Please pardon me while I get a little political and a little sentimental. We cool?
If you can get past the fact that Transformers #31 is a book about giant robots — with all of the weirdness that can entail — it’s actually a surprisingly moving, ponderous comic about the nature of life itself. I’ve long struggled to justify why it is that I, as a 27-year-old man, like Transformers as much as I do. This book has me thinking that maybe there’s some meaning to be found at the core of the Transformers concept… that maybe their changing by design is a model that we should all strive to adapt.
Or maybe I’m crazy. Either way, Transformers #31 takes place in the far future, well after the conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons has ended. In fact, it happens to be Remembrance Day, when all Autobots gather to pay respect to the memory of Optimus Prime who, we can assume, helped bring about this golden age which his race now enjoys. We learn that Autobot warrior Ironhide is now presumably the last surviving Transformer from the Great War, and as such he’s called upon to give a speech about his experience fighting for prosperity. As it happens, though, Ironhide doesn’t really want to; he’s tired of living in the past and feels it’s time for his people to move on without him.
If this seems like pretty somber, heady material for a Transformers comic, it is. The series has just come off a five-month crossover entitled “Chaos” meant to shake up the Transformers universe; before we get to deal with the fallout, writer Mike Costa and artist Casey Coller bring us this long-term epilogue. It gets off to kind of a rocky start; the first few pages are jarring not only because of the humongous unannounced time-jump but because we’re asked to buy the concept of basically children robots, who beg their ancestor Alpha Trion to tell them stories about the Great War. There haven’t been many stories about just how the aging process works on Cybertron, with good reason; these “kids” are written as though they’re maybe ten years old but are drawn just the same as pretty much every other Transformer. To be sure, I don’t fault Coller for that, but it’s a really strange, disorienting scene. Perhaps Costa might have found a better story mechanism than lil’ transforming scamps to introduce Remembrance Day, because that segment is just too strained to buy.
But after that little hiccup, this issue heads off into reflective territory I didn’t expect. Actually, Costa seems to have anticipated my objections as a reader. “Do we really need an issue where a bunch of Transformers memorialize their past,” I wondered? “Don’t we soak up enough of that jingoistic, vaguely slavish mentality in our own lives?” As it turns out, Ironhide agrees with me. He doesn’t see the point in his people paying him homage year after year. In fact, he eloquently states:
“You. This. This is everything we were hoping for then. And I’m glad it’s here. And you don’t need me bringin’ it down…. These are the great years. All of this. How do they not see that?”
Ironhide’s getting at something I find myself thinking all the time. To put it bluntly: things are better now. Why do people mourn a bygone era when that era was kind of awful? Surely we have the potential to lead significantly fuller lives than our parents did, and they better than their parents before them, etcetera. It’s a straight-up fallacy to think otherwise.
Of course Alpha Trion responds to Ironhide the way many would respond to me. “I think, my friend, that your stories help with that. Give them perspective (on how things are now).” Ironhide thoughtfully counters with “It was all just a lotta stupidity and heartache, and I’m glad my story’s done.” And then Alpha Trion gets to impart some real wisdom of his own:
“The story never ends, Ironhide. It just changes into something else. It’s because we remember our past that we are able to build our future. Everything always changes into something else.”
Not only does Alpha Trion successfully counter Ironhide’s attitude, but he speaks something that is absolutely true and also gets at the heart of the Transformers concept. Everything is always changing. Take stock of your life — what elements are the same now as it was five years ago, one year ago, even last week? I think this is the fundamental flaw of most conservatives’ philosophy. Why would you try to hold on to the past so tightly? You’ll fail, and you’ll miss all the wonderful things going on in the present. Nothing ever stays the same. Everything changes. It’s very clever of Costa to deliver this message using characters called Transformers. In a way, Alpha Trion is a paragon for us all. His final speech is presaged early on in the awkward “kid robot” sequence, which also serves to connect Transformers as characters with larger concepts of constant flux:
“How come you don’t look that old, Alpha Trion?” “It’s because I don’t stay the same for too long. When new things start happening — or when I just don’t like the old things anymore — I change.” “Like an alt-mode?” “A lot like that, yes.”
Anyway, as a springboard for ideas about the nature of existence, this issue excels. As a memorial for the last 125 issues of IDW’s Transformers comics it likewise succeeds. Coller visually represents Ironhide’s remembrances with full-page splashes commemorating landmarks in IDW’s catalog: “Infiltration”, “Spotlight:Shockwave”, Stormbringer, All Hail Megatron and more. While these pages do eat away at the amount of story we actually get (there are seven in all, a full third of the comic), I don’t feel all that cheated, mostly because the remaining pages are heavy in content quality if not quantity. Also, it’s not like Coller is doing any less work than he otherwise would; these splashes are highly detailed and a lot of fun to look at. It’s cool to see how these characters’ designs evolved over their time at IDW, and I think it helps give this issue the commemorative feeling it wants.
So, yeah, I really liked Transformers #31. Maybe there aren’t many readers who would consider 22 pages of thoughtful reflection about the existence of mutable-by-design life-forms all that interesting, but I’m definitely one of them. I don’t know how I feel about IDW “relaunching” their Transformers books next month, but at least we got an appropriate send-off for this current series. Thanks for a great run, Mike Costa.
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