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Marvel Comics
Other Books
and Titles
Titan Books
Devil's Due
IDW Publishing
[book cover]
215 "Race With the Devil"
216 "Race With the Devil"
217 "Race With the Devil"
218 "Race With the Devil"
248 "Fallen Star"
243 "Mind Games"
244 "Two Megatrons"
268 "Flashback"
270 "The Bad Guy's Ball"
275 "Secrets"
276 "Bugged"
277 "Internal Affairs"
284 "Assassins"
285 "External Forces"
286 "The Lesser Evil"

Marvel UK manga 3 of 5: Fallen Star

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Reprints: The Transformers #215-218, 248, 243, 244, 268, 270, 275-277, 284-286 (Marvel UK) [Note: the credits page of the trade paperback erroneously repeats the issue numbers for the preceding Way of the Warrior trade.]
Written By: Simon Furman.
Art By: Andy Wildman (215-218), 248 Staz (243) Geoff Senior (244)
Pencils By: John Marshall (268, 286) Peter Knifton (270, 275, 285) Jeff Anderson (276, 284) Simon Coleby (277)
Inks By: Stephen Baskerville (268) Michael Eve (270, 276, 277, 284) Pete Venters (275, 285) Jeff Anderson (286)
Letters GLIB (215, 216, 244, 268, 270, 275) Helen Stone (217, 218 [credited as Hel on these issues], 248) Annie Halfacree (243) Stuart Bartlett (276, 277, 284) Julie Hughes (285) Peri Godbold (286)
Editor: Chris Francis (215-218) Euan Peters (243-286) [The trade credits claim Ian Rimmer as the second editor, but that contradicts information in the other trades, most obviously the article in Second Generation, that Euan Peters was editor from the early to late 200's. So most likely another mistake.]

We follow Starscream from death to life in some of the best character work he ever got. Plus some significant stories for Prowl and Soundwave. Not to mention the beginning of Getaway's run of bad luck...

The Stories:

In early 1989 Transformers celebrated a major milestone — 200 issues, a remarkable feat for a tie in comic, and even more remarkably the title was now the second longest running Marvel UK publication behind Doctor Who Magazine.

However, cracks were beginning to show — sales had now fallen to the point where the comics future was uncertain, and even if it did continue Simon Furman's move to writing the US comic meant there must have been a degree of uncertainty as to who exactly would be writing the home-grown strips. As such, Time Wars, the story that celebrated the bicentenary, reads like several plotlines that were supposed to play out for longer have been rapidly condensed in case the comic or the writer didn't last long enough to see them through (most obviously in the way the long promised final Ultra Magnus/Galvatron fight is undelivered on.)

In the end, the comic did continue for nearly three years, and Furman did manage to juggle writing two comics for two continents (though he did have to give up the UK editorship), but at a rather drastic price. First the length of the strips were reduced from 11 pages to 6 (with the other half of the Transformers content supposedly being new American material, though it would frequently be reprints of old strips when deadlines clashed), and two issues later by the loss of colour from the UK strip. At the time "rising production costs" rather than "falling sales" were blamed, but the net result was the same — lots of annoyed readers.

As an attempt to placate them into thinking the new format was workable Race With the Devil (#214-218) has the odds stacked against it. Written and drawn as a two part colour story both the art and the pacing suffer from the change. One immediate obvious goof as a result of this is that, despite the events in this comic seemingly being consecutive, caption boxes claim part one is set on the 24th of April whilst part three starts on 1st May — suggesting that the editorial team had more pressing concerns than keeping the continuity straight.

It's somewhat ironic that, considering the black and white era is often remembered for not fitting in well with the corresponding US strips, they start off with a direct tie-in to the American comic, in this case Furman's first arc on the American title as we see the Decepticon Powermasters retrieve Starscreams body (seemingly destroyed in The Underbase Saga... this would herald a period where no-one seemed capable of staying dead for long) for their currently unknown employer. The problem is that there isn't enough plot in this to sustain the length or maintain the interest for the originally planned two weeks, let alone four. So we have padding involving the Triggerbots (investigating what the Decepticons are after) having to blow their ship up, and archaeologist Susan Hoffman's latest misadventure with giant robots.

Part three finally gets to the meat of the plot — Starscream's corpse still being active and both Screamer and the essence of the Underbase vying for control of it — but despite Dogfight and co. acting as if it's the biggest threat they've ever faced, a slow-moving corpse doesn't come across as the ultimate foe. Something that's emphasised by the fact the late Decepticon is ultimately defeated by a hug from Hi-Test and Throttle. The whole thing is saddled with a comedy skit involving Susan (a character so unmemorable the astute reader may notice I've confused her with Joy Meadows in no less than two of the reviews I've done for this site) [Right. Supposed I'd better go fix that after this. -Ed] having to ask the Autobots to rescue her friends from man-eating cannibals.

The story ends on a pessimistic note, with the Decepticons getting away with what they came for and the Autobots worrying for the future, a concern that would have been shared by many of the readers.

Another negative is that Wildman's art is amongst his weakest... whilst this is understandable considering he was drawing with colour in mind, his battle damaged Starscream is awful, though the archaeology team being the Real Ghostbusters is a nice touch and the sort of art joke that's now commonplace in Transformers comics. Ultimately the only redeeming feature is Dreadwind and Darkwing's sarcastic banter with each other.

The next issue not only takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous, but from a story setting up Furman's first American story to one dealing with its aftermath. Fallen Star shows the resurrected Pretender Starscream (and this is the only time we'll see a Classic Pretender shell in the UK comic, which should give you a clue as to what Furman thought of the gimmick) trying to reacclimatise to life a menial Decepticon after being a God.

It's utterly fantastic from start to finish, and the best writing Starscream has received in any medium, full stop. The irony of Starscream thinking he's a washed-up has-been whilst not noticing everyone around him is scared oiless of him is superbly handled, and the fact he gets his groove back by beating up three Autobots (and as such starting a small tradition of bad things happening to Getaway in every appearance) makes it not only one of the few times a story ends with a happy ending for the Decepticons but the only time the reader will be cheering on such a thing. This was the first part of a loosely-themed trilogy of stories leading up to the Christmas issue with characters giving us internal monologue over their private plights, something that makes a nice change from the usual big battle story arcs, and was very welcome (even if Longtooth's entry was less successful than either this or Prime's Christmas effort.) Wildman's art here is hugely improved, and indeed may be the best he did for the UK comic, the amount of emotion he manages to make Soundwave's featureless face convey is especially impressive.

Next up we skip back a few issues to #243-244, as we again deal with the fallout from the Back From the Dead arc Furman had written for the American comic — though in this case the two parter was printed alongside the story it was dealing with to effectively try and counter the letters confused readers would be sending in regarding Megatron's presence in the colour strip before they could be written. It didn't work and All In The Minds! and Two Megatrons! effectively open a can of continuity worms that was never closed properly.

To recap: Megatron had been seemingly killed in American issue #25, and whilst the UK comic dutifully reprinted this in issues #107-108, Furman decided to bring Megatron back almost as soon as he could (which was fairly easy to do as Megs had vanished on the Space Bridge... it was easy enough to simply have him be "beamed" somewhere else) on the grounds that it was a bit pointless treating him as dead when a future version of him was running around in the UK comic as well (and no doubt the Megatron/Galvatron team up was already planned at this stage.)
All fine and good, and at this stage Furman would have been unworried about Megatron returning to the American strip as that would only be likely to happen in the event of a new Megaton toy being released — at that stage toys that were new versions of old characters were a very small part of the Transformers line (Galvatron being the first, ironically enough.) Fast-forward a few years though, and his first job as writer on the American comic is to reintroduce Megatron as a precursor to the Action Master line, toys that were 90% new versions of classic characters.

So what we have here is a massive ret-con, Megatron from the last 100 odd issues in fact being a clone made by Straxus circa issue 100 in order to hold his mind, and upon learning this he blows himself up to allow the original to resume his place. It's a rather bad fit, and the fact that the characters in the American comic think he's been dead all along (despite the evidence to the contrary they've experienced in the UK comic) is never properly dealt with... as such this is one of the most derided stories in the entire run.

Which is a shame to a certain extent, because taken on its own merits (which when I had no choice but to the first time I read it all those years ago, as I'd started collecting the comic long after the stories this messes with were published) there's a lot of amazing stuff here — Ravage's torn loyalties as he realised his leader and friend is beginning to go off the deep end, Straxus's mind gloating as he begins to take control and the fact clone Megatron chooses suicide rather than becoming what he hates are all very well done. We also have some fantastic art from Staz on the first part (in a nice touch he's careful not to show Megatron's fusion cannon when he's hidden in shadow, making it actually a surprise when he reveals himself at the end, unlike Galvatron in Perchance to Dream) and the peerless power of Geoff Senior on the second. Taken as part of a wider Transformers continuity, though, this is all rendered exceedingly poorly, which is a great shame.

Continuity is a moot point in our next story as it comes from the Earthforce cul-de-sac that Furman had invented to try and avoid these problems. Flashback! (though I prefer to think of it by the jokey title given to it on the Transformation page, "You Only Die Twice!") is effectively Quantum Leap in six pages.

Megatron uses a Quantum Accelerator Flashback Doorway to go back and possess Snap Trap and have him steer the Seacons away from their death at the hands of Super Starscream. Prowl follows back into his own body and stops him, and them has to suffer being killed all over again before returning. It's fast-paced, witty and exceptionally well drawn by John Marshall. The highlight is a quick insight into Megatron's psyche when he assumes that the persona who's followed him back and taken over Prowl has to be Prime — he genuinely looks terrified. Fantastic stuff that stands proud amongst the UK strips.

Issue 268, The Bad Guys Ball!, is hands down the best of the comedy black and white strips. The idea of the two rival factions of Decepticons (lead by Megatron and Shockwave, neither of whom was in any state to do so in the corresponding US strips but let's leave that be for now...) having a big party to settle their differences is fantastic, and artist Pete Knifton perfectly captures the "I'd rather be anywhere else" look on Megatron's face, as well as taking the chance to put lots of nice visual images in (Ravage and his dog bowl for example.)

There's a nice use of the Classic Heroes, as Ironhide gets a rare chance to show his smart side by setting the two sides against each other into a drunken brawl and Jazz starts his own party in the wreckage. Sunstreaker's disdain for the whole thing is perfectly in-character as well. And the "Why not try the PUNCH!" line is the best gag in this entire trade.

We're back to the serious stuff and story arcs with Secrets! (#275), a shining moment of characterisation for Soundwave as he tries to hide the fact he's a double agent working for Shockwave from Megatron. As with Fallen Star there's a great use of inner monologue to convey his increasing desperation to provide a traitor, and some nice black comedy as he sets up Wildrider to take the fall for him. It's also nice to see aspects of his profile — the mind reading and duplicity — getting a rare airing in the comic. Knifton's art again rises to the occasion with style.

All this is part of a set up that continues with the following issue — Bugged! — which also returns us to both the Starscream theme of this collection and the comedy. There is some good stuff here, the Insecticons completely failing as spies is fun, as is Starscream's boredom at being reduced to a security guard by Shockwave. Unfortunately the idea of defeating trained Decepticon warriors with a bug hoop veers more towards Chuckle Brothers level of comedy. Ultimately it's throwaway, but sets up Starscream manoeuvring the two rival Decepticon leaders into a fight, which takes us into...

Internal Affairs!, effectively a big fight between Megatron and Shockwave. Something like that depends strongly on the visuals, and Simon Coleby's art doesn't quite rise to the challenge, Megatron in particular having a fat jaw for some reason. The only notable thing is some of the dialogue would latter be reworked and reused by Furman in the Scorponok/Shockwave fight in US #72 ("Fifty says the purple one wins!")

Whilst the epic fight is going on Starscream and Soundwave steal the leadership of the two Decepticon groups from under them and start a joint command. A nice touch is that Soundwave is effectively being blackmailed into this as Starscream has threatened to expose his double agent nature. This fits perfectly with the notion of him as a reluctant leader (on previous occasions he's taken charge when there's no one else around, but always handed it back when Megatron or Shockwave has returned.)

Unfortunately this nice touch is undone by the idea of Earthforce having a phone line which anyone can call, despite their base on Earth supposed to be being a secret at this stage. Does Prowl have to fend off many calls from double-glazing salesmen?

With the two leaders reluctant partners it's no surprise that Assasins (#284) sees the relationship fray at the edges, as Starscream comes under attack from various assassins and assumes Soundwave is out to get him. Starscream's banter with the various killers as he takes them out is great fun (love his weary "It's gonna be a bad day!", but the fact he automatically assumes Soundwave is the only possible being who could have it in for him is a stretch, as is the end of issue cliff-hanger where we learn Screamer is the only person who can give Snarl a life saving "system boost" for Corrodia Gravis.

Jeff Anderson's art is as functional as ever, but he does have some fun with the designs for the bounty hunters. Sadly, unlike All In The Minds! there's no attempt to hide the silhouettes of the two Transformers who are really behind it all, making the big reveal of the next issue even more anti-climatic.

External Forces! (for some reason called External Affairs! in the next issue box of the preceding story) has two moments of glory — the first being from Soundwave when, upon being attacked by Starscream, he reveals a pre-recorded speech with the classic "Here's one I prepared earlier!", marking him out as a Blue Peter fan. The other comes from Prowl who, when he's forced to remind Grimlock why Starscream dying is a bad thing for them, has a thought bubble with a little brick in it. I actually laughed out loud when I first read that all those years ago.

Other than that it's very much a bridging issue where the plot is a bit stationary (three of the five pages are give over to the fight) that doesn't stand up well in isolation. The big reveal — that *gasp* Megatron and Shockwave were behind it all along — falls down from being simply so obvious, even without the poorly disguised cameos last week. Knifton at least draws the moment very well, though.

The Lesser Evil! finishes this story somewhat prematurely. We have a short, mostly off-page fight where the Earthforce manage to beat the Mayhems and Shockers and Megs with hardly any effort (Sludge's line of "Hey, they were good but not that good!" just makes you shout "But they are supposed to be that good!" at the page.) We then have no idea what happens to Soundwave (surely the Autobots didn't let him go?) or the other Decepticons who were no doubt stationed at the base. Starscream then agrees to help Snarl so he can have the Autobots' protection, even though as leader he has the entire resources of the Earthbound Decepticon army to do the same. Even more annoyingly, the next time we return to them in two issues time Soundwave and Starscream are back in their joint leadership position with no explanation. Though the 1989 Annual story Destiny of the Dinobots would show Snarl still suffering from the illness, the canon of that story is doubtful and it doesn't resolve any of the plots left dangling here.

Though John Marshall's art does well, it's ultimately a disappointing end to the collection, and a indicator of the mediocre nature of the few remaining UK strips that followed this.

The Presentation:

Generally the shrinking down doesn't affect the art greatly, though in a few places it doesn't do it full justice. Oddly the last page of Bugged! is missing the Next Issue caption, suggesting that Titan might have managed to get hold of the original masters for a change (or they just cropped the page wrongly...)

The cover art by Simon Coleby from issue #277 is probably the best chosen of the five B&W trades — and indeed is a better piece of art than anything in the actual issue itself. Though, considering the fact this is a Starscream themed collection, the #286 cover might have been a more sensible one to go with.

A minor annoyance is that Divided Loyalties — a vital part of the Starscream/Soundwave arc from issue #279 — isn't present, having been instead printed in the Earthforce collection. By the same token, it would have been nice if Fallen Star itself had been presented with the following two issues considering the first person narrative connects them all.

The only extra of any sort is the DVD advert, but for the price that's fine.

The Verdict:

Fallen Star is a collection that will often make your ears bleed if you try and fit it in with the rest of the Marvel Transformers universe, but there's still much to recommend here even if the stories that open and close it are subpar. Flashback and The Bad Guys Ball are worth the cover price alone, and even the worst of the rest has one or two redeemable moments. Well worth your time.

Reviewed by Inflatable Dalek

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