This gorgeous Andrew Wildman cover (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Venom: Carnage Unleashed) opens the second issue of Marvel UK‘s new Visionaries monthly, released on this day back in 1988, showing some of our heroes and villains surrounded by the magical totems that’ll become a part of their very being. We’ll get to that further down the review, but is that a price increase already? It’s only 5p but back then that was quite the hike, especially for a second issue.
Not only is the price increase a bit strange, so is the Vision On editorial which doesn’t mention anything about the issue’s story, instead focussing solely on other Marvel releases. The recap of the previous chapter is then pasted on top of the next page, excising the top third of the strip! It is atmospherically written though.
Last time, Reekon pulled on a lever as a large stone gargoyle rushed towards Leoric, Ectar and Feryl but what the lever did could easily have been missed because of where the story stopped. The metal gates that trapped them with seemingly no hope of survival would have come down at the top of this page. So not only could it have been missed last issue, this time it’s been deleted by editor Steve White.
Thankfully the strip itself more than makes up for any shortcomings in repackaging it for UK readers plus the outer eight pages are made of an even higher grade of paper than last time. A shame the rest is of the usual stock because these glossy pages are lovely and really do justice to Andy‘s cover, as well as the opening pages of the strip from penciller Mark Bagley, inker Romeo Tanghai, letterer Janice Chiang and colourist Julianna Ferriter.
Adapted by Jim Salicrup from Flint Dille‘s animated teleplay, it’s all action this time around, with the knights from across planet Prysmos now inside Iron Mountain facing the trials of Merklynn the ancient wizard. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for humour, as we see when the startled gargoyle runs off like a yelping dog, and then there’s this panel featuring Darkling Lord leader Darkstorm and (the voice of) Mortdredd, his snivelling follower.
In fact the first several pages contain some comedy gold. Below, Cravex hears some apparently noble knights talking of forming what sounds very similar to Leoric’s future team of Spectral Knights. It’s all talk though, humorously told with mention of their skills and expertise but their actual plans amount to nothing more than monthly meetings. It reminds me of some office managers I’ve had to work with.
Then, after being surprised by an animated skeleton pushing him over a crevasse, Darkstorm’s superior climbing skills and cool head save him and he finds himself beside a vat of milk from a giant spider, which looks ominously on overhead. Realising that in order to fulfill his ambitions he’ll need underlings he traps three knights in the sticky goo and forces them to pledge their allegiance. Cindarr‘s sole requirement had me roaring.
We see some personal rivalries begin here too. The Cryotek versus Cindarr fight is interesting as it’s actually the Spectral Knight who loses his temper during it. Showing a fearsome, darker side and swearing to kill his enemy, his magical totem in the final pages is revealed to be the grizzly bear for his incredible strength and endurance, so I’m interested to see how these two aspects of his personality develop in tandem in future issues. But I want to concentrate on one particular grudge match here.
At the time of Visionaries, having only one or two female warriors was deemed enough in everything from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to The Transformers. The former at least had a female-centric spin-off but the latter had only one female robot in a cast of hundreds. This has been remedied in the intervening years with the Cybertronians but we can see now just how woefully inadequate it was at the time. Galadria and Virulina, shown here in a thrilling underwater fight scene, weren’t even toys and were instead creations of Flint’s. I hope they’ll get as much coverage as their male counterparts in future issues.
While the comic’s origin was based on the cartoon’s, there were already key differences. Something that irked me about the same story in the cartoon was the fact only the characters who’d receive the magical powers in the end had the hologram-shaped chest panel. It kind of gave the game away, but in the comic they’ve shown several background characters with the same design. It’s not overly done, we’re always aware of who’s going to make it and who isn’t, but it’s a welcome change.
Something else a comic can do is expose the inner thoughts of the characters and it’s used here in abundance, and not in that annoying way of just describing what we can plainly see is happening to them. Instead, it’s used to add depth to reactions, portrays their inner doubts and fears and adds to each individual character.
As we approach the final pages a huge climactic battle between the knights is interrupted by a booming voice as a huge wooden door nearby contorts into the shape of Merklynn‘s face. Daring them forward, they’re faced with horrors on the other side.
It’s actually Darkstorm who feels a certain level of familiarity with the screaming souls in front of them. They march on and Merklynn explains this was their final test, the spirits really being mystical reflections of their deepest, darkest fears and in conquering them they’ve conquered themselves. It’s quite startling to turn the page over and see this image. It may be over three decades later and it may be based on a toy line, but this is still a thrilling read.
It’s at this point we finally get some more background into the previous Age of Magic. It’s played out over a page previously shown in the preview mini-comic but essentially Prysmos was a planet with a strong-willed race of humans, able to achieve anything they set their minds to for the good of their neighbours. The strongest were the Knights of Prysmos and from these arose the Mages of Prysmos. Only a few were able to predict the cataclysm when the Age of Science came, of which Merklynn was one. By secreting his power inside the mountain upon which his castle once stood he was able to ride out time until the suns aligned again and the ages were reversed.
“Be not afraid, Knights of Prysmos! Accept these totems as your just reward! Only you had the vision it took to succeed in finding this chamber! Truly thou art Visionaries!”Merklynn the Great Mage
Then it’s on to the finale and the part I, as a fan of the toys and cartoon, had been waiting for. It was time for the new Knights of Prysmos to receive their totems, their magical emblems that would encapsulate each individual character, granting them each unique special powers, regardless of their intentions beyond the mountain.
Looking over these particular images sparks happy memories. I had so many of these toys it’s like being reunited with old friends. It’s been a great start and we haven’t even seen any of their powers being used yet. But given what we’ve seen them all achieve as people grasping for the power to rule or rebuild, it’s already a compelling story and I think this is mainly thanks to the way the characters have interacted with one another. They feel real, which is no small feat given these are based on action figures.
Judging by these beginnings, if Visionaries had proven more popular and had the chance to develop over the course of a few years, I would say these human characters could’ve risen through the ranks of comics to sit proudly alongside the likes of Larry Hama‘s superlative G.I. Joe creations. I’m well aware I’m saying this after only one story, but I’ve a feeling the remaining issues are going to back that up.
For now The End… The Beginning finishes with everyone safely transported back to the entrance of Iron Mountain, where a rock formation in the shape of its soul occupant’s face (he does like doing stuff like that) ends the proceedings with some ominous words for all those assembled.
After this initial story the comic would diverge completely from the cartoon and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction it goes in, what with the animated series being one of the best of its time. I really do get the feeling all is set for a story unlike any other. The comic team should be proud of their adaptation and now with them at the helm completely we’ll have to wait a whole month to see what they bring to the myth of the Visionaries.
To round off this review here’s a quick look at the only two non-strip pages in the comic after the editorial. I know how much people love these retro advertisements. This month there’s another Marvel UK monthly looking for attention, then that small promotion in the preview comic for what I’m sure was a superlative poster gets the full back page treatment.
I can remember the whole family sitting down and watching ALF together on the TV every week. We’d giggle along with the canned laughter as we watched the adventures of the Alien Life Form, real name Gordon Shumway from the planet Melmac, taking shelter in the home of the Tanner family after his planet was destroyed when everyone turned their hairdryers on at the same time. I think I can remember buying an issue of the Marvel comic, which was a basic repackaging of the American title along the same lines as Visionaries.
It’s been great fun revisiting this story on the planet of Prysmos so far. I’m eagerly awaiting the next edition and I hope you’ll join me too, #3 of Marvel UK‘s Visionaries‘s review shall be here from Wednesday 19th May 2021.