Spotlight: Ultra Magnus

Publisher: IDW
Realeased: January 2007
Number of covers: Two regulars, two incentives (by Scherwinski/Raiz)
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: Robby Musso (pencils) Kieran Oats (colours)
Rating: Art / Story

First appearance: Ultra Magnus, Swindle, Scorponok, Mo Zarak, Lorcha


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


Magnus brings in Swindle and sets his sights on the arch-criminal Scorponok.

Even in war there are codes of conduct - lines that must not be crossed - but not everyone follows the rules. One persistent lawbreaker is the Combaticon Swindle, currently on the planet Zull trading illegal arms to some gruesome looking aliens.

Suddenly the door blows in and Ultra Magnus arrives, declaring Swindle under arrest. The aliens attack, but Magnus reacts like lightning, blowing each one away in a blaze of rapid laser fire. Swindle climbs a gantry and opens fire using one of his banned weapons. Again Magnus moves swiftly, unleashing one of his shoulder mounted missiles to collapse the walkway and bring the Decepticon crashing down.

With Swindle in custody, Magnus plots a course for the Decepticon command hub where he'll hand the prisoner over for trial and probably execution. Swindle's only chance is to cut a deal, but how can he tempt the incorruptible Ultra Magnus? He offers information on the whereabouts of the arch-criminal Scorponok. Ultra Magnus has been after this mad scientist for years, and despite his better judgement, he agrees to free Swindle in order to capture a bigger fish.

The trail leads to Nebulos, a technologically advanced world ruled by humanoids similar in appearance to earth people. He learnt from Swindle that Scorponok was being shielded by a Nebulan named Mo Zarak - the reclusive chairman of the Zarak Consortium. It's corporate frontage hides a group of maverick scientists known as the Cranium. Magnus creates a holographic agent to go in and investigate.

The holo-matter simulacrum steals the identity of a succession of senior consortium officials and succeeds in infiltrating the Cranium's inner sanctum. It steps into a lab where Cybertronic technology is being used to robotically-engineer Nebulans, giving them the ability to transform. Unfortunately the scientists detect the intruder and destroy the decoy, causing Magnus himself to feel the pain. With the element of surprise gone, Magnus (in vehicle mode) rams the gates, crashes through the robot sentries in his path and breaks into the building, coming face-to-face with Scorponok.

Usually the Decepticon would have evaded Magnus by winding-up his operations and moving on, but this time he's on the verge of something "breathtaking" and decides to stay and fight. He floors Magnus with one of his powerful pinchers and transforms into scorpion mode to unleash his sting. Mo Zarak inadvertently steps into the line of fire and is zapped - he falls to the ground with his now-robotic insides exposed! Scorponok is aghast at this unexpected turn of events, and its enough for Magnus to seize an advantage and blast a chunk off Scorponok's head armour. Wounded and beaten he flees through a portal to fight another day.

Twenty-nine cycles later, Swindle is once again in Magnus' custody, having returned to his old tricks. And once more he has a deal to offer...

******

Comments:

The spotlights have all been hugely enjoyable (even the much-derided Sixshot in my view) but this issue is a class of its own. With Spotlight Ultra Magnus, Furman saves his best for last and rounds off the first wave of one-shots in style. It's refreshing to get a complete story in one sitting for a change, instead of waiting six months to see how it all turns out.

It's not the first time Furman has written Ultra Magnus - in fact he featured him for most of the Marvel UK run. In those stories the character was portrayed similar to Optimus Prime with characteristics of compassion, leadership, seriousness and a sense of duty. IDW's Magnus is new and different. Instead of leading others he's a loner, and instead of being a standard-bearer for the Autobot cause his allegiance is the law. There's personal conflict as Magnus, for the first time, has to consider how far he's prepared to bend his principles, by releasing Swindle in return for a chance of nabbing Scorponok. Swindle is the perfect antithesis of Magnus - slippery, untrustworthy, good humoured and carefree - and he comes close to stealing the show early on. Somebody commented on a message board that he is the Quark to Magnus' Odo and I can see the comparison. If Swindle bumming around the universe selling weapons, then it begs the question whether he is a member of the Combaticons at this stage? If so presumably they would need him around to form Bruticus so it's difficult to believe they would sanctioned him going off doing his own thing.

Magnus states he is the 'duly appointed officer of the Tyrest Accord', a treaty agreed by the Autobots and Decepticons forbidding anyone from passing on Cybertron technology. It's all rather 'Star Trek prime directive' and I'm curious as to how the bots and cons where able to agree to a treaty. I mean, can the Decepticons be trusted to live up to their end of the bargain? I can imagine both sides have their own motivations for the treaty: the Autobots may wish to protect other cultures from coming to harm, and the Decepticons probably want to maintain their galactic superiority. There's no sense in giving away Transformers technology and allow an alien culture to become a rival and threat.

It may be that Scorponok's experiments are deemed unnatural and repellent to his superiors, hence why he's conducting them illegally. I'm reminded of Megatron's reaction in Stormbringer flashbacks, when Thunderwing proposed the Pretender process. I loved the idea of Magnus sending his holographic agent into the Zarak Corporation (a name reminiscent of the Z-Foundation from Ca$h and Carnage) in a 'mission impossible' style infiltration. We never find out exactly what the scientists are up to, only that it's something to do with engineering transformable-men. The obvious explanation is that Scorponok is working on the Headmasters process, and there may be a clue in the fact that the scientists' are called the 'Cranium'. But the death of Zarak at the end seems to suggest that Scorponok will not become a Headmaster as he's now lost his binary bond partner. So perhaps there's something else going on, or Zarak is not as dead as he appears.

Magnus and Scorponok only really met once in the entire Marvel run (briefly in Time Wars) and even then as allies so it's interesting to see them thrown together as arch adversaries. To pit Magnus against Galvatron has been done many times but this pairing is different. If indeed, Scorponok turns out to be the mystery Transformer leading the Machination in TF Escalation it could pave the way for rematch between these two on Earth.

Finally, I've graded the art five stars because of a few exceptionally good panels. Magnus firing his missile was dramatic and fluidic, and I loved the sequence where he reverts to robot mode just like how his toy transforms. Nebulos looks futuristic, more so than alien, but its great to see more of it than we got in Stormbringer. I also noticed that the Nebulans themselves are white or grey in complexion, whereas they were green in the previous series. This could be a mistake but I prefer to think that the writer/artist or colourist, had it in mind to denote ethnicity. All in all a class story that puts me in expectant mood for the next spotlights.

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