So I’ll be honest, I can’t really describe this as a comic review, that would be rather cheeky of me. But then again, it was a bit of a cheat for Marvel UK to call this the Visionaries Spring Special too. Don’t get me wrong, when I spotted this on the shelf back in 1989 I was thrilled. I hadn’t known there was a monthly comic the previous year, having only become interested through the cartoon which aired here in the UK after the comic had already ended. I received the annual for Christmas and then in April their origin story (which I’d just read in the Annual) was reprinted as a back up strip in The Transformers, which I’d just started collecting a few months prior. It was after that I spotted this edition.
Through these I discovered there had been a regular comic, albeit a very short-lived one and I was sad I’d missed out on the further adventures of these characters. So this special was all new to me. A brand new strip featuring two of my very favourite characters from the cartoon, whose toys I owned and whose origin story I was now (very) familiar with. I was in comics heaven. But readers of the monthly may have felt somewhat shortchanged. Have a look at the ‘Special’ next to #5, the final edition of their comic.
They look somewhat similar, don’t they? This continues inside. In fact, this is an exact copy of #5 bar only a few exceptions. Obviously the issue number has been changed on the cover (although the incorrectly coloured Darkstorm remains) and the editorial on page two has been rewritten, aimed now at more casual readers rather than those who had been following along. The layout and images originally created by the monthly’s editor Steve White remain the same, however.
The strip, Dream Maker, is presented once again in its entirety and makes up the remainder of the comic’s interior. Written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Romeo Tanghai, letters by Janice Chiang and colours by Julianna Ferriter it’s a great strip, that much is true. Altogether there are 24 pages here with the exact same external gloss paper making up the outer eight pages and the regular Marvel UK stock for the rest. On the last page of the strip, page 23 of the comic, the final message has been edited to include the new logo for Transformers and the issue number and date of the original merge have been removed.
At this time Transformers was changing to a three-story format and to mark the first seven issues of the new look they were reprinting the first Visionaries story (this would mark the third time we saw it in one year). It kicked off with this lovely cover promoting the new look, including the return of the Knights, drawn by John Stokes.
The reason behind this was to let the G.I. Joe story get ahead and create a buffer between the monthly US publication and their weekly UK printings. So really, to say at the end of the Spring Special that fans could “Follow the further adventures of the Visionaries” wasn’t exactly true. Instead, anyone picking this up and then buying Transformers would be met with one reprinted story and then nothing after that, so no further adventures at all.
So, as I’m sure you can understand there’s no point whatsoever in me reviewing this story all over again when I did so in depth in July last year. It is a great story though and if you see this edition on eBay and want to dip your toes in I’d highly recommend it, although it appears to be a somewhat rare item and I was very lucky to spot it. I only bought it myself to complete the set. We do get a nice new advertisement on the back for something of an experiment by Marvel UK to launch their own humour comic in competition to Beano and The Dandy, which had something of a surprising mascot.
The Visionaries Spring Special comic brought me so much joy as a kid. It gave me a glimpse into the world of the Visionaries as presented in their comic form and I loved it. It was read several times and felt so mature, so grown up compared to the other toy-based comics I’d collected previously, something I’ve gone into throughout the series on the blog.
Nowadays though, as the final comic we’d ever get it’s clear this special was nothing more than a bit of marketing to get some additional readers to buy Transformers. Even the advert for it in the pages of other Marvel UK comics was exactly the same as that used one year previous (almost to the day) to promote the monthly, with only the issue details changed.
A curious addition to the series but it does complete my set. I’d already come to terms with the fact there’d be no more new stories after the annual but seeing this story again just reminds me of the potential the Visionaries had to become one of the very best licenced comics stories ever.
This is the first comic series on the blog to reach its conclusion so if this is the first you’re seeing the Knights of the Magical Light there are ten other posts just waiting to be read. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them! As clichéd as that reads, it’s still true.
When I reviewed Marvel UK‘s monthly Visionaries comic earlier this year the general reaction on social media fell into two camps. There were those who’d forgotten all about the comic and those who never knew it existed. Even fewer knew about this annual. Exactly 33 years ago to the day, back in 1988 I received it on Christmas Day, not knowing about the existence of a regular comic until it was mentioned inside. I was gutted I’d missed out, being such a fan of the cartoon, so finally reading their origin story (which I’d missed on TV) was a thrill.
Of course, today that thrill is diminished somewhat after reading that story several months ago in the comic. I can imagine fans weren’t too pleased that over half the book was reprint material either. But let’s start at the beginning with that eye-catching cover by Martin Griffiths (Thundercats, The Real Ghostbusters, 2000AD) and John Burns (Transformers, Sable and Fortune, G.I. Joe). Only upon reading these for the blog did I realise this was the image produced for the premiere issue marketing. But still, original Marvel UK pieces like this are the envy of American Visionaries fans, just like this opening spread by Dougie Braithwaite (The Punisher, The Real Ghostbusters, Batman) and John.
There’s an editorial matching the comic’s design, although at least here it’s all hype for the annual in the reader’s hands rather than advertising for other titles. Surprisingly it explains the strip is a reprint but it does make a big deal of the fact there are two brand new prose stories and a handful of fact-files. There’s also the obligatory space to fill in your name in case your friends decided to steal it away from you.
Monthly Visionaries editor Steve White is credited as designer here, most likely because most of the design is lifted straight from the comic with minimal changes. The editor is Marvel UK stalwart Richard Starkings (Transformers letterer, The Real Ghostbusterslaunch editor, Elephantmen writer and Comicraft founder) and with limited resources to produce an annual for a comic which had proven unsuccessful, meaning no UK originated strips, he’s done a fine job in pulling together a book I have very happy memories of.
So yes, the most exciting thing in this annual for me originally was finally reading how it all began and it’s always a good read, no matter how many times I do so. The End… The Beginning takes up a whopping 38 of the 64 pages available here and is the original version of the strip, minus the great big lump of text that removed some important panels from the start of the second half when published in #2 (see below).
Based on the teleplay by Flint Dille, adapted by Jim Salicrup, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Romeo Tanghai, lettered by Janice Chiang and coloured by Julianna Ferriter it’s still a masterpiece in origin storytelling today, however I’m not going to read it again for this review. It may have been brand new and exciting 33 years ago but I read it for the comic’s reviews last spring and again in the pages of Transformers this year on the blog’s Instagram! (I’ll explain that at the end of the review.) So for the full details of this story check out the reviews of #1 and #2 of the comic.
So I’m just reading the parts that are new and as such it’s a much different, much shorter experience this time around. We begin with the fact-files, of which there are six featuring Spectral KnightsLeoric, Witterquick and Arzon, and Darkling Lords Darkstorm, Cindarr and Cravex. I’m not sure who drew the images for them but they are rather basic. Four of them were used for the editorial page, although just their faces. Given how far in advance annuals are created I think we can conclude these were drawn for these fact-files and then used in the monthly.
The descriptions have basically been lifted from the toy packets, reworded slightly to include the occasional reference to the origin strip. While the cartoon and comic had our heroes turn into the animals on their chest plates, the toys simply said these totems “represented” the characters’ personalities and you can see that’s used here too, which is a bit strange. Also, by this stage Darkstorm‘s goal had been established as more than simply wanting to conquer his foes (I’ve gone into that in depth in the monthly reviews) so it’s a shame to see that included.
I loved getting my Marvel annuals every year with their mix of strips and text stories. Unbelievably, some of my friends didn’t read the prose tales and wished their books were strips from cover to cover. They really missed out, these were some of the very best stories told by Marvel UK; it was one of the annual text stories that created Megatron‘s background of being a gladiator before the war, something that’s canon in basically every interpretation of Transformers today.
The writers would often concentrate on a couple of characters for the whole story, using the format to have some fun with them. While Transformers used it to develop them, for most of the other annuals it was a chance to take one small battle or incident and create a story full of personality and humour. That’s definitely the route the two new stories take here. First up is The Edge written by Ian Rimmer (Zoids, Action Force, Transformers) with art by Will Simpson (Transformers, Hellblazer, Rogue Trooper) and colour by Stuart Place (Captain Britain, Transformers (yes, again!)).
The story is bookended with Merklynn playing a game of chess, or whatever the Prysmos equivalent is, and equating his game to the ongoing battles between the two factions of warriors he’s created. The theme here is luck; no matter the strategy in the game chance will always play a part. The story itself is simple but fun and these bookends are an attempt to make it all feel more substantial than it actually is. It’s an interesting way of doing it and a good example of the more experimental writing techniques used in the text stories.
Reekon and Virulina are stalking about the lake near Leoric‘s compound when they happen upon Cryotek gathering drinking water and immediately hatch a plan to take him out involving both of their totems, a plan which is actually quite smart and very entertaining. In the midst of the fight the wooden shaft of the Spectral Knight’s staff gets snapped in two and the magic power itself disappears from within. This is a moment of revelation for the Darkling Lords but surely they’d have known this already? Has no damage come to their own wooden staffs in all this time?
The Lords launch a mass attack in which their targets aren’t the Knights themselves but their staffs, and they begin destroying them one by one. Surely a risky manoeuvre since their own staffs would be just as vulnerable, surely? Cryotek is holding the two pieces of his and needs a free hand to fight, so he holds them together in one hand at the point where they snapped apart. The magical energy returns, all it needed was to be held together and connected via the inner energy of the person whose persona is embodied within it. The battle ends in a draw and we read about Merkylnn resetting his chess game ready for the next battle and laughing.
It’s a strange little tale that doesn’t make an awful lot of sense if you think about it too much but there are some nice character moments, particularly for Reekon and Virulina. The dialogue between the two is snappy and funny as they whisper and bicker about their plan, and Reekon shows a masterful mathematical mind in working out the odds of success (and survival), an aspect of his character we never got to see in the comic before its premature cancellation. Definitely worth it for these moments alone.
The second prose story is the final new Visionaries story of the whole run, so in hindsight it has an awful lot to live up to. I’m very happy to say it does so with aplomb. False Light at Fulch Rock stars Arzon, Darkstorm and Cravex and is written by Dan Abnett (Doctor Who, Knights of Pendragon and a legend on The Real Ghostbusters), with accompanying art by Dougie Braithwaite and Cam Smith (Supergirl, Sinister Dexter, New Mutants), and colours by Chris Mattews (Thundercats, Mighty Max).
I was won over from the very first sentence, which paints the picture of a monastery on a cliff edge in the middle of a “dark storm”. With an image of the similarly named leader of the Darkling Lords on a purple horse across the page it immediately draws you in; we’re in for a treat with this one in atmosphere alone. However, everything else about the story is a winner too.
Darkstorm: “The Crystal of Light. With it, I will be supreme.”
Darkstorm: “The Darkling Lords. Whatever. Now come on!”
It tells the story of the Knights and Lords travelling to townships offering protection in this new dangerous age and Arzon’s next stop is Fulch Rock where the Order of the Lightfinders have taken refuge, led by Murnoc. Before he can get inside he’s set upon by Darkstorm and Cravex, barely escaping thanks to his Power of Knowledge spell poem, with which he’s able to predict the most likely next attack from his foes. However, he eventually falls over the cliff, transforming into his eagle form at the last second, slowing his decent enough to survive although he’s badly injured. He’s found by the Lightfinders and brought inside, where Darkstorm is ordered not to harm Murnoc’s guest while he works out which side to accept protection from.
It’s a great start. The rest of the story explains how the Lords are only offering protection because of the rumour of a Crystal of Light much like Merklynn’s hidden inside. There’s some cracking dialogue here which we’ve come to expect from Marvel UK text stories and in the end we find out it’s all been a ruse to lure the Lords there to steal their armour, what these religious nuts call “Aftertech” and view as their salvation, to power themselves and take over the land. The crystal is a fake and the three Visionaries must work together to escape due to the vast numbers of followers Murnoc has amassed.
Dan’s writing paints a picture in the mind and I think the story works so much better as prose than I think a strip would have. The Visionaries comic was always very good at building atmosphere with its descriptive panels, but having what is essentially seven pages of that kind of writing is something else. After the final battle Arzon tells Darkstorm the lesson to be learned is not judging others by appearance alone and that it’s a shame the two sides, so formidable together for the greater good, couldn’t work together to rebuild the planet. Darkstorm actually hesitates here. But in the end they leave as enemies. It’s a nicely written reference back to the monthly and the fact Darkstorm truly believed he was just doing what was best for his world.
So if you’ve read the strip already is it worth your while picking this book up? Most definitely. The exclusive art and text stories are worth the entry fee and it’s essential for the completist. It’s also a bittersweet moment because as I finished Fulch Rock I realised that was the last story these wonderful characters had. There’d be a Spring Special a few months into 1989 which was a page-for-page reprint of #5 of the comic, released to plug the fact Visionaries were returning to the Transformers comic, which I’m reading in real time on the blog’s Instagram. But when they did reappear it was yet another reprint of The End… The Beginning, making it three times it was published in the UK in one year!
It’s been a blast reliving the feeling of receiving this annual all those years ago. It’s sad to know there are no more stories to come when the comic had some of the greatest potential of any licenced title. It started off in such strong shape and was developing so fast. I truly believe it’s a great loss we didn’t get to see what could’ve happened if the lifespan fellow Hasbro franchises like Transformers and G.I. Joe had, had been granted to the Visionaries.
After Christmas get yourself on to eBay and see if you can track the whole series down (it won’t take too long to complete), you’ll enjoy some of the very best 80s comics you’re ever likely to read.
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 four 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 whileArzon 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 here.
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 the way things turned out 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.
“I told Spectral Knights and Darkling Lords alike only part of the truth about the Talisman Jewels”
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 the Four 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’s concerned we can be 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.
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”. Not wanting to just fly off and leave without his staff, Arzon braces himself for what’s 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 in the third of these comics there’s news of The Transformers Collected Comics 11Winter 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 Cindarr, Virulina changes her tune and tries to persuade him 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 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.
This third part is also accompanied by an advertisement for Hasbro‘s toys. The toys were released for the previous Christmas in the US 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 of 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 that is the fault of writer Gerry Conway. He was clearly treating the licence maturely, developing not only multipart stories with many twists and turns, but 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!
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 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 at Christmas, onthe big dayitself if they’re part of a comic’s read through. 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.