ViSiONARiES iN TRANSFORMERS PART TWO: HiGH & GOODBYE

Is it possible to be excited and saddened at the same time? I felt like I was when I picked up these issues of Transformers and Visionaries. On the one hand it’s a new Visionaries story to read but on the other it’s the last strip. Not the last story mind you, but it is the last strip. (More on the actual last stories below.) Again it’s been split into five weekly chunks as the back up to Transformers, giving us smaller but more frequent trips to Prysmos.

First up though, back when I was reading the monthly Visionaries comic I would include the Marvel UK adverts from each issue, each one a fun little trip down memory lane. Over the course of these four weeks the following titles popped up for a spot of promotion. Galaxy Rangers, as good as the cartoon was I seem to recall, was similar to Visionaries in that it didn’t last, with only nine fortnightly issues before it merged with Thundercats. Then the canned-laughter sitcom Alf had a special out and check out this excellent comic strip promo for Doctor Who Magazine, a publication that continues to this day.

In the first of our issues Action Force is still making their presence felt with free stickers for the Panini album given away the week before but for us it’s all about the Knights of the Magical Light. Continuing on from the previous tale comes Wings, the second part of what was originally to be their first multi-part epic. With so many questions up in the air (no pun intended, you’ll see what I mean) will any of them get answered? Will any of the developing story arcs be concluded, or even have time to be added to? Let’s find out.

We begin with Feryl and Arzon in the former’s magical vehicle, the Capture Chariot as they follow their spirit guide towards the location of the second elemental crystal. Driving through what would previously have been luxurious mountaintop retreats the Spectral Knights conclude the place is abandoned. Indeed, behind them you can see the crumbling structures, a reminder once again that writer Gerry Conway isn’t shying away from the horrific realities the fantastical set up would’ve created.

Almost crushed by falling rocks, which they put down to a freak accident but which was actually caused by two Darkling Lords, Feryl stays with his beloved vehicle while Arzon transforms to follow an unknown species of bird in the sky. His mechanical skills leave something to be desired and he was only getting in the way anyway. Feryl mentions Harkon at this point, a character created by the comic in #3, which is a nice touch and points to the larger world being built by the comic.

While gliding on the wind Arzon forgets why he took off in the first place, to follow the silhouette their spirit guide had taken an interest in. Instead he’s just lost in the sensation of flight. The caption states, “Such is the risk of assuming an animal persona”, but unfortunately this is the only mention that intriguing development gets in this whole story. It’s such a shame, especially after Cryotek‘s battle with his persona last time. Of course, if this hadn’t been where the comic was cancelled in America it would’ve been a nice little mention to keep the thread going until it was explored more in the future. But with this being the last strip I can’t help but feel disappointed.

In this blissful state Arzon is unaware of the people on the clifftops eager to catch something for dinner. That’s one hell of a wallop he takes as they try to kill their prey, and one hell of a shock when they unwrap their groceries. Arzon, with his ability to fly and his magical power of knowledge is one of the more interesting of the Visionaries, so I’m already happy to see he’s going to be the main character here.

In part two a week later we get a reminder of why both sides of the conflict have been sent out on this quest by Merklynn. He’s now becoming so weak that his very being is fading away, his hands slipping through objects. Holding anything has become a battle deep within his mind. This chapter’s opening brings two main points of interest for me.

The first is that Merklynn seems to live on a different plane of existence than everyone else. I’d never really thought of that before but given how he was alive in the previous Age of Magic and secreted himself away in Iron Mountain throughout the Age of Science it makes sense that his very being would be some form of magical entity. The other point is what he says about their planet.

On the next page he questions how long he can live on will alone and thinks about how he and the whole planet of Prysmos are doomed if he doesn’t get those jewels. Why? Again, these questions will go unanswered. Quest of Talismans was, I assume, going to be a four-part story so at least the mysteries behind the jewels could’ve been answered soon after this. The larger arc about the magical personas was clearly going to be stretched out a lot longer so as far as that is concerned we can be just a little disappointed, but to have this story cut short at the midway point is very frustrating.

Back to Arzon and upon waking he finds himself in some form of nest, complete with a human-sized mattress. Standing over him is Icara of the High-Flyers, a large group of people who have fashioned wings out of the debris of the fallen world below and who now live atop the mountains far away from others. With views like this I can’t say I’m surprised.

Of course, the real reason they stay away from all other humans is because they believe they are the “chosen ones”, just like the villagers in the last story, and just like that story it’s all down to one of the crystals. Shining bright from the tallest peak Icara tells Arzon of how her father discovered it after the big change and that it powers their clearly insufficient wings, which is all the proof they need that they are truly chosen.

I can’t shake the feeling this is a retread of last month’s story.

Arzon tries to explain how the Darkling Lords are on their way and the danger the High-Flyers are in, but it falls on deaf ears. Trying to reason with Icara is pointless, although her insults are quite amusing, calling Arzon everything for a “groundling” to a “mud-crawler”. Unable to just fly off and leave without his staff, Arzon braces himself for what is to come. At this point in the story though, despite the grandiose nature of the setting I can’t shake the feeling this is a retread of last month’s story somewhat.

On a side note, in this issue letter answerer Decepticon Dreadwind tells a reader Action Force (G.I. Joe) will be returning soon, the first hint Visionaries would be coming to an abrupt end. Then the third of our little collection above opens with news of The Transformers Collected Comics 11 Winter Special which was the first issue I ever got! Bought for me by my mum as a surprise when I was off sick from school I was an instant fan (it was a Christmassy issue) and started collecting the comic from issue #192 all the way through to its conclusion with #332.

Those Darkling Lords Arzon is so worried about turn out to be Cindarr and Virulina. The plan is really simple; Virulina is going to go and stand on top of a hill and recite her spell poem, making all of the High-Flyers sick so she can walk in and take the crystal. Arzon casts his own spell poem to seek the knowledge of how to reverse its effects, gets a vision of some flowers miles away (too far to walk) and Icara has to use all of her inner strength (not the strength of the crystal) to help him carry the flowers back because he simply can’t do so as an eagle. But first she must realise she’s just as human as he is, not chosen. They spread the flowers over her people and they recover. It’s not exactly in the same league as the intriguing stories we’ve become accustomed to.


“Winds of sickness,
Illness most vile,
Strike down my enemy,
With disease revile.”

Virulina’s spell poem

Far better are the character moments. After arguing with him, Virulina changes her tune and tries to persuade Cindarr to join her in breaking off from Darkstorm, taking the crystal and having untold power all to themselves. Clearly she’s a manipulator. But Cindarr is loyal and believes in Darkstorm’s vision of how to rebuild their world. The layered character from a previous story already made this clear to us readers back in Visionaries #5. Telling her he respects strength and so he wouldn’t betray anyone for her, she casts her spell on him and makes him plead for his life.

She stops the virus, though does say it would’ve killed him if she hadn’t. She tells him all that talk was just that, just talk. But the inner thoughts of Cindarr betray how he wouldn’t forget, setting up a rivalry in the ranks for potential future storylines.

I’m glad to see the great narrative captions of Gerry’s storytelling continue here, as shown in this panel of the High-Flyers dying from the virus but being kept afloat by the crystal. It’s just really good writing and makes the captions throughout every Visionaries story feel like you’re reading some kind of epic fantasy novel. Gerry seems really taken with the whole world of this franchise and I can only imagine what kind of comic Visionaries could’ve become had it had the kind of longevity as Transformers.

Arzon finds a treasure nest full of shiny objects, collected by the High-Flyers as if they were actual birds. He makes the observation that while everyone else on Prysmos suffered the consequences of the change, these people imagined themselves to be above harsh reality. It’s a perfect metaphor for privilege and reads as particularly relevant today. Also, the one High-Flyer he’s met is named after Icarus which drives the metaphor home perfectly.

The next Visionaries review will be on Christmas Day!

This third part is also accompanied by an advertisement for Hasbro‘s Visionaries toys! The toys were released for the previous Christmas and had failed, the comic had been cancelled and the cartoon wouldn’t return for a second season, so it’s strange to see a promotion for the toys reappear after all this time. You can see it (along with the cartoon’s intro sequence and the TV adverts) in the post introducing this series of reviews.

In the final issue Icara saves her people and we get this lovely image with some beautifully written captions to accompany it. But not all the panels have this level of care. Some seem decidedly rushed, for example those depicting her dying people and the healing power of the flowers being dropped on them from above. Here and there some panels do stick out in this way. Maybe the cancellation order had come down and artists Mark Bagley (pencils), Romeo Tanghai (inks) and Julianna Ferriter (colours) had to rush completion of the final issue? Who knows? At least Janice Chiang‘s letters are still on point with those captions.

As for those unanswered mysteries and unresolved arcs, obviously none of these are the fault of writer Gerry Conway. He was clearly treating the licence maturely, developing not only multipart stories with many twists and turns, he was also playing the long game with the characters, his world building and the overall story. How would this comic have developed? Unfortunately, on the last page of the original US comic we got the only answer we’d ever get. The story ended with Arzon speculating about the truth of the talismans, before one final footnote that simply read, “But that truth must remain unrevealed”.

However, this was changed for our comic.

The editorial for #190 makes the ludicrous statement that Visionaries is going to make away for Action Force because fans for the latter have been calling for its return. Given how much in advance these comics were produced it’s extremely doubtful letters would have even arrived yet concerning the Visionaries by the time production on this issue was in full swing. The fact was this was the end and they knew it. It would’ve been better to be honest instead of giving false hope of their return and of the story continuing, which is the impression given above.

To think I wasn’t aware of a Visionaries comic at this time and I’d start collecting Transformers only two weeks later! So close!

This wasn’t quite the end though. Making up a kind of action trilogy for Christmas that year was The Transformers Annual, The Action Force Annual and excitingly The Visionaries Annual. Plugged on the editorial page of #190 as the “first Visionaries Annual” it would also be their last. Plus, if you actually read the promo below you’ll see it’s not all good news because the strip stories would seem very familiar to fans of the comic.

The Knights would return to the pages of Transformers one more time when the comic underwent another new look in #213. But not in the way we may have hoped. Even though their return would be hyped it would only be for yet another reprint of the origin story from #1 and #2 of their monthly comic (and now also from the annual too).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we still have that book to look forward to with its text stories, which are wonderful little tales and there’s some great original artwork from the Marvel UK team throughout as well. So when can you expect the review of the Visionaries Annual? As this advert shows they were on sale by now, but when did we all receive our annuals? We all know the answer to that. These books were always intended for a certain time of the year.

So, while the regular issues of comics on this site are reviewed on their original release dates, any and all annuals will have their reviews published on none other than Christmas Day. So for any Visionaries fans, when you’ve opened all your presents and eaten far too much wonderful rich food and feel like taking a nap on the sofa, come on back here instead for the Visionaries Annual. It wouldn’t be Christmas without an annual after all.

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