Four covers? What happened to covering these in real time? Well, I still am. Let me explain. As mentioned in the review of the final issue of Visionaries monthly, the Knights of the Magical Light’s final two stories appeared as back up strips in the pages of Marvel UK‘s The Transformers in September and October of 1988. With only five or six pages available to them in each issue they’d be split over four issues apiece.
With #183 of The Transformers a new look came to the comic and new stars temporarily replaced Action Force (G.I. Joe). That’s a bit of a strange colour to their logo on the first issue but it matches the image I suppose. Inside, the Visionaries are mentioned in the editorial and there’s a chance for readers to catch up on the story so far, or at least a very simplified version of it.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the depth of character and the evolving story on the planet Prysmos and the questions it was raising. I especially enjoyed how Leoric and Darkstorm both wanted the best for their planet but just had very different views on how to achieve that. Leoric’s was by collaboration and helping each other, Darkstorm’s was to enforce law and order to rebuild his planet’s strength, as #4 showed perfectly.
But none of this is included in this catch up, with unfamiliar readers left thinking the Darkling Lords are evil just for the sake of being evil, kind of like the Decepticons were at the beginning. This isn’t the first time our heroes and villains have appeared in the pages of this comic though, and you can read all about the hype and the free mini-comic in a previous post.
On to our story and I thought I’d wait until the date the final part was printed and do one review for it like I had with the monthly, rather than four tinier ones. Right up to the last issue of their own comic it was suggested there was more to Merklynn than anyone knew, and that there was also more to their magical totems (the animals they could transform into) than he had let on. Will we get any answers in these final chapters?
Beginning in Leoric‘s castle with an atmospheric opening around a roaring fire, Merklynn appears in cold flames to summon the knights to Iron Mountain. In response to Leoric’s anger at being treated like his chess pieces, only there to do his bidding, Merklynn responds by telling him, ‘In this life, only gods and fools are truly free to choose”. What an evocative start. Oh, how I’ve missed the writing in these stories!
So begins The Quest for the Four Talismans. Gerry Conway is on top form throughout with the dialogue here, Mark Bagley returns to pencil the action-packed mix of the medieval and sci-fi alongside regulars Janice Chiang on letters and Julianna Ferriter on colours. They’re joined by a new inker, Dave Simons who is best known for Ghost Rider and has also worked on everything from Thor to Savage Sword of Conan, all of which perfectly suit this comic and its heady mix of genres.
Basically, four jewels representing the four elements are lost and must be recovered. In these first pages all we know is they contain incredible magical energy and it seems foolhardy to tell this to Darkstorm, who suddenly feels like all his Christmases have come at once. The different questions posed by the two leaders perfectly sum up their characters and why they’d consider risking their lives for this quest, reminding me of the “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” questions posed by the Vorlons and Shadows in Babylon 5. A little hint is given when Feryl wonders if the usual booming voice from the rock face sounds a little weaker than normal.
Before setting off there’s something to take care of first, namely giving the final two characters without staffs or vehicles their magical powers. Galadria and Virulina weren’t in the toy range but were very much canon, also appearing in the cartoon. Given shields instead of staffs I personally feel like the only two female characters got the better deal because the shields look really cool. Such a shame Hasbro never got a chance to make them into action figures. With a typical portent of doom from Merklynn this is where things were left for a week.
The second week moves up a gear. Merklynn is desperately fighting, clinging to life, his powers fading rapidly. This raises so many questions. Why is this happening to him? How are the talismans involved? Why were they scattered and lost? Most importantly, why didn’t he simply tell his warriors? Surely they would’ve helped after all he’s done for them? For now the story will keep the readers guessing, which I really like.
“Stop, you idiot! We had them beatennnn!”Cravex to Reekon
The first teams we’re following are Cryotek and Galadria for the Spectral Knights and Reekon and Cravex for the Darkling Lords. Throughout there’s the beginning of a mutual fondness between the former pair developing. It’s not forced and it was clearly written to be played out over several months. It’s handled maturely and adds a nice dimension to the usually brutish Cryotek. On the other side the camaraderie between Reekon and Cravex can be hilarious. They know they work incredibly well together, which really annoys them and they bicker constantly as a result.
So we have an innocent burgeoning of romantic feelings on the one side, and in contrast a kind of clichéd comedic old married couple between the males of the other team. This contrast works brilliantly. Of course, each side is oblivious to these comparisons and that’s very funny. The perfect example is below, where we see the teams starting their search, following their respective magical guides and a topical (for today) pronoun conversation is mirrored between them.
This part ends with our heroes under attack from the fearsome Dagger Assault vehicle after Reekon spied on their location in his lizard form. But before we’re left hanging for seven days an anonymous yell from off camera and a stone to the head of Cravex signals the locals aren’t too happy and could be coming to the rescue.
Under attack from local villagers and unable to use their vehicle at close range, Cravex recites his fear spell but Reekon is unprepared and becomes affected too, driving them both away in fright in a humorous start to part three. Trakk, the leader of a nearby village introduces his people to Cryotek and Galadria before showing them the ‘God-Tree’. He claims it spoke to him in a dream and asked him to care for it. In return his people would be looked after for all time. Ever since, their crops have been in abundance and they’ve wanted for nothing.
But there’s a problem.
Clearly it’s no god, it’s the Earth Talisman feeding the ground with its magical energies, producing everything needed to feed the previously starving (after the cataclysm) villagers. But they aren’t for sharing. Galadria tries to explain but they won’t listen, not even when she says they have the ability to feed other villagers and still have enough to spare. Sneaking about in plain site is Reekon in lizard form again, listening to the paranoia of the villagers who believe they’ve been chosen by god.
He then uses this while the Spectral Knights rest to manipulate the villagers. It soon becomes apparent they won’t trust either side now so Cravex uses his fear spell once more. If they can’t get them on their side then the Darkling Lords’ backup plan is simply to create enough of a distraction to steal it. By waiting until Galadria and Cryotek are in the middle of the highly paranoid crowd the fear spell is devastating! The villagers begin attacking and Cryotek (in abject fear from the spell) feels his bear persona rise up from within and he transforms, flinging innocent people left and right, causing a fire in the process.
being special is a curse if it sets you apart from others, putting them at a disadvantage due to your own privilege
Galadria, noticing her fear is starting to subside, knows this must mean the spell isn’t being cast because their enemies are making a break for it for the jewel. Knocked out by Cravex, this issue’s makeshift cliffhanger is brilliant with Galadria unconscious, surrounded by fire and Cryotek out of control.
This is how The Transformers presented each subsequent part of the story and here you can see Cryotek finally regain control as we race towards the climax. Only able to return to human form thanks to the intervention of the magical guide, how far would he have gone otherwise? This question, first properly posed in Gerry’s premiere story in #4 is getting more prominence and I get the feeling it’s something that would’ve made the basis for a large story after this multi-parter.
One negative I have here is how Cryotek puts out the fires. He recites his spell poem which as fans will remember ends with, “Fill the archer’s bow with might”. But unlike the cartoon no archer appears from his staff and instead he just kind of glows and is able to summon increased strength. Unbelievably he claps really hard and the power blows out all the flames. It’s right there in the poem, there’s meant to be an archer. It just doesn’t make sense in the comic but that’s the only criticism I have.
In the end the fear spell has seen the Darkling Lords scurry off with the jewel and win the day, leaving the village in ruins and the people battered and bruised. Still weak, Galadria decides to use her new shield and its spell poem to restore everyone and everything around her. Cryotek is concerned. The spells use energy from those who cast them, she might not be strong enough but she knows they brought this destruction here, it’s their fault so she must try to make amends.
Her spell and its effects take up two full pages and I just love them. They’re beautifully drawn and give a real importance to her character and abilities, which I’m glad of after the importance of having female characters was completely ignored by Hasbro (something a lot of our toy ranges were guilty of, unfortunately).
She ends up collapsing but it was just enough. Any more and it could’ve possibly killed her, but it’s clear that wouldn’t have stopped her from trying. Now forced to work with other villagers, Trakk mourns how they’re no longer chosen by god, they’re “no longer special”. The last word on this fittingly goes to Galadria who explains being special is a curse if it sets you apart from others, putting them at a disadvantage due to your own privilege. I liked this. A lot.
Action, humour and heart. A superb story. It may have been more basic than the previous two (due in part to its having to introduce the quest in the first place which took up a quarter of the page count) but next time we’ll be able to focus on the quest and a few characters from beginning to end. I can’t wait. The Quest for the Four Talismans was meant to be the first multi-part epic for the American comic but was tragically cut short only two parts in. I’ll discuss that more next time.
Before I finish here’s a little bonus for you. Every issue of The Transformers and Visionaries had a humour strip by OiNK star Lew Stringer. Combat Colin (co-starring Semi-Automatic Steve) had come over from the pages of Action Force months previous and was the perfect way to sign off these issues. Below is the strip from #184 of the newly merged comic. Enjoy!
I’ve really enjoyed reading a little bit of Visionaries on a weekly basis and if you’re interested you can join my journey through all seven-plus years of Transformers on the blog’s Instagram. I’m reading an issue every Thursday and posting a handful of photos of the physical comic along with a few paragraphs of information and opinion. It’ll be a venture that’ll come to the blog eventually but for now you can follow along there.
The next (and final) new strip adventure for the Visionaries will be here for review on 29th October 2021. It won’t quite be the end though, as you’ll find out next time.