“What, what on Earth is this?”
“It’s called a Lion … and it’s not from Earth!”
The second issue of Dynamite Entertainment’s Robotech/Voltron comic series continues the first issue’s format of being a beast of two halves and its sense of the series thus far serving as a mere prologue to a proper crossover down the road. More than half of its page count is devoted to flashbacks, events that should technically “count” outside of the crazy crossover mash-up that have me wondering what bearing they might have on the story that Tommy Yune is building here. This doesn’t read like a book that only has five issues to tell its tale; the pace remains lax, the plot points spread thin across the book’s twenty-two pages. If it were better constructed, or if the dialog wasn’t still so awkward and stilted, it would probably read great in the eventual trade paperback collection.
The entire first half of the issue is concerned with Lotor’s memories of the planet Arus: the homeworld of Voltron, the late King Alfor, and the Blue Lion’s pilot Princess Allura. It’s sort of interesting from the standpoint that Yune is playing with backstory that had been papered over in Voltron: Defender of the Universe‘s slipshod translation of the original 1981 GoLion cartoon; Lotor’s Japanese counterpart, Prince Sincline, had a pretty blonde mother from planet Altea, and Sincline’s obsession with Altea’s Princess Fala was in part driven by his memories of said mother. In Voltron Altea becomes Arus, Fala becomes Allura, and yet for some reason the American writers of Voltron edited and rewrote all the flashback scenes regarding Sincline/Lotor’s mother, claiming that the blonde lady in these scenes is Allura even though it doesn’t quite look like her and is clearly a few years older than she is to boot. Here, Yune restores Lotor’s familial connection to Arus, taking that history from the original show and applying it to Voltron for what I’m reasonably sure is the first time. I’m hoping this long sequence at the start pays off in the next three issues, because the whole business with Planet Doom’s delegation visiting the Castle of Lions twenty-some years ago plays like Yune’s audition tape for the job of taking over Voltron after he’s finally done with the ROBOTECH universe.
The ROBOTECH half of the issue ladles guilt on Roy Fokker and shows him flying around in Skull One despite the fact that, off camera, he’s lost an eye. I’m surprised that in a comic that took the time to explain how Voltron bad guy Yurak might have lost his right eye, we don’t get to find out how Roy lost his, especially when he otherwise seems little worse for wear five years after the disastrous events on Macross Island. Suddenly T.R. Edwards is missing the severe tan he’s had for the last ten years, which is fine by me. Dr. Harry Penn from Robotech II: The Sentinels appears, as does a newly designed Macross-era version of Dr. Lazlo Zand, the “bad guy” scientist who hails primarily from the ROBOTECH novels set in the Robotech Masters era. Like Yune’s use of the GoLion backstory, the appearance of these characters offers the sense that Yune sort of knows what he’s doing, a sense that is lost when the characters open their mouths and offer dialog that ranges from weak to insipid. Edwards and Fokker’s exchange as the former meets the latter at Alaska Base reads like poorly translated kung-fu movie dialog; it may be the worst scene in the entire book, though the next scene where Fokker meets Dr. Penn is a close contender.
There are two saving graces to this issue. The first is, again, the artwork. Elmer Damaso’s artwork remains the star of the book, full of life, energy, and character. Nearly every pose and expression Damaso gives to Roy Fokker shows a much greater understanding of the character than any of the words Yune puts in Fokker’s mouth. I also love the little smirk on Edwards’s face when Fokker gets an eyeful of the Black Lion; again, the body language and expressions speak volumes where the actual dialog comes up oh-so-short. Still, my favorite art in the entire book is from the first half, the way Damaso and the book’s army of colorists perfectly capture the look of the dementedly-regal villains of Voltron; Yurak and his subordinates have never looked so good. It’s not just in the simple drawing that Damaso excels, either; there’s some great visual storytelling when Yurak conjures the witch Haggar, a skillful use of panel flow and angles to hint at what’s going on beyond the words on the page. A shame that’s the only real meaty sequence he gets to play with in this issue.
The second saving grace arrives on the last page, where Bill Spangler takes over the scripting of the series just as Zentraedi Commander Khyron takes the stage. Suddenly the dialog isn’t so bad; Khyron is certainly overly haughty, but reading his dialog I can just about hear Greg Snegoff’s voice in my head. Mind you, if you’re looking for a tell-tale sign that it’s Spangler writing, Khyron’s subordinate Gerao acknowledges his commander’s orders with the phrase “karat-sul,” which is the first instance of any of the Zentraedi terms Spangler invented for The Malcontent Uprisings (1989-1990) and Warriors (1994-1995) turning up in a ROBOTECH comic book since 1998. I’m of two minds about this; while I’ve certainly soured on Spangler’s “honorable warrior” take on the Zentraedi, seeing that printed on the page did take me back to better days, a time when ROBOTECH comics may not have been as pretty as this, but they were far more plentiful and they certainly were better reads by and large.
I honestly can’t decide if this issue is better or worse than the first. The Voltron pages are intriguing, but don’t seem to go anywhere. The ROBOTECH pages make some minute movement, but all but one of them is just astonishingly badly written. There weren’t any cutesy jokes this time, but either I’m forgetting how bad the dialog in the first issue was or it’s gotten noticeably worse. I fear it’s the latter. But the final page does offer some hope. I just hope that on top of providing better dialog, Bill Spangler also squeezes some more incident per issue into the series. Otherwise, I’m afraid this series is going to be over before it’s actually gotten off the ground. I guess we’ll see how things go in April.