The Transformed Man, Act 22: Combiner Wars
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, Windblade returns and we get the most toyetic crossover of the year!
Transformers: Combiner Wars (Transformers #39-41 and Transformers: Windblade #1-3)
The Transformed Man is quickly coming to an end. At this point, I'm well past where the Humble Bundle that initially spurred the project ended, and I'm almost caught up with where the ongoing books are now. And if you've been reading this column for the full run, then you probably remember that aside from the return to Earth, my least favorite part of the saga was probably Dark Cybertron.
The whole thing just felt a little too stretched out, built around multiple threats that, individually, were each big enough to build a crossover around, but that just didn't really hang together once they were all linked up into one big story. There was that weird false finish in the middle of it that just made everything feel a little off, and given how good everything around it was, that was a pretty notable turn.
But it did leave me curious as to how the book's next big crossover would work out, especially since it seemed to be tied pretty tightly to the toy line, something that never really seemed to affect More Than Meets The Eye --- or any piece of the story so far, really.
Which brings us to Combiner Wars.
Unlike Dark Cybertron, which was built around an extremely complicated sequence of events that stretched back millions of years and involved two separate universes, thirteen ancient ores, a metrotitan, a necrotitan and a black hole, Combiner Wars seems like it's a pretty simple idea. A bunch of robots combine to form a giant robot --- something that I'm definitely already a fan of --- and then a bunch of those giant robots beat the living heck out of each other for seven issues. Easy peasy!
Unfortunately, that's not what happens. I mean, yes, we do get a big ol' Combiner Fight by the end of it, but it ends up being a much more complicated story that deals with a bunch of moving parts. That's not automatically a bad thing --- giant robot fights are only really fun if you care about why they're fighting --- but in this case, I think that's to the story's detriment, largely because we take a pretty long time to actually get there.
The big complication --- and the most interesting part in terms of how it's going to affect the ongoing story of the now-adjectiveless Transformers title --- is that Cybertron has finally made contact with Caminus, the lost colony that Windblade, Chromia and Nautica came from. Oh, and also that they worship Optimus Prime as a living god.
So, y'know. That's probably not going to sit well with Starscream, whose control of Cybertron rests entirely on his status as the "Chosen One." Turns out that "war hero and actual pharaoh" beats "shrieking chosen one with a history of directly causing everyone's home to explode" every day of the Cybertronian week.
As for what Starscream's going to do about it, well, you may remember that our last storyline involved his acquisition of the Enigma of Combination, which is basically a circle that teaches the power of teamwork. Okay, fine, that's underselling it a little --- it also allows robots who know each other really well to turn into Combiners, something that Starscream intends to exploit.
The plan is to get the Stunticons to form up into Menasor --- a combiner that TFWiki informs me hates his own head, something that I think we can all relate to --- and set him loose on Caminus before stopping him with Superion, the Combiner that formed spontaneously when the Aerialbots were out wandering in the desert.
The plan works, in that there's enough damage to Caminus that Cybertron can step in to help relief efforts --- adding to their pre-existing problem of running out of energy to support their society --- but it turns out that Combiners are a lot like potato chips, in that you can't stop after one.
It seems that Prowl, who has been steadily nurturing everyone's hate for him with the dedication and care of a master gardener, got wind of Starscream being in possession of not one, but two gigantic unstoppable smashing machines, and decided to form into Devastator so that he could go put a stop to all that, planning on smashing up the space bridge to cut off Starscream's chance at uniting the lost colonies into a new Decepticon Empire.
And, you know, dooming Caminus to a slow death by starvation as they orbit a dead star. Good call, Prowl. Super cool of you.
Devastator proves to be a little much for Superion to handle, so Starscream whips out the teamwork ball and combines the Protectobots --- a new bunch sent as the Lost Light's Duly Appointed Crossover Representatives --- into Defensor.
Lot of robots talking about themselves in the third person in this story, folks.
Prowl and the rest of Devastator are taken down and arrested, which is when Optimus shows up for a conversation that basically follows the "I'm not mad, I'm just... disappointed" pattern that you might expect from Prowl getting chewed out by everyone's favorite robot dad, except that there's an additional "actually I am extremely furious" tacked on there at the end because everyone hates Prowl. I mean, on one level, Prowl's not wrong, Starscream is, in fact, planning to rule over an empire once the lost colonies rejoin Cybertron, but on the other hand, turning into a giant construction monster and smashing everything you hate is...
Well. I'm not gonna lie. If I had the option, it is probably how I'd solve all of my problems, too.
In a nice bit of long-term plotting, Starscream decides that leaving the Constructicons --- Devastator's non-Prowl components --- in jail would be a waste of a good opportunity. To that end, he takes the Teamwork Ball down into the basement with Scoop, the former Autobot who bought into the whole Chosen One thing, and makes him Devastator's new head.
So, for those of you keeping score at home, we've got Devastator, Menasor, Superion and Defensor all running around at the same time, and that's still not enough combiners for this story. So when the new Devastator and Menasor get loose and starts attacking Caminus again --- prompting a truly hilarious reaction from the Camiens who respond with "Again?! because, not being on Cybertron, they haven't gotten used to this stuff happening all the time --- we get yet another one.
Well, first we get Defensor kicking Devastator in the face.
Then we get another one.
Prowl's mole turns out to be Rattrap, who let the Stunticons out in the first place, and who brings him the Teamwork Ball while Optimus is in the middle of chewing him out, causing them to unite with Ironhide, Mirage and Sunstreaker to form Optimus Maximus, our story's fifth and final combiner. But while there's giant robots smacking each other around outside, there's an internal battle going on with the characters who suddenly have their minds linked up.
And honestly, Optimus Maximus speaking in rainbows is kind of my favorite thing about this entire comic.
Eventually, the bad combiners are defeated and Optimus Maximus disbands itself so that Prowl can be arrested, and so that Prime, who has seen into his long-time friend's mind and finally grasped his true motivations, can show up and punch him in the face a whole lot for being a huge jerk about literally everything.
The weird thing about this story is that there's a whole lot here that's really interesting --- Prowl's motivations for being so hostile to everyone and the betrayals that have led him to be so suspicious are actually really good, as is all the stuff about Caminus and the highly religious society that's built entirely around conserving energy --- but the actual stuff where the giant robots fight each other is the most boring bit of it.
I'm not sure why, either. The idea of the Combiners as the Transformers' ultimate weapons has been seeded really well throughout the series, and even the bits that feel like they're happening directly because of the comics are pretty solid --- Scott and Stone have a great bit in Windblade about Starscream researching which colors will make people trust him while he's picking out a new body. But when you put it all together, the action falls flat, and the worst part about Combiner Wars ends up being, well, the actual Combiner Wars.
Well, except for the part where Superion just cold shoots Menasor in the head.
That part's pretty great.
Act 22 Power Rankings:
- Rodimus - The crew of the Lost Light take the top spot by appearing in a panel where they explain that they can't show up for the crossover because if they keep getting distracted on their quest, they're never going to actually finish it, which is the actual premise of their book.
- Windblade - Continues to be a compelling character, especially now that she's taking a page out of Starscream's book and installing herself as part of the new ruling council of Cybertron.
- Optimus Prime - He's not like other robot dads! He's a cool robot dad!
- Defensor - Kicked another combiner in the face. Should probably be ranked higher, but is here because he was the only combiner to do some face-kicks, and I'm mad that all of them didn't do it.
- Prowl - Holds onto the bottom ranking with such tenacity that I'm probably going to start putting him in here even in the stories that he's not in.