October 1, 2008

Mantech: Robot Warriors #1 (1984 comic)

Written by Rich Margopoulos. Illustrated by Dick Ayers and Chic Stone.

Chapters titled: "Seige of the Renegade Robots", "Tomb of the Robots", "Aquatech: Hero or Traitor?", and "Aftermath: Tales of Planet Mekka".

Notable mainly for their oddly proportioned anatomy and detachable, interchangeable limbs, Mantech is a line of toys from the early 80s which completely escaped my attention until an awesome dude named Rebelwookiee featured them in a nostalgic article on his blog. Being a fan of media tie-ins, I just couldn't resist when I learned Archie put out four issues of a Mantech comic.

How is it? Well... it reads better than some of the shit I've read. It opens with a kick of action as our heroes defend their battlestation from a horde of renegade robots. Just as confusion starts to set in about the various characters and factions, things flash back to an origin story...

On Mekka, a world gutted by war, two archaeologists uncover the remnants of an ancient computer, which immediately beams the secrets of robotic technology into their brains. Jaxon Goode feels mechanical components could be merged with organic beings as the next stage of evolution. His colleague Tyranik dismisses the inclusion of a human mind as weak. His robots will be cold, merciless, strong, and fully under his control. From that day forward, the two are adversaries.

Minutes later, Jaxon finds an ancient spacecraft which has inexplicably been stored in the underground facility. Inside are three failing cryogenic chambers whose inhabitants have partially wasted away. In an attempt to both save their lives and further his research, Jaxon merges the three men with robotic body parts to create... Mantech!!!

The three heroes - Lasertech, Aquatech, Solartech - are as interchangeable as their body parts and lack any character distinction beyond appearance. Despite some whining from Aquatech, they just give in and agree to fight Jaxon's war for him in defense of a world that isn't theirs. I know this is a simple "Comic's Code Approved" tie-in, but I'd love to see at least a little exploration of these fish-out-of-water fellows who struggle to decide whether they're still human or not.

The plot is surprisingly rousing. As I mentioned above, it opens in the middle of a big action sequence, then pauses for a bit of backstory, then comes back and adds a new twist before settling back for some more history. It's simple, but effective. Sadly, the writing itself falls squarely into the school of "explain the obvious". Not only do the characters ramble on and on in tacky blurts about what we can already see them doing, but Margopoulos must fear we'll lose track of who's who since he has his characters refer to each other by name in almost every single balloon. For example...

SOLARTECH: Quick, Aquatech! Triple deflector shields in section 4, deck 3!

AQUATECH: You don't have to tell me twice, Solartech! So much for your master battle plan....

SOLARTECH: Just do what I ordered, Aquatech - and pray!

The art just barely gets the job done. Both Ayers and Stone have done some wonderful work in the past, but they really phoned this one in. The layouts are flat and boring, the characters awkward and undefined. You'd think a pair of newcomers put this thing together, not industry pros.

So basically, it's your typical 80s tie-in comic. If you like this sort of thing (I need to be in the right mood) or have a nostalgic urge to revisit a beloved line of toys from your childhood, it might be worth tracking down. Most everyone else will rightfully just breeze on past.

My review of Mantech: Robot Warriors #2 (1984 comic).

1 comment:

Anthony Williams said...

Wow, it even had a commercial. How did I miss this line? Was it the unfortunate name "Mantech" that kept me away?