Saturday, 29 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 2



With the setup of the first volume out of the way More Than Meets the Eye finally kicks into gear, Kind of, intermittently, for a bit. The phrase is "meticulous build-up" and little hints and hooks are scattered throughout the five issues collected here that will presumably be explored some way down the line, carefully hidden among throw-away lines and simpler resolutions. There's a certain fun to be had from such puzzle-piece series - Warren Ellis' Planetary is still very much the daddy of the approach - but it can be a difficult thing to pull off. Roberts' problem as such is that while some of the characters are waiting to be explored they enter a holding pattern of recycling their basic start point; the danger is the reader can already be fed up with schtick like Ultra Magnus' exaggerated pedantry and inflexibility or Swerve's being a twat long before the writer stops giving them scenes hammering this aspect home.

It would seem the early positive response to some of these simplistic characterisations went down well with the Chesterfield Town attendance-sized cult Roberts rapidly attracted and he perhaps quickly became a captive to this audience. The effects of real-time interaction with readers via social media is an interesting thing to study; indeed, you could probably write one Hell of a thesis about a readership that will actually genuinely listen to mediocre white Indie rock bands they'd never previously heard of when reading a certain comic just because the writer tells them to. With More Than Meets the Eye at this stage it's possible to propose the book's following is harming some elements of development by playing to the gallery. But later volumes will likely provide a more conclusive verdict.

This characterisation approach is a tricky line to walk to be fair; if you keep these characters loitering and recycling their start point you risk sterility but if you were to suddenly have, say, Brainstorm pipe up about his briefcase in issue 18 just in time for it to be a plot point and risk only bringing things up when they're necessary to the plot. The former approach, the one Roberts largely takes, is preferable on the whole but method and result are two different things; the payoff for Swerve and Magnus especially is going to have to be fantastic to justify the banal populist banter the pair spout in this volume.

However, one character to get some actual development is Ratchet. Alright, for a rank-and-file Autobot who only rose to prominence because he gave Bob Budiansky a loophole when he blew up the rest of the faction he's done alright over the years but it's rarely a problem as he's always brought out the best in most Transformers writers. There's no change here as he leads a respectable two-part storyline concerning an outbreak of disease at the Autobot medical facility at Delpi which the Lost Light is near enough to investigate. It's a nicely done mystery, well-seeded and not too obvious, even if you get the distinct feeling the name of the second part came first and the storyline was written to make use of it.

While the storyline and lead are generally well-written the mini-arc does expose another of the book's problems - namely the ability of the Lost Light, cannoning off into space away from Cybertron and into mythical mystery - to accumulate more Autobots every time it stops at some traffic lights. Last book they ran into Skids, this time they find a medical facility packed with three-quarters of the Autobots' medics and Fortress Maximus. Which is nice, as the book didn't have loads and loads of characters anyway; another gets pulled from the ranks for the away team too in the shape of Pipes. However, he doesn't take up much narrative space as he's a 1986 Minibot and we all know what that means - a repetitive gimmick! Tailgate's got his absentee naivety, Swerve's got being a twat and Pipes has that he's amiable but gets horribly injured every time he does anything. So yeah, another woobie, great.

It's followed by a decent self-contained (insofar as any MTMTE issue is self-contained) issue coping with Fort Max's mental scarring from the events of Last Stand of the Wreckers as he flips out, shoots a bunch of crew members and then takes Rung and Whirl hostage. There's actually some decent characterisation at work here as we get some information on why Whirl is nuts and the after-effects of such an ordeal for Max all while something is building with Red Alert and the result is a nicely constructed issue that shows comics can work without several issues of incessant seeding.

The final two issues continue in this vein as Roberts gets to grips with the crew and gives the series some much-needed forward momentum. No, only joking, it's time for a fuckton more characters. Thankfully they're all well-rounded and interesting. Joking again, it's another bunch of mysterious nutcases and assorted losers. Firstly this is our first look at the Decepticon Justice Division, the Decepticons the Decepticons are scared of. While the concept is sound in theory the execution is puerile; these are the super-duper scary psycho Decepticons a fourteen-year old sticks in his dreary uber-dark script-format fanfic who deal Saw-like death to Optimus Prime and any other goody-two-shoes so the Decepticons win because the writer is edgy AF - their super egdy abilities include things like one having a big shredder thing in his chest, one being able to talk Transformers to death and one having a mask full of spikes he jams on people. If you ever wondered what sort of Decepticons Rob Liefield and Fab Nicieza would come up with if they worked on Transformers wonder no more, because it's the DJD. That our introduction concerns them butchering Black Shadow, a Phase Sixer who hadn't been actually involved in the comic despite numerous avenues for him to be useful, hardly helps with this poor first impression. A bunch of guys we're told are big news killing another guy we're told is big news.

They cross paths with another bunch of new characters, a group of idiot Decepticon stragglers led by Krok known as the Scavengers who follow basic trite MTMTE characterisations - grumpy guy, hyper guy, stupid guy, you know the drill by now - meta, banter, bigging up the DJD, mystery, blah. Our window is Original Character Do Not Steal Fulcrum, who is a bit mysterious, which makes a nice change, and they also come across the mentally impaired Grimlock, long off IDW's radar, who is also naturally a bit mysterious. There is some nice cameraderie when they actually decide to face off against the DJD only to be gone through like butter but thankfully the DJD get an urgent call that they're needed elsewhere which they acknowledge immediately when it would have taken another five seconds to kill them and not have to add them to their list because they're totally going to kill everyone on that list.

Really the overall result is that this still feels like opening issues cracking stuff open with gay abandon, making for an unfocused if amiable read. There's an underlying feeling that we should be getting to the good stuff after eight issues but it's still all light and frothy with little sign of getting anywhere - or at least anywhere good that doesn't involve the Dark Justice Dudes anyway. It's a shame really because the Ratchet-focused arc and many of the scenes on the Lost Light are well-done and promise forward movement only to be immediately dashed by such edgy posturing.

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