Comics

Transformers: Windblade – The Last City – Comic Review

Written by Mairghread Scott; art by Sarah Stone, Livio Ramondelli, Marcelo Ferreira and Corin Howell.

It ain’t easy being a girl who speaks for the big city.

It definitely isn’t easy being Windblade, the refugee Transformer from the lost colony of Caminus, now living on a Cybertron adjusting to rule under epic Decepticon heel Starscream. Following the events of Shockwave’s attempted Insane Big Plan (see Dark Cybertron), the damaged Titan Metroplex is now the unofficial home of countless Transformers as Windblade works to restore the ailing city-sized ‘bot.

The Last City covers both volumes of the Windblade series, which ran for eleven issues before folding into Till All Are One (which itself folded a year later). Volume Two also formed part of the Combiner Wars crossover, which leads to unfortunate continuity jumps later on (but we’ll get to that).

Volume One, a four-part miniseries, follows Windblade and bodyguard Chromia as they investigate mysterious fluctuations in Metroplex’s operations which may or may not be the machinations of Starscream. Things explode, a plot is revealed and there’s lots of both fighting and lengthy, verbose debates between opposing political sides.

Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone remain the only all-female creative team to have worked on a mainline Transformers comic, and while Scott’s work on Till All Are One was consistent and focused, with the first Windblade story she has a messy plot to try and make sense of and a chronic lack of panel real estate to tell it in.

From surviving a bomb attack to searching the depths of Metroplex’s body for answers, Windblade can’t stop an incessant internal monologue that crams almost every panel with some aside or thought from the geisha-inspired cityspeaker. It becomes exhausting trying to keep track of what’s going on with so much information filling each page, and while the relationship between Windblade and Chromia is strongly-written, more and more characters are piled into the story with increasingly little to help tell them apart.

A decent role for fan favourite loser Waspinator aside, ‘bots drop in and out of the action without allowing the story room to introduce them, leading to that unfortunate issue of the more over-stuffed IDW comics where one is forced to visit TFWiki every other page to identify who that white and blue dude with the two dragon heads is.

Stone’s artwork leans heavily into a kid-friendly, soft lines and bright colours approach that makes these issues fit neatly alongside what was going on in the associated  cartoons and toylines at the time, although it also brings up the ongoing question of who these comics are actually for. Older fans who like layered plots with a huge cast of complex characters, or younger audiences who like lasers and explosions? The answer is both, but the visual style has to match the subject matter and it feels somewhat misplaced here.

The story finishes with the reveal Starscream – for once – was not behind the plot, rather it was Chromia, trying to gently push Windblade into returning home to Caminus and away from the chaos on Cybertron. It’s not a particularly solid twist because it doesn’t feel very logical based on what we know of the duo thus far, but Windblade’s subsequent deal with Starscream is a lovely turn that makes up for it. She offers him the means to reunite Cybertron’s lost colonies and paint himself as a hero, showing the kind of nuanced political undertones the IDW comics do so well.

This brings us to Volume Two, and this unfortunately if where things get derailed by Crossover Syndrome, that modern era killer of storyline continuity. It’s essentially an excuse to bring the gestalt Combiners into the IDW universe, with gradually more convoluted setups bringing Menasor, Superion and Devastator to blows for your entertainment.

In the middle of all this, Windblade starts setting up a cross-colony government between Cybertron and Caminus in a plot thread that the subsequent series Till All Are One ran with more successfully. Optimus shows his Matrix to the ultra-religious Caminus council (not a euphamism) which leads to the fawning over his Primeness no matter how uncomfortable it makes him (possibly a euphamism).

We then jump an instalment of Combiner Wars as the next Windblade issue is Part 3 of the crossover, with the next issue jumping to Part 5. It also leads to some jarring visual changes as we swap artists four times in as many issues (including one particularly infuriating ‘orange and blue’ saturated instalment), with no explanation given as to the missing parts of the story. Suddenly Prowl is the central part of Devastator and then Optimus Prime is a gestalt and Starscream can zap people with magic energy bolts and WHAT IS HAPPENING?

Admittedly, there is fun from watching the various Combiners kick lumps out of each other in a Pacific Rim kinda way, especially as the gestalt side effect of lower intelligence finds the towering ‘bots grunting fewer and fewer syllables mid-punching. And Prowl gets beaten up a lot, which is always great because IDW Prowl is the worst.

In the midst of all this is the ongoing story of the Caminians and Cybtertronians attempting to integrate one another around the Council of Worlds, which is an interesting character study as differing opinions and views both political and religious smush together and try to find a middle ground. The last three episodes of the series are also free from Combiner Wars and quickly settle back down into the more consistent quality that carried over into Till All Are One.

It does unfortunately mean a return to Windblade’s persistent inner monologuing, and while Corin Howell stays on artwork duty, the overtly cartoony style and sense of disconnect caused by the jumpy crossover issues stops things from feeling back to normal. We get the wonderful concept of the colony Velocitron, where everything is decided by racing, which is a genius idea that sadly remains stuck in second gear due to the title’s rapidly-approaching finale. Even a late appearance by the cast of Beast Wars can’t save this one – what should be an entertaining run of the odd couple of Windblade and Starscream trying to win over new colonies ends just as it gets started.

Windblade is a great character – a diplomat with a curious mind and an open heart to those who need it – and while it takes the majority of this collection for Scott to really get the character screwed down, she remains a worthy addition to the modern Transformers universe. This collection, however, is a less effective dry run than the similar Drift: Origins & Empires was. The first volume needed another couple of issues to stop its story from feeling so compressed, and the second has all its momentum killed by Crossoveritis.

You could happily skip this, start with Till All Are One and not miss a great deal that ten minutes browsing TFWiki couldn’t catch you up on.

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