Monday, January 5, 2015

Cast of Characters: Drift Empire of Stone # 2

AFTER leaving the Lost Light as part of a ruse, the Autobot Drift has traveled the universe trying to fight for justice as kind of robotic ronin. “Transformers Drift: Empire of Stone” # 1 showed the sword-wielding former Decepticon being found by Ratchet, who tries to convince him to return to the Autobots. But the two—together with a mercenary Decepticon named Grit—are captured by some isolated Decepticons led by Gigatron. Remembering Drift’s considerable past as Deadlock, Gigatron, flanked by his lieutenant Hellbat, asks him to rejoin their cause so they can conquer the system.
“Empire of Stone” # 2 begins with a very brief (but meaningful) flashback that shows us that Drift first came to the planet with his comrade and rival (now dead) Turmoil. When Drift refuses to work with them, an exasperated Gigatron wants to release them. But a conniving Hellbat provokes Grit into decking him by questions Grit’s Decepticon loyalties. The three are once again incarcerated, but are released by the Decepticon Knockout, an old friend of Grit who has grown unhappy with the direction this outpost is heading into. “It’s crazy. This group is intense. They’re capturing and killing Autobots and Decepticons,” Knockout says. Once released, Grit goes off on this own, promising to kill Hellbat. Meanwhile, Drift and Ratchet find the planet’s secret (which Gigatron has been looking for), an army of stone warriors (hence the mini-series’ title). But the two notice there is new tech attached to the ancient and inert warriors. Cue the arrival of the treacherous Hellbat, who has secretly been working on bringing the empire of stone back to life.
            Written by Drift creator Shane McCarthy, the issue continues to build on Drift’s past and present, as we see how the Decepticons used to see Deadlock (as a stone-cold killer) and what he is now (a well-intentioned if inconvenient knight errant). After the introductions of last issue, the second issue reveals the real bad guy and really just moves the pieces of the puzzle around a bit. It’s too early to tell if the story is any good since we are only at the half-way point.
            That being said, the best thing about “Empire of Stone” is the crazy cast of characters McCarthy has assembled. The duo of Drift and Ratchet is a mismatched one, just as the former duo of Deadlock and Turmoil seem like a natural one. But it’s great to see such an obscure character as Grit get good play in the series. How obscure is he? Grit is actually one-half of a Micromaster Combiner Construction Squad machine. Two Decepticon Micromasters combine to form a kind of wheeled mechanical shovel vehicle. The other half? Knockout, of course.
            But you don’t get more obscure than the two ‘Con bad guys. Gigatron is a Japanese Car Robots release of what is better known as the six-changer Robots in Disguise Megatron. Here, he is depicted as a somewhat pompous, easily manipulated warlord. But the other bad guy is even stranger. Hellbat is a Japanese-only character from the Breastforce (yes that’s what they’re called) who first appeared in the “Transformers: Victory” line and animated series. Even back in the original series, he was quite the devious mastermind, so the characterization here is spot on. We can only hope that more rare Transformers—i.e., the Japanese ones—show up in the last two issues.
            If only the characters were drawn better. Even though he is the original artist who drew Drift back in “Transformers: All Hail Megatron,” Guido Guidi simply isn’t the right artist for this series. His robots all kind of look alike, harkening back to the last days of the Marvel generation one series. With the range of characters here—and Drift, a very modern design in particular—he seems like an unusual choice. That gorgeous cover by Alex Milne—with the super complicated and non-blocky Drift—is a reminder of how the title character is usually drawn. It’s almost like a tease to keep us reading this series. Let’s see who else pops up here.

Next: More Than Meets the Eye # 36!

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