The Transformed Man, Act 15: Dark Cybertron, Part Two
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, "Dark Cybertron" comes to a thundering conclusion and Megatron makes a change!
Transformers: Dark Cybertron, vol. 2
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
Dark Cybertron is weird. I mean, yes, of course it's weird, it's a comic book about robots that turn into cars having their political struggles and sidequests interrupted by a giant robot that turns into a city that is also a zombie, but this particular weirdness goes a little bit deeper than subject matter. It's more about how the story is structured.
In all fairness, it's easy to see why it would be, too. Everything about this particular story has been set up over a pretty long timeline, going back to at least the stuff that's in Dark Prelude that was published before the two ongoing series even started, and there are bits and pieces that have been arranged in side stories, text pieces, and offhand conversation about the history of a 4,000,000-year war. That's a lot of moving parts to arrange into a single story, even one that's as big as Dark Cybertron. Throw in the fact that they're introducing new characters, setting things up for the next arcs, and doing it all by combining two books with pretty different tones, and you can see why it might make for a finished product that's more than a little awkward.
At the end of the day, though, Dark Cybertron commits one of my least-favorite storytelling sins: It has a massive, world-threatening plot that's dealt with in a way that feels like it ends two or three issues too early, leaving the bad guys to cram in an extra evil plot to fill out the rest of the comic, leading to a weird point where everyone's just kind of sitting around waiting for the plot to fall into place.
It's not that the plots aren't related, and it's not that everything's not set up, because it all is. It's that everything feels unbalanced --- something that's probably not helped by the fact that I'm reading the story in two paperbacks that split things right down the middle. If the story of the Necrotitan and Metroplex duking it out over Iacon had been compressed to be the focus of the first half of the story, and Shockwave's weird plot to turn Cybertron into a black hole with no concept of time (???) had been expanded to fill out the second, it probably would've felt a little smoother, instead of seeming like that whole thing with the Ores was just crammed in there at the end to fill up twelve issues. Or, alternately, either one of those threats could've made for a pretty big story on its own.
Of course, that's definitely falling back into armchair editing, but there were quite a few readers who warned me at the start that Dark Cybertron didn't quite stick the landing, and now that I've read it, I can see why. But that doesn't mean that there's not some good stuff in here.
And first and foremost is Swerve insisting that he's "one of the main guys."
You may recall that when we last left off, the story was split into a few different parts. On Cybertron, Starscream and the remnants of the Autobot and Decepticon armies were trying to deal with the Metrotitan while Shockwave opened up Megatron's tummy to let Galvatron crawl out (weird), Orion Pax, Rodimus, Cyclonus and a couple of others were in the Dead Universe getting hassled by an omnipotent Nova Prime (also weird), and the crew of the Lost Light had followed a gigantic severed thumb to an unknown water planet where they were being assaulted by an army of tiny little combiners while they ran through Metroplex's body like a chase sequence on Scooby-Doo (actually pretty typical, all things considered).
The latter is by far the most entertaining, especially as the stakes just keep getting ratcheted up from possibly contracting a death plague to being swarmed by Minicons, but the big payoff finally comes when they meet up with a trio of new characters: Nautica, Chromia and Windblade.
Alert readers may remember that Windblade was the first Transformer toy that I actually bought once I got into these comics, so I've been pretty eagerly anticipating her finally showing up in the comic. Unfortunately, she doesn't do much --- I'm guessing I'll have to wait until her self-titled miniseries to really get into her character --- but she and her two teammates do provide us with one of the most interesting moments of the story.
I mentioned a while back that I had a lot of questions about how gender works in the Transformers, specifically with regards to Arcee --- and oh brother, the answers I got to that one, albeit only in terms of the original comics --- and there are a few times where the other robots take notice of it.
Perceptor in particular makes sure to clarify that he did, in fact, hear Nautica and Chromia using female pronouns for each other, which makes it seem like women are definitely something of an anomaly on Cybertron. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that idea, but I'm really interested to see where it goes once I get to Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone's perspective --- especially given what little I've read of Scott's feelings on the subject.
Meanwhile, in the Dead Universe, Rodimus keeps making everyone look at his hand.
He's been doing this for a couple of issues now, and while I think it's supposed to be serious and mysterious, there is nothing about a Robot with flames painted on his chest going "LOOK! LOOK AT MY HAND!" and then making a person all woozy that is not hilarious to me.
It turns out to be a set of numbers that he's carved on there, presumably because the Lost Light does not have easy access to a Sharpie: 89/101. The reason it's causing all the trouble is that it's causing a neglected part of Nightbeat's brain to work --- that same deductive reasoning center that makes him a passable Sherlock Holmes impersonator --- which allows him to free himself from Nova Prime's brainwashing by asking a single question.
It turns out that it's the results of a vote. After revealing that he was the one who approved putting Devastator on board, and further, that he covered it up by sending Drift into exile, he put his captaincy up to the crew, and won with a narrow margin of 101 to 89.
This news is not very well-received.
Eventually, though, Rodimus is able to give Pax the pep talk that he needed himself. See, the name change wasn't just a symbol of how he was abdicating leadership of the Transformers, it was being ashamed of the legacy of the Primes before him. This, again, is something that's been hinted at before in the series, that they were obsessed with militant expansionism, of reinforcing the corrupt and classist pre-war society, all the stuff that Orion Pax would've rebelled against himself. But there's another side to that, too, which is what the Primes could have been, and the qualities that Orion himself embodied.
So when it's time to go toe-to-toe with Nova Prime, who keeps shapeshifting into Orion's other predecessors, slugging it out for the fate of not just himself, but also Nightbeat, Kup and everybody back home on Cybertron, he finally takes his name back.
And he rips off his opponent's arms to do it, too. Comics love them some arm-ripping.
Oh, right, Kup: He's here, too. It seems he got sucked into the Dead Universe back in IDW's big crossover-that-kind-of-wasn't, Infestation, after keeping a bunch of zombies from taking over Earth. That made him a potential candidate for a space-bridge back to the Regular Universe, but rather than taking it, Optimus and Co. find their way back through another (rather convenient) crack in reality.
On Cybertron, well, Megatron is beside himself.
After being bisected by Galvatron, destroying the space bridge that lived in his torso, Megatron has had a lot of time to think, and has decided to pitch in and keep things from being completely destroyed. So to that end, he picks up on the clues and uses what's left of his teleportation technology to reunite Metroplex with his missing thumb, which gives him the ability to punch through the Necrotitan's head.
As for why that happens, it has to do with all the Ores that Shockwave has been seeding around the galaxy over the past four million years, and to be honest, that might be the clunkiest bit of the story. It all makes a certain kind of sense, but by the end of the discussions of how this ore has control over Death and this one has control over Power, it's sort of like they decided that what the Infinity Gems and the Lantern Rings really needed was for there to be fourteen different kinds.
Again, I think that has a lot to do with a) the secondary plot feeling kind of crammed in at the end, and b) me not having any familiarity with the whole Ore subplot before MTMTE and RiD started up, but it all just washed over me.
But really, that hardly matters, because this is where Megatron actually starts to get interesting.
I've mentioned before that while I enjoyed the idea of Megatron, his actual presence never really did much for me, but the character turn he takes here is actually really interesting. It's the same idea as Optimus leaving at the start of the series, but Megatron is a spectre of the war in a way that Optimus never really is - he's the one responsible, the one who gave the orders for the biggest atrocities, the one who scares the Autobots in a way that Optimus never frightened the Decepticons. And, perhaps more importantly, he's the one who lost.
The idea of Megatron, who was portrayed as an idealist who became a tyrant, actually reconsidering what led to his downfall and his own direct role in the current situation that's threatening to tear apart the planet that he was nominally fighting to control --- or to save, if you're believing his hype --- is very interesting.
Especially when you consider that it all might be part of another con.
In the end, when Bumblebee is killed --- which I actually don't mind thanks to a combination of his abysmal track record as a leader and his off-putting new body --- Megatron decides to change his decal for good.
And with that, Shockwave is literally defeated with the Power of Friendship. And, I mean, Optimus and Megatron also both shoot him in the face, but yeah, it's mostly the power of friendship. And really, as rough as the story might get in spots, I can never hate a story where an emotionless hexagon's plan to destroy the world is foiled by the Power of Friendship.
The whole thing with Shockwave feels pretty crammed in there at the end, especially given how much time was spent setting it up in "Shockwaves," but it's not really a bad story, just a fast one, and like everything in the series so far, it does a nice job of laying the groundwork for the status quo in the next bit of the series. If the storylines that ended here were marked by Optimus and Megatron's absence, then now we get to see what happens when they come back after being vastly changed by their experiences.
Act 15 Power Rankings:
- Swerve - He's one of the main guys!
- Optimus Prime - Punched a guy so hard that his own name changed, which is some straight Great Outdoor Fight stuff.
- Megatron - Should probably be higher just by virtue of becoming a much more interesting character, than I thought he would be, but, you know, baby steps.
- Bumblebee - Died as he lived: Disastrously.
- Prowl - Oh man, I didn't even mention it above but this jerk had the god damned nerve to talk to Chromedome about Rewind, and Chromedown threw him off a cliff like Kamen Rider '71 and it's more than he deserves.