Comics

Transformers: The Wreckers Saga – Comic Review

The Wreckers are the A-Team of IDW’s Transformers continuity. With a history stretching right back to the Generation 1 days (post The Movie and exclusively in the UK Marvel Comics), they’ve long been the Autobot equivalent of a black ops squad. Thrown into no-win situations to turn the tide of desperate situations, or get their hands dirty so others can keep theirs clean.

Not surprisingly, this has made them firm fan-favourites over the years, with a glittering roster of beloved ‘bots including Springer, Inferno, Whirl (everybody’s favourite psychopath) and the twins of Topspin and Twin Twist, AKA those weird ‘pull back and go’ toys you were always watching go screaming off into moving traffic from the safety of your driveway.

Collecting the epic Last Stand of the Wreckers, the less-epic Sins of the Wreckers and the disappointing Requiem of the Wreckers, words and art are handled largely by Nick Roche, a lifelong fan and much-loved by the community for his bold, simple and colourful work, offbeat sense of humour and love of inserting obscure characters into key roles within his narratives. It’s no surprise that Lost Light creator James Roberts worked on the script for Last Stand with him, as their two styles flow together perfectly.

Last Stand concerns a perilous mission for the Wreckers to investigate a mysterious situation on the prison world of Garrus-9, ostensibly a rehabilitation facility for Autobot and Decepticon criminals that fell to a Decepticon force several years ago. Using the old trope of ‘first day on the job’ to re-introduce the team, we follow newcomers Ironfist, Guzzle, Rotorstorm and Pyro as they’re inducted into the Wreckers. Their starry-eyed fanboy crushes bounce off world-weary leader Springer, who’s seen far too many eager comrades blasted to slag by now – one of many parallels the Wreckers titles make with the traumatising effects of modern warfare.

Little do they know the Decepticon assault was led by infamous sociopath Overlord, who has claimed Garrus-9 as his own personal hunting ground, aiming to provoke Megatron into facing him in battle through his flagrant disobedience. Overlord’s villainous nature is pushed to the max here – he’s an articulate sadist, gleefully shooting Autobots and Decepticons alike as his whims dictate, and he makes a great central antagonist to build the story around. There’s genuine dread here – none of our team could take this guy in a fight, and given the high body count of Wreckers over time, this has all the hallmarks of a Dirty Dozen style massacre.

By utilising a steady feed of information across several time periods, we learn more about the atrocities on the base alongside the developing relationships between the new iteration of the Wreckers. This also includes feisty human sidekick Verity Carlo, one of those ‘for the kids’ characters who Mary Sues her way belligerently into the plot. My usual argument is if a character could be removed from the story without affecting it, they should probably go, but that’s why they don’t let me write these things.

The crew encounter former Wreckers’ leader Impactor drifting in space, who fills them in on the unrest within the prison population, as well as valuable intel on how to get in and free the remaining captive Autobots. Unfortunately, their attempted landing quickly becomes a crash landing, separating the team and leaving several ‘bots in Overlord’s clutches.

As Overlord tortures his captives and the others bicker under the stress of a visceral, intense battle, we start getting hints of their true objective – Aequitas, a Cybertronian supercomputer of unknown purpose. The story starts dropping lots of deep, dark reveals at this point – Springer’s guilt over testifying against Impactor, and a rashomon-styled tale of Impactor’s vendetta against Squadron X (the Decepticon equivalent of the Wreckers) – before the crew download the contents of Aequitas and get ready to blast their way out.

Confronted by Overlord, we’re treated to a gloriously hellish firefight which leaves several Wreckers in pieces, before Overlord is eventually reduced to a flaming endoskeleton (imagine the T-800 rising from the flames of the tanker crash in The Terminator) and left a broken mess amidst the ruins of his former empire. The surviving Wreckers leave with the Aequitas information intact, Impactor having redeemed his past sins by leaving Overlord to stand trial rather than execute him.

The story saves its final twist for last as Prowl and Ultra Magnus discuss the mission post-debrief. Aequitas contains details of all crimes committed by Autobots and Decepticons during the Great War, and Prowl feared it would cripple the war effort if this information leaked. Prowl, lest we forget, is a Machiavellian bastard of the highest order in IDW continuity, and his actions are entirely in character – sacrifice as many as necessary for the ‘greater good’, which is whatever he decides it is today.

It’s not hard to see why Last Stand is considered one of the high points of the entire IDW library – a dark, intense action story about impossible odds and even harder choices, unflinching in its portrayal of the dark side of warfare and chock full of open messages about the effects of warfare on the psyche.

Moving from that to Sins of the Wreckers, and Nick Roche is now flying solo for this sequel series, set some time in terms of IDW continuity after Last Stand. The sudden disappearance of Prowl drives the current incarnation of the Wreckers to action, which comes as sweet relief to those members bored by the peace that followed the end of the Great War. When Arcee learns that Prowl was being blackmailed by the hacked-off Verity, they find a message from the Autobot asking that Springer be revived from his coma (following his whupping at the hands of Overlord) to come rescue him.

This is where things start to get trippy, as we find Prowl first in a psychotropic maze and then a literal web, held captive by the mad scientist Mesothulas who threatens Prowl with further blackmail over his over-stuffed closet full of skeletons. Meanwhile, the Wreckers track Verity to Alaska only to be ambushed by a posse of bio-engineered Transformers in various animal guises. This is about where the story starts to chug like an overheating PC – dense panels crammed with dialogue and frantic action shoved roughly into panels half a size too small to accommodate the scale of the conflict.

Compared to the lean, effective use of space in Last Stand, it becomes clear that while Nick Roche has a good story to tell, it’s requiring a lot of additional exposition that is taking up valuable real estate on each page. This is balanced by Nick’s merry use of Beast Wars-era designs for Mesothulas’ minions, some harking back to Roche’s own Transformer fanart, and his irreverent humour packing in offbeat wisecracks mid-firefight. He doesn’t handle either of these with the same panache as James Roberts does every issue over on Lost Light, but it does bring us ‘Mayhem’, a group of Cybertronian outliers determined to expose the hypocrisies of the planet’s leaders. Also, Tidal Wave, who is an awesome ‘bot that deserves more screen time.

Unfortunately, the labyrinthine plot becomes harder to unravel as we learn more about the Noisemaze, an ingenious prison dimension designed to use a captive’s own subconscious to torment them to insanity, and of Ostaros, the first (and only) artificially-created Cybertronian lifeform, cooked up by Mesothulas and apparently hidden away by Prowl. Oh, and Mesothulas has reverse-engineered Aequitas to build a guilt-extracting supercomputer that he’s now using to torture his Wrecker prisoners. Keeping up? Good. I certainly wasn’t, resorting to TFWiki recaps to explain the plot better than the walls of text within the comic were able to.

Mesothulas reveals himself at last, now bio-engineered into a new form as Tarantulas, and shows Roadbuster from the Wreckers how a horrifying moment of insanity in his past was in fact Tarantulas literally whispering in his ear, driving the Autobot to ritual sacrifice. These scenes are broken up by fights between the Wreckers and Mayhem spilling into the Noisemaze itself, with things getting supremely freaky in some Jack Kirby-inspired psychedelia.

Roadburster’s gruesome end leads us into the final sequence, with Tarantulas going after Springer as the valiant Wrecker plants charges to destroy Tarantulas’ base and laboratory. The rest of the gang outside trick Mayhem into destroying the Noisemaze, and a final face-off between Tarantulas and Springer hints at another secret before the base is destroyed. Wrecker Guzzle, once everyone is clear, tries to execute Prowl and Kup for a wartime atrocity he blames them both for, forcing Impactor to kill him. It’s another dark moment but its suddenness is quickly overlooked, which is a shame because it needed a few more beats to play out fully.

In keeping with the breakneck pace of plot movement, we wrap things up with a ‘and here’s what happened next…’ recap from Prowl, covering more events off-page (i.e. Springer’s rescue) and Impactor joining Mayhem, having fallen in line with their mission statement. Springer and Verity hide out in Alaska, hoping they can escape the madness following them around a little while longer, but unbeknown to all Tarantulas has survived to scheme another day.

‘Messy’ is the best word to describe Sins. There’s a good story in there, lots of fan service, a ton of great moments, plot bombs and other turns, but it needed a sixth issue to help spread some of this out and let key beats breathe a lot better. The humour and frequent nods to deep Transformers lore gets it a bonus nerd point, but the story bottlenecks severely more than a few times, which lets down the finished product.

For a final wrap-up – Last Stand is a classic, Sins is enthusiastic but can’t match the heights of its predecessor, and Requiem is too bogged down in concluding the overarching story to stand on its own.

Transformers: The Wreckers Saga is now available from IDW Publishing.

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