Comics Reading Club: Zob's Thoughts on Marvel Comics THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE #2

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Jun 14, 2022, 6:08:19 PMJun 14
THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE #2 was printed on September 23, 1986, only twenty days after the publication of issue #1, and had a pull date of January 1987.  It continues the adaptation of the theatrical animated film, and was available about a month after the movie hit theaters.

The front cover showcases Hot Rod, Grimlock, and Kup tangling with a school of deadly fish-monsters as "The Sharkticons Strike!"  Hot Rod's fist is traveling through the belly of a Sharkticon and out of its mouth, so it's hard to say whether Hot Rod has run it through with his fist, or whether the Sharkticon has bitten his arm off.  Either seems possible.  

This month was also when TRANSFORMERS #24 hit newsstands, and TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE #2 was available as well.  Lots of Transformers content to keep track of!

The issue is entitled "Judgment Day!" and was written by Ralph Macchio (adapted from the theatrical film script and storyboards by Ron Friedman and others).  Don Perlin penciled the art, Akin & Garvey inked it, and Nel Yomtov colored it.  Janice Chiang provided the lettering. I'm glad they gave the art duties to regular TRANSFORMERS artists instead of an entirely new team.

So we get a brief recap via narration boxes about the shift in setting to 2005, the recent battle culminating in the Decepticon retreat, their chance encounter with Unicron, and the transformation of several troops into Unicron's new servants.  Galvatron, Scourge, and Cyclonus stand on the surface of Unicron's planet mode, with the shapes of something like 15 additional new troopers in the extreme background.  Far too many, for how few Decepticons were dumped into space in the previous issue.

It's interesting to note that there were two iterations of the movie character designs.  One was the original styling as conceived by Floro Dery, and this was the look on which the Hasbro toys were directly based.  The other was a revised, streamlined version, and this was the final look that made it into the animated film and most subsequent episodes, but not into Marvel Comics per se.  Marvel got the older designs and used them any time the movie characters made an appearance.  Some of the differences include the rounded musculature on the arms and legs of Cyclonus and the way his wings fold against his back instead of protrude, and the shape of Galvatron's squared-off chest and the shorter crest on his helmet.  There were coloring differences, too, of course, as the comic book Galvatron was colored like the Hasbro toy (which was grey; this translated to light blue on the comics pages) instead of the purple color used in animation.

The Autobots have differing color schemes, too.  Hot Rod is basically magenta from head to toe, Kup is blue, and Wheelie is yellow.  Obviously, the four-color printing process had its limitations, but the characters from the movie were conceived with specific color schemes, partly to help visually distinguish them from each other readily (Blurr was blue, Kup was teal, Springer was green, etc.) and a lot of that was lost in translation.

Galvatron's first act, before carrying out Unicron's orders, is to deal with Starscream, who was the one who dumped the Decepticons into space in the first place.  Galvatron arrives and blasts Starscream, who crumbles into pieces.  It's a much more dramatic moment in animation than it is in the comics, considering Starscream's death scene is the smallest panel on the page.  Also, Starscream has already been killed by this point in the regular comic book, and he was never the grand and important personality that he was in the cartoon, so it's almost not a big deal here.  It's just Galvatron tidying up loose ends. With Starscream gone, Galvatron claims the Decepticon troops who had previously been following him, and with his bolstered army, he heads for Earth and the Autobots.

Elsewhere, Unicron has made his way towards Cybertron and sets his sights on one of Cybertron's moon bases.  Jazz and Cliffjumper are stationed there—colored incorrectly, with their color schemes swapped.  (Jazz has appeared in Cliffjumper's color scheme a number of times, and it amuses me to pretend this is a generic background Autobot named Double Trouble.  I pretend the version of Cliffjumper with the Jazz color scheme is named Gearshift.)  Jazz contacts Ultra Magnus on Earth to warn him of the threat, and he and Cliffjumper attempt, but fail, to escape Unicron's grasp.  Well, they're already dead in the regular comic, so no big loss.  Galvatron balks at Unicron devouring the moon base, but Unicron exerts his remote influence on Galvatron and compels him to obey.

On Earth, the Autobots are debating what to do about Unicron when Galvatron's forces arrive and attack.  (Ultra Magnus' rallying cry of "TO THE SHUTTLES!" gets an entire third of one page, but Starscream's death doesn't warrant that?  I don't get it.)  Kup finally gets name-checked as he and Hot Rod get ready to blast off (his role in issue #1 was pared down to practically nothing).  The comics diverge significantly from the animated film, as the Autobot break apart asteroids to jam the Decepticons' ability to track them, and this is how they manage to escape.  Galvatron even remembers the trick as something that the Autobots had once done to Megatron, establishing a clear continuity of consciousness between the two Decepticon leaders.  

The comic book identifies the robot that Hot Rod is sparring with as an "auto-combatant," but in the comics he does so with fisticuffs, not a lightsaber, making it a little less of a Star Wars moment.  The shuttle containing Hot Rod and Kup and the Dinobots is destroyed, and they plummet towards the planet below.  (The animated film is vague about Hot Rod's fate, leaving open the possibility that he was killed, but the comics are explicit about his survival.)  

Galvatron sets his sights on Ultra Magnus' shuttle, and they're forced to execute an emergency separation of the ship.  With limited fuel, they divert to the Planet of Junk.  Elsewhere, Hot Rod and Kup find themselves on planet Quintesson (it's not called Quintessa as it is in the cartoon).  In this version of the story, Grimlock accompanies Hot Rod and Kup during their travels.  They encounter Sharkticons, who take them to the Quintesson courtroom.  They are imprisoned and meet up with the captive Kranix, from last issue, who explains that the Quintessons hunt down anyone who tries to escape Unicron.  It's a weird extrapolation, but at least it creates a connection between these otherwise radically disjointed events.  Kranix is put on trial, declared guilty, and is eaten by the Sharkticons.

Hot Rod, Kup, and Grimlock are put on trial next.  The Quintessons call for their executon, but the Autobots escape their bonds and battle the Sharkticons until the other Dinobots arrive.  In a wildly out-of-character moment, Sludge has a lengthy solliloquy where he explains that "after the shuttle broke apart, we fell not too far away from where you did, in the same muck.  We saw the Sharkticons come and take you away, and we followed, out of sight.  We didn't want to make a move until we knew what was going on.  But, we just couldn't wait and see you get killed..."  There's more, believe it or not.  He just doesn't stop.  Kup even commends Sludge on his good thinking!  This definitely isn't the besotted Dinobot we know and love.  Well, anything to drive the plot, I suppose.  The Dinobots make quick work of the Sharkticons and they turn against the Quintessons.  With that problem solved, the Autobots meet Wheelie, who has been hiding from the Quintessons and knows of a ship they can use to escape.  

Back on Moon Base Two, Bumblebee and Spike prepare for the arrival of Unicron.  (Spike is wearing a weird off-model space suit instead of his exo-suit from the film.)  They rig some charges which detonate, but they fail to stop the advance of the monster planet.  "It's too late for anything, Spike!  We're dead!  We're deeeeeaaaaaad..." Bumblebee wails as the Moon Base is consumed.  Unicron heads towards Cybertron itself as the issue concludes.

While it's a mostly faithful retelling of the movie, it's extremely condensed, leaves out a few key scenes (like the Dinobots searching for Hot Rod and Kup and meeting up with Wheelie), and adds a lot of Marvel-style over-explaining to other scenes (like when Galvatron arrives at Starscream's coronation, he speaks at length—"I, who was once Megatron, and who now have become Galvatron!  You have attempted to take my place as ruler!  You threw me into space after my injury following our recent battle at Autobot City on Earth, believing I would die..." etc.)  Also, I don't think Blurr has been featured in any capacity at all up to this point. The movie adaptation has all but forgotten him as a character!

Some film adaptations are great.  The artwork in the Return of the Jedi comic book is extraordinary, and the adaptation hits all the major story beats.  The Black Hole adaptation is great, too, and is also very faithful to the film.  I've also read some, but not all, of the adaptation of RoboCop 2, and I really enjoy it.  This just isn't a great adaptation.  Maybe there's something about the inherently visual nature of animation that translates badly to the comic book page.  The blasé attitude the regular comic has already shown towards character deaths is also a disadvantage, since character deaths was one of the most shocking things about the theatrical film, but for Marvel Comics, it's just a regular Tuesday.  At the end of the day, The Transformers: the Movie is one of my all-time favorite movies ever, but Marvel really failed to do it justice.  But, we've still got one more issue to go.

Zob (poor Blurr)

Evil King Macrocranios

Jun 18, 2022, 4:26:15 PMJun 18
On Tuesday, June 14, 2022 at 3:08:19 PM UTC-7, Zobovor wrote:
> I'm glad they gave the art duties to regular TRANSFORMERS artists instead of an entirely new team.

I used to wonder if it was a coincidence that it was mostly veteran artists on this book. I don't know that they could put a new team together at the time if they tried. It seems like the hot new comic talent at the time was too cool for school when it came to doing the Transformers. ( Is it cruel or unfair to say that even back then Springer, Perlin, and Delbo weren't exactly A-listers?) I've never heard Budiansky had to fight off Alan Moore or Frank Miller to write it or that Walt Simonson or John Byrne were beating down the door to draw it. Sienkewicz did do the cover for #1 but that's about as superstar as the talent ever got on this book. I don't think there was ever any danger of some hot new up and coming art team usurping the TF comic status quo, even for side projects like this. I kinda think it would've been neat to see but I doubt the artists I wanted to see at the time would have considered taking this book seriously.

I wish I could get kid me to share his thoughts on these movie books when they first came out as I seem to have forgotten specifics of how I felt at the time. I know I was pretty desperate to relive the movie after being blown away by it in the theater but this limited series didn't do it for me because of what I thought was sucky art by comparison. After the movie came and went I was left with this sense of awe but the art in the comic just kinda fell flat for me. There was at least the Movie sticker book that had actual stills from the movie. It more or less let me relive the story in the way I was hoping the comic would.


Jun 18, 2022, 5:13:57 PMJun 18
On Saturday, June 18, 2022 at 2:26:15 PM UTC-6, wrote:

> I used to wonder if it was a coincidence that it was mostly veteran artists on this book. I don't know that they could put a new team together at the time if they tried. It seems like the hot new comic talent at the time was too cool for school when it came to doing the Transformers.

As I do these reviews, I'm learning a little more about the specific Marvel artists who worked on the comic book, and what other sorts of projects they worked on. This kind of gives me a vague idea of the reputations for each artist, and the sorts of projects each of them seemed to gravitate towards.

In the early days, nobody at Marvel took the TRANSFORMERS title seriously. Everybody knew it was just a comic to promote kiddy toys, and it seems like it was looked upon with heavy disdain. I would think that anybody whose dream was to become a Marvel comic book artist was hoping to one day get to draw Spider-Man or the Hulk or somebody. But, they paid their penance and did their time working on TRANSFORMERS or EWOKS or whatever lame comic they were assigned until they got to move up and finally strut their stuff.

But, I think after a few years when Transformers demonstrated its staying power, and wasn't over after four issues like everybody sort of expected, then that perception changed a little. It was clearly enormously popular. Marvel committed to multiple mini-series in order to capitalize off its growing success. It took a while for the comic book to settle into a regular art team, but Perlin/Akin/Garvey honestly had a good run. It wasn't especially dynamic art, but everybody was on model and you could easily pick out the toys you had (or wanted to own), which is important. The comic fails if you can't even tell which robots are which.

My favorite era is still the late Furman run, when Andy Wildman and Geoff Senior were trading off art duties. Each of them brought such dynamic visuals to the comic in very different ways, but to me it was so much more objectively better than the more conservative, restrained look of Perlin or José Delbo's art.

Zob (and don't get me started on the Delbo eyeballs)
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