Friday, June 17, 2016

Kid's Stuff, Part XXII -- Plot by Numbers, Part 2: Voltron #2

Plot By Numbers No More, Part 2

As for Voltron, he got a lot more toy exposure. Not coming out until the mid 80’s meant that merchandisers were far more savvy. 

The main toy I remember was a five piece Matchbox reproduction of the lions in metal and plastic. These were poseable and could be combined to form Voltron.

But the flood of gear didn’t stop there. 


Voltron got puzzles, action figures, a Castle of the Lions playset, and even Halloween costumes. 

Certainly tie-in products had come a long way since the early part of that decade when you were lucky if you got an action figure or two.

Voltron came out a bit to late for me to be impressed with him. The dumb down, repetitive plotting and lack of character death bored my almost-adult sensibilities. However, like BotP before it, Voltron had been neutered for American audiences. The stuff that had been cut: torture scenes, corpses and deaths of major characters (Sven pilots one of Lions in the Japanese version before biting it, Nanny is shot protecting Coran and dies from the wound in another episode.), would have earned my admiration forever. But it was simply not to be. Voltron was defanged and declawed, turned from a vicious mountain lion into a cuddly little kitty-cat.

Along comes Devil’s Due and Image comics in 2003 with a revamp that pulls out Voltron’s purrbox and restores its roar. We begin issue two with a scout ship finding the Green Lion hidden in a cavern on Planet Arus. It seems that Princess Allura has been lead here by her dreams. Not only that but she’s brought along her bodyguard Coran and five guys who would be familiar to any Voltron fan. That would be team leader (Black Lion) Keith, soon to be second-in-command (Red Lion) Lance, young nerd-boy (Green Lion) Pidge, current second-in-command (Blue Lion) Sven and strong-man (Yellow Lion) Hunk. Allura herself becomes the Blue Lion’s driver in the anime after Sven either dies or gets hospitalized (depending on which version you are watching). 

The art in this is not as mind-blowingly good as BotP, but Mike Norton, Clint Kilinski and Clayton Brown don’t screw up anything and, combined with Brett Smith’s colors, they give the book some shining moments. Voltron’s main enemy here are the Drule, and enemy so evil they make spit dribble from our lips. Six of their ships show up bristling with weapons at this moment and get a gander at the newly uncovered Green Lion. Their reaction is immediate and unsurprising.

So three more Lions are about to be discovered and confiscated by the enemy. One of the remaining three ships lands and threatens to take everyone into custody. What’s a group of heroes to do in a situation like this?

While Keith makes with the chopsocky and then rushes aboard the ship that’s landed, the other two ships line up to take potshots at our characters. That ends up being a big mistake. One of them is quickly disarmed and has its communications lines cut. But by who?

Meet Sven, ladies and gentlemen. I honestly don’t remember him from the series, as I always remember Princess Allura being the Blue Lion, but I don’t doubt he was there. This sequence makes me hope they find a way to prevent his untimely demise/permanent hospitalization, since he has baddass written all over him. His actions cause two of the ships to collide, grounding them both. Keith meanwhile takes command of the landed ship and stong-arms the grounded ships to surrender. Now in possession of two working ships, the group quickly forms a plan.

Hunk and Lance head off in one direction, Keith and Sven in another while Pidge and Allura take a closer look at the Lion. Keith’s ship is the first one to make enemy contact, an enemy that appears to be digging up part of Arus’s desert. With surprise on their side, Sven quickly blasts the villain’s ship. Then they get a shock of their own. Seems the sand was covering up the Gold Lion.

Hunk gets the radio online in time for him and Lance to receive the good news on Lion number two. He also laments how good a shot Sven is while repairing the missile command.

Good timing too. The second team toasts their enemy who was blasting away at a mountain. An inspection of the hole doesn’t lead to finding a Lion however. Not until they look a little more closely.

Even though the book is nothing more than a giant Easter egg hunt at this point, it’s still cool to see each of the Lions as they are uncovered. So we have three down and two to go. Except they only know the location of one of those. And the enemy has a tremendous head start on them. Luckily his progress is held up in digging the next one out.

Even out gunned two to one and with his attention on uncovering the next Lion, the Drule pilot manages to out maneuver the missiles both ships send his way. Lance makes an astute observation.

Keith tries to catch the enemy in a pincher between the two ships only to have the Drule see through the attack and disable one of the ships. How is that possible?

Good to show that team commander Keith can screw the pooch at this point. It gives his character room to grow. If, that is, the Drule doesn’t blow him or his teammates out of the sky. Which he’s about to do in the next ten or so seconds.

Or would have if an unexpected guest didn’t arrive just in the nick of time. It’s Pidge, who’s figured out how to pilot a Lion. Although there is one thing he doesn’t know about them yet.

Yay! Nerds save the day. And think of the sacrifice Pidge is making here. He may have to pee his pants if they don’t get him out in time. The book ends with a giant Drule spaceship closing in on their position flanked by about forty fighter craft. There’s even a brief two pages of Drule leader Haggar worrying about Voltron coming to get him. Neat stuff and a very fun read.

I think what I love most about both of these anime to comic conversions, besides the newfound maturity of the story-telling, is the way they don’t rush to any scripted conclusion. The cliffhangers at the end of each book work remarkably well and both have a very high degree of faithfulness to the original subject matter. It’s unfortunate that neither one is still ongoing.

What is fortunate for Voltron fans is the new Netflix show Voltron: Legendary Defender. While I'll admit that I haven't seen any episodes yet, the fact that Netflix and Dreamworks are involved bodes well for it. Plus anytime a property is updated there are always chances for new comics and merchandising additions which further the life of the brand. So let's hope that Voltron continues to form up that blazing sword for generations to come.

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