I was going to save this as a fun little sendoff for Robotech but given this week has been full of Scanning My Collection Robotech comics…ah, what the heck. I really want to read this first issue. Therefore, while we’ve been looking at alternate futures for the Protoculture-powered mecha series it’s time to go back to the past to a very different odyssey of Robotech.
So…have you wondered where Harmony Gold got the name “Robotech” in the first place? Revell is a toy and model company still in existence today as of this writing. In the 1980s Revell had released a series of models and toys under the name Robotech. This included Robotech Changers, models based on the Valkyrie fighters from Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and Robotech Defenders, which mixed the non-transforming “Battroid” mecha that often served as cannon fodder. Other anime model kids were also released under this line from Fang Of The Sun Dogram and the anime that was originally in MOSPEADA‘s spot, Super Dimension Century Orguss. As you can guess this was an issue for Harmony Gold since two of these shows were planned to be part of their show; as I mentioned before Macross on it’s own didn’t have a good number count for a proper US season so they opted to use other anime to fill out the show. Eventually Harmony Gold and Revell settled on a licensing deal, which is why if you look at the end credits for the original TV version of Robotech (I don’t know about that dumb “remastered” version) they acknowledge Revell along with Comico The Comic Company. Other toys were also released by Revell under Robotech like the Robolinks but I’ll probably discuss that someday over at The Clutter Reports. Nobody cares here.
Revell however did try to put out their own Robotech Defenders comic to tie into the models. Partnering with DC Comics a three issue miniseries was created…and promptly dropped down to two. What happened? Tonight, to end the Scanning My Collection Robotech Week we’re going to find out. I managed to find a copy of the first issue during this year’s Free Comic Book Day as part of my paid for comics and I found a back issue for #2 years ago. Now I finally get to learn how this alternate adventure ends.
Robotech Defenders #1
DC Comics (January, 1985)
WRITER: Andrew Helfer
PENCILER: Judith Hunt
INKERS: Murphy Anderson & Dan Zolnerowich
COLORIST: Bob LeRose
LETTERER: Ben Oda
EDITOR: Barry Marx
Planet Zoltek is under attack by the Grelons, who have managed to get a battlecruiser powerful enough to level Zoltek City. All that’s left is one structure, the so-called “ancient colossus of Zoltek”. The leader of one surviving squadron, Malek, orders her team down. She and male pilot, Dex, appear to be the only humans. We also have Icik, a sort of bear wolf wombat guy, some really thin dude named Eedon with a funny mohawk, some Wookie knockoff named Scal, a bird guy (from the planet Condar because we aren’t even trying) named Akros, and a fish girl (I think) named Silky. Apparently all their worlds have been under attack by the Grelons, who are supposed to be at least not this level of technical. Now you know…part of our cast.
Dex rides his commander pretty hard, though he doesn’t appear to be sexist so much as just really ticked off. After all the enemy just blew up a city and left a statue behind and then let them leave, though apparently he’s too mad to realize that they couldn’t stop them if they tried…because they just tried. Malek goes off to gather her thoughts. We learn that she was part of the first contact team on behalf of the United Worlds Confederation. The telepathic aliens (okay, it was on their planet so technically the UWC team were the aliens) were to be given what they needed to improve their world because apparently they don’t share the Federation’s “Prime Directive”, but the Grelons decided their planet’s decay was inevitable and wanted to colonize other planets, which the UWC refused. So the Grelon contingent killed the ambassadors. Though they were taken out Malek’s team the Grelons got their hands on a starship and just started wasting capitals, including Malek’s homeland. Not very good neighbors.
Back in the present Malek sees the survival of the colossus, a statue that predated the city, as a good sign just as it starts crumbling. Actually, she finds a door and does what most people would do…climb into the metal thing hiding in the statue and press all the buttons. Of course. Actually this turns out to be a good thing as inside is a robot that interfaces with the pilot, giving her coordinates but most importantly a chance to strike at the Grelons. I remind you that despite this thing telling her all she needs to know to operate this robot it hasn’t even been a full minute. It goes about as well as you think, with at least some damage to the Grelon ship, which we learn comes courtesy of the S’landra, who or whatever that is. Basically they’re shoving action and exposition in at the same time and already this is all feeling a bit rushed. This is when it was still planned at three issues. Still, they get a good shot off on the robot and take off.
Malek sends her team to find the other robots indicated by the robot’s computer. It doesn’t take very long and Eedon even gets to stop a child sacrifice along the way, pretend to be their god as he takes off in the robot, and the leadership change is the final sacrifice. Scal has it easy while the others have to fight local dangers to get to their robots. Dex gets to chase off a bunch of scavengers. Otherwise it’s all pretty easy.
Learning about all the other robots the Grelon leader calls their representative among the S’landra for help, but he can’t sense any new threat. Still he agrees to give them better weapons as part of some pact, a more powerful space battle ship. No, not that one, and not the future SDF-1 either. That was part of the Robotech Changers line and this is strictly Defenders. They arrive on Zoltek, surprising the heroes with their larger ship and their AT-AT ripoffs as the issue ends.
Robotech Defenders #2
DC Comics (April, 1985)
WRITER: Andrew Helfer
PENCILERS: Judith Hunt & Mike Manley
INKERS: Murphy Anderson & Dan Zolnerowich
COLORIST: Nansi Hoolahan
LETTERER: Ben Oda
EDITOR: Barry Marx
An editor’s note explains (with telling us why, so barely an explanation) that the miniseries was ending in this issue rather than having a third issue but in a rare move was willing to publish this without ads to get both issues into one book at 35 pages. Did someone have faith this would find an audience after the fact? I don’t think the show would air until later that year but by then it was way too late for this to find anything. Still, it’s more respect that some canceled series in mid-production get in comics, especially by the big two.
We continue where we left off, with our heroes surrounded. They’re able to take the walkers down but Malek pushes too soon to go after the mothership and everyone gets shot down. Dex does manage to get some heat seekers to miss him and hit the ship but Malek accidentally gets one of her tails too close and it goes after him anyway. At this point Dex is downright insubordinate and I kind of see his point. Again, there’s no sexism involved here. Malek just isn’t thinking clearly. Silky is out cold and the others can’t break out of their deactivated robots, which the Grelons take along with them, the pilots still inside.
Malek notices a blinking button she missed before and presses it. This sends the robot actin on its own and doing a darn good job smashing things, so instructs the others to do the same. Then they start talking, but as long as they’re escaping who’s complaining? Sadly, Silky being unconscious means that robot is still with the Grelons.
The robots repair each other and explain to the Tactical Team that they call themselves the Robotech Defenders. Since their true names are unpronounceable they opt to take the names of the planets they were found on: Zoltek, Condar, Talos, Thoren, Ziyon, Gartan, and the captured Aqualo. All of them are based on the kids from the Dogram anime. Zoltek explains they used to be organic beings from the planet Technor who tried to help the S’landrai when they were dying but they’re a race of energy parasites. To survive the Robotech Defenders transferred their minds into the robotic bodies. Wait, organic beings transferring their minds into robotic bodies piloted by still-organic beings in a toyline just meant to be robot models…did Robotix rip them off or vice versa or was this another Swamp Thing/Man-Thing coincidence? It wouldn’t be a first for Marvel either.
A Grelon general later named Cyba shows up, confirming Zoltek’s suspicion that the S’landrai is weak and made a deal with the Grelons. Grelon gets an new not-dying planet and the S’landrai keep the rest, obviously to feed off of. However, he’s only seen the one and he’s getting as impatient as he is weak. Wanting to save his people from the parasitic “ally” he agrees to help rescue Aqualo, with Dex coming in as his prisoner since he knows how to activate the robot. The commander not only falls for this it’s his idea for Cyba to join Dex in the cockpit to activate the robot since they haven’t been able to hack into it. I’m guessing Silky isn’t so much out cold as dead in the wa…never mind. Apparently she won’t be missed since she’s never mentioned again. Maybe they forgot about her between issues? I’m not sure where #2 ends and #3 begins. The commander is planning to betray S’landrai, also noticing he comes alone and weak, but Dex and Cyba escape in Aqualo. In anger the S’landrai use the other Grelons to revive some of his people, destroying the planet the rest of the way in the process. My guess is they were the reason the planet was dying in the first place. Aqualo destroys their energy syphon but not before Grelon is a dead world, even Dex feeling sorry for Cyba, who only moments ago was his enemy.
Back on Zoltek (the planet, not the robot) our heroes plan to split up and take out the syphons the few awaken S’landrai are setting up until they can find their mothership and take them down. The first team is Akros and Condar, who notices “strange bird people” flying around…you know, like the dude currently in his cockpit. This leads them to the first siphon. Unfortunately the Condars are taking part in the “Rite Of Carion”, which is basically admitting they’re going to die, and in their frenzy prevent our heroes from stopping the siphon. Thoren and…whichever one is traveling with him, get suckered, as do Talos and I’m having a harder time remembering the robots than I am the organics. Ziyon and Icik arrive too late to stop their siphon but in time to save the planet from getting worse. Zoltek and Malek also score a victory as do Dex and Gartan. Meanwhile, Aqualo and his new pilot Cyba find the mothership and call in the others.
Aqualo gets captures…again (good luck, Cyba) and the ship has enough energy to deflect the attacks from the others. Gartan comes up with the idea to toss the siphons into the sun, thus overloading the S’landra. The leader is convinced this is just more power…until they all explode. I guess they were as dumb as the Grelon leaders. With the enemy defeated the Robotech Defenders agree to help the planets here recover and then search for the other
model kits members of their kind. And thus the story ends.
So was this a missed opportunity? Not really. As I noted earlier Robotix had a similar concept of living robots with the life essence of living beings interfacing with human (or whatever in this case) pilots. There’s too much going on too fast. Silky seems to die so we can have a Grelon reform, and outside of Malek’s mistakes and Dex’s anger there isn’t a lot we learn about these characters, organic or mechanoid. The others pilots don’t even get much of a personality. None of them are really memorable, and that’s still one over the actual robots the comic was trying to promote. They’re alive just to be alive and don’t contribute anything the pilots couldn’t. There’s not even the advantage of a human(oid) pilot the Robotix had with their ability to reconfigure with a pilot interfaced at the controls. With the Defenders the pilots are just along for the ride once the robots’ personalities are awakened and there’s no explanation how they got there. Zoltek was a statue for hundred thousand years according to Malek and even if she’s exaggerating it still has to be a very long time. We switch enemies too fast so their threat is never fully realized to the reader. They’re dangerous because the story says they are and at best we are shown they’re evil. The art gets better in the second issue while the first is, like the characters, not really memorable, and the action scenes rarely have a chance to be interesting because there are too many robots and pilots to introduce. There’s no time because backstory and introductions are the forefront. It doesn’t even make the robots interesting enough to spend hours building their model kits.
In the end this really wasn’t a major loss, and a better Robotech was on the horizon. Apparently Germany and Sweden got their own Robotech Defenders comic not set in this or the TV continuities and if there’s an English translation of that I would love to take a look. DC’s Robotech Defenders is ultimately just a fun footnote in the franchise and outside of that not really worth hunting down. I wonder if the Changers toys would have shown up in a sequel? We’ll never know and honestly nothing of value appears to have been lost.