Fun Publications "Descent into Evil"

in 2005, Comic Book Review, Generation One, Timelines

Comic Books

General Information
Publication Date: September 2005
Writer: Ben Yee
Pencils: Dan Khanna, Makoto Ono
Inks: Chuck Gibson, Ted Pertzborn, Makoto Ono
Colors: Krista Ward, Espen Grundetjen
Lettering/Production: Junemoon Studio
Project Manager: Dan Khanna

What follows is not exactly the normal review I usually do of comic books. Because I was the writer of this comic book, of course I'm going to give it a positive review, I'm automatically biased. However, what I do hope to do is provide background on the development of the comic book and share some of my thought processes as I wrote it. A review is here of course complete with synopis and art analysis, just to be complete.

In December of 2004 I was recruited by Hasbro and Fun Publications to help in the development of Botcon 2005. Part of this task involved the planning of the exclusive toys that would be created for the convention. Historically speaking, Transformers toys tend to be most appealing when some type of fiction is offered at the same time, be it animation or print. With this in mind, it was agreed upon to create a comic book that would involve all the characters/toys to be introduced at the convention.

The development of the toy set had to occur before work could begin on the comic book, of course. Once characters were firmly chosen, and Hasbro legal approved all the names we were going to use, I volunteered to write the comic book. The idea for this toy set had been the brainchild of fellow fan Robert Yee and myself as far back as early winter 2004, a hypothetical we played out amongst ourselves. I had many ideas, panels etc. already envisioned for the story, and had another writer been chosen instead, I would have worked closely with him/her to guide the story.

I am a firm believer that ideas are only the beginning of a good story. While I have written some fan fiction in the past, I had never written a comic book before, no less one that would be an official Hasbro product. I picked up a couple books on comic book writing including The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. I read the guide backwards and forwards, read some interviews with comic book writers and even reread a good chunk of G1 comic books from Marvel to get the old fashioned "feel" of Transformers comics back, something I wanted to emulate in my story.

However, a few google searches and reading a couple books, does not make one a comic book writer or even a good writer. To that end I asked Transformers sage, Simon Furman to act as my editor. I ran story ideas by him, sent him drafts of scripts and while he felt he was being harsh in his criticisms, they were in fact some of the most constructive comments I had ever seen before and forced me to write a better story. To him I owe a debt of gratitude and sincere thanks for being willing to help out with this project.

Synopsis:
Tripredacus Agent Flamewar's ship hovers over the planet Ceti Alpha Seven as she delivers a report to the Tripredacus Council. They remind her that if the Autobots or Maximals have discovered she is an agent of theirs, there will be dire consequences. She reports that Deathsaurus was successful in the creation of the first batch of Insecticon Clones, a project he hopes will help bolster his forces and eventually aid in the revival of the Decepticon Empire.

Flamewar explains that an Autobot team was sent to Ceti Alpha Seven to destroy Deathsaurus' Insecticon Clone lab. Four Autobots were dispatched to the ground, while two remained on the ship. The team on the ground consisted of Fallback, Chromia, Flareup and Ricochet. As the Autobots trudge through a swampland, Fallback tells everyone that Deathsaurus is on the planet with his two Insecticon warriors Buzzclaw and Dirge. Unbeknownst to the Autobots, they are being watched by Dirge. The Insecticon asks Deathsaurus permission to begin his attack. The Decepticon General confirms and Dirge begins flapping his wings to generate an aural disruption field, which targets the pain receptors of anyone caught in it. The Autobots drop their weapons as they are hit. Fallback tells the team to activate their internal dampeners and to communicate only via inter-Autobot radio.

As the Autobots recover, they are attached by Insecticon Clones! Out of every corner of the forest the Clones strike. The team holds their own, but then Deathsaurus himself shows up! With the Autobots already weakened, he makes quick work of the team.

Above on the Autobot ship, Ironhide and Ratchet watch the battle grimly and realize they have to go in to rescue the team. When they set down, Ironhide finds Fallback's axe weapon and adds it to his weapon cache. Dirge tries to use the aural disruptor field on them as well, but their dampeners kick in automatically and they begin to cut a path through the onslaught of Insecticon Clones. Buzzclaw appears on the scene about to take on Ratchet, but Ironhide steps up and takes on the Decepticon instead. Ratchet goes off to find the others as Ironhide dispatches of Buzzclaw. The fight's not over however as Deathsaurus arrives! The two battle, but Ironhide is suddenly knocked out by a blast from none other than Flamewar!

Deathsaurus is furious the Tripredacus Council would interfere with his plans, but Flamewar doesn't care. She explains she has also knocked out Ratchet and leaves the Decepticon General steaming angry.

Inside the laboratory, Ironhide and Ratchet awake to find themselves captive. On a nearby screen, Deathsaurus explains that a second batch of clones was created, and he is leaving with them with the lab set to explode! Ratchet and Ironhide seem doomed until Ricochet shows up to free them and they quickly escape with the damaged Autobots in tow.

The Tripredacus Council is thrilled by this, seeing possibilities in Deathsaurus' success. Suddenly, their transmission to Flamewar's ship is interrupted by Autobot Intelligence Director, Bumblebee! Bumblebee explains that the second batch of Clones was infected with a virus that will cause them to malfunction and shut down, and any clones made from them will do the same. He is also happy to have found Flamewar, whom Autobot Intelligence has been hunting for ages. The Tripredacus Council now sees Flamewar as a liability, and with a touch of a button, they destroy her ship with her in it!

Story:
The title "Descent into Evil" was actually not my intended title for the story. Up until perhaps the fifth draft of the script, the title was "Instruments of Destruction", a reference of course to the Insecticon Clones, but also a homage to the song from Transformers: The Movie. Unfortunately, in this day and age a title like "Instruments of Destruction" doesn't sit well with Hasbro legal when it comes to toys, so Fun Publications quickly substituted "Descent into Evil".

When I originally began to sketch out the three acts of this story, I did it with the standard twenty two page comic book format in mind. I had thought this was going to be a stand alone comic book, much like the "Wreckers" comics of the past Botcons. However, I would learn later that this was going to be turned into a feature inside the Botcon program book, and that I would be cut down to sixteen pages instead. This was a bit tough because in one comic, I had to include eleven characters who were toys, then maybe add some color with some others (adding the Council came later for instance) and still not make this seem too much like a toy commercial.

Unfortunately, with sixteen pages, that meant every character wound up being cut down to some degree. For instance, originally during the combat sequence with Fallback's team and the Insecticon Clones, I had panels planned out to highlight the relationship between Chromia and Flareup, where we would see Chromia acting as a mentor/protector figure to Flareup. There were going to be allusions to Firestar (Flareup's mentor/trainer) having been killed in the last Great War, but that all got cut to get the story moving along. I also wanted to give Fallback some more to do, really show how he was a team leader. One idea, that was never written, was to have him take on Deathsaurus with the axe weapon, but ultimately I wanted Ironhide to do that. We were also going to see him take on Deathsaurus in an attempt to save a team member, show his selfless side, another idea I had to ditch early on.

Though vestiges of it remained, the original plan was to also give more time to three critical parts of the story:

  1. Ricochet slips away during the Insecticon Clone battle and basically saves the day, but in my original outline we would have actually seen him break into the lab and then save Ratchet and Ironhide. However, I actually think the story works better with his role ambiguous until the end reveal.
  2. When Ironhide and Deathsaurus fight, I had hoped to include more dialogue (with more fighting) to illustrate how the Decepticon/Predacon Empire was crumbling and how furious that made Deathsaurus. The idea was to show what drove him more. Shades of that remain, but I had wanted to include more detail.
  3. When Flamewar intervenes, she and Deathsaurus have words about the Council's interference. However, this entire sequence was originally two pages long. The idea was to illustrate the differences in beliefs between "old school" Decepticon thinking and the more political approach alluded to in Beast Wars with the Tripredacus Council and Ravage's "secret mission". This still comes across, but it is much more blunt than I had originally planned. What was key to get through here was how little respect Flamewar has for Deathsaurus and his kind. She sees herself as a part of the future, and him being a useles relic, and I hope that came out clear.

It may seem ironic that while I mention I had to work eleven characters into sixteen pages I would throw in four additional characters to make an appearance (the Tripredacus Council and Bumblebee). I decided early on that even though I was essentially writing a toy commercial for a set of figures, I wanted to add some dimension to the story. I did not just want it to be action, action, show toy, action, more toys and end of story. The intent was to include an "A" and "B" story. Setting it in the unstable time when the Autobots and Maximals were overwhelming the Decepticons and Predacons was the key to this. For those keeping track, I estimate this tale happening roughly one hundred years before Optimus Primal and gang take off in the Axalon. I wanted to show that the Council had machinations going on and were looking for any chance to rise to power again. Making Flamewar their agent added to this, as she was originally intended to be one of Deathsaurus' warriors. So the "A" story became the Clone storyline, with the "B" story being Bumblebee trying to track down Flamewar. It is my hope that all this gelled well into a story with a bit more depth than a toy catalogue.

Artwork:

For me, the process of writing a comic book became a very visual affair. Long before I began working with artist Dan Khanna, I had every panel envisioned after the initial outline. For the fight sequences, I rewatched old episodes of the Highlander TV show, paying particular attention to an episode where an axe was used as a primary weapon. I even took the toys that we were basing the exclusives on and set up visualizations of certain scenes to get an idea of how it would look.

When time came to work with the artists, Dan took charge and organized a team of artists to get this book put together in a very short period of time. Because of his other responsibilities to Hasbro, he split penciling duties between himself and Makoto Ono. Makoto drew pages 1,2 and 13-16. Dan did the rest. The two have very different styles in terms of proportion, physiology and movement dynamics. However, because they are both professionals who pay attention to detail and don't stray from basic character design, their work blends well together. When two seperate pencilers work on a book, sometimes it winds up looking like a hack job. I had nightmare visions of this looking like some issues of Transformers: Genreation 2 where the art style would be jarring from page to page. In this case however, I believe the pencils were very consistant and work well.

What really amazed me about the pencils was the attention to detail both artists used. Because this book was on a tight schedule, I had thought perhaps some level of detail had to be sacrificed. This did not ring true however. Look on page three for instance. When the Autobots are in the big splash panel, note the six legged lizard thing on the branch. That was a note I had asked for in the script, but I thought perhaps it would be cut out to save time, yet there it is, among beautifully detailed foliage. Another wonderful example of detail can be found on page four, look at Dirge's wings to see all the small lines drawn in an irregular pattern. It's a small detail, but enhances the look of the character really well.

A lot of time gets spent on showing Ratchet and Ironhide, and I made it a point to use the odd "third mode" from the Tow-Line toy (which they are based on). It was also important for me to make sure the "trailer" drones were actually used as well. However, it was the vision of Dan Khanna to actually use them in the fire fight sequences. Because both toys share the same head with different decos, we decided to take things a step further in the art and make Ratchet's "crest" a bit bigger on his forehead and make Ironhide's smaller to de-emphasize it. Overall, I think the effect works very well.

The inks and colors are extraordinary, boldness where necessary, subtelty where appropriate. I was actually surprised how vibrant the colors were, since the setting was a dark, gross one (the swamplands) I kind of expected a much more dreary color pallette. However, the result is vibrant, alive and wonderfully done. I was very pleased in particular by the way the artists made the weapons "glow" when appropriate. Ironhide's gun, Deathsaurus' blades etc. all look like energy weapons, which is of course, the point.

The contribution of the letterer cannot be understated. He had to deal with last minute revisions to the script (partly due to some concerns with text being too strong for children) and added wonderful sound effect imagery. Originally I had almost no sound effects in my script, and later on the suggestion of Dan, I added some. Still, I did not want the sound effect words to overwhelm some scenes visually, hence their absence.

As the weeks went by and I would receive new pages of pencils, inks, final colors etc. in my email box, I was consistantly amazed. Every panel was drawn either exactly the way I envisioned it or my original idea was improved upon. The work that this art team did was stunning and all their hard work is truly appreciated.

Final Thoughts:
This comic book was a labor of love for me, and I really appreciate the hard work of the art team and the folks at Fun Publications for getting it off the ground and published. While I am happy with the end result, as you've read above there some elements I wish I had been able to include, so it's not the perfect version of what I had envisioned. Still, I like to think people will find it a fun and worthwhile read.