Thursday, 28 January 2016

Comic Review - Transformers: All Hail Megatron

PUBLISHER: IDW, 2008-2009

All Hail Megatron gets so much right. So, so much. Intended as a summer blockbuster to reconnect with the casual comic buyer,  long alienated by the rambling joyless mess Simon Furman had turned the book into AHM largely failed from both a commercial and critical point of view. 

The basic idea of resetting the cast to all the big names and having Megatron straight up invade Earth is great. After the Reapers and the Dead Universe and Verity and all those moronic Men in Black operations readers were due some good wholesome smashy robot fun. It even follows on nicely from the Autobots abandoning Earth abruptly in Devastation while the protracted winding down of Furman's storylines largely involved putting all the familiar faces in the familiar places.
And the opening setup is great, with the Decepticons wreaking unchecked havoc in New York while the Autobots huddle on a habitable but inhospitable Cybertron, with Optimus Prime on life support after they were lured into a trap by an unknown traitor. There's some surprisingly adept characterisation in there as well, ranging from good takes on Ironhide and Cliffjumper to the first real progression of the Megatron/Starscream dynamic since, well, ever.

But right from the start there are problems. Firstly the series is straight up overlong. The plot would have been nice brainless popcorn fodder at six issues (which I recall it was originally pitched as); at twelve issues it's flabby and bloated. Most dispensable are the humans - while some idea of the natives' response and predicament was necessary the time and space given over to first downed F22 pilot Andy and then IDW's in-name-only arsehole version of Spike Witwicky not only sap the pace but in the case of the latter take away plausibility too.

Secondly McCarthy cheats somewhat on bringing further characters into things. The basic premise revolves around the Autobots having taken serious military reverses all over the universe. This takes a hit when the battered squad on Cybertron get an artificial pepping up due to Kup and a crew of guys the writer obviously thinks are the coolest ones just drop in and start showing off. Yes, Science Sniper Perceptor is cool but their arrival just feels like a cheap shot - and when Omega Supreme makes a timely reappearance suspense disappears as it becomes clear there's always going to be a cheap escape route. Kup  himself is also quite annoying - the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman impression wears thin quickly and rather than coming across as an inspiring living legend he's more of a grousing, bossy sod. 

Thirdly there's the odd relationship with past material where some of Furman's plots are worked on while others are brushed over or outright contradicted. The discontinuity is jarring due to never really knowing what's going to be ignored and what's going to be picked up as a plot point. A straight reboot was clearly the thing to do; quite why IDW opted to shackle the thing to Furman's messy overcomplicated output is one to ponder. 

Nothing really sums up the best and worst of All Hail Megatron than the sequence where Sunstreaker is revealed to be the traitor who sold the Autobots out. It's a surprise even though the misdirection afforded to suspecting Mirage is a bit obvious. It's brave - there's no cerebro-shell flaking, with only a little misleading from Starscream an Autobot betrayed his faction, partly through wanting an end to the war but largely to dick Earth over after having such a horrible time there. Which is an odd one as his treatment by the Machination was from Furman's material but then so apparently was some trite rehabilitation. We'll give that a pass as the Huntstreaker stuff was bilge, though. So let's digest this massive development. .. No, wait, he's just blown himself up in a dumb redemptive and somewhat pointless gesture and the whole thing is barely touched upon.

By the last two or three issues the thing is really all over the place, still full of padding but also glossing over loads of other things as it staggers to the finish line. Spike takes up pages and pages while he finds a supergun to shoot Megatron but at the same time Optimus Prime is revived, the Autobots hop onboard Omega Supreme  (in Sunbow mode rather than mystical Spotlight : Optimus Prime mode), fly to Earth in short order and... just beat up the Decepticons. No mention that only a short time ago they were broken husks starving on Cybertron. No big cool strategy, no plot device even. They just drop out of the sky over New York and take the Decepticons out. It is made a little easier by there only being a dozen or so Decepticons; the (possibly Hasbro-mandated) appearance of Dropshot aside, we're in pre-TF:TM territory here, which is odd when you consider who the Autobots have. It makes you wonder, ambush or not, how they managed to lose so badly in the first place. 

All Hail Megatron reads like a first draft of a potentially enjoyable comic. There are several good moments and in among the attempts at crowd pleasing there are a couple of genuinely fresh ideas that deserve more exploration in a better comic. But the finished material is badly paced, contradictory and ultimately frustrating. 

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