Ratchet: I know this guy. His name was Prowl.
Ratchet: Not THE Prowl, obviously. This Prowl changed his name to…Dent, I think, to avoid confusion.
Drift: Dent? He called himself Dent? As in—as in DENT?
Ratchet: Yeah, well, all the best names are taken.
I’m doing this two-parter together because it would be kind of a challenge to do apart. For most of issue #4, we don’t know who the villain is, but the whodunit is not the real point of the story, since it’s revealed very early in issue #5. At any rate this works very nicely because #4 and #5 share both an A-plot and a B-plot.
The A-plot is a medical mystery, with Ratchet and Drift visiting an Autobot outpost struck by a mysterious plague. Back on the ship, our elderly newcomer Tailgate explores the history of the civil war and what it means to be an Autobot or a Decepticon.
The action picks up in Swerve’s Bar, a new fixture aboard the Lost Light. Currently it’s quite busy, but of questionable legality, since Swerve hasn’t yet found the gumption to inform professional stick-in-the-mud Ultra Magnus.
Swerve and Ratchet have received a mysterious distress signal from the medical station Delphi. The mechanics of this are unimportant from our perspective but they reference the events of Last Stand of the Wreckers, a fantastic miniseries that first brought Roche and Roberts to everyone’s attention. You don’t need to have read Wreckers to get what’s going on in this issue, but you should accept that some of the characters’ dialogue might fly past you. Also, if you do have any interest in Wreckers this issue will spoil some of those events. Okay, enough about continuity, read on!
Ratchet debarks and heads for Delphi, accompanied by “nominal third-in-command” Drift, and a minor crew member, Pipes. Ratchet despises Drift, which is pretty hilarious to read. Apparently Drift has become rather evangelical in recent weeks with regards to Cybertronian religion, while Ratchet is completely atheistic. In the midst of bickering with Drift, Ratchet reveals his other reason for coming to Delphi; as we saw in issue #1, his irreplaceable hands are seizing up, and without them he will have to retire from surgery. He hopes to find a successor among the staff at Delphi.
Pipes is too dumb to heed the quarantine markers and so the three wind up in the thick of the chaos at Delphi. A mysterious plague is causing everyone to start rusting and leaking to death. If you were thinking that Alex Milne relished the chance to horrify us with the Transformers equivalent of Ebola, you’re right!
The doctors stationed there — First Aid, Ambulon, and Pharma — are desperately trying to save their patients. The illness cuts down the healthy people first, such as the guards, and seems to largely spare the doctors and those who were already chronically ill patients. They’ve had little time to solve the mystery of how this happened but fill in the Lost Light crew of recent events: a steadily-increasing mortality rate, followed by the arrival of two low-ranking Decepticons, or “Genericons” (heh), who begged for asylum. Ambulon, a former Decepticon himself, took pity on them. The suspicious Pharma scanned them but claimed to find no weapons or transformation cogs, so they were allowed to stay.
Drift and Pipes promptly fall ill themselves, leading Ratchet to make a crucial connection—the disease is activated by transforming. It has spared the medics and the long-term patients so far because they rarely transform. Drift and Ambulon, the former Decepticons, become terrified that the disease was released by the “Decepticon Justice Division,” or DJD, a roving death squad targeting Decepticon deserters and traitors that operates near Delphi.
But it’s worse than that. Someone releases and arms the Genericons, who hold the medics at gunpoint. But First Aid finds a way to revive Fortress Maximus, a hulking Autobot warrior who was damaged back in Last Stand of the Wreckers. He solves the Genericon problem the old-fashioned way—brutally.
With his last card played, and a little deduction from Ratchet and First Aid, the villain of the proceedings is revealed: Pharma. It seems that he was blackmailed by the DJD, who agreed not to raze the hospital in exchange for a steady supply of fresh Transformers body parts. In order to meet this grotesque quota, Pharma began to kill his own patients. Being forced into this position apparently caused the great doctor’s mind to snap. And that is putting it pretty mildly.
Pharma created the plague and paid the Genericons to spread it with a “soundbomb,” all just to shut down Delphi so he’d never be implicated for his murders and organ theft. But things don’t go well for him after Ratchet figures him out, and he ends up falling off the roof of Delphi with two choices—hit the ground and die, or transform into his plane mode…and die from his own plague.
And hey, look at that! He solved Ratchet’s hand problem as he went! As a fellow top medic Pharma’s appendages were some of the few in the universe that could stand in for Ratchet’s failing ones.
The B-story is a little less grotesque. Cyclonus, still bitter and cynical over his faction’s loss to the Autobots, convinces Tailgate that the Decepticons are the more noble faction. Tailgate announces this to the rest of the ship, who react with trepidation considering the Decepticons’ track record. For once, it’s Rodimus who sees to the heart of the problem and has Rewind download a quick history lesson into Tailgate’s brain.
Tailgate is pretty miffed with Cyclonus for not bothering to tell him which faction were the mass murderers. Unfortunately, Tailgate badly underestimates how many shits Cyclonus does not give about him or his problems:
“Bad guys and good guys…do you really think life is as straightforward as that?” Well, yeah, Cyclonus, what franchise do you think you’re in anyhow?
After being nearly crippled by the ‘bot he thought was his best buddy, Tailgate embraces the Autobot cause and begins a series of lessons from Ultra Magnus. Unfortunately, this isn’t any more fun or pleasant:
Tailgate’s B-story doesn’t get a definite resolution in these pages, but he’ll continue his quest to 1) become an Autobot and 2) retain his sanity despite being the personal project of the ship’s resident boring asshole. And so the Lost Light continues boldly going…nowhere in particular. Wait, what were we looking for again? Knights of something?
This duology retains the dense exposition and humor of issue #3, but adds about ten times more layers to the plot. Roberts pulls in some old threads from Last Stand of the Wreckers, introduces new supporting characters, a major new villain (c’mon, you didn’t think that was the end of Pharma?), and lays down some groundwork for future events (the DJD, Tailgate’s quest for identity, and a brief C-plot about Red Alert starting to hear a mysterious voice in the bowels of the ship). PACKED, this issue is.
The A-plot reminds me of nothing so much as one of the classic “base under siege” stories of Doctor Who. The fact that it’s a two-parter, the whodunit structure, the beyond-rapid-fire dialogue pulling together an evil plot from little bits of foreshadowing scattered around, and the villain being an insane genius. No one would be the least bit surprised after reading this that Who is one of Roberts’ favorite shows. Of course, since he’s an English writer it was probably safe to assume that anyway.
Of course, as sometimes happens in Who, little bits of this situation get rickety when you squint at it. Note that the Lost Light is still totally unable to contact Cybertron, which is what keeps the two Transformers ongoing comic series mostly separate. In fact, the belief that the Lost Light has been destroyed is a minor plot point in the sister book. But in this issue Ratchet is able to casually fly to a major Autobot base on Delphi, a base that is being constantly replenished with troops…from Cybertron. And Pharma’s whole motivation for going crazy and trying to kill everyone is because the Autobots keep reinforcing the base and he can’t just slink off and disappear. There’s no explanation given why Ratchet and Drift can’t contact Cybertron from Delphi either. It feels like a slight bit of growing pain for the IDW Transformers team, as if they hadn’t fully thought through the implications of their two casts being cut off from each other before they started breaking down stories.
And despite the usual few devastating zingers, the dialogue is a little clunkier than usual. Fortress Maximus delivers a lengthy speech as he wakes up that lands with a dull thud. Pharma’s plot is so complicated that he takes pages to explain it to Ratchet…essentially, the character had to be made insane enough to actually want to explain his evil plan, or else it would all feel like a string of random events to the reader. And of all the More than Meets the Eye stories to date, this one relies most heavily on the reader’s knowledge of previous IDW Transformers continuity.
Still, these are solid issues that represent a further maturing of the book. More than Meets the Eye is sometimes accused of focusing too heavily on original characters and characters so obscure that they are essentially also being invented from the ground up. But this duology shows that claim to be spurious, being one of the greatest stories ever told about Ratchet, the first and greatest Autobot doctor.
Transformers Moment of Zen: Fortress Maximus is a 1987 toy that until 2013, was the tallest Transformer ever made, and still is the most massive. In the cartoon he was depicted as the size of an entire city, but traditionally in the comics he’s just been an unusually large guy. His toy was also a “Headmaster,” meaning it had a removable head that itself became a robot. Maximus’ design here is different, allowing him to change into a tank instead of a city. However, for some reason he retains the hatch which stored his head in city mode, and in the beginning of issue #5 he wrenches a Decepticon’s head off with it.
And then Ambulon has to retrieve it!
Read more of our Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye recaps!