So those of you who have been following “Dark Cybertron” (if not, check out my review of chapter 8) know that we have had three plotlines running simultaneously: Optimus Prime vs. his corrupt antecedent Nova in the Dead Universe, the crew of the Lost Light rescuing the powerful city-bot Metroplex, and the evil Shockwave’s attack on the Autobots, Decepticons, and neutrals of Cybertron. Last issue, chapter 9, was about two of them merging; the Lost Light and Metroplex have come to Cybertron, and thus allowed the casts of More Than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise to recombine for the first time.
This issue wisely lets us breathe and fully appreciate this fact, as the casts merge in an epic two-page spread. Alex Milne is back on pencils for most of this issue and he’s stellar as usual, creating new designs and the definitive versions of existing designs with casual aplomb.
Friends greet friends, drinks are drunk, songs are sung, and punches thrown. Optimus remains sidelined in the Dead Universe, with no method of escape yet apparent, and Shockwave spends the issue explaining his real plan (finally!) to a helpless Galvatron. I won’t say what that is but reflecting on it…there’s a little bit of Doctor Who’s Davros in this interpretation of Shockwave. Also I have to conclude that we aren’t witnessing the grand conclusion of the plans of the righteous young bot that Shockwave once was, but a twisted perversion of them, making his brainwashing (revealed earlier in the Shadowplay arc of More Than Meets the Eye) all that much more poignant and devastating. Only a being devoid of all emotion and morality could execute such a plan, whose end result is sterile and satisfies nothing more than the thrill one experiences upon completing a troublesome math problem. I can’t decide whether it’s brilliant or disappointing (probably both). The Marvel incarnation Shockwave was much more grounded by comparison.
The meat of the issue comes from character interactions between Prowl and his ex-friend(lover?) Chromedome, and between Megatron and the Autobot leaders. Megatron’s arc has formed the mirror image of Shockwave’s. The ultimate tyrant, whose ambition grew and grew until it became madness, has beheld the weakness and vulnerability of what remains of the Cybertronian race, and for the first time in four million years, he feels trepidation and even regret. IDW has been advertising lately that a big change is in store for Megatron (I won’t spoil it even though they have) and we are seeing that change begin here.
In conversations with Ratchet and Bumblebee on his death bed, Megatron remembers the being he used to be. Ratchet for his part is cranky as usual, irritated at being ordered to treat the monstrous Decepticon and shutting down any talk of the time before the four-million-year genocide Megatron started. But you sense that Megatron’s revelation – that before Whirl beat him to a pulp and the Senate enslaved him, his foremost ambition was to be a medic – does manage to slip under Ratchet’s cynical armor, causing him to lash out with a fierceness and sincerity that would normally be above him.
As for Bumblebee, necessity had already thrown the two characters together in Dark Cybertron. The event and its prelude can easily make one forget that, from their point of view, Megatron crushed Bumblebee’s face perhaps two days prior. Hence Bumblebee’s “new look”–his faceplate covers the scars. If you do remember that, the intensity of their scenes together jumps up a notch. Megatron is more successful with Bumblebee than he is with Ratchet, as he notes the inherent humor of them both being outmaneuvered by his former lieutenant, Starscream. Bumblebee is horrified when Megatron confides that he thought his greatest victories were his greatest massacres, as he said previously to Optimus Prime in “Chaos Theory.” But now, he realizes that the complete victory he dreamed of was never attainable due to the sheer violence of his strategy.
This is important because until now, Megatron always seemed like the monkey wrench in IDW’s promise two years ago that the Autobot-Decepticon war was over for good. Nothing about Megatron’s character would permit him to accept this, and indeed it was revealed that he was puppet-mastering events for the first year of Robots in Disguise, setting up a coup that he launched, explosively, rallying most of the Decepticons. Here we go again, groaned the cynical reader. Once more, only Megatron’s enforced absence (due to sabotage from a sneaky Autobot) prevented the war from starting anew.
If IDW was to remain committed to exploring a post-war era, they had to kill Megatron or drastically weaken him, both of which were undesirable options for one of their truly great characters (one of the first things IDW did with the license was memorably re-invent Megatron’s origin.) So they found a third option: change his mind. Any or all of the following revelations–that Shockwave was manipulating him all along to put his plan into motion, that even with brute force and initiative he’s unable to conquer the “new” Cybertron, that he cannot defeat his incompetent ex-lieutenant because he’s secured the peoples’ support – have actually convinced him to turn from his path.
Megatron’s not one for navel-gazing or remorse. In fact I fully expect his relative lack of guilt for being the architect of hundreds of genocides to be a big source of tension, moving forward. That said, he’s not one for half-measures either, and he looks ready to devote his considerable power and skill to the protection of all Cybertronians left alive. This choice mirrors some of the work Hasbro has done with Megatron in other franchises lately. For most of the development cycle of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the movie was going to end with his repentance. The television show Transformers Prime actually ended with his dissolution of the Decepticons and self-exile. Despite this synchronicity (I believe Hasbro calls it “brand synergy”) this character arc for IDW Megatron feels like an organic outgrowth of the work that’s been done with the character recently, and potentially a very fresh move for the character and the franchise.
Prowl’s storyline is of less political interest, but it ties together several threads from MtMtE and RiD. You see, Prowl’s an outright bastard whose manipulations endangered Autobots and Decepticons alike in pursuit of a nebulous greater Autobot good. While he picked the right enemies – Megatron and the mad judge Tyrest – he burned his bridges with many of his former friends, and this left him vulnerable to Decepticon brainwashing. His body was used as an experiment, forming the head of a new version of the Constructicon combiner Devastator. But that’s not the worst part: it’s that the psychopathic Constructicons LOVE him now that they’ve once shared a mind with him. Imagine being followed around by five Nazis who can’t stop gushing over how great you are, and you’ll understand the problem.
Prowl confronts Chromedome – who lost his lover Rewind as a result of Prowl’s machinations – and for the second time in a year, Prowl taunts his former friend into a violent rage. Ultra Magnus steps in to protect his shipmate, while Prowl gets backed up by the Constructicons. The two sides part in mutual disdain, but one gets the sense that Prowl is re-thinking some of his life choices.
There are lots of other fun moments in this issue – Arcee meets more female Transformers for the first time, Swerve becomes pre-verbal in the presence of his idol Blurr, and Metalhawk gets to shoot Starscream a little – but the issue closes on Shockwave’s final stroke. Knowing that pesky heroes tend to ruin everything at the last minute, he throws a pretty hefty distraction at them. We just saw the Transformers of both ongoing books meet–now we’ll see them fight together.
This issue accomplishes the somewhat remarkable writing feat of being plot-light and character-heavy, and yet still being an excellent “set-up” issue for the next two action-heavy concluding chapters. The writing styles of Barber and Roberts have blended together so that the “seams” between their sections are no longer as apparent. A thoroughly enjoyable read, highly recommended even though it’s embedded in this big story arc. Even if you have no interest in “Dark Cybertron,” this is a great character piece for fan-favorites like Prowl, Megatron, Ratchet, Chromedome, and Swerve. Pick it up tomorrow!