Friday, July 18, 2014

Vanishing Points: More Than Meets The Eye # 31!

Wow, just when you thought James Roberts couldn’t write a better, more jam-packed issue of the excellent IDW Publishing series “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye” (“TF: MTMTE”) # 31. Not only does this issue go back to the earliest issues Roberts wrote for IDW and answers many questions that TF fans didn’t expect would be answered so soon or so well.

The issue starts with a flashback two years back, where we see Drift, Riptide and Pipes trolling New Iacon for a new ship, encountering a group of rogbots who communicate by moving their fingers. Drift succeeds in acquiring a ship—which is soon renamed The Lost Light. So that’s where that came from.

Back to the present, the Autobots (Megatron is now officially one of them) are floating in shuttles (and Rodimus’ Rodpod) after the aforementioned Lost Light started to disappear part and part, before vanishing completely. Swerve and Skids kibitz.

But even before they can get around to figuring out what happened, there is a sudden blackout on the Rodpod. When the lights come back on, several of the crew have vanished into thin space air. An upset Tailgate points a pistol at Megatron and soon guns are drawn in an old-fashioned (if space-set) Mexican standoff.

Then, just as the standoff is diffused, they discover a dangerous stowaway: the Decepticon Ravage. Megatron captures Ravage and then (using that previously mentioned finger language—Chirolingualism, I guess) secret tells Ravage to play dead. Ominously, Megatron tells him: “There is still work to be done.”

The crew’s resident detective Nightbeat gets on the case, trying to solve the mystery even as more of the crew starts disappearing. Nightbeat starts to think it’s because of a divisive and controversial dichotomy: some of the Autobots were constructed cold while others were forged. It’s too complicated to go through here, but it has to do with how the Transformers were created through the use of their sparks. It’s a touchy topic and it had previously caused segregation and discrimination—Megatron has always been depicted as being against any kind of forced revelation as to the nature of his or anybody else’s creation.

Ultra Magnus shows up via holomatter projection (he’s in a nearby shuttle) before he and the other Autobots in the other shuttles vanish as well. But some of the crew remain unaffected: Megatron, Nautica, Tailgate, Riptide, Getaway, Skids and of course Nightbeat. Right at the issue’s end, Nightbeat figures it all out—but a look at the window shows they’ve arrived at a nearby planet—and something familiar has already shown up before them.

A cursory evaluation of the situation (yes, I am aping Perceptor from the 1986 movie, couldn’t resist) reveals how “TF: MTMTE” # 31 covers so much ground in terms of Transformer lore. The sale of The Lost Light, the tension between being forged and being created cold, even the appearance of Ravage, all these are links to the bigger story Roberts has been telling all along. That’s not to mention the magnificent Sherlock-style, closed-door mystery that Nightbeat has to solve. Like any great detective, Nightbeat goes off in the wrong direction before figuring it out (with a great solution, by the way) but the question remains if he figured it out too late. It’s an engaging, satisfying hunt for clues that really works for devoted TF followers, especially those who have been following the talent British writer from the start (for the curious, it’s co-writing the awesome “Last Stand of the Wreckers” as well as co-writing the seminal “Transformers: The Death of Optimus Prime,” which essentially kicked off the current iteration of “TF: MTMTE”). He even managed to have a self-contained story (the vanishings) before leading back to the main plot (The Lost Light). Great work.

I wish I could say the same for the art. You really don’t realize how good you have it until the artist you’re used to is not present. I take back the bad things I said about Andrew Griffith’s human figures. Please come back. Atilio Rojo handles the art for “TF: MTMTE” # 31 and it’s really not up to par with what Griffith and occasional pinch-hitter Alex Milne produces. The biggest problem is this lack of definition in the robot bodies and the fact that it’s often to tell the Autobots apart from each other, both unforgivable problems for a Transformers artist. Somehow, even Ravage doesn’t look right and Ravage is a pretty hard character design to mess up.

The bigger shame is that the art mishap happens with a fabulously-written issue such as “TF: MTMTE” # 31. It teaches us to be truly appreciative of the talents of Griffith and Milne. Milne is listed as the artist on issue # 32, so that’s a good thing, but he was also originally listed as the artist on this issue, so we’ll see how that pans out.

In the meantime, just squint your eyes and gloss over the visual hiccups so that you can appreciate the nearly pitch-perfect script from James Roberts who continues to make “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye” the superior TF comics series that it is.

Next time: “Transformers: Windblade” # 4!

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