The Transformed Man, Act 7: Primus
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, Arcee. Kills. Everyone.
Transformers: Robots In Disguise vol. 3
Story: John Barber
Art: Livio Ramondelli, Brenan Cahill, Guido Guidi, John Wycough
Colors: Livio Rmaondelli, Joana Lafuente, Guido Guidi, Priscilla Tramontano
Letters: Shawn Lee, Chris Mowry
Editor: Carlos Guzman
All things considered, I'd like to think that I'm doing a pretty good job of keeping up with what's happening in this book. Don't get me wrong, it's not like they're completely inaccessible to new readers or anything, but there's a lot of history both in-story and of the franchise that's in play. Going from knowing roughly four things about the Transformers --- one of which was "Bumblebee might be a dog?" --- to marathoning two ongoing monthly comics definitely feels like I'm dropping into the deep end.
There are definitely parts that are confusing, but Barber and Roberts both have a habit of having characters casually refer to each other by name in every scene --- which is handy since there are still only four or five that I can recognize on sight --- and I have enough friends who like this stuff that I've actually had phone conversations this week that start off with me saying stuff like, "Okay, explain Jhiaxus."
But yeah, like I said, I like to think I'm keeping up pretty well. So keep that in mind when I tell you that the story we're starting with this week is confusing as hell.
It's the second part of "Syndromica," the 2000 AD-esque story about Orion Pax dealing with Jhiaxus and Monstructor that started off the last volume of Robots in Disguise, and it gets real complicated, real quick. The main wrench in the gears is that it takes place on a planet that's unstuck from time, and that sends visitors to a different era depending on the angle they approach at, and then further sends them bopping around the timestream seemingly at random.
If that sounds complicated, it is, but there are a couple of key points for the rest of the story. The first is that this planet and its bizarre relationship with time were the source of Turmoil's time-traveling spaceship, which you may remember from the last arc as the one that the Autobots took control of and then promptly lost. You may also remember that when Turmoil himself showed up, he only had one eye, and In this story, we find the reason for that: Orion Pax punched him so hard that it literally broke his face.
Not gonna lie, if y'all had told me before that Optimus Prime was basically a semi truck that was also Batman, I probably would've read this before. Seriously, I think my favorite thing about this is that Turmoil, who has a gigantic cannon for a hand, threatens the little alien, sees Pax's reaction, and then immediately realizes how badly he hecked up.
After that, we go into the annual, dealing with Cybertron's past, going all the way back to Nova Prime, whose militant expansionism has been referenced before as one of the first signs of Cybertron's slide into corruption. But rather than just relating the story with a little bit of flashback-specific art, Barber and Guido Guidi go all out to make it feel retro. Not only is it drawn to look like a comic from 1984, but according to the scripts and roughs that are included at the end of the collections, they're even lifting the page layouts and dialogue notes directly from the original first issue of Transformers, #1 in an eighty-issue miniseries.
And on top of that, Barber's script is doing an amazing impression of comics writing in the early '80s:
Seriously, Barber's version of '80s Marvel is my favorite thing. So many em dashes. Beautiful, beautiful em dashes.
Like the More Than Meets The Eye annual --- which also featured Guidi's retro art --- RiD's focuses on a Metrotitan, one of the giant, city-sized Transformers that were probably prohibitively expensive for kids in the '80s who didn't want their Christmases ruined. If you're keeping track, it's actually the same Metrotitan from that story, who teleports himself back to Cybertron after being freed by the crew of the Lost Light. Unfortunately, this one teleports himself into the middle of a bunch of stalactites, resulting in an accidental impalement that pretty much ruins everyone's day.
The discovery of the Metrotitan exacerbates the existing rift between the Autobots, Decepticons and Neutrals. Prowl the grumpy police car initially wants to keep it a secret, something that's extremely difficult since Starscream the smarmy airplane and Metalhawk the exasperated fighter jet were both there when it was discovered. Starscream, still attempting to manipulate things in his favor, even goes as far as calling for pretty much everyone in the city to come out and take a look at what Prowl is trying to hide from them, which creates a bit of a problem when they find out that the Metrotitan's about to explode and kill everyone in a 10-kilometer radius.
That's something that I've really come to love about Starscream. His initial manipulations seem so effortless --- distancing himself from the rest of the Decepticons and then declaring himself to be part of a triumvirate that did not actually exist before he started talking about it --- but we're starting to see him overreaching. It's the fatal flaw that Prowl talks about, that he's always going to push it too far until it backfires on him.
In this case, though, it works out when the Metrotitan wakes up, declares that Starscream is a prophesied conqueror who will unite all of Cybertron, and then promptly dies.
So, you know, Starscream really wants to have those elections now, especially since everybody was there to see Prowl talk about how he wanted to completely sweep that little detail under the rug.
Both the flashback and the main story also heavily involve Omega Supreme, who, in terms of scale, is about halfway between the regular giant robot Transformers and the ridiculously giant robot Metrotitans. He's been seen before in the series as a chunk of the city itself, but here, we see him transform into his Robot mode to talk about the Metrotitan, and find out a little bit of his origin. He was one of Primus's original guardians, and when Nova Prime got Jihaxus to build Monstructor --- and look, I realize that these are a lot of goofy names but you probably remember Monstructor, he's the big ol' robot Frankenstein --- Omega flipped out, beat him up, revealed the Metrotitan and used him to launch the Crystal City into space.
And that's how the two annuals all tie things up nicely. They actually work pretty well as standalone issues --- I certainly wasn't expecting any immediate follow-up after I read MTMTE's, although I did expect that the Metrotitan would eventually return in some fashion --- but together they're painting a picture of a much bigger universe and a much more complicated cosmology that still drives the ongoing narrative of both stories in an interesting way.
And then Arcee starts killing everybody.
Okay, actually it's a little more complicated than that. Starscream's sudden surge of popularity in the polls --- and the mounting pressure on Bumblebee to open up free elections --- is derailed when someone launches a terrorist attack on Omega Supreme, badly wounding one of Cybertron's most ancient defenders. Obviously, everyone suspects the Decepticons, and they're right: Shockwave wants to restart the war, and bombing Omega Supreme was his first step.
Starscream, however, actually wants to have a planet to rule, and endless robot warfare doesn't really make for stable political power. He confronts Shockwave, but ends up getting information from Dirge, the only witness to Prowl arranging assassinations with Arcee --- information that gives him enough leverage to strike an uneasy alliance with Prowl. It's another example of how the book lays out these threads of manipulation and secrecy that would be at home in any political drama, and then ties them up.
Prowl and Starscream arrange a raid on the Decepticons' headquarters, and Prowl is even injured when he goes in first to arrest the crooks. The thing is, it's all a scam. The real action happens befor the raid, with Arcee showing up with a pair of flaming swords and just wrecking everything in sight.
The massive explosion that injures Prowl is really just to cover it all, leading Bumblebee and the rest of the government to assume that Shockwave was killed by his own bombs. In reality, he's been taken as a secret prisoner by Prowl, whose commitment to the Highway Patrol seems increasingly questionable.
All in all, it's a win for Starscream, except that Arcee is always, always watching, and knows exactly where he's keeping Dirge and how to instantly remove the one hold he has over Prowl. But still, he knows she knows --- because she tells him --- and the alliance means that they can actually get back to rebuilding society. After all, as Barber makes sure to tell us in the script a few times, there are no more Decepticon leaders around to worry about, right?
Yup. No more Decepticon leaders at all. Not a single Decepticon leader to be found. Not one.
Act 7 Power Rankings:
- Arcee - Not only continues to be the book's Wolverine, but she and I also have a pretty similar ability to differentiate these robots.
- Starscream - When a giant city-sized robot comes to life, tells you you're going to unite a planet, and then dies, who am I to argue? If I was him, I'd be a little more worried about whether they were going to be uniting against me, though.
- Optimus Prime - Winner of this week's Mighty Mega Puncher award for mightiest mega punches.
- Metalhawk - Doesn't do a whole lot this week, but did publicly call Prowl out on organizing covert assassinations.
- Prowl - Wrong for Cybertron. Wrong for America.