The Transformed Man, Act 5: Interference Patterns
I’ve never liked the Transformers. The franchise never really got its hooks into me when I was a kid, and while I’ve tried to give it a shot as an adult, it’s never really clicked. But now, with the recommendations of almost everyone I know and a well-timed Humble Bundle sale, I’ve found myself in possession of three years worth (and counting) of IDW’s More Than Meets The Eye and Robots In Disguise comics. I’m working my way through a story arc every week, and if I have to read about these robots, you’re coming with me.
This week, the Decepticons have a time machine. So, you know. That's not good.
Transformers: Robots In Disguise vol. 2
Story: John Barber
Art: Livio Ramondelli, Brendan Cahill and Andrew Griffith
Colors: Joana Lafuente, Josh Perez and Livio Ramondelli
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Carlos Guzman
So here's how good these comics are: I have spent my entire life not liking the Transformers, to the point where I once said that even if these comics were as good as everyone was saying they were, there was no way I could ever like them as much as I liked not liking the Transformers. Last week, I almost bought an Optimus Prime figure.
Y'all. Optimus Prime isn't even in these comics.
Or at least, he's not in most of 'em. This week's selection actually opens with a single issue called "Syndromica (1)," and it's all about what Optimus --- now known as Orion Pax --- has been doing ever since he peeled out and left Cybertron in an El Camino blasting Bad Company. It's an interesting story, too. It feels a little out of place, mostly owing to the art from Ramondelli that's so different from everything else that we've seen in the series so far, but gets past that with the inclusion of what appears to be a giant space orc named Garnak, who I believe is the first non-robot we've seen in the series so far. The whole thing feels like something from 2000 AD, which is only reinforced by how it's structured.
From what I can gather, it's the first part of a story that we'll be checking in on between larger arcs on Cybertron, all about Pax and a crew of Autobot veterans --- and one dude from Warhammer 40,000 --- trying to track down 13 different kinds of "Ultra-Energon" across the galaxy. This time around, they're on an ice planet called Arduria, where they run across a giant robot Frankenstein named Monstructor.
That's not an exaggeration, either: It is literally a giant robot made of other giant robots that have been stitched together by a mad scientist robot, and its name is Monstructor. There's a certain pure beauty to that.
Needless to say, Pax and his crew manage to avoid being Monstructed to death and head off to go fight a guy named Bludgeon, but not before Hardhead takes it on himself to break some bad news. He tells Optimus about the explosion on the Lost Light and how Rodimus and his crew are all dead, and in one of my favorite moments of the series so far, Pax's response is, "Oh, I'm sure they're fine."
Back on Cybertron, a bunch of Decepticons have arrived in a time machine piloted by a one-eyed war criminal with a cannon for an arm.
This, I think you'll agree, is the worst possible way to encounter a time machine.
The war criminal in question is named Turmoil, and even though all three heads of the Cybertronian Provisional Government --- Bumblebee, Starscream and the unaligned Metalhawk --- are pretty sure that they should just shoot him in the face and be done with it, they're faced with pretty tough problem. Since they've declared peace, Turmoil has technically been absolved of his brutality during the war until and unless he starts something on the new Cybertron, which means they pretty much have to accept him. Second, and more pragmatically, he has a time machine, and it's not really a good idea to make people mad when they can shoot you from the fourth dimension.
At first, they don't even know it's a time machine --- they just know that he appears without warning in orbit one day and assume that it's a cloaking device. It's Wheeljack who actually discovers it, in some of my favorite pages:
Every time the story shifts to Wheeljack's investigation of the ship, Barber, Cahill and Lafuente break it down into these amazing sixteen-panel pages with no dialogue except for the first person narration that captions each panel. It's a great trick, and it perfectly sets up the moment where Wheeljack is discovered and Turmoil's word balloon breaks into the 16th panel, and you turn the page to find that he's blowing a good chunk of Wheeljack's torso away with his cannon.
That, incidentally, is another thing that's pretty great about this comic if you're going into it as a new reader: The Transformers are almost alarmingly resilient --- at least two characters literally get their heads taken off in the stuff I've read so far and they end up none the worse for wear --- and the art takes full advantage of that when it comes time for action. They get blown apart and torn limb from limb, and while they usually survive (RIP Pipes), it's still pretty shocking since I haven't gotten used to it yet.
Fortunately for Wheeljack, he manages to survive with the timely intervention of Metalhawk, who, it turns out, is surprisingly deadly in combat for a pacifist.
It turns out that Turmoil was responsible for an attack on Metalhawk's people as they were fleeing the war, and when you're a robot with a lifespan measured in the millions of years, you can learn to hold a grudge.
I've talked before about how fast these comics move, and just to give you an idea of that, all this --- the arrival of the Decepticon ship, Wheeljack's investigation, Turmoil's appearance, the debate over whether they should allow him to come back to Cybertron, the fight between Turmoil and Wheeljack, the reveal that it's a time machine that was built by unknown aliens that were then shot out of an airlock to keep things secret?
That's one issue. One. And they still had time for a scene about when they were going to allow elections.
The rest of RiD volume 2 is taken up with a story about Ironhide, who believes himself immortal after a vision where he saw himself in a far future where Cybertron ruled over a peaceful galactic empire, leading a bunch of Dinobots out on a rescue mission to the wilds outside of the city of Iacon. It seems that the Aerialbots, who left the city on bad terms after one of them got exploded, have sent out a distress signal that needs to be addressed.
The Dinobots have always been one of the things that frustrated me to the point of keeping me away from the Transformers franchise. On paper, they're everything I should like about it --- they're robot dinosaurs. My problem is that, if the nature of a Transformer is to Transform, then why would you ever want to not be a robot dinosaur? Because let me tell you, if I had the choice, I would be a robot dinosaur every time. Fortunately, Barber is able to sum up the entire thing in a way that finally makes sense to me:
It turns out that the Dinobots don't have to make sense, because that is a luxury you can have when you are fire-breathing robot triceratops. This guy, incidentally, has the rather unfortunate name of Slag, although to be fair, I'd still take that over "Sky Lynx."
Even though there's stuff about the election going on in the background, the second volume of Robots in Disguise is far more action-focused than the political intrigue that marked the first few issues, so it's nice to see a little bit of that come at the forefront here. Ironhide's vision of the future sounds peaceful on the surface, but Slag and the Dinobots are quick to realize that there's something off with it, and when he's prodded, Ironhide explains:
It's another great example of the book dealing with universal themes in a way that only really works for immortal shapeshifting robots. While the main focus is on characters like Bumblebee and Starscream and how they're trying to adapt to life now that a war they've been fighting for millions of years has finally come to an end, Ironhide represents a flipside of that coin, who is grappling with a far more existential problem: Living long enough to find out that war and peace were actually the same thing. It's a pretty harrowing thought that makes everything seem pointless, and that comes through here.
Unfortunately --- or fortunately, depending on your preference for existential dread --- Ironhide's thoughts are interrupted when he finds out what was really responsible for taking down the Aerialbots. You may recall that right before MTMTE and RiD kicked off, Cybertron itself reverted to some weird, primeval and decidedly hostile state, and now, it's working against them. It's something in the planet itself, something that makes the Transformers turn on each other in a murderous rage if they get far enough outside the city.
Wheeljack's theory is that the planet actually wants them to all stay together and be friends, and while that's a nice sentiment, it's also a pretty harsh way of enforcing it. Either way, Ironhide finds himself facing down Superion, a Combiner --- the same kind of Frankensteined super-robot as Monstructor --- made from all the Aerialbots that went insane out in the wastes.
Oh, and then Bumblebee loses the time machine.
Seriously, it just vanishes right in front of him. Yikes.
Act 5 Power Rankings:
- Arcee - Only appears on one page in the entire volume, but is fortunately a page where she is super awesome.
- Wheeljack - Got half his torso blown off and still held it together long enough for like five smartass quips to his attackers, and that's after he infiltrated a time machine.
- Ironhide - Shifts from affably delusional to having the most tragic and philosophical character arc of the series so far, which is weird when you stop to remember that he's a talking SUV.
- Slag - Firebreathing triceratops, but that name... How the heck did they ever sell this guy in the UK?
- Bumblebee - LITERALLY. LOST. A TIME MACHINE.