The Transformed Man, Act 18: Windblade
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 is in the spotlight, in action, and in danger of being blown up by about twenty pages in.
I'm not gonna lie, I went into this wanting to like Windblade a whole lot.
I mean, I kind of have to. If you've been reading this column long enough, you'll know that my transformation from someone who literally thought Bumblebee might be some kind of robot dog into someone who is honestly planning to go to a convention to try to meet James Roberts in two months was really cemented when I actually bought one of the toys. That is what you might call a point of no return, and the Transformer that I bought first --- before Tailgate, even --- was Windblade.
She's also the only Transformer I have two of, since I'm so far gone at this point that I actually got the San Diego-exclusive Combiner Hunters box set that also had Arcee and Chromia, both of whom have gigantic swords that are bigger than their own bodies. I mean, honestly, if you had told me that there were cars that killed bigger cars with gigantic swords, I might've been reading this stuff for a whole lot longer than six months.
What I'm getting at here is that as a character, Windblade had some pretty high expectations to live up to.
I mean, I already like the idea of Windblade, but a lot of that comes from stuff that was going on behind the scenes rather than on the page. If you're not familiar with how it all worked out, she was the product of a poll that was designed to make a "fan-created" Transformer, and one of the reasons that's really notable is that after a couple decades of pretty much only having Arcee --- and her pretty sketchy origin story --- Transformers fans decided that there should probably be more than one woman in the franchise. They did it again this year, too, and the result was Victorion, a Combiner made entirely of female robots.
As I understand it, it was a pretty big deal, and I think that's probably why I went into this book with the assumption that Scott and Stone would be dealing with some of the gender stuff that I've had questions about since that time Ultra Magnus and Whirl were briefly teenage girls. Well, that and the fact that in all of their appearances so far, pretty much everyone has commented on how weird it is that Windblade, Chromia and Nautica refer to each other as "she."
But that's not what happens here. Instead, Scott and Stone drop us right into a pretty straightforward sci-fi mystery, which is enjoyable for an entirely different reason.
The one thing that really hooked me about this story, the thing that made it really, really interesting, was that Windblade is the only character in the book who's newer to the franchise than I am.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly an old hand at this whole Trasnsformers thing just yet, but while I've read enough over the past few months to have a pretty good idea of what the deal is with most of these characters and their histories over the past couple of years, everyone in the book is a veteran of a war that lasted forty thousand centuries, in stories being written by (and directed at) people who have been fans for a whole lot longer than I have.
Windblade, on the other hand, is being presented as a pair of fresh eyes, someone who's only loosely connected to the Transformers on Cybertron, and doesn't know the all of the history.
The end result of that change is that when she suspects that Starscream has been sabotaging the city with a series of blackouts and malfunctions, I'm the one who finally gets to think, "Wait a second, that doesn't sound like something Starscream would do." And I get to be right!
I mean, yes, Starscream is digging a mine into Metroplex's filtration systems to try to recover Shockwave's magic death ore, but, you know, he's not trying to do all that other stuff.
See, after his return during the events of Dark Cybertron, Metroplex has apparently bonded with the city of Iacon, serving as a home for everyone left on the planet while he tries to recover and repair himself from the ordeal of punching out a city-sized zombie version of himself. To that end, Windblade --- along with her bodyguard, Chromia --- have resumed the duty that they were attempting to perform back when the Rodpod showed up with an army of Minicons behind it: Trying to fix Metroplex.
See, Windblade and Chromia are from Caminus, a Titan similar to Metroplex that left Cybertron to colonize space millions of years ago:
Windblade is a Cityspeaker, someone who can speak to the Titans in their own ancient language when, like Metroplex, they're too injured to communicate any other way, a job that's important enough that Chromia has been assigned as her bodyguard. Because of that, she's got a connection to Metroplex that no one else does, which makes her invaluable to restoring Metroplex to full function --- and puts her at odds with Starscream, because she can do something that he can't, while he's still taking all the blame for the failures around the city.
I'll admit that I was surprised that Starscream was so aggressive towards Windblade in this story. It's not that it's entirely unexpected, but up until this point, his political manipulations have always been a little more slimy and manipulative than directly and angrily confrontational.
At the same time, I can see where Scott's characterization is coming from: This is a Starscream who's still reeling from that same slimy manipulation backfiring on him when he kept pushing and Megatron escaped from his own war crimes trial, and the frustration that he can't take out on Megatron has to go somewhere. And here's Windblade, a living representation of something that he can't control for purely functional reasons --- and she's an outsider to his society, too.
There's an antipathy there that's built very naturally and makes Starscream the perfect red herring, so when Windblade goes to investigate an anomaly and ends up being blown up in what seems like an assassination attempt, he's her number one suspect.
What really makes the red herring work is that unlike Robots in Disguise, where we frequently get things from Starscream's perspective, we're only seeing this story from Windblade's point of view. It's only as the story goes on that we get the whole picture --- for now, we only see Starscream as the overbearing, power-hungry dictator, rather than the increasingly paranoid leader holding onto a precarious power and suspecting Windblade of causing the disasters to undermine his regime.
From here, it becomes something like an episode of The Rockford Files with transforming robots and a giant sentient city, and it's really engaging, especially when Windblade and Chromia go looking for clues:
This is the point where Sarah Stone's artwork really shines. It's a completely different style from anything that I've seen in the series up to this point, but I absolutely love it. The fluid lines and shiny, cartoon coloring do a great job of representing that it's a world of robots where you can actually build a plot around a failing city infrastructure that also involves a space-bridge to a lost planet, and the movement and expressions are just incredible.
I mentioned last week that Alex Milne does a great job of expression and body language in MTMTE with a cast that frequently involves characters whose faces are completely hidden, but Stone doesn't have to deal with those constraints. Her characters are going all-out in terms of emotion in every scene, broadcasting these big, loud feelings that a big, loud story requires.
That alone is what did most of the work of making me like Windblade as a character rather than just an idea. The image of her I had in my head was of someone who was very stoic and built around ideas of duty and requirement --- even her action figure is easiest to pose looking very serious, shoulders back and sword drawn, all frowny and ready to chop something up. The story definitely supports that as an aspect of her character, but the way that Stone draws her face, every bit of annoyance and hopelessness and aggravation is in there. There's a frustration to Windblade's "acting" that manifests itself as being both relatable and badass, and that really makes her work.
Over the course of the series, Windblade becomes one of my all-time favorite character archetypes: the frustrated PI who gets in way over their head, takes a whole lot of lumps, and ends up getting a very compromised victory by learning how to work within an unfamiliar system.
To that end, it turns out that the person who was actually responsible for the explosion --- and the power outages that Metroplex is going through --- was Chromia, who just wanted to access the space bridge to get home. And that, given how much I've liked Chromia in her other appearances, was exactly the kind of heartbreaker that I'm sure it was intended to be. Rather than turn her over to Starscream, Windblade makes a deal to get the whole thing swept under the rug, that exact kind of compromised win that means she's covering up a murderer --- a murderer who, other than Metroplex , was her only friend on the planet --- and handing the fate of her home over to Starscream.
It might not be the story that I was expecting, but it's a solid one that does a whole lot of character work.
Act 18 Power Rankings:
- Windblade - If I could only pick one to be my first Transformer, I'm glad I got the Cybertronian equivalent of Jim Rockford.
- Starscream - I don't want to go off on the various kinds of villainy again like I did last week, but the paranoia that's bleeding through in the post-Dark Cybertron stories is going a long way towards making Starscream a pretty enjoyable character.
- Who the heck else was in this story? Slug? He's the triceratops, right?
- Oh, Ironhide. He's in this, filling in for Marcus Brody.
- Chromia - Even though I am completely unable to get her figure to transform, I liked Chromia a lot, and seeing her set off an explosion that killed three people for selfish (but ultimately understandable) reasons was a pretty rough introduction. She was so supportive of Nautica!