The Transformed Man: The Transformers Holiday Special
Earlier this year, after decades --- literal, actual decades --- of rolling my eyes dismissively whenever anyone brought up the franchise, I agreed to sit down with a complete run of IDW's current Transformers comics and write about the experience of reading them. By the end of it, I wasn't just a fan, but I had to admit that they were, bar none, some of the best comic books I have ever read in my life. Now I'm a dude who got really excited about paying fifty bucks to buy an Ultra Magnus figure that included Minimus Ambus. The system works.
The only way I could've liked it more is if they'd somehow combined what they were doing on those titles with something that I already loved, like, say, Christmas. This week, they did that very thing, so in order to talk about it, I'm reviving The Transformed Man for a very special look at this year's Transformers Holiday Special, in which presents are given, trees are decorated, and Thundercracker tries to kill Santa Claus.
Transformers Holiday Special
Writers: Mairghread Scott, James Roberts and John Barber
Artists: Corin Howell and Thomas Deer, Kotterri and Joanna Lafuente, and Josh Burcham
Letters: Tom B. Long
Editors: John Barber and Carlos Guzman
Up until the day that it was solicited, I didn't even think that it was possible that we were going to get a Transformers Christmas story this year. I mean, the TF Wiki once informed me that "Christmas appeared exclusively in the UK portion of the Marvel Comics continuity," which might actually be my favorite line on the entire site with the exception of the entry that insists Santa Claus's Japanese name is Thunder Cross. Point being, our favorite Cybertronians seemed like they weren't exactly into the whole season with its gift-giving, caroling, riding (or possibly turning into) sleighs and visits from Thunder Cross and his eight tiny reindeer.
And in the end, that holds true. Of the three stories in the Holiday Special, there's only one that's directly about Christmas itself, and even that is written as the pretty strange take of an outsider. The rest are just Cybertronian holidays that, y'know, just happen to involve a whole lot of familiar imagery. And poetry.
The first story, Mairghread Scott, Corin Howell and Thomas Deer's "Choose Me," has one of my favorite Christmas comics gimmicks: It's written Grinch-style in Seussian rhyme. Or Clement Clarke Moore-ian rhyme, I suppsose, if you want to be a snob about it.
Point is, it's a ten-page poem centered on Starscream's latest attempt to get the population of Cybertron to love him. It seems that what with all the events of the ongoing comics, he hasn't been getting enough attention, so after a conversation with the Ghost of Bumblebee --- and I have to admit that I've been waiting on the next paperback to get caught up on Windblade so I don't actually know if Bumblebee's hanging around being an ectoplasmic nuisance --- he decides that the best course of action would be to declare a new holiday. Thus: Chosen One Day, a new holiday where everyone on Cybertron is encouraged (read: ordered) to give him presents, and pay homage to his infinite benevolence while they're doing it.
Unfortunately for Starscream, the last part of his message, the part where he tells everyone that all acts of kindness must be done in honor of himself, gets cut off, and everyone just hears about the part where they need to go buy presents and do nice things for the person they love the most. And since nobody hears the part about how the person they love the most is officially ordered to be Starscream, they just go and do things for their own loved ones instead:
And if that wasn't bad enough, Starscream doesn't exactly have anyone who loves, likes, or does more than just barely tolerating him, so he's left out. Until, that is, the rest of the cast shows up with a promise to set aside their differences and be friends, if only for just one night. And as someone who often sums up his love of Christmas as "if all we have is this, then let's make the best of it," that's a surprisingly moving story.
Let's take a moment to just quickly run down all the great things that are in the very first panel of this story:
- Rodimus abandoning his duties as co-captain of the Lost Light to go meteor surfing in what might be the greatest example of MTMTE's tendency to goof around the galaxy rather than doing anything that would actually accomplish their quest.
- Megatron and Minimus Ambus acting as Rodimus's nagging parents.
- Megatron literally lifting Minimus up to place the star on the Christmas tree, which is adorable.
Okay, so it's not actually a Christmas tree. Instead, it's a technological McGuffin designed to hide the crew's life signs from a bunch of hostile aliens as they go into hibernation. Or, to put it another way, as they are snuggled all safe in their B.E.D.s (Biometric Envelopment Devices, of course).
There's just one problem. After a night of getting soused on high-end Engex --- and given the B.E.D. joke, you really have to admire Roberts for not taking it all the way to an eggnog pun --- Whirl, Swerve and Nautica find themselves in possession of a newborn baby that shows up outside the bar after an unseen hand knocks on the door.
With everyone else preparing for a Long Winter's Nap, these three tipsy Transfomers have to find a way to send the baby back where it came from, and because they're drunk off subspace-filtered robobooze, they decide that they can't let anyone know or else they'll get in trouble. The good news is that they can just drop it in the Subspace Hatch and send it back where it came from before it gives away their position and gets them all killed. The bad news is that the Subspace Hatch is locked up in Ultra Magnus's office, and they're just drunk enough to decide that breaking in is a very good idea.
After a pretty significant number of hijinx --- including an amazing scene where a baby Transformer gets into the Ultra Magnus armor and tries to give Megatron a big ol' hug --- Whirl comes to the conclusion that the only way to keep the kid alive is to let her get into his own B.E.D. and shut himself down, sacrificing his own life for everyone else's.
There is, however, a twist: After Whirl wakes up in the Medibay, it turns out that the "baby" wasn't a baby at all. Instead, it was a small colony of scraplets, the same flesh-eating parasites that once infected Ultra Magnus and required a shrink ray to deal with. It turns out that before they're fully mature, they can form up together and shapeshift themselves into something that'll ward off predators. Turns out that Whril got played into showing compassion --- a Christmas miracle!
The third story, though, Barber and Burcham's "The Thirteenth Day of Christmas," is the absolute best. So good, in fact, that it has three titles.
The currently adjectiveless Transformers title is often overshadowed by MTMTE, and really, that makes sense. It's the book that feels like it's event-driven, often built around tying up loose ends and setting the stage for big crossovers like Dark Cybertron and Combiner Wars, and while there's often good stuff in there, MTMTE's character-driven approach has more appeal for a reader like me. Also, it's the book with Prowl in it, and if there's one thing I've learned reading these books, it's that everybody hates Prowl.
There is, however, one bright, beautiful, character-driven spotlight: Thundercracker, the Transformer Who Is Terrible At Writing Screenplays.
There are few joke setups that I love more than a piece that's intentionally poorly written, and Thundercracker's increasingly ridiculous attempts at stringing together a narrative are beautiful comedy gold.
But rather than his screenplay about Susan Journeyer (a woman on a journey) and Josh Boyfriend (her boyfriend), this time it's his attempt to cash in by writing a children's Christmas story that is also a noir-style mystery where he is himself a character who, along with his dog Buster, is investigating a murder committed by Santa Claus that was actually committed by Megatron, who has dressed up as Santa Claus to steal Christmas.
It's ludicrously complicated, hilariously inappropriate, and written with all the finesse of a sledgehammer, and it's great --- especially the part where Thundercracker claims in the story that human beings live 200 to 300 years, or "whatever it is." And the part where, at the end of the story, there's an extended critique from Thundercracker's human pals.
I've never really wanted to go back and read about the 4,000,000 year war between the Autobots and Decepticons, but I would read a comic book series presented as a fictionalized memoir written by Thundercracker in a heartbeat.
Holiday Special Power Rankings:
- Thunder Cross - If we're not getting a bright red robot that turns into a sleigh released under this name, what are we even doing?
- Thundercracker - He didn't even set up the knuckle sandwich line.
- Nautica - To a robot with a wrench, every problem looks like it can be solved by hitting it with a wrench.
- Starscream - I can't hate a robot who brings Christmas to Cybertron, even accidentally.
- Whirl - Don't think that being nice to babies makes me forgive him for what he did to Tailgate. Being nice to babies is bare mins, dude! BARE MINS!