Tag: Transformers

IDW's Transformers, Phase Two

Yesterday I talked about IDW's Transformers comics (which are on sale on Comixology through tomorrow, November 30). I mentioned a few favorites from their first few years (Phase One), but also noted that the series didn't really get good until Phase Two.

Phase Two kicks off with two series: More than Meets the Eye, by James Roberts and Alex Milne, and Robots in Disguise, by John Barber and Andrew Griffith (with various other artists involved in both series over the course of their runs).

There was also a trilogy of prequel miniseries, called Autocracy, Monstrosity, and Primacy, available as the Autocracy Trilogy (written by Chris Metzen and Flint Dille, with gorgeous painted art by Livio Ramondelli). I've only read Autocracy, which concerns the beginning of the war and Orion Pax's ascension as Optimus Prime. I really liked the art, but the story felt a little disjointed; it was released digital-first, with 8-page issues, and those short chapters really affect the pacing.

But back to the two main series: As our story begins, the five-million-year war between the Autobots and Decepticons has been finally, decisively won, by the Autobots. More than Meets the Eye tells the story of a group of Cybertronians led by Rodimus who set off in a ship called the Lost Light, nominally in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron, but mostly they just get into trouble along the way. Robots in Disguise is a political drama, about Bumblebee's attempts to serve as leader on a resurgent but factionalized Cybertron, where an uneasy peace exists among Autobots, Decepticons, and so-called NAILs, Cybertronians who did not join either faction but are returning to their home planet now that the war is over.

Chris Sims wrote a great series of reviews at Comics Alliance, called The Transformed Man, where he followed both series for most of their run. It's worth a read, whether you want to read it as a companion piece as you read the series yourself, or want some reviews from a Transformers skeptic to see if these are the kind of books you'd be into. Sims is funny and insightful, and, for all his talk about being a Transformers neophyte, his tastes align pretty closely with mine as a longtime fan.

I plan on talking about these comics in more detail later on, but my take is this: read More than Meets the Eye all the way through, and then keep reading as it continues under the title Lost Light (with new artist Jack Lawrence). It's seriously one of my favorite comics of the last few years, and my favorite Transformers series ever, in any medium.

Robots in Disguise, meanwhile? My recommendation is to read up through the City on Fire arc (vol 4) and stop there. After that, volume 5 is mostly table-setting, and then both series cross over in an arc called Dark Cybertron. I haven't read Dark Cybertron, because it wasn't in the Humble Bundle I got most of these comics in, and because I hate crossovers (though I just bought it in the current Comixology sale, so I guess I'll be reading it shortly). Some important stuff happens that leads into "season 2" of More than Meets the Eye (beginning in MtMtE vol 6), but even if you don't read it, it doesn't take long to pick up what you missed. (I plan on getting into spoilers in a future post, but for now I'll leave it at that. Even though one of those spoilers is right there on the cover of MtMtE vol 6.)

After that, Robots in Disguise moves off Cybertron and on to Earth, and it loses my interest fast. There is some great stuff in there -- a highlight is Thundercracker enthusiastically writing screenplays and not realizing that they are terrible, and issue #48 is narrated by a dog and is amazing -- but in a lot of ways it's a continuation of the earlier, more boring Phase One comics that I didn't like that much. Your mileage may vary.

The Cybertron storyline, however, continues in two Windblade miniseries, and then the Till All Are One series, by Mairghread Scott, Sara Pitre-Durocher, and a few other artists. These series ably continue the story of political intrigue that Barber and Griffith started, and expand the scope by introducing other planets where Cybertronians have settled, including religious Caminus, militaristic Carcer, and Eukaris, the planet where all the Beast Wars characters live.

Lost Light is still ongoing. Till All Are One, sadly, has been cancelled, and its story will wrap up in Till All Are One Annual 2017, which is due out on December 20.

So there's my brief run-through of what IDW Transformers comics I like. In future posts, I hope to spend more time delving into why I like them, how Roberts and Milne have turned Megatron into my favorite character, and why it's a damn shame to see Till All Are One go and I hope that it's not the last we see of Cybertronian political intrigue.

IDW's Transformers, Phase One

I'm a longtime Transformers fan. And over the past year or so, IDW's Transformers comics -- most specifically, the More than Meets the Eye and Lost Light series -- have surpassed Beast Wars as my all-time favorite Transformers series.

But it wasn't always thus. The first few years of Transformers at IDW -- now referred to retroactively as "Phase One" -- mostly just aren't that good.

The main series, spread across miniseries called Infiltration, Escalation, and Devastation (written by Simon Furman and drawn by EJ Su), was too slow-paced and human-centric. Another miniseries, Stormbringer (by Furman and Don Figueroa), was an attempt to course-correct and focus the action on giant robots and the planet Cybertron, but made the baffling choice of turning Cybertron into an uninhabitable wasteland; the book was pretty to look at but ultimately forgettable. All Hail Megatron (by Shane McCarthy, Guido Guidi, and various other artists) started out strong, and had some great moments with Megatron and Starscream, but ultimately suffered Third Act Problems and fizzled out near the end.

So don't start with any of those.

No, if there's a Phase One book you should start with, it's Megatron Origin, by Eric Holmes and Alex Milne. Megatron Origin is probably the single most important book in IDW's entire Transformers line, which is perhaps ironic since it was actually conceived as part of the previous Transformers line at Dreamwave.

That may be why the effects of Megatron Origin aren't really apparent through most of Phase One; it plants seeds that pay off later (mixaphorically speaking). But it introduces an element that's key to what I love so much about the IDW comics, and why I think Megatron is the most interesting character in them: it gives him an arc. Megatron starts out as the good guy.

That thread picks up later, in issues #22 and #23 of the 2010-2011 Transformers series (which are also collected in the Chaos Theory trade, along with some other stuff). Milne revisits Megatron's origin story with writer James Roberts, going back even farther than the Megatron Origin miniseries to tell of his first meeting with Orion Pax (later Optimus Prime). Roberts and Milne come back to this story again and again in More than Meets the Eye and Lost Light; it's a crucial moment in Megatron's development, signaling his turn from philosopher to violent revolutionary.

Those are the most important books in Phase One.

I also quite like the first ten issues (collected in the first two volumes) of Transformers: Spotlight, a series of done-in-one stories, each focused on an individual character, written by Simon Furman and drawn by various artists. They're not as crucial to Phase Two continuity as the Megatron stories I've mentioned, but they're well worth reading.

Lastly (for Phase One), there's Last Stand of the Wreckers by Roberts and Nick Roche, which is mainly important for two things: it introduces Overlord, who becomes important later, and it begins to establish Prowl as a scheming, calculating bastard, which becomes his primary depiction from here on in. It's not essential, but it does make for a nice "oh shit" moment if you know who Overlord is when he shows up later.

And oh, hey, all these comics are on sale on Comixology through November 30. (And if you miss this sale, keep an eye out for another one later; IDW has pretty frequent Transformers sales. They show up in Humble Bundles once in awhile, too.)

I'll be back tomorrow to talk about Phase Two.

Sometimes, Cartoons are for Kids.

We've been spoiled.

My generation, I mean.

We grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. A cartoon that was made for kids but which attracted a huge following among adults, won two Emmys, and still holds up twenty years later not only as an intelligent and sophisticated show, but as one of the high water marks in animation, period.

And if you think that spoiled us, well, consider this: by the time I was in college, Dini, Timm, Burnett, et al were still playing in that sandbox, still expanding that universe, with Justice League.

And there were more to follow. Teen Titans, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold -- they all had their detractors, but ultimately they were well-received by adults.

And then there's the Marvel side. Sure, the 1990's X-Men and Spider-Man may have been pretty bad in hindsight, but Spectacular Spider-Man was quite probably the best cartoon Marvel's ever put together, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes may very well rank at #2.

So that's a murderer's row of fantastic cartoons, enjoyable by adults -- so I suppose it's easy to see where some fanboys got to feeling so entitled that they're offended by the very idea of superhero cartoons for kids.

There's an article over at ComicsAlliance about Ultimate Spider-Man being picked up for a second season. For some reason this has made people in the comments section very angry.

It's not just that they don't like the show -- I mean, that's fine. I like it (it's got Agent Phil Coulson as the high school principal, it had a Frog Thor episode, and even a cameo by Doop!), but seriously, it's okay if some people don't!

That's different from being offended at the very idea that the show is written for children and not for you. I mean, dude -- get over yourself; of course it is.

The Beat had an article to that effect recently too: Area man surprised to find Spider-Man cartoon aimed at children. It featured this quote by a gentleman named Jim Mroczkowski, which I think strikes to the heart of the matter:

No, of course Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t float your boat. You aren’t eleven years old.

In other words: no, I’m not enjoying this program about my favorite character by my favorite creative team, but what if this particular children’s show about a colorful superhero was a cartoon on the Disney Channel intended for little kids, as opposed to an epic meant for 37-year-old homeowners?

Now, back during the era of Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and assorted other superhero shows which apparently were mandated by law to include the word "friends" in their titles, this observation would have fallen straight under the heading of "Well no shit." But again -- the Batman: The Animated Series generation is so spoiled it's lost track of that obvious point.

There is another aspect to this: the notion that this has displaced something we loved.

Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, and now we have Ultimate Spider-Man. Ergo, as far as fanboys are concerned, Ultimate Spider-Man is to blame for the cancellation of Spectacular Spider-Man.

Now, that's not actually true. But this is the Internet. Bring up Seiken Densetsu 3 and within five minutes someone will be along to rant about how it was cancelled for the vastly inferior Secret of Evermore. This is not actually true, and has long since been thoroughly discredited, but entitled fanboys don't like letting facts get in the way of simple explanations.

Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled because the rights to animated Spider-Man reverted from Sony back to Marvel. That's the major reason. The bankruptcy of 4Kids Entertainment, the station that aired it, and Disney's purchase of Marvel, likely did not help, but it was first and foremost a rights conflict. Ultimate Spider-Man was made because Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, not the other way around.

Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series*. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.

And this has been the pattern. Teenage Batman in the future? The fanboys cried that that was a terrible idea. Teen Titans? When it was new the fanboys proclaimed that it was far too juvenile; now that there's a followup coming, those same fanboys are declaring that's too juvenile, and why can't it be mature and sophisticated like the old series?

Fanboys hated The Batman -- and admittedly, it took a couple seasons to find its sea legs, but it got pretty good after awhile.

Fanboys hated Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but it turned out to be an absolutely ingenious series, smart, funny, and firmly rooted in the works of Dick Sprang and Jack Kirby.

There's a phrase for this, in Transformers fandom, for people automatically hating a new series entirely because it's different and not because it's actually bad: "TRUKK NOT MUNKY!"

I guess I've drifted somewhat off-point.

My point is twofold:

  1. Don't declare that you hate a show until you have actually seen it;
  2. If you do hate it once you see it, that's okay, but maybe you can stop short of actually being offended that a cartoon featuring your favorite superhero is designed for children.

That's all.

(Now if, on the other hand, an eight-year-old happens to be offended that there are five different monthly Batman comics and every single one of them is written for people over thirty, then yeah, I think that qualifies as a legitimate complaint.)

* Update 2012-06-19: According to Bleeding Cool -- a site itself best taken with a grain of salt --, Marvel has made no such announcement and the site reporting it is run by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man. That said, Jeph Loeb did indicate, in a TV Guide interview, that there is a new Avengers cartoon coming, which grants some credence to the claim.

Why I Love The Walking Dead

Break time again. Figure I may as well balance that "why I hate" I'd been meaning to write with a "why I love" I've been meaning to write.

My new favorite comic of the past year is The Walking Dead.

Actually, issue #1 is free online. Go read it.

Did you read it? Okay. You probably have a pretty good idea why I like it. But let me elaborate: the real reason I like it is that, twenty-four issues later, it's still that good. Things keep happening. From a premise that generally fizzles by the end of an hour-and-a-half movie, we've got a series that's still interesting after over two years.

I think the appeal is that we're looking at a microcosm of life. In this tiny community of characters, we see characters become close and then drift apart, families torn asunder, and a hero forced to keep the group together who finally starts to buckle under the strain. And we see all this happen at breakneck speed -- what we're seeing is life in fast motion, spurred on by the characters' knowledge that they could die at any moment.

It's easily the best zombie story I've ever seen, but the zombies themselves are incidental -- this story could take place on a deserted island, in an Orwellian dystopia, on a hostile planet, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (well, I guess that last one isn't so far off) -- in any setting where a tiny group tries to fight seemingly impossible odds just to survive one day to the next.

My uncle suggested that the draw of zombie stories is people's desire to see a story broken down into us-versus-them tribalism. I think that's a big part of it, but I think it's bigger than that: it's life distilled down to its component parts, people growing and changing and coming together and breaking apart, all sped up by the fear of imminent death.

And that's why The Walking Dead is my favorite comic right now. Some other comics I'm reading:

Transformers. I'm ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, it's nice seeing more G1; on the other, Jesus Christ how many times are we going to have to sit through the origin story?! By my count, there are already 5 different damn Transformers universes (G1 cartoon, Marvel comic, Dreamwave comic, Robots in Disguise, Armada/Energon/Cybertron) in the US -- I'm not even going to get into the various Japanese series that never made it over here -- and a sixth on the way in the upcoming (ugh) Michael Bay movie. Why do we need another one?

Don't get me wrong, the new comic's solid so far, but...why do it like this? Why start from scratch yet again? Why not do something that adds to the universe -- more War Within-era prequels, some stories set in-between G1 and Beast Wars, or even after Beast Machines? (Preferably some post-BM stories that are published by a company that has some sort of distribution besides ordering online and won't get its license revoked after four issues.)

Batman and the Monster-Men. Matt Wagner tells a good, solid year-two story (much better than, oh, say, Year Two), and examines a turning point in Batman's career: thinking he's finally got crime in Gotham on the run, he realizes he's instead created an arms race: he may have taken care of the petty thugs, but now he has mad scientists and supervillains to deal with. Add the fact that this is adapted from an original 1940 Kane/Finger story and you've got some serious fan service. Plus I just like Hugo Strange and don't think he gets enough play -- he is, after all, the original member of Batman's rogues' gallery, predating both Joker and Catwoman by a few months. That and I just dig Wagner's art.

Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, and always a book I simply can't stand to read. The character's been handled poorly for the past twenty years. But it seems that we're in a serious turnaround now, and with Morrison and Dini taking over his two books soon, I'm going to have to start picking them up.

Speaking of Morrison, good Lord that guy writes a lot of comics these days. Seven Soldiers has been fantastic, as has All-Star Superman.

Ellis has been putting out a hell of a lot of books too, and for somebody who hates superheroes, he doesn't seem to write much else these days. Iron Man: Extremis has been a great book, and I particularly liked the retelling of the origin in the most recent issue -- the original Iron Man armor is my favorite; it just looks like such a godawful burden to wear. And that was a vital part of the original character: Tony wore the suit to stay alive, not because he set out to be a hero. The reluctant hero theme in the early sixties was vital to ushering in the Marvel Age: Spider-Man was just trying to pay the rent, the Hulk and the Thing were desperate to cure their conditions, and Iron Man put the suit on because he had shrapnel lodged in his heart.

Tony's new nano-armor is a great arc-ending concept, but I'm not really looking forward to seeing it in-continuity. Hopefully it, like the Spider Armor, is done away with by the end of Civil War.

Dead Girl: I was a huge X-Statix fan from the get-go, and disappointed to see the book go (I blame the editors for not just letting the creatives run with the Princess Di story; I think any reader would agree that was the jump-the-shark point of the series). So it's great to see the team back again, and with the high-concept twist of exploring the very nature of comic book death. Dr. Strange is the perfect vehicle for this story, I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out who the Pitiful One could be, and the art is gorgeous -- I was worried when I heard Allred wouldn't be doing the pencils, but honestly with him doing the inks I can't tell the difference.

I've also been digging the comic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and it finally hit me last night that the protagonist is a dead ringer for Arthur Dent. As Gaiman is a well-known Adams fan (even wrote a book about him), there's no way this is coincidence.

Looking forward to work from Busiek (Superman, Aquaman, Marvels 2, and of course Astro City) and wondering what Priest is up to these days.

Oh, and Superman/Batman punked out: the guy in the Batman Beyond costume is Tim, not Terry. Booooo.

Seems like I must be forgetting something, but damned if I can think what it is right now. Well, I'm sure this won't be my last post on the subject of comics.