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Some comics I read in 2017

Another year’s about to wrap up, so you know what that means – I write dumb opinions about media I barely remember! I know, I’m sorry too. I’d no intention of doing a full article, and even the abbreviated list for last year was just too boring to go through again… but I still had a whole bunch of dumb opinions on media I barely remembered that needed an outlet. So, hey, let’s talk about some comics I read! If the thought of writing more doesn’t lull me and the audience into a never-ending sleep, expect another post for games and movies too, maybe.

Star Fox (Nintendo Power)

I’d been keen to read this since my big Star Fox kick last year. My early years online drifting around tiny fansites suggested people found it more compelling than the games, portraying a darker and deeper take on Star Fox lore that, most importantly for fanfic writers, gave Fox a girlfriend, Fara Phoenix. (he can’t fuck Wolf and Falco all the time!)

It’s a breezy light-hearted space romp that paints a fun picture of the Star Fox world. I guess to a young audience it might seem slightly mature, what with Fox grieving over his lost parents and hating Andross so much he’s willing to go on a kamikaze mission, forcing Falco to pummel him senseless… but it’s just so breezy it’s hard to see it that way. The dialogue is jokey and full of dreadful puns, and Andross’ goofy schemes undermine any attempt at seriousness, including his Gundam-shaped living-battery android pig assistant, and his brilliant plan to work alongside a clone of himself is foiled when his clone gushes his love for Fox’s gal. It’s a 80-20 skew of cornball and melodrama, and I love it.


The artwork by Benimaru Itoh is positively fabulous. I waffled some guff on Twitter about the art evolution of the series, but this comic is probably my favourite take on it. The original SNES Star Fox game was revolutionary for its 3D graphics… but it sure left a lot to the imagination, y’know? Itoh’s art brings it to life, with lush planets and detailed space ports, and heaps of expressive character portraits. It’s perhaps a bit strange seeing more ‘accurate’ depictions of anthropomorphic animals compared to the stylised renditions in later games, but I really dig it. It’s rich, it’s expressive, it’s vivid… I could go on all day. Worth a readin’ just to appreciate Itoh’s art.

 

The Transformers (Marvel UK)

I read the Marvel US run in 2014 and the Generation 2 run last year… let’s wrap it up with the UK-exclusive stories! Because the UK strip ran weekly rather than monthly, Simon Furman had to plug the gap with interquels, side-stories, or time-travelling future nonsense – whatever it took to avoid conflicting with the American plot!
The early stuff gives a chance for the original cast to shine, including solo stories for Brawn and others, before they got shunted off by newer toys or plot developments. It’s also quite prose-y, full of wordy caption boxes and lengthy commentary on what feelings the characters are going through, quite unlike the wham-bam fast-paced flow of the the American strips. Paired with the fuller range of colour and different artists it has its own strange tone, though it eventually finds its footing.
I’m a sucker for stories with humans, and one of the best early stories is The Icarus Theory, where a scientist digs up Swoop’s body and operates it himself, believing it to be lifeless metal, getting a surprise when that’s not the case. It emphasises Prime’s compassion for life; the Dinobots are rambunctious, but he doesn’t want to kill the seemingly treacherous Swoop, and Professor Morris feels genuinely guilty after realising he was controlling a living being – and had killed to get this far. Morris would later go vigilante and build Centurion, though those stories didn’t really build on what I liked about his debut, personally.


The stories really spread their wings starting with Target: 2006, where the stories split their focus between ‘off-screen’ groups like the Wreckers on Cybertron, the splinter Autobot groups on Earth, and the time travelling Galvatron and his flunkies. It gives Furman the freedom to write what he loves most: carnage! Big free-for-all throw-downs with Galvatron, lots of scheming and double-crossing from Megs, Screamer and Shocky, and dramatic cliffhangers abound. With the freedom to do weird one-offs, side stories and alternate timeline gubbins, it’s a better showcase of Furman’s writing talents; we see unique Autobot-Decepticon group dynamics explored, funny side-stories and amusing character incidents. His US work is good, but ultimately kind of overshadowed by the Unicron arc and all its cosmic bullshit.

I read these standalone without the American comic for context, so it was a little hairy figuring out what the status quo was at this point, and even the UK-original stories get convoluted with separate instances of Ultra Magnus in the present and the future playing a part in stories… so much so I kind of lost the plot by the end. It seems Furman thought the same, as the final strips are all about Earthforce, a light-hearted mash-up of classic Autobot vs. Decepticon nonsense which are (mostly) continuity-free. Of course, then I whine “if they’re not in continuity then why should I care?” so clearly I’m never happy.
If you’re bonkers for Transformers then it’s a series worth exploring, though a lot of it can probably be skipped over without missing much. I’ve been tempted to make an all-purpose Transformers section to waffle about this crap in greater detail, maybe even provide a reading list of the must-see stories, but I think I’ve enough avenues for boring people as it is. (I would love to assess each and every Transformers video game just for a lark, though I’d probably regret it the moment I start it)

Star Fox: Farewell Beloved Falco

A webcomic interquel set between Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Adventures published on its Japanese website, hidden in its otherwise humdrum history page. (i mention this because there’s a million mirrors of the translation but so few links to its source!) It’s a fair read, a nice change of pace from the larger-than-life space opera to a comparatively small-scale mystery investigation, one that dabbles a little in Falco’s life before and outside of the Star Fox team.
Admittedly I haven’t much to say about it. It’s probably closer to what people want to see from Star Fox – rad Arwing action and neat character moments – but that Nintendo Power comic spoilt me, man. If it’s not totally reinventing my idea of Star Fox from a design and storytelling perspective then it’s not going to impress me. It’s a fine short read, but that other one… it stuck with me!

Super Metroid (Nintendo Power)

The last of NP’s SNES comics as far as I know; the only one I haven’t read in full is the Link To The Past comic. Next year, maybe!
Another Benimaru Itoh work abridging the game’s story with some new twists, like the dorky tagalong merc Houston, the Federation Police getting wrangled into Ridley’s scheme, and a brief visit to the last living Chozo. It’s a new take on the source ala Star Fox, but it doesn’t work quite as well here. It’s got a similar breezy attitude and fast-flowing story, which is kind of at odds with the Metroid tone, and Itoh’s inclusions, although cute, either don’t add a lot or clash with what’s established.
When skimming through the comics years ago I thought, “wow, Samus pairing up with another bounty hunter!”, but Houston is basically an audience surrogate. He’s a sneaky snake who’s said to swoop up other peoples’ bounties, but spends the story just cheering from the sidelines and having things explained to him… and with him there, there’s less room to explore Samus herself. How is she as a character? I’unno. She kicks ass and sasses back at Houston, but she’s just a basic comic protagonist.

The comic had a shorter run than Star Fox, totalling 60 pages, so it’s got less room to establish plot or characters. Mother Brain and Ridley are set up as big villains, but get so little screentime to set themselves up. Ridley’s implied to be a big coward and peaces out at the end without a fight, suggesting he just rigs places to explode because it’s the easiest way to retreat. Mother Brain has only one scene where she tries to goad the baby Metroid to her side, but has nothing much going on. She’s also destroyed in, like, two panels. There’s barely even a final fight!

Speaking of: the baby Metroid! The first issue recaps the previous two games and the baby’s fondness for Samus is mentioned twice, but we don’t know what Mother Brain wants it for. Cloning, I guess? The Metroid is unceremoniously killed when the Federation Police chief thinks it’s a threat and blasts it, causing Samus to go ape and vaporise Mother Brain. It seems to exist purely as a macguffin to kick off and conclude Samus’ quest. I admit I’m probably just bitter because 1) I’d seen some really cute fanart recently where the Metroid survived and hung out with mama Samus, and 2) getting killed by the comic relief bit-players kind of blows.

I think the problem is I felt kind of starved for Star Fox lore, and Itoh’s comic really helped build what otherwise felt like a blank slate. Metroid is pretty well catered for – there’s so much stuff out there in guidebooks, manuals, manga and goodness knows where else, so there’s a lot of baggage that comes with it to get grumbly about.
Being Benimaru Itoh the artwork is still lovely, boasting a beautiful colour palette and some gnarly looking monsters – Ridley looks a treat! – though the action’s too fast-paced to soak in the environments, y’know? There’s also a few instances where promo art from the game is traced over, but I can hardly grouch too much. It’s an okay read, and I’m sure it was an exciting look into the world of Metroid before the Prime games filled in so much, but I think I spent too much time pondering what it could’ve been instead.

Mother 2: Ness’ Adventure Memoirs

And rounding out my dive into Itoh’s Nintendo comics is an Earthbound comic serialised in a Japanese kids’ magazine. I still haven’t played Earthbound in any great depth so I haven’t the familiarity with the source like I have these other comics, but it’s a breezy little read.
His American cartoon aesthetic really shines for the kids and weirdo monsters they meet, and it’s got a fun bounciness to it. The artwork arguably doesn’t “pop” as much as the others – pages are more tightly packed with less splash panels and dioramas to get a scope of the scene, though it’s got two hundred-odd pages to fill and more story to tell, so I can’t hold that against it. The art can get samey, but there’s always something special to be found, from weird character designs like the realistically-drawn detective Mr. Heard, or wild-takes where characters’ skulls just fly out of their faces.

As far as I’m aware the plot sort of carves its own way through the plot, hitting some beats, mixing others and skipping parts entirely – Fourside isn’t visited at all, for instance. Each chapter is good fun in its own right, though the last third of the book takes a dip, farting about in a hotel with parallel dimensions and a fight against Giygas in some metaphysical realm that can’t mimic the impact and investment I’d probably have if I’d been playing the game for twenty-plus hours already.
Hats off to the fan-translation (done entirely by kenisu3000!) for keeping the dialogue fresh and full of character, with translator’s notes only when absolutely necessary. There’s some fun meta-humour (there’s a fun quote along the lines of “It’s a long story, but it all began on page 131!”) and gags that I can’t tell are in the Mother vein or not. The tone does kinda lack the mixture of zaniness and melancholy that the game employs, though it’s expecting a lot for a manga to recreate every sensation from a totally disparate medium. A decent enough read.

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