DAY TWENTY-FIVE: The Legend of Zor #6 - The Avenging (1992)

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

(10) Jason Waltrip, he of the slightly better character art and less imaginative panel layouts than his brother John, brings the 1992 full color mini-series chronicling the twins' take on the story of Zor to its pedal-to-the-metal conclusion. And while in all my earlier readings of this series I found things to enjoy in the earlier issues -- and even in this reading you probably noticed my appreciation for John Waltrip's storytelling in the odd-numbered issues, even if I was frowning and wincing every once in a while at the story being told -- this one's always bugged me.

(9) I'll be hitting a few issues of the Waltrips' SENTINELS comics during the course of the coming year, so at some point in the future I'll be taking a good look at how Jason Waltrip depicts Tirol, but right off the bat the moon is depicted as having one circular megalopolis, Tiresia, a few small bodies of water, and ... err, lots of brown. No cloud cover, either. Again, obvious problems of scale. An entire empire ruled from a planet whose entire civilization takes up approximately the space of, I don't know, Tokyo? At least when watching the SENTINELS video you could tell yourself this is a world in decline -- "Only the old and sick remain on Tirol!" -- and the Regent's victory over Tiresia is more symbolic than anything else. But here at what is supposed to be the height of the Robotech Empire, the Masters' immediate area of influence is a silver spot on a sandy-colored sphere hanging above the gas giant Fantoma. How terribly ignoble.

(8) When Zor enters the throne room of the Robotech Elders, for once they appear to be speaking as one, their remarks flowing from one to the other. But once he approaches the center of their chamber, Nimuul takes over again, settling the matter once and for all that the Waltrips' version of the Empire will never evolve into the Masters we see in the episodes of the TV series that bear their name. When Zor insists that the Zentraedi cannot be used to "complete [the] annexation" of the Local Group worlds, Nimuul goes into a red-faced rage worthy of the Waltrips' T.R. Edwards, a far cry from the Masters who constantly maintain an even tone and prattle on about "primitive emotions."

I can only assume the Bioroid Terminators who guard the Elders are red because the Emperor's Royal Guards from RETURN OF THE JEDI were red.

(7) Zor is given command of the SDF-1, described as the flagship of the Masters' new fleet. If memory serves, it was Daley & Luceno who assumed and stated that the ship was of Zor's own design; the RPG might have said the same, I forget. Since then, many have stated that it's a little over-the-top ridiculous for Zor to be not only adept with biology (deriving the bio-energy of Protoculture from the Flowers, cloning/genetic engineering) but also starship design. Given the pace of this version of the story, I'd certainly agree with the Waltrips' take, though in a longer, more drawn-out version I'd either go all-out and make Zor a Jack-of-all-trades genius or make him the imbalanced "visionary" of a triumvirate of scientists who have the additional skills, expertise, and understanding to make his concepts a reality.

(Remember: the Masters' society is fixated on the triumvirate, and yet Zor is given all the credit as an individual. This means either he predates the rise of the triumvirate -- highly possible given how he gave rise to the Age of Robotech with the discovery of Protoculture -- or he was so exceptional as an individual that he rose above his station as merely one of three. To be honest, over the last year-plus I've become fascinated by the latter possibility, for reasons I'll get into later ...)

Nimuul tells Zor that he's being given command of the SDF-1 because he seems "so adept that these space voyages." The discovery of Optera was, however, either dumb luck or Shaping-influenced "destiny," depending on your take; I'm gonna say the Elders just want to put Zor out to pasture now that they've got their hands on all the Flowers of Optera, a society of completely obedient clones, and the legions of Zentraedi out among the stars doing their bidding in the name of empire-building.

And then Nimuul does a stupid thing and tells Zor that Zol died -- off-panel, around the end of issue #4, if you don't recall. Zor staggers about for a bit, crestfallen and dumbstruck, and then makes a grandiose gesture of looking out into the pink clouds and purple skies of Tirol, raising his fists into the air, and crying out that he shall avenge his father. Once again, I find this whole issue of Zor's father highly unnecessary -- shouldn't the abuse of the wonders Zor has created for the Republic-turned-Empire be enough motivation for Zor to desire vengeance on the Elders' heads? Is that not the interpretation one would most easily take from the sequence right before the commercial break in "Catastrophe," as Zor cries out, "The Protoculture has brought only death!" and blasts the Flowers with his rifle? One might argue that it humanizes Zor, but one of the things that's intriguing about the way ROBOTECH bashed luckless and vengeance-driven Seifriet Weiße into the character of Zor Prime is that the resulting character feels so detached, disjointed, and alien. Some of this comes from Paul St. Peter's odd performance, while some of it comes from mapping the desired Zor Prime arc on top of the preexisting Seifriet Weiße character arc. In any case, the end result is that when I take into account the Masters' bizarre culture, the oddity of Zor Prime as a character, and the way that the original Zor is spoken of throughout the ROBOTECH TV series, the last thing I expect is for Zor to have the same motivation to fight the Masters that Inigo Montoya had to fight the six-fingered man.

(6) The one thing I like about Zor's reunion with Arla is the remark she makes when he tells her that he's been ordered away again: "Not again! Every time you leave, things here get worse." Which is true. Zor disappears, and the Elders' power and influence increases. This time things will be different; this time he goes to his computer, forges some official-looking documents, and -- hold on, orders the cornerstone of the modern age of Tirolian society to be loaded onto his starship? And this all happens as he sits at his computer, with Arla hovering over his shoulder? The entire operation to disconnect and disassemble it, put it in a series of containers, have it moved to the spaceport, have a shuttle pick it up and transfer it to the SDF-1 ... you see what my problem is, right? It's farfetched and a little ridiculous that the most important thing on the planet could be removed from its chamber with so little as some forged digital documents that could so easily be traced back, by the technicians under Vard's command, to Zor's laboratory.

Zor thoroughly frying all his documents via a power surge at least makes sense, though you'd think information that valuable would have been backed up by Robotech Empire computer technicians -- especially given how long the Elders have been mistrustful of Zor and how long and often he's been away. If he'd held his misgivings closer to the vest and played up his importance as the only one who understands Protoculture, I'd buy this scenario a little more.

(5) Vard confronts Zor about the transfer of the Matrix to the SDF-1. Zor and Vard have their ideological argument once again about all that's good in the cosmos versus what is "good for the Empire," and Zor just about convinces Vard to let him go, but as he and Arla walk away, Vard fires and hits Arla as she shoves Zor out of the way of the blast. Then Zor freaks out, draws Arla's gun, and blasts Vard repeatedly in typical "red rage" overdramatic fashion. My pattern-obsessed mind looks at this and jumps straight to Rick in the VF-1D in "Countdown" thinking that Minmei (the mother of "a" Zor per THE END OF THE CIRCLE) is dead or wounded and blasting that Battlepod to scrap, though certainly this sort of scene neither begins or ends there.

The problem with this scene, besides being a bit cliche? Remember that this series was following from the ROBOTECH saga as written in Daley & Luceno's novels. In the very first novel, Vard is still alive and serving aboard the SDF-1. I presume that the Waltrips, as they admitted they did with Nimuul in the Special Edition of issue #1, just mapped the most appropriate name from the already established stories onto the character they created. Hence we get the Vard that breaks from Zor's side following the Techno Voyages rather than the Vard that stays by Zor's side until his death at the hands of the Invid.

Two things strike me about Arla's death in particular. First, there's a part of me that wants to somehow tie this to Zor Prime's dream sequence where Musica is killed by the Bioroid Terminators -- perhaps that was his mind filling in gaps in his long-term clone-progenitor memories with elements of his own personal history? Second, it would have paid off the scene in issue #2 where Zol pulls his gun out of the safe if it had been established that the gun on Arla's hip was Zor's father's gun.

(4) I do find it interesting that Cabell is officially ordered to continue Zor's research on Tirol; that adds more fuel to the idea that Zor was being sent off-world because his usefulness to the Elders was at an end, that his post as commander of the SDF-1 was about keeping him out of the Elders' hair going forward.

From here on, things sort of fast-forward. Zor's lab and the Flower of Life greenhouses explode, the SDF-1 flees -- and why don't the Masters have any ships to pursue him, anyway? Where are those millions upon millions of Zentraedi ships? Why isn't anyone in orbit to defend Tirol? Why isn't anyone in orbit just doing BUSINESS with Tirol? Why is the universe so small?

The SDF-1 design used, of course, is the very Zentraedi-styled SDF-1 design from the Comico Graphic Novel which was adapted into the SENTINELS/pre-SHADOW CHRONICLES SDF-3 design.

Dolza and Breetai are aboard the SDF-1; the former was established in the Comico Graphic Novel, the latter in Daley & Luceno's very first ROBOTECH novel, GENESIS. Both presences bug me, but it's not Jason & John's fault.

The seeding missions, Zor's atonement for his "sin," is glossed over in a single panel. Oddly, though we know from other accounts that he visits the worlds of the Local Group, which are all under the Masters' control, the Zentraedi and the Masters never find him. Obviously the Waltrips have made him a fugitive too early; the Masters should still trust him when he loads the Matrix on-board; the Empire should be in a state of prosperity and have plenty of Protoculture to spread around, and the Matrix should be, in their short-sighted minds, superfluous at the moment -- and THEN Zor dies, his secrets dying with him, and the ship is lost.

(3) Quickly, the Invid are whisked on-stage in the crab-like mecha form we know them from the TV series so that they can fulfill their destiny. killing their betrayer. Given Dolza's show of strength in "First Contact," you've got to wonder why, when Cabell tells the Elders that the new threat is coming from Optera they don't just order the Zentraedi to take care of the planet. Then again, there is that line the Regess gives at the end of The New Generation about the Invid being driven from their planet "twice in our recorded history," or words to that effect. It could be that the Zentraedi DID surround the world in one of their patented full laser bombardments, and then the Regess just did the phoenix of mindstuff thing and escaped through the cosmos.

I was going to ask where the glowing sphere ship comes from, but it's actually straight out of the Comico Graphic Novel. Which does make you wonder where Neil Vokes got the design from, but given early ROBOTECH, it could be anywhere or just out of Macek's (or Vokes's) fevered imagination.

In the Comico Graphic Novel, it was established that there were already obvious hostilities between the Empire and the Invid -- Dolza warns Zor that an Invid Sensor Nebula would spot them if they lingered for too long -- but here when the Invid arrive in orbit this is the first time Zor sees the fruits of his handiwork, the foul turn their evolution has taken. It shatters him, and causes him to make his final desperate gambit. That right there, that actually works for me. Zor, who was so fascinated by the society of simple hive-minded slugs, bears witness to their ultimate form, designed for death and destruction -- after having seen everything he's created perverted to that end -- and it finally causes him to give up. "It doesn't matter anymore," he tells Dolza and Breetai. "Look at what they've become because of me. Let it end HERE."

(2) In the short time available, there's only one panel of Zentraedi mecha attempting to repel the Invid onslaught. This is the ONLY TIME Zentraedi mecha appear in the entire series. Mind you, I think that's one panel more than we saw Zentraedi mecha in the very same sequence in the Comico Graphic Novel.

This is one of two times the loss of Breetai's eye is shown in a comic published by Eternity, out of three times the death of Zor is depicted in comic book form. The story that Breetai lost his eye in the service of Zor originated with Daley & Luceno's GENESIS, and the other take on it -- in the pages of Bill Spangler and Mujib Rahiman's RETURN TO MACROSS #1 -- was, as I recall, much closer to Daley & Luceno's work.

In the Comico Graphic Novel and, IIRC, GENESIS it is Dolza who speaks to Zor as he is dying, not Breetai. And I wonder, how does Breetai expect them to leave? He tells the dying Zor that they must return to Tirol, but they have no ship. The SDF-1 is en route to its fate per "Boobytrap."

(1) It drives me a little crazy that in the eighteen years since this comic series was published there hasn't been an alternate take on this material. The reason prequels usually suck is because there isn't actually a story there. But in the theft of the Flower from Optera, the crafting of the Zentraedi, the period of civil war suggested by Gloval and Exedore in "Khyron's Revenge," the "war with the Micronians" Dolza speaks of in "First Contact," the transformation of a freer and more open society into the bizarre restrictive clone society of the TV series with its assembly-line psuedo-androids and swapped-out clone bodies and such, and the ultimate defiance of Zor -- "your purpose has always remained the same," the Masters say in "Catastrophe," suggesting that purpose has always been at odds with the Empire at large -- and the rise of the Invid as a potential threat just as the Empire begins to wane and the situation grows desperate, there is so much potential for powerful, dramatic storytelling. It doesn't have to be this obvious, juvenile rough outline with a cackling bad guy, a generic blonde love interest, an imprisoned noble father, a best friend-turned-enemy, and plot holes and loose ends you could ram the SDF-1 through as it breaks through hyperspace on its fated collision course with Earth.

Of course, at the time nobody at Harmony Gold was doing anything more than rubber-stamping this material, the Waltrips were obviously working from the timeline in the back of the last SENTINELS novel more than anything else, and this was the first comic book story they'd ever written. It's not like Malibu editorial was going to deny the artists of their flagship book the opportunity to flex their writing muscles on a six-issue mini-series designed to fill in the blanks of a story that had a direct bearing on said flagship book. The failure of LEGEND OF ZOR is one of the authors' ambition being too great for both the space available to tell the tale and their storytelling skills at the time. Shame, that.

There was actually a sequel series to this planned called ROBOTECH GENESIS: INVADERS. The Waltrips actually finished two scripts for it before the comic license jumped from Malibu/Eternity to Academy Comics and they wound up doing the WORLDS OF ROBOTECH one-shot comics instead. The unfinished series would have covered the Invid invasion of the worlds of the Local Group in the wake of the loss of the SDF-1 and the Protoculture Matrix. Those finished scripts were serialized in issues of the ROBOTECH fanzine EMISSARIES; the first, in the last few issues of Vol. 1 published by my pal Evan Cass, and the second in the issues I managed to publish of Vol. 2. I haven't read that stuff in years, but I seem to recall it being somewhat intriguing.

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