Sunday, 12 February 2017

Comic Review: The Official Transformers: Generation 2 Annual

PUBLISHER: Grandreams, 1994

The shortlist for worst Transformers comic ever wouldn't be particularly short, what with Marvel's dire movie adaptation, Josh Blaylock's G.I.Joe crossover, Dreamwave's first G1 mini, Devastation and that whole Mike Costa thing. But really there's only one winner - The Official Transformers: Generation 2 Annual.

Annuals were the backbone of the British Christmas industry, especially in the eighties. If a TV show, comic, cartoon, pop star or sports personality didn't have between 48 and 64 pages of strips, pinups and text articles of questionabble relevance sandwiched between two A4 slabs of cardboard on sale in smiths WH Smiths every December then the British public hated it. Getting a slim parcel off Grandma  with the price clipped out is a shared cultural memory for a couple of generations.

Many of them were notoriously shit, produced largely by uncaring third parties who would try to make the basic promotional material they were sent by the property's owner go as far as possible. Grandreams were one such company and ended up with the Transformers licence. However they also ended up with the usual crowd from the Marvel comic working on it and aside from a few continuity flubs Simon Furman made good use of the format, regularly annoying weekly readers by bunging a crucial story in the yearly book.

When Generation 2 started up in the UK, the comic licence went to Fleetway (as talked about here) and for whatever reason the annual one ended up back with Grandreams.Great, right? Just hook back up with Marvel. Nope; not only had the Marvel UK Transformers team long since broken up (at the time Furman was managing the impressive feat of getting mutant title Alpha Flight cancelled in the mutant-crazy mid-nineries while Andy "Andrew" Wildman, his Reek, was carrying out the serious work of drawing the comic adaptations of Fox Kids' popular X-Men cartoon) but the company itself was pinwheeling to destruction after misinterpreting the popularity of the likes of Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and Grant Morrison as a sign to oversaturate the market with a glut of dreadful British-originated superhero books. As a side note the annual is referred to as the 1995 edition; industry standard was for them to appear the previous autumn, usually around September, so there's a chance this actually beat the Fleetway title to UK shelves.

So it was up to Grandreams. The talent available to them is best illustrated by the way no-one is credited (though the overall design is acknowledged as the input of something called Arkadia), though that might have been to protect the innocent, and right from the cover you know you're in trouble - a gigantic full-length animation cel of Optimus Prime framed by graphics like those used in the dodgy re-edited cartoon with simplistic drawings of Starscream and Sizzle leaping towards the reader to really emphasise how badly these differing styles gel.

The best bit in any annual, the bit everyone read first, were always the comic strips but this example provides just one eight-page effort. This is probably for the best, though, considering how much of a mess this is. Grandreams go for a fresh continuity for their stories grabbing a few bits from the established universe and making up other bits and "The Dinobots" concerns Grimlock and Snarl awakening with both factions setting out to investigate them. The Autobot team consists of Optimus Prime, Jazz (in his G2 deco) and Blaze (with Sizzle's alt mode and colour scheme); the Decepticons of Megatron (in his tank body), Starscream (in his G1 colours) and Soundwave (also in his G1 colours, the character's sole G2 toy to his retail - that eye-scorching Go-Bot - having yet to be released). 

After a brief scuffle the Dinobots - incorrectly repaired by the Ark and released into prehistoric times where they went feral and then got knocked out when the dinosaurs went extinct - have their personalities resurface. They help defeat the Decepticons, make friends with the Autobots and then just go off again to look for the other team members, making it a real nothing of a story. The art is clearly drawn by someone, shall we say, not used to drawing Transformers, mostly consisting of slightly blocky bipeds with minimal alt mode features on their robot forms. Some of the other frames - notably the establishing shot of the Ark and the frame of Starscream getting beaned in the back of the head - are obviously traced from extant Geoff Senior work ("Crisis of Command" and "Victory" if I don't miss my guess) which only shows up how limp the newer art is while the lettering is among the worst I've ever seen in a professional comic.

The bad news is the strip probably is the best bit. There are two text stories - "Day of the Decepticons" and "Moving Day Planet Earth" - which more or less tie in with each other. The first consists of the Autobots tricking the Decepticons into a fake ship so they can fire them into orbit (oh, spoiler warning), the second with them foiling a standard energy-gleaning plan. Both are poorly written, low on characterisation and have a weird grab-bag cast of the big names being padded out by random choices as Jetfire (again yet to have his official G2 figure released and thus most likely referring to the big white and red jet) and Shockwave (who, apart from a brief flashback in the American Marvel comic, took G2 off to rest up ahead of being overexposed in Dreamwave's material) and Euro exclusive Deftwing. Like the strip having the only fictional appearance of Blaze (unless he's turned up as a funny pizza delivery guy or something on the Lost Light since I binned the IDW titles off) these little titbits have the deceptive effect of making the story sound like some oddball curio worthy of interest; it isn't. 

Not really meeting the criteria of a story is "From Cybertron to Earth the War Continues", which is the equivalent of the Robot War recaps that the Marvel/Grandreams annuals used to run bringing new readers up to speed, only here it's clearly based on a knackered Tempo "Arrival from Cybertron" VHS tape which some unfortunate work experience kid had to watch with a notepad and pen to cobble together a bland adjustment of the Hasbro-designated origin of the time. 

All of which fills just over half of the 48 pages. The rest consists of scant profiles obviously drawn from the toy's tech specs with a couple of randoms thrown in (Rumble?) and simple quizzes. Most of this (and the text stories) are illustrated by toy box art; while it has its' fans I've never found most of the Transformers boxart to be particularly strong, especially divorced from the backaging. A decade older and it looks even worse; it doesn't help that some pieces are repeated.

For the suicidally curious only.

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