By now we know the history. Super Dimension Fortress Macross was chosen by Harmony Gold to be dubbed and edited for Western television, but it had too many episodes for a weekend run and too few for a weekday run. So two other shows were chosen, they licensed the name “Robotech” from Revell, who was making Macross model kits under that name in the US, and a series was born. The second war comes from the unconnected Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross, which became known as Robotech Masters in the recent remaster (where all the nudity and blood were put back in but otherwise uses the same audio from the original show with a new intro that uses the same theme song) because that’s what Comico named that series. But why were all three wars given different names?
In total 85 episodes of Robotech came from the three wars (Genesis Climber Mospedia became the third Robotech War/Robotech: The New Generation). Comico The Comic Company (the publisher’s full name at the time, like “Marvel Comics Group”) published their comics either monthly or bimonthly. Already the comic lasted on shelves longer than the show aired on television by splitting the three wars into their own series. Imagine how long it would have taken to publish an 85 issue series on a monthly basis. This was actually a good idea on Comico’s part. However it led to a problem.
The first episode of the Masters saga is “Dana’s Story”, a clip show meant to bridge the gap between the first and second war, and allows Dana to tell her parents backstory. Dana Sterling is of course the daughter of Max and Miriya Sterling, but since the two shows are separate from each other this connection was one of the ways show creator Carl Macek tried to turn three disconnected shows into one complete story. The problem is that this episode basically spoils the wedding of a human and Zentraedi long before either character showed up in the comics. So the first issue of Robotech Masters is the second episode of the show. This kind of works as “Dana’s Story” doesn’t have a counterpart in Southern Cross. It was culled together from clips of the both shows to form an original introduction mainly of Dana and her best friend Bowie Grant, the two most important characters in this part of the story. So after the Masters comic ended this comic was produced to complete the collection and give us not only a proper adaptation of “Dana’s Story”, but as the writer would do with his run on the Robotech comics attempt to build on the episode and flesh things out. When it comes to this adaptation there are some minor changes but there are plenty of additions.
Comico The Comic Company (May, 1998)
ADAPTATION: Markālan Joplin
ARTISTS: Thomas A. Tenney & Mike Chen
COLORIST: Tom Reilly
COVER: Ken Steacy (with thanks to Vic and Barb–the full cover shows more of the room and indicates this could be Dana’s room or just a really huge Robotech fan)
LETTERER: Bob Pinaha
EDITORS: Maggie Brenner & Diana Schutz
One of the additions shows up immediately as the comic starts with a history of how the SDF-1 arrived on Earth (also told in Robotech: The Graphic Novel) and the events of the first Robotech war. This is told by wrapping images around tubes filtering the Protoculture Matrix, something seen in the first appearance of the Robotech Masters. That scene happens near the end of the episode but here it shows up at the beginning and you can certainly make the case that the flow is improved by that move. So our introduction to the titular threat in the second war comes first. The Masters are shows the remains of the SDF-1, which is protected by what they hypothesize could be an inorganic barrier. In the animation the three “specters” just show up and fade away but here it’s an active attempt to see past the specters and check out the rest of the planet. It’s a nice change.
They observe the graduation of the new class of Robotech Defense Force soldiers, which is actually how the episode started. Anatole Leonard gives the speech meant to serve as exposition for what happened between “Too The Stars”, the last episode of The Macross Saga, and this episode set 15 years later. This is another example of Joplin using the format to his advantage. Remember, this episode doesn’t exist in the Japanese counterpart, taking bits from other episodes to make this work. Dana and Bowie aren’t seen in the supposed graduation ceremony in the episode but not only are they here, but the writer uses them to note that they should already know this information, making Leonard look like a blowhard who likes making long winded speeches. (Sounds about right to me.) Furthermore, this is the first case of Joplin exploring what it must be like for Dana, whose mother was a former enemy, gets from one cadet in particular, and this is the first time. Bowie notes that Dana has knocked the guy out for lesser insults than the one here, at the ceremony, but she was prepared for him. She glued his seat. The jerk doesn’t show up again in the series that I know of but this is an aspect of Dana’s life the episode doesn’t mention. Yes, Max and Miriya’s romance was a turning point in the war and the first sign of peace between Earthlings and Zentraedi, and both served the RDF well, but you know there’s going to be some resentment.
Dana and Bowie Grant are both assigned to the 15th Alpha Tactical Armored Corps (ATAC). Dana is thrilled for the same reason that Bowie is upset. The 15th are known for being a front line combat unit. Bowie, unlike his Japanese counterpart if my watch of the first episode of Southern Cross is any indication, is not a fighter. He only joined the military because his parents (Vince and Jean Grant, who like Dana’s parents went off to do Robotech II: The Sentinels) and his godfather, Rolf Emerson, were in the military. He basically ended up there by default, something I remember being mentioned in later episodes but not brought up in this one. We also learn that Dana has a history of being a troublemaker, though given the xenophobe earlier there may be reason for at least some of it. Whatever the case it doesn’t make Lt. Fredericks happy except to be rid of her. Oh how wrong you are. Dana is only slightly less problematic than her Japanese counterpart Jeanne. I’m expecting a few changes in my review of the first issue/second episode.
Before we get any more backstory the ceremony concludes and we return to the Masters, who are apparently watching that first Southern Cross episode as further images and a later story moment both come from that temporarily ignored episode. (It was the second episode of the second Robotech War and the first issue of the comic.) Here we get another edition as the Elders are secretly concerned that these new Micronian opponents are so young and they’re so very old. Joplin plays on the Elders’ being concerned over their own mortality as their Protoculture reserves are being used up. I don’t think it was a necessary edition but still an interesting one. You kind of forget what monsters they are. In the episode they immediately launch their attack but we won’t see it in this comic until later and I think it is better pacing.
Also better pacing is when Dana visits Bowie in his room, the two of them both lacking a home to go to with their parents gone. In the episode Dana just starts going on about her backstory, believing for no apparently reason that it will help him. Here Joplin takes time to extend the conversation, nothing that Bowie is unhappy to be part of the 15th outside of getting assigned to the same group as his best friend. It’s this conversation that more naturally leads into the history of Max and Miriya’s romance, from their first meeting, to the arcade battle, to their rather unusual and quick marriage. Even this Joplin improves. In the original arcade meeting Miriya agrees to the date (though I doubt at the time she knows what a date is at that time) to get away from Max, annoyed by her second defeat. In this version she’s sure this was the same pilot that bested her before and she sees this as an opportunity for revenge. The only misstep is that she sets the place and time rather than Max, which isn’t how the scene went and unlike other changes doesn’t offer any major benefits. Also the flashback is all green. Max flying a blue Veritech in the game while Miriya flies a red one is a bit of foreshadowing as her fighter is red when she joins the RDF. It’s a nice touch lost to the flashback.
There’s more fleshing out after that; the surprise of Dana’s birth and how she was part of freaking out the Zentraedi and recovering a Robotech satellite station, which I sadly don’t have the issues for, and that when the Sterlings leave to take part in the attempt to make a more peaceful contact with the Masters on Tirol she was raised by the trio of Rico, Bron, and Konda, the three spies who aren’t very good at their job and were some of the early converts to a life beyond fighting. The episode doesn’t mention that, but here it’s used to further explore the difficulty of growing up half Zentraedi. Also added is how Bowie once found a damaged piano in the ruins of a city and playing it was the only time he felt a sense of happiness. Dana was aware of that and already requisitioned a piano for him. Like she says, rank has its privilege and whatever other failings Dana Sterling has (and we’ll be seeing a few) she is a good friend to Bowie. I’m happy the show didn’t try to make a romance out of that, though I don’t know how close friends Jeanne and Bowie (Emerson in the Japanese show) really were.
Then the pacing returns to the episode as the Masters launch an early attack, expecting a quick victory despite realizing the Zentraedi said the same thing and look what happened to them. Marie Crystal leads the counterattack with her Black Lions force (no, this isn’t another Voltron tie-in) but unlike the episode there is no ground battle. I feel like this is a huge misstep, though presumably we will see them in the next comic. However, it does allow them to show off a bit and that’s missing here. The space battle does happen in the first Japanese episode, “Prisoners”, but that was turned into episode two, “False Start” (and I have to wonder if that was some meta naming there) but I can’t remember if Marie’s Japanese counterpart was part of that fight…which is odd given that I only watched it a few hours before this review.
The reason the 15th was kept out of this battle in the comic version comes from “Prisoners” actually. Sean was in lockup because he was fooling around with a general’s daughter (his “woman” in the episode–possibly his girlfriend, wife, or mistress though Charles, Sean Philips counterpart, didn’t know that), which shows that Leonard’s administration is full of people abusing their power, which also isn’t surprising. I mean, it’s hardly a criminal offense to date a general’s daughter or his mistress. Made up charges I’m sure were found. At any rate, like Charles our pal Sean is demoted and Dana put in charge of the 15th, something that doesn’t sit well with Angelo Dante, the sergeant who is now going to be her second-in-command. Their Japanese counterparts had the same argument in “Prisoners” so we’ll see how that translates to “False Start” next week.
Final analysis: Robotech Special is not a one-to-one adaptation of “Dana’s Story”, but that’s to the story’s benefit most of the time. Outside of not including the ground battle that lets us see Dana in action as CO of the 15th and how she and Dante fend off the Bioroid forces, the reshuffling and extension of scenes is actually an improvement to the original episode, again cobbled together from usable scenes to create an episode that doesn’t exist in the original Japanese. Without the restriction of available footage Joplin manages to create a better version of the story, so I would recommend fans check this comic out if they find it. Sometimes playing with the adaptation yields storytelling benefits and I enjoyed this presentation better than the episode it adapts.