It’s good to be bad sometimes.
After legendary Transformers writer Simon Furman was given the boot from IDW Comics – an injustice that must be addressed in its own 8-part series of articles – it was time for a soft reboot. IDW had, after all, inherited in 2005 a venerable franchise with over twenty years of history already, and the low sales of Furman’s various limited series had left IDW itching for a fresh jumping-on point for audiences.
And we open with a bang – the Decepticons have won. Megatron at his most arch has bested his nemesis Optimus Prime, and a generation of 80s kids sweep half their toybox into the bin. The Great War, spanning millennia across the galaxy, has ended with the Autobots defeated, and after a titanic battle their adopted homeworld of Earth under Decepticon control. Millions are left dead, and Megatron stands proud amidst the wreckage, savouring having destroyed the thing Optimus swore to protect.
Back on Cybertron, Optimus is critically wounded, the ‘cons have the Matrix and an unknown Autobot traitor is responsible for the entire mess. It’s a dark, tone-shifting state to open the story in, a marked diversion from the upbeat, richly-characterised style of Furman, and newcomer Shane McCarthy makes the most of the gig he’d negotiated after IDW’s call for new blood. The in media res style withholds most of the details of how the Decepticons won until later in the story – much patience was required during the original release, but it flows more effectively in this new collected volume.
Veteran artist Guido Guidi’s clean lines and well-framed action means this is never hard to follow even in the thick of chaotic battles, with Burcham’s colour work keeping to pleasingly old-school paint schemes.
Transformers fans are a touchy, continuity-conscious lot, however, and McCarthy’s abrupt switch back to early 80s bot designs and forced ignorance of much of Furman’s world-building of the last few years did not leave a lot of them happy. Attempts to retcon or fix discrepancies led to more errors, and it left All Hail Megatron with a negative legacy it has struggled to shake off. Aggravating characterisation of long-standing faces like Spike Witwicky also didn’t help matters – to many readers, these versions of the cast just felt wrong.
That’s not to say All Hail doesn’t have its share of drama and action – history may judge it unfairly, but as it paved the way for stone cold classics such as More Than Meets the Eye and the Dark Cybertron saga, it was a painful yet necessary transition. It has a great series of cinematic moments – the hero shot of Kup’s team arriving on Cybertron like the stogie-chomping badass he should always have been (forget the whingeing old-timer from Transformers: The Movie – the IDW Kup is quite the badass) is a precursor to the Insection Swarm, a truly terrifying creation.
Comprised of countless numbers of all-consuming Insecticons, the Swarm isn’t a particularly original concept (see the Phalanx Covenant or Annihilation Wave from Marvel Comics, for example), but it provides some great opportunities for against-all-odds survival and heroic sacrifice. This includes the revelation of the Autobot traitor, who gives their spark to save their friends in a thankfully inspiring moment of redemption.
It’s the events back on Decepticon-occupied Earth that provide more logs for future storyline fires, with Starscream returning to his rebellious ways and overthrowing Megatron to escape the ennui of no longer having a war to fight. Soldiers always struggle to adjust to life outside of conflict, and seeing Starscream back to his scheming ways works as both an homage to his 80s character and a juicy plot point.
Megatron’s amped up villainous persona here would later be majestically deconstructed and rebuilt during More Than Meets the Eye/Lost Light, and I won’t spoil the revelations there for people yet to enjoy them. Suffice to say there is a solid backbone to Megatron’s motivations that adds genuine pathos to his journey, and makes reading back on this shrill, sneering and unrepentant take on him carry plenty of extra weight.
The embattled Autobots are saved by Omega Supreme, the titanic ‘bot ferrying the surviving Autobots back to Earth to take on the warring Decepticons and take advantage of the schism turning the ‘cons against one another. We can argue deus ex machina all day about this, but sometimes you can forgive a contrivance like this when it’s delivered with such affection. During the mayhem that follows – all glorious splash pages of pitched battles seldom seen outside of you and your mates smashing handfuls of die-cast metal together on a Saturday afternoon – the true reason for the traitor Autobot’s betrayal is revealed, leading to another hugely controversial moment in the story’s coda.
After hastily diverting an attempted nuclear strike by human authorities even as Prime finally bests Megatron (achieved through a spine-tingling duel meant to evoke their lethal tussle in ’86s The Movie), who is hauled away by the retreating Decepticons. The Autobots are not exactly hailed as saviours in the aftermath – they brought their fight to Earth, and countless humans paid the ultimate price. It’s far from a happy ending, and it would take follow-up ongoing series The Transformers some time to guide the tone back towards the more palatable middle ground it occupies today.
Is All Hail Megatron worth your time? Given the five years of stories that have followed, I’d say yes. It’s a flawed gem that sits far better now its myriad plot points have been more fully explored, developed and expanded upon. The story sags in the middle as various factions sit around talk about their feelings (in a far less engaging way than James Roberts’ masterful work), but it delivers the showdown you’re waiting for in its final phase.
If you can stomach the jettisoning of Furman’s previous work at first (many elements were gradually slotted back in during this and subsequent titles) and the fact we see our four-colour 1980s heroes engaged in grim, human casualty warfare, then you’ll find enough to enjoy. Worth investigating for both completionists and people who appreciated the grittier tone of The Movie.
Transformers: All Hail Megatron is out now from IDW Publishing.