Saturday, 29 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 2



With the setup of the first volume out of the way More Than Meets the Eye finally kicks into gear, Kind of, intermittently, for a bit. The phrase is "meticulous build-up" and little hints and hooks are scattered throughout the five issues collected here that will presumably be explored some way down the line, carefully hidden among throw-away lines and simpler resolutions. There's a certain fun to be had from such puzzle-piece series - Warren Ellis' Planetary is still very much the daddy of the approach - but it can be a difficult thing to pull off. Roberts' problem as such is that while some of the characters are waiting to be explored they enter a holding pattern of recycling their basic start point; the danger is the reader can already be fed up with schtick like Ultra Magnus' exaggerated pedantry and inflexibility or Swerve's being a twat long before the writer stops giving them scenes hammering this aspect home.

Minifigures: X-Men, Part 1 - The Originals

As touched on elsewhere on this blog, now that Marvel are part of Disney they're not too fond of the deals made a decade or so before where the rights to some of their most popular properties were sold off to other studios. While they wait for rights to revert they've indulged in various cockblocking exercises to try and prevent these outsourced films from being successful, both to limit the competition to their own films and to try and make them flop so the process of rights reverting to Disney (typically after a certain amount of time has passed without new product, as in the case of Daredevil). This extended to actually taking Silver Age flagship Fantastic Four out of print when Josh Trank's reboot film came out. While a deal has been reached with Columbia for Spider-Man the undoubted thorn in their side is Fox's X-Men franchise, currently sitting at ten films and if anything getting more popular. While they'd never dare take the X-Men family of books out of print they have lend on licencees to avoid doing what amounts to promotion for their rivals, most notably Lego.

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 1


RiD was The Other Comic of IDW's relaunch, handling the workmanlike practicalities of a reborn Cybertron swarming with a mixture of refugees, demobbed soldiers and prisoners of a finished war. Writing was handled by John Barber, who had won minor acclaim on IDW's dying live action movie books through a mixture of respectable writing and an ability to patch gigantic continuity problems in a somewhat flowing fashion, making him just what the company needed. RiD is the book that for better or for worse continues on from Costa's meandering ongoing series with MTMTE more of an offshoot in narrative terms; the former is defined by Barber's admirable refusal to use things like the less than clear events of "Chaos" to reset any troublesome areas and instead write his way out of trouble.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 1

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011-2012)

IDW had stepped Transformers up to two issues a month using parallel stories for the last few issues of the ongoing series, all part of preparation for two series by separate creative teams as they tried to relaunch the franchise for the 64th time. John Barber stayed on Cybertron while James Roberts cherry picked his favourites and set off into space on a quest for the Knights of Cybertron for More Than Meets the Eye. MTMTE has since gone on to gather a small but psychotic fandom of around the same since of Hartlepool United's but for now we're going to focus on the first batch of issues. Or episodes; among MTMTE's many, many eccentricities is that it's not a comic but actually a TV show with seasons that last a couple of years. In which case this first collection is the free DVD you get with Sunday newspapers that contains a couple of trailers, some potted character bios, several wallpapers and a screensaver.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Chaos


I am not a professional comic writer, or even an amateur one. However, I have a salient tip for any writer out there - if you're hurriedly compacting two-plus years of storylines from multiple linked series in four issues compacted and compressed from a planned mini-series to clear the decks ahead of a relaunch event do not, I repeat do not call it Chaos. Thankfully for anyone looking for a cheap shot at Costa (and there was never any shortage both in terms of opportunity and opportunists) it's pretty chaotic. While James Roberts is involved his role seems largely to be doctoring a bit of the dialogue and making sure the characters he's eyeing for successor series More Than Meets the Eye get guided through (note the sudden assignment of whacky funster status to Swerve, just a teaser for the mint banter we'll be subjected soon) and the rest is pure Costa - by which I mean a succession of promising developments executed poorly and quickly before he shuffles on to his next brainwave.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Comic Review: Northstar


If you put Simon Furman in charge of the sun it would stop coming up in 12 months' time. The man has been cancelled more times than a software update and in 1994, a year when mutants were so hot there was a Bishop solo series, he managed to get a mutant title canned. Alright, it was Alpha Flight and no-one had cared since Johnny Byrne stopped working on it but still, he got a Marvel mutant ongoing cancelled in the mid-nineties. Emerging from this feat was a four-part Northstar mini-series, presumably the company opting to test the character out as a viable solo spin-off and standing out a little due to the smart matching cover design philosophy. Jean-Paul had always been one of the less generic members of Alpha Flight, though as an arrogant speedy mutant he might have stood out a bit better if the company didn't already have Quicksilver doing most of that stuff. Of course, at this point Northstar had gone beyond Flying Canadian Quicksilver thanks to being outed as homosexual a couple of years before, becoming Flying Canadian Gay Quicksilver.

Comic Review: Transformers - Police Action


With the "Chaos" event folded into the main ongoing at late notice and with planned co-writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning joining Don Figueroa in fucking off Mike Costa was left juggling much of the closing days of the IDW ongoing, now stepped up fully to bi-monthly. He used alternate issues to tidy up the remnants of the Earth-based story threads which probably pissed a lot of readers off at the time, which is always a plus. Costa was probably used to fans' utter impatience with anything he did at this point and for once didn't buckle; it's strange how James Roberts is deified for taking a year to answer perceived flaws in his stories and yet Costa's versions of Spike and Prowl had morons apoplectic every month, desperate to have every little frame explained to them immediately. Arguably the difference was Costa tried to supplicate these idiots and cater to them. Or that Roberts is a dyed in the wool Transformers fan who spends most of his time talking about Transformers to people who like Transformers whereas Costa was a jobbing writer who'd rather have been writing X-Men or something and saw the title as a means to an end. But Transformers fans would never be so fickle and shallow; it wasn't like they spent years trying to have Bob Budiansky shot for not writing dark epics about Unicron or anything mental like that.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Comic Review: Tokyo Storm Warning


Between contracts in 2003 Warren Ellis went through a brief phase of trying to write a 3-issue mini-series for every Wildstorm sub-imprint going; Red was probably the best known. For Cliffhanger - which mainly handled J Scott Campbell's Danger Girl - he crafted Tokyo Storm Warning, concerning a spate of giant monsters attacking Tokyo, faced by giant mystical robots. It's a clear homage to both the kaiju movies that most famously bequeathed Godzilla and super robot anime series. Ellis, robots, monsters and the pencils of James Raiz, who proved his pedigree for this sort of thing on Dreamwave's Transformers Armada - what could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit, actually.

Comic Digital Archive - The Spider

Devised to cash in on the encroaching Silver Age dazzle bleeding across the Atlantic, The Spider is still the crown jewel in IPC Fleetway's pantheon of very British heroes. His antics, printed in the weekly Lion, took place in America (primarily the fictional Croy) but there the similarity with the likes of Spider-Man ended. Of uncertain origin (he just appears, even his species is never really confirmed or denied) the character even started off as a villain, a common theme for strips of the period - The Steel Claw started the same way. Immediately he picked up the services of crooked scientist Professor Pelham and dumb safecracker Roy Ordini, who would be the faces of the army of crime he recruited to help carry out his schemes from a castle overlooking the city.

Comic Review: Transformers - Chaos Theory


The supreme irony of IDW finally taking the plunge into making a single Transformers ongoing only for it to be even more fractured continues in the fifth collection of the series. IDW had by now realised that Mike Costa wasn't really hitting the right notes with either the fandom or the by this stage non-existent casual readers the title had accrued and began looking at bringing in another writer alongside the handful, the original plan being for Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning to join the three or four different Mike Costas in writing the book. After contributing the dodgy "Infestation" and weird "Heart of Darkness", the first building blocks for the planned "Chaos" event storyline, yet another IDW saga that would make sure the world of Transformers would never be the same or whatever. They then fucked off to do something else and instead the job went to James Roberts, then just the popular mortal writer of Last Stand of the Wreckers and yet to be cocooned in a sycophantic social media echo chamber.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Comic Digital Archive - Robot Archie

The old British weeklies have always had their totems, their mascots, their ever-presents - 2000AD has Tharg, The Beano had Dennis the Menace, Valiant had Captain Hurricane, Eagle had Dan Dare and so on. For Lion, it was Robot Archie. Created by George Cowan and artist Ted Kearnon as the Jungle Robot the character lasted the first six months of Lion before disappearing for five years but from 1957 to the end of the title in 1974 he was always there.

Comic Review: Transformers - Infestation


In 2005 zombies were pretty damn hot in comics thanks to Marvel Zombies and with typical decisiveness IDW decided they wanted a bit of that several years later when it was all very much played out with Zombies v Robots, written by that twat Chris Ryall. In 2011 it was decided to use this as a springboard for IDW's cross-company "Infestation" event, which used their in-house titles CVO: Covert Vampire Operations and Zombies v Robots to launch zombies at their licenced properties, meaning a big crossover between Transformers, Star Trek, G.I.Joe and Ghostbusters that absolutely no-one reading those titles wanted to see. Handling this were Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, just ahead of writing "Heart of Darkness" but published at more or less the same time (and taking place at around the three-quarters mark of that series). The full crossover included a two-part Infestation series then several cadet series which I will not be reading under any circumstances, apart from the two-issue Transformers - Infestation mini.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Comic Digital Archive: The Robo Machines


As anyone who's a long-term reader will know this has long been my little pet love. The Robo Machines comic ran for two arcs in the 1980s version of Eagle and remained pretty obscure until only a few years ago. I certainly hadn't found much information until I hunted down the old issues and found it to be not all that bad at all and scanned it to inflict on other people. Since then someone's done better scans, which is all good. What would be lovely would be a proper TPB reprint as the original comics were on newsprint but sadly with a fragmented rights situation  - the Gobots trademarks co-opted for Robo Machine are possessed by Hasbro, the likenesses for the Robo Machines by Bandai and the actual comics by IPC/Fleetway - this seems unlikely. While the latter have shown a willingness to work with fans on reprints, such as for Doomlord and Leopard of Lime Street, the involvement of two rival toy giants would be a stumbling block.

Comic Review: Transformers - Heart of Darkness


For the umpteenth time IDW began to realise that their Transformers comics and their writers weren't actually going down too well and a rescue mission was needed. The solution to the ongoing's issues was to parachute in chair-sharing duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who were sort-of the British Jeph Loeb in that they simply survived in the industry for a couple of decades and were arbitrarily elected as hot for a little while because no-one else was really doing much new either. Dan of course had cut his teeth writing out scripts for Simon Furman on the old British Transformers weekly before pairing up with John Tomlinson for the aggressively awful Knights of Pendragon series. His later partnership with Lanning had yielded runs on Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova for Marvel and Legion of Superheroes for DC, which was enough for IDW's online shills to act like Kurt Busiek had rocked up. They turned on them soon enough naturally as both are still just that bit too famous to do conventions but anyway, onwards. The pair first handled IDW's idiotic Infestation crossover before getting a four-issue follow-up mini named "Hearts of Darkness", with the plan being then that they work with Costa on the ongoing. How all three would squeeze on a chair I don't know.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Comic Review: Knights of Pendragon - Once and Future


As discussed elsewhere, the late eighties and early nineties were a time of give and take for comic fans. The give was that Watchmen, DKR, Deadline and Zenith had made the idea of grown-ups buying comics seem strangely normal; the take was that we had to call the things graphic novels and that everyone writing for the things suddenly thought they were Alan fucking Moore. Marvel UK rarely needed much of an excuse to overreach themselves and after finally begrudgingly admitting no-one liked Dragon's Claws, Death's Head or The Sleeze Brothers their next attempt to be a proper publisher came in the form of Knights of Pendragon

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Revenge of the Decepticons

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010-2011)

Mike Costa's schizophrenia continues in the third batch of ongoing issues, consisting of a prelude-style one shot and then a five-part story. The real story though is again IDW's lack of editorial direction and forward planning; just like the Dead Furmanverse and All Hail Megatron the ongoing is set into that pattern of a bold new direction that didn't go down too well and then furious backpedalling when the fresh stuff failed to find the expected crossover audience, instead forcing pandering to the fandom in order to keep the numbers up. The main events of the first year's issues were that the war was over, that Megatron was out of the picture, that Optimus Prime had abdicated and that Bumblebee was the leader of the Autobots. Basically all of these things are undone in deed if not word.

Comic Review: Robo Machine featuring the Gobots Annual 1987

By 1986 Gobots was winding down in America, with the TV series moving to syndication and the toyline running out of new toys and getting squeezed out by Transformers in a shrinking market after the 1985 boom. In the UK the market was slightly less cut-throat as the simple difficulty of transatlantic business at the time meant fewer of the fly-by-night lines which had boomed briefly had made it across to Britain. Robo Machine had never been a gigantic seller in the UK and thus had less distance to fall, continuing to chug along happily in the #2 spot a long way behind Transformers; the line would only really stop when it ran out of figures, even managing to get Fossilsaurus and Dancougar roped in towards the end. Meanwhile at Egmont House World Distributors had paid for a licence as they were going to use it; for their second Gobots annual in 1986 World Distributors had a challenge; they'd set the bar very low the first time around - could even they go lower?