ROBOBLOG III Archives

7.24.2010

DAY TWENTY-FOUR: The Legend of Zor #5 - The Harvesting (1992)

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


(10) You tell me the Tirolian Civil War depicted here was long, and I just don't believe you. It was the Zentraedi versus, like, fifteen guys with a cache of stolen guns. If there's one thing that's long plagued the Waltrips' ROBOTECH work, up to and including the last decade's PRELUDE TO THE SHADOW CHRONICLES, it's been a problem of scale. And I think this is a trickle-down problem from Daley & Luceno, and even to some extent from the TV series. The difference is that aside from the First Robotech War, which really was basically a war between one ship and millions, throughout the rest of the televised ROBOTECH saga there was a sense that there were things happening elsewhere, stuff we just never saw because it was outside the scope of the narrative -- potentially other fronts in the war against the Robotech Masters, other bands of freedom fighters clashing with the planet's Invid overlords. The previous issue of this series really failed to give a sense that maybe someone else was resisting the Elders as well, or that the rebels we saw were part of a network. It looked for all the world like the guys in that one room were the entire rebellion. Even if they weren't, what did that war look like? What weapons did they have? We just see Zentraedi soldiers standing triumphant. No mecha or other vehicles, not even as scrap in the streets. And Zor wonders about Arla, only furthering the sense that this is, like, hours later instead of years.

(9) But the plot demands that this WAS a long time later, because Protoculture reserves are dangerously low. Has Protoculture become the key to the entire civilization yet? It's unclear; certainly it fuels their entire war machine, but we're not given enough sense of the culture to see how deeply infused into every aspect of Tirolian life the Flower and its fuel byproduct have become.

This is the last odd-numbered issue, and consequently John Waltrip is back on art, with his finer line and greater attention to detail. I love the look of the Elders' throne room, looking even more like something out of SOUTHERN CROSS, with its mix of Greco-Roman architecture and twisting, almost organic-looking technology. You can even see, in the background of the shot where Nimuul shows Zor the current state of the Invid, the Robotech Masters of the TV series huddled around a Protoculture Cap.

The sight of Zor genuflecting before the Masters and saying "What is thy bidding, my Masters," is a frustrating one. It's an obvious callback to STAR WARS, especially in a scene concerning the end of a rebellion against an empire. Was it absolutely necessary? Especially with that precise dialog? Ugh.

(8) Zor is ordered back to Optera with a task force of Zentraedi to seize all the Flowers, their purpose being twofold: to refuel the Empire and to prevent the Invid from ever possessing Protoculture and rising up to become a threat. Despite the images Zor is presented with, he insists that the Invid are primitive, that they pose no threat, and besides that, the Flowers were theirs to begin with. Is this Zor being naive again, or is this Zor simply pushing back, trying to resist his orders despite the one key thing that, as far as Zor knows, Nimuul still has over him? His open resistance causes unnamed Elders Hepsis and Fallagar to warn Nimuul that Zor cannot be trusted, but Nimuul is so sure he still has Zor wrapped around his finger, even though unbeknownst to Zor he has had Zor's father killed.

I guess that's why Nimuul figures he's still got him; Zor has no clue that Nimuul no longer possesses the one card he had against him.

What in the hell does Zor mean by, "What better way to fight them than to feed those monstrous egos?"

(7) Cute liquid-eyed Invid industriously copy the Greco-Roman splendor of Republic-era Tirol. When we first see the Invid in The New Generation, they're mysterious armored figures ruled over by a mother figure that first manifests as a glowing light and eventually appears evolved as a giant bald woman in a long robe, which is kind of creepy and weird. They get less mysterious and weird when they're brought back in SENTINELS, transformed into slug-like humanoids equipped with less mystical, organic-looking, and more conventional technology. Starships, landing craft, sky bikes for their combat armor -- they became more like the other threats our heroes faced in the prior two generations of ROBOTECH.

This actually is used somewhat as a plot point; the Regent's forces are supposed to be more of an emulation of the Robotech Masters, while the Regess follows her own path towards reclaiming what was once theirs.

But the end result of the conventionalizing of the Invid is what we see here, the comical robed slugs of the Waltrips' comics. What was at least visually interesting in the SENTINELS animation was played for laughs under Mason & Ulm's keyboards and the Waltrips' artwork, and evolved -- how appropriate, given who we're talking about -- into what we see here. Look at the funny slug people trying to create culture!

I had never noticed that the central hive on Optera, which appears throughout the SENTINELS comics, is shaped in an emulation of the Tiresian Royal Hall: large narrowing structure with a smaller central command structure on top. Huh.

(6) This bickering is established in the SENTINELS animation, which would be its key foul contribution to the degradation of the Invid. The schism is one thing. It's not a bad idea. It's the petty, human back-and-forth that devalues both characters and makes them ... well, too human. The name-calling in particular is just childish, and is probably the part most like what we see in the completed SENTINELS animation, unfortunately.

I actually really like the way the two are described, the Regent seeking to "evolve" through acquisition, through the accumulation of more and more material things, while the Regess seeks to evolve towards that which she desires. They're both depicted as blind towards what their industrious children are up to below the central hive, both obsessing over their own personal goals -- their racial hive-mind link between one another severed in their emulation of the more individual Tirolians, perhaps?

I think it was the RPG that floated the idea that the Regess and Regent were one and the same entity before Zor set foot on Optera, which would go a ways towards explaining exactly where the Regent was back in issue #2. It's said outright here, that these two WERE one. Only, the form Zor encountered was undoubtably feminine, and was already halfway towards Zor's own form in an emulation of Haydon, he whom she mistook Zor for. It's a problematic little plot hole I discussed in further detail back in my write-up of issue #2.

(5) The defoliation of Optera begins. The Zentraedi-manned harvesters have the smooth, simple lines of a lot of the Waltrips' mechanical designs, and to be fair share a general aesthetic style with the mechanical designs the Japanese produced for the SENTINELS animation. They kind-of sort-of look Zentraedi, but more resemble pillbugs than anything else.

Zor orders the Zentraedi not to harm the inhabitants, but doesn't he remember exactly what he told the Elders long ago, that the Invid and their Flowers live in symbiosis? Without the Flowers, what does he expect the Invid to do? Or is this the big plan, to do essentially what he does -- leave them alive to stew and become wretched, corrupt, and dangerous to the Empire that has done essentially the same to him?

What is the point of the Zentraedi soldiers on the ground, beyond the visuals of giant soldiers stomping the artifacts of the Invid's emulation of Tirolian culture?

(4) How is it that the Regent, the one of the two more prone to outbursts and tantrums and the one who is depicted as being revenge-bent and in thrall to the yearning for conquest that drove those he emulates and loathes, is the one who can see Zor and his people for what they are, while the Regess, the thoughtful, curious, and creative one, is the one who continues to believe that Zor and Haydon might be one and the same -- even after sharing a mental bond with him, even despite the logical argument the Regent gives her: why would he GIVE them the Flowers, then TAKE them back? Is this a manifestation of a sense of doubt that might have taken root in the Regess's mind if the two were still one?

It's interesting that the Regent refers to the other Invid as his kindred, while the Regess refers to them as her children. Again, a sign that the Regent is a more recent manifestation, perhaps not even as old as an individual entity as some of the smaller Invid surrounding him in the shelter.

(3) The Regess takes the betrayal ... badly. She hits Zor with a nasty mental whammy via the mind link they still share.

It occurs to me, seeing Zor aboard a Nupetiet-Vergnitzs flagship, that we've gone through five out of six issues and there is as of yet no SDF-1. It's only introduced in the next -- final -- issue. That strikes me as an odd decision given all that Zor has yet to do, but one that's par for the course with the strange push-and-pull pacing of this series. I suppose that's the price one pays for the more deliberately paced, dramatically designed odd-numbered issues. It's true, this REALLY needed to be a longer series -- at least twice as long to fully explore even Zor's own story, if not the story of Tirol's transformation from spacefaring republic, to interstellar empire, to ruin.

(2) Laid low by the Regess's mental attack, Zor orders the mission aborted with one sector's worth of Flowers remaining. It is just enough. Betrayal has followed betrayal, and now the Invid shall be transformed again. The only problem I have with this depiction is that I seem to recall someone, I think Daley & Luceno, floating the idea that the Invid become a mecha-wielding race in emulation -- again -- of the Zentraedi arsenal, and we see no Regults, no Glaugs, no Powered Armors in the defoliation of Optera. They don't even seem to reach their peak power until next issue, and it never seems as vast as we're led to believe in the TV series.

Of course, the narrative reason to keep the Zentraedi weaker would be to make the Invid on equal footing. If the Zentraedi don't pack the punch we know they can from the TV series, they can't return to Optera and raze the planet after the Invid start making a nuisance of themselves.

(1) If the Regess knows nothing of betrayal before this moment, I wonder, what of the Regess's proclamation at the end of the TV series that TWICE in their history they've been forced from their homeworld, forced to flee to another galaxy. (One of these times is when the Regess takes her Invid from Optera to Earth to seize its supply of the Flowers of Life.) Oh wait, that's one of those little hiccups in continuity that everyone conveniently forgot while they took Daley & Luceno's words as law. That was lost under the same circumstances as the Disciples of Zor were lost, the "wars with the Micronians" were lost, the Zentraedi Civil War hinted at in "Khyron's Revenge" was lost.

If you actually trace everything that's said in the TV series, you could probably craft a whole cycle of books, a whole other eighty-five or more TV episodes, from all the snippets of history hinted at there. Instead we got six comic books derived from the most streamlined version of the history, already warped to match a rewrite of history designed to support the unfinished SENTINELS animation project, streamlined even further and pock-marked with sci-fi cliches. It doesn't even get the Robotech Masters' culture right at the end; it never evolves into a standing culture like that seen in the TV series. I'd love to see someone take another crack at this story someday. I'm sure an interesting yarn could be spun from the materials the Waltrips were unaware of and the materials they neglected.

NEXT: The SDF-1 begins its mission, and the Invid begin theirs in the final chapter of THE LEGEND OF ZOR - "The Avenging."

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2 Comments:

  • More and more misfires from this series...*sigh*.

    Yeah, the conflict between the Regent and the Regis would have worked far better if it was more explicitly framed as an ideological conflict rather than marital bickering. Not only a conflict between who wants to achieve "evolution" by which manner, but also, contradictorily, between who wants to "evolve" the most, and who wants to "evolve" the least.

    As for the Regent being able to see Zor for what he was...that doesn't strike me as an inconsistency so much as an attempt at some complexity (I'm in a generous mood, I guess), to show that the Regent isn't *completely* stupid, just mostly.

    One small thing about suddenly introducing non-humanoid aliens into Robotech: it often makes the human types seem more godly and morally superior in comparison, as they are the ones constantly dominating with military forces or freeing the aliens from what they cannot free themselves from (see: The Sentinels).

    It's a pretty standard SF trope, but it throws a monkey wrench into the notions of independence which were part of the original TV series.

    The Invid suffer from this gladly, as they try to imitate others' culture without developing their own, and seem to be victims of accelerated growth. Just *why* this happens is of course never made clear, though the idea of a single race behaving like one big hive isn't explored enough to justify the simplicity of the concept.

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 26 July, 2010 13:01  

  • You really hit the nail on the head with your comment about scale. I am less familiar with the various comic incarnations of Robotech than I am with the novel and TV series, but the inconsistent sense of scale has definitely plagued the derivative works of Robotech. It’s understandable in the original animation, (being limited by the existing visuals), and as you noted, there was always a sense that something else was going on elsewhere to offset what the visuals alone suggested (which is why I thought the ambiguity of the series was a feature, not a bug), but the lack of scale is unforgivable in the derivative works. They have exacerbated rather than alleviated the problem. I haven’t read this series, but based on what your review, it is a perfect example of this problem (the insanity of the novels’ take on the REF is probably the worst [best?] example though).

    Also, this is gold:

    “ If you actually trace everything that's said in the TV series, you could probably craft a whole cycle of books, a whole other eighty-five or more TV episodes, from all the snippets of history hinted at there. Instead we got six comic books derived from the most streamlined version of the history, already warped to match a rewrite of history designed to support the unfinished SENTINELS animation project, streamlined even further and pock-marked with sci-fi cliches.”

    I probably sound slightly negative towards Robotech based on some of posts, but it is precisely because I love Robotech that the above treatment bothers me so much.

    By Blogger Niff, at 26 July, 2010 18:05  

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