The End Of ‘Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye,’ And Why It Was (And Probably Will Be) The Best Book On The Stands
Last year, I essentially made a bet with myself that led me to read every issue of IDW's current line of Transformers comics, and let me tell you, I learned a lot. I learned about alt-modes, about the 4,000,000 year war between Decepticons and Autobots, and I even learned to tell some --- not all, but some --- of those characters apart on sight. But more than anything else, I learned one indisputable fact: Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is the single best comic book on the stands.
Well. It was. The series is heading for an ending this summer with issue #57, and while the creative team and characters will return in the upcoming Transformers: Lost Light --- a book that writer James Roberts has assured readers is a continuation of MTMTE that will serve as "season three" of his story --- this still feels like the right time to look back at what's happened so far. Seriously: It's the best. Now let's talk about why.
If you're not familiar with the premise of MTMTE --- and believe me, I sympathize --- here's the basic idea. With the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons finally over, the surviving Transformers were divided. Some of them decided to stay on their home planet of Cybertron and rebuild their civilization, but 200 others decided that the best course of action was to head of into the spaceways on a noble quest to find the long-lost Knights of Cybertron, whose return will herald a golden age for the planet and its occasionally vehicular natives.
The thing is, they never quite get around to, you know, the actual quest, which only comes up occasionally --- and even then, mostly in the context of, "Hey, when are we going to get back to trying to find those mythical super-transformers that we've been looking for?" Instead, they find themselves rerouted into a series of sidequests, from time travel, to going to a sitcom-inspired holographic replica of Earth, to dealing with a rampaging indestructible enemy who slaughters a good portion of the crew, to life under the omnipresent threat of the obsessively zealous, genuinely terrifying Decepticon Justice Division.
Through it all, there's high adventure, intricately complicated plotting, and most of all, some of the most incredible character work that I've ever seen in a lifetime of reading comics.
It's tempting to say that the appeal of the series lies in the fact that on the surface, it's about robots, but it's really just about people, but that's not entirely true. I mean, there are themes here that are definitely universal, themes of loss, of romance, of aspiring to something bigger and persisting even when you fail, of redemption, of the psychological cost of war, of trying to become better than the person you used to be, of anxiety and fear and love and devotion. It's all stuff that I genuinely think any reader could relate to.
And while a book with a cast that --- for the first few years at least --- was entirely composed of robots who were coded as male might not seem like the place to find the kind of diversity that makes a book truly universal, that's something that opens the door for Roberts, Alex Milne, Brendan Cahill, and the other creators behind it do a lot of things that you don't really see anywhere else. The fact that they have an all-male cast doesn't stop them from introducing some of the most compelling romances I've ever read --- and as Charlotte Finn pointed out recently here at CA, it also didn't stop them from emphasizing romance and friendship in equal measure.
On top of that, it's an idea that became literal when they brought in the Holomatter Avatars, letting us see the cast as humans with a variety of races, genders, and ages, from the Idris Elba-inspired Nightbeat, to '80s rockstar Rodimus, to stern Victorian governess Cyclonus, to Actual Precious Baby Tailgate:
It's definitely not the same as seeing a cast of actual human beings in those roles, interacting and adventuring in every issue, and at the end of the day, the major diversity in the book comes between, say, robots who can turn into trucks and robots who can turn into airplanes. But that said, it shows how far they're willing to go to make those themes universal, to show, both literally and figuratively, that there are people at the heart of these stories.
But on another, even more literal level, there are robots who turn into cars at the heart of these stories.
That's the thing about MTMTE. As much as those themes might resonate, and as much as there's genuine emotion at the heart of every story, they're still stories that could only be told with these characters. Some of the most striking and engaging elements of the story aren't about metaphorical transformations, they're about literal ones --- the things you can only really do when you're dealing with characters who measure their lifespans in the millions of years, whose physical forms are, by definition, mutable, and who can lend themselves to shocking reveals like being a big guy who is actually a smaller guy living inside the big guy, who is actually an even smaller guy living inside of him.
And I love that about it.
I love it because it strikes the kind of balance that you very rarely see. So often, humanity and emotion come at the expense of grand adventure and the goofball weirdness that I love so much about comic books. MTMTE, on the other hand, is the book that asks, "Why can't we have both?"
Why can't we have one of the most emotionally devastating scenes of loss and reconciliation that I've ever seen, and also have it involve time spheres and parallel universes? Why can't we raise questions about people's role in society and whether it's right to stop one form of suffering if you're only going to make things worse for someone else, and still have it involve time travel briefcases and a deus ex machina in the form of a literal deus ex machina? Why can't those ideas about redemption, destiny, and your place in the universe also apply to a guy named Megatron who is sometimes literally a talking gun?
When MTMTE is at its best --- when it's at the best you can find in comics --- it's a Transformers story through and through. It's a story that exists within a world that plays by the twisted logic of science fiction and literal, actual toys, but blends it with an emotional core in a way that not only doesn't detract from the sillier aspects of the book, but makes it all better.
I'm glad it's continuing, and in all honesty, I'm glad that it's getting a new title, too, if only because "Lost Light" sets it apart from the stock toy company taglines that have marked the line up to now. But really, when you get right down to it --- and I know this is the thing that everyone's saying --- "More Than Meets The Eye" was the perfect title for this comic. It was deeper, smarter, more emotional, and more complex than it seemed to be at first glance, even to a former skeptic like me.
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that the final issue of Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is issue #55. The final issue is issue #57.