In the pantheon of boys-targeted 1980s toy lines-turned-cartoons/comic books (or vice versa), Voltron has always been something of an also-ran. Despite being many kids first experience with Japanese anime, it never quite penetrated the zeitgeist and achieved pop culture longevity like fellow 80s ‘toons/toys GI Joe and Transformers (Both of which remain going comic book concerns at IDW after surviving the destruction of the two comic book companies which resurrected them in the early 00s and have had recent feature films released.), or even Masters of the Universe (Currently being featured in a DC comic with a revamped movie in the works.). With little but a short-lived animated series from 2011 under its belt, Voltron has yet to match the ongoing popularity of its 80s rivals in the current decade.
Voltron: From the Ashes #1 is Dynamite’s latest Voltron series (after last year’s Robotech/Voltron crossover), and while the first issue is something of a mixed bag in terms of execution and may alienate long-time fans in the direction it establishes for the series, it’s definitely trying something new in an attempt to revitalize the property and raise it up to the level of its 80s-era peers.
In terms of execution, roughly half this issue is turned over to a fight scene between Voltron and a series of Robeasts. And while the narrative tries to sell this as a big deal (and possibly the final battle of the Voltron Force fans know and love), it doesn’t come across that way, in part because the whole thing is setup as a possible delusion of Voltron-foe Haggar, making it unclear if what’s presented is narrative development, or just an extended “what if” sequence in the mind of the hallucinating Haggar. The intended narrative oomph isn’t helped by the art from Blacky Shepherd. Itt’s effective enough, in terms of the action being clearly-depicted and easy-to-follow, but it’s also not very exciting or stylistic, and does little to sell the assumed peril of the characters or the magnitude of this particular fight. Workmanlike, but failing to elevate the material.
The second half of the issue is where writer Cullen Bunn’s idea for this series becomes clear, and it’s an intriguing development. After (possibly) depicting the final battle of the familiar Voltron Force, the narrative jumps 200 years into the future, and introduces a new in-training group of Voltron pilots, one of several such groups while establishing that in this time, a religion of sorts has popped up surrounding Voltron. With only a few pages left in the issue, Bunn doesn’t have much time to introduce, let alone, develop any of these new characters (Aside from Jayce, the requisite-hothead-chafing-at-authority, who serves as the introductory character to the new status quo.) or dig very deep into the premise. A set of new presumed antagonists for the series get even less in the way of introduction in the issue’s closing pages. But the idea of a Voltron-based religion and teams of pilots training & competing to fly the Voltron lions does a much better job of hooking interest than the ho-hum fight scene that opened the issue.
It’s a development that may turn off some long-time fans picking up the series hoping to see the continuing adventures of Keith, Lance, Pidge, etc. (ie the most popular iteration of Voltron), but it’s a development that may also inject some new life into the property, suggesting as it does the possibility of interesting stories involving the lion-based Voltron outside of the characters familiar from the animated series and later comics, and playing up the mythic element of Voltron as an eternal force for good. Hopefully, in future issues, Bunn & Shepherd will be better able to marry action to character development and unpack the new premise introduced here in an exciting manner. As it is, much of the success of this first issue lies in the promise of things to come, rather than what’s in the issue itself.