When it comes to licensed properties, striking a balance between telling satisfying stories and staying true to the source material becomes a challenge. That’s doubly true when the licensed property in question was originally designed for children decades ago. Now its fans have all grown up, and they want something that appeals to their adult sensibilities while reminding them of a childhood favorite. Couple that with some of the most passionate, most proudly vocal fans on the planet, and it becomes apparent the writers and artists who bring us books like Transformers, G.I. Joe and Ghostbusters every month have a really tough job.
Luckily for fans of the property, monthly Transformers writer Mike Costa has found a rich vein to mine and stuck with it for 17 issues and counting. His series mashes together elements of the science-fiction bent already inherent in Transformers with some beats taken from real-world political thrillers. All the while, he’s dedicated pages to developing characters that haven’t gotten much attention before in the broad Transformers universe, and has kept the book from getting so self-serious that it’s weighed down by melodrama (a key problem of the last run of the similarly nostalgia-fueld Masters of the Universe comics that made them nigh-unreadable).
Take Transformers #17, out today. This issue drops us in on a number of plots, all connected but all with their unique features. First, after a year-long occupation of Earth by Decepticon forces, most human beings are understandably freaked out by the appearance of any giant robots. Imagine their dismay when they learn that the US government is not only harboring but working with Autobot agents. The Autobots desire to foster peace by helping world leaders clean up the mess left by their enemies, but things get a little more complicated when guns made out of the former body of Megatron start showing up in human troublemakers’ hands. In the midst of a public relations nightmare that might force the Autobots to leave their new home, some straggling Decepticon units begin to mount organized counterassaults on their enemies. With all that going on, the worst news possible hits: Megatron’s not really dead, and in fact he’s come back to Earth. This time, though, he doesn’t want revenge on the Autobots; his new aim is to bring chaos to the humans who denied his reign.
If Costa had opted to just focus on the classic Autobot/Decepticon battle that drives most Transformers stories, his book still would’ve been readable and fun. By adding a human element, though, he achieves something really special. Transformers incorporates real-world elements in a way that feels completely organic. Let’s imagine for a second that giant sentient robots were hiding out on US soil: of course regular citizens would freak out. Let’s further imagine that evil robots wanted to sow discontent among the human population. What better way than to arm malcontent humans with science-fiction weaponry and tell them to shoot at stuff in public? I have to believe that if, somehow, the world of Transformers really did exist, things would play out a lot like this.
Transformers has a couple talented artists in its stable. This month, Alex Milne steps up to the plate. He’s one of my favorites on the book. Generally, the series’ visuals try to marry Michael Bay-esque realistic machinery to the classic aesthetic of the 1980s characters, with mixed results. However, I feel Milne has a strong grasp on that combination. You can look at a character like Jazz, for instance, and know who it is, but also appreciate a design more in keeping with the technology of 2011.
Transformers #17 is full of intense action, and it contains a couple really shocking plot twists. One of the joys of this series as a whole is that the status quo can and does change often. This issue may or may not feature the murder of a fan-favorite character in a totally bad-ass moment. More importantly, Costa sets up a hell of a cliffhanger; I literally can’t figure out how the Autobots are going to get out of the situation the last page of the book finds them in, barring any comic-book trickery.
It’s possible, perhaps, that I’m lenient on Transformers because I’ve been a fan of the property since I was three years old. However, I’d be the first to tell you that outside of a couple choice cartoon series (mostly Beast Wars), the Transformers universe never really had a story it could totally stand behind. IDW started to change that with All Hail Megatron, and now Mike Costa, Alex Milne and the rest keep up that work monthly. If you were ever a fan of the property, I recommend picking up an issue now. You might be surprised at how enjoyable it really is.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more