Thursday, 27 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 1

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011-2012)

IDW had stepped Transformers up to two issues a month using parallel stories for the last few issues of the ongoing series, all part of preparation for two series by separate creative teams as they tried to relaunch the franchise for the 64th time. John Barber stayed on Cybertron while James Roberts cherry picked his favourites and set off into space on a quest for the Knights of Cybertron for More Than Meets the Eye. MTMTE has since gone on to gather a small but psychotic fandom of around the same since of Hartlepool United's but for now we're going to focus on the first batch of issues. Or episodes; among MTMTE's many, many eccentricities is that it's not a comic but actually a TV show with seasons that last a couple of years. In which case this first collection is the free DVD you get with Sunday newspapers that contains a couple of trailers, some potted character bios, several wallpapers and a screensaver.

The volume's opening gambit is the "Death of Optimus Prime" one-shot that effectively established what had actually happened at the end of "Chaos" and set the scene for the two new series. Now obviously everyone was used to IDW's attention seeking by now and precisely no-one expected that Optimus would end up dead. Even with this qualifier the metaphorical 'death' as he again flakes out on everyone by flying off into space alone as humble Orion Pax and leaves Bumblebee to deal with a shitstorm of angry neutrals and a Cybertron that hates Transformers is predictable. Roberts writes him fairly well but it's clear that it's an editorial decision to move the big guy out of the way, and a hollow one at that as we all know he'll be back in a couple of years tops whenever the series needs a shot in the arm sales-wise. Such a restricted narrative is bound to have casualties and you can tell that Roberts has misgivings as to the logic of the storyline but not the confidence to challenge them, thus the stupidity of having Optimus decide he's too much of a reminder of the still-over war but absolutely none of the other key Autobots or Decepticons are. There are some nice dialogue call-backs to the Orion Pax backstory from "Chaos Theory" but it's clear that all involved wanted this over and done with, meaning it's hard to feel otherwise reading it.

Which leads us to MTMTE itself. Or at least the first three issues as despite "The Death of Optimus Prime" being only ten pages longer than the standard issue that's all there's room for - though there are loads and loads of sketches in the back because IDW know full well how to exploit readers. Or maybe He Who Writes decreed that the first three issues were actually a Movie of the Week and #4 started a regular mini-series, who knows. Anyway, it's basically sixty pages of prelude for when the comic properly starts, establishing the basic mission of the crazy gang aboard the Lost Light, a bit of mild jeopardy and their basic personality gimmick (expect these to be repeated endlessly as Roberts works around to giving each character a proper arc) - Rodimus is Zapp Brannigan, Drift is a fortune cookie, Ultra Magnus likes rules, Brainstorm has a briefcase, Trailbreaker has a forcefield, Skids has memory problems, Cyclonus is grumpy, Ratchet has gammy hands, Swerve's a twat, Whirl is crazy, Red Alert is paranoid and so on. Seeding is the name of the game, though at this stage few of these elements have a huge amount of interest to them.

Around this there's a couple of simplistic crises to give some momentum - an explosion on the Lost Light at launch to allow the series total independence from companion book Robots in Disguise and the accidental presence of a Sparkeater (i.e. robot vampire) onboard the Lost Light; bith are fairly perfunctory, notably the explosion ending up killing a trio of generics in something of a climbdown from the initial sight of a chunk of the crew burning up in a planet's atmosphere. The second at least allows a little character work, namely underlining how much of an idiot Rodimus is.

It all makes for a rather lightweight collection. It's like fast food, goes down easily enough but ultimately isn't it isn't hugely fulfilling or particularly memorable at this stage, just the basic foundations for the characters and settings.

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