From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Transformers 1: I’m with Stupid

Transformers Issue 1 (IDW Publishing)

Story: Mike Costa

Art: Don Figueroa

First things first, I have a problem. Actually I have several problems (in this way I am much like Jay-Z), ranging from the existential to the residential, but the relevant problem for today’s topic is this:

I am stupid for Transformers.

I am not talking normal stupid here, I am talking Bush/Palin lovechild stupid. Since about the age of 4 I have been a Transformers nut. Which is normal up to a point, the point obviously being at about 10-11 years old when you stop being a Transformers nut, put your toys in the box and stop buying comics that are essentially adverts for things you should no longer be buying and have put in a box

Developmentally I totally skipped this last bit. One possible reason is that in my homeland of the UK, the comics were not just jumped up toy adverts, but were written for the main part by Simon Furman, a man with aspirations of being a ‘real’ comic book writer who therefore treated his ‘toy comic’ job as such. So while the US comics stories generally felt like an ongoing serial of new toy of the week, and the original cartoon basically had one plot and no sense of consequence from episode to episode, the stories that originated in the UK had death, tension, genuine character development and, at one point, someone’s robotic eyeballs getting sucked out by a hole in the space time continuum.

In short these comics blew my tiny little mind, and continued to do so until they sadly petered out after a more than respectable 332 weekly issues.

There was a brief flicker of light when Marvel launched Transformers Generation 2, again helmed by the aforementioned Furman, but then my friends… nothing.

But, as a fan, is nothing always such a bad thing? All good things must, or at least should, come to an end and in their absence you are free to dream how your cherished characters went on, which many of us dubiously dubbed Transfans (if you like both robots and cross dressing, you sir are in for a googletastic treat) did.

And then, as with 84% of things, the internet came along and ruined everything. Yes, perhaps at first it seemed like a good thing. Finally we could gather in virtual huddled masses and share our memories of days gone by and hopes for stories yet to be. But it also highlighted two other things: firstly, a depressingly fractured fan base and secondly, and perhaps most damagingly, the fact that there were probably enough of us harking back to the 1980s to warrant a nostalgia tinged relaunch.

And so it began. Dreamwave acquired the Transformers licence and, by and large, made a big fat mess out of it. Naturally there are people out there who disagree with this assessment, but there are also people out there who get sexually aroused by faeces. My personal opinion on the matter is that a Venn diagram displaying these two groups of people would consist of exactly one circle. Luckily for me Dreamwave were as cack-handed with their financials as they were with their editing and the company folded, leaving the TF licence and plot threads from this new continuity impotently dangling, a bit like an old man’s… last remaining hair.

And so we were back to nothing, but now a more muddled nothing as we had an extra continuity hanging around and stinking the place out.

Into this haze a beam of light shone, IDW publishing, who despite their suspiciously similar name had nothing to do with DW publishing. IDW seemed a bit different. They engaged the fans in a way that Dreamwave never did, they talked about an ‘Ultimate’ version of Transformers and, best of all, they put Simon Furman back in charge seemingly with a remit to plan and oversee the Transformers universe for the foreseeable future.

But then it all started to go a bit wrong again. While the stories were, in my ohsohumblesah opinion, just the tonic, IDW approached this iteration of Fighty Car Robots with a fractured mess of one shots and miniseries, often with half year gaps between the main body of story and with key plot points scattered across the various offerings. Basically unless you were a colossal dweeb who paid far too much attention to web chatter (hi by the way, we should totally hang out some time, preferable online) then it was pretty damn hard to know what was going on. And lo the readers did fall away. Of course this may also have been down to the quality of the comics but I am comfortable with my assertion that these were the best Transformers comics we had had since the end of the Marvel days and if their release had been handled better we would still have Simon Furman helming the ship.

Instead IDW decided to go for a soft reboot, letting an in-story year pass and handing over the reins to  new writer Shane McCarthy for a 12 issue maxi-series dubbed All Hail Megatron. Despite lovely art from Guido Guidi this depressing series essentially stands testament to How Not to Write a Comic. It told you things rather than showed you things, it didn’t respect what had gone before but equally failed to benefit from the incongruous changes it forced on the reader, it maintained mysteries by artificially withholding information rather than by crafting actual intrigue and it tried to be cool in the kind of way that made your skin not so much crawl as break the land speed record.

Which more or less brings us up to date, only omitting things that I think you don’t need to know or contradict my point of view. And finally we are where we should have been all along, we have a regular ongoing Transformers comic, I, with a spark of childhood passion still burning in my belly, have an ongoing Transformers comic.

But it just doesn’t feel very special. We find ourselves on earth 3 years after the events of All Hail Megatron. Our gallant heroes the Autobots remain on Earth. Apart from a few stragglers the Decepticons are nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile human forces have become quite adept at capturing TFs (who they view as an equal threat regardless of allegiance).

The primary problem with this comic is that the status quo feels forced. When we last saw these characters the Autobots had rallied from a crushing galaxy wide defeat to drive the Decepticons off earth and Megatron was left incapacitated. Three years or so later the Autobots are still sitting around on earth, in hiding from the humans forces who hunt them. The reason given for this seems to be that Optimus Prime has insisted they hang around to protect the humans on a more or less ‘just in case’ basis. This situation is used to put the Autobots in dire straights as one of their own is captured. The consequences of this capture drive the drama of this issue.

But the basis for this drama rings false. The notion that Optimus Prime would essentially sideline an eons-old conflict to have his army camp out on a hostile planet in case something bad happens while the Decepticons get up to who knows what around the rest of the galaxy doesn’t make any sense. Therefore we have a story where the writer seems to have decided what he wants to happen, then tried to fit the larger story (several things here sit ill with the end of the previous series) and character actions around those events. For anyone who writes any form of fiction it’s worth noting that this works slightly less often than Madonna’s facial muscles.

But, perhaps they key problem here is me, because I KNOW how these characters should act, because I have spent a large portion of my life actively wishing I was a truck that turned into a robot (but was also somehow still able to have sex with girls… yeah…   I know… sorry… look just try to stop thinking about it).

So when I read a Transformers comic and one (or in this case several) of the characters act in a manner that I KNOW is wrong, the story instantly fizzles. To be clear I am not stating that characters cannot evolve or change, I am merely suggesting that this change needs to happen in a believable way.

And really that’s not really too much to ask is it? So essentially what we have here is a sub par comic about something I love to bits. Normally when I read a sub par comic I reflect that it was a bit of a waste of money but every time I read a sub par Transformers comic IT SHATTERS MY CHILDHOOD DREAMS.

So, were I to sum this up in two words, it would be this: Phantom Menace.

Anyway, I need to go and reassemble my childhood dreams in time for the next issue.

Did I mention I was a bit like Jay-Z?

__________________________________________

optimusprime [320x200]Paul Duggan reviews comics for Fantasy Magazine as and when his hobby of being a crushing robot bore allows. If you think there is a comic that particularly demands his attention fire a virtual information bullet from your mind cannon in the general direction of bestfirst_@hotmail.com.

Tagged as: , ,