Robotech: Covert Ops #1 (of 2)
Art & Story - Gregory Lane
Edits, Typesetting, & Proofing - Doug Dlin
Cover Colors - Nathan Lumm
Published by Antarctic Press.
Release date - August 19, 1998
Cover date - August 1998
Estimated sales - 5,000 copies
THE STORYAbove the fourth moon of Saturn, Pandora, a VF-1E reconnaissance Veritech makes sure the coast is clear in advance of the SDF-1. Everything seems secure, until the sensor operator notices a large stationary structure of definite Zentraedi origin on the moon's surface. As the operator sends the data back to the SDF-1, two Zentraedi Powered Armors rise from the installation to attack. As the crewmen try to escape, the pilot radios the SDF-1 to call for backup, but by then the Zentraedi are already upon them.
Meanwhile, inside the SDF-1, crews begin to work on repairing the damage made during Roy Fokker and Max Sterling's battle with the Zentraedi warlord Kohrah. "Well, Little Brother, looks like you moved into the barracks just in time," Roy tells Rick Hunter as the younger pilot stares up at one of the ruined buildings.
"Yeah, I've got some luck with buildings," he tells Roy. "If I'm not crashing into them, mine gets blown up."
They start towards Claudia's place for dinner, and Roy asks Rick how it's going with Minmei. "I don't know," Rick says. "I can't seem to get any time to talk to her. There's always a crowd around her." Roy tells him just to do what he always did -- dinner, flowers, and a ride in the sky. Rick says it's just not his style.
Just then, Sammie radios Roy from the bridge. Captain Gloval and Commander Hayes need him immediately. As he starts away, Roy tells Rick to try and explain to Claudia. "Don't worry," he tells Rick, "I doubt she'll kill the messenger."
A few minutes later, in Gloval's office, the captain informs Roy of an alarming transmission from a long-range scout "It appears the Zentraedi have established an outpost on Saturn's fourth lunar satellite, directly along our return heading to Earth." He shows Fokker some photos they've received, and tells him that the photos were followed by a mayday call and then silence. The scout is assumed destroyed, and the enemy probably knows the SDF-1 is in the vicinity. Roy notes that the base looks small enough that he could just take the Skull Squadron in and flush the Zentraedi out.
"We can't risk a frontal assault, Roy," Lisa tells him. "We're still down three anti-gravity units from our last encounter, not to mention the civilian casualties." Roy asks what the alternative is -- after all, a change in course would add months to the trip home. Lisa has another idea. "To avoid risking the entire ship, I propose we send in a small assault team to remove the base surgically. I've already got tactical working on the base layouts to determine where to plant explosive charges that will destroy the complex." Roy thinks it sounds dangerous, so naturally he volunteers. He is ordered to assemble his team and prepare to move out in two days.
At that moment, Rick rings Claudia's doorbell. "I hope you boys are hungry!" she says as she opens the door. "I've been cooking all--" She observes Roy's absence. Rick starts to explain, but she's tired of excuses and tells him to come on in.
Two hours later, Rick finds Roy in the hangar, working on Skull One, and tells him Claudia seemed really hurt. Roy assures him the call was important. "I'll patch things up tomorrow after she cools down. Right now, I need your help." He hands Rick a list and tells him to contact these pilots and have them meet the two of them in briefing room four at 0700 hours tomorrow.
At the Zentraedi base on Pandora, Lord Buran orders his men to make their report. One of his patrol groups has captured the crew of a Micronian scout ship alive. "The nearest Micronian base is on the fourth planet, which they call Mars," Buran notes, "and it fell easily. A Micronian presence here must mean the SDF-1 is near." He orders his men to bring the captives to him, so that he might interrogate the Micronians personally. "And request an audience with Supreme Commander Dolza. These Micronians are our opportunity to escape this desolate rock and return to glorious battle."
The following morning, in briefing room four, Roy explains the mission to the gathered personnel. "Before I go into mission specs," he tells them, "I want to make it clear that chances are good some or all of us won't be coming back from this mission, so if anyone wants out, speak up now. We won't think any less of you."
Max, sitting in the front row, asks Roy if he's kidding. "This is what I've been waiting for," he says. Roy mentions that he didn't think there'd be any takers, but he prefers to ask. He explains that they've determined that the Zentraedi base is in a mountainous region on Pandora's surface.
"The mission is simple. Our strike force comes in low, using the terrain for cover. Zentraedi are accustomed to all-out warfare, not stealth attacks. Two fighters stage a bombing run for diversion while a second team infiltrates the target and plants explosive charges to take it out. The tech boys have already pinpointed the locations of the power generators from the surveillance photos. Everything goes according to plan, we're in and out and back in time for cocktails in the officers' lounge -- on me." Max worries that two fighters might not present much of a problem for the Zentraedi and asks if they'll have enough firepower. Roy tells him they've got it covered -- all the Veritechs will be equipped with the new VF-1X armor they've been testing. "The extra missile packs they carry should be plenty. Plus we'll need the extra fuel and booster packs to reach the target." Fokker then explains the breakdown of the teams -- he and Max will pilot the fighters and provide the diversion, while Rick and Hansen will pilot retrofitted trainers and assist in planting the explosives. The back seats of the trainers will be used by Jones and Lambert, the demolition specialists. "We leave at 06:00 tomorrow. I want all gear checked and ready by 05:45," Roy tells them. He informs them that they'll be off duty until then, and should go spend the rest of the day with their loved ones, though the mission information is classified as they don't want a panic among the civilian population. The personnel are dismissed.
Rick comes up to him after the meeting, feeling unsure that he's qualified for this mission since he's had no experience in combat yet. "Are you kidding?" Roy asks. "Rick, you're one of the best pilots on the ship. I handpicked each member of this team for his distinctive skills. Relax and enjoy the day. You'll be fine." Rick tells Roy he's got a lunch date with Minmei, which reminds Roy that he's got to do some "damage control" with Claudia.
A few hours later, with five minutes remaining until the shift change on the SDF-1's bridge, Lisa calls Claudia out into the hallway for a quick chat. The other bridge girls are certain there'll be some sort serious friction.
In the hall, Lisa tells Claudia that she doesn't see why she's to blame for Roy volunteering to lead the mission on Pandora. "Oh, come on," Claudia says, "you and Gloval knew he would jump in as soon as you told him." Lisa reminds Claudia that Roy is the senior combat officer, and HAD to be told about the mission. "Just because you lost your man doesn't mean I want to!" Claudia snipes. As the words leave her mouth, Claudia starts to backtrack, telling Lisa that she's sure Karl made it out of Sara Base and is waiting on Earth right now. Lisa returns to the bridge, and Claudia begins to worry how the rest of the day is going to turn out. She pushes the button for the elevator, and as the door opens she finds herself face to face with Roy with a picnic basket under his arm. He invites her for lunch.
Back on Pandora, the elder member of the VF-1E crew tells the younger to give up trying to escape. The younger man asks why they haven't been killed, and the older one says the Zentraedi probably want information. "My guess is we can expect a very unpleasant interrogation. I've been in this spot before back during the war in South America. I wouldn't talk then, either." The younger crewman insists he won't talk either as the Zentraedi commander Buran enters. Buran introduces himself and demands the location of the SDF-1. "You and the rest of your Jolly Greens can all go straight to hell!" the older crewman tells Buran. "You're not getting anything out of us!" Buran orders one of his men to remove the shield from their prison. It is done, and Buran picks up the younger crewman. "We have observed the strange concern Micronians bear for each other's lives. Provide the coordinates of the SDF-1 or this one will be terminated," Buran tells the older crewman. The young guy tells his fellow crewman to tell Buran the coordinates, but he refuses. "Very well," Buran says as he crushes the younger man.
Back in Macross City, Rick enters the Chinese restaurant in search of Minmei. She seems happy to see him, and tells him she'll just be a couple of minutes while she changes her clothes. In the meantime Uncle Max asks Rick if he's seen any combat yet. "Just in the simulator," Rick says, "but it won't be long."
As she returns, Minmei grabs Rick by the hand and tells Max she'll be back in an hour. "Don't be late this time," he warns her.
In the park, Roy and Claudia relax over lunch. She tells him that she has to admit he did well. "This was a beautiful picnic. You'd better lay off the wine, though. You've got an early mission tomorrow." Roy reminds her he does some of his best flying tanked. Claudia asks to what she owes the pleasant afternoon. Roy admits, "I figured I owed you some quality time." She tells him she was pretty steamed and took some of it out on poor Rick. "I hear you took a run at Lisa, too," Roy says. Claudia says she blamed Lisa for him going on the mission, but realizes she was just feeling too hurt to consider that Lisa was just doing her job. Roy doesn't get why Claudia's so steamed about this particular mission -- after all, it's no more dangerous than some of the others he's been in. Claudia realizes this, but has an unnerving feeling that something terrible is going to happen. "I don't want to lose you," she tells him. Roy assures her that she won't, and the two embrace.
Elsewhere in the park, Minmei tells Rick she always enjoys coming here because it reminds her so much of Earth. She takes him down to the stream to feed the ducks, and adds that she sometimes even forgets that they're out in space. As Rick looks up at the high metal ceiling above he remarks that there's always something there to bring reality crashing in. "I'm glad I got to see you today," he tells her. "I've been wanting to spend some private time with you for a while, and this might be my last chance." He tells her that he's going on a mission tomorrow and might not come back. At that, Minmei shoves him over, and tells him to stop being so gloomy. "You should be like me," Minmei tells him, "and make the best of the situation. Think about happy things -- like my birthday, for example." She tells Rick that her uncle's planning a sweet sixteen party, and she was going to invite him, but now she doesn't know. "On the other hand," she says, "if you cheer up a bit, you might get a special invitation." Suddenly she realizes she's running late and, as she bolts off, wishes him good luck on the mission.
Moments later, Lisa is standing on a bridge overlooking the park. "The end of another shift and no one to go home to," she thinks. "Claudia didn't mean it, but she was right -- I've forgotten what it's like to have someone in my life." She wishes that Karl hadn't volunteered to go to Sara Base, but remembers how he always put his pacifistic ways above his personal life. At the same time, Rick passes by, worried that Minmei seems more concerned about her birthday party than his mission. He absent-mindedly runs into Lisa, and they both apologize. Realizing who he's face-to-face with, Rick quickly salutes, but Lisa reminds him that they're off duty. She asks if he's taking a walk, and tells him that she often comes by here to think before a big operation. Rick tells her he was just on his way home, and finds her behavior odd -- usually by now she'd be at his throat. Lisa asks if that was Minmei he was talking to, and asks if they're dating. He says he's not sure yet, and tells her he's got to go over the mission specs, so he has to get going. As he races away, Lisa notes that while he acts so odd sometimes, he is kind of cute ...
Back on Pandora, Lord Dolza appears on Buran's monitor and asks what he has to report. Buran informs him that while he has not located the SDF-1, he has captured the Micronians who were scouting his secto and he believes they are from the ship. However, he is having trouble extracting its coordinates. Dolza tells him to continue his efforts. Meanwhile, the Robotech Masters have a new Protoculture weapon to be used against the Micronians, and Dolza informs Buran that he is sending the Boturu fleet under Lord Khyron to Pandora to test it. Buran finds this unnecessary, but Dolza will not be questioned. "Upon successful completion of the tests, your squadrons will accompany his fleet to Earth for final victory," Dolza orders. "You will provide whatever assistance he requires. Am I understood?" Buran acknowledges, and Dolza signs off. The minute his image has faded, Buran smashes the monitor with a shout of, "HAJOCA!" He knows of Khyron; the Backstabber will probably test the weapon on Buran's own battalion. He orders the prisoners to be prepared for further interrogation.
The next morning, aboard the Prometheus, Roy arrives to find his team assembled, with all their gear checked and ready. He tells them to mount up, and asks Rick how he's feeling.
"Armed and dangerous," Rick says.
When each crewman is on-board his craft, the flight crews engage the grapple cranes for the fighters and open the bay doors. Skull Group launches from the SDF-1 and proceeds to Pandora ...
NOTESTIMELINE - While this story is set during The Macross Saga with no overt references to any dates or concepts native to the McKinney novels (i.e. Thinking Caps), it relies on the previous Antarctic Press story Megastorm for certain plot points. It also directly contradicts the original TV series (specifically episode #6, "Blitzkrieg") and features iconography native to the Macross movie, Do You Remember Love. As a result, it doesn't work in ANY ROBOTECH timeline.
- Roy Fokker (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #3 "Megastorm Part 3")
- Rick Hunter (last seen in The Macross Saga #5)
- Henry J. Gloval (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #3 "Megastorm Part 3")
- Lisa Hayes (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #3 "Megastorm Part 3")
- Claudia Grant (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #3 "Megastorm Part 3")
- Max Sterling (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #3 "Megastorm Part 3")
- Sammie Porter (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #2 "Megastorm Part 2")>
- Kim Young (last seen in Robotech (Antarctic) #2 "Megastorm Part 2," next in The Macross Saga #7)
- Lynn Minmei (last seen in The Macross Saga #5, next in The Macross Saga #7)
- Uncle Max (last seen in The Macross Saga #5, next in The Macross Saga #16)
- Hansen (first appearance)
- Jones (first appearance)
- Lambert (first appearance)
- Buran (first appearance)
- Dolza (last in Return to Macross #4, next in The Macross Saga #11)
At the end of Megastorm, the SDF-1's overdrive maneuver sends it from Jupiter to the asteroid belt, from which it should proceed to Mars, returning us to the TV series narrative. In Megastorm, three of the SDF-1's anti-gravity modules are destroyed, which is cited as one of the reasons the SDF-1 doesn't just charge into battle over Pandora; this directly ties the two stories together. Yet, for some reason the SDF-1 has doubled-back towards Saturn, given the need for a VF-1E to scout ahead to its moon Pandora. Roy suggests that going around Pandora will cause them to add months to their voyage -- but it looks like they've already covered that one.
Making matters worse ... Max Sterling is removed from active duty to cover up the testing of the VF-1X Super Veritech equipment at the end of Megastorm, yet is hand-picked by Fokker (and gung-ho to go) in Covert Ops, totally at odds with his nervous, never-flown-in-space portrayal in episode #8, "Sweet Sixteen." Rick looks at him like he's crazy -- maybe when he sees Sterling later he doesn't put two and two together? Certainly the nervous, sickly-looking young guy he meets in "Sweet Sixteen" is totally at odds with the confident, eager young pilot he meets here.
Even more problematic ... Rick tells Uncle Max that he's never flown a mission before, and makes sure to remind Fokker of the same after the mission briefing. Megastorm works best between episodes #6 & 7. Episode #6, "Blitzkrieg," is Rick Hunter's first action, at the Battle of Saturn's Rings. Roy's internal narration in "Blitzkrieg" notes it, Minmei mentions it enthusiastically when she and Rick meet at the park where she's wearing the dress they picked "together," and while this has all the feel of a "top secret" mission squeezed between episodes, Rick tells Minmei it's happening. How can he tell his not-quite-girlfriend that he's going on his first mission twice?
What's clear is that as far as Rick's story goes, this is supposed to either fall before "Blitzkrieg" or maybe instead of it. Lane spends a lot of time making references to events that will occur in the near future: "Bye Bye Mars" is set up extensively, with references to Sara Base, Karl Rieber, and Khyron. "Sweet Sixteen" is set up in the scene with Minmei, where she talks up her birthday party. The only piece of the puzzle reflected here that's missing if "Blitzkrieg" happens after this story (or not at all) is Rick and Lisa's antagonistic relationship -- Lisa recognizes him and knows he's a pilot, which she didn't until Fokker properly introduced them the day before Rick's first action -- you know, the scene where Sammie calls Rick "Mister Lingerie."
The other major continuity problem with the book is that nearly every single design in the book is taken from the Macross movie Do You Remember Love, starting on page 1 with the VF-1E recon variant Veritech Fighter. The RDF was still using Cat's Eye recon planes at this point (see episode #7, "Bye Bye Mars," and episode #10, "Blind Game"), if they ever did wind up with the -1E variant in the ROBOTECH universe (hey, it's always possible). The Zentraedi Powered Armors that attack and capture the fighter's crew are the Do You Remember Love variants, though in the next issue the different mecha and combat armor designs are explained away as a sort of tribal difference.
Almost all of the RDF uniforms and weapon systems feature Do You Remember Love designs and detailing -- the little buttons on the collars, the multiple rank stripes, the pilot jumpsuits, the slightly different VF-1A head -- heck, even the Coca Cola machine Roy passes by as he runs away on page three is a Do You Remember Love design. And yet there are occasional reminders that we're in the ROBOTECH universe -- the demolitions experts are wearing TV series uniforms, a character on a video billboard at the top of page three is wearing a TV series-style intra-atmospheric flight helmet (no visor and chin), and most importantly, the SDF-1 still has the Daedalus and Prometheus attached and NOT two ARMD space platforms. (Which makes the crane launch on the last page really strange -- when would they have had time to add that functionality to the Prometheus? And better, WHY?)
Despite the Do You Remember Love styling of all the Zentraedi equipment, our heroes are still facing TV series-style Zentraedi -- they still have hair and round ears. (Do You Remember Love's Zentraedi are all bald and pointy-eared.) I am struck by the fact that on page six the Zentraedi seem to be equipped with helmets and shields far more reminiscent of the Masters' Bioroid Terminators' equipment -- unless that's Do You Remember Love equipment I'm not familiar with, which is highly unlikely.
Aside from very rough inks, the art throughout is beautifully detailed and solid -- Lane clearly knows these characters and designs backwards and forwards, inside and out. His Minmei looks a bit old for her age (sweet sixteen coming up), but that's probably just because he's using the movie character design. Buran strikes an imposing figure -- no wonder Lane wanted to use the Do You Remember Love uniforms, he wouldn't look quite as impressive in anything else -- and doesn't look out of place next to more familiar faces.
Especially sharp-looking are the last three pages, where Lane cracks out the gray tone patterns, giving those pages a very manga-flavored feel. Those pages feel a lot sharper, a lot less inky.
Question: As our story opens, Roy tells Rick that he "moved into the barracks just in time." Is this a sarcastic remark, with the building they're standing in front of being the barracks Rick just moved into, or is Lane suggesting that Rick was living in this building before he enlisted? Because right before he enlisted, Rick was temporarily living above Minmei's aunt & uncle's Chinese restaurant (see episode #5, "Transformation").
Until the publication of "Mars Base One," the backup strip that ran in WildStorm's Robotech: Invasion series, it was considered a misconception that the Zentraedi destroyed Mars Base Sara -- after all, in "Bye Bye Mars," Exedore says it was destroyed "in a battle with their allied forces," meaning other humans. The story now is that Sara was wiped out by Zentraedi long-range scouts, though it was hushed up, and the scouts never made it back to Dolza with a report, meaning the Zentraedi shouldn't know it was taken down by their fellows. Buran says it went down "easily" -- and according to "Mars Base One," that wasn't the case. But of course, "Mars Base One" was published six years later ... and until that point, Exedore's statement in "Bye Bye Mars" should still have stood as what really went down.
The Super Veritech equipment, as in Megastorm, shouldn't be in use yet, though at least this time there's a story-related reason for using it. The very same month as this was published, the first issue of Lee Duhig's two-issue mini-series Wings of Gibraltar has the Super Veritech equipment just under development much farther along in the timeline, post-"Paradise Lost" (episode #20). Where in the blue blazes was the editorial oversight? (Answer: nowhere. Why do you think Antarctic Press lost the ROBOTECH license?)
Fun fact: outside of Robotech The Sentinels: Rubicon, this is the only time Minmei appears in an Antarctic Press ROBOTECH comic book story. Also, the way that she and Uncle Max's remarks toy with Rick's emotions is quite reminiscent of the way Minmei's words played with his feelings in "Transformation." Lane has some trouble with the words, but boy does he have the melody down ...
I was positively ecstatic when I saw Lane using the Zentraedi term "hajoca," one of the words created by long-time ROBOTECH comics writer Bill Spangler way back in Eternity's The Malcontent Uprisings. While that's a rather strong term to be throwing at the Supreme Commander of all Zentraedi forces, it was still a pleasant sight to see in an Antarctic Press publication.
Also, kudos to him for writing Buran as an honest-to-goodness character rather than a monster-of-the-week like Megastorm's Kohrah or Wings of Gibraltar's Calen. The mega-weapon that Dolza describes doesn't even arrive in this story -- Buran doesn't get a gimmick to fight his foes with, like a fancy kewl new mecha or cloaking shields. He has to get by with traditional Zentraedi tools -- albeit Do You Remember Love-styled Zentraedi tools.