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Marvel Comics
Other Books
and Titles
Titan Books
Devil's Due
IDW Publishing
[book cover]
223 "Aspects of Evil"
224 "Aspects of Evil"
225 "Aspects of Evil"
226 "Aspects of Evil"
227 "Aspects of Evil"
251 "The Void"
252 "Edge of Impact"
253 "Shadow of Evil"
254 "White Fire"
235 "Deathbringer"
236 "Deathbringer"
240 "Out to Lunch"
245 "Underworld"
246 "Demons"
247 "Dawn of Darkness"

Marvel UK manga 1 of 5: Aspects of Evil

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Reprinting: #223-227,235-236,240,245-247 (Marvel UK)
Script: Simon Furman [223-227,235-236,240,245-247]
Art: Jeff Anderson [223,245-246], Art Wetherell [224], Andrew Wildman [225,240], Lee Sullivan [226], Simon Coleby [227], Geoff Senior [235,247], Staz Johnson [236,251-252], Cam Smith [253-254]
Letters: Helen Stone [223,245], Glib [224-225,227,235-236, 247,251-252], Nick Abadzis [226], Annie Halfacree [240,246,253], Stuart Bartlett [254]

NB: This review will contain spoilers for Primal Scream and later US stories.

The Stories:

Aspects of Evil, 1-5 (#223-227)

The premise for this five-parter is a haggard* Rodimus of the year 2356 recounting to a student of history his experience of Decepticon leaders and of Unicron. I say "a" Rodimus because this appears to be an alternate timeline, based on the future Autobots timejumping forwards after the events of Time Wars to discover that their home planet has been captured by Galvatron. (As sure a sign as any that this isn't the regular timeline, since Galvatron was destroyed in Time Wars.) In this and other ways, Aspects of Evil is a "what if?" horror story.

*Note that Rodimus looks this way due to illness, not age. A few hundred years is fairly inconsequential to a Transformer.

The first Decepticon that Rodimus describes is Scorponok... who uses the commitment of the Autobots to protecting surrendering prisoners and humans against them, escaping in the confusion. Next we get some background on this alternate future, in which Galvatron is seeking to provoke Rodimus in order to take control of the matrix—something that probably won't make a great deal of sense until later in the story. Anyway, Arcee talks him out of doing what the Decepticon wants and the scheme to corrupt is foiled.

Part three sees Shockwave attempting to wreck a human-Autobot alliance by wiping out visiting human heads of state, emphasising his coldly logical assessment of the damage such actions would do both to the alliance and Megatron's claim to leadership of the Decepticons, and the likely fatality rate of Autobots shielding the humans with their bodies. Hot Rod (indirectly responsible for allowing the attack to occur by neglecting security at Autobot City) saves the day by doing the thing Shockwave expects least. Part four moves on to Megatron, in another instance of the Autobot Code being turned against its upholders. It also demonstrates Megatron's callous disregard for his own troops, as a double agent is flushed out whilst exposing them to termination.

The concluding issue draws us into the alternate future, indirectly explaining why Galvatron was so keen to bait Rodimus in part two. In this timeline, a third coming of Unicron occurred in 2010—exactly how is unexplained, but it suggests that the monster could not be contained by the matrix (into which it was imprisoned in Legacy of Unicron.) Therefore we can better grasp that Galvatron's purpose was to drive Rodimus into a killing rage, which would have allowed Unicron to take over his body.

In the narrative description, Unicron is likened to a storm and an incarnation of death— essentially ultimately unstoppable—whereupon the student accuses him of being an old Autobot fool, confused and speaking fictions... and sets off to find Unicron for himself. As he leaves, the student also throws down an Autobot emblem, suggesting either that he was Decepticon agent (the smirk he's drawn with throughout indicates a less-than-benign character) or that in this future a form of peace existed and some Decepticons had rejoined the Autobot ranks. It's hard to credit him as simply a regular Autobot.

Rodimus, of course, is aghast... and inside the matrix, Unicron chuckles malevolently at his handiwork. As I've probably mentioned elsewhere in discussion or other reviews, the fact that a few UK stories end on such ominous notes is something that keeps me returning to them time and time again. The good guys don't always win, and they don't all get out alive—which makes the series a lot more meaningful.

Some parts of Rodimus' recollections are glib, exaggeratedly so, which only adds to the suggestion that the corrupted matrix is exerting an influence and wearing him down.

The Void, Edge of Impact, Shadow of Evil, White Fire (#251-254)

These four stories (all parts of a whole, though individually titled) pick up on the past described in the second part of Aspects of Evil. It's 2009 and the Autobots are on the run from Galvatron, plotting a course through warp space... only to have things get even worse whilst there! The first two parts form a mystery, which I'll endeavour not to spoil for you... as the title Edge of Impact implies, though, there's a nasty crash involved. There's also a saboteur concealing themself on the ship!

Despite an old enemy making a reappearance in the final two parts and a certain amount of drama, the second half of this arc falls a little short of the first. The art by Cam Smith isn't quite of the standard established by Staz Johnson, and as we know how things turn out in this timeline (from Aspects of Evil), the ending is prevented from offering much resolution. It's possible the creative team had some small intention to revisit this continuity, but that Hasbro UK were keen for the comic to start including characters from the then-current Classic Heroes range. Such would certainly explain the debut of Perchance to Dream in issue #255, and subsequent full shift to Earthforce/Survivors tales.

<tangent> It's possible for this future continuity to join up with the future depicted in a 1988 UK annual story. Peace, set in 2510, involves the fall of the last Decepticon and anything but the cessation of hostilities. Is it possible for Unicron to still be influencing the Transformers and their war by this point? The recurrence of Unicron as a threat is one of the largest differences between the UK and US comics—in the latter Unicron is one challenge to be overcome, rather than the yin of a perpetual conflict. Then again, this is just one divergent timeline—main timeline UK continuity seems to lead into a broadly similar version of the US encounter with Unicron, perhaps following a detour via Earthforce stories that would change various details. This in turn may suggest the UK timeline from Target: 2006 onwards was cancelled or changed by the events of Time Wars.

Oh, and I should probably point out that none of this need be thought upon in order to enjoy UK stories. It just keeps old hacks such as myself entertained. </tangent>

Deathbringer, 1-2 (#235-236)

Prelude to and reinforcing the US Matrix Quest story arc, Deathbringer proved a piece of UK continuity in which writer Simon Furman went further than usual in linking the two titles. US readers got only a one-page summary of Deathbringer in the story Dark Creation, a little surprisingly considering it underpins the whole subplot of the Matrix wanting to experience evil (and choosing to work with Decepticon leader Thunderwing.) Dark Creation wasn't reprinted in the UK until issue #290, which gives you a bit of an idea how far in advance some concepts were being laid down—and Deathbringer was published in roughly the same month as Furman's first issue for Marvel US.

So what's the story? Within ten pages we have sketched for us the background of the Deathbringer (a mechanoid designed to visit plague planets and offer the terminally ill a painless death); its encounter with the Autobot Matrix (which restores it, driving it mad in the process and setting it attempting to cleanse the stain of life from ordinary planets); a recap of Prime's original body being blasted into space (with it being explained that the Autobots who did this were ignorant of the Matrix having a physical holder); a showdown with the Deathbringer on Earth, and the resolution of that conflict.

Phew. That's a lot of content.

At the same time, those ten pages work as a self-contained story. There's adequate flashback without anything becoming confusing, and strong characterisation: Prime must choose whether to destroy the mechanoid—and thus lose the only clue the Autobots have as to the whereabouts of the Matrix—or let it rampage unchecked. No surprises in what he chooses to do, but the content touched on (euthanasia, etc) is quite heavy stuff for a kids' comic and deftly handled. The difference in tone between UK story material and what Bob Budianksy was concurrently writing for the US is only underscored by the fact that Deathbringer was originally published alongside reprints of fluff such as King Con and The Interplanetary Wrestling Championship.

Out to Lunch (#240)

Speaking of fluff, and breaking up the evil and death, we come now to a lighter moment in the collection. A bit of a fan favourite, Out to Lunch is a charming six-page advert for Quickswitch featuring a brawl with Mecannibals in Maccadam's Old Oil House, whilst in the background Darkwing and Dreadwind wax philosophical and get obliviously 'drunk'. Something of a favourite for artist Andy Wildman, too—he mentioned it was particularly fun to draw during a convention panel I was fortunate enough to attend last year. "Yus. I don' think thish fule is poisoned, at all. I jush think we've had a weeny bit too much of it." All in all, a nice bit of throwaway fun.

Underworld, Demons, Dawn Of Darkness (#245-247)

This three-parter sees more experimentation by Furman with ideas that would later be incorporated into the main US story. Underworld is reasonably standalone, as Tailgate and some other Autobots trek down into the levels of Cybertron—below even the disused sewer systems—as part of an archaic "walkabout" initiation ritual. They find less-than friendly mutant robots... but that isn't all they uncover!

The second part touches upon the backstory for this; the awakening of Primus (in the US Primal Scream arc) has freed some of Cybertron's original inhabitants—which happen to be demonic-looking creatures who have awoken hungry. The creatures waylay and deactivate a group of Decepticons, prompting the Autobots to investigate before the Decepticons launch a reprisal attack.

The demons in the third part look rather different from the way Jeff Anderson drew them, but this we can forgive... and this part sees the Decepticons team up with Grimlock, Jazz and Bumblebee to slow the creatures down, before Emirate Xaaron (the Autobot commander on Cybertron) steps in to save the day with much the same cliché of science fiction that proved so effective against Starscream during the Underbase saga.

Stories such as these really flesh out the idea of a populated Cybertron, as in short order we encounter three of the 1986 minibots, various Micromasters, the Autobot Classic Pretenders, the Triggercons, Firecons and a small army of disposable characters. Throughout, Simon Furman demonstrates a snarky and sometimes self-reflexive sense of humour... for instance, one of the mutants in Underworld comes out with: "Name's Jackhammer. Figger it's pretty apt, don't you? Oh, and the guy behind you... is Warhead! Reasonable enough of us to have such easy to remember names, what?" just as he has the student in Aspects of Evil come out with line a line about Rodimus Prime having to have been inside Unicron's head. (Literally true, in both Legacy of Unicron and Transformers: the Movie.) The latter parts of the demon story arc also both feature effective visual gags, my favourite being Cindersaur getting 0wn3d in classic Geoff Senior lines.

The mystery of the 'demons' is picked up later in the US comic, though how exactly they came about is still left unspecified. Some speculate they were a failed attempt by Primus at creating a race to populate and defend Cybertron, or a first batch of Transformers corrupted in development by Unicron. True cynics might suggest that, as Primus appears willing to use his creations as cannon fodder, he may have taken Unicron as a template for transformation and been prepared all along to discard any failed prototypes... there are certainly moral ambiguities in his actions, and it's interesting that these questions are left open for readers.

The Presentation:

With a reduced-size format, these volumes were always going to live or die by the result of the publishing process. Happily, things are very crisp and readable. The cover is an inset version of the cover art from issue #254, brightened up with some Photoshop kibble.

The Verdict:

Clocking in at 80 sheets, there's as much story packed into this volume as can be found in the 128/144/160 leaf regular-sized books. The premium on space for a second tale per issue in the UK comic enforced a lot of writerly discipline; conditions that are far removed from many modern comics, which might take several times the page count per story to cover the same ground and have far less immediate appeal or pace.

If you're worried about not enjoying this because you haven't read the other stories mentioned in the review, don't be. I hadn't when I read the black-and-white stories back in the 90s (starting with issue #268) and thoroughly enjoyed them then. Those in this book are no exception, and it's very welcome to see them reprinted and available to a wider audience.

The price is good too; there are rumours of fullsize coloured versions of the books being available further down the road, but we'll see what those are like if they appear. The stories were illustrated with black-and-white publishing in mind, and Geoff Senior in particular serves up extremely clear, evocative art for this format. Recommended, and I'm greatly looking forward to the next volume, which should be Way of the Warrior.

Reviewed by Denyer

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