Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fingertips of Doom!--Shogun Warriors, Part 4

With this post, we're a little over halfway through with our look at Marvel's 1979-80 series Shogun Warriors.

The last couple of issues centered on Richard Carson and his robot Raydeen, fighting a monster of unknown origin along a California beach, with his girlfriend Deena getting drafted as Raydeen's co-pilot.

With Shogun Warriors #9 (October 1979), more mysterious monsters start popping up--each time near one of the Shoguns. Illongo Savage investigates a meteor that landed near his research center in Madagascar, taking along his lovely assistant Judith. The meteor hatches like an egg, spawning a weird monster they dub the Starchild.

Savage summons his robot Dangard Ace. Rremember that each pilot can now request their robots be teleported to them when needed. It's a handy ability to have when you're stuck in traffic. Judith has to distract the monster to give Savage time to reach the robot, but soon he's ready to go.

I'll stop to say right now that I am loving Herb Trimpe's monster designs. Cerberus (the monster Carson fought last issue), Starchild and the Hand of Five creature that will soon pop up are all bizarre and incredibly fun designs. It's as if Trimpe is channeling his inner 10-year-old, bringing to life the sort of creatures an imaginative kid would sketch on notebook paper while not paying attention to his teacher.

Each monster has weird abilities to match their weird appearances and their fights with the robots are all exciting and well-choreographed. A series like this is anchored on just how cool the robots & monsters are, as well as how fun their fights are. Shogun Warriors has been succeeded admirably here. This is the reason Giant Robots and Monsters exist, by golly.

Anyway, poor Dangard Ace has a bad time against Starchild. The fight starts underwater, moves to shore and rolls into a nearby city. Savage and his robot make no headway against the monster and soon spend much of the fight saving innocent bystanders.

Then it turns out that Starchild was only in its larvae stage. When it grows bigger and sprouts wings, it looks as if Savage is doomed. But the monster seems to lose interest and simply flies away. Was Dangard Ace being tested?

That brings us to the next issue, in which Genji (who is back in Tokyo) is being grilled on where the prototype airplane she was flying back in the first issue has gone to. She assures them the plane is safe, but refuses to explain further.

I'm still not sure this makes sense. This series is set firmly in the Marvel universe, even if the usual stable of Marvel characters hasn't yet appeared. Genji's story (getting drafted by ancient aliens to pilot a giant robot and fight monsters) really isn't all that unusual in the world in which she lives.

But the point becomes moot when one of Trimpe's most bizarre creations--the Hand of Five--attacks. This guy is a hand-shaped monster with five heads on its fingertips, which are able to detach and fight independently.

Gee whiz, I wish this book and Marvel's Godzilla had been published simultaneously and crossed over with one another. The Big G vs. the Hand of Five is a fight I would really like to see.

But Genji, flying Combatra, does pretty well for herself. The fight is a doozy and perhaps the best of the series so far, with the Hand and Combatra both separating into their individual components, rejoining, then separating again as the fight rages across Tokyo and the tactical situation becomes fluid. It is a superb example of imaginative fight choreography.

The battle spills over into Shogun Warriors #11 (December 1979). Genji does better against the Hand than Savage did against the Starchild, using several clever tactics to eventually damage the monster.

But then the Hand of Five--like Starchild--suddenly breaks off the fight and flies away. The issue ends with the Followers (the guys who built the robots) detecting another meteor approaching Earth and theorizing that this might hold the answers to the presumably connected monster appearances. Genji, meanwhile, takes her robot and runs for it, knowing that she's still suspected of treason and likely to be blamed for the carnage.

While all this is going on, Richard Carson has attracted the attention of a Men in Black-type organization.

In addition to the cool fights, I like the way writer Doug Moench handles the human characters. This is always a danger in stories like this--I guess we do need a few human characters to identify with, but we don't want them to distract us from the cool stuff. When this happens, we end up with a Michael Bay Transformers film. And no one wants that.

Though Moench (as was common in his writing) can be a little too dialogue-heavy, the humans are an integral part of the story. In my last post, I mentioned that I thought the pause to give Richard Carson some character development was perhaps a page or so too long, but now the action is flowing smoothly.  Each of Shogun pilots is given a close friend who now knows about their robots. Each is given more personality, with information about them seeded throughout the story arc without ever interfering with the overall plot and the action. It's very skillfully done.

I recently re-read Moench and Trimpe's run on Godzilla, which had been published a few years before Shogun Warriors. Both series involved bizarre monsters whose presence is explained by convoluted but clever science fiction plots. Both had great fight scenes strongly illustrated by Trimpe. Both had likable human characters (though Godzilla had a really annoying kid hanging around who was the poster child for the need to spank children).. When I finish reading through Shogun Warriors, it will be interesting to finish up the reviews with a comparison of the two monster-oriented series and see which one seemed the better of the two. Unless Shogun Warriors takes a sudden downturn, it's going to be a close call.

Next week, we visit with the Marvel Family as they are asked to join a circus.

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