Tag Archives: Jim Salicrup

ViSiONARiES #2: THE BEGiNNiNG

This gorgeous Andy Wildman cover 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 spots some apparently noble knights talk 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 in order to fulfill his ambitions he’ll need underlings so 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.

It may be over three decades later and it may be based on a toy line, but this is still a thrilling read.

Something else a comic can do is expose the inner thoughts of the characters and throughout Visionaries so far it’s used in abundance, and not in that annoying way of further describing what we can 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 rebuild or rule, 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 laugh 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 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 on Wednesday 19th May for #3 of Marvel UK‘s Visionaries.

ViSiONARiES #1: THE END

They were the latest toy line from Hasbro, the latest cartoon from Sunbow and now the latest comic from Marvel. With Transformers and Action Force (G.I. Joe) still riding high what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately this sure thing wasn’t to last, but while it did the Visionaries brought with them one of the greatest 80s cartoons, some of my favourite childhood toys and what could’ve been one of the greatest comic book epics.

But we’re not here to dwell on what could’ve been, this site is all about celebrating these classic comics by reading them in real time and on this day back in 1988 #1 of a brand new Marvel UK title appeared in the shops. While it does have a lovely glossy cover it only contains 24 pages, the same as the weekly Transformers which seemed strange for a monthly. Inside it was cover-to-cover strip action too. No extra features, no fact-files, letters page requests, back up story and no sign of a Lew Stringer humour strip. What kind of comic was this without that last item?

What it did have for kids in the 80s was a free holographic sticker. Featuring two images of Merklynn the wizard, one a 2D outline and the other a 3D image of his face, I can’t begin to describe how bloody difficult this was to photograph.

Inside, Transformers colourist Steve White is the editor and welcomes us to the premiere issue with Vision On, an editorial page which looks a lot like the HQ one from The Real Ghostbusters. Other than that, the comic is made up of 19 pages of strip, two Marvel UK adverts and another for the toys and that’s yer lot. It’s still an excitable introduction though and hypes the strip very well.

The End… The Beginning is adapted by Jim Salicrup (Jurassic Park, Transformers, Spider-Man) from Flint Dille‘s (Transformers: The Movie and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoons) screenplay of the cartoon’s first episode. In the States, Marvel’s Star Comics released Visionaries bi-monthly (much like their parent company had with Transformers originally). The premiere issue from October the previous year had been a double-length edition, but here in the UK the origin story was split into two and spread over the first two months. This means none of our characters actually become ‘Visionaries’ this issue.

Set on the planet Prysmos, Merklynn the wisened old wizard brings portents of doom as the three suns begin to align, signalling the end of the Age of Science and the beginning of a new Age of Magic. Angered at their reliance on technology, Merklyn states he’s watched humans grow weaker for ages, a hint that he’s older than we think.

He has a point. It would appear that from birth to death technology is on hand to answer to these humans’ every whim. Even in this restaurant, sitting on the side of Iron Mountain, we see people being fed their food by robots, after the robot chefs have cooked it and the robot waiters have served it. They don’t even have to bother their brains with the task of choosing what they want to eat, instead their dietary requirements are scanned by the maître d’.

Then the suns align.

In an instant the world is plunged into darkness. The restaurant crumbles and falls, no longer held in place by the advanced machinery and is destroyed completely as it hits the ground far below. To prove to the people around him this is truly the new Age of Magic, Merklynn teleports the diners to safety. All around them their world has changed forever in the blink of an eye.

Completely out of their depth, unused to thinking for themselves, the first words anyone utters as the world ends around them is, “Anyone know a good restaurant near here?”. A brief moment of humour before the horrors on the next page.

The Age of Science has ended and the beginning of the Age of Magic is a terrifying and violent place. The once peaceful human race, who didn’t want for anything, soon descend into barbarism. But as society crumbles a new order slowly rises up “cobbled together from bits and pieces of the old”.

The useless technology all around them is melted down and used as protective armour and weapons, a necessity in these new times. From the villages emerge knights, some ruling with iron fists and led by Darkstorm, others aligning themselves with Leoric, the former mayor of New Valarak who witnessed first-hand Merklynn in the restaurant.

There’s some great imagery throughout this issue, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Romeo Tanghai, colours by Julianna Ferriter and lettering by Janice Chiang. In particular the fight scenes are exciting and during one particularly brutal confrontation the skies light up with a familiar face (inside a familiar free hologram-like shape) and a booming voice.

Merklynn tells the knights of his Iron Mountain, where the destruction began. Inside, great power resides, power enough to rebuild the world and take command of this new age, to rise up and become strong again. It’s obviously too much of an opportunity for someone like Darkstorm to pass up so he and his men (the grovelling but loyal Mortdredd and the brutal mercenary-for-hire Reekon) take off to claim the power for themselves.

They believe these times call for a tough leader, someone unafraid to make unpopular choices in order for their planet to survive, no matter the cost to the people. On the other end of the spectrum Leoric, Ectar and Feryl believe only by working together can the populace regrow their communities and flourish. In the background we also meet characters like Cravex who wishes to use the political climate to his advantage (he had the voice of Starscream in the cartoon, appropriately enough) and during the final pages we’re also introduced to Galadria, Arzon and my favourite Witterquick.

“Anyone know a good restaurant near here?”

The first words uttered after the apocalypse

With the world building complete we move to the main part of the origin story and the quest for their magical powers. Iron Mountain’s labyrinthine interior is home to tests of intelligence, fitness, strength, wisdom etc. Just as the toys had set out each figure’s specific ability, these tests are our chance to be introduced to them in a more natural way than resorting to the kind of long winded exposition we got in the earliest issues of Transformers.

For example, Galadria uses her keen senses to stop herself falling for a trap like the men ahead of her, Witterquick uses his speed to avoid deadly fast moving spikes and Arzon’s love of flight sees him escape danger and soar inside. But not before we’ve had a cheeky wink towards their Hasbro stablemates; as a ladder transforms into dozens of intertwined snakes Arzon exclaims, “There’s more than meets the eye here.” Brilliant.

Our original six characters from earlier in the story round things off for us this issue when they discover a giant stone gargoyle, curled up in a corner and snoring loudly. It’s alive! But at least it’s asleep. Sneaking past it, Mortdredd puts on a weakened voice and tricks Leoric’s team into coming to the aid of an apparently fallen comrade.

There’s actually a nice bit of humour here too. Mortdredd’s character sucks up to Darkstorm constantly, eager to please him by carrying out any sinister task no matter how horrible, keen to have his protection. Darkstorm is constantly exhausted of the grovelling but recognises Mortdredd’s diabolical talents are crucial to his plans.

It’s at this point the story, which has been building momentum nicely from its atmospheric beginning, gets unceremoniously cut in half.

Below is the final strip page. If you look closely at the penultimate panel you’ll see a metal portcullis and it’s this Reekon is controlling with that lever. This could be easily missed so its effectiveness as a cliffhanger is debatable. From memory of the annual, showing the next panel or two at the top of the next page would’ve been much better, with maybe a ‘Next Issue’ box filling out the rest of the page.

The overriding feeling I get from this issue is these are well developed characters, grounded in a magical kind of reality, their reactions and relationships with each other feeling very real. All in all a well thought out world full of possibilities for future storytelling and all before we’ve even concluded the origin tale.

It’s great fun reading something so full of far-fetched magical elements, action and adventure, yet has such believable characters at its centre. This gives real meat to the bones of the story and something to care about and draw you back to find out what happens to them.

By the end the lack of anything other than the strip itself isn’t an issue anymore, the story being very satisfying in its own right. It certainly wouldn’t be the last Marvel UK comic to go this route either. Slimer, Alf, Inspector Gadget and others simply repackaged their American comics on larger paper with a new editorial and maybe a letters page.

Speaking of other Marvel comics.

Apart from the cover and editorial, the only non-strip pages are a toy advert (which you can see in this previous post) and two promotional pages for other comics which I’ve included above, because why not? The Real Ghostbusters had just launched this same month and Thundercats was celebrating its first birthday by this stage. The ‘Cats had also been launched as a bi-monthly in the States by Star Comics, proving popular enough to warrant going monthly from #8 onwards.

Despite knowing in advance a series won’t last long, I don’t let that take away any of the enjoyment of reading them and I’ve loved reading this! A whole month does feel like an agonisingly long time right now though. But I shall follow my own rules and wait.

Issue two shall be read and reviewed on Wednesday 21st April. Join me then, won’t you?

ViSiONARiES: PREViEW iSSUE

A few days ago I introduced (or for some of you, reintroduced) you to the Visionaries, one of several attempts by toy companies in the 80s to bring back the hologram as the Next Big Thing. While they weren’t successful enough to last beyond one holiday season, the toys and in particular the cartoon remain among the best childhood memories I have. Now it’s time to check our their comic from Marvel UK.

Before the old Oink Blog and Beyond site crashed and went the way of the pig sty in the sky, I’d already covered the regular issues of this comic and was about to carry on with their annual and the merge into Transformers. For anyone who has already read them these will not be reprinted blog posts. Brand new scans and photos alongside completely rewritten reviews for this shiny new site will hopefully entice you back once again to the world of Prysmos.

We start with a look at the four-page mini-comic given away free with Transformers to promote the upcoming monthly back on this day, 19th March in 1988.

There was certainly a big push in the pages of this comic but from what I know that wasn’t the case in any other Marvel comic. It could be because they knew chances of it lasting weren’t great with what was happening with the franchise in America and it would most likely end up merging with this title. Or it could simply be because Transformers was by far their biggest selling comic at this point.

IPC/Fleetway would give away preview issues with several titles so by comparison it’s strange Marvel didn’t do the same thing. Maybe this was just the Marvel way, to target the one title with the audience most likely to read the new comic.

Either way, they took centre stage in #158 of The Transformers and Action Force, with an extra four pages of higher quality print in the middle of the comic and the main part of the Transformation editorial given over to the Knights of the Magical Light.

Unlike the previous Action Force (G.I. Joe) mini-comic there’s no new material here. Instead we get highlights of the origin story of the Visionaries to come in the first two issues, a look at the toys and a competition. But there is at least one thing I hadn’t seen before getting my hands on this preview and that’s the cover image.

Made of a thicker, glossier paper stock than the rest of the comic it really stands out and that cover is just glorious as a result. It must’ve been a real feast for the eyes for youngsters in the middle of their weekly dose of Cybertronian action, something so completely and utterly different and new compared to what they’d been reading.

The strange thing about that image though is I don’t recognise half of those characters. The two main figures in the middle, the ones on the bottom-left and that craft on the top-left aren’t featured in the cartoon or the toy line. Perhaps it’s an early concept piece.

Before The Real Ghostbusters cartoon was released a beautiful concept art poster did the rounds, with the team speeding along in Ecto-1 but all with the same coloured overalls like the movie and Egon’s hair was still brown and not as sausage roll-like. These things changed obviously but the image was still used in magazines and comics to publicise the series for a long time, even given away with some toys. The same thing could have happened with Visionaries.

So back to the strip itself, the thing that’s going to draw readers into the new ongoing comic coming less than a week later. As I said, it’s made up of little snippets from the end of the comic’s first story, The End… The Beginning. It’s a bit weird to show the story’s climax before readers had a chance to read it. It also doesn’t show their powers being used, surely a key ingredient of the comic which they could’ve shown off, given how that’s the whole point behind the intro to the cartoon.

If I’d been collecting Transformers at this point originally (I didn’t start until #192 as a child), none of these points would’ve mattered though and it’s probably just me being an old fuddy-duddy today. Having missed the first episode of the cartoon, the chance to see a little glimpse into their origins would’ve had me hyped for the complete story, so really I guess it did do its job after all. The bright yellow banners advertising the release date for their comic aren’t easily missed either.

No credits are given here but they are as follows: Flint Dille and Jim Salicrup (writers), Mark Bagley (pencils), Romeo Tanghai (inks), Janice Chiang (letters) and Julianna Ferriter (colours). Flint was the scriptwriter of Sunbow Productions‘ pilot episode and this was adapted by Jim for the comic.

There’s a very brief summing up of the story before the strip and then several pages are edited together to make up the two-and-a-half pages here. We see a couple of characters get their magical totems and a reference is made to becoming them, but I’m not sure how clear this all would’ve been to the uninitiated who hadn’t seen the cartoon. Perhaps a few panels showing them in action would’ve been a good idea.

With the “Read the further adventures of the Visionaries…” in the yellow bars it kind of gives the impression that the summary box is all we’re going to get about their origin and the monthly would carry on after this. Thankfully that wouldn’t be the case of course.

On the fourth page we get an image of the individual Hasbro figures available, with more to come packaged in with the vehicles. There’s also an offer for what looks like a brilliant poster and some fun holographic stickers. I’d definitely have been pestering my parents for this if I’d known about it.

Finally, a video of the first three episodes of the cartoon was the prize in a competition. These episodes were edited together to form an hour-long origin much like how the first Transformers VHS cassette merged together its first three episodes into a “Feature-Length” one-hour episode. For anyone already familiar with the franchise this would certainly have whetted the appetite for Marvel’s newest comic.

REAL TIME MAGIC

The first issue of Visionaries appeared on newsagents’ shelves only five days later. While our weekly comics were regular Saturday releases that wasn’t necessarily the case with Marvel’s monthlies. So the following Thursday would be the day this new epic tale would commence. (Now, 33 years later it falls on a Wednesday, just to keep you on your toes.)

It would ultimately be a curtailed epic but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading all over again.

Join me for the real time read through beginning Wednesday 24th March and we can enjoy an in-depth look at its beginnings, meet its characters, enjoy its world building and delve into its myths and magic and what could have been.