DAY TEN: The Legend of Zor #1 - The Thirsting (1992)

By Jason Waltrip & John Waltrip (Words & Art)

(10) You see that banner across the top of the book? That was significant. This is also how big a deal this series was at the time -- they splurged on color for this one, which I think was the first Eternity comic series not to feature the SENTINELS banner. (It was either this or INVID WAR; their first issues came out the same month, though I'm pretty sure this was the earlier of the two.) ROBOTECH comics hadn't been in color since Comico was publishing their TV adaptations, which ended in early 1989. And after this series ended they wouldn't be in color again until March 1998, when Antarctic Press started their bimonthly anthology title.

This was also the first comic series Jason & John Waltrip wrote. They'd been alternating art duties on ROBOTECH II: THE SENTINELS since late 1988, but that book was still being scripted by Malibu Graphics/Eternity Comics editors Tom Mason and Chris Ulm, It would be two more years before they'd turn writers on that title.

And of course, this is the earliest-set story anyone's ever officially chronicled in the ROBOTECH timeline. This is the Waltrip brothers' take on the life and discoveries of Zor, whose battlefortress crash landed on Earth in the year 1999 in the hope that his foul Robotech Masters would never find it and the secrets he locked within it. Until this point, the only time we'd ever seen Zor in the present tense was in the earliest chapters of Daley & Luceno's first ROBOTECH novel GENESIS and the similarly-titled original graphic novel Comico published, which was written by Mike Baron from a story idea by Carl Macek. In that sequence, which is fundamentally the same across both the novel and its graphic counterpart, Zor is seeding a planet with Flower of Life seeds when the Invid suddenly attack. Zentraedi forces repel them, but Zor is killed in the battle. But before he dies, the SDF-1 lifts off from the planet and executes a space fold on autopilot (jibing with the narrator's remark in "Boobytrap" that "there was no sign of the alien crew").

So that was his end, dying and dismissing his flagship in order to preserve his secrets and keep them from those who perverted those secrets to their own ends. How did his story BEGIN, though?

(9) The Robotech Masters episodes of the TV series and THE SENTINELS had established that the Robotech Masters' society was strongly based on Greco-Roman culture and design -- columns, togas, and triumvirates. That design sense is extrapolated backwards in LEGEND OF ZOR; SENTINELS and Masters both show us a society in decline, SENTINELS showing us those left behind on a dying world and Masters showing us the chosen survivors of a society at its oh-so-mechanical endpoint, living on depleted colony ships and slowly dying from a lack of their key power source.

Interestingly the Tirolian Republic is suffering from the same thing when our story opens. Their world seems gleaming and new and full of life, certainly compared to the rotting husk of "the old and sick" we saw in the completed SENTINELS animation, but Senator Zol stands before his colleagues in the Senate and the ruling Elders and -- hamfistedly telling them things they should already know for our benefit -- explains that the planet is running short of energy sources and raw materials. They're running up trade deficits with other nearby worlds, most notably Karbarra, and while there's all kinds of minerals on the world they orbit, Fantoma, the gravitational and atmospheric forces of that world are terrible that they'd crush a Tirolian if he stepped foot on the planet.

This is all a big pitch Zol's making to continue his pet space program, which despite the fact that Zol paints it as their only hope for survival has so far borne little fruit and, as fellow Senator Nimuul points out, is one of the biggest drains on their resources. But Nimuul has a solution: annexing the Local Group worlds that hold so much of their debt, folding them into the Republic. This would also expand the reach of the space program, providing it with ports farther out. We never see this annexation depicted; what, do Tirolian Republic troops just show up one day, seize the capital, and install their own governing body?

(8) The Local Group worlds, of course, are the worlds of the Sentinels -- Karbarra, Garuda, Praxis, Haydon IV, Spheris, and Peryton. Considered the cornerstones of the Robotech Masters' empire, they would be conquered by the Invid in the late 2010's while the Robotech Masters made their long journey to Earth to seize the secrets of Robotechnology locked within the SDF-1. They wouldn't become self-governing again until their star system became rid of the Invid in the 2030's thanks to the help of Earth's Robotech Expeditionary Force.

The problem of Fantoma is being set up here so that it can be solved in a few issues time by the introduction of the Zentraedi, first developed by Zor as miners to exploit Fantoma's rich mineral supply.

As for our two key figures here, Zol is Zor's father. Mind you, the Waltrips finished plotting this series at the same time as Daley and Luceno's THE END OF THE CIRCLE came out, which offered its own theories as to Zor's parentage, but they just decided to roll with it. However, they did let certain revelations and ideas from THE END OF THE CIRCLE influence the naming of his antagonist; Nimuul is one of the three Robotech Elders, the overly wrinkly and long-haired rulers of the Robotech Masters seen briefly in the TV episode "Deja Vu." The other two are Hepsis and Fallagar; while they seem not to suit the needs of the Waltrips' narrative, I think the story would feel a little less spare if Nimuul at least had the appearance of co-equal, like-minded allies who would wind up being the other two legs of his triumvirate. They do appear later, but as little more than ciphers. They play more as advisors or counselors than as three-who-act-as-one.

(7) The first issue of LEGEND OF ZOR is twenty-six pages with two panoramic two-page spreads and a lot of talking and very deliberate pacing. Zor's introduction, for instance, is three pages of him running to a meeting, running late, juxtaposed with the scientists he's hoping to impress grumbling and checking their watches. While it feels lightweight, consisting only of eight scenes, each one shorter than the last, it's beautifully laid out and designed; John Waltrip is the artist for this issue, and both his attention to detail on the cityscapes and the rhythms of his page layouts are staggering. Pay attention to the way his characters move from panel to panel; the way he moves them around and places the panels next to each other gives a sense of what kind of camera movements you might have were this animated. The whole book has a very cinematic feel, between the vast sprawl of Tiresia and the way John uses establishing shots, cuts back and forth, and suggests zooms from one panel to the next.

Things in the establishing shots remind me of elements of other sci-fi franchises, albeit elements that came later. Obviously the senate and the rise-to-power scenario that begins here bears some similarities to the STAR WARS prequels, the first of which wouldn't see release for another seven years. Mind you, Coruscant operates on a much vaster scale than Tirol. The Tirolian hover cars also remind me of the Cybertronian vehicle mode designs from the TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON video game, which saw release another eleven years down the road; of course, those designs have their roots in futuristic TRANSFORMERS vehicle designs of years gone by, including the similar rounded hovercraft designs that appeared in the 1986 animated movie.

(6) Zor introduces his theories of drawing power from the natural energy collection processes of plant life which will ultimately bear fruit with the Flower of Life and its transformation into Protoculture. His demonstration does not go well.

Cabell, the elderly scientist and mentor to Rem in THE SENTINELS, is introduced here as Zor's teacher. In ROBOTECH ART 3, Carl Macek described Cabell as not particularly old for a Robotech Master and called him a contemporary of Zor, the last to remain on Tirol, not his teacher. I suspect the recasting of Cabell happened under Daley & Luceno's watch in the SENTINELS novels, though I don't have the books handy right now and haven't read them through in years (a shock to you all, I'm sure). For some reason I even want to think someone somewhere said Zor was supposed to have been Cabell's teacher; maybe it was in the original SENTINELS scripts? For all I know I'm utterly wrong and THE END OF THE CIRCLE features the flip from this take on the relationship. I'll take a look at all this later and get back to you on that one.

Either take works for me, honestly -- starting anew with fundamentally the same young man with Rem or an inversion of the relationship, the pupil having to teach his own reborn mentor everything he originally learned from him. Both create drama for Cabell's character in the SENTINELS era, and create drama for Rem when the big reveal drops.

(5) Vard forms one leg of Zor's unofficial triumvirate here; he's one of the two close contemporaries of Zor that we meet in the story, and the Waltrips sum him up pretty quickly: he's the pragmatic political type, easily corrupted and a very simple counterpoint to Zor's more idealistic knowledge and understanding-driven outlook on life. It's obvious where this is going, maybe a little too obvious.

Oddly enough, he was actually introduced in the Comico graphic novel as a named "extra" on-board the SDF-1 -- which is why his final fate at the end of LEGEND OF ZOR is kind of a surprise. His destiny had already been written, and here the Waltrips go and up and change it.

(4) LEGEND OF ZOR is well crafted, but there are things about it that have always bothered me. Most of all is that early Tirol never feels alien enough for me. I understand that making it too alien would make it harder to relate to as a human reader living in the late 20th or early 21st century, but if there's anything the original ROBOTECH animation did right it was making the aliens just alien enough to seem apart from humanity. The Tirolians at this stage should have emotion and individuality, but they should still seem different from you and I. They should have their own gestures, customs, and idioms -- heck, go back and do some research into the time period of human history that their cultural design draws from and pilfer that for something that could be warped into an aspect of the Tirolian culture.

I suppose this is more a feature than a bug; when Zor returns from space, he returns to a changed Tirol. The more familiar the world seems at first, the more one can sympathize with his feeling out of sorts when he comes home to find the entire government's been turned upside-down, the culture changed, the skyline altered by new signs of opulence. It doesn't change the fact that I always frown a little at Zor being late for his date and hopping into dad's convertible to go pick up his girlfriend.

(3) Arla is Zor's other contemporary that we meet, and here she's basically just Zor's pretty blonde girlfriend. She doesn't really get any characterization for another issue or two; when she does, it becomes clear that she's supposed to be the counterpoint to his pal Vard, the rebellious angel on his shoulder to Vard's authoritarian devil. But no, right now she's just someone for Zor to confide in and share his nervous enthusiasm for the future with.

What I do find funny reading this right now is that the scene of Zor pointing at the stars and telling Arla that he's been accepted for the techno-voyage program somewhat parallels the scene of Karl Riber telling Lisa Hayes that he's been accepted for his post on Mars. I was going to say there's nothing deeper to this than a sense of deja vu, but I suppose the parallel does run a little deeper than that; both couples were discussing the future while their worlds stood on the cusp of a new and dangerous age fueled by the rise of Robotechnology -- Zor's journeys will lead to the discovery of that science, while Lisa and Karl's lives will be transformed and, well, ended as mankind begins to harness its power.

(2) There, that's along the lines of what I was asking for: "May Valivarre guide you, and keep you, and bring you safely home." A leftover turn of phrase from an age of sun worship? Ooh, that would be a touch of old religion, too. Nice.

Daley & Luceno translate the name of Zor's ship, the Azstraph, as the "Venture," which is boring. Again, culture, people! Name it after an ancient god, or a hero, or an explorer of Tirol's past. Not a verb. Use it as an excuse to develop their pre-Zor history.

We see Zor and Vard in hibernation, but while hundreds of (Tirolian) years pass for them, when they return two issues later all the same players are in place, albeit aged beyond what Zor and Vard have gone through. Daley and Luceno's ROBOTECH chronology only mentions Zor and the Robotech Masters in the events leading from his birth through his death. Still, it's not so hard to accept that Tirolian years are short and Tirolians live longer lives than human beings, especially given their advanced technology even at this point and the amazing technology yet to come once Protoculture comes into play.

(1) This first issue had a limited collector's edition with a cardstock cover, foil logo, and several pages of black & white bonus background pages. That special edition was $5.95, which I can't imagine paying for a comic book back in 1992; it still seems steep for a "special edition" today, numbered or not. Those bonus pages included a checklist of all of Jason and John's work so far for Malibu Graphics, early character art and the series proposal that was submitted to Harmony Gold along with blurbs about each of the characters, and the original illustrations that the Waltrips submitted that got them the gig drawing ROBOTECH II: THE SENTINELS as well as tryout pages for what appears to be a cute girl martial arts book called BUSHIDO that they were looking at doing work on before getting the ROBOTECH gig.

Now of course, while this is the only non-flashback take on the life of Zor in story form, this isn't the only interpretation of this era of ROBOTECH history that's out there. Kevin Siembieda wrote a lengthy and fairly detailed take on the rise and fall of the Tirolian Empire in his history of the Invid in the NEW GENERATION sourcebook (and he might have written some more in the SOUTHERN CROSS sourcebook, I forget; I think the Invid one was more complete), and when Rem is remembering the life of Zor in THE END OF THE CIRCLE we see some scenes that conflict with what is seen here. The most recent take on Tirolian history came to pass in last year's ROBOTECH: THE MASTERS SAGA sourcebook by Jason Marker, which made some interesting and logical leaps here and there -- some of which, unfortunately, didn't make it into the finished product. I might cover some of that in the days ahead, or maybe later when I get around to talking about that book on its own. We'll see.

TOMORROW: Zor meets the Invid, is mocked by his peers, suffers from a case of mistaken identity, and cheats on his girlfriend in exchange for knowledge that will change the course of history across the stars. THE LEGEND OF ZOR continues in "The Changing."

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  • I was much harsher on this series than it looks like you're going to be:

    I pretty much got into a position where I viciously criticized Robotech for following the cliches of science fiction despite there being no reason *not* to expect these cliches in Robotech.

    Nonetheless, something really *bugged* me about the idea that Zor was able to influence and monopolize events to the extent that he did, and this miniseries never made those facts seem credible.

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 10 July, 2010 22:32  

  • I really love that Federation-ish logo for the Tirolian Republic... always have and continue to.... *laughs* That's all I got for this round...

    By Blogger Tolarin_Skylar, at 12 July, 2010 01:43  

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