The Transformed Man, Act 23: Race Against The Light
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.
Transformers: Windblade #5 - 6
If there's one thing I love, it's a story set in a world where literally everything revolves around sports and competitions. I don't even like sports (with the exception, of course, of pro wrestling, the King of Sports), but those stories where entire societies are built and torn down based on whether someone can pull off the perfect backflip or make a sandwich so good that rival chefs shatter plates against the ground in frustration? That is exactly my jam.
It's something you see a lot in anime and manga, but when it shows up in Western comics --- or in comics-adjacent stuff like Speed Racer, the finest film of our generation --- I always get psyched. Which is exactly why I loved these two issues of Windblade so much.
This arc --- and the issues that follow, since we're all the way up to where the book is currently --- spin out of the part of Combiner Wars that was all about making contact with the lost Cybertronian colonies, and that works in its favor for a whole lot of reasons.
Thematically, it ties the story to Windblade in a really cool way. Since Windblade's a Cityspeaker and the colonies are all built out of the Metrotitans that she has the rare ability to communicate with, it follows that she's the one who has to go off on all these adventures. That opens up a ton of exotic locales and interesting new interactions, and as an added bonus, it allows for Starscream to operate behind her back to set up more conflicts.
Structurally, it allows the larger story of the formation of the Council of Worlds to be broken down into smaller, more episodic bits, an approach that makes sense given Scott's history as a television writer. It shows, too --- the feeling in this story is the same feeling you get from an episode of a TV show with a longer arc, and Corin Howell's fantastically cartoony artwork does a whole lot to support that.
The colony in question this time around is Velocitron, and before we crack jokes about how that's not a very imaginative name for a society built around racing, consider that a planetary trash heap called Junkion has been a part of the Transformers franchise since 1986.
Anyway, Velocitron is based entirely around racing, and it took me a second to realize that it wasn't the anomaly --- it's exactly like Cybertron, where everything is based around war. That's been a recurring theme in MTMTE and the now-adjectiveless Transformers, that these were people who had lives and jobs and aspirations back before their society rearranged itself around four million years of civil war. It makes for a nice counterpoint, especially when Scott and Howell get around to showing us that the emphasis on speed is actually a necessity built on the cities' need to constantly outrun burning sunlight.
So, in the grand shonen manga tradition, if they're going to convince an entire space colony to join up with a council that will shape the fate of the very universe, they're going to have to win a race. Which is where Blurr comes in.
He's one of those Transformers who had a job and aspirations before the War. Specifically, he was a racer, so when the word comes down that they're going to need to come in first at Velocitron's Benefit 500, he gets selected as a temporary ambassador and enters the race. If he wins, and wins well, he'll be able to suggest joining. If he loses, the planets will probably, I don't know, go to war or something.
So, you know, it's about the same stakes as that episode of Jem where Jem has to win the Indy 500 in order to get Eric Raymond beaten up by mobsters.
As much as I enjoy Howell's artwork --- and I think it's genuinely great, with expressive acting, some of the best facial expressions I've seen in a while and some really exciting car action, one of the hardest things to draw in comics --- the one big problem is the sense of scale. The city and arena just don't seem quite big enough for the reactions that they're getting from the characters, although in all honesty, that might be my fault for expecting something a little more along the lines of Speed Racer's sprawling life-sized Hot Wheels tracks.
While Blurr hits the track and finds that the Velocitronians don't have a whole lot of rules preventing trying to kill each other during their races, Windblade heads to the core of Navitas, their severely overworked Metrotitan. and uses her skills to alter the track while the race is going on.
It's hard to pull off a fun story that climaxes with the good guys just blatantly cheating to win, but it ends up working pretty well, largely because of the shocked reaction of the Transformer watching the race with a pair of opera glasses. The only way that could've been better is if the opera glasses themselves were revealed to be a Transformer, who was so shocked that he had to look through his own, smaller opera glasses. I'd buy a figure of that guy in a heartbeat.
But yeah, Blurr wins the race by ramping over the finish line and transforming into a victory pose in mid-air, which is a pretty awesome visual, and the speed-obsessed Velocitronians decide on the spot to ally themselves with Cybertron.
It's a great little episodic adventure, and given that the first few issues of Windblade were tied so tightly to the dour events of Combiner Wars, it makes for a nice change in tone that allows the characters to really shine through in a way that's not only different from that story, but different from Windblade's introduction back in the miniseries, too. All in all, it's a solid story that makes me really excited to keep up with Windblade for its duration, and the expanded Til All Are One title that's replacing it.
Act 23 Power Rankings:
- Windblade - As much as I loved Windblade as Sword-Wielding Jim Rockford Who Can Also Turn Into A Plane, getting to see her as a world-hopping political adventurer was also fun, and it speaks pretty well of Mairghread Scott's writing that she's able to adapt to both stories without feeling like a completely different character.
- Moonracer - I didn't mention Velicitron's two potential delegates by name above, but Moonracer and Knockback are pretty great foils. Knockback's just smug, but Moonracer's quiet grumpiness about her home planet's obsession with driving around in circles is a delight.
- Starscream - The single best thing about Howell's art is that in his brief appearances in the story, Starscream has a permanent smirk that just makes you want to punch him in the face. It's great.
- Blurr - Certainly did win the race, albeit by allowing his friends to cause his competitors to have high-speed collisions with walls. That's... that's pretty poor sportsmanship, really.
- Chromia - Managed to not kill anybody this time.