Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Robotech/Voltron #1 (Dynamite Comics)

"I'd say we're pretty far off the original script at this point!"

Until this Christmas just past ROBOTECH hadn't seen a new comic published in almost eight years; the last periodical to see print from DC Comics was the final issue of the muddled and unsure PRELUDE TO THE SHADOW CHRONICLES back in January 2006, a tie-in to a DVD release that, due to a distribution deal falling apart at the last-minute, wouldn't hit stores for another year. What I find most frustrating about this long gap is that the current version of the ROBOTECH universe is still full of stories yet untold, stretching all the way back to the history of the Robotech Masters, Invid, and Zentraedi and ahead to the still-hypothetical gap between ROBOTECH: THE SHADOW CHRONICLES and its still-in-preproduction sequel, SHADOW RISING. And yet, with plenty of gaps to fill in the existing chronology, ROBOTECH returns to print with a divergent universe crossover story, bringing the multi-generational sci-fi saga in contact -- a collision course, no less -- with its immediate edited and rewritten robot anime predecessor, the more fantasy-themed VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE. Given the poor sales of both long-running franchises' comic book output, I suppose a stunt like this was inevitable, especially with both franchises now approaching thirty, one after the other.

The finished product is laden with problems, key among them the fact that this four dollar, twenty-two page comic book feels like a mere prologue. After a three page "introduction" that amusingly plays off of both show's opening sequences, five pages are spent with the Voltron Force discovering an anomaly, three are spent following key VOLTRON villain Lotor around in the wake of a universe without Voltron, and the last eleven cross the universes over by bringing the five lions of Voltron in to disrupt the events of the first two episodes of ROBOTECH -- and of those, five pages simply concern a certain pair of young men running across Macross City and almost getting killed. Despite the relaxed pace, Tommy Yune's script takes little time to establish characterizations, instead relying on the audience to bring along their warm, fuzzy memories of watching these heroes and villains on TV decades ago. The dialog that is present tends to be flat, unnatural, and filled with tiresome in-jokes, the worst of which concerns a real world toy existing in-universe that's based on something that, according to a character in the second episode of the TV show, should still be "classified top-secret." (If that wasn't bad enough, there's another groaner in the panel below that one.)

The saving grace of the book is the lovely art by Elmer Damaso with colorists Lariz Santos, Armand Roy Canlas, Sam Gelua, and Melvin Calingo. While I hesitate to recommend paying four dollars for this first issue right now, the eventual trade paperback might be worth a look some months down the road just for the pitch-perfect renderings of the heroes, villains, and war machines of these two 1980s classics. I'd love to see this team on either franchise separately once the crossover is over; from the purple gloom of Lotor's ship and a devastated Planet Arus to the familiar bold blue, green, and silver ambiance of Macross Island the art succeeds brilliantly at bringing these places and characters back to life. It's just such a shame that the book's words are nowhere near as successful.

I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend the first issue of this series because it really is aces all around from a purely visual standpoint, and I am absolutely pro-ROBOTECH in comics form. I wouldn't even say the story is a major letdown, since all this issue does is set up situations and mysteries; there's barely enough story here to judge. Alas, like most of the ROBOTECH material that's been released in the 21st century, ROBOTECH/VOLTRON forgets why fans fell in love with that series. The characters are poorly served and are given terrible things to say. That, combined with sluggish turn-of-the-century-style story pacing, means for those of you who aren't as obsessed as I am, I suggest waiting to see how the rest of the series shakes out and, if things get better, wait for the collection. 1990s ROBOTECH comics writer Bill Spangler is taking over scripting duties with issue three, so things very well could improve. Here's hoping that they do.
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