Showing posts with label transformers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transformers. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

And now it's time for Toy Talk...

1.) Spotted on the shelf at Wal-Mart, and photographed before I was dragged away to look at Lalaloopsies. I did a doubletake when I first saw it, because The Hulk wearing khaki shorts instead of purple ones looks so wrong to me, akin to seeing Superman with a blue cape on. It's funny though; I just saw the movie the movie that this toy is associated with this past weekend, and I have no memory of what color pants Mark Ruffalo was wearing as Bruce Banner, or what color pants The Hulk was wearing during his two scenes.

2.) I spotted this poor bastard in a dollar store; I'm pretty sure it was a Family Dollar, but don't quote me on that. As you can see, he's a piece of sky-blue construction equipment allied with the Evil Decepticons, and looks like he may be a smaller cousin to the Constructicons. In vehicle mode, he' s a combination loader and excavator, so does he have a tough guy name like original, "G1" Constructicons Scrapper, a loader, or Scavenger, an excavator?

No. His name is "Pan-Handler."

Other Constructicons are named Hook, Bonecrusher, Long Haul and Mixmaster, but this poor guy is Pan-Handler, a term that refers to someone who begs for spare change on the streets. On the back of the box, you can see his robot form—
—he lacks hands, instead having big, scoop-shapes that would be impossible to hold a laser gun with, or push a button with, or hold the hand of the bot he loves with, and are suitable only for digging or holding out, upraised, awaiting spare change. Or spare energon coins, or whatever they use for currency on Cybertron.

I'm not very well steeped in Transformers lore anymore, certainly not like I was in fourth grade, so I can't be certain, but I think that, if his name indicates his role, Pan-Handler may be the first hobo Transformer. Which is strange, as I assume any hobo transformers would transform into a boxcar instead of a piece of construction equipment.

Perhaps Pan-Handler is a Transformer for the Recession? He has the ability to work, and work hard—his other self is, in fact, a vehicle that can only be properly used in the construction industry—and yet he can't find any work, and thus is forced to beg on the streets...?

UPDATE: Apparently Transformers, like Star Wars, is one of those things that's so thoroughly detailed on the Internet that there's no aspect of it that someone hasn't written more than you would reasonably expect to find out about it. For example, here's Pan-Handler's entry on tfwikilnet.

Apparently, Pan-Handler is:

as brave as they come. More, he's got the strength, durability and firepower to be a major force in any battle. Yet there must be a reason he remains at the bottom of the Decepticon ranks, homeless and unemployed.

Is it his hand deformity? And or his lack of thumbs?


One probably doesn't need to look much further than his profound lack of skill, ponderous slow speed, and aboslute abysmal stupidity.

Poor Pan-Handler. I didn't realize he was actually homeless. I should have bought him from that dollar store, and brought him back to my apartment to live with me.

UPDATE 2: Although, now that I stop and think about it, is it strange that a robot that can transform into a piece of building equipment should be homeless? Couldn't he, at least, excavate his own cave or sod house or hobbit-house to live in?

3.) Finally, here are two Transformers toys that my sister and nieces got me for my birthday (Please pay no attention to Playmobil Saint Nicholas in the background there). They're from McDonald's, and came in HappyMeals sometime around March 11th. I assume they're tied to the Transformers: Prime cartoon, and that the gray, Decepticon space-ship looking vehicle is Megatron, while the red and blue semi is obviously Optimus Prime.

I was shocked—shocked I say!—when I discovered that neither of these vehicles actually transform into robots, however. That is, like, the bare minimum of what a Transformers toy must do in order to be considered a Transformer toy, isn't it? Transform? They need not be overly complicated. I remember getting a few Beast Wars Transformers from HappyMeals when I was in college, and those only had, like, three points of articulation, but they did technically transform from robot animals to human-shaped robots ("Point of articulation," by the way, is Nerd for "a piece of the toy that moves").

These do each performa special function, though.
If you push Optimus' environmentally unfriendly-looking exhaust pipe thingees forward, his headlights, Autobot badge and the interior of his cab all light up red. And if you push Megatron's gun or jet thingee mounted on top of him forward, it lights up green (pyew! pyew!) and if you push the button right in front of it, the purple bit at the front of him fires off.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Note: Last year's Incredible Change-Bots Two is just as incredible as 2007's original volume

The other day I was in a dollar store and was amused to find this Transformer robot in the toy section:So amused that I almost bought it, but ultimately decided I would rather have more money in my wallet than another Transformer toy I'm too old to play with collecting dust. As you can hopefully tell from the cellphone pictures I took, his name is Ejector, and he transforms into a toaster.

I don't remember seeing him in any of the movies, but I assume he was in one of the first two, probably during one of the "funny" bits I blocked out of my memory.

I tried to remember if there was a robot that turned into a toaster in Jeffrey Brown's strange nostalgia parody/celebration of the original Transformers cartoon/pleasure of playing with toys as a kid, The Incredible Change-Bots, as it seemed like there probably should be one: I know he had a microwave character named Microwave who, like the Decepticon tape recorder Soundwave housed smaller robots within himself, although Microwaves robots were little robots who could turn into a package of microwave popcorn and a bowl of soup, and they were named Poppy and Soupy, respectively.

That's when I realized that by some strange oversight I never actually read Brown's sequel to The Incredible Change-Bots, The Incredible Change-Bots Two.

So I ordered it and, upon its arrival, I sat down to read them both back to back.

There is no toaster character. The only robot that can transform into a common household appliance to appear in the second volume that wasn't in the first volume is Laptopor (You can probably guess what he turns into).

As someone who grew up watching Transformers every day after school at 4:00 p.m. (and G.I. Joe every day at 4:30), and whose birthday and Christmas wishes revolved around their toy line (along with those for G.I. Joe and He-Man), I was a big fan of Brown's original book. The situational humor and gags were funny by themselves, although the many digressions spent on exploring questions the cartoon raised were certainly the highlight for me. You know, why were the Transformers fighting in the first place, why didn't the Autobots ever give chase to the Decepticons after defeating them, why were fleets of random vehicles with no drivers considered "disguises" and so on.

Brown further gave his characters the sorts of names and designs that made them seem like they came out of his childhood notebook—there's a Megatron analogue named Shootertron, for example, and a race car named Racey—that gave the endeavor a refreshing naive quality. While the characters were analogues to Transformers characters, they weren't analgoues in the way that, say, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen characters were inspired by the Charlton characters, or even the more obvious and clumsy ways that some of Mark Millar's more recent high-concept, "twist" characters are stand-ins for Captain Marvel and Batman.

The best, most touching part of the Change-Bots, however, was the way Brown captured a sense of play in his narrative, from the sound-effects ("Bew! Byew!") to characters calling time-out in a battle because their arm is stuck or because it takes a while to set up their accessories.

The original was a pretty complete story, and did all of the above in a satisfying manner, ending with the warring robot tribes leaving Earth forever. It didn't exactly scream for a sequel, but hell, Michael Bay made three Transformers movies so far, and they've all been just awful, so why can't Brown do a sequel to a good narrative featuring warring robot clans on earth?

In the sequel, the heroic Awesomebots and the evil Fanstiscons are traveling through space together, looking for a new home (having long ago destroyed their home world of Electronocybercircuitron). The only Change-Bot left on earth is the evil Shootertron, who was seemingly destroyed after a climactic battle with his brother, Awesomebot leader Big Rig.

He's survived, but is now amnesiac, and is taken in by a kindly old couple in the Midwest, and they raise him as their own. He eventually recovers his memory though, just as the Change-Bots re-crash on planet earth, and their ages-old struggle begins anew.

Brown's art is slightly sharper in this volume, although it retains enough of it's primitive, home-made quality that it doesn't lose any of the charm of the original's slightly rougher art. With the broad, foundational elements of the inspiring franchise addressed in the first volume, here Brown is free to indulge in more awkward humor, faux melodrama and cycle through various, distinct elements of the Transformers, including the Headmasters, the ineffectiveness of fighting human beings with laser beams (mirrors thwart least until they decide to use their giant robot fists to pound the puny humans), the badges/decals used to differentiate Decepticon from Autobot, the later addition of giant robots to the line and, to my great personal excitement, Change-Bot analogues for the called "The Fantastinsectors," and Dinobot analogues......the, um, "Awesomesauruses."

Though the ending of this volume seems pretty final, and Brown has a lot on his plate these days, including work on a feature film (sadly, it's not an adaptation of Incredible Change-Bots), it does end with a "Probably to be continued...!" box, so there will probably be more some day. Brown hasn't even made any combining robot team jokes yet, so there's certainly more for Brown to cover.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"It will take more than a handful of lumbering, muddle-minded Transformers to defeat us! We are binary bonded!"

The next stop in my ongoing search for the good Transformers comics is another from the Marvel series, specifically 1988’s Transformers #46, featuring the story “Ca$h and Car-Nage!” by writer Bob Budiansky and artists Jose Delbo and Danny Bulanadi.

The title of the story is pretty promising. Not only is there the forward-looking dollar-sign-used-as-the-letter-“S” in the title, but the punning, putting-the-“car”-in-“carnage” emphasis is pretty awesome, in a “this is so stupid it’s awesome” kind of way.

And I do love the cover, in which the motorcycle dude with a spiky-bike and a huge mourning star is driving straight at the crotch of a Transformer, who stands confidently before him. Why is this robot behaving so courageously? Because as we can see from this angle, Transformers have no genitals; their crotches need not fear mourning stars swung at them from motorcycles the way fleshy humans, with their vulnerable genitals do.

Note the little yellow explosion near the robots ankle, screaming “The Sparkabots battle the Roadjammers!

Who are the Spakrabots? And who are the Roadjammers?

We meet the latter first. They’re a group of bounty hunters recruited by the mysterious Z Foundation to hunt down Transformers, for $50,0000 a head.

Let’s meet them, shall we?

There’s Burn-Out, who was recruited at a county fair in Pennsylvania after he uses a shotgun to blast the robot target in a shooting game called “Reck the Robot.”

There’s Randy “Roadhog” Horton, a bounty hunter whose hobby is riding his motorcycle in demolition derbies and destroying cars with a huge medieval weapon, who is recruited after one such derby in eastern Pennsylvania.

And then there’s these two, Felix and Skunge, the best bounty hunters in Nevada, who a policeman points in the direction of the Z Foundation after they drop off their latest captures.

They all convene in New York City a few days later at the headquarters of the Z Foundation. There they meet with Mr. K, Mr. B, and Mr. L, who explain that the Founaation is founded “on the principle that all sentient robots—Transformers—must be eliminated for the safety of humanity.”

Because the government has been ineffectual in repelling the Transformers, Mr. Z decided to star paying bounty hunters to take down Transformers, and apparently these four are the best in the country.

The group, code-named “Roadjammers,” are given a little gizmo called a jammer, which emits a frequency that blocs the Transformers’ ability to transform and act on their own. They are then given word that three Autobots are operating in a nearby mountainous area.

Meanwhile, on Cybertron, a half-dozen Autobots are rotting away in a Decepticon prison camp,

and all referring to one another by name in every sentence, so as to subtly introduce them to readers. (Guzzle? Backstreet? Fizzle? Sizzle? These poor ‘bots were near the end of the line when they were passing at codenames, I guess).

Suddenly, in walk the dumbest looking Transformers I’ve ever seen:
Man, just look at these guys! They’re basically cube bodies with a rectangular limb in each corner, and a robot face stuck in the middle of one side. They hardly look like they should be able to walk, let alone transform into something and/or fight Autobots.

I’m assuming they look so awkward and goofy because pencil artist Delbo is sticking as close to the model of the toy designs as possible.

Wait, let’s check the Internet to find out…
Okay, so the above image is of the toy version of Flamefeather, taken from a Mr. Jeff Bryant’s website about his Transformers collection. In the above panel, he’s the robot on the far left. Apparently Delbo actually tried to anthropomorphize these robots a bit, and they do look less clunky and impossible in the comic than the toys do.

What kid would even want to play with such a toy? Well, these robots are the Firecons—Flamefeather, Sparkstalker and Cindersaur (Wait, isn’t that a Pokemon name?). And while they may look pretty stupid, if you dragged the toys across a flat service, they would emit sparks, hence the name. The Sparkabots similar contained a spark-creating device.

So, back to our story, the Firecons are there to escort the Sparkabots away, but the Autobots are all like, “No way!” and decide to fight it out, prompting the Firecons to reveal their equally ridiculous monster forms

I would have bet on the Autobots winning this fight, as their arms are long enough to reach their opponents with a punch, but it turns out the Autobots are all under-energized and thus so weak “a microcon could beat them with one armature tied behind his back!”

Ooh, sick burn Sparkstalker!

The Sparkabots are then given an energy bath to restore them to full operating capacity, and then marched across a transdimensional space bridge, and then find themselves on earth.

What follows next is a few repetitive pages in which we get three similar scenes of a Roadjammer or two attacking a Sparkabot with their little jamming devices, the Sparkabots trying to feel and/or talk their way out of a fight, and each ultimately being frozen in car mode.

The Sparkabots' protests apparently got to the Roadjammers though, as they sit around on the hoods of the conquered cars, smoking and drinking beers, and thinking something’s fishy about this whole set-up. They decide the dudes they talked to at the Z Foundation must secretly be in league with the Decepticons.

They drive the captured Autobots to the Z Foundation’s parking lot, where they discover three headless Deceptcons in robot mode.

Then out walk Mr. K , Mr. B and Mr. L. When the Roadjammers challenge them, some crazy shit happens:
Ah. So apparently these guys are the heads of Headmasters, a sub-set of Transformers that, like The Pretenders, young Caleb just could not get behind.

Like, there was a headless robot, that could transform into a vehicle, and its head was a tiny little humanoid Transformer, right? I just couldn’t understand this concept as a kid—it seemed so far removed form my understanding of Transformers evolution.

Also, they were called “Headmasters.” Even at 11 I knew how dirty a name that was, and was somewhat repelled by the fact that Hasbro seemed clueless about it.

Anyway, this transformation sequence in these panels are pretty insane…look how huge the Headmasters’ bodies get when they rip off their suits! And then they just become these flying heads that “POP” into their huge, headless bodies?

In the last panel, they discover that they’re paralyzed. That’s because Felix, the smart one, has monkeyed around with the jamming devices, and focused them on the headless Decepticon bodies as well.

Then things get kind of weird. Mr. Z comes in and explains that the whole thing was just a big scam—
—he needed to test the jammer technology on Autobots, and for some reason he thought it best to employ a bunch of shifty, violent bounty hunters instead of just doing it his damn self.

And check it out—

Mr. Z is a Decepticon’s head too! What the hell Z? This is a very stupid plan you have.

Mr. Z calls out Scroponok, the giant robot scorpion that is also his body. Felix ain’t scared though, as the jammers allow him to remote control the Decipticons, who he makes transform and announce their names:
Horri-Bull! Fangry! Ha ha, those are great names! Squeezeplay doesn’t really belong though, as he lacks a stupid/awesome name. Felix also sics the Sparkbots on Scroponok, leading to this wonderful splash panel:
Those are some awesome sound effect. I particularly like “Peeyooo!” That’s a sound I used to make a lot when I played with Transformers and other toys with guns.

The result is that Scorponok gets his ass kicked so bad that he’s forced to use an anti-jammer to release all the jammed Transformers, so the Decepticons will quit attacking him. Freed, the Sparkabots pick up the Roadjammers and ride away to safety.

So it’s basically a draw. The Sparkabots forgive the Roadjammers and drive off into the sunset, while Felix lights a cigarette and tells his smiling comrades that as soon as he figures out how to build a new jammer, “The Roadjammers are back in business!.”

I think he may still be working on it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This scene from Transformers: Perchance to Dream completely freaked me out:

Ravage...talking?! Wheeljack and I both shouted "Waaah!" at the exact same time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Did it matter where you lay once you were dead? On a dirty beach in California, or in a gleaming metal tomb on Cybertron?"

My weeks long quest to find the good Transformers comics—assuming that there must be some good Transformers comics based solely on the longevity of the franchise—has finally bore some fruit.

Among the titles the Columbus Metropolitan Library system carries is Transformers: Perchance To Dream, a 2006 black and white digest collection of old Marvel UK Transformers material from Titan Books.

Once again Simon Furman is doing the writing, and he works with seven different artists, including Staz Johnson (a familiar name form the late-nineties Bat-books), John Stokes (some Vertigo work) and several others I’m less familiar with (Jeff Anderson, Pete Knifton, Geoff Senior, Lee Sullivan and Andrew Wildman).

In a cast consisting of giant robots, the black and white art could be something of a drawback I suppose (I mentioned before that some Transformers look the exactly the same and are only distinguished by their coloring), but I think it works quite nicely here. In general, I prefer black and white reprints to older comics, as it’s a way around either straight reprinting the shoddier coloring of the era or having to recolor the work and thus changing it in a somewhat unwelcome manner.

And this black-and-white is true black-and-white; no grading or shading or gray tones, just black ink on white space.
I can only guess what function these stories played in the original comics, but I’m guessing by their super-short, five-page length that they must have been back-ups that ran with reprints of the American material…? (One of you will correct me if I’m totally wrong, right?)

That short length, and the fact that Furman’s stories are all surprisingly character-focused little vignettes, reminded me quite a bit of the back-ups that Chris Claremont wrote as back-ups for the old Classic X-Men reprints, the ones collected as X-Men: Vignettes (These, by the way, are about the only Chris Claremont X-Men comics I’ve really ever been able to enjoy, a results, I suspect, of not even attempting to read any of his X-Men work until I was at much too old an age to really identify with it).

Even the storylines that continue through multiple strips here tend to be stand-a-lone character pieces that somehow connect.

For example, the title story, which quotes Shakespeare extensively in the narration (my, but Marvel UK was classy!), consists of six, five-page chapters, but the first five each have a framing sequence wrapped around an individual Autobot’s dream of some adventure.

Each of those dreams characterizes the robot in question, and while that characterization isn’t anything too terribly deep, it is characterization. For example, Silverbolt, who turns into a plane, is afraid of heights, and is afraid his fellow Autobot planes will discover this secret shame of his when they all combine to form the giant robot Superion.

The truncated space makes that focus seem even sharper, as Furman never has the opportunity to waste much time or space in these stories, so they’re remarkably character-driven.

They also boast a sort of admirable try-anything approach, which gives this little collection an enjoyable unpredictability.

The title story, for example, features five Autobots having their dreams scanned by a time-traveling Galvatron in an attempt to control their minds, and also quotes Shakespeare and has a punchline-style, last-panel twist ending.

That’s followed by a Raymond Chandler parody called “The Big Shutdown” (see, robots don’t sleep, but they do get shutdown) narrated by Nightbeat, who transforms into a police car and is thus a detective, some more traditional robot space-war stories, and finally a two-parter about a newspaper reporter that both the Autobots and Decepticons are trying to spin for positive PR (the Autobots try granting him access and an interview; the Decepticons try shooting a mind-control thingee into his brain).

Like the other licensed comics featuring the Transformer characters I’ve read so far, I wouldn’t call this high literature or anything, and, end of the day, it’s still just an advertisement for a toy line, but damned if it isn’t a very good advertisement for a toy line, and one that features a more admirable level of craft in both the writing and the art than a lot of the other Transformers comics I’ve read thus far.

But then, I’ve still got some more to read yet…

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"We are Decepticons—The dominant, unbowed, the bastion. That should be enough."

The Transformers: Infiltration trade collects IDW's first effort at Transformers comics after they acquired the license from Hasbro. As such, it's the publisher's attempts to reboot the Transformers franchise, essentially starting over from scratch, while keeping many of the names and general designs familiar from the original toy line and original cartoon series.

Interestingly, IDW went turned to long-time Transformers writer Simon Furman, who wrote for both Marvel and DreamWave during their time as the license holders. At first, that may seem a little like asking Chris Claremont to reimagine the X-Men from the ground up for a whole new generation (which, come to think of it, Marvel seems to do about twice a year now anyway). But as Furman himself points out in his introduction to the trade paperback collection, while he may have been heavily involved with various iterations of the giant robots before, he's always been working off of someone else's blueprint, he's never had the opportunity to kick off one of these things himself.

So how'd he do?

Well, look, this is still a Transformers comic, a licensed comic book meant to exploit lingering nostalgia in grown-up men for the toy line they played with as children, toys they were half brain-washed into loving because they watched an exciting 22-minute animated commercial for the toys five afternoons a week. I don't think that necessarily means you can't have great Transformers comics that constitute genuine works of literature, but it does mean that's hardly very likely to ever happen.

This isn't even an attempt in that direction.

Rather, it's an attempt to make Transformers comics that reflect the sophistication of today's comic book audience in the ways that, say, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker's Daredevil comics were told vs. the way Stan Lee or Denny O'Neil were told, you know?

It is quite interesting to see how Furman decides to address some of the challenges inherent in the basic Transformers story of a) There's this alien planet full of robots embroiled in a civil war, b) they come to earth, c) they can totally turn into cars and jets.

Furman definitely goes a long way towards making some sense out of the Transformers' raison d' etre—you know, the whole turning into cars and jets thing. Apparently the evil Decepticons infiltrate different planets, disguised as vehicles and suchlike, while the heroic Autobots do likewise in an attempt to monitor the Decepticons, and work to thwart their attempts at conquering the world. Okay, cool, that explains the transforming anyway.

Furman actually takes it refreshingly far, with the various robots being as reluctant to show themselves as possible, and even generating holograms of people driving them to keep up the illusion that they're real. It's not until page 40 or so that we see a Transformer in robot form at all, which actually works toward building suspense, not despite the fact that almost every reader knows exactly what's coming, but because of it. That is, because you know that that ambulance is a good guy robot and that red, white and blue jet is a bad guy one, and you know their names, you're just waiting for the inevitable to happen.

A problem all of the Transformers stories—cartoons, comics, those goddam live-action movies—have faced is how to balance the focus between robot characters and human beings.

As a kid, I didn't care about the humans one bit; as an adult, I realize you need at least some humans around, if only to provide scale and setting to the Transformers’ stories. (I mentioned in my original post on Transformers comics that some of the comics I had read seemed like generic space opera types of stories that just so happened to have toys I played with growing up in the starring roles, and the fact that a robot that turns into a truck named Optimus Prime was the lead didn't much matter; the same story could be told if the lead were a giant green bulldog named Hamlet Jackson.)

Furman gives us some human characters here—teen runaway Verity, alien enthusiast and conspiracy theorist Hunter O’Nion and mechanic Jimmy Pink—and they are pretty generic types, introduced in a contrite, uninteresting manner. But even if Furman seems to be simply going through the motions with these characters, at least he realizes that human drama in a Transformers story is only necessary in so much that it gives readers a point of reference for the robot drama. (This I think is one of the main problems with Michael Bay's movies, even though I doubt he or his bosses will agree anything's wrong with movies that rake in that much money—Shia LaBeouf running away from giant robots is infinitely more interesting than whether or not he'll ever be able to tell his way-out-of-his-league girlfriend he's lucky even talks to him he loves her, or if his mother will be able to cope with empty nest syndrome when Shia goes off to college. I think there are other movies that handle that sort of thing much better, Bay).

The story itself isn't all that much different than that of the movies though—some humans stumble into involvement in the Tranformers' covert war on Earth, and thus need to run around and experience car chases, avoid explosions and endure occasional expositon—but the maguffins are less ludicrous, and the tensions stronger. Ratchet (the ambulance) is one of a small group of Autobots led by Prowl (the police car) on Earth, observing the Decepticon cell, which is acting kinda weird. Unbeknowest to the Autobots, there was a split among the Decepticons, with Starscream leading the rest of the earthbound team into betraying Megatron.

Once the humans are introduced to the various characters, and they clash, Megatron returns, kicks the shit out of Starscream and his fellow rebel Decepticons, and takes control again. It ends with a cliffhanger, with Optimus Prime not appearing until the very last page—his appearance is meant to signal the seriousness of the situation. Like, this was something that Bumblebee and company could handle on their own, at least until Megatron showed up. And now it's on! Not a bad way to end a miniseries and/or the trade collecting it, particularly if you want to sell the next one.

So I appreciated the cursory thought put into the premise here, and the slow build-up. Furman apparently expects to be telling this story a while, so didn't feel the need to rush the set-up any. I also liked the fact that the focus was on someone other than Optiums Prime. That dude just bores the shit out of me, and always has, but he's so often the focus of Tranformers stories. I suppose it's the fact that his whole personality just boils down to The Hero, which makes him a lot less intersting than all the villains and many of the other Autobots. (I had the same problem with the G.I.Joe cartoon; Duke and Flint were never as intersting as the mute ninja with the pet wolf or comedy duos like Shipwreck and his sarcastic talking parrot or Alpine and his mildly retarded friend Bazooka).

Now, let's talk art. This book is drawn by E.J. Su, and while it's serviceable, it's not that great. This is the second time I read this story, having first read it a couple of years ago in a black-and-white, digest-sized, manga-like format. I think that served Su's art quite well. Sure, Transformers without color seems a bit…wrong, I guess (Without color, how can you tell Starscream from Thundercracker and Skywarp, or Bumblebee from Cliffjumper?), but it accentuated the whole robots-in-disguise thing, and Su's manga-influenced humans looked more natural in the format than they do here, big and in color.

There's a sparseness of detail to Su's work which the size and color of this standard, Western super-comics format only draws negative attention to.

While he's not so hot with the humans, settings and backgrounds, he does draw good Transformers, having put some real thought into how they might work (dude draws great robot hands!) and making them all look very close to their original cartoon appearance, but freshened up with little, newer details, particularly in the joints and moving parts. I think his Megatron may be the biggest departure, being a tank with big treads along parts of him. (Me, I always liked the idea of Megatron being actual gun-sized, and that'swhy he was so evil—like, he suffered from an extreme form of Napolean complex, brought on by the fact that his enemies were all twenty to forty fee tall, while he was only, like, twelve inches high.)

All in all, this isn't a bad Transformers story. Although given how bad Transformers stories can be (i.e. Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen), "not bad" is, relative to others, “one of the best,” I guess.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So which ones are the good Transformers comics?

Like many millions of Americans, I paid actual cash money to go see a movie called Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last month. And then I went home, curled myself into a little ball in the back corner of a dark room, and rocked back and forth, weeping for our world.

I don’t really want to talk about the film, as the wounds it inflicted on my mind and on my soul are still too fresh. Seeing it did send me on a bit of a Transformers jag though, and I re-watched the admittedly not-very-good 1986 Transformers: The Movie

(although, credit where credit’s due, the opening two-minute scene, in which Unicron floats between the red and blue suns to devour a planet full of robots, is a better bit of film-making than anything in either of the two live-action flicks), and I then turned to my longboxes to re-read some of the Transformers comics I had acquired during the toy-turned-multimedia franchise’s early 21st century resurgence in popularity.

To my (mild) surprise, these comics weren’t very good.

By “these comics” I’m referring to the Dreamwave Productions ones, some of which I really liked when they first came out. These consisted of two “G1” miniseries, followed by a short-lived G1 ongoing. There were others that I had bought and read—a miniseries sub-titled The War Within and the Armada series based on the terrible cartoon with an extremely cool line of toys—but I didn’t care for them the first time around, so I had no desire to reread them.

Actually, all of the Dreamwave books were apparently pretty bad. The ongoing and second mini were deathly dull, full of far too many panels like this. The first series wasn’t great or anything, but it held up okay. Of course, it was powered exclusively by nostalgia—it was all the toys I grew up playing with, all the robots I spent the half-hour before G.I.Joe came on at 4:30 p.m. watching after my grade school day had ended, back and appearing in a medium I now prefer to toy or cartoon. The premise of the book was even that the Transformer robots from the ‘80s, having long lain dormant and assumed destroyed and lost, had returned to renew their war.

I knew that IDW had since acquired the license for the comics, but I hadn’t been reading their books at all (In addition to having gotten my fill via Dreamwave’s books, IDW’s were too highly-priced for me). I had read their initial Infiltration miniseries in a black-and-white digest while sitting in a bookstore a few years back, and liked that well enough. I sought out what was available at the library, and got another IDW collection, this one entitled Transformers: Stormbringer. It was by Simon Furman and Don Figueroa, and dealt with the origins of the Transformers race war, and how they came to planet earth in this new, IDW continuity.

I suppose it was an okay read, but it really struck me how weird it was that it was basically just a sci-fi, space opera type of story that just so happened to be branded as a Transformers series. The characters were all robots, and they shared the (often super-silly) names with the various toys, and, on occasion, a few of them did transform, but, for the most part, there was nothing in the story that necessitated it being about transforming robots.

Maybe that sort of seriousness is what some people liked about it—I understand that Furman and Figueroa are pretty popular among Transfans—but it struck me as kind of pointless. If you’ve got the Transformers license and are telling stories about giant robots defined by their ability to transform into vehicles, and your story could just as easily be told with a cast of humans or talking space baboons or fungus people instead, well, you’re not really making the most of things, are you?

I’m open to reading more IDW Transformer comics (provided I don’t have to pay for ‘em), but I was pretty disappointed that while they were a bit better than the Dreamwave ones (and thousands of times better than the live action movies), they still weren’t very good.

So what are the good Transformers comics? Surely there must be some, right? I mean, they’ve been publishing them for over 20 years now, they can’t all be bad, right?

I naturally assumed that the best Transformers comics must be the original Marvel ones then. That would explain why the comics license has remained active; the originals must have been so good that they left fond memories with a whole generation of readers, still eager to continue the experience.

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t really read comics growing up, usually only when relatives brought some home from the drugstore along with a filled prescription when I was home from school sick or something. I had only read one Marvel Transformer comic before, #17, of which all I really remembered was that the cover was pretty terrifying and that it was set on Cybertron and featured Blaster, the lame, Autobot version of Soundwave (I don’t know if it was just me or what, but with the exception of the Dinobots, I kind of hated all the Autobots—none of them were really anywhere nearly as cool as their Decepticon enemies, either in their designs, or voices or characters).

I was thus very excited to find a handful of old, battered, yellowed Marvel Transformer comics in the large comics collection recently bequeathed to me. Now I would discover whether Marvel’s were indeed the good stuff or not (Although recent evidence has emerged on the Internet that they probably weren't).

Well, six issues later, I’ve discovered that these comics aren’t very good either. I daresay they may be better than the other ones I’ve read though, at least in so much as that they were mostly done-in-one, easy-ish to follow and many of them at least had something to with the Transformers being unique lifeforms and/or revolve around Transformers issues of race wars, civil war and being unwelcome visitors on planet earth. The bulk of the Dreamwave and IDW comics I recently read, on the other hand, dealt with religious cults among the Transformers for some reason.

This has, by the way, all been an incredibly long-winded way of saying that I’m going to spend some time over the next few weeks or months taking a closer look at Marvel’s Transformers via these back issues, since I might as well try to make some use out of them.

So, first up is 1986’s Transformers #44, which contains “The Cosmic Carnival” by writer Bob Budiansky, penciler Frank Springer and inker Danny Bulanadi.
The cover certainly looks promising, containing as it does a robot beast fighting a reptilian monster on top a speeding semi truck while a robot on a motorcycle speeds straight into the truck’s grill. Also, explosions.

It opens with a splash page of a long, serpentine space ship, with beams of light shooting from its length at random intervals. Budiansky’s narration is actually pretty cool, so long as you remember to read it in the voice of the narrator of Transformers: The Movie, you know, the voice that says “It is the year 2005…” in the clip I linked to above:

From somewhere in deepest space it comes—A rippling serpent of cold, pitted steel. Its origin is unknown…its destination unclear. Only pinprick shafts of light disturb the dark monotony of its patchwork-plate skin…revealing nothing of their true purpose…or their sources.

It’s pretty purple, but no more purple than your average superhero comic of today that still employs narration.

“In a nearby sector, a far more familiar spacecraft continues its journey,” says the narrator on the next page, in a panel showing a spacecraft completely unfamiliar to me. Apparently, it is the Autobot starcruiser Steelhaven, traveling between Nebulos and Earth (Nebulos, by the way, was the name of the planet that the title character in IDW’s Stormbringer tried to destroy, I think).

Aboard the ship are Optimus Prime, Goldbug (who is apparently Bumblebee 2.0), some Autobots that don’t play any part in the story, and some humanoid natives of Nebulos, who underwent “the Powermaster process.”

One of them was actually named Lube. Oh, to be nine-years-old and not find the word “lube” completely hilarious!
Optimus is putting on a little holographic light show for the Nebulans about the sad state of affairs of the Transformers, while high-collared Nebulan HI Q gets in on the exposition game, when suddenly another holographic light show intrudes upon the ship.

It is an ad for a space circus (that’s what those lights from the ship on the first page were, ads being beamed from a space circus train), and the circus looks completely insane:

Seriously, take a good, long, hard look at some of the featured attractions. For example, one of them is an octopus riding a unicycle while balancing a gigantic dragon on a super long crutch/pole.

The Autobots are all WTF until they spot the Autobot Sky Lynx near the tail end of the ad. That’s him, the thing that looks like a cross between a pterodactyl and a space shuttle. He’s named Sky Lynx, even though space shuttles fly in space rather than the sky, and he doesn’t look anything remotely like a Lynx. You can tell he’s not a G1 Transformer based solely on his name.

Optimus decides to figure out what one of his warriors is doing performing in a circus when it should be working towards his ultimate goal of Decepticon genocide, so he and Goldbug pay the steep admission needed to investigate.

Among the cages and displays at the sideshow, they make an unexpected discovery:
When the children refuse to perform tricks for the crowd, their human keeper and carnival barker type Berko shoos the crowd away and scolds the children. The ‘bots try to free them, only to discover their cell is electrified.

Optimus demands to spake to the manager, so Berko introduces them to Mr. Big Top…

…seen here smoking a cigar that looks to be about the size of Optimus. Note the giant ashtray in the foreground.

Mr. Big Top informs them that the kids and Sky Lynx have all signed a contract and are here voluntarily as performers, and gives them passes for the show.

Optimus is still suspicious:
In fact, he thinks there’s “More than meets the eye” to the goings on at the circus.

Hmm, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before…
Oh, right.

Mr. Big Top slithers into the spotlight in the center ring to introduce “the star of our show—that metallic master of aeral acrobatics—Sky Lynx!”

In pterodactyl form, S.L. swoops o ut of cage, and, in a very confusing panel, transforms into a weird, bestial form (a lynx, I guess?), jumps around a bit on some high platforms, and then dives toward the ground in lynx mode, only to transform into a space shuttle and glide safely to the ground.

Backstage, Optimus and Goldbug talk to S.L. and learn how he came to be here. He was apparently flying the children through space when they saw the ad for the circus and went to check it out. When Berko discovered that they had no money to pay admission, he struck a deal with them, wherein they exchange their services for admission.

But as long as they’ve been there, they haven’t been able to work off their debt, and the children are trapped in an electrified cage that will blow up if anyone but Berko tries to open it.

This is a comic book with an important moral for children: Never sign a contract until after you’ve read the fine print. Also, you might want to have your lawyer look it over first.

When Berko comes to break up all the chatting, Optimus and Goldbug ask him to release Sky Lynx and the children, and, unprompted, Berko launches into a flashback of his own, telling how he went from being a common earth hobo to Mr. Big Top’s right tentacle man:
Optimus Prime, master negotiator, manages to sway Berko with a simple one-sentence offer to give him a ride back to Earth:
They launch a plan. While Berko releases the children using his special electronic key and they all pile into Goldbug, Optimus turns into a semi and he and Sky Lynx have a page-long fight with the other circus performers:

The audience loves it!
Mr. Big Top isn’t about to let his star attraction drive away in a Volkswagen, however, and kicks Goldbug’s ass, and pulls the humans out of him.

I love how he holds the teddy bear in one of his tentacles too, as if he thinks it is one of his foes.

While Big Top is threatening his former employee, Goldbug puts himself in reverse and WHOMP, Mr. Big Top gets locked in the cage.
Together the Autobots, children and Berko return to the Autobot starship and they all head for earth, where the Autobots will resume their mission to exterminate the Decepticons, the children to reunite with their parents, and Berko to resume being a hobo, albeit now one in a spiffy purple costume.


Speaking of giant transforming robots, were you aware of the existence of these two films?

Suddenly the Go-Bots don't seem so bad anymore, do they?

Friday, July 10, 2009

This robot has a lot to say...

...and only one panel to say it in.

(Panel from Dreamwave Productions' 2004 comic Transformers: Generation One #3 [Vol. 3], written by Brad Mick, penciled by Don Figueroa and inked by Elaine To)