By John Waltrip (Writer/Artist) and Jason Waltrip (Writer)
(10) John Waltrip draws this issue of LEGEND OF ZOR, and brings with him again an excellent sense of page design, panel flow, and drama. It's good that it has that going for it, because otherwise it's a leisurely paced issue which serves simply to establish Zor in the new order of Tirol and the various ways in which he will be pulled for the remainder of the series. He meets his captive father, who tells him to do as they say for now. He shares his discoveries with the Elders, who literally tell him, "We'll be in touch." Arla finds him and tells him to join her in the Underground, to fight Nimuul's regime. And all along, all Zor wants is to remember what he learned from the Regess, to find the key to drawing out the power within the Flower of Life.
(9) There are touches of design throughout I rather like, including the Tirolian Empire emblem, which combines the Robotech Masters' obsession with the number three with the suggestion of, say, a shattered clock face, something broken or corrupted. The imperial guards' uniforms appear to be a bridging design, halfway between the Greco-Roman style of the first issue and the almost biomechanical look of the Bioroid Terminators. The armor is almost there, and the helmet has the dehumanizing mirrored faceplate in place. Turn the cape into the beetle-like back armor with skirting and we're nearly there.
Likewise, at the end of the issue, as Zor seeks to conjure power from the Flowers, the uniform he wears is nearly his clone-descendent's Bioroid pilot uniform.
Looking over Zor's "science stuff" as he conducts his experiments, it's clear that Jason and John have reviewed the iconography of the Robotech Masters episodes of ROBOTECH. The Flower in the glass pod, the fluids and gases rushing through networks of tubes, Zor's mindstorm of swirling galaxies as he finally recalls those memories locked away. The whole thing looks right.
(8) I have never been a fan of Zor's father being the key to his cooperation with the changed Tirolian government. Watch Zor in his presentation to the Elders and scientists; he is still genuinely excited about his discovery, and the determination with which he works to draw power from the Flower of Life is all about proving himself right, arrogance mixed into his natural curiosity. It looks to me like he doesn't NEED a reason to play ball with the government; his own thirst for knowledge and need to be right provide drive enough.
My take on Zor based upon his appearance in the Robotech Masters episodes of ROBOTECH was that he set this all into motion naively and then spent the end of his (first) life seeking to atone for all the death he caused. ("The Protoculture has brought only DEATH!") Without the father and the bad guys threatening him it's a simple story of "what hath I wrought," good intentions going wrong, but when you add the father he starts off conjuring Protoculture from the Flower at gunpoint. It's not the power of Protoculture that corrupts Tirol; it's already corrupt when he arrives home. He creates Protoculture for an oppressive regime that's threatening his only living family, and he knows from the get-go that it will be used for evil by a mustache-twirling villain. The story loses some of its shades of gray that way.
(7) Does my memory deceive me, or aren't the petals of the Flower of Life supposed to be pink?
So if you've got an entire planet on which the only two life forms are the Invid and the Flower of Life, that begs a lot of questions. For one thing, what did the Invid subsist on before Haydon gifted them the Flowers? For another, Zor says that the Invid "return everything to it." What does he mean by that exactly? Is that simply a polite way of saying they fertilize its fields with waste byproduct? Isn't that basically the life cycle of all herbivores? What do the Invid do with the Flower that makes their relationship special? He goes on to describe the process by which the Invid manipulate their physical structure and that of their environ through the use of the Flower without explaining it -- we seem to skip over the first half of that sentence, presumably because the authors are writing a character who has an exponentially greater grasp on this stuff than they do. Unless he's saying it is through their symbiotic relationship that the Invid transform themselves and the world around them, which brings me back to the question: what does the Flower of Life get out of all this? It empowers the Invid to transform themselves and the surface of Optera. In return, what does IT get?
It's kind of funny reading this after watching "First Contact," in which Dolza says to the other Zentraedi that through Protoculture they "evolved." The Flower of Life as catalyst for evolution through Protoculture -- well yes, that is something the TV series tells us repeatedly, isn't it? Suddenly that feels as deliberately seeded as I said Lisa's remarks about clones (in "The Big Escape") and emotions (in "Blue Wind") were. Except that Dolza, by all appearances, actually knows what he's talking about.
(6) Look at Zor's growing obsession. He starts off thinking and ends monologuing to an empty room. Albeit, from the art, monologuing with a closed mouth; maybe some of the Invid's telepathy rubbed off on him already? But again I say to you, really, shouldn't this have been enough motivation for him?
I'm also a little frustrated with the fact that the monologue is so cliche. "I'll show them. I'll show them ALL." No, that doesn't sound like every frustrated scientist on the verge of a breakthrough we've ever seen in every TV show, book, and movie ever. Then again, subtlety has never been the Waltrips' strong suit.
Here's another thought: if none of them have the vision to see how the Flower could be used, Zor, then why are you willing to tap into its power in their name, and give them access to that power? This is exactly the shortsighted Zor I described earlier, the one who sees the possibilities of that which will soon be called Protoculture as a force for good in the universe without considering the potential negative consequences. But it would work so much better, SO MUCH BETTER, if he didn't have an inkling that these guys are all "the bad guys."
(5) Hey, there's the pink highlights! And besides the Robotech Masters episodes of ROBOTECH, the other key influence on the science iconography seems to be atomic age science fiction movies, which does make a bit of sense: a lot of those had the "what hath I wrought" thing going on in them, scientific discovery turning bad and creating a monster. I can't look at that second panel without thinking of dozens of black & white and Technicolor sci-fi flicks I remember seeing on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, all the twisty-tubes and blinking lights and Zor's hands on gleaming chrome knobs.
Look at him grasping that burning Flower, the charred petals making their slow descent over his red silhouette, hand to head as he wonders what he's doing wrong. That's my favorite panel of the montage; the presentation of the scene evokes Zor's frustration louder than any outburst would. He's really not an outburst kind of guy, really. You look at him at the bottom of the page and it's clear he's disappointed in himself more than anything else.
(4) While Zor's work towards his discovery of Protoculture feels fleshed out, the introduction of the Underground, his interaction with Arla, and his refusal to join her feels like an outline, like a series of story beats rather than a conversation between lovers who haven't seen each other in years. It's just so many plot points dumped in our laps. Yes, there's a rebellion in place, yes Arla is a part of it as they telegraphed she would be last issue, and Zor cannot help them because he's still working for the Empire.
Should we assume that Arla asks nothing of the Regess he refers to because she's preoccupied with her own mission, to lure him around to providing the rebellion with the new power source he's developing? And isn't it a cute bit of irony that she refers to "we" being interested in his discoveries, he turns around and asks what SHE wants? He's been holed up with his science for so long he's practically forgotten about his betrothed, but now that she's found him, he chides her for being more interested in her Underground, fighting for the freedom of his planet, than in him. Of course, this doesn't occur to her, because she exists only to give Zor another emotional reason to oppose Nimuul's new order.
(3) More of Zor sleeping while things happen inside his head. This is kind of a running thing with him, isn't it? What bothers me about this, and I seem to recall this being more of a problem with the over-arcing Daley & Luceno version of ROBOTECH rather than something particularly native to the Waltrips' take on things, is that Zor doesn't exactly discover the means of creating Protoculture. What is says right here is that even without the Regess being aware of it, she has slipped him this particular sliver of information, the key to unlocking the power hidden within the Flower of Life. It's apparently something that he could not have found on his own; despite the fact that he's been set up as a guy who's been working on bio-energy experiments beforehand, he couldn't unlock the riddle. So why even set these ducks up in a row? Why does the space traveler who finds the Flower of Life have to be an expert in this particular field if he's not going to be able to figure it out on his own? It's all part of Haydon's grand plans, planting this big reveal in the Regess's mind so she can pass it someone who can push things further along, so that the Flower and Protoculture can make their circuit and go along as he has foreseen and ... oh hell, it's been too many years since I read THE END OF THE CIRCLE last, I can't remember what all he was getting at, just that this is all needlessly complicated and stupid.
(2) A secret that could be coaxed from the memories the Regess passed to him "only by sheer will." I guess if you're talking about Zor's desire to unlock the secret of coaxing Protoculture from the Flower, sure, he certainly has the will. And you look at the list of things that could not do it, then you do see qualities that Zor does not possess; he's not one to be deterred or frustrated by his failures, I did just note that he barely seems to have given Arla a thought since he got back until she snuck right into his laboratory, so not much love there, and even the Elders don't seem to have his hatred at the moment, despite what's been done to his father. He does give that vacant look when he says they'll get what's theirs in time, but that's been set aside. Does this make him the ideal vessel for the secrets of Protoculture, this monomaniacal drive towards discovery? I keep returning to this because there's a lot of characterization and beats here that match up with the way I see Zor, and then we just have these pesky characters and ideas swirling around the story that muddy up his clear throughline.
(1) What the final image of this issue most reminds me of, appropriately, is the journey through the galaxy we see in "Daydreamer," as Musica sings the song "Flower of Life" for Bowie. The odd thing about it is that the person most affected by it is Dana Sterling; the impression you almost get is that she's the one seeing these images, which is why she rushes in and asks Musica what that song was about. (Meanwhile, Zor is outside being a smug jerk, waiting for Nova to come along and haul Musica away. He seems unmoved by her song. Then again, why should he be? By this point he's convinced that nothing good has ever come from Robotech, and nothing good ever will.) There's a lot of interesting stuff built up in the Masters episodes about Dana and her bond with Zor Prime, and if you were taking Zor's mental flash here, filled with galaxies and unspooling in his mind the secrets of the Flower of Life, as valid and then took into account all the visions Dana had through contact with the Flower of Life and even, in that one case, just HEARING the Tirolian song of the Flower, you could definitely do something interesting with Dana's place in the complex web of Protoculture -- ESPECIALLY since she then takes it upon herself in the post-Masters era to be the custodian of the surviving Tirolian people.
A shame nobody's ever going to do anything with that. Instead we get Haydonites foreseeing and not foreseeing things. Stupid Haydonites.
TOMORROW: The Protoculture Factory. Pollenators. Clone-slaves. The Zentraedi. Whatever Zor's will can be twisted to desire, the Flower of Life can deliver into his hands. Be here for LEGEND OF ZOR #4, "The Shaping."
Labels: 365 Days of Robotech, comics, Genesis, Waltrips