Swerve: Nice moves! Who are you? An Ex-Wrecker? One of the Warriors Elite? An old pit fighter?
Skids: I’m a theoretician.
In many ways this is the first More Than Meets the Eye issue that “feels” like the quirky book many of us have come to know and love. Alex Milne has taken over pencils. We are totally removed from Cybertron and the “staple” Transformers characters that reside there like Bumblebee, Starscream, and Prowl. We get a better sense of many of the characters, particularly the quirky or comic-relief characters Rung, Swerve, and Tailgate. We introduce a character who plays a major role in most upcoming issues (and in the last one’s prophecy), Skids. And finally, the issue heavily uses the series’ general motif of “making us laugh at horrible things.” In the very first panels Brainstorm makes a callous joke at the expense of a recently dead guy and his nearly-identical brother.
And we end with that brother also being killed before he has a chance to do anything, or speak, on-panel. The more you think about it, the more your diaphragm and your heart try to simultaneously spasm.
But I’m really getting ahead of myself now. After the explosive departure last issue, forty of the ship’s crew have been scattered over the landscape of an unknown planet, unconscious. The command crew of the Lost Light is quickly recovering them and transporting them back to the ship for repair. Back on the ship, Rung, Tailgate, and Whirl are all recovering from their various injuries under Ratchet’s care. Ratchet brings Swerve, a jokester chemist, in to “carbon-date” Tailgate, whom nobody recognizes and has primitive internal systems. Swerve was briefly introduced in the previous issue but gets his first real chance to shine here:
Anyway, as the bulk of the crew picks up the pieces, a mysterious ship poofs into the atmosphere, and we meet its amnesiac passenger, Skids. We get his internal narration as he awakens and tries to piece together his identity and circumstances from the surroundings. Skids was a rarely-used character from the classic days of Generation 1 (he had a whopping two lines in the TV show) but he’s been consistently portrayed as a peace-loving ‘bot of science. He’s rather…different here, more of a devil-may-care adventurer. He hasn’t been used yet in the IDW continuity though, so Roberts leaves it an open question whether Skids is re-inventing himself in the wake of his amnesia, of if he’s just different in this continuity.
Skids’ appearance is the centerpiece of the issue, so it’s worth pointing out that while it introduces a great new character (and foreshadows a tough new enemy), the action itself is a little hard to follow. This is the first book that Roberts and artist Alex Milne have worked on together, so perhaps this is no surprise. The sequence is exceptionally complicated conceptually—Skids wakes up on a spaceship, which starts to transform around him. He sabotages its transformation and steers it into the ground, jumping clear. The spaceship completes its transformation into three enemy robots, one of which is killed on impact, and they start to pursue Skids across the landscape. Sound awesome? Well, it is, but it took me roughly three readings to decode all this.
Fortunately, the character is clear amid all the action. Skids is written to evoke a mixture of the Doctor from Doctor Who and Jason Bourne, with the prodigious intellect of the former and rather violent tendencies of the latter. He’s missing the most recent few years of his memories, but (since Transformers are millions of years old) remembers much of the Lost Light crew, and vice versa, so he easily slips into the ranks. He carries a gun that he refuses to drop but also does not acknowledge, insisting that he’s unarmed and noticing it only when it is explicitly pointed out to him (and forgetting it right after). He’s clearly witty, intelligent, and ruthless, using the corpse of a friend (ejected from the Lost Light last issue) to kill one of his pursuers. After he’s repaired by Chromedome towards the end of the issue, he reveals a plethora of concealed weaponry to dispatch the last one. Geez, the more I write this the more he sounds like someone’s self-indulgent RPG character.
Speaking of new crew members, Rodimus and Magnus meet Cyclonus and Whirl and allow them both to join the crew. Whirl, being totally unhinged, is ready to totally forget the battle to the death that brought them here, but he’s pushed Cyclonus a little too far:
Amazing the expressions that Milne can pull out of Whirl, whose face is just an eye in a tube, right? Cyclonus is clearly a classic “redeemed enemy” character at the beginning of his story, but there’s a reason it’s a classic. And Whirl is a great foil for him because he’s a loyal Autobot, but quite possibly an even worse person.
As before, the foreshadowing is thick and heavy. I count no fewer than seventeen lines, plot elements, or moments that are going to directly pay off later, and they aren’t all obvious if you haven’t read ahead.
But for all the mayhem and destruction, issue #2 perhaps most stands out for something that #1 didn’t have time for, a refreshing blast of self-deprecating humor. Only someone who dearly loves Transformers can take the piss out of them as effectively as this. The character who’s really tapped for this is Swerve. Swerve will branch out a little in later issues but right now he’s in pure Xander-mode:
Anybody who can get an Ultra Magnus facepalm deserves to enter the ranks of Transformers cult favorites. By the way, Skids, Tailgate, and Swerve are getting spookily-accurate toys this year, and considering the development cycle it must have been largely on the strength of this issue.
Anyway, to sum up, no complaints about the writing here (I’m already gushing embarrassingly) and even though I’ve critiqued Milne’s action work, his superb and prolific character designs and panels that are packed with background detail and little jokes but steadfastly refusing to become cluttered or in any way unclear…really, he’s fantastic on this book and the Milne-Roberts team has become almost synonymous with it. He even includes details such as the engine repair on the Lost Light progressing in every establishing panel, and a group shot of nearly thirty characters that are all identifiable if you’re obsessed enough (or you use the TFWiki). Frankly, not many artists are capable of drawing a Transformers book well, let alone with this level of skill and care. No one in a Milne book gets shorted in terms of design (unlike in the Marvel days when it was trivial to identify minor characters because of how crudely they were drawn and conceived), and they all look as if they actually transform from one form to another.
Transformers Moment of Zen: All of the classic Transformers got profiles, (reproduced here) which included a motto and a function. Apparently these exist in-universe in the IDW continuity as well. Skids dramatically reveals his function to Swerve (see above) and briefly reflects on his motto as he remembers it, dismissing it as “not very good.” For the curious, it’s “Deep down, we are more like than unlike humans.” No wonder he doesn’t think it’s any good…this incarnation has never to our knowledge encountered humans, and when he was built we didn’t even exist!
Previous chapters in this series: