The Transformed Man, Act 11: Remain In Light
I've never liked the Transformers. The franchise didn't get its hooks into me as a kid, and while I've tried to give it a shot as an adult, it never really clicked. But now, with a recommendation from almost everyone I know and a well-timed Humble Bundle sale that left me with three years worth (and counting) of IDW's More Than Meets The Eye and Robots In Disguise comics, I'm going on a quest to see if these comics can turn me from someone who has never cared at all about Optimus Prime into someone who uses words like "Cybertron" and "alt-mode" with alarming regularity. And Primus help me, it's working.
This week, we finally learn the shockingly tiny secret of Ultra Magnus!
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye vol. 5
I have to say, as much as I am loving these Transformers comics --- yes, loving, I was surprised too --- I am totally not into this whole thing where my favorite characters keep getting killed. I mean, it was bad enough when it was Rewind, since I only really started liking him and Chromedome a few pages before he got killed, but when Wheeljack got shot in the head execution-style last week, that one got to me. Nevermind that I actually kinda liked Pipes a lot and watched him die twice (one of which was just me thinking he died because I'm not used to characters who can survive getting massive chunks of their torso blown away), but Wheeljack?! I liked that dude from way early in this series!
Seriously, man. Stop killing all the ones I like. Now let's see what's happening here in More Than Meets The Eye...
Wait, what --
OH COME ON!
Tailgate?! You're gonna take Tailgate, who has been my favorite Transformer since day one of this little experiment, and give him ROBOT CANCER?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS. LOOK AT HIM. HE IS LITERALLY A TINY PRECIOUS BABY.
What is wrong with you. What is wrong with all of you who told me to read this book.
I actually forgot about this plot point since it came at the tail end of all the Overlord stuff, and since I went straight from that into Last Stand of the Wreckers, but the last volume of MTMTE ended with Tailgate accidentally discovering that he had three days to live. As this one opens, we get the reason: Cybercrosis --- y'know, robocancer --- an incurable disease that has been exacerbated by the fact that Tailgate spent four million years dozing off in a cave while the planet above him was blown up a few dozen times.
And when he finds out, it hits hard, especially because of how different it is from how Chromedome reacted to Rewind getting killed. Tailgate and Cyclonus have been put in direct contrast to Chromedome and Rewind a few times, mainly because while the latter are very much in love with each other, the former seem way more one-sided. Tailgate is the one pursuing a relationship with Cyclonus at every turn with this kind of hopeful naïveté --- he even learns about the Decepticons from Cyclonus and then tells everyone who just spent four million years in a brutal war against the them that he wants to be one.
Cyclonus, on the other hand, often seems to barely tolerate Tailgate at best, and be downright abusive at worst. He even backhands him at one point after Tailgate confronts him about making him look like a fool omitting the truth about what the Decepticons really did, something that, when you look at it in the context of a romantic relationship, is especially horrifying.
Over the last few arcs, though, Cyclonus has softened a little bit, with Roberts and Milne doing a great job of portraying him as someone who keeps a tight, repressive lid on his feelings because of all the trauma that he went through during the war. If it wasn't obvious enough that they were doing it through the storytelling, you can just look at his missing horn. The Transformers are, after all, toys, and Cyclonus is literally broken, physically and otherwise. When he responds to Tailgate's news by bluntly telling him to face his death head-on and then walking out, and then ends up silently carving his own face while staring into a mirror, it's an entirely different kind of tragic.
Fortunately, the very next thing that happens is that the Lost Light ends up stumbling across Luna-1.
It's been mentioned a few times in each series, but in case you missed it (because I don't have time to write about moons when there are sad robots dating each other on a spaceship), Luna-1 was one of Cybertron's two moons, and it's been missing for several million years, despite plenty of attempts to track it down. I would question just what exactly one has to do in order to misplace a moon, but regardless, it's crossed over into being mythical at this point, a spacefaring robotic Shangri-La where you can find the answer to any question.
Like, say, the cure for Cybercrosis.
YES I AM STARTING TO GET THAT, THANK YOU.
With the Lost Light discovering Luna-1 by flying through a portal that appears seemingly at random in space, an away team is formed, and in true Star Trek fashion, it's all the most important characters in the book. And by that, I mostly mean Rung and Tailgate, but there are some other people, too: Brainstorm, Rodimus, Chromedome, that guy who looks kind of like Prowl, Skids, some other guys. And it's when they land that things start to get really, really weird.
For starters, they find a "Hot Spot," which is basically a cabbage patch full of sparks that may or may not grow up into Transformers if they're hit with a certain kind of pulse. And right after that, an army of Decepticons show up and chase them through a massive graveyard of Titans, a hundred city-sized Transformers just packed into a canyon. And after that, the Lost Light gets attacked by a bunch of those weird robots who only speak in numbers --- "NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR," for example --- that were last seen in the first issue. And after that, everybody gets taken to jail, because apparently there's a jail on this magical missing moon.
None of that's the weird part, by the way, although it does give us one of the all-time greatest Rodimus lines:
The weird part starts when we're introduced to their cellmate, a relatively small robot --- he's a little shorter than Rodimus and Rung --- named Minimus Ambus, whose major defining feature is that he has a metal mustache on his face. He gets Rodimus and the gang to talk about all the stuff they did that landed them in the hut, but when Rung notices some familiar speech patterns and starts bugging him by dropping "energon sticks," Ambus gets frustrated enough to blow his cover.
And that's how we learned that there was a little robot living inside Ultra Magnus.
You'd think they would've noticed that in that issue where they literally shrunk down and went to go fight monsters inside Ultra Magnus's body, but, well, here we are.
This is something that was hinted at in the Overlord arc, when there was a sequence that showed Ultra Magnus dying over and over again at different times. There's a reason for that: "Ultra Magnus," is a codename that most properly belongs to what's essentially a suit of armor, and Minimus Ambus is one of a very small group of robots that are "load-bearers," who have the ability to power it.
I talked to my writing partner, Chad Bowers about this --- Ultra Magnus is his favorite --- and he told me that this is basically an idea that literalizes part of the toy. It seems that the Ultra Magnus figure was basically just Optimus Prime, except that the trailer formed armor that you could snap onto him to make a larger robot. The premise here is that it doesn't have to be an unpainted Optimus Prime inside the armor to make Ultra Magnus. It could be this little weirdo, for instance, specially chosen to humorlessly enforce the laws of Tyrest.
Tyrest is someone else who's been mentioned a lot in the series, although I didn't realize it at the time. I mean, Magnus is always going on about "the Tyrest Accord," and for a while, I just assumed that it was a place where an accord was struck, like the Treaty of Versailles. It wasn't until the story with the Galactic Council where they mentioned that Tyrest was a person, and even then I assumed that he was with the GC, and not a Transformer. Turned out that he was.
And it also turns out that he has gone completely bananas, as evidenced by the little holes where he's been drilling into his body to relieve the physical pressure of guilt. It seems that he wants to use a massive doomsday device called the Killswitch to simultaneously kill every Transformer who was built --- rather than being created naturally like the ones in the cabbage patch full of sparks --- because he believes they're predisposed to being criminals, using the resulting energy to teleport himself across space to meet God.
That's the weird part, and after he explains it all to Ambus, he does the sensible thing and crushes his head.
While all that's going on, Cyclonus and Whirl, who hate each other for unspecified reasons, are dealing with enemies outside of Tyrest's citadel, somewhat aided by finding a couple of swords that channel the energy in the user's spark, something that Cyclonus is extremely adept at. And not only that, but they also find the imprisoned Circle of Light, the robotic sages they've been looking for for at least two volumes now. And while that's going on, the Lost Light is taken over by Tyrest's Legislators --- the big yellow enforcers that only speak in numbers --- with all hands taken prisoner.
Ratchet in particular wakes up strapped to a table and is confronted with Pharma, the gifted surgeon turned serial killer whose hands he cut off and subsequently used to replace his own failing appendages. It's okay, though: Pharma has new hands, and they can turn into chainsaws. So, you know, no hard feelings.
Okay, maybe a little bit of hard feelings.
Pharma has actually become my favorite villain in the comic. He's not the I-am-actually-afraid-when-this-person-shows-up sort of terrifying that you get from Overlord, but Roberts pulls off an extremely difficult feat of making him scary, sadistic, and also kind of charming about it, a combination that makes him very enjoyable to read about. That kind of smiling cruelty, especially when he's literally murdering characters with his chainsaw hands, is something that could very easily go wrong, but it's pretty much perfect --- I love it when he shows up and I can't wait to see him get what's coming to him.
In this case, he challenges Ratchet to a medical duel: He'll cut two of the Lost Light's Autobots in half and whoever can put them back together the fastest is the winner. It's actually a lot more simple than it sounds when you consider how much punishment these robots can take before they end up with anything fatal --- RIP Pipes --- but there's a bit of a trick to it.
Eventually, all the plot threads start coming together: Ratchet labors over Ambulon's corpse for half an hour before revealing that Amblon's been dead the whole time and he's just been reconfiguring his innards into a giant gun (please someone tell me if this is a real surgery because I will go back to college to be a doctor tomorrow), Cyclonus and Whirl free the Circle of Light and charge into Tyrest's stronghold, and Skids gets his memory back with help from his old partner, Getaway. It turns out that he was sent to shoot Tyrest with a thought bullet that would chill him out and botched the job pretty completely, ending up having to shoot himself in the head with an amnesia bullet, explaining both his own lack of memory and why he could never remember that he was carrying a gun.
And also, it turns out that the little robot inside Ultra Magnus had AN EVEN LITTLER ROBOT INSIDE OF HIM.
And that's the real Minimus Ambus, whose small size doesn't stop him from being able to power a suit of robot armor that's five times bigger than he is.
Thanks to Rodimus making a pretty awesome act of self-sacrifice --- including a confession that he was the one ultimately responsible for bringing Overlord onto the ship --- the crew is able to stop the Killswitch and save the cold-constructed Transformers from being wiped out. Tyrest is taken out, Pharma is shot in the head, and I'm pretty sure Skids met God. All in all, a p dece day.
Except for poor Tailgate.
Once everything's settled down, we find out that Luna-1 actually did hold the cure for Cybercrosis, but Tailgate, who has less than a day left to live, is too far gone for it to be any good. So rather than live out his final hours in excruciating pain, he asks Cyclonus to do for him what Chromedome did for Rewind. And so he does.
And that was when I cussed out loud at a comic book about robots.
EXCEPT! Cyclonus isn't actually killing Tailgate at all --- he's healing him. The sword channels his spark's energy, and the whole story and the plot with the Killswitch are built around the idea that a spark can be created by splicing it with another --- that they can essentially be jumpstarted to keep it from fading out. The sword acts as a conduit, and Cyclonus's overactive spark restarts Tailgate's, reviving him and curing him completely.
The next time we see Cyclonus, he's been patched up after his fight with the legislators. Not only are the scratches on his face gone, but his horn's repaired, too. He's no longer broken --- or at least, not quite as badly.
There's one more story to round out the volume, a single issue that's actually pretty great. It's basically The Office on the Lost Light, a documentary about the crew and their journey shot by Rewind. This is where we're introduced to Thunderclash, who's everyone's favorite Autobot --- he's a strong, brave, heroic, selfless, basically perfect leader and Rodimus just hates him so much --- but for me, the biggest thing here is that we finally find out what Rung's altmode is.
I honestly thought David Willis was kidding when he told me that Rung turned into a stick. He was not. He was not kidding at all.
Act 11 Power Rankings
- Tailgate - A literal tiny precious baby. I hope he gets carried around for the rest of the series.
- Rung - Please tell me they made a toy that you can transform into a weird stick.
- Cyclonus - He's still too good for you.
- Brainstorm - I didn't mention it, but the whole sequence with Swerve and the "My First Blaster" that he made for him is one of my favorite things about this comic. If they don't make that as a con exclusive or something, what are we even doing.
- Ultra Magnus - Probably lower on the list than he should be, but finding out that he's a dude who's actually a smaller dude who's actually a smaller dude is somehow more confusing than that time I found out Fortress Maximus's head is a robot, and that robot's head is also a robot.