The Transformed Man, Act 10: City On Fire
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, Megatron returns to launch a... devastating master plan. Get it? Get it?
Transformers: Robots In Disguise vol. 4
Story: John Barber
Art: Andrew Griffith, Brian Shearer, Rick Ketcham
Colors: Josh Perez
Letters: Shawn Lee, Chris Mowry
So, yeah. Megatron's back, and even I know that's a pretty big deal.
When we last left off with Robots in Disguise, back before these stupid robots made me cry and I decided that seeing Overlord take a savage beating was more important than continuing with the story, Megatron was wandering out of the desert and into Iacon, capital (and only) city of Cybertron, presumably to ruin everything. And even though I saw him then, it took until seeing him here to realize that I've never actually read a story with Megatron in it before this one.
His absence is, after all, kind of a big deal, to the point where it's one of the driving forces of these comics. Looking at it as someone who has never paid attention, the very few things I knew about the Transformers were basically that it was about a big war between the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by Megatron. Kicking off two new ongoing books where the entire premise is that the war's over and Optimus Prime and Megatron are out of the picture is a pretty big sign that these stories are different from what a reader might expect, just in terms of taking things in a new direction. Obviously, RiD has cheated its way around its lack of Optimus Prime with the occasional looks at Orion Pax's space-trucking adventures, and Megatron made a handful of cameos in the last arc of MTMTE, but they're not really at the center of the action.
All of which left me to wonder just how exactly I was going to react to Megatron. I mean, I definitely wasn't prepared to hate Overlord as much as I do, but he didn't really come to the table with any expectations. Megatron, as far as I know, is the villain. Which is probably why Bumblebee just tells everyone to shoot him in the face as soon as he walks into the city.
To be fair, even without reading anything outside of what I've read, everything I've seen from Megatron makes this seem like a perfectly reasonable course of action --- up to and including the fact that Megatron is walking around wearing what essentially amounts to a bandolier of severed heads. Severed heads with robotic mustaches, no less. Incidentally, I asked David Willis about those, and he informed me that they were the heads of Sweeps, the identical and inexplicably mustachioed minions of Galvatron that, immediately before the stuff I've been reading, formed into a giant monster called "Deceptigod." So, you know, there's that.
Anyway, everyone is pretty much content to shoot Megatron until he is no longer a going concern, but a Decepticon named Needlenose --- who doesn't even have a nose, so I'm like two seconds away from calling shenanigans on this entire operation --- stops them, pointing out that Megatron is defenseless, injured, and at least nominally coming in peace. So the shooting stops, and Bumblebee orders Wheeljack to put him into that same force-field that he used against Turmoil and check him out for traps.
I don't want to spoil anything, but this is going to turn out to be a pretty terrible idea.
See, Megatron's return could not have come at a worse time. With the destruction of the Decepticon Pen, where the hard-line holdouts from the war were being kept after they refused to rejoin society, the Decepticons who are left are starting to get riled up. Megatron's return and immediate incarceration gives them the extra push they need to take to the streets in a full-on riot, and although Starscream makes an impassioned (and actually pretty sincere) speech about how they're on the verge of taking over through the impending election, they're having none of it.
It's actually Wheeljack who sets the whole thing off, when he discovers that Prowl, who rigged the explosion of the Decepticon pen to look like an accident and took the brunt of it straight in the face as cover, has left the medical facility. When he goes to check on the surveillance of his home, he finds that it's completely blacked out --- no cameras or information at all, the one place in the entire city that's not covered. He goes to check, and ends up running right into a mob that can't be stopped even by the most timely of Ghostbusters quotes:
Before the rioters can drag him to the prison and present him to Turmoil, though, he's rescued by Prowl, supporting a redesign that I can only describe as Cablesque.
And seriously, I kind of love it? His rockets have rockets. His arms are guns and he is also using his arms to hold a gun. Unfortunately... Well, I'll get to it.
While all this is going on, Starscream has gone to the prison to sit down with the pretty-much-comatose Megatron and have a conversation, a last-ditch effort to get him to not do whatever it is he's going to do.
That's something that I actually really like about this story: Everyone knows from the first second that he walks out of the desert that Megatron is planning something, but it's all been set up to the point that they can't really do anything that doesn't play into his plan. If they hadn't stopped shooting at him when Needlenose objected at the beginning, the Decepticons would've rioted right then. Everything was already in motion.
Meanwhile, Starscream has been playing the game and winning, and his frustration at having his plans derailed for the same return to open warfare comes through beautifully in the way he interacts with everyone.
At this point in the story, it's easy to believe that while he's certainly self-serving and opportunistic, Starscream also actually does mean well. The Decepticons were, after all, founded as a movement that wanted to reform a corrupt society, and Starscream is actually in a position to do that by beating the Autobots at their own game. He's already charmed his way into a third of the power, all he had to do before the explosion at the pen was wait for the other two thirds to be handed to him by the election. And now, it's all falling apart because someone wanted to paint a giant purple Decepticon logo on the moon and smash up a hospital with a giant robot.
The thing is, they're both clearly villains, but --- again, at this point --- Starscream feels like the kind of villain that you at least have to respect for his cunning. Megatron... Well, Megatron is literally a walking gun. What did we think he was going to do?
While Starscream is talking to Megatron in prison and Prowl is taking Wheeljack to "The Black Room," the off-the-grid room where he's up to something, a bunch of Transformers --- both Autobots and Decepticons who aren't all that interested in going back to war --- are holed up in Maccadam's Old Oil House. Their plan is to just weld the doors shut and wait for everything to blow over, but that kind of goes out the window when Arcee shows up with Swindle and Dirge, the two witnesses to Prowl's corruption, in tow:
Having read the extremely bloody Last Stand of the Wreckers last week, I noticed something else that Willis pointed out on his Tumblr a while back: Arcee is pink --- the color of Transformer blood. Anwyay, Arcee wants Blurr to take Swindle and Dirge to see Bumblebee, and y'all, that is a sentence that, three months ago, I would not have been able to comprehend, let alone type.
As the riot swings into full gear, Bumblebee promises to have free elections tomorrow if they can make it through the night, encouraging Metalhawk to go get himself on camera and unite the people behind him as the non-Autobot, non-Decepticon leader of a united Cybertron. While he's doing that, however, things are getting worse down at the prison: The Decepticons bust in, taking out the guards and freeing Turmoil and Megatron...
...who announces that he's going to take them all to the Black Room.
The same Black Room that Prowl was taking Wheeljack to.
And this is where the plan really starts to come together. The big reveal here is that Prowl, the loyal Autobot policeman, has been working with the Decepticons all along. It's why he initially had the Decepticons pressganged into acting as a police force --- which finally answers my question of what exactly did they think would happen when they made a guy named Horri-Bull a cop --- and it's why he's been dividing Bumblebee and Metalhawk and ordering Arcee on her assassination missions. It's all been part of the scheme, and when Starscream arrives at the Black Room, he's not just greeted by Prowl, but by all the Decepticons that were supposed to have been killed:
Oh, and Arcee's there too.
All in all, it's a pretty great reveal, and it's only the tip of the iceberg. When Bumblebee & Co. arrive --- knowingly walking into a trap since, again, there isn't much else they can do --- they find that Megatron has built a new body, complete with that weird loop-de-loop filigree on his chest. It turns out that, thanks to a pretty big infodump of comic book science dropped as dramatically as possible, his old body gave him control of the force that was driving the Taransformers to turn on each other when they left the city. It was all a big experiment in making a Combiner --- an experiment that, according to Megatron, resulted in the death of Ironhide and the Dinobots when they were out there.
And on top of that, Prowl isn't actually Prowl! He's Bombshell, who took over Prowl's brain with a couple of tiny little robot beetles wayyyy back at the start of the series and then faked his own death, because these robots do not do anything by half measures. He's the one who took out Omega Supreme, and, just in case there was any doubt that he was evil, he's the one who shoots Wheeljack in the head for telling Bumblebee to "remember what's important."
Okay seriously: What is it with this comic and killing off the ones I actually like? Is this something you Transformers people have had to deal with for the past thirty years? Is this all because they killed Optimus Prime in that stupid movie?!
The point of all this, from Megatron channeling the power of the planet to form robots to combine against their will to Bombshell possessing Prowl, was to build an unstoppable combiner of his own, one that I am proud to say I recognized as Devastator. To be fair, though...
...I had a pretty big clue.
From here, Megatron goes all-in on destroying the Autobots. That stuff I said earlier about painting a Decepticon logo on the moon and smashing up the hospital? That was not an exaggeration, those are literally his first two moves, and the third is picking up Bumblebee by the head and smashing his face in.
The good news, though, is that there's something he didn't account for: The Autobots have a Combiner of their own. It seems that Superion, the giant robot that all the Aerialbots became, survived its trip out to the desert, and so did Ironhide and the Dinobots, although they're a little worse for wear. And while Superion and Devastator are slugging it out, there's another ace in the hole that presents itself, too, when Arcee subtly reveals her true feelings.
For Arcee, that actually is subtle.
With Bombshell stabbed in the face, the hold over Prowl is broken, and Devastator shuts down momentarily. It starts back up soon enough, though, with Prowl's personality subsumed by the Decepticons. He goes on a rampage, tearing Superion in half and generally causing traditional Godzilla mayhem, until Ironhide finally gets through to him and encourages him to tear his own head off. Which, it turns out, was what he needed to do to free himself.
This bit is also narrated by Prowl, and there's a lot in here about Spike Witwicky and what he did back on Earth, and... Look. I am making the effort, okay? I think we can all agree on that. I'm reading the comics, I'm feeling real emotions over people named "Chromedome," I am considering purchasing an action figure of Actual Precious Baby Tailgate, I'm having conversations about Jhiaxus and Galvatron. I'm putting the work in to like this stuff, believe me. But for real, as soon as my eyes hit the words "Spike Witwicky," I am checking out. I got no time for that in my life. You can explain him to me if you want, but I promise I will not listen.
Even though Prowl has been freed from Devastator, the fight's still not over. Megatron, who at this point is on some full-on Skyfall territory, reveals that this, too, was part of his plan. He reforms Devastator again, this time with himself in control, basically giving himself a giant indestructible body that is ten times bigger than anyone else, setting out to destroy pretty much everything, even over the protests of the Decepticons who really did want change.
And that's when Bumblebee remembers what Wheeljack said about remembering what was important. One thing these comics do better than almost anything else on the stands right now is that they seed these long-term payoffs. Admittedly, it's not that long-term - This is only just over a year of these comics, although it sure as heck feels a whole lot longer --- but the way it's all built is really nifty, and in this case, Barber and Griffith are dropping a callback to that story where Wheeljack made a joke about the three most important words in the Cybertronian language:
And with that, Wheeljack's force-field explodes out through Megatron's body, having been put there on his spark casing --- the one part of his body that Wheeljack knew Megatron couldn't replace, even if he got rid of everything else --- and finally putting an end to the conflict.
Well. Almost putting an end to it.
See, while all this has been going on, Metalhawk and Bumblebee have had a difference of opinion on what course of action to pursue. Metalhawk is set on rescuing Starscream, but Bumblebee is dead set on killing Megatron, and at one point it's mentioned that that's the difference between them: Revenge against Decepticons or redemption of Cybertronians. It's a nice moment, and it makes for a pretty great Butch and Sundance moment when they have to face down Turmoil and his giant cannon arm, especially when Starscream literally picks up Metalhawk's severed arm and uses it to take Turmoil down once and for all. They have a moment about what it means to be friends, what it means to truly believe in someone.
And then Starscream turns on Metalhawk, kills him with Turmoil's cannon, and uses his body as a literal prop for an impassioned speech that causes him to be named King of Cybertron.
He takes over with overwhelming support after Metalhawk's apparent death at the hands of the Autobot/Decepticon conflict, and exiles anyone who won't give up their old allegiances, sending Bumblebee's Autobots and the remaining Decepticons out into the wilderness. It's one of the coldest and most ruthless moments I've seen, and once again, I was completely surprised by it. I mean, I was just starting to like that guy!
That's where this one ends, and since I realize that these columns are getting long --- which is really a testament to how much the creators are able to cram into each issue --- I was excited to see that Barber and Griffith did a pretty great job of summing up the entire series in exactly one panel:
That's it. That's the book.
Act 10 Power Rankings:
- Wheeljack - I honestly wish there was a character I just didn't want to read about anymore so I could talk about how they were my favorite and then happily watch as they were decapitated the next time I read one of these comics.
- Arcee - Maybe could've started stabbing people in the face before it was most dramatically effective, but still.
- Swindle - I didn't mention it above, but there's a scene in here that's approaching Tailgate levels of adorable. Keep an eye on him, I predict a rapid rise up the charts, followed, most likely, by a summary execution.
- Bumblebee - Probably should've just kept shooting.
- Megatron - Seriously: Full. On. Skyfall.