Sunday, November 30, 2014

Shift Code: Drift Empire of Stone # 1!

ASIDE from the original fembot Arcee, there is no Transformer as controversial as the Autobot Drift. Created by writer Shane McCarthy and first appearing in the 2009 IDW Publishing series “All Hail Megatron,” Drift was criticized as being a fan’s fever dream. He was a former Decepticon named Deadlock who had seen the error of his ways and switched sides.

More than the back story, it was his character, a samurai-like robot with ridiculously large swords that rubbed some fans the wrong way. But just like Arcee, many fans embraced Drift, turning him into, ironically, a fan-favorite character who would go on to appear in not one, but two mini-series as well as his own Spotlight issue. Back when it was still very uncommon, Drift got a comic-accurate toy from Hasbro. Drift proved so popular that he even appeared in the Michael Bay-directed film “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” as a triple-changer voiced by Ken Watanabe.

In the comics, Drift had shifted from being a samurai to more of a crusading knight character when he joined the crew of the Lost Light in “Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.” In the aftermath of the Overlord fiasco, Drift had elected to take the blame and was stripped of his Autobot status, leaving the ship afterwards. Where is he now?

That’s where “Transformers Drift: Empire of Stone” #1 reveals. As some blue-skinned organics are running for their lives on a fringe world, Drift finds himself in combat against the rogue Decepticons who have taken over the world, rogues led by Grit (though he is not a Micromaster Combiner in this version). Drift has been roaming the outer reaches of the universe finding these opportunistic Decepticons and cleaning out the planets one by one. This is the mission Drift has set himself to, now loudly stating that he is no longer Autobot or Decepticon, just one ‘bot doing the good he can.

Drift quickly dispatches the Decepticons, capturing Grit. He brings them to Galactic Council Outpost WHZ-745 for trial, even as the Decepticons demand to be brought to Cybertron instead. But Drift discovers someone is waiting for him: Ratchet, who insists on bringing Drift back to the Lost Light. “I know you took the fall, Drift,” Ratchet says. “You were following orders.” Drift refuses. “I’m making a difference out here, Ratchet, saving people, saving lives.”

In exchange for bringing them to Cybertron, the Decepticons give up the location of a Decepticon hideout on a nearby planet. Ratchet and Drift investigate. Their shuttle is shot down, with only the Autobots and Grit surviving. They are quickly captured by the Decepticons, who believe that Grit is working with the Autobots. Drift resists but is overwhelmed by the Decepticons’ superior numbers.

They are brought in front of the Decepticon leader—the character is clearly designed after 2001 Japanese Predacon leader Galvatron—who says: “Deadlock, how nice of you to join us. Now that you’re here, we can finally tear this system apart… together.”

This is an OK start for the series, though the rhythm is a little uneven. It’s an effective re-introduction of Drift, but the characterization seems a bit shallow. Drift is supposed to come off as being honorable, but comes across as being stubborn instead. If that was the intention, then well and good, as there is no rule saying that Autobots need to be likeable. But the development at the end of the issue lets us know that this all has to do with Drift’s past as Deadlock, and that his former Decepticon comrades remember him and what he can do. Ratchet actually seems a bit misplaced in this story. Surely, this mission is something another less-important Autobot should be doing. Won’t they miss his medical know-how as he’s searching the galaxy for the exiled Drift? That said, the ending of the issue promises more depth and possible character development for Drift and that’s a good thing because beyond his popularity, there is so much promise still for Drift as a character.

The biggest mismatch in “Empire” has to do with the art. This is not a knock on Italian artist Guido Guidi, who is a fantastic TF artist, particularly his work on the Marvel G1-style “Regeneration One” series. He is also the first artist to actually draw Drift, back in “All Hail Megatron” # 1. But Drift has since been drawn to much better effect by Alex Milne in the Drift mini-series, and, as the A cover shows, Milne is a much better artist for the specific requirements of Drift as a character. It’s more of a mismatch. “Empire” does boast some pretty obscure Decepticon designs and we look forward to even more obscure designs in the coming issues of this series.

Next time: Transformers More Than Meets The Eye # 35!

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