Monday, 23 March 2015

The Black Archer

The Black Archer initially featured in Tiger & Hurricane in 1967. Clem Macy, a clumsy TV reporter, could transform himself into the Black Archer by simply thinking about it. The Archer had no particular superpowers, but was an expert shot with a crossbow and had all kinds of special arrows - a bit like the Green Arrow

Indeed, judging by the one story I've got, the strip has very little originality - his skills are the Green Arrow's, his secret identity is Superman's and he's got sidekicks and a stupid interfering cop antagonist straight out of The Spider. To be fair the strip here seems to be a later one which drops the original medieval-style hooded costume (which can be seen at International Hero) for a black number which doesn't even hide his face. It's pretty boring actually - especially considering how superb the cynical, grumbling Archer is in Zenith.
This story is from a 1985 edition of Eagle Picture Library, but if there's any doubt it's from the sixties, check out Chango's vely lasist speech patterns. Just to make sure we know he's Asian, he's randomly karate-chopping something the first time we see him too. Bolts of steel!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Transformers - Spotlight Wheelie

Like much of Simon Furman's IDW work this was the subject of much undue praise when released - mainly focusing on how the writer had made a much-hated character so likable. There are three big problems with this.

Firstly this comic came out at a point where Furman's work in the main titles was sorely lacking in payoff, notably the compacted and frustrating Devastation storyline. Shortly afterwards Transformers would be taken out of the veteran's hands and effectively given to Shane McCarthy, leaving Furman with a very limited number of pages to tie up loose ends. He failed, and reading those rushed, contrived, compacted comics is made more irritating when 22 pages were wasted on this side story at such a crucial juncture. Yes, the Spotlights should have been self-contained character pieces but that boat had already sailed and you're left wondering if this story really needed telling so badly.

Secondly the idea of 'saving' Wheelie is facetious. The original was a committee-written child association character who was too childish even for the audience, partnered for the most part with the similarly hated Daniel Witwicky and given an awful voice by Frank Welker. Writing him in a more grown-up context is a cheap shot and it's a no-brainer that Wheelie's more tolerable in the mature setting of the IDW universe. He was more tolerable in "Space Pirates" back in the eighties, this is nothing new and smacks of a writer after cheap plaudits.

Thirdly Wheelie isn't actually all that likable here. The first half of the comic is an emo Wheelie moping around before coming across the same old dull dilemma about a rogue Autobot realising what it means to be an Autobot after briefly considering a selfish action that would have caused problems for innocents. It's not a bad story but Furman's told it too many times and it means this is a dull and unsurprising read.


Transformers - Primacy

Closing Metzen & Dille's early war trilogy Primacy is something of a return to form for the thread, a little more worn than Autocracy but a step up from Monstrosity. Part of this may be due to the storyline being restructured as four 22-page issues rather than a dozen 8-pagers.

There's not a lot for non-converts here but Primacy accepts its' status as knowing action-adventure and revels in it. Really in the present climate of IDW's output it's nice to have a series where Megatron basically fill Trypticon all the famous Decepticons he can find and simply sets out to kill Optimus Prime and all the famous Autobots he's hanging around with.

Again the series fumbles cute references by making them leaden retreads but there's some nice character interaction here, including one of the least irritating takes on Grimlock since the Generation 2 days. Things get a little pat at the end but overall it's an entertaining if somewhat predictable read.


Transformers - Monstrosity

The second of the Metzen/Dille trilogy, Monstrosity is something of a disappointment after the pleasant diversion of Autocracy. It loosely covers Optimus Prime's attempts to persuade the general population of Cybertron that he's not a tyrant like predecessor Zeta Prime while trying to deal with the insurgent Decepticons. The latter spend a portion of the story under the command of Scorponok while Megatron is in exile.

Overall Monstrosity's big problem is that it's about lots of things and it lacks the tight coherence of its' predecessor. The biggest fault is Megatron's exhile to the planet Junkion, here a nightmarish Hell filled with cannibalistic robots. It's not a bad story idea and the pock-marked cloak-clad Megatron wading in Junkion oil around the planet with his pet Quintesson chained up is actually a great visual. The problem is such an epic idea is dealt with in too short a period of time, especially considering the format forces such rapid pacing.

The final act revolves around the resurrection of Trypticon and the attempts to tame the savage Dynobots so they can integrate into the Autobot army. Really it feels quite tacked on and adds to the feeling of a desperate jumble of ideas. Most of the actual dialogue and action is passable, though old references - predominantly to the '86 movie - grow in number as the series goes on and become quite jarring. Livio Ramondelli continues to provide beautiful art, however, and the story's not bad, merely flawed and rough.


Transformers - Autocracy

Autocracy was IDW's first attempt at a digital series, being made up of a dozen 8-page chapters. To avoid queering the pitch of the main physical books the decision was taken to set the series in the early days of the war, a period which overall is getting some nice fleshing out from IDW.

This series starts its' storyline not long after the conclusion of Megatron Origin; the Decepticons are beginning to consolidate and the general populace of Cybertron is caught between these revolutionaries and the corrupt senate. Caught between are the Autobots, notably valiant, principled cop Orion Pax (i.e. Optimus Prime when he was Op Rod). 

As ever the feeling of everything being a foregone conclusion does inevitably take a little drama out of proceedings but generally the writers - new-to-Transformers Chris Mentzen and prehistoric Sunbow hack Flint Dille - seem aware of this and side with telling the story straight rather than getting bogged down with cheap empty jeopardy. 

There are some nice character interactions between some of the big names in the early days of both factions, even if some again play merry Hell with IDW's equivalent of continuity. Pax/Prime and Megatron both come out of it well and are largely the focus of the script; Zeta Prime is a bit of a non-event, making you wonder why he was slotted in after Sentinel Prime when the latter could quite believably have developed in this fashion. Most of the rest are given an odd line or two here or there but sound authentic enough, though it's perhaps a bit jarring that Hot Rod would a) make the mature choice to sacrifice Nyon while b) still being an immature hot-head many years in the future.

The script gets a bit repetitive towards the end, complete with a telegraphed and overlong Transformers the Movie homage that just sucks anyone reading right out of the thing, but the format actually works and it's one of the faster IDW efforts. However, it's more solid entertainment than a crucial installment.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Transformers - Spotlight Blurr

Written by Shane "Drift" McCarthy - presumably as part of a plan to bring the character of Blurr into the mix before the writer was superseded by Mike Costa - this single issue suffers from a slight storyline against an interesting backdrop. Set in the lull between the initial rise of the Decepticons and the fall of the old-style establishment (headed here by Zeta Prime), there are some interesting looks at pre-war Cybertron and the script is one of the few to give much of a look at what Cybertronians did for entertainment while also highlighting that it wasn't necessarily a Golden Age for everyone (such as Blurr's mechanics, a clear underclass).

The problem is the lead story is just the same old one of a self-interested neutral eventually finding himself a better person for joining in with a good cause and helping out. The actual turning is perfunctory and would have felt like just as much of a foregone conclusion even if Blurr was an unknown character, and I'm not entirely sure why McCarthy chose to tell this story about this character apart from to indulge his street-racing fetish. Still, this is probably about the first time Blurr's been written as something other than a joke character and some of his abundant potential is at least hinted at.


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Comic Review - Transformers: Megatron Origin

The earliest-set complete series from IDW, Megatron Origin has a simple but fascinating premise - show how Megatron become Megatron and where exactly the Decepticons came from. Sadly, it's botched on just about every level. Eric Holmes' script was originally written for previous licensee Dreamwave and it shows.