DAY EIGHTEEN: The Legend of Zor #4 - The Shaping (1992)
(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.
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*
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."