Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Transformers in 3-D comic issue #1

Most of the time, when I'm talking about Transformers comics of the 1980's, I'm talking about the Marvel series. However, there was another Transformers comic series that came out during that era, which is now all-but forgotten. A company called Blackthorne Publishing, most known for publishing 3-D comic books, was able to get a license from Hasbro to do such 3-D comics at the same time as Marvel had the Transformers comic book license. Apparently, the 3-D gimmick was enough of a difference to convince Hasbro (and Marvel? I have no idea if there were ever any lawsuits) that Blackthorne's work would not infringe on the existing agreement.

Blackthrone eventually produced three of these 3-D issues, but I'm just going to focus on the first one here. This issue's story, called "The Test," focuses on a combination of characters introduced to the toyline in 1986 and 1987 (which is when the comic was published). It's mostly a light-hearted chase story, as the Transformers investigate a pair of strange alien creatures that may provide a possible new source of Energon (their favored fuel source). Unknown to the Transformers, these creatures are actually intelligent, and have in fact been tasked with investigating the Transformers themselves!

Although the Headmaster leaders, Fortress Maximus and Scorponok, feature fairly prominently, a reference to "making some progress on the 'Headmaster' technology" seems to place this issue some time before the characters have actually become Headmasters. This oddity, all by itself, knocks this story out of contention for the cartoon continuity, and the existence of Galvatron alongside the not-yet-Headmaster characters eliminates the Marvel comic continuity from contention. This story stands on its own. In fact, both the "technology" reference and a surprise appearance by the Quintessons at the end would seem to suggest that the story was dropping hints for future adventures in this series, but these threads were never revisited in either of the two other issues that Blackthorne eventually released (indeed, no two Blackthorne issues seem to fit into any coherent continuity with each other, let alone with anything done by anyone else).

Like many 3-D comic books, these stories use a red/blue printing process that one reads through color-filtered glasses. This process essentially requires that the images themselves remain monochromatic, but even granting that limitation, the art here is quite crude. Many characters bear only the most passing resemblance to more well-known renderings, and if it weren't for the fact that they're usually named on-panel, the reader would often have no idea which character was being depicted. Between this and the fairly goofy story, I can't really recommend this issue as anything beyond the unique oddity that it represents in Transformers history. But in that respect, the 3-D comic represents a take on Transformers storytelling that hasn't been seen again in nearly 25 years, and it is therefore worthy of attention.

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