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.
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.
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, theKnights of the Magical Light’s final two strips appeared as back ups 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, withunfamiliar 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 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 part moves up a gear. Merklynn is desperately 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, but this fact 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 villages 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 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.
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 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 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 villages, 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 and puts 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 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 reviewed on the blog on 29th October 2021. It won’t quite be the end though, as you’ll find out next time.