[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]
When I first read the second volume of Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye a few months ago, I was surprised by just how dense the storytelling was. Since then, I’ve gone back and read older comics like Walt Simonson’s Thor and Larry Hama’s GI Joe, and I came to a realization. This is how comics used to be written. Did the spread of the trend of waiting for the trade lead to a shift in writing? To a degree, yes, but there are reasons why such layered storytelling works for the Transformers franchise. It’s also why I enjoyed catching up with the series using comiXology.
Technically, the book is divided into three stories across five issues. In the first two, a team of Autobots finds a remote medical colony and the horrible secret it hides. Between the two main stories, the characters deal with a hostage crisis. Finally, the entire main story shifts to a whole new set of characters -- a group of lowly Decepticons called the Scavengers who find themselves on the bad side of their faction’s secret police.
The numerous storylines that writer James Roberts creates in MTMTE are necessary because there are only two Transformers ongoings. Imagine if the only place where you could read about Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash was that month’s issue of Justice League. Except for the occasional mini-series and Spotlight one-shots, that’s the reality for Transformers fans; there isn’t a Rodimus ongoing or a Prowl ongoing to see what other adventures your favorite characters are up to. Because the book jumps from story to story so much, it helps to have the previous issues on-hand to go back and check to see what you’ve missed.
A book like this couldn’t succeed without the Internet. Not only does comiXology allow me to go back and follow plot lines, running jokes, and symbolism from other issues, but there’s a second online resource. There are certain points where I couldn’t determine whether Roberts is making something up out of whole cloth, if he’s referring to a previous IDW issue, or if he’s referencing an older 1980s Marvel Transformers story. I used the Transformers Wiki and message boards like TFW2005’s comics discussion board to help find it out.
Normally I would castigate an author for forcing me to do outside research, but Transformers comics have, for me at least, always sat in a weird area between fan-fiction and “legitimate” comics. Even without the direct interference of the Marvel days, Hasbro has some influence on the stories, often through the character designs resembling the toys currently on the market or the character choice in general. At the end of the day, they own the characters. However, Roberts typically uses lesser-known Transformers and new, non-toy characters so that he can shape the story as much as possible.
Like the previous volume, the issues collected here (issues #4-8) feature a lot of dark humor, much of it centering on off-kilter characters like the brain-dead Spinister. The two Decepticon-centric issues are some of my favorite Transformers stories ever, especially with the various characters played for comedy. At the same time, they’re up against the newly-created Decepticon Justice Division, five amazingly powerful Transformers whose loyalty to Megatron supersedes any surrender to the Autobots that may have taken place. They’re tasked with tracking down fugitives, such as Fulcrum, a new comics-only character whose interesting backstory unfolds into a surprising climax.
The Autobot story continues to delve into the odd biology of the Transformers, a theme which is one of the series’ backbones. I really salute James Roberts for addressing just how alien these seemingly humanoid robots can be. Artists Alex Milne and Nick Roche (who was Roberts’ Last Stand of the Wreckers collaborator) add to the alien feeling through the details on the robots’ bodies. No two robots look the same, unless they shared a toy or were otherwise designed to do so as a plot point. Colorists Josh Burcham and Joana Lafuente make the designs pop off of the page. I give them extra kudos for the designs of the Decepticon Justice Division, who are some of the most terrifying Decepticons ever drawn.
In a fanbase as divided as Transformers fans are, it’s impressive that More Than Meets The Eye has maintained a high level of praise. Roberts is playing a very, very long game with the plotlines, but by layering the plots, he’s keeping readers happy while they wait. Next week, I’ll take a look at the other ongoing, Robots In Disguise and my experiences with a “digital trade.”