It's almost impossible to imagine a time when giant robots capable of transforming into various vehicles were NOT a part of our pop culture. I'm not sure if the Shogun Warrior line were the first toys to go this route, but the Marvel comic book adaptation arrived a good half-decade before the Transformers or the Go-Bots popped up in cartoons and comics.
Until recently, I hadn't read Shogun Warriors. I was in the Philippines when it first came out and (though the Stars-and-Stripes book store in Subic Bay was well-stocked with comics) I don't remember seeing it. But I was able to recently score all 20 issues for less than 20 bucks on Ebay; I knew I'd like Herb Trimpe's art work; I generally like Doug Moench's writing; and Marvel did have a great record with later books based on toys in which they gave us strong characters and strong stories.
So I've decided that, as I read these for the first time, I'll review them in 5-issue chunks. I'll also include a review of Fantastic Four #226, in which some closure is given to the characters after Marvel lost the license. I'm not going to post these reviews four weeks in a row, by the way. I'll space them about a month apart. I appreciate my small readership and--well, actually, I have no idea what sort of comic book reviews you all enjoy the most. So I'll keep up the variety.
The first issue starts out with a bang, with the giant robot Raydeen--piloted by a trio of humans--defends an unnamed Japanese city against a cyborg monster. In Japan, they call this "Tuesday." After a few pages of fun action, we get an extended flashback to set up the situation and characters in more detail.
One problem Doug Moench had was that there is a ton of exposition needed to give us background on the Shogun Warrior pilots, set up the overall plot, and give us details about the weapons and capabilities of the robots. Because of this, the early books are very dialogue-heavy and there's some minor pacing problems. But the plot is a fun one and the robots are simply magnificent. Shogun Warriors runs on pure Rule of Cool and works beautifully on that level.
The series is a part of the mainstream Marvel Universe, though this isn't a factor early on. We learn that a secret organization of people descended from aliens--the "Followers of the Light"--have been guarding Earth against a chaotic evil organization currently led by a villain named Maur-Kon. The bad guys seem to be dedicated to destruction and death simply because they're evil. Just to get my last minor criticism out of the way--it would be nice if the bad guys had a more complex motivation. But perhaps that's built upon in later issues.
The villains were defeated millennia ago, but now a volcanic eruption has woken them and they are using a combination of science and magic to unleash new monsters on the world. The Followers of the Light teleport three humans to their secret base--people selected in advance to pilot the robotic Shogun Warriors and fight the monsters. This is a major surprise for the humans--who didn't know they'd been selected for anything. But they soon accept the situation with remarkable aplomb.
They're soon ready to go another round with the Earth elemental--who rather rudely counters this by dividing into three beings--Earth, Fire and Water.
By now, we've hit the third issue. Herb Trimpe's monster designs and fight choreography keep the
story rolling despite there still being too much dialogue. The current monsters are defeated. The head villain--Maur-Kon--has decided that the success of the robots means that his group should abandon magic completely and turn to pure science. One of his minions, Magar, disapproves of this--so soon there are back-stabbing shenanigans going on among the bad guys. Maur-Kon orders a robot called Mecha-Monster built, which allows Trimpe to treat us to a really nifty splash page.
As the monster is sent running, Genji (the Japanese test pilot who pilots Combatra) decides to back track it to its source. She locates the villains' base, but unwisely decides to press ahead on her own, flying into a tunnel in the vehicle formed from Combatra's head.
Magar, who was about to lose his spot on Maur-Kon's Christmas Card list because he tried to destroy the Mecha-Monster, redeems himself by damaging Genji's vehicle. So the fifth issue ends with a rather intense cliffhanger--Genji is a prisoner and her Shogun Warrior robot is captured.
We'll cover the next five issues in three or four weeks. Meanwhile, for next week: He's a pig--his partner's a cat. Together, they solve crimes.