Transformers: The IDW Collection Phase 2, Volume 7 – Comic Review

MEGATRON assumes control of the quest to find the Knights of Cybertron—a quest that has never before been so urgent, so personal, and so likely to end in tears. But the crew of the Lost Light isn’t so eager to follow his orders and, as is always the case, past decisions will come back to haunt them. Plus, The AUTOBOTS return to Earth—with OPTIMUS PRIME in command! But what is bringing them back—and what terrifying secret do the humans hold? And GALVATRON is on Earth as well, with a plan to reshape it as he once did with Cybertron. A bold new era begins here! Collects issues #28–34 of More Than Meets The Eye and #28–34 of Robots In Disguise.

Written by John Barber and James Roberts

Art by: Alex Milne, Andrew Griffith, Guido Guidi, Brendan Cahill, Casey Coller, Atilio Rojo, Sarah Stone and Livio Ramondelli

Pages: 340

If you’re new to the dizzyingly expanded universe of IDW Publishing’s Transformers franchise, then the ‘Collection’ volumes serve as a recommended reading order, helping make some sense of the crossovers, plot twists and continuity jumps that can be so confusing.

Collecting eight issues each of Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets The Eye, this seventh volume picks up several months after the defeat of Shockwave in the fabulous Dark Cybertron event. It’s very much an attempt to restore status quo and allow the two series the room they need to reboot and start on some fresh storylines, free from the weight of Shockwave’s master plan and all the convoluted shenanigans that dragged the various TF series together.

Focusing first on Robots in Disguise, and we still have the Transformers treated as hostile aliens by Earth’s authorities. I mean, there was that whole thing where millions of humans were killed last time round, but you know. Bygones.

This time, it’s the Autobots who find themselves on the wrong end of the law, when a force of Decepticons led by Galvatron (who in IDW is a millennia-old gladiator, not a reconstituted Megatron) successfully dupes the Earth Defense Command into treating the Autobots as hostiles.

Punctuated with flashbacks to the grand trial of Megatron that signalled the end of the Autobot/Decepticon civil war, plus Galvatron’s own induction into the conflict, the ‘bots on Earth are harried into a corner which forces Prowl to take drastic action. Combining with the Constructicons to form Devastator, Prowl starts kicking some shiny metal butt before the panicked EDC drop a ‘mind bomb’, scrambling both sides and allowing them to flee the scene. Prowl is still an idiot in IDW, by the way – aloof, manipulative and arrogant. That will be important later.

Tracking the signal back to a hidden island base, things go a little James Bond as Jazz infiltrates the base and helps set up an Autobot incursion to shut things down. They interrupt Galvatron’s posse, already making their own demands of the humans, while Jazz finds the source of EDC’s reverse-engineered Cybertronian tech – ancient Transformer Alpha Trion.

Prowl hacks into the EDC’s systems and uses their missile defences to destroy a Decepticon satellite base in orbit – their reward for helping detain the Autobots originally – but as the Autobots escape with Alpha Trion in tow, things turn sour between the EDC and Galvatron still on the base. Galvatron atomises the EDC high command, including Generak Witwicky (Spike’s dad, and a senior military figure in IDW), and promptly blames the massacre on the Autobots. Hoo boy.

In amongst all this we have nice asides with reformed Decepticon Seeker Thundercracker, now working on a screenplay and spending time with his dog Buster and human ally Marissa Faireborn. His side of the plot feels secondary to the main action, but he makes one important discovery – an army of drones based on his allies Ramjet and Thrust, built in secret in a base beneath the other hidden base. That’s some next level secret base-ing.

The final two RiD issues are part of the Combiner Wars crossover, following a reactivated Wheeljack adjusting to the new world order on Cybertron. This includes the arrival of the dormant Metroplex and Starscream as elected ruler, and the growing threat of a battle fought with the colossal gestalt Combiners that nobody wants to be in the blast radius of.

Finally, we have Optimus getting a primer (narf) on Cybertronian history from his friend and mentor Alpha Trion as the latter recovers from his imprisonment by the EDC. As well as reminding us how explosively dangerous an angry Galvatron can be, it’s an extended, illustrative setup for the reveal of the Enigma, a powerful Cybertronian artefact fought over by the original Primes, and which Galkvatron is now seeking back on Earth.

John Barber’s script is quick, snappy of dialogue and well-versed in the developing mythology. It’s not as gleefully irreverent as James Roberts’ work on More Than Meets The Eye, but still manages dry humour and self-awareness (Thundercracker’s movie script is a work of genius) amongst the heavy, evolving tale. Andrew Griffith’s bright, colourful artwork is perfect throughout – just the right blend of 80s nostalgia and contemporary detail to not end up too beholden to either.

Art across the various flashbacks is taken care of by Guido Guidi and Brendan Cahill, with mixed results – I’ve said before how Guidi’s narrow frames and dark, minimal art style work against each other in terms of clarity, and it’s the same situation here. It helps Ancient Cybertron have its own gloomy, Dark Ages atmosphere but blasts itself in the foot with letterboxed frames that massively restrict our ability to appreciate whats going on.

Overall, however, this volume brings together a self-contained story and plenty of lore-building flashbacks to great effect. More Than Meets The Eye‘s eight issues are next up, and it’s shakeups aplenty on board the Lost Light, the universe’s most eccentric spaceship.

Megatron is now co-captain of the ship following his trial and sensational adoption of the Autobot insignia, but the crew have understandably mixed feelings about this. None more so than Whirl, who gets into a fistfight with Megatron before the ship encounters an object floating in space – a coffin, containing the body of their other captain Rodimus. Only thing is, Rodimus is still alive and well…

This, along with sections of the ship disappearing as if deleted from existence, gives the crew plenty to deal with while events are peppered with flashbacks to Megatron’s trial six months earlier. The crew determine the body in the coffin is a future version of Rodimus, but they’re forced to abandon ship as the Lost Light vanishes altogether before their very optics.

Scientist Nautica thinks the quantum nature of the ship’s engines led to its disappearance, before’bots start disappearing from within the escape pods too. Investigator Nightbeat is on the case but all his theories prove fruitless, and as numbers dwindle the crew get another shock – a second Lost Light, now just shattered wreckage floating in space!

Exploring the devastated craft, the crew make a grim discovery – bodies of their doppelgangers, all slain in some cataclysmic fight on board. As they pick through the remains, the identify the culprits as the Decepticon Justice Division, a vicious cadre of assassins who make it their business to eradicate ‘traitors’ to the war effort. There was one survivor, however – Rewind, who had been executed by the DJD on the original ship some weeks earlier.

Rewind recounts the tragic fate of the crew as Nautica finally figures out what’s happened – at launch, the Lost Light’s engines created a duplicate version of the ship that has been off on its own adventure until it encountered the DJD. The disappearance of the original Lost Light is down to its proximity to this twin, and if they can shut down the dangerously unstable engines of the duplicate Lost Light, their own ship should be restored.

Don’t think about this too hard, by the way. The script certainly has enough fun poking holes at its own highly theoretical logic.

Nautica’s plan works and everything is reset, along with the reveal that Autobot science nerd Brainstorm has in fact been a Decepticon double agent all along. We jump from there to a flashback covering Megatron’s early life as a dilligent, politicised construction worker working on his manifesto, only to fall foul of devious surgeon Trepan and psychologist Froid. No-Prize to the first reader who gets the references there.

Trepan permanently alters Megatron’s brain core, planning on deleting his anarchic thoughts as part of an ongoing mission to wipe out dissent amongst the worker class, but an explosion in the mines allows Megatron to escape. These events go on to play a critical role in Megatron’s trial, but that’s a plot saved for the next volume – bookended by Brainstorm materialising in the mines, having travelled back in time to pursue a quest of his own.

Intercut with the flashback is a gruesome tale which sees Autobot medic First Aid and his team accidentally revive two members of the DJD, who murder one of the ‘bots before escaping, ready to continue their mission. And that’s bad news for everybody.

It’s not hard to see that MTMTE crams a lot more plot into its eight issues than Robots in Disguise – quantum theory, alternate universes, betrayals, deaths, resurrections – all set around the framework of a dysfunctional family of personalities stuck together in deep space.

James Roberts’ writing is always impeccable – the labyrinthine plotting, offbeat humour and brilliantly realised characters alongside consistently great artwork by Alex Milne and Atilio Rojo makes MTMTE one of the best things happening in Transformers comics, past and present. You always know exactly who everyone is, and their appearances are built around their personalities to make every member of the ensemble recognisable. Few comics could get away with in-jokes about colour-coding lasers to better identify good guys and bad guys, or sell a better romance than Chromedome and Rewind – not even literal death kept these two apart.

You won’t find many of the big name, recognisable characters here – those guys tend to stay within Robots in Disguise at this point in the IDW timeline – but if you want engaging, lovable characters and plots that reward the effort you put in to keeping up with them, you’ll never be disappointed. The Smackdown Live to RiD‘s Raw, if you will.

So a final score? The RiD comics are fun enough and tell a neat story, but for sheer inventiveness and excitement, MTMTE is what makes this worth getting.

Transformers: The IDW Collection Phase 2, Vol. 7 is now available to buy from IDW Publishing.

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