Spotlight: Kup

Publisher: IDW
Released: April 2007
Number of covers: Two (plus sketch versions)
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Nick Roche
Artwork: Nick Roche (pencils) Andrew Elder (colours)
Rating: Art / Story

First appearance: Kup, Outback, Springer, Siren, Perceptor, Sizzle


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve



A barely functional Kup is trapped on a planet and surrounded by zombies - but is all it seems?

The scene opens on a dusty, desert-like world roasting under the firey glow of twin suns. Collections of strange crystals jut out from the ground in all directions but other than that there is nothing here. Suddenly a shower of debris falls from the sky. A strange robot crawls from the wreckage and spies an oncoming vehicle.

He thinks it's his salvation but instead it transforms into a pipe cleaner-thin and demented Kup, who swings a severed arm that once belonged to his comrade Outback, lopping off the alien's head in one blow. The old timer continues on his way - another day in this strange place with two suns. Another day with his precious crystals - could they really be calling to him?

Kup used to be really old, but since coming here his age is "no longer against" him. Perhaps it is the effects of the crystals. Yet mentally Kup is on edge, plagued non-stop by zombie creatures who come out at night. What do they want? Why won't they leave him alone.

He watches as the sun(s) begin to go down and returns to a makeshift structure surrounded by large crystals that serves as home. He remembers a time when escape seemed possible and he and Outback rigged up a transmitter from remains of their crashed space ship. But a homemade generator went into meltdown and he 'nearly lost Outback'. Only now do we see the real fate of Outback - half of his body disintegrated and a rictus for a face. He's quite dead, but for some reason Kup's mental state won't let him see the truth.

Night falls and the crystals cease singing. Kup goes offline but not for long. He's soon woken by the ghostly image of Springer telling him to hold on because help is coming. Kup flees the apparition and looks outside. The zombies have gathered and they are calling his name - Kup, Kup, Kup. Outback isn't doing anything to help (I wonder why!) so the old timer goes outside and attacks the zombies without mercy.

Day comes and Kup basks in the crystals' energy. Night follows and the ghosts and the zombies come again, once more he does battle with them and somehow beats back the horde. One of them vanishes... and appears aboard Ark 17. The so-called zombie removes his mask to reveal himself as Siren... and he's not happy. Springer arrives to take the brunt of his fury.

Siren says the mission is a catastrophe. They are no nearer to rescuing Kup than when they started and a lot of Autobots have died in the attempt. They can't use weapons because a chain reaction caused by the crystals could explode the planet. There's another problem: Kup's spark core is deteriorating and if that explodes it'll set off the chain reaction too. Springer says help is coming.

Springer gets a dressing down from Prowl but holds firm that they have to get Kup back. He taught most of the Autobots everything they know, including, we learn, Optimus Prime himself.

Night falls again, and once more Kup attacks the 'zombie hordes' (in actuality his fellow Autobots in protective suits) and his spark core goes into meltdown. Luckily Springer's 'specialist', Trailbreaker, arrives in the nick of time and encases the spark in a force field allowing Kup to be captured. Back on the Ark he walks with Springer - was Kup's one life worth the sacrifice of so many others. History will be judge of Springer's deeds and as for Kup, now rigged up to life support, his mind may never be the same again.

******

Comments:

A couple of months after this book came out I had a chance to speak to Nick Roche at a comic signing in London. I told him I really enjoyed the comic and said it was 'different in the best possible way'. He was pleased people were reading the comic (actually his first as a writer for IDW) and not only that, most seemed to be raving about it. Having written and illustrated the comic it was quite understandably Nick's baby.

So why say its 'different' and for that matter, why is 'different' a good thing anyway? Probably because Transformers have been around since 1984 and there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of stories written about them. It must be bloody hard to come up with something truly original, but that's exactly what Nick has achieved here.

His story proves there are few topics that can't be adapted to the Transformers format. Simon Furman and Bob Budiansky touched on the thorny issue of mental illness through their characterisations of Megatron and Galvatron - but never have I seen it portrayed so vividly. The fact that the title of these books is 'Spotlight', implying that it's all about the title character, makes it the perfect format to get to grips with Kup and delve into the murky depths of his mind.

We see the world through Kup's eyes as we're privy to his thoughts all the way through. But right from the beginning there are hints of discrepancies between the truth as Kup sees it and the evidence of our eyes. Indeed his first act is to decapitate a defenceless alien robot who poses little or no threat to him. Surely this is not the Kup we're used to seeing, the one whose like a gruff old granddad who likes to bore an audience with a succession of war stories. This character ruthlessly murders a complete stranger, seemingly without motive. Talk about challenging the reader's perceptions of the character.

There's also the strange business of Kup's anorexic like appearance. Initially I thought this was Nick trying a new style. It's only later, when we cut to the scenes with Siren and Perceptor, that it becomes clear that Kup has actually slimmed. Most likely he's been forced to cannibalise parts of his exo-structure during early attempts to escape the planet. But it also gives him a visible appearance of sickness. He looks physically ill and I found myself slightly uneasy at this rendition of Kup. Perhaps that's the intention.

We see the 'zombies' with Kup and it all seems deadly real - but there are more clues that things are not what they seem. There's the Spinger apparition (almost like the Ghost of Christmas Past) and the fact that Outback has met a gruesome end, and there's Kup talking to him and believing he's still alive. It's like how any of us would be if we were trapped in a hopeless situation, with only ourselves for company and our thoughts - a bit like the Tom Hanks film Castaway where he talks to the baseball as though it were a companion. I'm in two minds about Outback's fate. On the one hand he provided some shock value and a truly memorable moment, but it's a shame to think his first IDW appearance is probably his last. I wonder why Nick chose Outback specifically and not any other character, perhaps even a made up Autobot.

Other plus points: Trailbreaker as the unlikely hero of the day, using his little mentioned (in comics anyway) force field-generating ability, and Siren's debut (we've had Nightbeat and it was about time Siren showed up) and the ghostly Springer. Nick has come up with a story which really allows him to showcase his drawing style.

Minuses? The fact Kup is able to decapitate and kill much more healthy looking robots despite appearing frail and knackered. I'm guessing the explanation is the power-ups he's been getting from the crystals. Also, for Primus' sake, why do the Autobots keep beaming down in suits that make them look like strange monkey creatures. No wonder Kup thinks he's got a bunch of creatures after him. The situation is delicate and surely required the Autobots looking as normal as possible to maximise the chances of Kup coming quietly.

Springer's loyalty to Kup is either admirable or foolish, depending on which opinion you subscribe too. I'm a bit on the fence on this one. Fair play to him for not abandoning Kup to his fate, but he ought to be court martialled for ordering all those Autobots to their deaths with not even a plan. However it does seem that IDW Kup is highly respected by his comrades, and was even a mentor to Optimus Prime. Perhaps upcoming stories will deal with Prime's thoughts on the situation. From the looks of the ending, Kup will be back.

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