03 March 2019

FWS Forgotten Classics: The ROBOTECH Graphic Novel (Comico 1986)

Every saga has a beginning that is in the background, hinting at events that echo in the characters and setting we know. We have seen this with the Clone Wars, the Bulterian Jihad, the Silmarillion, and the 1st Cylon War. If done properly, prequel stories allows to get to know a familiar world and character in a new light, adding to the richness of the original work…and then other times, not so much. One of the key landmark anime series in the United States is Harmony Gold’s ROBOTECH and it too, had echoes of a grand previous story. Many fans of ROBOTECH, like me, wanted to know about whom the original Zor was and the origin story of his super dimensional fortress that crashed landed on an unpopulated island called Macross in 1999. We original fans of ROBOTECH did not have to wait long because in August of 1986, Comico Comics published that very story in their ROBOTECH Graphic Novel. In this installment of Forgotten Classics, we will be opening the pages of this lost chapter of ROBOTECH history. 
 
What is the ROBOTECH: Graphic Novel?
Published in the late summer of 1986 by Comico Comics, holder of the ROBOTECH comic license, this 48 page oversized 10x8inch softcover book sold for a cover price of $5.95 ($13.63 today) and was a prequel to the ROBOTECH TV series, but not to its progenitor Super Dimension Macross. Ten years prior to the first episode of ROBOTECH “Booby Trap”, two worlds collided when an alien battle fortress crashed on a unpopulated island in the South Pacific. This came at a terrible time in the history of the human race. Across the face of Earth, various factions and nations fought in the so-called “Global Civil War” and with the outbreak of tactical nuclear weapons in the Middle East and poison gas in Asia, some of the leaders of the Western Alliance of the old United States were growing deeply considered that things were about to get grimmer. Thousands of lightyears away, another war was waging that would soon engulf Terra that was caused by a flower…the Invid Flower of Life. This powerful plant was a “gift” from the Invid Regis to a young Tirolian explorer/scientist named Zor after a romantic Captain Kirk style cultural exchange.
Within that plant was the science of Robotechology and power generation, causing a technological and society wide revolution on Tirol. Zor would become the First Robotech Master…but his “gift” soon caused a bitter between Tirol and the Invid. In the open of the graphic novel, Zor is at odds with his Zentraedi guards over Zor ignoring the orders of the Masters and the requests of the Zentraedi about seeding other worlds with the Flower of Life. He considered the Flower of Life a gift that could liberate new civilizations from the quest of energy. During on these seeding operations, Zor waits too long and his heavily armed vessel is attacked by the Invid.
It is here that Zor sends the battle fortress to a world that could use the power of the Invid flower: Terra. For much of the graphic novel, we are introduced to Roy Fokker, Captain Gloval, Rick Hunter, and Dr. Lang. It is here that we see some of the Global Civil War and Roy Fokker, based on the aircraft carrier Kenosha, battling mercenary pilot T.R. Edwards over the skies of the Western Alliance. After the crash, that briefly halted the Global Civil War, the Western Alliance Carrier Kenosha is sent to investigate the crashed massive alien vehicle. It is here that the graphic novel via some familiar characters, explores the SDF-1 in its original Tirolian state. Some very cool moments during that exploration and the graphic novel would led us up to the ever beginning of the first episode of ROBOTECH, beautifully tying it all together in a neat pretty bow.     

Why is the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel considered a “Forgotten Classic?”
While I’ll firmly believe that the 1986 ROBOTECH Graphic Novel is a great original ROBOTECH story that fulfilled the promise of showing the origins of the SDF-1 and Zor. For me, that deems it a classic due to the business of prequels are a tricky game to get right…just ask George Lucas. That being said, I felt at the time and even now, that the Comico 1986 graphic novel was the true (canon) story of how Zor’s battlefortress came to Terra and altered the history of the entire galaxy. But why was it forgotten if it was just a proper story that blended with the TV series?
Some graphic novels have endurance like the Dark Knight, the Watchmen, Maus,and Persepolis…then there are other titles that have their moment and fade away.  As I said above, Harmony Gold was attempting to forge an empire with the Sentients and "the movie", but those did not happen, and Harmony Gold could not extend the success of ROBOTECH much beyond 1988-1989. While it reran on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 1993 and there were comic books, ROBOTECH was on life support for over a decade. While ROBOTECH itself is legendary, the comic books are not given that status due to the fact they adaptations of the original series or just mostly terrible as we saw with Malibu/Eternity titles. It also did not help that Eternity comics came out with a ROBOTECH genesis limited-series in 1992 around how Zor sweet-talked the Flower of Life away from the Invid Regis. These were nowhere near as good as the Comico graphic novel, but confused and deluded the original “Genesis” title. Today, a first edition ROBOTECH Graphic Novel is sold online for about $12.     

The Historical Context of the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel

FWS discusses the 1980’s quite a bit due to the 80’s being totally awesome and because it was a key time-period in sci-fi history. Normally, when FWS covers the historical context of a certain work and why things did not work out, it’s because of bad timing…but that is not the case with the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel in 1986. When Comico released the impressive graphic novel, it was at the apex of the popularity of ROBOTECH given that it was liberally running across the nation in most TV markets. Not only was a hit in most TV markets with the intended audience, like ten-year old me, but Harmony Gold was attempting to expand the ROBOTECH band with various  related products as seen with the DEL REY books, the Art books, the Comico comics, Matchbox toys, model kits, and the RPG by Palladium Books.
In addition to various merchandising lines, Harmony Gold was attempting to establish an empire with ROBOTECH with a sequel that featured original animation and a re-dubbed of Megazone 23 as the “ROBOTECH Movie”. These failed ventures stand today as the remnants of the aborted Harmony Gold imperial dream. But, at the time of the graphic novel’s release, the sun still had not set on ROBOTECH or Harmony Gold’s dreams. Besides the world of animation, the 1980’s were a time of great change in the realm of comic books. During this time, newer smaller press comic book companies like Dark Horse, First Comics, Comico, and Now Comics were battling for a place in the sun alongside the Big Two. It was during this time as well that the graphic novel became a popular form of comic that had special meaning to us collectors. Graphic novels represented something special, something outside of the normal comic book titles and/or storylines. Established titles and companies dove into the graphic novel trend with Batman: Dark Knight, Batman: Digital Justice, Ironman Crash, and Alien Legion: A Grey Day to Die. These smaller press published would use the more mature format of the graphic novel to release some great titles and ideas along with creating buzz. That is why when Comico began teasing the graphic novel that we fans of ROBOTECH began to wonder what Comico had up their sleeves.     

The ROBOTECH Graphic Novel and Sentients Connection
When it was clear that ROBOTECH was going to be a big hit on the airwaves and with merchandising deals, Harmony Gold decided to move forward with two projects envisioned by Carl Macek: a feature length film and the TV series sequel. Much like the original saga, the ROBOTECH movie was cobbled from Megazone 23 and aired in the DFW Metroplex theaters around July 23rd 1986 . It would bomb and Harmony Gold put the rest of their eggs into the basket of the Sentients TV series sequel that would be original animation. These plans were in high gear in 1986 and these projects were mentioned in the first page of the Comico graphic novel.
Given the masterplan under the helm of Carl Macek, he was able to insert the seeds of the Sentients into the ROBOTECH Genesis graphic novel with Colonel TR Edwards. While the characters was altered during the Sentients initial development, he was presented in the pages of the 1986 graphic novel as TR Edwards. This skilled mercenary pilot was a key character in the graphic novel and would also be in the incoming Sentients TV shows as a real scumbag of the REF. For us original ROBOTECH fans, this was our introduction to TR Edwards. It was a pity that the character was just terribly done in the released Sentients episodes.


Where Else Have We Seen this Concept of the ROBOTECH Backstory?
There are two other titles that also mined the same subject
of the backstory to the SDF-1 crashing onto Macross Island during the Global Civil War: Eternity Comics’ “Robotech Genesis: The Legend of Zor” from 1992 and the DEL REY book “Robotech Genesis” by Jack McKinney published in 1987.  Due to the planned connection between the Jack McKinney books and the TV series by Harmony Gold, they align more closely than did the later telling of the backstory to the science of robotechnology presented in the Genesis graphic novel due to the 1986 Comico graphic novel being serialized into the pages of McKinny’s 1987 nvoel of the same name. However that fateful alignment does not apply to the Eternity Comics title. I am not a big fan of Eternity Comics’ handling of the ROBOTECH license and I think that they published real shit that degraded the remains of the collapsing ROBOTECH empire.     

What was the Impact and Legacy of the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel?
It is often difficult to track down the success or failure of an old comic during the Dark Ages prior to the internet. I firmly believe that the ROBOTECH graphic novel sold well given that there were two prints issued by Comico. The first printing was in August of 1986 (when I bought it) and the second in December of 1986. At the time, I had to preorder the graphic novel to be on a “guaranteed list” that my brother and I would be getting a copy and I remember how popular the guys at Starbase 21 in Tulsa thought of the ROBOTECH graphic novel was going to be. That or they just could have been after my hard earned allowance. Everyone I knew that was into ROBOTECH, had a copy of the graphic novel, but like many comic book fads and tie-ins…it fell into obscurity. For better or worse, the ROBOTECH graphic novel was still a product of its time and while ROBOTECH comic titles were continuously pumped out by other published until this very day, the graphic novel was largely forgotten. Partly this is due to Eternity Comics published a very similar storyline in 1992 with their ROBOTECH Genesis: The Legend of Zor limited series.
Falling into obscurity is true of a great number of comic titles and does not reflected how good or how bad a comic title is. Few comic titles endure like the comic titans of X-Men, Superman, or even Archie. They have their time in the sun and then lights fade out. However, the darkness ended for the ROBOTECH comics came on March of 2003, when DC Comics reprinted the classic Comico ROBOTECH comics. along with the graphic novel. In the first volume, which included #1-6 in a trade paperback volume, the 1986 graphic novel was included. This was done again in May of 2018 by the current holder of the license, Titan Comics, with the “ROBOTECH Archives”. The first volume of ROBOTECH Archives: Macross Saga included the first 11 issues of the Comico comic series as well as the graphic novel. Reading comments about these reprints, many commentators mention the inclusion of the ROBOTECH Genesis graphic novel being a big positive. This shows us some of the legacy of the graphic novel. 



My Experience with the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel
Many of you know that started watching anime during the 2nd Wave of Anime into America during the 1970’s with Battle of the Planets and Starblazers that aired on a local Dallas TV station when I was three. While as a fan of Starblazers, everything was transformed when ROBOTECH aired on a local Tulsa TV station in 1985. After seeing my first episode “Blue Wind”, the 13th episode of the Macross Saga, my life was altered in a profound way. I was singularly obsessed by ROBOTECH, Mecha, and Military SF for the next several years and forever would it dominate my path. During this time, my allowance was committed to buying everything and anything ROBOTECH/anime related.
At some point in 1985, I was made aware of an incoming graphic novel from Comico…likely from the Comico ROBOTECH comic series, and my brother and I reserved our copies from Starbase 21(at their old location next to Casa Bonita).  I read this over and over again when we picked up and it shaped how I view the larger ROBOTECH story. For me, the Comico ROBOTECH Genesis Graphic Novel was gossip and it was the canonized backstory to the events of the entire ROBOTECH saga. I still regard this as the backstory and I think it is one of the best original ROBOTECH stories. 

3 comments:

  1. So cool!! Wish we will see another post such as Guns From The Future as soon as possible.

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  2. Why do you consistently refers to "The Sentinels" as "The Sentients"?

    Otherwise another great article... I wish I'll be able to read it one day.
    It's a weird time to be a robotech fan though.

    Unlike you, I did not live through the original 80's buzz. Rather, I discovered the franchise about the time the live movie fell in development hell and Palladium lost their licence, just as I was finishing to paint my Robotech miniatures and writing my own supplement for the not yet covered material of the 2nd edition of the RPG. (Still getting ever nearer to my first game though!)

    Though the comics do give a good read, especially "The Sentinels" (IMO), the novels are what really convinced me that this was a precious stepping stone for science fiction and literature in general. Despite the Garlands (See Robotech : The Movie's bike) already being out of the picture...
    But novelization, like prequels, are a tricky proposition when it comes to fanbases; and I fear the future might have difficulties remembering just how technically just the Robotech Comics and novelizations were in their efforts to stay true to their source material while keeping in tone with the different demands of their respective mediums.

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  3. I went back and reread my copy of Robotech the Graphic Novel due to your article. I forgot how much I liked it. The horror of being trapped in the proto SDF1 with various things trying to kill them was a good touch. The character of T.R. Edwards was a nice mirror of Fokker also. Thanks for shining a light on this gem.

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