Brandon Borzelli's Geek Goggle Reviews
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye – The Series
Roberts, Roche, Milne, Salgado, Padilla, Cabaltierra, Guidi, Frank
How many times has the Transformers property changed publishers, been re-launched, re-booted, re-tooled and altered over the years? If I were to recommend somewhere for a new reader to begin I wouldn't be able to give them a concise answer. It would be more of the, "well, if you like XYZ then try this, but if you a are a fan of ABC then start here" variety. The most recent IDW group of comics seemed confusing as there are three Transformers series to pick from: More Than Meet The Eye, Robots In Disguise and Regeneration. Not understanding the rationale behind them I followed Regeneration, which is Simon Furman picking up where he left off from the Marvel days some twenty five years ago. I like the series. I assumed I picked a good one, the best one. I was wrong.
Reading reviews about More Than Meets The Eye over the course of a year I realized I needed to check this series out. Fearing the unknown continuity I trusted my fellow online reviewers that I would love the series. Not only were they correct, but they actually under-praised this series. This is a Transformers series that breaks the mold forever. It's completely different and is the most satisfying read each and every time a new issue ships. It's fantastic.
Dusting off properties and making them new is something every publisher does from time to time. However, reinventing them and making them reach beyond that property is extremely rare. The best example for my money is Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run from some thirty years ago. It came out of nowhere and altered how horror comics could be made while keeping the focus on the central character. He wrote a brilliant journey. This Transformers series is doing something similar with the team concept and science fiction. Roberts is not Alan Moore, but his revival is certainly on the list of special property reinventions.
As of this writing the series has had eighteen issues along with an annual and two one-shots focusing on Trail Cutter and Hoist. I began reading the series around issue ten and then worked backwards. Since then, I've re-read the entire run three times and I am amazed at each pass through the books.
Basically, the war between the Autobots and Decepticons is over. The two sides now coexist. One group of Bots, lead by Rodimus Prime, decides to take to the stars on an adventure looking for the mystical Knights of Cybertron aboard the Lost Light. From there, the very first issue, things go wrong and the crew finds themselves in one predicament after another.
The early issues focuses on giving the Bots personalities. They spotlight characters like Chromedome, Tailgate, Rung and Skids. But they also push along plots that are typically one issue centric dealing with things rounding up the team, transmissions from the future, memory loss and a spark-eater situation.
By the fourth issue the comic moves into a longer arc that deals with a quarantined Bot. This arc involves finding a traitor in the midst and really brings a tighter focus on characters like Ratchet, Pipes and Drift. However, during these issues the relationship between Ultra Magnus and Rodimus is really explored well. While all of this is going on, there are subplots that get hatched, such as Rewind recording everything, Fortress Maximus having a meltdown and Red Alert finding something in the basement of the ship.
Once the series gets to issue eight we have a more complex series of issues that begins with the Scavengers finding Grimlock. This introduces a whole bunch of new characters, which is challenging to keep track of at times. The first really long arc begins with issue nine where the Bots try to put Rung's brain back together by telling their own versions of the days before the war began. This arc runs for several issues, but like the Scavenger issue, there are a lot of characters to keep track of.
Once the Shadowplay arc completes, the subplots begin to come to resolution. The item found in the basement comes into play, Ultra Magnus and Rodimus' relationship begins to boil over that potentially costs lives. The most gut-wrenching issues is fifteen when the next big arc concludes with the kind of punch in the gut ending that makes comics great.
The two components of this series that stand out (and are completely unrelated) are the length of the books. Each comic is extremely wordy and takes in the neighborhood of twenty minutes to completely read. This type of storytelling allows for payoffs within issues, which is completely rare these days. It also allows the reader to really get a handle on personalities even though the book has such a huge cast (potentially sixteen Bots at any given moment).
The other aspect of the book that makes the comic fascinating is there is a love story in here. There are two Bots that have a strong tie together that the reader doesn't find all that different than any other two Bots. As the danger increases over time the duo becomes closer and more vocal about their feelings towards each other. Bots with feelings seems to be unheard of and I found the ending of one of the issues to be particularly potent knowing the pair actually cares for each other. It's a great addition to this book and the property.
Recent issues, including the one-shots, deal more with aspects of the book that have wrapped up in previous issues. These issues help tie a lot of things together, which makes re-reading the series a necessity. Issue seventeen kicks off the next big arc as the Bots find something out in space that they didn't expect to find.
The difficulty in reviewing a series such as this is that many of events that occur in the recent issues have built upon plots from prior issues. The other aspect that is difficult is that characters get lost, are discovered to be turncoats and some even die. In the interests of not spoiling those events I am trying to be more vague when I review some of the later issues.
Perhaps the best arc in terms of reaching a wide range of audience is that of the Shadowplay arc (issues 9-12). This arc acts as the very last moments before the war breaks out all those years ago. Many of the familiar characters are in these issues, despite not being in the series normally. It's a good glimpse into the character's lives before the war, while putting the spotlight on a couple of the more famous Bots that aren't normally in this series.
The best single issue is fourteen where Chromedome investigates a captive's brain. It's a magnificent issue that covers a lot of ground and has a nice trick at the end. The issue that is the most clever is number twelve where Roberts tells the story from Rewind's perspective in terms of running time. It is also told out of sequence and has some excellent Cyclonus moments. This is the kind of issue that can be re-read several different ways in terms of sequence.
The first few issues are mostly drawn by Milne where Roche picks up issue one and six to provide a break. Later, Padilla, Guidi and Frank all provide an issue on art duties to give Milne some relief. The books have plenty of character moments, which doesn't always translate in terms of artwork. After all, the Bots don't have much in the way of faces to help sell the drama. However, the moments, especially at the end of each issue, where everything comes together, the artwork really takes control of the emotional part of the story. The other tough part about these comics is that it can be very difficult to tell some of the characters apart. This is not so much the case with the core group but when the crew of the Lost Light meets others along the way this becomes somewhat problematic. These are minor complaints. Overall the book looks stunning and to help match the story. It's terrific and consistent art effort.
This review can't possibly do this series justice. The book is a long, sprawling epic that looks with deep focus at characters, their interactions and their evolutions. I'm not sure where this book ends up going or if the crew will ever reach their destination, but the plot isn't nearly as important as the characters within the story. This is a fantastic read. Find the first issue and give it a try.
5 out of 5 Geek Goggles