Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: Dreamwave Transformers Comic #2

Took a break from scraping tar and linolium off an old wood floor this afternoon to swing out to Model Zone on the west side of Milwaukee, where I picked up DW's Transformers #2 (they were sold out of #1... guess I'll have to wait till the third printing hits stands.) I chose the Decepticon cover, since only one of my first-year faves (Prowl) was on the Autobot cover, and the 'con jets look slick. Hey... didn't comic book covers used to have something to do with the actual contents of the aforementioned comic? Like, plot-wise, that is? Maybe that tells us something about the priorities for this book's production.

Non-spoilerish stuff first:

It's been a LONG time since I bought much of anything TF-related that wasn't an actual toy. The last Transformers comic I bought brand new off the newstands was Generation 2: #12, way back in the summer of 1994 -- that's eight years ago!! Back then it looked like TFs were gone for good... who could have guessed the truth?

First impressions: this thing is damn slick. The artwork jumps out the most. Regardless of whether you love or hate the style, the quality of the art is several orders of magnitude above that of the Marvel comics, even at their best. The rendering is what really makes it. Every frame is lovingly colored and shadowed; the print quality is beautiful, and there's none of the sloppy mistakes and shortcuts that typified the older series. Computer touchups are used liberally, such as the falling snow and perhaps the glowing lightstick held by one of the humans. I'm not sure if I like it or not; it does give a stylistic cohesiveness to the whole package, however. The style of the characters themselves is not my absolute favorite thing, but it works well enough, and is a good update/reformatting of the 1980s designs.

The book is a fan's dream. Not only do you get the basic story, but there's bonus art like the RiD centerpage poster, another weird GI Joe/TFs crossover poster, the inside front cover and 'next month' page, and ads sprinkled throughout for more Transformers stuff, including the upcoming Armada comic, a very sweet looking Predaking poster, and next month's poster of Soundwave and company. I'm cheesed that they included Slugfest and Overkill -- Sluggy look the best of any of the characters on the poster -- but where are Beastbox and Squawktalk?? But at any rate -- you get a LOT of stuff with this thing. While I personally am not too enthused by Pat Lee's incoherent group shots, which consist of characters piled one on top of the next with no sense of spacial order or interaction among them*, it's really the thought that counts here. Kudos to DW for givin' the fans what they're cryin' for. Professionally, the G1 characters have never been treated with this much artistic respect and care, bar perhaps the animation of the BW ep "The Agenda".

* Pictures like the Soundwave one also make me wonder.. what the HELL are the characters *doing*??? Soundwave is reaching for something, but he'll never actually get it because he'll trip over Rumble (FIRRIB, you fools. FIRRIB.) as soon as he takes a step forwards. The Joe poster is worse -- whoever's behind the "camera" is about to get shot by Destro and waylaid by Serpentor, yet Storm Shadow doesn't seem to care that such a menacing threat is about two feet away from him. The Dreadnoks, meanwhile, don't seem to care about much of anything going on around them, including the fact that Megatron and Soundwave are about to trample the whole lot of them. I just don't go for group shots that are collections of kewl poses.... can't they show the characters actually doing something more believable than mugging for the camera?

On to the story. SPOILERS HO!!!

Honestly, storyline is the big weak point of the issue. It uses its 23 pages to accomplish rather little plot-wise, going instead for a sense of suspense and drama. Unfortunately, the nature of a comic book simply doesn't lend itself well to that sort of storytelling, at least for me. My eye tends to skip very rapidly past textless frames, as well as absorbing the page as a whole as soon as I see it. Hence, Spike putting the bit of Matrix into Prime is not a slow, reverential scene as I read it, but something that happens almost in the blink of an eye. The previous page, with Spike's thoughts interspersed with the shots of Prime's chest opening, work far more effectively for me -- but still not the way the creators likely intended.

The only plot advancement is as follows: Prime is brought back to life; Lazarus uses the TFs to trash an oil refinery; Megatron reveals his liberation and kills a bunch of dumb humans; Prime brings some Autobots back to life. Okay, Prime et al. coming back to life is a big development, but really, as drama and character development go, it's not very *interesting*. I get a nervous feeling that most of the story will revolve around basic plot points. Compare that to the G1 series... stunted and stilted as it was, by this point in the story we already had a feel for Prowl, Bumblebee, Brawn, Starscream, Optimus, Megatron, Ravage... heck, we haven't even gotten *names* for most of the TFs that have been shown in Dreamwave.

A good 1.5 pages is wasted "establishing" two human characters who are presumbably killed a few seconds later by the rampaging Transformers; 3 or 4 more go to the actual rampaging. 5 more for KEWL reactivations of fallen Autobots (ye gods, they aren't going to keep drawing Mirage's face like that, are they?! No complaints about the others, aside from Sunstreaker's apparent lack of a mouth. Wheeljack in particular looks great. And yay! Trailbreaker! This issue alone almost doubles the number of times he's appeared in US comics. :] Virtually no space is devoted to character development -- the TFs (well, Prime and Megs) are simply big machines that can talk. Even then, they don't really capture any previous incarnations of the characters, cartoon or comic. "Welcome back, *boys*"??? No Prime I've ever met would refer to his troops as "boys" -- he's simply too aloof and formal a leader for that. Maybe I'm picking at nits here, but with so little dialogue from the TFs themselves, it's hard not to notice when something's askew with what is there.

Likewise, Megs's line about "It's time for some fun" simply doesn't seem grandiose enough a thing for him to say -- which is a shame, since his speech to Lazarus is the issue's finest moment of drama by far. It's almost inexplicable, then, how little reaction is shown by Lazzy himself -- no mistake, in that instant, everything he's worked for for the last... who knows how long..... is shot straight down the tubes, and his life is irretrievably over, and there's no way he doesn't know that instantly. Yet the look on his face... that's the look you give when your secretary says the caterers will be half an hour late... not when your life's work has just announced that it's going to grind you to jelly under its heel. Still, I love Meggy's line about human arrogance vs. stupidity -- THAT is something Megs would say.

It'd be nice to see a differentiated speech bubble for the Transformers. It would make the speaker clear more quickly when they're speaking from off-panel, as they so often do, especially mixed in with human dialogue; it'd also carry on a nice tradition that dates back to the earliest TF comics (the square speech bubbles went away briefly in the US G1 series -- from issues #5-9, IIRC -- but they soon returned, and I'd wager it's because people wrote in saying they were missed.)

Oh, and where the heck did they get this Spike?? He bears no resemblance to his doppelgangers from the comics or cartoons. He looks kinda dorky -- maybe it's the overalls. Yeah, definately the overalls. Get this kid a yellow hardhat. Spike's angst and anger over his father's death is about the only glimmer of real character we get from the whole issue.

The Matrix is used twice as a magic cure-all for bringing TFs back to life. I can't blame Dreamwave for this one, since that's exactly how Furman wrote it throughout his US and UK run... but I never liked it much then, either. Ah well. If I'm going to chastise for deviating from precedent, I can't complain when they stick to it. :] But still -- doesn't anyone remember a guy named Ratchet, who had to work and slave for days and weeks patching up his buddies every time one them got shot up? What's the consequence of a war if anyone can be instantly revived by a glowing blue disco ball? Oh well. You want Matrix, you got Matrix. Yippe-ie-oh.

Oh, yeah, before I forget: continuity. We'll call it cartoon universe, post-Season 2, pre-Movie.... till proven otherwise, at which point it just becomes some random thing floating out there on its own. The end. I don't feel like arguing it any further than that.

Overall: well, the pretty pictures alone make it worth the cost of admission. Sadly, my hopes aren't raised much beyond that. I somehow doubt that this will be the Transformers event that lifts Trailbreaker out of obscurity and establishes Bumblebee as a tragic figure caught between the human and robotic worlds and delves deep into the nature of Seaspray's inner spirit. There will probably be big explosions, though.

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