy policy of burying alive those he couldn't ethically kill and that Rodimus Prime was actually a better leader, his cheap resurrection was not the greatest move.

Sorry, back on topic: HEY! Was this the only time Furman ever used a gestalt when not mandated to by an introduction story? (Devastation Derby doesn't count: using Devastator was clearly part of the "Special Setup". Superion showed up twice in Earth Force, but it's kind of hard to score that...) He offset this by later leaving Monstructor out of Rhythms of Darkness and thereby all of comic continuity. You could almost say the same of Budianski's work; I guess robots combining kind of wastes panels in a comic and can't look as cool as in animation. Yet when one panel absolutely requires a big door-opener, gestalts will be remembered...half the time. Trypsie deserved his repeat appearance just as much.


Anonymous said...

Well, Furman used Predaking in 'Prey', which admittedly was an intro story but one he did by choice, seeing as the Predacons weren't released as toys in the UK. So does that count?


Anonymous said...

no Furman used the combined teams frequently, you only have to look back 2 reviews of the UK title to see him use the combaticons. And that was definitely NOT an introduction story.

Combined forms were used sparingly in the comics, presumably because other gimmicks were introduced causing the gestalt thing to become old hat very quickly.

as for inconsistent art, the UK had no choice really. When you are putting out a weekly title, you would constantly miss deadlines unless you have multiple artists working at the same time on several issues at once. Plus to combat plot changes necessitated by the US title (which never actually acknowledged the existence of the UK title) script changes could happen at a few days notice.

Eugene said...

Strangely enough, both TFwiki and TFarchive claim the cover was drawn by Lee Sullivan (which is of course, impossible). I personally thought Jeff Anderson was behind it when I first saw it (Mostly for Unicron's drool and the unconvincing dynamics).

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The cover credit in the issue itself is "Jeff Anderson, Stephen Baskerville, and John Burns".

Eugene said...

Oh, thanks! Guess my hunch was right.

Anonymous said...

eugene, TF Wiki is populated 50% by people taking the piss and 50% by people who are so obsessed with transformers they can remember which panels Ratchet appeared in in every US issue.

But one thing it does not have, is someone checking everything is correct. I've found a lot of suspect comments on there, so many in fact I take the whole thing with a very big pinch of salt.