The Transformed Man, Act 17: Slaughterhouse
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, the Lost Light gets a new captain, and a shocking return cements MTMTE's place as one of the best comics going!
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Vol. 6
Story: James Roberts
Art: Alex Milne, Atilio Rojo, Brian Shearer, John Wycough
Colors: Josh Burcham, Joana Lafuente
Letters: Tom B. Long
Editor: John Barber
This collection represents the last volume of More Than Meets The Eye that was included in that Humble Bundle sale that started me on this whole experiment. We've still got a few weeks to go before things wrap up --- there's another volume of Robots in Disguise, the single issues that I need to get through to be caught up to the present, and that miniseries that'll tell me whether or not I made a good choice by making Windblade the first Transformer toy that I ever bought -- but at this point, I think I'm familiar enough with it to say that yeah, More Than Meets The Eye is probably the single best ongoing series coming out right now.
I mean, Robots In Disguise is good - very good, in fact, and certainly a whole lot better than I expected it to be going into it as someone who didn't like the franchise --- but MTMTE is on a whole other level. It's intricate, moving, genuinely funny and thrilling, and the kickoff to the "second season" after the events of Dark Cybertron has everything that makes it so good.
I mean, I didn't cry this time, but I'm not gonna lie: I came pretty close.
This particular collection is divided into two distinct stories. The first, "World, Shut Your Mouth," explains the new status quo, something that I already knew was coming when I went in: Megatron, after his last-minute conversion to being an Autobot at the end of Dark Cybertron, is now the co-captain of the Lost Light.
The way this all comes about is actually pretty great: There's a big trial held on Luna-2, and while Megatron initially pleads guilty to all his crimes --- one of the early signs that he actually is repentant for all the stuff he did during the war --- there's a turning point where he recants his confession, and changes the entire direction of the trial.
And it's all because Starscream won't just take the win.
This plays into a lot of what I talked about with "Chaos Theory" and the idea of Prime and Megatron being unable to break free from their nature. It's one of the things that continually makes me wonder whether Megatron actually is serious about wanting to change despite everything on the page telling us that's the case, and one of the things that's going to make it great if it turns out that he actually is. If he's the one who can finally break free from who he is and become someone he wants to be --- actually becoming that autonomous robot that he wanted to be at the start --- then that's a pretty amazing character arc. Starscream, on the other hand, has no such arc.
At this point, he's won. He's in charge of Cybertron, and Megatron, the one person who always stood in his way and lorded over him, is literally in chains at a trial that will almost certainly result in a death sentence. He's got everything that he always wanted, but he just can't resist needling Megatron, adding on one final humiliation.
So when he speaks in Megatron's "defense" and characterizes him not as a military leader who led a brutal rebellion but as something more like a pyromaniac who didn't realize he was playing with matches next to an oil refinery, Megatron's pride --- that same pride at the core of his nature that caused him to rise up and quit being a miner in the first place --- is injured, and Megatron changes everything with one last contingency plan.
Since he's being tried on Luna-2 --- where he convinced Prime to hold the trial since it was the only place large enough to hold everyone who wanted to see a war crimes trial four million years in the making --- he can invoke a forgotten but still very valid law that brings the trial to an indefinite halt: The accused has the right to be tried by the Knights of Cybertron.
You know, the nearly mythological figures that the Lost Light has been goofing around space looking for all this time? Them.
The great part is that through it all, it still doesn't feel like it's all part of a con, partly because Megatron actually tells Prime that yes, this was a contingency plan. And further, that he agrees to read a speech Optimus writes, officially and publicly renouncing the Decepticon philosophy and rejecting the idea that Cybertron should conquer other races. He's not happy about it, but he does it.
In order to make sure that Megatron has as many eyes on him as possible --- and to provide the story with the maximum amount of dramatic tension --- he makes him the co-captain of the Lost Light and sends him out in to space, along with some other new faces for the crew.
The most notable ones are Nightbeat, the detective who recently returned to life, and Nautica, one of the female Transformers that showed up alongside Chromia and Windblade during Dark Cybertron. And she's great.
They're both great, really, but Nautica's kind of instantly charming. Like Tailgate, she (and Chromia, who I really wish was coming along) missed the war, but she seems way more capable of fitting in with the crew, and her curiosity makes her a really great focal character when the stuff starts going down.
And folks, it does go down, because the first thing that happens under Megatron's tenure is that he finds Rodimus's body floating in space.
Don't worry too much, it's not "our" Rodimus. The initial theory is that it's Rodimus from some point in the future, and - after testing the age of his Energon - that it's sometime pretty close. The truth, however, is a little more complicated, and this is where this series gets next level.
The story's called "Slaughterhouse," both as a reference to the robotic charnel house that the crew finds and a slightly brainy nod to Slaughterhouse-Five and the idea of being unstuck in time. Remember the first issue, when the Lost Light left Cybertron and the Quantum Engines malfunctioned, causing that explosion that made everyone think they were dead until a prose story right before Dark Cybertron? Well, you could probably be forgiven for thinking that "Quantum Engines" was just some nonsense talk for faster-than-light warp drives, but it turns out that there's a reason that they went for that exact name.
See, as Nautica explains, the Quantum Engines work by narrowing down all the infinite possibilities of where the ship could be to one destination, and then moving it there instead of where it was. The thing is, when the explosion happened at the start of the voyage, the engines weren't done narrowing things down. Instead of one possible destination, it had two, and since it was unable to finish, it just did the next best thing: It sent the ship to both places.
The key point here is that neither one is fake: They're both equally "real" versions of the ship, and we just happen to have been following the one that's been in the book all this time. It's an idea that's reinforced when the crew starts disappearing, leaving only the newbies ---- Megatron, Nightbeat, Nautica, Ravage, who was stowing away to try to get Megatron to come back to the Decepticons, and a few others. Now that they're in proximity with each other, reality is asserting itself by narrowing it down to only one Lost Light, and it's favoring the one that we've never seen before.
The problem with that is that pretty much everybody on that Lost Light is dead.
As the story progresses, it's revealed that this version of the ship never had that problem with Overlord. Instead, they got something much, much worse: The Decepticon Justice Division.
It's been a while since we've seen them, but this is kind of the perfect way to remind us of how horrifying the DJD is. Overlord's appearance was after all, devastating for the crew, this brutal monster that was barely stopped and resulted in the deaths of multiple crew members. To show the aftermath --- just the aftermath --- of the DJD showing up, and reveal that they just effortlessly killed Overlord and then turned their attention to wiping out everyone else, shows exactly how much worse they are than the scariest villain we've seen so far.
And it makes sense, too. Overlord was, after all, only halted because of Chromedome's post-hypnotic suggestion that was based on Rodimus always saying "'til all are one," but on this version of the Lost Light, Rodimus died fighting the sparkeater in what would've been their first "arc." Without a similar McGuffin for the DJD, they didn't stand a chance, and everyone aboard was brutally murdered.
Everyone except oneeEEAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!
Okay, I can't lie: I wasn't entirely surprised by this. A few months ago at a convention, I was going through dollar boxes alongside my writing partner, Chad Bowers --- one of the people who was trying to get me to read MTMTE in the first place --- and I came across a copy of #33, which has Rewind on the cover. That's when I shouted, "WAIT DOES REWIND COME BACK?!" across someone's booth, and Chad just looked away and didn't answer. So I knew something was going to happen, even if it was just a flash back story. I just didn't realize how good it was going to be.
See, when everything goes back to normal, the Rewind of Lost Light B sticks around, because has no living counterpart on Lost Light A. Not only are he and Chromedome reunited, but a Chromedome who had to watch Rewind die is reunited with a Rewind that had to watch Chromedome die --- and not only that, but die refusing to erase his memories of Rewind, just like "our" Chromedome did. They've both known the trauma of losing the person they love, and they found each other again because of a quirk of this sci-fi reality they live in, the one bright spot in those horrific experiences.
Like I said, I came close. And this was the page where I almost lost it:
I've talked about James Roberts a lot, but Alex Milne seriously kills it on this book. His characters are always expressive, which is astonishing when you consider that they're only vaguely human-shaped and half of them have their faces covered. There are clever workarounds, like how Tailgate's eyes spark whenever he has a panic attack, but that they're so expressive and so detailed, even in scenes like this, these quiet emotional moments where the art has to carry everything, says a whole lot for how good he is in this comic.
One more thing before the story wraps up, since we're on the subject of characters who have their faces covered: This is where we finally find out two big things about Brainstorm, the mad scientist who's been one of the more enjoyable characters in the book. For one thing, we find out what's in his briefcase: Time Travel.
If you're having trouble, read the panels backwards from six. They're going down in an elevator. Again, it's something I knew ahead of time, thanks to the "Functionist Universe" sections on the TF Wiki when I'd go try to look up something about a character, although I did dodge any additional spoilers other than "Brainstorm's time-travel briefcase."
The second thing is that Brainstorm is a Decepticon. That... that's probably going to be a big deal later.
Act 17 Power Rankings:
- Chromedome and Rewind - At this point I don't even have to say this, but if you'd told me a year ago that the most moving romance and the most moving death and resurrection story I'd read in comics all year would be between two Transformers, I'd still be laughing. Roberts, you may consider yourself forgiven.
- Tailgate - Bae.
- Megatron - I don't usually read comments, but I did see someone mention how disappointed they were that the book made Megatron a more sympathetic character than just the pure villain, and to be honest, there's a level where I do agree with that. There's a trend in storytelling to treat villains as inherently more interesting characters than heroes --- the same line of thinking that's given us way more Black Adam than Billy Batson over the past few years --- and that's something that I'm usually pretty opposed to, by virtue of being someone who likes reading about heroes. The thing is, MTMTE doesn't do that --- or at least, not to the extent that other projects have --- and a lot of that comes from the fact that, in this series, Megatron isn't the only villain we've seen. Overlord, for example, is that same kind of irredeemable evil, and so are the DJD, and Pharma, while charming and interesting, even to the point of being a little likable as a character, is hardly sympathetic. That Megatron can pull off the redemption arc makes him an interesting character because we have those different looks at "villainy," and because there are characters in this book on all sides that don't quite fit into that neat binary, like Whirl. And it says a lot that it'll be as interesting for me if he's genuinely repentant as it will be if it turns out to be some long con.
- Nautica - Narrowly edges out Nightbeat as my favorite new crew member, mainly because she has a magic wrench that can do anything.
- Getaway - I swear to God I don't know if my heart can take a Tailgate/Cyclonus/Getaway love triangle. I have never wanted so badly for a bomp to be platonic.