Friday, August 5, 2016


Written by: Bill Spangler (#2 - 5) with Tommy Yune
Art and Letters by: Digital Art Chefs Team* | Pencils and Digital Inks by: Elmer Damaso
Production Manager: James L. Palabay | Supervisor for Colors and Letters: Melvin Calingo
Colors by: Lariz Santos, Armand Roy Canlas, Sam Gelua, and Melvin Calingo
Letters by: Armand Roy Canlas and Melvin Calingo | Covers by: Tommy Yune

I've never really watched VOLTRON. As a kid, much like ROBOTECH, it didn't appeal to me. As a teenager, I checked it out on Toonami (the same programming block which soon introduced me to ROBOTECH and made me a fan). I still couldn't get into it. What was the deal with Pidge's bizarre voice? Why was Michael Bell playing an old lady? These questions burned through my brain to the point that I didn't want to give the show a chance, and I've never looked back.

But in 2013-14, Dynamite published a ROBOTECH/VOLTRON crossover miniseries and since ROBOTECH had been entirely absent from comics since PRELUDE TO THE SHADOW CHRONICLES eight years earlier, I decided to check it out even though the interdimensional crossover seemed an odd choice for the more-or-less grounded universe of ROBOTECH.

The story is... all right. Tommy Yune sure does love to revisit those early "Macross" days, though. I'm not necessarily complaining; I like that era as well -- but between FROM THE STARS, LOVE AND WAR, and now ROBOTECH/VOLTRON, he's returned to pre-ROBOTECH Macross Island in about half of his mini-series since 2003.

In this case, our tale begins on the planet Arrus in Voltron's universe, where the Voltron lion team is lost while investigating a comet passing close to their world. Then, in ROBOTECH's dimension, that same comet comes near Earth on the day the Zentraedi attack the SDF-1 launch ceremony on Macross Island. The Zentraedi flagship is lost to the comet and SDF-1 conducts a hyperspace fold to avoid being hit as well.

This leads to diverging paths for characters in both universes, as Voltron arrives on Earth and most of the Lion pilots are held and debriefed by the Earth Government under the authority of T.R. Edwards, while Arrus falls to the evil Prince Lotor before the SDF-1 arrives and wipes out a number of his forces. Eventually everything is set right when heroes in either dimension return to the comet and are sent back to their home realities, where events then proceed as they were originally fated.

I'm sure there's great appeal to the fans of both these properties to see them united here. If IDW were to publish a straight crossover between the Sunbow animation versions of G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS, for example, I'd go nuts. But, being a fan of only one half of these universes, I find the experience underwhelming. The VOLTRON stuff is too mystical for ROBOTECH's established universe, with a witch, a ghost, and a spectral lion involved in the proceedings (the latter appears to Rick Hunter and guides him to an unrevealed sixth Lion mech, making the tonal differences between both properties even more apparent).

We also get a look into the past of planet Arrus, which -- again -- I'm sure is fun for the VOLTRON fans. For me, while somewhat interesting, it doesn't really do much. The ROBOTECH side of the equation is a bit more interesting though, bringing T.R. Edwards back into the fold and tossing in appearances from SENTINELS science officer Harry Penn and ROBOTECH novel stalwart Lazlo Zand.

The latter inclusion, I would assume, is the work of co-writer Bill Spangler. Spangler's work here came as something of a surprise for me. He wrote a ton of ROBOTECH comics during the property's publication heydey in the nineties, including one of my favorites, the ongoing RETURN TO MACROSS. Personally, I hadn't seen or heard the guy's name in over a decade until he was announced as co-writer on this job. While nothing about the series screams "This is a Bill Spangler Production" -- it's still very much tied into the streamlined reboot continuity crafted by Yune during the Wildstorm days -- there are bits and pieces of Spangler's influence to be seen, such as T.R. Edwards as Roy's rival, Zentraedi warriors using bits of the Zentraedi language developed for ROBOTECH's "expanded universe" in the old days, and, of course, Zand (who also appeared in PRELUDE TO THE SHADOW CHRONICLES, another project written by some older ROBOTECH hands).

A couple more bits I liked about this one -- Doctor Lang's irritating phonetic accent vanishes for the middle issues (though it's present as ever in the solo-Yune-scripted #1 and it inexplicably returns for #5). There are a couple appearances by Captain Kramer, Roy's unseen second-in-command in the early "Macross" episodes (I'm not sure why I like this, but I do). And we get a bit of backstory for Rick and Roy, as we learn that their fathers flew together in Desert Storm and Roy's dad, Dan (possibly named for Roy's voice actor, Dan Woren), was killed, prompting "Pops" Hunter to adopt Roy.

Artistically, this series may not be up to the standards set by UDON on previous ROBOTECH comics, but it's not bad at all and the characters are mostly all on-model -- and the coloring is beautiful.

Now, as we reach the end of this "ROBOTECH comics post-2000" retrospective, I can't help feeling it's a shame we aren't getting these things on a semi-regular basis. There's been a live-action movie in development forever and it seems no closer to getting made, despite the fact that Harmony Gold appears to have dropped all other ROBOTECH efforts to work on it. A sequel to the SHADOW CHRONICLES animation has yet to materialize, after a decade of empty promises. Just last year, a Kickstarter for a new ROBOTECH pilot episode failed miserably to reach its goal. Since SHADOW CHRONICLES, the only new ROBOTECH material the world has seen is an adaptation of a "New Generation" era original video animation from the eighties and ROBOTECH/VOLTRON.

I've speculated before that Wildstorm's ROBOTECH comics probably didn't sell too well, prompting them to cut variant covers, reduce series run-lengths, and eventually cease publication of new comics altogether, well before their license actually expired. There may not be much of a market for ROBOTECH at all anymore. It's certainly a property "of its time", as the willful and enthusiastic bastardization of a Japanese-to-English translation which worked in 1985 could never be done today thanks to the much smaller world created by the internet. It's likely that, unlike something like TRANSFORMERS or TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, which continue to gain new fans via rebooted cartoon series every few years and big feature films, ROBOTECH's fanbase stagnated long ago and is probably fading even more as every successive year with no new material goes by. The property missed its big window, the nostalgia boom of the early 00s, to go for a massive multimedia blitz and get back into the public consciousness.

So I find myself thinking of everything Tommy Yune did to establish his new continuity and how little was done with it, and it feels like a waste. I'd love to see someone like Dynamite or IDW try their hand at a ROBOTECH ongoing or a series of miniseries. It's still a rich universe and there's a lot that could be done with it -- if Harmony Gold would just stop being so overly ambitious and acknowledge that more screen projects are unlikely to come about, then turn their efforts to a medium which could support their property.**

* Psst -- "Digital Art Chefs Team" -- you don't need to name the team in one credit and then also provide separate credits for every individual team member. The point of having a studio is so you can just name the studio as the artist and leave it at that. Either credit the team collectively or credit all the individuals separately with a little shout-out to the team name worked in. Not both. It's tacky.

** Since I wrote that final paragraph, it was announced that a company called Titan Comics has picked up the ROBOTECH license. Even though this all happened before the above post was published, I decided to let the original version stand with this addendum. I've never heard of Titan Comics, but I wish them more luck with the property than Wildstorm had, and I'll be waiting to check out their offerings.

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