Review: Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye Vol. 6 trade paperback (IDW Publishing)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

The sixth volume of Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye is both a return to form after Dark Cybertron and a shake-up of the status quo. Being two things at once is a key theme in this trade, which deals with parallel universe duplicates, possible betrayals and changes of allegiance. It’s all fitting given that we’re talking about robots that turn into tanks, jets and cassette tapes. The Transformers titles all skipped six months ahead after Dark Cybertron but it fell to More Than Meets the Eye to explain the major plot element: Megatron’s assumption of command of the Lost Light as an Autobot.

For the first three issues of the trade, we go back and forth between time periods to find out how it happened. Thanks to the time shifts, the book has an even broader cast since two leads on Robots in Disguise, Optimus Prime and Prowl, act as the judge and prosecutor on Megatron’s trial. Ultra Magnus is appointed as his defender since he’s probably the only Autobot who could serve as a good defense counsel for one of the most notorious tyrants in existence. Writer James Roberts makes the most of this flashback opportunity, adding in an attempted jailbreak by some of the minor Decepticon teams and reshuffling the cast. Everything goes well in the trial until Starscream goes too far in his victim statement and makes Megatron out to be a failure.

A while back in the review of Robots in Disguise Volume 4, I opined that Megatron was underutilized in the IDW universe as a side effect of the focus on Starscream. He had an Origin mini-series but it did little other than codify what we already knew: that he was a miner who wrote a manifesto and gathered an army to fight a crooked system. While stories like “Shadowplay” fleshed out why the old Autobot regime was so horrible, Roberts has been slowly getting into Megatron’s head to understand his reasoning. Most of the Megatrons in other stories in the franchise would have been happy to break out of jail and likely would have gunned down Optimus on their way out. Instead, Megatron invokes a legal loophole that allows him to go on the Lost Light and find the Knights of Cybertron to hold an impartial trial.

That new mission is a fool’s errand, of course; I doubt Eye will reach Cyberutopia at all when there are so many great stories to tell with this cast. It helps that Roberts is as much of a fan as the readers are and hears what they talk about on Twitter and message boards. For instance, when the apparent corpse of Rodimus is found, it’s during an arc where Rodimus doesn’t appear on the page until the third part, fooling the readers. Rewind returns from his death, which is something many predicted ... but it’s through a method that no one really expected, and another main character gets killed shortly thereafter. The fan-favorite Decepticon Justice Division make their grand reappearance (albeit in a series of flashbacks) and it’s clear that Roberts has plans for them as well.

Most of the cast remain from the previous issues, but the focus has been modified to put some of them in the background until they’re needed. As the co-captain with Rodimus, Megatron runs a tough but efficient ship, especially in the face of numerous assassination attempts. One of these comes from Whirl, who beat Megatron up four million years ago and changed his life forever; imagine being captaining a spaceship and being in command of your elementary school bully. A major new Autobot is Nautica, one of Windblade’s female Autobots. She’s a homage to the Doctor thanks to a sonic screwdriver stand-in and an “alien” personality which comes from not growing up on Cybertron. We’re also introduced to Riptide, who was supposed to be on the Lost Light when it blasted off but was left behind until Dark Cybertron.

The departure of the Lost Light back in “The Death of Optimus Prime” set up the plot of the second arc in this collection. Thanks to the equivalent of the Infinite Improbability Drive from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the ship generated multiple timelines when it seemingly exploded. Those on board the ship at its launch are disappearing because they would be sharing space with their alternate-universe equivalent (a property of time travel known to fans of Doctor Who as the Blinovitch Limitation Effect). Unfortunately, these duplicates are dead thanks to a traitor calling in the Justice Division; only a shell-shocked Rewind survived, and he makes the trip back with “our” Lost Light to be reunited with Chromedome. The silent page of the two seeing each other is one of the most stunning pieces of comic book art of 2014.

It’s amazing how much Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye really needed Alex Milne to return. The stylization of his art blends with the humor and occasional tragedy, and his panel set-ups make the most of a given page. Some are so complex that they break Comixology’s guided reading mode. As a fan of the toys, it’s cool to recognize designs created by Milne that are now sitting on shelves, even though the toy of his Optimus design is tiny compared to that of his Brainstorm. He also gave Ravage a thorough redesign now that he’s alone on the ship instead of being just one of Soundwave’s tape minions. Ravage fills a unique character niche as Megatron’s anti-conscience, trying to determine just how much of the old Megatron is gone. We won’t find out for quite some time, but I’m on board for the journey of one of the best comics on the shelves.

Since I had to cut Transgiving short last year, I’m making up for it with Tranuary. Next week, it’s the first female-led Transformers mini-series, Windblade, set to return as an ongoing this year.
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3 comments:

  1. You make this collection sound like a good jumping-on point. Is it? I gotta admit, I'm drooling at the notion of a Megatron-led Autobots.

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    Replies
    1. You probably could jump on, but it's much more effective if you read the rest of the title beforehand and it's worth your time and money to read the whole series.

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  2. This series of issues has killed the book for me. I just can't buy Megatron as an Autobot, or the crew of the Lost Light as so passive about having him as a captain.

    ReplyDelete