Robotech: Covert Ops (Antarctic Press)

Mini-series / August - September 1998 / Story & Art by Gregory Lane

Everything goes according to plan, we're in and out and back in time for cocktails in the officers' lounge -- on me.


In the aftermath of Kohrah's devastating attack, the crew of the SDF-1 is faced with an enemy force located on the fourth moon of Saturn, Pandora. When a VF-1E recon plane goes missing, Robotech Defense Force intelligence discovers the culprits hiding out on Pandora and, taking a suggestion from Commander Hayes, devises a strategy to destroy the base with a small team of specially equipped Veritech Fighters. Roy Fokker, Rick Hunter, and Max Sterling lead a demolitions team to the target, but find themselves confronted with a desperate foe hungry for glory.


Out of all the people who worked on ROBOTECH comics for Antarctic Press, Greg Lane probably had the second most experience with the property after Megastorm writer and Rolling Thunder writer/artist Fred Perry, who inked and toned the first issue of Cyberpirates and several issues of Invid War back in the day. Lane had penciled a few issues of The Malcontent Uprisings in the early 1990's for Eternity, and since then had done a number of anime-style comics for smaller publishers, including Mecharider and Danger Girls (not to be confused with J. Scott Campbell's more well-known Danger Girl).

Despite his qualifications, however, Lane's first two issues of ROBOTECH material for Antarctic, a side-story set during the SDF-1's long trek back to Earth, crossed a very vexing line. As if it wasn't enough of a black mark that he was writing and drawing a sequel to Antarctic Press's incompetently-produced debut outing Megastorm, almost all of the character and mechanical designs Lane used in Covert Ops were from the 1984 motion picture Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love (DYRL for short) -- from the bridge uniforms, to the flightsuits, to the SDF-1's bridge layout, to the Zentraedi base and armor design, right down to the Coca Cola machine on page 3 of the first issue. I understand that it was his preference to do so, as he's more partial to those versions of the Macross character and mecha designs -- buuuuuuuuuut ...

The problem is that DYRL is not a part of ROBOTECH. DYRL is a fancy, redesigned retelling of the original Japanese Macross television series, but it was never adapted into ROBOTECH. Consequently, at no point should Rick Hunter be wearing a DYRL flight suit, nor should the ROBOTECH version of the SDF-1 be launching Veritechs via crane-arm. Moreover, at the time, Harmony Gold didn't even possess the rights to the DYRL designs -- I'm pretty sure they do now, thanks to a licensing agreement with Tatsunoko Productions earlier in the 2000's, but in 1998, this was not the case.

It's worth pointing out, though, that Lane does not use DYRL designs all the time in this series -- indeed, on page 7 of the first issue, you get an eyeful of the contrast that appears throughout Covert Ops. The SDF-1 body we see is based off of the DYRL ship design, while the Daedalus and Prometheus are straight out of the TV series. Hence, the SDF-1 gets the intricate detail treatment, while the deck of the Prometheus gets TV animation-level detail work. The Zentraedi soldiers at the base on Pandora are all dressed in DYRL Zentraedi gear, but when Dolza appears on Buran's video monitor, it's the TV series bald-guy-in-a-robe that appears, not the movie's weird piecemeal floating torso jacked into a plant-like fortress. That dichotomy is rather pervasive throughout -- Covert Ops is a story which in so many ways tries to be true to the TV series, despite the fact that the author insists on using much of the movie's eye candy.

If Covert Ops weren't tied into Megastorm, and didn't have the non-canonical art design, and as a separate issue didn't have the SDF-1 doubling back to Saturn (they passed Jupiter while heading towards Earth -- according to Megastorm itself, they should have passed through the asteroid belt by now), it would actually be an excellent side-story. To tell you the truth, as it stands it's actually a fun ride. The characterization is excellent and the artwork is very well done -- Lane does a good job emulating character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto's style to a degree (though the inking, as Lane himself admitted at the time, is not that great), and the mecha action is about as solid as you can get when gray tones are few and far between. There are only a few confusing fight panels, mostly those without a dark space background for contrast.

To sum up, it's not a terrible Macross-era mini-series -- in fact, it compares very favorably to the rest of Antarctic's Macross-era offerings due to the strong characterization both visually and verbally, some excellent scene staging, and -- best of all -- the little touches that recall the Eternity and Academy days (Zentraedi villain Buran's furious shout of "HAJOCA!"). It just doesn't work very well as either a sequel to Megastorm or even as a side-story in proper ROBOTECH TV series continuity. Well worth a read if you're in need of a quick ROBOTECH fix, but from a pedantic fanboy standpoint -- as an interlocking piece in the grand tapestry of ROBOTECH -- quite a mess. (Lane's follow-up, the New Generation one-shot Class Reunion was better on several counts.)