If you were to take a quick glance through this latest issue of Marvel UK‘s Visionaries from 1988 you’d think it was business as usual, with another lengthy strip featuring the Knights of the Magical Light and their quest to rebuild their crumbling planet. After last month’s superb story by new head writer Gerry Conway anticipation is also high. But look beyond the brilliant cover by Mark Bagley and we discover some bad news on the editorial page.
There we find a tiny message from editor Steve White announcing the horrible news that this, only the fifth issue, will be the last. He says there are more details to come so we’ll concentrate on the strip first and see what those details are later.
This issue’s story is called Dream Maker and begins with my favourite Visionary from the cartoon, the lightning fast Witterquick atop a cloud covered mountain answering the cries of a beautiful but entombed woman called Sirena. As he attempts a rescue a demon appears, apparently threatening to kill our hero for looking upon the woman’s beauty. It might appear this demon is jealous and has trapped his great love to be with him forever, but as we find out later it’s just a bit of clever writing.
I say clever writing, but with a name like Sirena and a front cover showing her in control of monstrous forces the game has kind of been given away. If there was any doubt left the comic’s editorial made sure to erase all mystery beforehand. It’s still a compelling read though. I get the distinct impression Gerry, co-creator of The Punisher, really enjoyed developing these toys into three-dimensional characters. This issue concentrates almost exclusively on Witterquick and the Darkling Lord Cindarr, who we also see awaken from the same dream, with him in place of the Spectral Knight.
Sirena tells both men she’s a former Queen who has reached out telepathically to the only man able to recover the magical stone that can open her prison. Not convinced the dream is real, Leoric knows there’s no stopping Witterquick’s impetuousness so he wishes him well but offers no help or resources. On the other hand Cindarr has to fight off Reekon and Mortdredd who accuse him of abandoning his post at Darkstorm‘s castle. While you might wonder why a Darkling Lord would care about an imprisoned woman, it’s the first sign of there being more to Cindarr than we initially thought.
The scene shifts to a crumbling mountain road where the giant ‘Bronze Warrior’ statue looks down upon a ramshackle village led by a despot warlord. The statue is a rusting metal ruin of unknown origin from the previous Age of Magic, now a tourist attraction with a gleaming jewel eye. Witterquick’s initial impulse to save the poor villagers from their maniacal leader is soon overpowered by his desire for Sirena, such is her power over him.
Soon he and Cindarr are in a race to claim the key. Both use their magical poems, Cindarr unleashing ground-shattering destruction, Witterquick giving himself incredible speed which he uses to grab the key first. Despite this, Cindarr still saves Witterquick’s life when they’re suddenly attacked by the villager’s warriors.
It’s a gut reaction by Cindarr and a big surprise for the reader. He’s the highlight of this story and showcases the potential for complex character arcs to come between the warring factions. How heartbreaking that this is showcased in the final issue. Offering up a temporary alliance he uses his incantation to shake the very ground upon which the statue stands, scattering the warriors and allowing both of them to escape, the statue left wobbling in the wind.
We also see Witterquick open up about who he really is, flaws and all, through thoughts and the well written (as always) narrative captions. In the comic his magical speed also seems to apply to his heart. He’s quick to fall in love, quick to jump to conclusions, quick to leap into danger, all of which can get him into trouble, all easily avoidable if he just took a step back and thought things through first.
I can empathise.
Struggling with his thoughts, Witterquick dreams once more. Today I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the image below, but in a toy comic of the time I think it shows Visionaries was aimed at a slightly older audience than Transformers, albeit an audience that still played with action figures. We’d have seen the likes of this in Conan comics so I thought it was interesting in the middle of a Hasbro toy licence.
Nudity in dreams is said to represent vulnerability, perfectly summing up Witterquick’s thoughts at this juncture in the story. The bewitching hold Sirena has over him, believing it’s true love, makes him shake off the doubts and carry on. From here on we see both Knights frequently cross paths with each other, more as competitors than enemies, creating an interesting dynamic and lots of fun moments.
They come up against a monstrous beast guarding the caverns underneath the toppled statue, providing us with an example of their back and forth race. Cindarr scoots past in the background (above right) as Witterquick struggles with the beast before transforming into his cheetah totem, biting the beast and escaping, the captions hinting at themes covered in last month’s review.
“But in the end, we fought as allies. Imagine if our leaders could find a way to do the same.Witterquick to Cindarr
These caves take our Knights back underneath the statue where Witterquick uses his speed spell once again to grab the stone before it collapses. The Darkling Lord is buried under tons of metal but not before changing to his gorilla form for protection. After bursting out, in a moment of revenge he shames and embarrasses the warlord in front of all of his followers, freeing the people from his evil rule.
It’s another surprising Cindarr moment I didn’t see coming for a character so simplistically depicted in the cartoon, and it would appear it surprised him too. Both characters seem to be fighting against where they’ve been placed in this new world, seeking to find their true selves inside all of the magical armour that now defines them.
Attacked and ashamed by Sirena’s demons (below), the truth is laid bare and his heart is broken. About to be set free, she no longer needs him, he’s a complication. I actually felt for Cindarr here; the spell had him genuinely believing he was in love and doing the right thing, something he shouldn’t care about doing.
Now in the area foreshadowed earlier we see the demon attacking Witterquick but it’s holding back, not wishing to kill our hero, claiming he’s there to stop evil from being released. It’s at this point we realise those panels at the top of this review now read very differently.
Witterquick is unable to listen to reason and only the intervention of a vast gorilla (complete with Grimlock-like speech in this form) stops him from unleashing Sirena. Cindarr could have simply walked away. More evil being unleashed into the world and one less Spectral Knight should be a good thing, should it not? But he’s become an unlikely hero, trying to keep the witch imprisoned and saving a warrior he’s come to respect.
But unwittingly they’ve gotten too close and the jewel floats on a magical current right into the lock of Sirena’s tomb. Here her true horrific appearance is revealed as she pushes against the dissolving seal in a scene reminiscent of scenes from popular mini-series V just a few years previous.
His mind set free at last, Witterquick’s horror is clear. This leads to a final desperate bid to not only save their planet but also their dignity, as they use both staff powers together, combining speed and destruction into an unstoppable force and unleashing it directly upon the dissolving force field.
The prison explodes, taking Sirena with it. My favourite part is not this appropriately action-packed finale itself, but rather the immediate aftermath when the two enemies help each other out of the rubble and share this moment.
Gerry’s scripts are just so beautifully written in these quieter character moments. I laughed when I read this. After being at loggerheads through the long quest and intense action these two simple words sum everything up for the men. The next page also reveals a little about their views of the ongoing battle for the planet. I’d have been disappointed if the story hadn’t included this conversation after all they’ve been through.
It’s a nice final page, the second panel summing up a lot of conflicts in our real world, particularly here where I live. The respect and understanding between Cindarr and Witterquick is clear and it’s left very open ended. There can be no other outcome, for now at least. No, they’re not friends but can they truly be enemies again? At least they get to end their adventure with a shared laugh and as far as the comics go I’ve got a new favourite character in Cindarr.
This dynamic is just crying out for further exploration but for now Visionaries bows out. At least it does so in style with another superb story, nicely developed characters and plenty of surprises. As you can see the promised “details” don’t amount to much, just the date on which their remaining stories will be serialised in the weekly Transformers comic.
It’s quite the wait but a new look was coming up in Transformers so a new back up strip (temporarily replacing Action Force/G.I. Joe) would help launch it and bring in Visionaries readers eager for more. There are still a couple of publications to come for our intrepid, magical heroes in the form of an annual at Christmas time and a Spring Special next year. That annual may have been released in August but let’s face it we all got them as Christmas presents. So that’s when it’ll be covered here, following the real time nature of reading these as originally intended.
Speaking of further publications, on the back cover is another gorgeous contemporary advert. Dragon’s Claws was created by the ace Transformers team of Simon Furman and Geoff Senior. Set in the distant future of Britain it was a comic I’d seen advertised as a kid and had always wanted to try but never got around to. This is going to be corrected in 2022. The complete collection is sitting on my comics shelves waiting patiently for their own real time read through on the blog. Watch out for that in the spring of next year.
In the meantime you can expect reviews of the final two Visionaries stories on the dates of their respective conclusions in the pages of Transformers. Each story was split into four parts as was custom for the back ups, so the first story’s review will be on the OiNK Blog on Friday 1st October. Join me then, won’t you?