This Magazine Kills Fascists: Raging Against The Machine In James Roberts’ ‘Transformers’
This Magazine Kills Fascists looks at times that comic books and superheroes have dealt with tyrannical, corrupt and outright fascist world leaders — not because we think we can find a solution, but because art can provide inspiration in the face of oppression.
Usually for this feature, I like to focus on a specific storyline within a larger work, or possibly a miniseries. However, this week I'm going to talk about an ouvre of work on one franchise across three ongoing titles and more, because James Roberts' work on IDW's Transformers franchise is some of the most explicitly political storytelling in comics right now.
Politics is a core theme of Roberts' entire Transformers work, and while the comics do have some of the best action, romance and comedy, they're also all about refusing to let anyone else make your decisions for you.
It's something explored in the classic two-parter "Chaos Theory" with regular collaborators Alex Milne and Joana Lafuente, which not only features the first meeting of Optimus Prime and Megatron, but shows the early roots of both the Autobot and Decepticon ideologies.
Before he was a tyrant and a murderer, Megatron was a writer, a poet, but most importantly to Cybertron's elite, he was a miner. He dreamed of more for himself and all Cybertronians, and wrote the polemic "Towards Peace," which was essentially his manifesto. After a vicious beating while under arrest, Megatron's attitude changed forever, and he coined the phrase "You are being deceived" to try and wake up his brothers trapped under autocratic rule.
Optimus Prime was a police captain who --- inspired by "Towards Peace" --- began to see the Senate for what they truly were. After an attempt on his life, he stormed their chambers to confront them and hold them accountable to the people they represent. In doing so, he quotes Megatron (and British politician Tony Benn) in his demands:
Now, four million years later, it's fair to say that things got a little out of hand for both sides of the war, but the theme continues into Roberts' work on Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye and Transformers: Lost Light with Jack Lawrence. Whether it's the zealot-like Chief Justice Tyrest determining that half of the Cybertronian population deserves to die based on how they were created, or Megatron's emotional redemption arc, James Roberts has made The Transformers fundamentally about how finding and protecting your individuality can affect positive contributions to a larger community.
The current storyline in Transformers: Lost Light sees the crew trapped in an alternate universe where Megatron was never created, and thus a group known as The Functionists have taken control. The Functionists believe that every Cybertronian was forged to fulfill the function of their form, whether it be as a street-sweeper or a fighter jet. That means many Cybertronians have been purged for being primarily scientists, philosophers, or other occupations that are generally deemed "unnecessary" under totalitarianism regimes.
In this parallel universe, the psychiatrist Rung is hailed a hero by many for having no obvious function to his alt-mode. It's been a running joke that Rung's official classification was "ornament," but now his existence provides a rallying cry to many disaffected and persecuted masses by demonstrating that The Functionists are wrong. The most recent issue of Lost Light, which came out this week, tackles these topics head on in a way that's almost uncomfortably familiar. Like the rest of James Roberts' work on the franchise, it has a surprisingly important message to send.
There are a number of worthy causes that all need help, support and donations now more than ever. If you can, please consider donating to any of the following institutions:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Planned Parenthood
- The Trevor Project
- Trans Lifeline
- Standing Rock
- Council on American-Islamic Relations
- National Immigration Law Center
- Bend The Arc
- The American Association of People With Disabilities
- The National Alliance To End Homelessness
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- The National Park Foundation
For post-election resources, Holy F— The Election is a great starting point. The website uses some strong language.