Friday, 29 January 2016

Comic Review - Shogun Warriors

In 1972, inspired by imported Dinky toys based on Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, the Japanese toy company Popy decided to put out a licensed figure of the anime character Mazinger Z. Unlike most Japanese toys of the period it eschewed tin in favour of a mix of diecast metal and ABS. It was so successful that Popy followed it up with a string of other super robots licensed from popular kids cartoons, the range becoming known as Chogokin after the fictional alloy Mazinger Z was constructed from.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Comic Review - Transformers: All Hail Megatron

PUBLISHER: IDW, 2008-2009

All Hail Megatron gets so much right. So, so much. Intended as a summer blockbuster to reconnect with the casual comic buyer,  long alienated by the rambling joyless mess Simon Furman had turned the book into AHM largely failed from both a commercial and critical point of view. 

The basic idea of resetting the cast to all the big names and having Megatron straight up invade Earth is great. After the Reapers and the Dead Universe and Verity and all those moronic Men in Black operations readers were due some good wholesome smashy robot fun. It even follows on nicely from the Autobots abandoning Earth abruptly in Devastation while the protracted winding down of Furman's storylines largely involved putting all the familiar faces in the familiar places.
And the opening setup is great, with the Decepticons wreaking unchecked havoc in New York while the Autobots huddle on a habitable but inhospitable Cybertron, with Optimus Prime on life support after they were lured into a trap by an unknown traitor. There's some surprisingly adept characterisation in there as well, ranging from good takes on Ironhide and Cliffjumper to the first real progression of the Megatron/Starscream dynamic since, well, ever.

But right from the start there are problems. Firstly the series is straight up overlong. The plot would have been nice brainless popcorn fodder at six issues (which I recall it was originally pitched as); at twelve issues it's flabby and bloated. Most dispensable are the humans - while some idea of the natives' response and predicament was necessary the time and space given over to first downed F22 pilot Andy and then IDW's in-name-only arsehole version of Spike Witwicky not only sap the pace but in the case of the latter take away plausibility too.

Secondly McCarthy cheats somewhat on bringing further characters into things. The basic premise revolves around the Autobots having taken serious military reverses all over the universe. This takes a hit when the battered squad on Cybertron get an artificial pepping up due to Kup and a crew of guys the writer obviously thinks are the coolest ones just drop in and start showing off. Yes, Science Sniper Perceptor is cool but their arrival just feels like a cheap shot - and when Omega Supreme makes a timely reappearance suspense disappears as it becomes clear there's always going to be a cheap escape route. Kup  himself is also quite annoying - the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman impression wears thin quickly and rather than coming across as an inspiring living legend he's more of a grousing, bossy sod. 

Thirdly there's the odd relationship with past material where some of Furman's plots are worked on while others are brushed over or outright contradicted. The discontinuity is jarring due to never really knowing what's going to be ignored and what's going to be picked up as a plot point. A straight reboot was clearly the thing to do; quite why IDW opted to shackle the thing to Furman's messy overcomplicated output is one to ponder. 

Nothing really sums up the best and worst of All Hail Megatron than the sequence where Sunstreaker is revealed to be the traitor who sold the Autobots out. It's a surprise even though the misdirection afforded to suspecting Mirage is a bit obvious. It's brave - there's no cerebro-shell flaking, with only a little misleading from Starscream an Autobot betrayed his faction, partly through wanting an end to the war but largely to dick Earth over after having such a horrible time there. Which is an odd one as his treatment by the Machination was from Furman's material but then so apparently was some trite rehabilitation. We'll give that a pass as the Huntstreaker stuff was bilge, though. So let's digest this massive development. .. No, wait, he's just blown himself up in a dumb redemptive and somewhat pointless gesture and the whole thing is barely touched upon.

By the last two or three issues the thing is really all over the place, still full of padding but also glossing over loads of other things as it staggers to the finish line. Spike takes up pages and pages while he finds a supergun to shoot Megatron but at the same time Optimus Prime is revived, the Autobots hop onboard Omega Supreme  (in Sunbow mode rather than mystical Spotlight : Optimus Prime mode), fly to Earth in short order and... just beat up the Decepticons. No mention that only a short time ago they were broken husks starving on Cybertron. No big cool strategy, no plot device even. They just drop out of the sky over New York and take the Decepticons out. It is made a little easier by there only being a dozen or so Decepticons; the (possibly Hasbro-mandated) appearance of Dropshot aside, we're in pre-TF:TM territory here, which is odd when you consider who the Autobots have. It makes you wonder, ambush or not, how they managed to lose so badly in the first place. 

All Hail Megatron reads like a first draft of a potentially enjoyable comic. There are several good moments and in among the attempts at crowd pleasing there are a couple of genuinely fresh ideas that deserve more exploration in a better comic. But the finished material is badly paced, contradictory and ultimately frustrating. 

Friday, 22 January 2016

Comic Review - Transformers: The Movie

When Transformers The Movie was released at the end of 1986 Marvel were in a bit of a bind. Monthly comic writer Bob Budiansky was still pottering away with stories set in the present day, but Marvel naturally wanted some trickle down from the film's expected gigantic box office (ahem) and also to stave off requests from readers asking when the new characters would be showing up in the comic.

The obvious answer was a limited series adaptation. These were often good for the coffers anyway - home entertainment was still in its' infancy, so a comic or novel version was often the best way for most kids to relive a film once it had disappeared from the cinema. With Budiansky busy on the monthly and other duties the task of adapting Ron Freidman's script fell to Ralph Macchio, an experienced Marvel staffer who isn't the same guy who played The Karate Kid. He was given three 22-page issues to tell the story and a fairly advanced but not final copy of the script to work with. 

It's difficult to tell what's down to the different demands and abilities, what was from the draft script and what was just changed on a whim by Macchio, but notable differences in the comic version of events include:
  • Unicron shrouding his targets in corrosive mist before devouring them, while Kranix actually transforms while fleeing Lithone.
  • Ironhide's sacrificial lamb crew of first year stalwarts are given slight dignity due to the entire Decepticon army only sneaking up on them due to an asteroid storm obscuring the shuttle's radar.
  • Megatron beats Optimus Prime in the fight without Hot Rod's help, though he still uses a discarded handgun after begging for mercy.
  • The Matrix is passed to Ultra Magnus without being caught by Hot Rod first.
  • Ultra Magnus is drawn and quartered by the Sweeps; a few delusional lunatics still claim this made it into the theatrical cut but was swiftly withdrawn and replaced by Magnus getting blown up. While that's idiotic (how would the final death be animated so quickly as to not break the film's brief cinema run?) it does seem to have still been in there for the cast recording sessions as it fits better with Robert Stack's drawn out reading than being shot.
There are myriad design changes too - not only is everyone in their 'comic' colour schemes (so grey Galvatron, black helmeted Megatron, all red Ironhide and so on) but some of the designs are different - the Matrix is a green angled cube thing with no handles.

The comic's most fatal flaw is built in, however. All of the things that turn TF:TM from a noisy violent toy commercial - the slick animation, the Vince diCola score, Peter Cullen's vocal performance - into a nostalgic piece of light show wallpaper - are impossible to replicate in a comic. Don Perlin's work is adequate if rushed in places but it's on a hiding to nothing in trying to reproduce the film's moments of visual splendour. 

Really these days with myriad DVD releases available for pence on ebay it's only really a curio for fans who want to see a few ideas that didn't make the script and laugh at some of the clumsier moments - there's an expository paragraph of dialogue handed to Sludge of all characters that has to be read to be believed. 

The storyline was all but ignored by the rest of Marvel's American output. Budiansky has admitted he has little affection for the movie cast (something that can be seen in their unusually poor Universe profiles) and neither they nor the future would feature in the monthly for some time. At Hasbro's behest Optimus Prime and Megatron were written out but their replacements were Grimlock and Ratbat while the stories stayed set in the present; presumably the adaptation was enough to keep Hasbro happy in terms . 

Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Cyclonus and Scourge would eventually show up as Targetmasters a year down the line but Ultra Magnus, Rodimus Prime, Wreck-Gar, Galvatron and the Quintessons would have to wait until the monthly comic fell behind schedule and cartoon episode "The Big Broadcast of 2006" was adapted, again by Macchio and again terribly - even allowing for how poor the actual episode was. A second fill-in adapting "Dweller in the Depths" was thankfully not needed, but Galvatron would eventually resurface as a major supporting character soon after Simon Furman took over from Budiansky. 

Furman liked the film as soon as he saw it and soon realised the relative freedom the future offered him for the Marvel UK comic. Thus, via the ambitious epic "Target: 2006" (the title giving away that, like Macchio, he was working from an early draft), the events of the film were incorporated into the British continuity as a springboard for seminal stories that eventually fleshed out things like the Matrix, the Quintessons and Unicron, culminating in Furman penning the first attempt at a Transformers origin story.

However, the limited series itself wasn't part of the main run. While the US material was reprinted as a key component of the UK weekly, the Movie mini-series was instead repackaged as the 1986 Winter Special, featuring good quality paper with card covers, retaining the large page format of the weekly. This was probably to get the same lucrative Christmas gift appeal of the British annuals,  though it might be that Marvel UK weren't overly impressed with it. There was a token attempt at editing all references to 2005 into 2006 but they missed one. Another Marvel attempt to cash in on the film came in the former of the obscure Transformers Poster Magazine, a large fold out of the superior British theatrical poster with a few miscellaneous facts on the back. Stuart Webb has covered this odd little trinket nicely on his Transformation blog. Despite the attention, TF:TM tanked on this side of the pond too.

By the end of the eighties VHS was more accessible and the tape was reissued a couple of times before the format was overtaken by DVD. Even the Movie was out on disc before the eighties nostalgia boom took off, meaning there was no demand for a reprint from Titan. IDW then decided to do their own adaptation of the film for no apparent reason, managing to come up with an even more pointless end result. 

As such, the 1986 mini is one of the few Transformers comics not to have been reprinted in recent times - and with good reason. However, for the morbidly curious here's a compendium containing 1/ scans of the US mini-series  (not by me and somewhat dated as I downloaded them somewhere around the turn of the century ) 2/ the UK Winter Special  (good resolution scans I did myself a couple of years ago) and 3/ the Poster Magazine (part of the same scanning project but less successful due to the physical size of the thing). 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Comic Review - Marvel Boy

PUBLISHER: MARVEL, 2000 - 2001

Grant Morrison started his comic career at Marvel's UK branch on licenced titles like Doctor Who Monthly and Action Force before getting his teeth into things like Zenith, Animal Man and The Invisibles. It was something of a coup for new Marvel EIC Joe Quesada to get such a hip writer working for the company at the turn of the century and in return Morrison was given relative creative freedom to craft Marvel Boy

Issued under the more mature Marvel Knights banner (flying high at the time due to well-received darker series for the likes of Daredevil and The Punisher), the series shares only a name with the Atlas character. The premise in a simple glib line is instead "what if Captain Marvel really was pissed off when he got to Earth?". Instead of coming as a spy and finding he likes humanity, central character Noh-Varr is part of the crew of a science vessel shot down over Earth by an insanely wealthy maniac and opportunist who calls himself Midas. Only Noh-Varr and the ship's biological computer Plex survive the crash.

Noh-Varr promptly declares war on Earth in general and Midas in particular and it's no empty boast; bio-engineered with support from Plex and a buried Kree science vessel packed with exotic weaponry he's one angry and dangerous lad. What follows is a riotous cascade of innovative powers, technology and concepts. The imagination is almost incontinent.

Throughout the six issues the storyline is largely concerned with Midas, a fellow dressed in what looks to be the original Iron Man armour who wants the cosmic ray engine of Noh-Varr's ship to complete his quest to gain the elemental powers of the Fantastic Four. His main weapon is his messed-up daughter slash personal assassin Oubliette (Wikipedia it!), who quickly becomes fascinated with Noh-Varr. 

The only interaction with other Marvel Universe characters comes when Noh-Varr torches an obscenity onto the face of the planet, drawing the attention of Dum-Dum Duggan (I think Nick Fury was dead at the time) and SHIELD, but after the cloned supersoldiers they send in are defeated he's largely left in his own corner. The story manages to set itself firmly in the Marvel Universe without Captain America or someone turning up in a way that foreshadows Morrison's use of the X-Men mythos soon afterwards - he's more interested in the concepts and possibilities than actual events outside of the title, making the story fresh and independent. 

Only the issue revolving around the living corporation Hexus (a great idea that can't be done justice in 22 pages). Aside from that, this is a crucial, energetic and thought-provoking little series. It's also a great introduction to Morrison's style for anyone into typical superhero fare after a nice gateway into weirder comics.

Comic Review - The Official Gobots Magazine


Gobots was always seen as the poor cousin to Transformers and to some extent that was fair. If anyone wants to slander the overall quality of the toyline they can step outside and be administered a hiding courtesy of my man Perkins but as a franchise it was all over the place. The problem was that while Hasbro spent time working with Marvel on a set of character bios and a mythos for Transformers, Tonka - in their rush to get toys on shelves - just threw pun-based names on the figures and basically left it at that. Seriously, the first batch didn't even gave faction names, but were delineated as "Friendly Robot " or "Enemy Robot".

By the time Tonka got their cat together and linked up with Hanna Barbera to make the terrible but Stockholm Syndrome-inducing Challenge of the Gobots cartoon Transformers had overtaken it with barely a look back. The other half of Hasbro's media pincer was of course the exclamation mark-riddled monthly comic, and to that Gobots had no real equivalent. With Marvel working on Transformers and DC not doing that sort of thing comic rights were just another thing for Tonka to sell off to some hapless goober rather than part of the company's promotional arsenal.

The first attempt at a Gobots comic wasn't even really a Gobots comic, but is worth a brief mention anyway. Bandai retained European rights to the figures and sold the line there as Robo Machine; after seeing Tonka's initial success they inked a deal to copy the names and factions over and decided to promote the brand with help.from Fleetway. They put out a serial in the weekly Eagle comic written by veteran Tom Tully with a grittier tone than Transformers material of the time that still stands up well despite a hurried, inconclusive ending. 

In America however the licence fell to Telepictures. Don Welsh's company mainly handled television syndication packages but also had a small publishing arm which put out titles for other programmes they owned the rights to, such as The Muppet Show. When Challenge of the Gobots came under the former they decided to put out a title based on the show - The Official Gobots Magazine.

And it's certainly a magazine rather than an outright comic; the large format quarterly generally averaged five or six pages of actual Gobots content. As well as a five-page strip set in the Challenge of the Gobots continuity (if that isn't an oxymoron) the title was padded out with the same sort of stuff Sheila Cranna used to fill pages in the early days of the British Transformers comics - anything on file about sci-fi, robotics, computers and home electronics.

The first issue was put out for Winter '86 (probably an off-sale date), with - as for all the published issues - a painted cover by Paul Mangiat. Inside was the strip "The Blast of Doom", written by P. E. King (a quick Google seems to line up with a moderately successful children's book author of the period) and illustrated by one R. Reese - most likely Ralph Reese, who drew for Flash Gordon and National Lampoon but seems to have had an eclectic career. It's a trite little trip with Dr. Braxis coming up with a gun to kill Leader-1, who is lured into a trap when Pincher is able to kidnap Scooter and Nick (a.k.a. Team Fail) while popping out for ingredients to make a birthday cake for A.J; it makes the cartoon itself look like Evangelion or something.

Dated Spring 1986, the second issue's strip is called "Scooter's Mighty Magnet" and you can pretty much guess it all from there. The writer is Jay Itzkowitz, a staff writer at Telepictures (also working on their Muppets and Robo Force titles) and the art is by Paul Kirchner, another one with an unusual CV that included surrealist strip the bus for Heavy Metal and covers for Al Goldstein's porn tabloid Screw with He-Man and Thundercats. About the only thing of interest is a rare appearance from Creepy in with the Renegades.

Issue 3 (Summer 1986) had a cover falsely promising an appearance by Mr. Moto, but the strip ("The Wrath of the Mountain", written by King and illustrated by Kirchner) features the usual cartoon crowd of Leader-1/Turbo/Scooter versus Cy-Kill/Cop-Tur/Crasher, with the Renegades mining an energy source called Ultium from a sentient mountain (they even put a sign up). See if you can work out how that goes. The issue also featured the first of the "Ask Leader-1" pages, where readers (or staffers) quizzed the Guardian leader with a mixture of Gobot-related and general science questions; it's actually quite a sweet feature - I doubt anyone at Telepictures was aware of the UK Transformers comic's use of a character as letter answerer.

Tonka of course were also behind the Rock Lords toyline, which was part of Machine Robo in Japan but was pitched as a separate line in the West. However, their only well-known media appearance was a crossover with the Gobots for the flop Battle of the Rock Lords feature film. Accordingly, the strip in the fourth issue - both written and drawn by Kirchner - also has both groups in. Sadly it's not any good, being a lightweight take on the old Trojan horse thing, with the Rock Lords largely incidental muscle for both sides. 

The Winter 1987 edition proved to be the last - not surprisingly, as the cartoon had ended and the toyline itself was winding down. News was broken to subscribers with a paper cover around the magazine itself, cheerfully informing those who had paid for the sixth issue that they would be receiving a copy of The Kids' Official Statue of Liberty Magazine instead. Brutal. 

The main strip is again entirely by Kirchner and while it's the same simplistic story (named "A Spy Among Us") it's worthy of note for one reason - it's the only Gobots media to feature Super Couper and Clutch, not to mention the only thing to have Night Fright with the right name and colour scheme (his design was used for a green Renegade referred to as Blades in one episode of the cartoon). While Clutch doesn't do anything the lightweight plot focuses on Coups (as everyone calls him) and Night Fright gets to do a couple of bits. The issue also contains a one-page all-Kirchner strip named "Update from Quartex" which focuses entirely on the Rock Lords - and shows the other stories up by cramming a plot just as pat into a single page.

So there we are, The Official Gobots Magazine - largely rubbish, noticed by few and remembered by less. I scanned all the comic strips back when I owned them; part of me wishes I'd done the magazines cover to cover despite the rest of it being terrible but there we go, the indecent amount of money I sold the things on for took the sting out of it.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Comic Review - Transformers: Maximum Dinobots


As IDW wanted Simon Furman far, far away from their main Transformers title but presumably still around to fuck up the movie tie-in stuff and the awful ReGeneration One he was allowed four Spotlights and the five-part Maximum Dinobots to finish off as many storylines as possible before the decks were more or less cleared for Shane McCarthy's All Hail Megatron relaunch. 

The template was simple - use one for the Earth-based stuff and the other for all the bits in space. The problem is that he got it wrong. Whereas the four part Revelations has more plot than a George R R Martin novel, the five part Maximum Dinobots is deathly dull and features pages and pages of padding. 

There's an interminable attempt to play to Skywatch's idiocy for intrigue when they once again unleash some captured Transformers which they then rapidly lose control over. Naturally the captivity of the other Dinobots was something that was going to be addressed sooner rather than later but at this stage at least having Grimlock break in and free them would have been a change. And as for giving one of their inept agents a bigger role in an attempt to address their idiocy - examining the issue only makes it even more glaringly dumb. And then it's all topped off by the organisation choosing to lob Shockwave out there. It beggars belief.

The Dinobots themselves are also poor. They drown in a sea of late-Marvel angst as Grimlock moans about betraying his team, Swoop moans about Grimlock betraying the team and The Other Three take turns at having a perfunctory line from time to time. If this is the crack team at their maximum it's obvious why no-one really missed them for aeons. Swoop especially is a pain - after a long history of being an interesting character in the Marvel material here he's a whiny stuck record. Nick Roche is a talented artist but his Beast Wars-influenced character models are a disaster with Swoop the worst culprit - allied to his bitching it's hard not to want to reach into the page and mash your thumbs into his stupid emo steampunk goggles in the hope you'll kill him or at least shut him up.

But then the comic isn't really about the Dinobots. It's more concerned with the Machination storyline which has been awful from the start and gets no better here. As with Skywatch there's an attempt at lampshading the absurdity of it all by having Scorponok spend what feels like 20 pages explaining his plans to Hot Rod (whose dramatic commando operation ends hilariously when he parks outside Scorponok's stupid factory and is promptly beaten to a pulp) in a fashion that's meant to be a spoof of badly written villainy but reads as badly written villainy.

Into all this Furman throws the Monsterbots for no good reason. Like the Dinobots they talk a good game, being bigged up by the script in a way that makes McCarthy's writing of Drift look subtle but do absolutely nothing necessary - like Cloudburst and company in Revelations, you lose any sympathy for the writer's compacted plans when he's throwing stuff like this in of his own volition. By the time Soundwave, Shockwave and Ultra Magnus have been worked in you're just numb to the contrivances and convolutions. 

Even worse is the last rushed gutless coda as it's revealed that basically everyone is fine - Sunstreaker's fine despite having a hole blown in him (are CR chambers the single worst idea in Transformers fiction or what?), Hot Rod is fine, Hunter is fine, Sludge is fine despite being picked at random for death in a sad attempt to ramp up the stakes and look here's Verity and Jimmy and Optimus and Ratchet and some crap jokes and let's make sure Furman's never given a gig like this again please.

Maximum Dinobots? Minimal Excitement.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Comic Review: Dare



Since the iconic Eagle character Dan Dare had been left behind by the industry in 1967 there had been two main revivals; firstly as the lead of 2000AD on launch before Judge Dredd and other brand new characters rapidly overtook it and then as the lead of the relaunched Eagle itself a couple of years later. Both had their own style quite different from the enjoyably cor-wow original but neither were as shocking as Grant Morrison's take at the start of the nineties.

The serial - simply titled Dare - debuted in the new and short-lived Revolver, a Fleetway title launched in 1990 to try and cash in on both the serious adult comic audience uncovered by Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and the late eighties interest in the sixties in general and psychedelia in particular. The result only lasted a handful of issues before folding into Fleetway's other adult comic, Crisis, with the main legacy of Revolver being Peter Milligan's Rogan Gosh

The Dare strip was somewhat typical of the milieu of adult British comics of the period, dripping with heavy-handed but well meaning political allegory. Britain is under the yoke of unsubtle Thatcher parody Gloria Monday and her Unity party; Spacefleet has been privatised, the Treens have been subjugated and live on Earth as a hated underclass and a retired Dan Dare lives a life of empty privilege in London while people queue for food in the North. So this would be something of a bleak take, then.

For all its edginess and shock tactics the story is surprisingly readable. The plot concerns the mysterious death of Jocelyn Peabody after a spell working off-world on the new Manna miracle superfood at a time when Dare's patriotic image is being exploited by the government, and leads to an uneasy reunion with an embittered Digby,  now a leading Northern freedom fighter. 

If the script is occasionally clumsy the story is worth reading for Rian Hughes' angular artwork, a propaganda postcard from a future dystopia. The art is at its' very best in some of the story's more striking juxtapositions, notably the militant secret police using Frank Hampson ray guns that cause Steve Dillon damage. Like the first couple of books of Zenith, this is very much a story of its' time and in a way it's as outdated now as the fifties stuff. However, it's still a diverting and entertaining piece of work.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Comic Review - Transformers: Revelation


Revelation was originally published as four Spotlights  (Cyclonus, Hardhead, Doubledealer and Sideswipe) but was really a hurried rewrite of Simon Furman's mooted Expansion mini-series; as all four run sequentially it makes more sense to review them as a whole than separately. For a start none are really genuine Spotlights; each title character gets a thread which goes some way to exploring their internal drive complete with the usual narration but each issue has a lot of other things going on which doesn't have any real connection to them.

In short, Furman across four issues makes a valiant stab at resolving two years of plotlines , and the result is a far from perfect story which somehow remains breathlessly enjoyable. Simple law of averages means it's impossible to like every single plot thread, with some getting too much space, some getting too little and some getting it just right. 

You do have to wonder why exactly the Spotlight format was used, however, as Furman clearly feels obliged to give the lion's share to the subject even if it is less attention than that received by, say, Wheelie or Ramjet on their big days out. It's probably the biggest flaw in the storyline - Cyclonus gets a role that would have worked better for Galvatron, the obvious payoff of Dealer is shown via a pace-sapping McGuffin quest and Sideswipe's personal realisation is oddly placed in the middle of a cross universe death struggle (which is beautifully illustrated by E J Su, signing off from Transformers in style). Quite why IDW didn't just pack it as a four issue mini I don't know, but then at an editorial level they've always been basically incompetent. Only Hardhead's chapter (helped by fantastic art from Nick Roche) feels particularly organic. 

Still, in among all of this there's payoff for myriad plot elements - Arcee quest for revenge, Nightbeat's lobotomy, the betrayal of Hot Rod's team, Jetfire and the Technobots' research into Thunderwing, Banzaitron's unit, Monstructor,  Sixshot,  Galvatron, Nemesis Prime - aside from the Earth -based stuff held over for Maximum Dinobots there's hardly a thread from the past few years that isn't resolved and most of the defining faces of the era make some sort of showing.
Some of the resolutions are clumsy and unsatisfying, and on occasion Furman makes a rod for his own back - you can give him the benefit of the doubt for the sudden appearance of Straxus and Grindcore as further heralds of Nemesis Prime as the former had a toy out around about then while the latter probably did and I just don't care (though their easy defeat at the hands of Sideswipe is a bit much ). 

But the Pretender stuff is handled poorly - the debut of Cloudburst, Landmine, Waverider and Groundbreaker mere pages before Jetfire's reworked Pretender tech is ready just feels silly, like Furman feels obliged to make the unloved eighties guys Pretenders out of sheer anal neatness and lack of imagination. It worked composing Bludgeon's cult out of eighties Pretenders but in the cramped confines of Revelations putting the Technobots in the suits would have been cleaner and more satisfying. Elsewhere, other characters - such as Sixshot and Monstructor - do just disappear in the press, their fates vaguely implied rather than outright tackled.

On the other hand some are done very well indeed - Hardhead executing Nightbeat in one simple frame is still one of the peak moments of IDW's entire output, an unexpected and clever solution to the problem that convincingly causes Jhiaxus' plan to begin unravelling. The takedown of Nemesis Prime is some of the best Optimus Prime writing Furman has done for some time. 

The phrase "a mixed bag " doesn't begin to cover it, but the flawed and frantic Revelations retains a curious readability that little else of Furman's IDW work possesses. 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Comic Review - Transformers: Spotlight Grimlock

Spotlight: Grimlock was published in uncertain times; word had not long leaked that Shane McCarthy would be taking over the title of main writer from Simon Furman with a soft reboot series while Furman's planned Expansion miniseries was dropped. The  process does actually seem to have been surprisingly cordial, as Furman was given a total number of nine comics to tie up selected plot threads and seems to have been given the chance to heavily revise this one as a trail for the Maximum Dinobots mini - Spotlight: Grimlock was originally intended to be published the month before Spotlight: Mirage but inexplicably arrived a month after it.

The result is that this issue actually has a clarity in the plot that has been missing from several issues. It gets off to a poor start when Skywatch decide that the best response to losing control of Ravage and Laserbeak the second they were in the field during Devastation is to let a bigger robot loose in the form of Grimlock. Amazingly he breaks loose almost immediately - the last we see of Skywatch is of their incredible backup plan to send the other four Dinobots after him, because surely there can't be anything wrong with using the same plan a third time even after all this, right? To be fair I think there's an element of just wanting to hurry the process here and as dumb as it is once it's done the issue improves dramatically. 

At the time of publication myself and quite a few others had become a bit fed up with Grimlock. Furman latched onto the Dinobots in general and their leader in particular early in his time writing for the British comic, using him a lot before American series writer Bob Budiansky took him in a funny weird unpopular direction and then killed him off. One of the first things Furman did after taking over the American book was bring him back (alright, the reason was the release of the Classic Pretender figure but he was probably going to resurrect the character anyway) and went a long way towards restoring the character's standing in  subsequent issues. However when Furman returned again for the Dreamwave era it felt like the character had become a simplified Wolverine style "badass", an ever-present never-wrong Mary Sue. From memory that seems to be something of an overreaction awoe Furman only wrote for him during the War Within prequel minis, the bulk of the appearances being authored by Chris Sarracini or James McDonough & Adam Patyk. At the same time he was woeful in War Within, so yeah.

Basically when the character made an early doors appearance in Spotlight: Shockwave and was then shoehorned into the Beast Wars mini for no good reason many were braced for more of the same. Indeed,  Furman's incredibly slow-burning style means it could well have still been the plan for Grimlock and the gang to ride in and save  Optimus and everyone who isn't a Dinobot from the implausible number of Decepticons floating around, probably nutting Nemesis Prime to death while throwing an insult at Prowl. It all worked out better, short-term at least let,  as here we have the unusual experience of Grimlock being likable. 

It might be the mechanism of the internal dialogue but this is the best writing the character has had for a decade or more as he examines his misleading of the Dinobots while retaining the headstrong attitude that made the character interesting in the first place. The battle with Scorponok indicates his power levels will be sensible too, and the use of a minor grudge as motivation is a nice touch. The whole business also folds him into the Machination storyline in a nice natural fashion. 

It's not a classic, no comic that opens with that sort of device can be, and IDW let it down with an awful colouring job and their usual inability to point speech bubbles at the right characters. But it is a promising start to Furman's final stint on the main book - and once again indicates that the best way to get results out of him is by constraining his focus.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Transformers - Spotlight: Mirage

Oookay. Spotlight: Mirage is not a bad comic, but I have no idea what it's for. And not in the way that Furman's Spotlights have more than once meandered off on a tangent and further cluttered up the overall story.

The only issue of the third batch of Spotlights not written by Furman,  this one was instead penned by George Strayton - an RPG writer who did some hazily defined work on IDW's movie tie-in comics and presumably displayed enough affinity to be given a try-out. 

With the main material a complicated mess he was no doubt directed to do something as standalone as possible. The choice of Mirage was probably a matter of finding a character well-known enough to shift a Spotlight but not tied up in Furman's masterplan; as a first year character with a single notable appearance as a murder suspect in Spotlight: Blaster he fits the bill.

The approach to avoiding story discontinuity however is a little odd as the issue either takes place in an alternate timeline of some abstraction or entirely in Mirage's head (though the final page depicting the apparent reality of Mirage driving around Earth as a Ligier is still enough to take this out of mainstream continuity until John Barber apparently found a home for it several years later). The plot mines out the character's apparent flexible loyalties via a dream or fantasy of helping the Decepticons kill the last handful of Autobots in an alternate future that has no particular anchor with the rest of IDW's material. That's a bit of a shame for two reasons. 

Firstly,  just about the only attention anyone official has ever given him has revolved around whether his sympathies lie. This story takes a slightly different approach by portraying the internal struggle rather than someone  (i. e. Cliffjumper ) leaping to conclusions but still, it would be nice if the opportunity had been taken to have a different look at the guy.

Secondly what we see of the alternate or imaginary future is so abstract from everything else that you're spending as much time trying to figure out the purposefully fractured plot at the same time you should be focusing on Mirage. A What If style storyline with Mirage betraying the Autobots at some crucial juncture like the battle in Brasnya would oddly have more impact than the downfall of a group of effective strangers. 

Nevertheless taken in isolation it's a nice read, well written and illuminating. The lack of context gives it an odd transcendent feel like the one achieved by the better Mosaics, a universal character study that could ring true for any Mirage. But it's also a dashed odd thing to come out at this point, and it's understandable many readers were nonplussed when it first appeared.