DAY EIGHTEEN: The Legend of Zor #4 - The Shaping (1992)

By Jason Waltrip (Writer/Artist) and John Waltrip (Writer)

(10) The title has a dual-meaning, if you're overly ROBOTECH-literate. Not only does it refer to the way that Robotech-era Tirol is shaped by the events of this issue, but it also seems a reference to the Shapings of the Protoculture, that Daley & Luceno-penned conceit that Protoculture itself has a will, instilled in it I suppose by Haydon, to shape events to its needs and desires. A kind of hand of destiny, if you will, that basically exists to fill in plot holes and explain away some of the larger leaps of the novels' narrative. Indeed, if you're following the concept of the Shapings, you might even say that the rise of Robotech-era Tirol is the work of the Shapings, setting up all the dominos so that it can eventually flick its wrist and knock them down, leading towards the SDF-1 making its epic crash on Macross Island.

That is, if you're so inclined. Me, not so much.

My guess is that the Waltrips scripted the series to play to each brother's artistic strengths. Where John's issues are more deliberately paced, allowing him to pad the story out with artistic flourishes, panel progressions that play with space and time, and panoramic landscapes, Jason's are straightforward narratives jam-packed with story. This particular issue must take place over a number of years, covering as it does the creation of the Protoculture Factory, the development of the Pollenators, then the clone society of Tirol, and then the Zentraedi as miners, and ultimately ending with the Zentraedi's transformation into warriors as they literally trample the unrest and rebellion in the city of Tiresia.

(9) However, Jason Waltrip does get one big two-page spread this issue, the reveal of the Protoculture Factory, that device that ultimately winds up stowed away in the reflex furnaces of Zor's battle fortress. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time it's actually visually depicted prior to it being all overgrown with planet life in the Robotech Masters episodes of ROBOTECH.

The Waltrips smooth over something that had been bugging me ever since I read the Comico Graphic Novel. The description of Protoculture there made it sound like it was merely energy conveyed from arrested cellular separation, which makes sense ... except that when you watch the animation, and even moreso when you read the novels, you get the sense that Protoculture has to be a substance. We see it pumped through tubes, the corrupted Invid soak in the stuff, it flows through the veins of the Zentraedi. It cannot simply be a reaction, it has to be a THING. The Waltrips state here that Protoculture is a plasmic state of the Flower of Life following it being put through the Protoculture Matrix. (And okay, Protoculture Matrix IS the term they use throughout LEGEND OF ZOR, but Factory is the term that the TV series uses more-or-less consistently, which is why I prefer it.)

Cabell spends the first several pages of this issue basically telling Zor over and over again, "The Elders are bad, and they will use this to do bad things!" Again, no subtlety there. Oh, but on that note there is one nice artistic touch on the first page, where Zor looks up in profile with a smile on one side, speaking of all the wonders Protoculture will bring. However, after Cabell tells him all the terrible things the Elders will do, the third and final panel in the row is Zor in profile facing the other way, downcast, remarking how he has no choice for the sake of his father's life. Admittedly it doesn't work quite as well as I make it sound, but the idea is nice.

Again, the idea is put out there that this is acting on Zor's will, not by the means of the science or the mechanical procedure of turning the blasted thing on. Ooh, quasi-mystical Protoculture Shaping nonsense! *sigh*

(8) Some time passes, as we can tell by the completion of the Royal Hall, and only now Zor comes up with a means of creating more Flowers of Life. One wonders how many the science team took aboard the Azstraph if, as the Waltrips state, the entire WORLD of Tirol has now been "rejuvenated" by the miracle of Protoculture.

What Zor has come up with is the Pollenators, or as Carl Macek calls them time and again in ROBOTECH ART 3, the "Cha-Chas." Based upon an animal design we first see in the Robotech Masters episode "False Start," the Pollenators were developed for SENTINELS as a marketable design to expand Matchbox's ROBOTECH toy range out into the world of plush dolls. The funny thing is, if you look at ROBOTECH ART 3, Macek intended for them to be another part of the Flower of Life reproductive process native to Optera, not the artificial genetic construct we see Zor developing here. However, this does make more sense (the only thing the loss of the Pollenators on Optera takes away is more of a sense that the spore-Flowers from the reflex engines are "mutated," as the Masters and the narrator keep assuring us they are), and I like that this gives us the narrative snowball of Nimuul wondering if Zor can create ONE lifeform, can he make another? Like, I don't know, maybe people?

(7) So yes, clones. You'll notice first that they aren't arranged in threes, as they are in the TV series. You'll also notice that they're still all fleshy colors, not that sort of pale greenish tone you see in the TV series. On the other hand, the chamber Nimuul is relaxing in, waited on hand and foot by his new clones, does look like something out of the Masters episodes of the TV series. Likewise, Nimuul makes a nod to the high position of the Muse-class clones that is half-heartedly played up in the TV series, moreso in the novels and RPG, when he tells Vard that the music is one of the few things that keeps his new clone society in line. Vard himself even makes note a page later that they're bound by "harmonic programming."

Nimuul orders legions of Bioroid Terminators to hit the streets to squelch protestors who insist that the clone populous should be free, and clone production should cease. The protestors regroup and decide to try and break Senator Zol out of the detention center, to bring him into the fold of the rebellion and break Zor free from the yoke of the Robotech Masters. (And yes, all of a sudden they're being referred to as the "Masters.") The attack on the detention center is poorly realized on the page; there's an overly literal visual interpretation of what is said in dialog, "For every one we shoot, two take its place!" and besides that there's no sense of place or scope. The rebels rush the detention center, try to take out the guards, realize they're grossly outnumbered, and retreat.

(6) There are, Vard tells Nimuul, a million Zentraedi mining ore on Fantoma. Based on Nimuul's reaction, it's early yet in the history of the Zentraedi. But only later that day, maybe later that week at the latest, Nimuul is turning them into warriors. Perhaps this is a rolling change; the impression that's always given is that just like that, a switch was flipped and all the Zentraedi were reprogrammed from mining to warfare. Fantoma still has minerals yet to give up for the sake of the Tirolian star fleet; they still have far more use for Zentraedi up there than they do on Tirol's surface, crushing a rebellion that appears to consist of dozens of citizens at most.

Gotta wonder where they got all those giant guns from on such short notice. The armored suits were clearly designed as environment suits for tromping around on Fantoma originally, and didn't need any further reinforcement, given the fact that the Zentraedi at first are only being used to take out a small-scale uprising of under-armed citizens clad in white and blue t-shirts.

(5) So instead of breaking Zol out of prison, the rebels decide that the Imperial Science Institute is a better target. Explain to me how they think that if they couldn't rescue one man they they can surely destroy an even better guarded target, the place where all their enemy's weapons are developed and produced. Sure, easier goal, blowing a place sky-high rather than breaking someone out and getting him past the guards alive, but the place where they make all the clones and the guns is going to be OVERRUN WITH CLONES WITH GUNS.

On top of that, tell me, how stupid is it that the entire Tirolian Empire's supply of weapons, clones, and starships is constructed in a single place? I'm going to choose to think that this half-baked rebellion got some bad intel and the Robotech Masters aren't so stupid and arrogant that they put all their chickens in a single basket. Mind you, this fits in perfectly with the notion the SENTINELS comics and novels were built on that each planet in the Robotech Empire had just a single city that mattered, and once that city was conquered or freed the entire planet was then in either the conqueror or freedom fighter's possession.

(4) Okay, which is worse? The true believer going on and on about Tirol's glorious expansion, or the unwilling participant who nonetheless does everything he's told and without whom NONE of this would be possible? Zor keeps saying he didn't mean for any of this to be used the way it's all BEEN used, but Cabell laid it all out for him back on page one and he lamented even then, before the Protoculture Matrix was more than a schematic on a screen, that he had to do it anyway, for the sake of his father's life and Tirol's energy needs.

Also, was Zor paying one lick of attention to Vard way back when they were both candidates for the Techno-Voyage program? Vard has always been a team player for the state. He's always played the game to get what he wants out of life.

Question: Nimuul suggested that before Protoculture, Tirol was STILL dependent on the other worlds of the Local Group. If Tirol annexed them, though, doesn't that eliminate the problem, or is this more of an ego thing than an economic thing? Does Nimuul just want the Tirolians to be able to stand proud, their world no longer dependent on its subjects? I bring that up here because Zor says he didn't intend for his discoveries to, among other things, result in the creation of "a star fleet to conquer the Local Group." I thought this whole snowball started rolling down the hill because Nimuul proposed taking over the Local Group. They hadn't done it yet until the discovery of Protoculture? No resources to do so? That's one area where this series is lacking, providing details of the things that don't directly involve Zor himself, especially as regards the other worlds affected by Zor's discoveries.

(3) Either Zor is playing the long game he's suggested he's working on since the last issue, or he's still more concerned about his pure research over the effect it'll have on Tirol. Based on what he said to Vard moments ago, I'm gonna guess the former, though we've been given no indication what cards he now holds. On top of that, who would believe him, given what he's already given Nimuul and the other power-hungry nationalists running the Empire.

I still think this whole story would work better if it wasn't so obvious from the get-go that the Elders were going to use the discovery of Protoculture for nefarious purposes. The other interesting thing I was considering was that you've got Nimuul indulging in obvious carnal pleasure with big-busted clone women when Vard barges in with news of the prison break. Yet the Robotech Masters we know from the TV series place themselves above humanity because they no longer have any use for emotion; they are allegedly ruled by pure logic, though every once in a while the ruling Masters betray a hint of it here and there. After all, they do seek immortality, which does seem to imply some sort of ego. To play out as a more sensible extension of what we see in the TV series, Nimuul would probably have to be less of a cackling T.R. Edwards clone and more someone who rises to power from within Zor's own world of science, or at least a scholar of some sort. Perhaps a mathematician, or maybe a physicist, from which we could get to the obsession with the number three which is also notably absent from this version of the rise of the Robotech Empire.

 (2) Breetai and Exedore both appear in the group of Zentraedi brought in to counter the rebels' attack on the Imperial Science Institute. Why would they send someone so ill suited for combat into battle? Indeed, what function would Exedore serve in the mining operation? I'm sure this was explored somewhat in the SENTINELS novels, or maybe END OF THE CIRCLE; I vaguely recall hints of a scene between Breetai and Exedore when they were still doing the mining thing, before reprogramming for the purpose of war, but it's late as I write this and I'm not in the mood for the research. I'm just going to hold to the point that putting Exedore on the battlefield is a weird thing to do, especially clad as he is in his advisor's robes and NOT body armor.

I assume this was just the latest batch of Zentraedi that the Institute had cooked up, that they were quickly programmed with a new set of instructions, and were equipped with hastily constructed upscaled rifles. There's no hint of a ship having transported them back from Fantoma, and the turnaround from concept to reality was awfully quick.

(1) Lots and lots of changes take place very quickly here, but the whole thing is brought tumbling down by the society of the Robotech Masters not quite evolving in the direction we see it landing in the TV series and the lamest rebellion ever. How could three or four dozen men with a cache of stolen laser guns think they could topple a government with its sights set on interplanetary domination? It's madness. On the other hand, Nimuul's reaction to these rebels is sheer overkill. Then again, it is an effective way to put a quick end to any THOUGHT of rebellion from this point onward.

Oh, and Nimuul decides that Zol must die in order to keep the fire of rebellion dead after his Zentraedi stamp them out. Except that he can't let on about it, because he obviously still needs Zor for a while longer. Again, this aspect of the plot remains a problem from a logistical standpoint.

TOMORROW: Oh god, I'm going to spend three or four hours crawling through a recap episode ...

"Be sure to stay tuned for 'Gloval's Report,' the next thrilling chapter in the saga of ROBOTECH."

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  • I'll say it again: this series needed to be a lot longer *at the very least*. No matter what the writers try to do, it still feels cramped and rushed. That still might have been a problem in a longer series, but then again it might not.

    About Nimuul "indulging" himself with the clones: it works because it's one of the few times that gradual change is invoked in the series. Nimuul is still a crappy villain, but at least not *everything* is happening at once. I can see the Masters at the beginning behaving as a decadent empire would, only to degenerate into their detached personas as they age, perhaps because Protoculture addiction is making them screwy.

    Besides fleshing out Zor's A-plot, an expanded version of the series series should also have explored a bit more of the Zentraedi's origins. The title is "The Legend of Zor", but here, it would have been a good opportunity to fill in other parts of the Robotech backstory.

    Okay, I'll bite: No, the novels never explain what Exedore's purpose was before the Zentreadi were reconditioned into warriors. All that we get is the explanation, in both the novels and the older comics, that Exedore was the first Zentraedi created, a failure because he wasn't strong or large enough. The materials then vary a little bit, but vaguely suggest he only became a historian after the reconditioning, with no idea what else he might have been doing.

    (I also wonder how exactly Exedore is connected to Cabell, something which the Sentinels comics mentioned, in keeping with the novels, but is never noted here)

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 18 July, 2010 11:29  

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