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Transformers comics - John C. Kirk

Mar. 10th, 2015

05:23 am - Transformers comics

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Back in 2012 I started reading IDW's new Transformers comics. 3½ years later, both series are still going and I think that Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is actually my favourite comic each month. Not just my favourite Transformers comic, my favourite comic period.

I've been meaning to write a follow-up post for a while, but my catalyst is the current Humble Bundle: this includes all the issues from both of the current series, up to #37 (published in February). #38 of each series came out last week, so you'll be pretty much up to date with the bundle. More precisely, which issues you get depends on how much you spend; you can "unlock" extra purchases if you pay above average. However, you can get 33 issues of MtMtE as long as you just pay something; the minimum purchase price is literally $0.01. So, if you trust my judgment at all, please go and do that!

This bundle ends at 18:00 GMT on Wed 12th March. So, if you're not sure about this, start with the cheap option and then read through the first collection to see whether you like it. If you do, you can go back to the website and pay a bit more to complete the set. Right now, you will need to pay at least $16.55 to get all 74 issues, although that price may go up a bit before the bundle ends. According to StackExchange, you can "top up" your original payment later (a bit like Kickstarter), e.g. if you paid $7 for the first set then you could pay another $10 to get the rest. The website says that this is "$155 worth of comics", which sounds about right. I subscribe to both series via Comixology, and I pay £2.49 per issue (i.e. about £5/month). Back issues are cheaper, currently going for £1.45 each. You then have to do the exchange rate between dollars and pounds, but however you work it out this is an amazingly cheap way to pick up the series. You can also choose to give some of the money to charity, so you're doing a good deed at the same time.

So, why am I pushing this so hard? Read on for details; I've tried to keep spoilers to a minimum.

As I mentioned in my 2012 post, I'd only dipped into Transformers comics prior to this. There have been a few reboots since the 1980s, but both of the current series share a continuity, and they follow on from various other IDW series. The good news is that you don't need to read them. After I got interested in the series, I went back and got all the back issues from 2008 onwards, starting with All Hail Megatron; these vary in quality. None of them are quite as painful to read as the early 1980s comics (which were often pretty much a roll call of new toys), but your life won't be any poorer if you skip most of them. There are just a few exceptions which I specifically recommend.

In terms of reading order, I'd suggest that you start with the first MtMtE collection; this includes "The Death of Optimus Prime", so it definitely makes sense to read that before any of the Robots in Disguise series. If you like it, you should then read a few particular back issues, although these aren't included in the Humble Bundle. As I said, you don't need to read them, but they're good (well worth reading on their own merits) and some of the stuff in MtMtE will make more sense this way. They're all written by the same writer as MtMtE (James Roberts).

(If you do get them, you should read them in the order above.)

Just as a taster, here's a quote from one of those back issues:

"My friend's name was Megatron, and he had three questions! Three things he said you should demand to know of any powerful institution!
Question one: In whose interests do you exercise your power?
Question two: To whom are you accountable?
Question three: How can we get rid of you?"

That's from a scene where Optimus Prime is addressing the corrupt Senate (back before the Cybertronian civil war), but I think it's also relevant to real-life controversies about government actions. Digressing slightly, I've often seen people repeating one of Adama's quotes from Battlestar Galactica: "There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people." I think that this series deserves the same attention.

I also suggest buying Spotlight: Hoist and Spotlight: Trailcutter (£1.49 each). These were actually published later (at about the same time as issue #16), but they take place between issues #5 and #6, i.e. in the middle of volume 2.

Anyway, with or without the extra issues, you can then read MtMtE volumes 2-5. There's a lot of good stuff in there. For a while, I wondered whether the creative team were actually wasting their talent on this. I don't think this is the type of series that would get nominated for an Eisner award; regardless of how good it is, a lot of people will automatically dismiss it as a media tie-in. (In a similar way, some sci-fi fans will sneer at Star Trek novels.) However, I then realised that a lot of the stories in here could only work in this context. For instance, one plot point involves the Functionist council, who said that someone's alt-mode should determine their status. For instance, if a robot can turn into a giant drill then that means they have to be a miner rather than a politician; essentially, it's a caste system. On a lighter note, there's a scene where Ratchet (the doctor) feels his hands getting stiff, so he pulls out a big sledgehammer and starts whacking his own fingers with it to loosen them up!

I previously compared this series to Star Trek: Voyager, but I'd say that it's "Voyager done right." The problem with Voyager was that if they actually achieved their goal then the series would be over. (The same issue applies to other series, e.g. the animated "Dungeons and Dragons".) In this case, they are theoretically on a quest, but they haven't exactly made a great deal of progress, and I'm fine with that. Basically, they're just wandering around in space, having adventures.

As I mentioned, MtMtE and RiD have been published in parallel; since the MtMtE group were lost in space, the two series didn't interact for the first couple of years. So, if you've bought the RiD comics too, this would be a good time to read volumes 1-5 of that. However, this then led into the "Dark Cybertron" crossover (collected in 2 volumes). Honestly, this wasn't the highlight of the series.

When I read MtMtE #22 (the final issue of volume 5), I suddenly realised "Hang on, this feels like a final issue." They were wrapping up some loose ends and reflecting on their current situation, and the last page actually said "THE END". I knew that the crossover was coming, and I figured that once they were back on Cybertron they'd stay put; the series would presumably still continue in some form, but this group wouldn't be able to go off doing their own thing anymore. I was quite disappointed about that; as Swerve put it: "I'm hoping for more massive, rambling diversions. Who wants closure? Let's really stretch this sucker out."

The first issue after the crossover was #28 (the start of volume 6). This involves a few crew changes, but the important quote came from Rodimus: "The Lost Light is refuelled, the quantum engines are purring like a turbofox in heat, and Perceptor says he can use magic* to get us back to get us back to the galactic rim in a single epic jump." There's also a footnote to clarify that: "Magic = science that Rodimus doesn't understand." Yes, excellent! I am very happy with that. In a situation like this, I'm quite willing to suspend my disbelief and skip the technobabble; I'll gladly accept that there is some legitimate reason for them to get back out into the middle of nowhere and pick up where they left off.

So, just to finish off my recommended reading order:

  1. MtMtE volume 1

  2. (Optional) back issues

  3. MtMtE volume 2

  4. (Optional) Spotlight: Hoist/Trailcutter

  5. MtMtE volumes 3-5

  6. RiD volumes 1-5

  7. Dark Cybertron volumes 1-2

  8. MtMtE volume 6

  9. MtMtE #34-37

  10. RiD volume 6

  11. RiD #33-34

  12. Transformers #35-37

NB Transformers: Robots in Disguise was renamed Transformers starting with #35, but it's the same continuing series.

There have been other one-shots and mini-series too, e.g. Windblade, but I'll leave them for another day.

Looking at MtMtE as a whole, I mainly associate it with fun, similar to Stargate: Atlantis. However, it does have serious storylines too. The best thing I can say about it is that it makes me care about the characters, so I feel bad when they get hurt or killed. At the same time, it's nowhere near as bleak as Battlestar Galactica, so I'm still glad to keep reading it.

Other people have also written some longer reviews about the series, although these do include a few more spoilers:

That last title hints at another interesting aspect of the series: two of the robots in MtMtE have clearly been established as a romantic couple (essentially married). Applying sex/gender to robots is a whole other issue that I don't want to get into here, but if you assume that most of the Transformers are male then that means that these two are a gay couple.

I'm wary about how I phrase this. For instance, back in January I said "Ms. Marvel is also worth a look." Here's what I didn't say: that comic is unusual because the protagonist is a female Muslim. Now, if those comics appeal to a wider audience (from particular demographic groups) because of these these casting choices, then that's great. I personally wouldn't buy them just because of the extra diversity, but I see it as a nice fringe benefit in titles which are good for other reasons.

Anyway, the point is that these comics have come a long way from the original premise of "Autobots vs. Decepticons". They're telling good stories about well-defined characters, and once again I highly recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity to pick them up cheaply.


[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2015 10:03 am (UTC)
In case you're interested, I've always heard that questions-to-power quote (or something very like it) attributed to Tony Benn (the late Labour grandee). I don't know if he's the first source or if he got it from elsewhere, but here's his version:

The House will forgive me for quoting five democratic questions that I have developed during my life. If one meets a powerful person—Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler—one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.
- Tony Benn, Hansard, 16th November 1998 col 685
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[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2015 12:14 pm (UTC)
Ah, that's interesting, thanks. I'm slightly disappointed that it's not original to the comic, but it's still a good quote.
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[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2015 10:22 pm (UTC)
It may be significant that the writer is British. Looking at another issue, I can pick up a subtle hint about his thoughts on higher education...

[The crew are discussing the planet "Ofsted XVII".]
"Weird. The GPS lists Ofsted XVII as Ofsted XVII (Ethics)."
"That's its specialist subject. It's a lectureworld - a planet dedicated to teaching and advancing a single field of study."
"Actually, Chromedome, it's a Smartplanet (TM) now. Curricula took over all the lectureworlds and -"
"The academic arm of the galactic council. Curricula took over all the lectureworlds, rebranded them, and introduced tuition fees."
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