The Transformed Man, Act 14: Dark Cybertron, Part One
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.
Transformers: Dark Cybertron Vol. 1
Story: John Barber and James Roberts
Art: Brendan Cahill, Phil Jimenez, Andrew Griffith, Atilio Rojo, James Raiz, Livio Ramondelli, Nick Roche, Robert Gill
Colors: JP Bove, Josh Perez, Livio Ramondelli, Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters: Tom B. Long, Gilberto Lazcano
Editor: Carlos Guzman
This week's journey into the Transformers saga marks the first big crossover between our two ongoing series, and the reason that I've been going back and forth between Robots In Disguise and More Than Meets The Eye since I started this project. I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss anything that would be crucial to the crossover, and to be honest, I'm still not sure that I'm adequately prepared.
I mean, there's a lot of stuff going on here, even with a few of the gaps filled in by the one-shots collected in Dark Prelude. We've got Metrotitans, Metroplex, resurrection ores, space-bridges, King Starscream, a guy named Waspinator who appears to be a ten foot-tall metal wasp, which really doesn't seem like it would be a very useful disguise, a Dead Universe, ex-Primes, false Primes, zombie robots and a giant severed thumb. That's a lot to keep track of.
But the hell with all that stuff because literally all I want to talk about in this column is the variant cover Rob Liefeld did for the first part.
This is... the greatest thing. I mean, I know that the Rob is, to put it mildly, a divisive figure, and that I'm the anomaly for being way more into that guy's at age 32 than I was at 14, but doing an homage cover to New Mutants #87 with Optimus Prime as Cable and then putting "AFTER ME" in the signature? That is one of the ballerest moves of all time. My only complaint, and this has to be the first time the Rob has ever heard this one, is that the gun could probably be a whole lot bigger.
But I suppose I should actually talk about the story, so here we go. The basic idea is that Shockwave, the emotionless Decepticon scientist with the hexagon head, has seeded Cybertron with a mysterious form of energy in the form of an "ore," and it has the power to bring dead Transformers back to life. And in this case, that has taken the form of the massive "Necrotitan" that rises up out of the desert outside the last Cybertronian city and just basically stands around for a while warning everyone that some junk is about to go down.
It's worth noting that it's never actually called the Necrotitan in any of the dialogue, just in a location caption --- which makes sense, since none of the characters except Shockwave actually know what it is. I mean, even when you expect a city to stand up and start having aspirations, you probably aren't considering that it is also a zombie.
This development leads King Starscream, with a new and very red body, to call up the Lost Light to talk to Cyclonus, since the readings indicate that it's something involving the Dead Universe. More on that in a second --- for now, we've got my biggest problem with this story: How the heck is Starscream in contact with the Lost Light?
It's entirely possible that I've missed something somewhere, but I was still under the impression that everyone back on Cybertron still thought that the Lost Light exploded when it left, and I was kind of assuming that this story would bring the two casts back together and give us that Big Deal reunion, but that hasn't happened. The only reference to it that I can even think of is the bit from back in the Overlord story where someone mentions that they think they've gotten the communications working, and Pipes writes a letter to his friends back home right before he's stomped to death (RIP, Pipes).
Again, this might be on me, but it definitely feels like something that should've happened in the main titles, and probably should've been a pretty huge moment. Instead, Starscream just calls 'em up like it's not even a thing.
UPDATE: Since this went up, I've since been informed that this was part of the series, but rather the comics, it ran in a prose story at the end of "Remain In Light" that I skipped. I did actually read the previous text piece (that's where "Cuddlex, in the Benevelon Sector" came from), and it was very fun and highly enjoyable, but seemed ultimately unnecessary, so I figured this one would be the same. That said, while it is something that I've missed, and it is addressed in the story, I still feel like it's a big enough moment that, if I can be allowed to do a little armchair editing, probably should've been in the comic itself. But, you know, hindsight's 20/20.
As for the Lost Light, well, they've gained a new crew member: Orion Pax.
For Pax, at least, it makes sense that there wouldn't be a capital-letter Big Reunion --- when he was told that the ship blew up and everyone died, his response was "Oh, I'm sure they're fine," which might be the best thing John Barber has ever written.
It seems as though the Lost Light was able to rescue Pax and his crew from the planet that provided Shockwave with his Necrotitan, which is currently collapsing into a portal to the Dead Universe.
So yeah, about that. From what i can tell, it's basically the same concept as the Cancerverse from Marvel's cosmic books, if you read those a few years back: A competing reality that's attempting to invade and destroy our own. It's an actively hostile environment, one that will immediately sense something that doesn't belong and destroy it, but Cyclonus --- who is Not A Decepticon --- survived there for millions of years, completely missing the war before coming back and being reborn with a new spark.
Whatever's going on in the Dead Universe is directly involved with whatever it is that Shockwave's up to, so it's decided that Ultra Magnus will take over the ship while Rodimus, Hardhead, Cyclonus and Orion Pax jump into the Dead Universe to see if they can sort out problems on that end.
As for everyone back on Cybertron, well, things immediately get catastrophically bad, even by Cybertron standards.
When Starscream goes to talk to the Metrotitan, thinking it's the same one that prophesied that he'd unite Cybertron, it suddenly explodes in a "death wave" that just straight up starts killing everyone and leaves Starscream himself with a black mark spreading across his body. And if that wasn't bad enough --- for Starscream in particular, I mean --- there's suddenly a new interpretation of some more ancient prophecies about how "time will rust and stars shall scream," indicating that he's probably more of an actual Satan than anything else.
And on top of all that, the Death Wave does more than just kill Transformers --- it also brings a few of them back to life.
It's one of the easiest tricks in the world, but I'm not gonna lie: It's pretty great that Metalhawk literally stabs Starscream in the back in revenge for Starscream's betrayal.
Back in the Dead Universe, Pax & Co. have been equipped with a special force field that keeps them from being noticed and immediately annihilated, which means that they're able to poke around and figure out that the entire Dead Universe is only about as large as your average Walmart parking lot. And what's more, they're not alone. Nightbeat, an Autobot who was presumed dead (because Hardhead shot him in the face and killed him) is there too, and he's been brought back to life.
I have no idea at all who Nightbeat is and while the circumstances of his demise are referenced, that is stuff from before I was reading and, like a lot of pieces of the 30-year history of the franchise, is completely lost on me. I do, however, like the bit where he cold-reads Cyclonus and tells him that he's sure his friend --- Tailgate --- will make a full recovery, and then explains how he arrived at that conclusion:
I'm a total sucker for Sherlock Holmes explanations of minor details that paint a broader picture, and it turns out that's just as delightful when the minor details are completely made-up nonsense about robots that are also cars.
Unfortunately, Nightbeat turns out to be... wait for it ... More Than Meets The Eye. He betrays his former friends, seals them up to await Nova Prime, who's apparently been kicking it in the Dead Universe for six million years waiting to get out, and then promptly kills Hardhead for good measure. Cyclonus is on the way out, too, with his force field malfunctioning and infecting him once again with the lethal hazards of the Dead Universe.
Let's see here, what's happening back on Cybertron?
Huh. Well that ain't good.
The Lost Light is under orders to head to Cybertron and help things, but that's before Metroplex's thumb --- which they acquired in one of the Spotlight one-shots in Dark Prelude --- wakes up and starts nudging the ship in a different direction, leading to the best moment in the entire book: a debate over whether the crew should continue on with the main plot of the story or just keep goofing off out in space with side quests that never get anywhere.
No, really, that's actually how they phrase it.
In the end, side quests win out, and Magnus and the crew head off in search of whatever Metroplex's thumb is pointing at, which turns out to be an underwater battle against the Ammonites, who are here rechristened as the "Minicons." You might remember them as the robots who can all combine and who can sometimes change into ten things and have been at war for sixteen million years, and also they're evil.
They swarm the Lost Light, leading the crew to head out underwater to fight them off, which in turn leads to... The Rodpod.
Every now and then, when I'm writing these columns, I'll talk about how badly I want some of these things to be toys, only to find out that there actually are custom versions of stuff like the My First Blaster and Trailcutter's Force-Field-Face. But this time, please, I am begging you, do not tell me that I can actually purchase the Rodpod, because there is no way that I will not bankrupt myself to do it.
With Rodimus off in the Dead Universe and no one to stop them, Magnus, Whirl and other assorted Autobots take a spaceship that looks like Rodimus's head and go fight a bunch of Ammonites. Eventually, though, they're outmatched, and they try to escape by navigating directly into what appears to be an abyss, but is actually just a possibly dead Metroplex who is down by at least one eyeball and thumb:
On Cybertron, Shockwave's master plan is finally revealed, as well: Using the Space Bridge technology that Megatron wanted so badly to open up a portal to the Dead Universe --- a portal that is actually in Megatron's torso --- to let Nova Prime and Galvatron climb through.
And that's where we stand at the end of Part One. The Necrotitan has destroyed Iacon, Transformers are dead and dying by the dozens, Arcee's missing two limbs, Hardhead's dead, Optimus and Rodimus are in a little green box in another universe, Cyclonus is dying, the Lost Light is underwater and under attack, and, worst of all, the Rodpod is destroyed.
I want to reserve judgment on the story until it's all said and done next week, but I will say that it's really interesting that, even though they're co-writing the story, it's not hard to tell which bits are scripted by Barber and which bits come from Roberts. The voices are very distinctive, but at the same time, when there are characters that move from one part of the story to the next --- like Optimus, who has been most recently seen in RiD, joining up with Rodimus & Co. --- they still have a pretty distinct voice that makes them easy to recognize.
Which is handy, because between Starscream and Bumblebee both getting new bodies in this story, i don't know how y'all tell 'em apart.
Act 14 Power Rankings:
- The Rodpod - Having a vehicle that looks like your own head is the single most awesome thing that you can do. Just ask Meowth.
- Ultra Magnus - Literally decided not to actually show up for the crossover and went off to a B-plot instead. That's a power move.
- Swerve - Barely appeared in this comic, so I'm hoping if I keep him in the middle of the list, he won't die horribly by the end of it.
- Orion Pax - Oddly enough, did not actually do a whole lot in this arc. Except for, you know, escaping a collapsing planet and then jumping into an actively hostile universe and then figuring out how to punch through a force field, which I guess is kind of a lot for everyone who's not Optimus Prime.
- Starscream - Somehow, through incredible determination and willpower, managed to be an even more disastrously bad leader than Bumblebee. They said it couldn't be done!