Sunday, 23 August 2015

Transformers - Spotlight: Soundwave

I've not always been a huge fan of Simon Furman's contrivances but for this one I'm prepared to tip my hat in his general direction. This comic basically exists to get Soundwave into his iconic cassette player (yes, we all know the toy was a Dictaphone, no-one cares) mode, even moreso than Spotlight: Shockwave was built to make the Dinobots made into dinosaurs, but there's so much fun stuff thrown in that the otherwise-arbitrary decision to set this in the eighties is totally forgivable.

Soundwave himself, a notable absence from the opening months of IDW's work, is superb. There have always been two well-known versions of Soundwave vying to be used in any revival; the loyal, calm lieutenant of the cartoon and the ambitious scheming sod of the comic. Furman has a fair crack at blending both, with the loyalty an immaculately maintained facade to keep in Megatron's good graces, a status he seemingly abuses when the right opportunity comes up. The story also shows off his technical skills well, even if there's a showing for one of the more amusing IDW/Furman traits - someone deciding that the most subtle way of covering tracks is to explode a building or two, because no-one follows up on that sort of thing, right?

In this case the opportunity if from monitoring Bludgeon's little cult as they go through the missing Shockwave's data and use it to plan their resurrection of Thunderwing after a visit to Earth, cutting a fine line between smart backstory and forced contrivance by pulling a curious Soundwave after them. It adds a little to Stormbringer by explaining how exactly they found and resurrected Thunderwing, but also gives the chance for a nice bit of development for Soundwave, who surprises himself by realising that his opportunism has limits - the moment when he belatedly realises the insanity of the group's plan and its' danger to his species and decides he must stop it with only Ravage and Laserbeak as back-up is a fantastic, unexpected twist.

There's then the typical coda bringing the trio into the present day which sadly includes foreshadowing Furman's obsession with secret human conspiracy organisations, in this case Skywatch. But never mind, the meat is satisfying enough to make this a decent issue.
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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Transformers - Spotlight: Hot Rod

One of the more interesting "prequel" Spotlight issues, this gives a bit of backstory for Hot Rod while laying a couple of seeds for future stories. 

The lead's trademark rashness is examined in light of a raid for a MacGuffin called the Magnificence on an alien planet; however, it's only a qualified success - Hot Rod gets out with the object but apparently the rest of his team don't after a series of unpredicted mishaps. As team leader he blames himself despite evidence pointing to simple bad luck and jumps at the news that one of his troops - Dealer - apparently survived, setting off on a solo rescue mission.

While his motivation is simple stuff - he's trying to redeem himself - Furman plays a little with the predictable twist of Dealer actually being Decepticon undercover agent Doubledealer and rather than playing the cause of failure for impossible suspense tags on a coda where the true reason for the mission going wrong and the whole rescue being a complicated way of getting Doubledealer to infiltrate the Autobot ranks are laid bare. 

It's not a bad little story due to its' willingness to play to how obvious this all is to the reader while convincingly showing that Hot Rod himself could have no idea without making the Autobot look like an idiot, as his blinding desperation to make things right comes across well. The only problem is there's really not 22 pages of interest here - the actual rescue comes across as strung-out padding and if the format had required it to be closer to 15-16 it would be an easy job to cut this part down. However, it's a good read and Nick Roche's art once again excels, catching the bouncy enthusiasm of the more naive Hot Rod on the original mission and the grittier version breaking into the Decepticon prison.
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Friday, 14 August 2015

Transformers - Spotlight: Sixshot

Published third in the Spotlight series but set an undetermined time before the 'present day' of Infiltration, Sixshot is something of a lightweight piece. It's basically the title character - a "Phase Sixer" sent in by the Decepticons to level worlds at the end of their use, and his meditations on whether he can retain some sort of individuality or if he's simply a living weapon. 

It's not an uninteresting angle to take and the character himself is basically interesting, especially his matter-of-fact evaluation of his own capabilities - it's not arrogance or ego, he really is that powerful. Enjoyably for a Decepticon with combat prowess he also doesn't consider overthrowing Megatron at any point for the 22 pages.

However, the issue's largely derailed by the uninteresting Reapers - an ad-hoc group of super-powerful super-emo mechs who plan to end war by destroying any flashpoint outright. It's a silly, tacky idea and tugs the issue down the all-too-familiar paths of combat tests, refused offers and last-minute reprieves. Sadly they would also later show up in the main series, where they proved no more interesting.

Rob Ruffolo gets art duties as part of IDW's unofficial line for putting work the way of unpaid former Dreamwave workers. His art is a lot cleaner and clearer than it was before but doesn't really stand out, and the designs for the Reapers are bland, but the action comes across nicely.

Overall this is one of those issues that isn't particularly good and isn't particularly bad. It doesn't add much to Sixshot beyond a basic internal conflict which, IIRC, was largely ignored come the main series, but at the same time it's inoffensive enough.
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Sunday, 9 August 2015

Transformers - Spotlight: Cliffjumper

IDW never quite seemed to work out how to best use the Spotlights, which generally tied into the main continuity but also had to function as standalone comics. Some efforts gradually saw more of the main storyline seep in to the point where the featured character felt like a sideshow but the only real alternative was to have stories like this that didn't really go anywhere.

The issue was penned by Shane McCarthy during his stint as head Transformers writer but it's difficult to see why beyond the writer quite liking Cliffjumper. It's a fairly generic story of the titular Minibot crashing on a peaceful alien planet and making friends only for the Decepticons to catch up and bring him back to the reality of war; you can guess at the plot from the first couple of pages and McCarthy doesn't disappoint in this regard. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from the cartoon.

There is a giggle or two to be had from the squadron of tough but crucially generic-looking Decepticons bricking it when they find out just who their prey is but the storyline would basically be the same regardless of who was in it and the generic "friendly to innocents but brutal to enemies" personality Cliffjumper gets effectively negates the point in it even being a Spotlight (McCarthy gets more out of him in odd frames of All Hail Megatron than 22 devoted pages here). That he was no more than a peripheral player in any other IDW comic to date hardly helps matters and the end result is inoffensive but utterly inessential.
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Transformers - Spotlight: Shockwave

Simon Furman's IDW run was never afraid to stick to safe old favourites and even whole dynamics and that's something which marks out Spotlight: Shockwave like few other titles. The plot is slight, covering Shockwave's attempt to independently seed prehistoric Earth and other planets with Energon after foreseeing Cybertron's energy crisis, neatly providing a good excuse for the present day stuff revolving around our home planet.

While the action's on prehistoric Earth Furman also takes in the time to cover one of the vexing problems facing any new Transformers continuity - how to get the Dinobots - alien robots from a planet which doesn't have dinosaurs - to take dinosaur modes. So there's something of a contrivance with them having a simple vendetta against Shockwave for a previous clash.

Then we're onto the familiar territory of both taking each other out to be dug up in the present day without any awkward hanging around for millions of years disrupting evolution. So there's little original - even Shockwave's narration, centred on logic versus chaos, feels like a retread of Marvel material - but it bumbles along in a fun enough fashion.

Comic Review: Transformers - Drift

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010)
WRITER: SHANE McCARTHY
ARTIST: ALEX MILNE  

Drift is - or at least was - one of the most reviled Transformers characters ever and a lot of the blame for this was down to the obnoxious promotional push IDW comics gave him, though creator Shane McCarthy's prickly side didn't exactly smooth the path. In general the actual character wasn't quite as much of a Scrappy Doo as expected. However, a four-issue mini-series exploring his crazy mysterious backstory was hardly warranted and is every bit as terrible as these elements would suggest.