Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #148 "The Legacy Of Unicron" Part 3

The Legacy Of Unicron!: Part 3 was written by Simon Furman, drawn by Dan Reed, coloured by Steve White and lettered by Annie Halfacree.

The cover was also by Dan Reed and while I sometimes enjoy his style, I don't think it works very well for covers. The advantage of Reed's organic-looking Transformers is how they look in motion but as part of a relatively static image, (despite all the explosions), all that becomes apparant are the flaws, like the fact Kup looks a bit like an outer-space potato man or Rodimus' thigh is nearly as wide as his torso. This would have made a fine interior panel, but as a cover it doesn't really measure up.

On Cybertron, a rare calm has descended. Kup doesn't like it as it doesn't feel natural. Rodimus Prime chides him for his pessimism but is forced to eat his words when a near-miss from an exploding shell heralds the arrival of their worst nightmare - a full-on Decepticon assault!

The Autobots scramble to retaliate and Rodimus throws himself into the thick of the fighting, all the while wondering what has prompted Shockwave to try such a risky move, as the evenly matched sides stand a very good chance of totally destroying one another.

There follows a dramatic two-page montage, which you can see just here, of the Autobots charging into the fray. Like the rest of the issue it's drawn by Dan Reed and his messy, line-heavy style works very well to convey the chaos of this scenario. That's not to say that I wouldn't have liked to see Geoff Senior's take on this scene but there's something abstract and almost... desperate... about Reed's style that I really like here. I think the difference is that Senior would have drawn something dramatic and precise and comic-book, whereas Reed's take is full of lovely little moments, but homogenises the combatants more than Senior would have done. Unusually, that is actually an advantage here, conveying just how unimportant individuals are in this kind of all-out battle. This isn't the clever heroics of Optimus Prime and his elite team on the Earth of the 1980s. This is proper, hand to hand, blaster to blaster total war.

(I would be very interested to see Furman's original script for these pages because Reed must have winced when he read it. I am reminded of a fan project I was involved with a long time ago where I wrote a script that contained the instruction: "Two Page Spread - Massive battle with hundreds of combatants on either side. Each should be unique." - needless to say, it was never drawn...)

Meanwhile, Scourge and Cyclonus overlook the battlefield, their minds no longer their own, and Unicron, safely ensconsed on the planet of Junk gloats over his imminent victory. The desperate final battle he wanted has begun, and now he only has to await the outcome. His enthralled Junkions are slowly, but surely, rebuilding his body and he will be ready to destroy the few pitiful survivors of this epic conflict.

Inferno, Wreck-Gar and Smokescreen decide that they have seen enough and have to get back to Cybertron to warn Rodimus Prime, hoping the matrix will be able to defeat Unicron as it did once before.

They are stopped in their tracks by an enslaved Junkion but Wreck-Gar, despite clearly hating himself, chooses the greater good and takes him out with a well-placed axe throw.

Death's Head has returned to Junk and is locked in a battle of wills with Unicron as he attempts to throw off the mental control. It's a tremendous effort, (even causing the mechanoid to sweat!) and it actually impresses Unicron, but the outcome seems inevitable, nonetheless.

The Autobots have nearly reached their shuttle when Inferno is blasted from behind and takes a tumble. Apparently Death's Head was not able to fully resist and is now back on the attack. Wreck-Gar is more alert and gives him a reasonable duel before being disabled. Death's Head/Unicron gloats over his victory before Wreck-Gar points out the shuttle taking off. Death's Head is about to execute the Junkion anyway but once again attempts to break Unicron's influence, managing to shoot wide. Unicron's mental punishment begins, causing the bounty hunter to fall to his knees in pain, but it's a small victory. Death's Head has proven that Unicron's domination is not total.

As issues go, this one is pretty huge, if a little unbalanced. In context as a part in a larger story it works very well but obviously taken as an individual installment it's hard for the final cliff-hanger to top the spectacle of all-out war on Cybertron. That said, the last page is very exciting, with interesting implications for future issues, especially for those of us who count ourselves as fans of Death's Head.

I find it interesting to compare this comic with the cartoon by Sunbow at this point. This issue came out after the three part finale episode, The Rebirth, a large part of which is concerned with a similarly all-out Decepticon attack, this time on Earth. On the cartoon the animators and writers are unable to really give us a sense that this is apocalyptic in scope. All the combatants are named characters and no-one seems to get seriously hurt. Legacy Of Unicron by contrast shows us a tough, desperate, all or nothing brawl. There are no individual heroics, no clever flanking manouvres, inspiring rallying cries or witty retorts.

There is a case here, after the comparitive sunniness of the issues set in the '80s, to regard this future as a kind of worst-case scenario. On Earth the Transformers are superheroes, on Cybertron they are meat for the grinder. Rodimus Prime is a more dour leader for a more dour time. No-one seems to think the war winnable, on either side, and the prospect of actually having a decisive battle is equally unthinkable for both.

Ultimately, of course, this future, along with the events of the Transformers: The Movie itself, will be erased from comic book reality by future UK comics and the Unicron war will happen in a rather different manner, but since there was not yet any hint that this was going to occur (and Furman probably hadn't considered it either) it could have looked like the future of all our favourite '80s characters was very bleak indeed, with the raft of shocking deaths from Transformers: The Movie still raw because those characters still featured regularly in the 1980s based issues despite the horrible fate awaiting them.

I've already written a fair bit about Dan Reed's contribution to this issue and while I don't really count him among my favourite Transformers artists he does occasionaly pull out something very memorable, and not in a bad way. This issue has to count among the high-points of his Transformers career and is a good indication of why he kept getting jobs on the comic despite his rather polarising art-style.

The Legacy Of Unicron! continues to charge ahead at a breakneck pace, introducing new story elements and testing characters to their limits. This is Transformers story-telling at its finest folks! See you next week!


Anonymous said...

Did I miss this when this was posted, or did it sneak down the screen?

Thanks for the note on when this issue came out relative to the show. Others have mentioned the parallels between this arc and 'Ghost in the Machine', and the post-movie comics era playing out over a few years sometimes makes me forget how fast my favorite season of the Sunbow toon came and went.

And somewhat like this future getting bumped out of the timeline by future events, 'The Rebirth' gets bumped off the end of the season 3 if one accepts Japanese continuity. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd seen those last 3 episodes in my childhood instead of SciFi Channel reruns as I started college, but THAT story deserved it. David Wise even apologized for how bad it turned out on the last Rhino box set, and it's no wonder this story outshines it in any given department.

I agree that Reed's artwork conveys imminent doom, but that might be because all his TFs look like they're about to start melting at any minute. Melting was always something that freaked me out as a child, ever since those G.I.Joe episodes with synthoids.

The future comics may have also seemed bleaker than the post-movie toon because no new characters could really be seeded into that future, with new toys needing to be showcased in the present-day US book. This gave a feeling that we'd only get more deaths instead of new faces, and implied that in this continuity the reason many toy chars from '87 on weren't around for the movie was that they died, Firebolt's example implying that several -masters' Nebulan partners bought it due to fragility or some flaw in the bonding process. Given Furman's penchant for horror themes, I'm surprised he never did a story where a half mad Mindwipe delivered some dire warning, pausing for a coughing fit in which he hacks up one of Vorath's rotting arms.

Great review, and glad you got this one out so fast! Looking forward to your thoughts on the epic conclusion.


Eugene said...

I always felt that Kup's zeal for combat was rather odd, to say the least. Someone like Blades, Grimlock or heck, Rodimus himself (if his characterisation in Headhunt in any indication) should have been the combat-passionate one.

It is a good issue nonetheless, in my second-favorite UK epic.

Hans said...

It's also a nice coincidence that IDW are doing something similar at the moment (an all-out war almost dooming Cybertron) with their Chaos story. But although coloring techniques have improved significantly since the eighties, making the digitally painted artwork look good, I still think that storywise, it doesn't come close to what Simon was doing 25 years ago. A real shame that they couldn't come up with something more epic. Because I still have no idea where the Chaos storyline is going, and I believe there's only 1 issue left...

Anonymous said...

It's curious that you point out Rodimus is a more dour leader than optimus, particularly when you realise that just a couple of years earlier he was the youthful hot headed fun loving Hot Rod.

It does add a dimension to the character I missed first time round, a leader shaped by battle, rather than by the Matrix (which was how he was portrayed on screen.

Having got this story originally in the British reprint title "collected comics" as a summer special (or winter special they were quarterly I think) the art work did jar quite violently from Senior's style. So much so that I felt this was possibly the weakest part of the story.

And yes, the cover is awful, the perspective seems off and the "effects" for the explosions and lasers feel like they were drawn by a six year old. Normally I cut this artist a little slack as I find his work quirky, but this cover is just, well, Bad!


Bishbot said...


I'm actually a bit of a fan of The Rebirth but it isn't really much good. My enjoyment of it is definitely tied to it being one of the few Transformers VHS tapes I had as a child. This story is a lot better but they're only really comparable in their conception of what an "all-out Decepticon attack" looks like. Some of it was a question of budget, of course. The full-on attack in the movie, while not quite at the level of this issue is a lot more effective.

Eugene: Kup is somewhat over the top but I feel this is Furman's shorthand to explain the situation. It is clumsy though.

Hans: My feelings on Chaos are similar to yours. Nice artwork, potentially exciting themes, but it does bother me a little that with only one issue to go I haven't a clue as to what the big picture is.

Andros: There is no question that Reed's artwork does clash with Senior's and the overall product would be improved if all of the issues could have been drawn by the same artist. Taking each issue as it's own thing though, I feel Reed's style is appropriate for this particular story, at least.

Anonymous said...

Bish: Yeah, sorry if I was a tad harsh on The Rebirth. I'm kind of the same way about The Ultimate Weapon: textbook example of a story that's less than the sum of its parts, but since it was one of only 3 eps of S3 that got the G2 treatment, it means a lot to me for being a typical day in the life in my favorite era of the fiction, during a solid decade when I had no access to the rest of it.

Speaking of Movie comparisons, a thought on the Junkion that Wreck Gar kills: Reed's depiction of oil gushing out like blood is a redeeming feature of his work, but after seeing how easily Junkions recovered from damage during Weird Al's opus, I have to agree with the "Prime Targets" guide's observation that it seems odd for this guy to die from a single axe blow to the chest, and he won't be the last one either. (Excepting the ones Slag smelts in a couple issues; no reassembly from that) I rationalize it by assuming that Unicron's mind control interferes with their ability to pull themselves together, but I was wondering if this bugged anyone back in the day.

And would any of us back then have guessed that in 2011 we'd FINALLY be getting so many long-awaited Junkion toys? Or our choice of Unicron heads to act this story out with? (through forced perspective)

But still no plastic Death's Head. Sigh...


Anonymous said...

actually it was how easily they were rebuilt in the film that bugged me more than the (seemingly) inconsistent deaths of the Junkions here. I mean we have just seen several recognisable autobots massacred by the Decepticons, some dying from a single laser blast, we even see Optimus Prime "fade away" after a few deep cuts and knocks from Megatron. So how the &*@£ did Ultra Magnus survive being blown to pieces? most of the Junkions just lost the odd limb and popped it back on, we see Hot Rod fix Kupp after a similar wound, so we know that isn't fatal, but "BLOWN TO PIECES" and they just glue him back together and give him a polish?!

The film is a microcosm of the problems the animated G1 universe had, it never stuck to its own rules.