Sunday, 2 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Revenge of the Decepticons

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010-2011)

Mike Costa's schizophrenia continues in the third batch of ongoing issues, consisting of a prelude-style one shot and then a five-part story. The real story though is again IDW's lack of editorial direction and forward planning; just like the Dead Furmanverse and All Hail Megatron the ongoing is set into that pattern of a bold new direction that didn't go down too well and then furious backpedalling when the fresh stuff failed to find the expected crossover audience, instead forcing pandering to the fandom in order to keep the numbers up. The main events of the first year's issues were that the war was over, that Megatron was out of the picture, that Optimus Prime had abdicated and that Bumblebee was the leader of the Autobots. Basically all of these things are undone in deed if not word.

The second volume of course ended with Bumblebee's possible assassination by a human using an exotic weapon that didn't half look like Megatron. Obviously Bumblebee gets better and pretty rapidly at that; there's considerable fudging of the "he can't be moved when the plot demands it but then moves around a bit and doesn't die" variety but the real problem is that since making his big play of making Bumblebee the Autobot leader Costa has almost jumped through hoops to write him out and put Optimus Prime back in nominal control. 

Megatron's return was perhaps unavoidable and, having been confirmed alive six months before this is theoretically about the right place to bring him in. However, it feels like a rushed move somehow, especially that the shambles seen living on the asteroid then could really patch him back together so well even with the willing cooperation of Shockwave and Soundwave. It is nice for a change to see the Decepticons working together bar Starscream, who loses the Matrix to Rodimus in the prelude.

The redesign of Megatron is nice enough and it's perhaps good to have a central villain but his characterisation ebbs and flows. His plan doesn't make a gigantic amount of sense either and basically involves hammering him and Optimus into the Joker and Batman, a derivative relationship never really shown before. While all the stuff about seeding his consciousness in guns made from his old body to sow discord between the humans and Autobots is really good it gets in trouble once the Decepticon himself goes to Earth for a series of limp confrontations; we've seen an overpowered Megatron slap Optimus around before and his endgame feels more like it comes together out of luck than genuine planning. Similarly, we've seen Optimus racked by self-doubt and guilt over his past actions before (say, every single time Simon Furman's written for him); some of the trappings have changed but it's the same old story, the same old series of excuses for neither of them to put a bullet in the other's brain module and be done with it.

It all makes for a rather formless arc. The opener features Rodimus as mentioned above; he's less of a spiky selfish prick than in "For All Mankind" and back to just being the usual idiot and ends with a decent reveal of Megatron but the problem is we all know IDW are in Hasbro's pocket by now and there's no way they will actually follow through on killing any character. Thus Rodimus will turn up with that gigantic chest wound shrunk down; the Autobot and the Matrix couldn't be safer than floating through space in an IDW comic, it's a case of wondering which subplot they'll be later dropped into.

Aside from the Prime/Megatron stuff there are two other subplots. Spike's there of course and there are promising signs that Costa's been playing a long game with him and that the whole idea is that he's not meant to be Lennox but rather a flawed man who does stupid, thoughtless things. Here's hoping. The other isn't so much a subplot as an almost random event as in the height of a stand-off Jazz feels the need to incinerate a policeman after misinterpreting a situation Bumblebee had under control. Beyond further undermining Bumblebee, which surely must be an intentional thread even if it would make sense to give his leadership some foundations before knocking them down, this serves as another random outbreak of violence like the assassination just to keep things bubbling. The flaw is that we've barely seen Jazz; by my estimation his last real exposure was as a special ops ninja who didn't do anything in All Hail Megatron and as such it feels like his name has been pulled out of a hat. There's plenty of opportunity in the issues to build this up a bit more, make him rash and overprotective, but it's not used. As he's a relative nobody in the world of Costa it just feels like shock value; it might have played out better as part of Prowl's weird nervous breakdown or the action of the impulsive Cliffjumper or the much-abused Blurr but the problem is the bulk of the ranks have been left underdeveloped. It just happens to accelerate further tensions between the Autobots and Earth.

Artwise it's a varied bag; Nick Roche handles the prelude issue but to be honest he might as well have traced most of it from Spotlight: Hot Rod and it's not the most exciting use of IDW's best gun. Don Figueroa is then hooked out of storage for a bit and while he tones down his awful, awful character designs seen in "For All Mankind" it's clear that he's fallen out of love; before the end of the arc Alex Milne is in his place, doing his usual reliable if undramatic job.

It makes for another grab-bag with some good ideas, some bad ideas and largely botched execution. The problem however is this lack of shape and direction; Costa's ultimate goal across the story (Megatron surrendering himself to Optimus as a psychological gambit to hurt his old enemy emotionally) is clear, he just doesn't seem to know how to go from Point A to Point B. The result is a series of events which try to rush past the reader in the hope that you'll like the ending enough to give it a pass.

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