Archive | June 2014

Films that deserve a more dignified home video release: The NeverEnding Story

*This column is one in which we look at different films that we feel should get better treatment regarding release to the public, based on their content and behind-the-scenes material*

With film-making emerging from the dark ages of the 1970’s, growing up in the 1980’s brought us several memorable fantasy pictures that had a dark tone that is missing from some films these days (most likely studios getting cold feet that scaring children will equal less box-office returns).

While some films like Labyrinth and Legend have gotten DVD/Blu-Ray releases with bonus features, there’s one film that I often see on the discount shelves, and sigh when I see that all it contains is just the feature film. That feature film, is The Neverending Story.

The story of a bullied young boy who comes across a book that captures his imagination is often talked of fondly by many adults who were children during the 80’s. The film was Wolfgang Petersen’s follow-up after his well-received U-Boat drama, Das Boot, and also one of the few films in which he contributed to the screenplay of a film he was directing. However, Petersen was hindered in numerous ways: special effects, story, and soon studio interference. Word was that he would have continued Bastian’s adventures in a sequel, helping to pay off the ending narrator’s words that “Bastian made many other wishes, and had many more exciting adventures.”

The DVD/Blu-Ray format helped to showcase plenty of special features that could not be displayed in the original VHS format. Sadly, the DVD/Blu-Ray releases of The Neverending Story seems no better off than the VHS copy (word was, Petersen didn’t even know the film was being released in Blu-Ray a few years ago!). When you think of the film, one has to think that there had to have been numerous concept images, matte paintings, and designs for a lot of the creatures. For all we know, there may have been concepts based on certain parts of Michael Ende’s original novel that were done, but never made real.

Beyond the first film, the story’s name sake has pretty much been trampled and tarnished upon over the last 3 decades when it comes to visual media.

A sequel in 1990 attempted to carry on into the rest of Ende’s story, but failed to do much but rehash Bastian’s negative traits. As well, a third direct-to-video sequel only references certain items from the series, and just further tarnishes the characters. An animated series and live-action TV series also were made, though their quality has not carried them over. Of all that has been made, it is only the 1984 film that seems to endure in the minds of many.

Over the years, I’ve had my own ideas of what a dream release for The Neverending Story would entail. Here is a list of special features that I feel a proper release should have:

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1) Audio Commentary – A lot of people dismiss pointless talking over films, but when it’s the filmmakers discussing a technically-complex film like The Neverending Story, there have got to be plenty of stories to tell. While it would be nice to have writer/director Wolfgang Petersen involved, one would hope to also have some of the crew along for the ride. Or, imagine a secondary commentary track with Barrett Oliver (Bastian), Noah Hathaway (Atreyu), and Tami Stronach (The Childlike Empress). Even though Stronach is only in the film for about 5 minutes, I think it would be nice to hear her thoughts on the overall story.

In 2001, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment did an amazing audio commentary, putting the main cast of The Goonies and director Richard Donner in a room, recording them on video as they watched and commented on the film they made. It would be neat to see them attempt something like this for The Neverending Story.

2) Retrospective interview with cast and crew – almost every other Special Features section has one of these for a film that is usually 10+ years old. We could hear thoughts about how Wolfgang Petersen decided to make the film, as well as how the actors got chosen for their roles, and the rigors of using their imagination. One also has to wonder about Noah Hathaway’s words regarding the scene where Atreyu’s horse Artax is overtaken in the Swamps of Sadness.

3) Alternate/Extended Cut of the film – Much like what was done with LegendThe Neverending Story also was cut in several different ways. Word is that while the version we know in the United States contains electronic music by Giorgio Moroder and Kalus Doldinger, word is the cut released in Germany is much different. Though I have never seen it, word is it contains a longer cut of the film, and the electronic score has been replaced by something a little more classical.

4) 60 Million For Fantasies – Unknown to a lot of people, a documentary was made for German television, chronicling the making of The Neverending Story. The film’s 60 million dollar budget (a huge amount to make a film back then!)  is the subject of the title, but the hour-long documentary is incredibly detailed. We see behind-the-scenes with the Special Effects crew, as well as setting up some major scenes, and in a rather amazing inclusion, video of author Michael Ende telling of his displeaure with the film being made. Yes, you heard that right: a making-of special with the source material’s creator criticizing it! You never would see that kind of thing in this day and age. (note: this documentary is on Youtube, though you may need to search to find it in English Subtitles)

A clip from the making-of documentary, “60 Million for Fantasies.” Here, a crew member helps the Rockbiter onto his Rockcycle.

5) Creating the world of Fantasia – A separate documentary with makeup artists, set decorators, costume designers, and other visual effects persons who helped make Rock-Biters look mountainous, made snails race, and much more.

6) A library of the different bits of concept art, matte paintings, and photos regarding the construction/creation of many of the film’s creatures. This could be a bit dicey, since most DVD/Blu-Ray releases have cut back on extra material like this on some Special Features discs.

7) Abandoned Concepts/Deleted Scenes – This would be one area that I could imagine so much information to be found. Looking at the film now, there are some areas where certain scenes just seem to end, and others that feel like they ran out of time and had to force a compromise.

8) Bavaria Filmstudios – The film studio where much of the film was made, is also a treasure trove of animatronics and models from The Neverending Story. Though many of them are not as pristine as they once were, it would be nice to see a video tour of the studio, as well as what remains of the film’s numerous props. Such highlights include Falkor, and even a miniature of Morla, The Ancient One.

The Southern Oracle, and Falkor the Luck Dragon props, currently located at Bavaria Filmstudio. Word is you can actually get your picture taken riding Falkor!

9) The Neverending Story 2: What Might Have Been – Originally, Wolfgang Peterson was to have continued the adventures that were hinted at in the closing narration. While The Neverending Story film covered the first half of Ende’s original story, the remainder dealt with Bastian rebuilding Fantastica with his imagination. However, Peterson did not return, and 6 years later, The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter was released. One has to wonder what Peterson’s original vision was for the two-part magnum-opus.

10) Retrospective on author Michael Ende – To many (like myself),The Neverending Story is the only book of Ende’s that comes to mind. The author of over 20+ stories, it would be nice to have someone give us some background on the man who created Luck Dragons, Fantastica (the original land’s name in his book), and much more.

11) Limahl, and the song film’s theme song – In case you were wondering, the singer of the film’s theme song is a dude (though the dude does sound like a lady). This would shed some light on Limahl’s creative process, and how he came to create the song that just won’t get out of our heads.

12) The Music Video to The Neverending Story – Of course, we couldn’t have the movie without Limahl’s music video, can we?

13) Promotional materials – this would include theatrical trailers, tv spots (if any exist), and movie poster artwork.

14) A Special DVD/Blu-Ray Case – Word was that a couple years ago, a foreign release actually came in a case resembling the book from the film. Given how many studios are releasing fancy boxsets with some of their films, I think this would be a great incentive, and conversation piece for any collector to have! Better yet, if it came with a wearable replica of the Auryn (the talisman given to Atreyu by the Childlike Empress), it’d truly be a thing of beauty!

One concept that Warner Brothers been doing recently for certain films, is the Digibook gimmick for several Blu-Ray titles. This book-like casing is a little larger than the standard Blu-Ray case, but also gives some behind-the-scenes information about the film it is representing. Seeing as it is based on a book, The Neverending Story would be a no-brainer for a Digibook release, in my opinion. In fact, I made a little mock-up on what this set could possibly look like (see below, and remember, this is just a mock-up):

Admit it…you’d buy this, wouldn’t you?

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And that’s my ‘grown-up wish list’ for features that I would love to see for this film that is remembered fondly, but has been left in the dust. Even so, the fanbase for The Neverending Story seems to be more conservative than fandoms that have evolved over the years. I’ve never met any die-hard Neverending Story fans, but every other person I know remembers it in some way. The memorable scene of Atreyu riding on Falkor for example, has been parodied in cartoons like Family Guy, Robot Chicken, and a recent episode of Titans Go.

Raven, Starfire, and Silkie in a Neverending Story reference from a “Titans Go” episode.

Recently, word was announced that there will be an upcoming, 30th Anniversary release of the film from Warner Brothers, coming this fall. However, I’m not holding my breath, as there has been no announcement that this will be anything more than a bare-bones rehash of the previous Blu-Ray release. After all, this is the same studio that when Beetlejuice turned 25 last year, did relatively nothing for one of Tim Burton’s most memorable films. (I also included that film in another dignified home video release posting).

With home video sales taking a beating from streaming media these days, studios have stopped giving us impressive special features, and these days seem more apt to just recycle previous releases, with as little heavy-lifting as possible. It’s sad to think we have a better chance of getting sucked up by The Nothing, than ever seeing a dignified release for this gem of Fantasy filmmaking.

Update: 8/12/14

Well, it looks like Warner Brothers may have given in and decided a little TLC towards The Neverending Story’s 30th Anniversary was in order! Amazon.com posted images of the front and rear covers of the upcoming release’s front and back covers, and on the back, this is what was found:

It’s not everything on my wishlist, but it’s got so much that I’m eager for this release. I can only assume Reimagining the Neverending Story is the much-hoped-for retrospective I would love to see.

I’m most intrigued by the audio commentary by Wolfgang Petersen. I’ve only ever heard Petersen’s commentary on the release of Air Force One, though I’m hoping with all these years that have gone by, there’s enough stuff in the film to keep him talking and reminiscing.

The additional making-of and documentary is hard to decipher what we’ll see. My assumption is that the World of Fantasies documentary may be the same as the 60 Million for Fantasies one that I mentioned earlier in the posting.

I am definitely planning to review this release once I get it into my hands. Despite my feelings about Warner Brothers on several of their releases, they have impressed me in the past, with the likes of  their Little Shop of Horrors rekease, which included the long-lost original “Don’t Feed The Plants” ending.

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Toy Review: Masterpiece Grimlock (Toys R Us 2014 Re-Issue)

For those of us who grew up in the mid-1980’s, one of the cartoons I gravitated towards was Transformers. The concept of robots turning into vehicles was the coolest thing to my young mind, but like most concepts, the showrunners would soon find other forms that these robots in disguise could transform into.

One of them was dinosaurs. After finding skeletons of dinosaurs near their ship, the Autobots Wheeljack and Ratchet decided to create robotic dinosaurs that transformed! Out of this collaboration, emerged The Dinobots: Grimlock, Sludge, Snarl, Slag, and Swoop.

Toy-wise, I never did have any dinosaurs as a kid, except for a small plastic one. I still remember a Kindergarten assignment where we were supposed to bring in dinosaur toys to display, and one kid named Nick Kern brought his Grimlock toy. I remember how many of us were fascinated by Grimlock’s rotating head, and opening/closing jaw. It wasn’t until almost 7 years later that I would obtain my own Grimlock, when Hasbro re-released the moldings under the Transformers: Generation 2 headline.

In 2003, the Japanese company Takara began giving those classic first generation figures a second life as larger, Masterpiece editions. This meant larger figures, with more accurate transformations and appearances to their original forms. Optimus Prime was the first figure, and the treatment carried on over to other characters like Megatron, Starscream, and Hot Rod. In 2009, Takara brought Grimlock into the line, making him Masterpiece figure #8.

After his release in Japan in 2009, Hasbro released Masterpiece Grimlock as a Toys R Us exclusive in the fall of 2010. The $70 release was rarely ever on the shelf, and I only saw him in stores once when I picked one up for a friend. Sadly, when I went back for the other one, it was gone.

With the upcoming appearance of Grimlock in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hasbro and Toys R Us found this the perfect time to re-issue the robotic T-Rex.

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With the Masterpiece-sized figures, they have often been produced twice as big as the original figures. This almost gives an adult the feeling of holding an ‘average-sized’ Transformer, albeit one with more bells and whistles…and Masterpiece Grimlock is definitely filled with more surprises than his original release.

One thing that often differed between the original toy and the cartoon, was the color of Grimlock’s eyes. In the cartoon, his eyes/visor color was blue, whereas in the toyline, these features were red. What was great was that the makers of this latest iteration took the debate, and found a happy medium! A switch on the back of Grimlock’s robot head allows you to change between both colors. With his dinosaur form’s head, the top opens up, and you can rotate the eyes to different colors!

Transformation-wise, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Grimlock’s transformation between both forms, was not that different from his original incarnation! His tail turns into his legs, and his midsection shifts up to become his torso (with an appearing Autobot insignia in a special place on his chest). However, one of the rubik’s cube points of transformation that can get tedious, is the transformation of his legs into the T-Rex tail. Unlike the stiffer G1 transformation, many of the leg pieces don’t really ‘lock’ into place.

As expected, there are plenty of extra areas of articulation. From hips, knees, and even arm joints, as well as his T-Rex arms and fingers. There are also inner workings, that will shake the T-Rex head back and forth when one wiggles the tail section.

Some may even find it odd that there appears to be a place to put something in his mouth. The original Japanese release actually came with a jet of flame that one could attach here, to simulate Grimlock’s fire breath. Personally, I feel this little accessory would have been a great addition to this release (word is a 3rd party group is working on a version of their own fire accessories for the figure).

Accessory-wise, Grimlock comes with his sword and gun, along with a crown, which was based on one he wore in an issue of the Marvel Comics series in the late 80’s.

Hidden switches can also be found on the Dinobot leader. In his right leg/arm, a hidden button allows light to be piped into his hand. This allows the clear-plastic in his sword or gun, to light up. It’s a neat effect, but the light-piping is about 1/3 as strong as the examples shown on the packaging.

There’s also a hidden switch in Grimlock’s jaw. The left ‘cheek’ functions as a button that can cause the jaw to bite down when pushed.

Size-Wise, Grimlock fits in well with the newer Masterpiece figures. However, he may appear out-of-scale with some of the earlier figure releases of Optimus Prime (seen above), and Megatron.

As well, some of the joints in his torso are a little looser than I would like. This does make me a little worried that in the future, he may be unable to hold some standard poses in robot form.

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Four years after his first US release, Grimlock’s return has price-jumped him by $10, to $80 (not including tax). If you were lucky enough to get him a couple years ago, there’s really no reason to get this version. It’s a passable reissue, and is only missing a few minor decals/details in certain parts of the figure. At least for those of us who are not won over by Age of Extinction’s simpler toy transformations, Masterpiece Grimlock is a nice reminder of the old days. Speaking of the old days, we leave you with this little nugget of nostalgia:

“Me Grimlock kick butt!”

 

 

 

Terrible 2’s Reviews: Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen

*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*

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One of the strangest things I heard before the release of Transformers in 2007, was that many in Hollywood were actually wondering if the concept being put on film would attract audiences. Would the world be in on a film where robots crash-land from outer space on Earth, and then take on the forms of cars and airplanes?

To me and many others, we were already in (even if Michael Bay was in the director’s chair), and by the end of 2007, the film had become one of the year’s biggest films. And so, Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures quickly put a sequel into development. However, the schedule for release on this film was already started before the summer of 2007 was over, with the sequel due in theaters in just 2 years (word is, Michael Bay likes to move fast on things!).

The production was complicated by the writer’s strike, which prompted the addition of writer Ehren Kreuger to the staff of Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman (who had penned the first film’s screenplay).

Needless to say, the production was pretty much a sprint to the finish. There were over 3 times as many Transformers in the sequel, and as the film neared the finish line, Industrial Light & Magic was working down to the last minute to get their shots finalized.

Of course, Revenge of the Fallen became one of the numerous sequels in this day and age that eclipses its predecessor in size and grosses, but was one of those ‘hideously beautiful’ creatures of Hollywood. I call it that, because so many found fault with it, and yet in Hollywood’s eyes, it was beautiful because of its big business, pulling in more money than the 2007 film.

I’ve had about five years to think about Revenge of the Fallen, and even though I haven’t sat down and watched it over and over, there’s so much in the few viewings I’ve seen, that helps me whittle down my problems with it.

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Too much juvenile humor – It felt that with the 2007 film, Michael Bay was kept on a tight leash by executive producer Steven Spielberg (at times, the film had more heart than many of Bay’s other films). But with the sequel, it seemed that Michael was let off the leash to bring forth more of his own ideas. And in many respects, he still behaves like a teenage boy in a lot of places.

You know those kids in middle school who craved attention by mouthing off to the teachers, or just outright made fun of other kids who just weren’t as cool as them? That’s pretty much what Bay does in this sequel. In a sense, this is almost like his return to the sensibilities of Armageddon and Bad Boys. Think of your middle school experiences, combine them into a movie, and that’s pretty much what was done with Revenge of the Fallen (seriously, Bay? We needed TWO shots of the dogs humping?)

Megatron’s master plan – In the first film, it was perceived that Megatron left Cybertron to pursue the lost Allspark cube. The Allspark’s ability to bring life to technology was what Megatron craved: a way to potentially rebuild Cybertron, and power a new army for him to crush the Autobots. Eventually, he found the cube was on Earth, but ended up getting himself frozen many centuries before he was uncovered. His motivations seemed fairly straight-forward…but it turns out, they weren’t.

As we soon find out in this film, Megatron was actually operating on orders from his Master, The Fallen. However, the Fallen still wanted to carry out the plan that he attempted many centuries before, and needed Megatron to kill Optimus Prime, and find The Matrix of Leadership, which acted as a key to the energy-machine hidden in an Egyptian pyramid, and drain energy from the sun.

I’m not making that up. That’s the extra chapter(s) as to what Megatron had in store in this film. And if you think that side-plot was convoluted…then what Megatron cooked up with Sentinel Prime in the next film is even crazier, if you try to find logic across all three films.

Skids and Mudflap – By now we’ve all heard plenty regarding theses two being stereotypes, but the big problem is they are tasked to stay with our main human characters through a majority of the film, but rarely do they ever provide anything constructive to the situation. They just largely bumble their way through the film. Even in one scene where they somewhat ‘help,’ it’s mainly because they start arguing and rough-housing around.

And in truth, that’s all they do: just spout alot of big talk, and knock each other around. It would have made more sense for Bay to just have included Bumblebee to be with Sam and Mikaela for the entire film. At least Bumblebee still took his role as Sam’s guardian seriously.

Too many stories going on at the same time – this is one of those films where you almost need a scorecard to figure out what is going on and where. It attempts to delve into the lore of the Transformers with The Primes and the Fallen (one of the original Primes who defected), as well as the resurrection of Megatron, the death of Optimus Prime, and the new Macguffin of the film universe: The Matrix of Leadership. Though unlike its cartoon counterpart, the Matrix is meant to function as a key to start an energon machine hidden in one of the pyramids in Egypt, but may also serve as a way to revive Optimus Prime.

And there’s something about Sam Witwicky going off to college and maybe, growing up, and how he can’t tell his girlfriend Mikaela that he loves her. Making-of footage of the writers show them admitting that this was their lynchpin to connect Sam to the Transformers, as much like Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2, Sam attempts to leave the excitement behind and try and lead a normal life…but finds that that isn’t so easy. This storytelling soon gets caught up in the tidal wave of the film, to the point that by the end, one can hardly comprehend that Sam has matured at all from his adventure.

Where the heck are we!? – Seriously, don’t give Michael Bay a GPS system. He’ll just throw it away and go, “I don’t need this stupid thing, but that place looks really great to film in!”

So much of the film just breaks the laws of time and space. In the span of what must be just a few hours, Mikaela manages to fly from California to ‘somewhere on the East Coast,’ and arrive just in time to catch Sam in bed with the Decepticon Pretender, Alice.

In another sequence, the Decepticon named Jetfire pounds down some doors within the Smithsonian Institution…and suddenly finds himself in an airplane graveyard in Arizona!

And don’t get me started on footage in the Middle East. Bay seems to have come to the conclusion that desert-is-desert, and just mashes together at least 4 different areas around Egypt. If you’re really into geographically figuring out where much of the film takes place, stop while you’re ahead, or you’ll be cursing Michael Bay for jumbling up all of the Middle East’s locations into the handy-dandy Egytaghanistan.

Too many Transformers – This sounds like a weird statement, but to me, Revenge of the Fallen suffered the same problems as films like Iron Man 2, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The sequel attempts to make things bigger and better than the first film, and because of that, much of the effects crew was taxed with doubling or tripling the amount of computer-generated output. This often leads to some scenes just being pushed through as ‘good enough,’ with some not taking their time quite as well as the first film.

As well, we see all styles of Transformers: pretenders, combiners, animals, insecticons, and even microbots. The way all these different types are crammed into the film, it was almost like Bay was afraid that the sequel would be the last Transformers film ever. They even manage to cram in a quick cameo by Scorponok, who was last seen in the first film…though they do not provide any information as to where Barricade in the first film went to.

This also creates a problem, that with so many Transformers running around, there’s no time to really develop any of the new characters. Many of them are just set dressing for much of the story. Even Skids and Mudflap, who we spend as much time with as Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, do little more than chatterbox on and on without giving us a pair of likable characters to relate to.

Humans are so annoying! – Bay seems to love just throwing in stereotypes or annoying characters, and in this film, it feels the number of annoying humans has doubled! Sam’s college roommate Leo becomes little more than a fast-talking idiot. A little person playing a border guard lets our ‘heroes’ pass because they are from America – it’s as ridiculous as the way he portrays characters in many of his other films.

Bay even provides us with a government liason named Galloway, who is there as the atypical, ‘we don’t need giant robots when other giant robots are destroying our Military hardware and killing people – that’s what our Military Forces are for!’ Personally, I guess I just am an ignorant child of the Reagan-era, who doesn’t see how not wanting giant robots that want to help humans is a bad thing.

Sam’s parents return as well, with his Mom given a role that is three times as whiny as her first film’s role. Seriously, very little of anything intelligent seems to come out of her mouth.

As well, Seymour Simmons returns, just as mouthy and annoying as ever, though at least he makes up for it by actually having information. In a weird way, he’s like those old film noir suspects: they are strangely quirky, yet somehow provide the main character with much-needed information.

Probably of all the human characters, it seems the only ones that are the most interesting are Lennox and Epps. Maybe it’s because these guys largely seem to be taking themselves more seriously than the other humans. As well, Epps’ interactions with Optimus Prime in one scene definitely helped make him seem more humane towards the Autobots than most.

The film is a little too long – I still remember the first time I saw the final battle in this film. After awhile with all sorts of little skirmishes here and there, a little voice in my head started pleading, “please, end soon!”

That becomes the problem with so many scenes: Bay has numerous scenes cut together with a huge amount of padding that just isn’t needed. There’s so much going on that soon the battle just becomes a rather convoluted mess. Even the use of the giant combiner Devastator seemed little more than fan-service, as his transformation sequence was about the most memorable part of his screen-time. As well, Sam’s parents are even thrown into the mix, which slows the film down for about 8 minutes.

When the turned Decepticon Jetfire is awoken from stasis, Bay spends more time on him bantering and bumbling around like an old man, before finally narrowing us in on the fact that Jetfire has prime information that we can use to better understand the plot.

The film clocks in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Watching it in preparation for this post, I kept looking at certain scenes, imagining cutting out bits here and there, in order for the film to just get to the point in so many scenes. I believe that one could probably cut out around 45 minutes of unneeded scenes, and the film would play better.

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Even with its multi-billion dollar haul, Michael Bay, Shia LeBeouf, and several others came forward to admit that Revenge of the Fallen was a rushed film that could have benefited from more time.

the 2011 release of Transformers: Dark of the Moon served as some form of apology, as its story became a little easier to follow, and Bay managed to pull back from his drunken escapades that were seen in the previous film. As well, he even managed to kill off the annoying comic relief character that Ken Jeong was playing…and kept him dead! So, maybe he is learning…but in baby steps.

Now, 3 years after Dark of the Moon, a fourth film is about to be released, which appears to be acting as a mid-ground change-up for much of the series. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee appear to be the last of the 2007 film’s Autobots, but a number of new ones are entering the fray, as well as man-made Transformers, and even a new cadre of human fleshlings, this time with actor Mark Wahlberg befriending Optimus.

It’s definitely a given that Transformers: Age of Extinction will have a big opening weekend, but we’ll see if audiences will take to the new direction Bay has steered the film in.

Gimmicks of Yesteryear – The Wildstorm Universe’s 1994 Variant Covers Release

In the early 1990’s, some of the policies and practices with some of the big-name comic studios, didn’t sit well with some artists. This reached a head when several artists working at Marvel Comics staged an exodus, to found their own self-publishing label, which soon became known as Image Comics.

Of the artists who joined in on the new venture, such names included Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, and Erik Larsen.

A picture from the early days of Image Comics. (Back row, left to right: Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri; From row, left to right: Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino)

Image Comics was meant as a place where creators could own their own work, and also work outside the norms of The Comics Code Authority. And thus, the different creators started their own little sub-divisions for their titles, with the likes of Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, and Wildstorm Productions.

Probably out of all of the different Image divisions, it was Wildstorm Productions that seemed almost like a stepchild to Marvel Comics‘ brand of X-titles (such as The Uncanny X-Men, and X-Factor). Jim Lee and several of his cohorts developed a number of titles that interlocked due to a number of characters who possessed the Gen-Factor, a genetic abnormality that causes powers to manifest. Within a few years of the founding of Image Comics, there were multiple titles serving under the Wildstorm banner. These included such titles as Wildcats, Gen 13, Deathblow, and Wetworks.

During its first few years, not much had really been done in the way of variant covers for Wildstorm Production titles. A few of the normal releases did have some specialty cover types used, but a title-wide variant cover blitz, would soon blanket all the Wildstorm titles in the Summer of 1994.

All 8 of 1994’s Wildstorm Universe variant covers, compiled together into their final image (pencils by Whilce Portacio, inking by Alex Garner, color by Joe Chiodo)

Artist Whilce Portacio had just begun his own series titled Wetworks, but was also tasked with creating a large mural of all of the Wildstorm characters, and up-and-coming inker/artist Alex Garner, was tasked with the inking of the final design. The result was an in-your-face piece of art that would span across 8 different issues, over the summer months of 1994. Each title would have their lead(s) displayed in front of a phasing background, of magenta and blue.

These titles included:

Team 7 #1

WildC.A.T.S. #10

Stormwatch #10

Gen 13 #5

The Kindred #3

Deathblow #5

Union #0

Wetworks #2

Wetworks #2

I first encountered a few of these covers on comic store shelves during July of 1994, when I saw the alternate covers for WildC.A.T.S. and Stormwatch. I didn’t consider collecting all of them, until I then got the variant covers for Wetworks #2, and Team 7 #1.

Release-wise, Team 7 #1 would be the last piece of the puzzle, when it appeared on shelves in September of 1994. The issue also marked the beginnings of a major backstory for many of the characters, in that it would finally reveal how several of them gained their Gen-Factor powers.

Of course the expansive image Portacio created would not just be relegated to a collection of variant covers. It was soon after spun off into several different permutations.

One of which was a landscape-style poster with the Wildstorm logo on the right-hand side, featuring the complete image (a recreation of which can be found at the end of this post).

There was also a portfolio set (as seen on the left), with the image broken up into 8 separate pieces, and polybagged. There were 5000 numbered sets, with the promise of one of the pieces in each one, having Whilce Portacio’s autograph.

The images would also figure into the second series of the Wildstorm Archives trading card release, becoming the series’ chase card set. The strangest thing about this variant set, is that it numbered 9 cards, with the Wildcats variant cover taking up two chromium cards. This design really throws off any attempts to try and recreate the image in card form, and I’ve never found out why it was done (unless there’s some unwritten rule that chase card sets had to number at least 9 at the time?).

Much like my post on the Gen 13 variant covers, this one was another about remembering how Wildstorm Productions‘ gimmicks (and some of their comics) has kept itself on my mind even after almost 20 years. The company would have several cross-title storylines in the next few years, from Wildstorm Rising, to Fire From Heaven. However, my memory is moreso enamored with the artistry of Wildstorm’s endeavors, and Whilce Portacio’s work is one that sticks with me as much as the work J Scott Campbell did on Gen 13.

The rare poster image featuring Whilce Portacio’s Wildstorm cover art. It measures 24 x 36 inches at full size.

There would be many Wildstorm Productions group pieces, but this is still the one that rings through greatly in my mind.