12 Aug 2011

Thought Balloon: Transforming Back To The Good Old Days

By Stewart R

Through the massive information and rumour wave that spilled out of the many doors of the San Diego Comic Con this year I managed to miss one very vital piece of news. Thankfully a chance browse through Bleeding Cool's site last week made me sit bolt upright in my chair with excitement. Simon Furman and Andy Wildman will be continuing where they left off some 20 years ago when they put pencil and ink to the last issue of the Transformers UK (#332) and US(#80) comics. Those hallowed and cherished stories of Optimus Prime, Megatron and the armies of Autobots and Decepticons have been filling shelves of local comic shops and high street book retailers for some years now in collected form and it seems that the time may be right for those adventures to be expanded upon.

First Dreamwave and then in recent years IDW have carried the Transformers torch, electing to offer alternative perspectives and stories of the initial discoveries and revelations of Transformers existence on Earth or the early days of the Cybertronian conflict rather than carry on where the Marvel comics left off. The IDW line is still carrying a reasonably strong following today, thanks to fan commitment, which remains ever-dedicated and vocal, and of course the recent Hollywood juggernaut that swung past in the last five years. It may be that the relative success seen recently with Larry Hama's return to the pages of the original and revered G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero continuity – which did feature as a long time backup strip in the Transformers UK run - struck a chord somewhere in the higher echelons of IDW's management and so Transformers uber-scribe Furman and one of the most popular of the original comic's artists, Wildman, will be brought back to pick up where they left off.

Am I excited? Yes! Am I also wary? Of course. An awful lot of creative liquid energon has passed under the (space) bridge in those two decades – I'll quit while I'm ahead with the in-jokes! Transformers has, well, transformed into a global product with several animated series that have come before and after the live-action, big screen success, all of which have had an influence on the comics that have hit the shelves from various publishers and the perception of the potential readership. Even the general aesthetic vision of the robotic characters has altered over the course of 20 years. While some of IDW's titles still keep those famed and loved designs from the mid-Eighties, artists have begun to show the underwires, pistons and workings that allow these beings to move and work as they do, thanks mostly to the general understanding of robotics in the psyche of the average reader in the 21st Century, but that wasn’t part of the deal in the old comics. The 1980s were a different time, possibly even regarded as a time of 'wonder', where the media-grabbing masses wouldn't question things as readily as they do today especially when it came to science-fiction. While the plan appears to be to recapture the magic of the material seen all those years ago, I'd be surprised to see no influence from the past 20 years of Transformers history and increasing readership savvy having an influence.

It should also be said that Larry Hama has certainly had an easier job with his return to G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero as his series was left at something of an open-ended climax and not one that had fundamentally altered the status quo of the Joe/Cobra conflict, written itself into a dead-end, or seen sweeping and dramatic changes to the cast that couldn't be smoothed out within a single arc of the new run. Transformers on the other hand really was pushed into a fairly final cul-de-sac when it came to old continuity thanks to a somewhat last minute cancellation of the series and need to wrap things up quickly.

Having defeated Unicron in the skies of Cybertron, suffered huge casualties including the likes of Optimus Prime and Scorponok during the attack, and seen their world steadily become unliveable, the Autobots and Decepticons left Cybertron in the hope of finding refuge elsewhere in the galaxy. Following the briefest of uneasy truces the Decepticons got back to their arsey, destructive ways, the Autobots tried to fight back as best they could, Optimus is resurrected, the Decepticons well and truly defeated - including an additional and somewhat unmerciful decimation to the already dwindling cast of villains - and it turns out that Cybertron was just healing itself so the Autobots can return home. Everyone cheered, wiped away a tear and shoved their pile of comics into a cardboard box for their Mum to throw out at some random time in the future.

That ending doesn't leave much legroom for recapturing the magic and nostalgia. If anything, carrying on from that point is going to be new and inventive ground with Furman having a 20 issue arc planned which will draw things to a final close at the end of it all. Arguably the stories to be found in the title following Unicron's defeat weren't up to the high standard that had been seen previously. It felt as if there was a slight struggle for new ideas after the big climatic battle that had been years in the making took place, so it will be interesting to discover what Furman has up his sleeve this time around. Most of the more powerful Decepticons who have plagued the Autobots for centuries are still kicking about there somewhere, all somehow managing to avoid a fatal decommissioning, but it's going to be a challenge to make any threat seem that potent considering the trials that Optimus Prime and his troops went through to get where they will be when #81 turns up on shelves. The threat of Unicron loomed over the heads of the Transformers in some form for over 150 issues of the UK comic continuity so it will be interesting to see just what literary tapestry Furman can weave. While I'm also very happy to see Andrew Wildman return with his artistic skills and history with the material, there's a fanboy part of me that was really wishing Geoff Senior's name had been mentioned as a contributor as his work is always the first that comes to mind when I take a nostalgic day dream back to my early comic experiences of the 1980s.

Whatever we end up with it's good to see that a cancelled series from so long ago still has the support available today to make it a viable option for a comic publisher in such turbulent times for the industry and that the original talent are still involved. The all important question now: will we get an annoying level of character resurrections to sate the hunger of the fans or will dead mean dead for the Transformers this time? I’m looking forward to that particular revelation when the comics finally 'Roll Out!'

1 comment:

Majid Ali said...
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