“I was sent north to find this Kimba, which I was told could help us back to Earth. I wish I could say more, but I don’t think you’d believe a ghost story.”
Robotech/Voltron #4 is positively tragic. Like the mish-mashed worlds it showcases, it provides a window into a universe where this mini-series as a whole carried the spirit of its predecessors, the lively, pulpy Robotech comics co-writer Bill Spangler scripted back in the early-to-mid 1990s for publishers Malibu/Eternity and Academy. Reading it, I was both elated that the series was picking up steam and worried that there was no way it could be resolved satisfactorily in its concluding issue.
Sadly, I was so right. Robotech/Voltron is easily the worst issue of the run, and is a serious contender for the worst Robotech comic book of all time.
A refresher, for those who’ve forgotten how this whole mess started: at some point in, say, the second quarter of Lion Force Voltron, the titular team encountered a phenomenon called the Omega Comet, an ill omen that is said to appear once in a generation. Elsewhere in time and space, over Macross Island in the year 2009, the same comet passed by, spilling out of it the Lions of Voltron. In their fiery descent they destroyed the alien Zentraedi warships led by Breetai and nearly struck the battle fortress SDF-1. However, as they approached the fortress Captain Gloval ordered Dr. Lang to execute a hyperspace fold jump, which landed the fortress not out near Pluto as it did in the TV series, but in the vicinity of Arus some years after Voltron’s disappearance.
In Voltron’s absence, the dashing Drule Prince Lotor succeeded his father and became King Lotor; he now has complete control of Arus. But he’s unhappy. He didn’t want just Arus, but he also wanted the hand of its Princess Allura. In a painting at the old site of the Castle of Lions honoring the lost Lion Force he sees an image of the Omega Comet, and Haggar explains to him its significance. He has her use her witchcraft to seize the comet in hopes of seeing Allura again; instead what emerges from the comet is the SDF-1 and its ARMD space platforms. Naturally, battle erupts.
Years pass on Earth as well. Robotech Defense Force scientists including Dr. Harry Penn and Lazlo Zand have been investigating the SDF-1’s disappearance and the lion-shaped battle machines that appeared during the event. Colonel T.R. Edwards brings in Roy Fokker, still mourning the loss of Claudia Grant and Rick Hunter, to reveal to him just what really went on over Macross Island five years ago. As he’s brought in to meet the pilots of Voltron, Zentraedi forces commanded by Khyron attack Macross Island in hopes of discovering the whereabouts of the battle fortress for themselves.
Issue #4 sets up quests for both show’s lead heroes; Keith wants to find the missing Princess Allura and gets a lead on where to find her from Pidge, while Rick Hunter, first appearing in this issue, sees a vision of Arus’s King Alfor, who tells him where to go to “help you and your friends,” to “help you lead them home.” Both sets of events are intriguing, even if the latter smacks of Rick having a special destiny in a most disappointing way; Alfor tells Rick that he knows him “better than you know yourself.” This is never followed up on. While Rick is lured away to the north, Keith is sent to Egypt, where Pidge points out, “Some of the architecture even resembles the ancient parts of Arus.” Again, no explanation. Keith is escorted by Col. Edwards, who turns on him in typical fashion only to be blasted out of the sky by Roy Fokker. Their skirmish reminded me in a warm, fuzzy way of Spangler’s writing on Return to Macross, especially Fokker’s quip that Edwards will never report this because, “A formal investigation would put it on the record that I finally got him good.”
“He really wouldn’t want that?” Keith asks.
“He’d rather die first.”
A mere page earlier, Captain Gloval and Dr. Lang have a long conversation about the world of Arus and their hopes of making it home that also reminded me of that title; it’s brisk, it conveys a great deal of plot-related information with hints of character, and it just felt right. And there was barely a touch of Lang’s exaggerated accent that has plagued the character since he started appearing in comics overseen/written by Tommy Yune.
The only immediately noticeable downside to issue #4 is that the art is a bit looser and doesn’t quite have the polish and sparkle of the earlier issues, but that’s not to say it looks bad. If Robotech does return to comics again, whoever the license holder is at that point could do wore than rehire Elmer Damaso; he’s more than adept with both lovely character touches and short, punchy dogfights like Edwards’s Veritech versus the Black Lion. Issue #5 looks even more rushed, and I’d still say it’s a nice-looking book even with flatter colors and sketchier-looking inking. (There are also a number of typos in the dialog, including a stray quotation mark and an entire extra word sitting in the middle of a sentence. These are the kinds of things that make a person believe nobody is driving the bus.)
The largest problem with issue #5 is that it reveals the plot to be entirely about what I assumed it was at the outset: getting the two universes disentangled. And yet, with the hotel on fire, I also find there are problems with an insect infestation and poor room service; for instance, Allura’s presence in Egypt is unexplained and the business with Egypt somehow resembling Arus is similarly unexplained. Rick is provided with a mysterious never-before-seen sixth White Lion by King Alfor which Rick calls a “Kimba,” after the 1960s English dubbed version of the classic Tezuka Productions anime — which I’d say is an anime in-joke too far and also doesn’t make sense in the context of the Voltron mythology. It also bothers me that he’s only introduced in issue #4 and becomes the salvation of the SDF-1 in the following issue after receiving this call to duty from a ghost who has nothing to do with him and assures him that he has a great destiny ahead of him. Rick Hunter having a magical destiny like he’s f’ing Harry Potter rubs me entirely the wrong way.
Moving from characters with too little buildup to characters with too much, the scenes of Lotor’s backstory in issues #2 & 3 prove entirely irrelevant to the conflict except, I guess, to explain his Oedipus complex that drives his desire for Allura. And if you follow his thread to its endpoint (before the resolution), it ends with him and Haggar sending some Robeasts into the SDF-1; he simply sits back and watches events unfold. This is all he does in the final issue, at least before the universes get untangled. I really get the impression that Tommy Yune just wanted to write that bit of backstory into Voltron and figured he’d never get the chance otherwise. Well, good for him, but the finished product suffers for it. Roy gets similar flashbacks in issue 2 regarding Rick and his dad, but his grief over possibly losing Rick (and Claudia) drive him acting as an active participant all the way through; if Lotor had something to do with that grief and suffering in the climax — maybe if, say, the architect of that suffering, Zarkon, was still alive and was leading a third faction into the battlefield, or he managed to prematurely break through and actually pursue Allura before everything reset — the flashbacks across two issues wouldn’t be a problem.
And speaking of suffering, as though serving a penance for playing down Dr. Lang’s accent in the previous issue, in issue #5 every other word Lang speaks is written in an over-the-top accent, even throwing in an umlaut for good measure. This is something I will continue to complain about for as long as Dr. Lang continues to appear in Robotech comics penned to any degree by Yune; I know he finds the accent amusing, but seriously, writing dialects in comics is so passé.
Finally, as a taste of all the failure to follow, right on the first page Minmei puts in a single appearance and is written as embarrassingly dim and childish for a fifteen year-old. (Yune and Spangler aren’t the first Robotech comic writers to fail Minmei abysmally, but based on the numbers this book sold they may be the last.)
Most insultingly of all, the climax is a two-page spread which aims for being pretty rad, but as it suffers from the same rushed-looking art as the rest of the issue and doesn’t quite mix elements of the two universes up enough, it simply winds up both suggesting a better crossover (one that, in fact, features Breetai fighting Robeasts with his bare hands — shades of Spangler and Byron Peneranda’s Warriors at Academy Comics twenty years ago) and still underachieving in the manner of the whole affair.
Once again, a Robotech project managed by Tommy Yune suffers from an unwillingness to be exciting, daring, challenging, and fun. The comparisons between the two universes are never explored any more deeply than the structure of an old Yakov Smirnoff joke: “In our country we do this, but in your country you do the opposite! Isn’t that wild?” With only five issues, this needed to hit the ground running, but instead Yune spent pages upon pages building up a villain who barely figures into the climax. Hell, Allura’s feelings for Keith are supposed to be part of the trigger that gets her into action, but Lotor’s feelings for her are the only feelings on the Voltron side that are ever properly developed; she and Keith both blush a little early in the first issue and that’s pretty much it. If you only have five issues, you can either simplify and streamline your story or script a denser read; repeatedly, 21st century Robotech titles have failed to do this and have suffered for it. In the end, no amount of references to Invid Hellcats, appearances by C-list Robotech scientists, retcons that bring in Japanese GoLion continuity, or cameos by Voltron 2/Albegas can paper over the fact that this was the most basic version of the “worlds colliding” crossover imaginable told incompetently. I’m happy that Bill Spangler got the work, and I’m doubly happy that at least for a moment he raised the bar, even if it got my hopes up. Likewise, I’m happy that this project put Elmer Damaso on my radar, and even at his worst he told the story as effectively as he could and rendered these icons of 1980s syndicated anime and their fierce fighting machines with care and panache. In the end, this house collapsed because of a bad foundation. As I was remarking to my fellow former Robotech blogger Darkwater a few months back when this final issue dropped, at least Antarctic Press’s equally abysmal (possibly worse in some ways; this was at least reasonably lucid) Robotech The Sentinels: Rubicon had the decency to just stop after only two of its intended seven issues were released.
I’d like to say this is the last straw for me, that I’ll not be tricked into buying another Tommy Yune-run Robotech project, but that would be a lie. After this, however, I certainly won’t go in expecting any kind of quality. I used to joke, when explaining why I hold Japanese Macross projects to a much higher standard than Robotech projects, that thanks to their track record I expect Shoji Kawamori and company to get out there and dance like they want to win while I’m impressed if Harmony Gold manages to roll out of bed and tie their shoelaces. Clearly they didn’t even get out of bed for this one. Do not bother with this comic. Do not even buy it for the art, as I now regret suggesting you should at the outset. Don’t encourage them. If this is the level of quality we should expect from Robotech going forward, let it die.
More on the state of Robotech in 2015 later.