Patrick Stinson, Deadshirt.net’s resident Transformers nut, reviews the ongoing comic from IDW, The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, to convince you that it is of anomalously good quality for a toy comic…and for comics in general.
(Editor’s note: make sure to check out the first review in this series, The Death of Optimus Prime.)
Drift: “Red Alert wants to talk to you. Something about Ratchet bringing a weapon of mass destruction on board…?”
Rodimus: “It can wait. It’s time we were off.”
The genius of this issue is that only one thing happens. The plot is: a bunch of Autobots get on a ship called the Lost Light and leave. That’s it.
With such a simple story, writer James Roberts is able to hang on gobs of character introductions, re-introductions, humorous moments, major-league foreshadowing, and dialogue—oodles of witty, clever dialogue. For the first time since his fanfic days, Roberts has no co-writer and he is well and truly off the leash. There are maybe twice as many words as there are in most 22-page issues, and they’re all a pleasure.
Roberts arranges character introductions like beads along the shoestring plot. These will go on to be the core cast, and we’re introduced to their hopes and motivations for joining this journey. That’s the interesting thing about using the ship and its quest as a narrative device: everybody has a reason for being there.
The first image we get is Rodimus, flanked by his seconds Ultra Magnus and Drift, beseeching the Autobots to join him on the search for the “Knights of Cybertron” to fix all their problems. You may remember Rodimus as the main character of the 1986 animated film. He’s been rather resented by many fans ever since for replacing the late Optimus Prime as leader of the Autobots…despite the fact that Optimus was brought back less than a year later. His IDW incarnation is back in a leadership capacity for this series and his foremost character trait is firmly established to us as rampant egotism.
Next we find Ratchet, the Autobot medic, who surprises his leader Bumblebee by declaring that he’s joining Rodimus as a “swan song.” The legendary surgeon fears his increasing age and hopes to find a successor on the journey.
Cyclonus, formerly one of the antagonists, (though NOT a Decepticon, as he repeatedly must remind people in one of many running gags) gets a bit of exposition to introduce his current status as an ally of Rodimus and a person deeply dissatisfied with the “new” Cybertron. He hopes that the Knights can restore his true homeland, which we see contrasted with the scoured primordial landscape in sequential panels.
Chromedome and Rewind, a pair of more-than-friends who we know little about thus far, are introduced bickering with Prowl. Prowl’s a high-ranking Autobot who will be staying here on Cybertron but, nonetheless, will be an important character for this book as his machinations reverberate into the future. For the moment it’s not clear why, but Prowl desperately wants Chromedome to stay. It seems that Chromedome is seeking to make a clean break with a mysterious and exceptionally dirty past by joining Rodimus, and his newfound idealism infuriates Prowl.
Next we meet Tailgate…six million years ago, in a rather abrupt transition. Tailgate’s plight reminds us of what strange and long-lived organisms the Transformers are. Injured on a journey to reach a vessel readying for take-off, he crawls free of his underground prison, fading in and out of consciousness. Without realizing it, it takes him six million years to do so, and he is discovered by Ratchet, who interprets his babbling about “being needed for the launch” as a desire to be taken aboard the Lost Light. His narrative role is not clear just yet, but the ancient Transformer proves a very effective audience surrogate character in the issues to come.
On his own way to the launch Cyclonus runs into Whirl, an Autobot whose main characteristic and motivation are being FUCKING NUTS. Whirl is absolutely one of the breakout characters of More than Meets the Eye. The character has existed since 1985, but Roberts is the first to write him as more than a cameo. Expanding on the “wild warrior” portrayed in his initial biographical sketch, Roberts writes him as a traumatized, unstable berserker. I usually describe him to people as a cross between two characters from Firefly: Jayne…and River. In a very dark moment even for Transformers comics, Cyclonus unwittingly catches Whirl in the act of attempting suicide among corpses that he has strung up and desecrated. Cyclonus doesn’t care much, but a defensive Whirl attacks and hijinks most assuredly ensue between the two warriors. Exhausted and injured, they too are brought on board the Lost Light by well-meaning crew members. The poor bastards.
Several more characters are economically introduced in a sequence where security officer Red Alert allows the mad scientist Brainstorm, the motormouth Swerve, and the psychiatrist Rung aboard the ship. With only the briefest of introductions for these four, we don’t get a sense of their motivations, but they are all characters to watch (especially Swerve and Rung who are probably the two other breakout characters of the book).
Finally, the book finds time to get into the head of Ultra Magnus, second-in-command. It’s a bit of a mystery why Magnus joined Rodimus’ exceedingly motley crew in “The Death of Optimus Prime,” and it remains so, as Magnus is a law-and-order nut who sees the world through a head-up display:
This is both uproariously funny and tells us a great deal about Magnus, Rodimus, and Drift for good measure! Roberts packs panels with content, which is why MtMtE fans repeatedly report spending upwards of 45 minutes reading every issue. Best value for $4 I’ve ever seen in the industry.
Appropriately, the stage is set for the ship’s journey with Certain Machinations causing a Major Disaster, leading everyone remaining on Cybertron to believe the Lost Light is destroyed. In fact, it is flung to a distant star system.
And on that (plus a mysterious foreboding message from the future that well over a year later in the comic we still haven’t gotten to or explained…), we begin!
One more thing must be noted: the art team of Nick Roche and Josh Burcham establishes this book’s signature look of personality-exuding designs and slightly washed-out colors that nevertheless allow for a varied palette and incredible lighting effects. Next issue Roche is replaced by the exceedingly talented Alex Milne, who truly has made this book his own, but I’d like to point out that Roche’s incredible flair for action greatly enhances this issue.
Transformers Moment of Zen: “Rubsigns,” heat-sensitive labels that indicated a toy’s faction as Autobot or Decepticon when rubbed, were introduced to the classic Transformers toyline in 1985 as a sign of authenticity, since the brand was struggling with a plethora of knock-offs. Because absolutely every feature of the toys had to have an in-fiction explanation, we got this ridiculous commercial out of the concept. Roberts winks at this by having Brainstorm flash a security pass as he boards the ship and declare, “It’s authentic. Check out the rubsign.”