THE start of the New Year is an auspicious time to read one of the best Transformers issues—ever. Already known as the best-written IDW continuity series, “Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye” (“TF: MTMTE”) gives writer James Roberts the space and opportunity to do whatever he wants. This issue is an example of why that is always a good thing.
“TF: MTMTE” # 36 begins on Cybertron four million years ago, with a group of Autobot outlaws, led by Orion Pax, are protecting the Alyon region from attack. Then, they are interrupted by the sudden appearance literally out of nowhere by a group of Transformers readers will recognize as members of the crew of the Lost Light: Rodimus, Chromedome, Whirl, Tailgate, Cyclonus, Rung, Rewind and Sky Byte. They have clearly traveled back in time. “’Sup,” Rodimus says.
Then we get a flashback—or a flash-forward in this case—on the Lost Light. They’ve figured out that Decepticon double agent Brainstorm has gone back in time to the time frame of 1st Cycle 502 to assassinate Pax—who would later become Optimus Prime—and win the war for the Decepticons. Led by an uncomfortable Megatron, they agree that the only way to stop Brainstorm is to send their own team back in time. They also have to be careful, as they can’t change the events of the past either. “Chromedome’s got it covered,” Rodimus says.
Back to Alyon, Rodimus mollifies a suspicious Pax by pretending to be reinforcements sent by Zeta Prime. We quickly discover that, back then, Chromedome was known as Tumbler (he wasn’t a memory specialist yet) and that Whirl is in prison (what else is new). They quickly move to Pax’s base, The Dugout.
This would be a great opportunity to look at Pax’s crew, most of whom are classified as outliers, or Cybertronians with unusual powers. We recognize two of them right away, Windcharger and Skids. There is one we don’t recognize at all: Damus, otherwise known as Glitch. Then there is the non-outlier, a tall, intimidating Autobot known as Roller.
This is unusual for TF fans because we know Roller mostly as the non-sentient wheeled robotic assistant for G1 Optimus Prime. But here, he is a real Autobot, one who likes to brawl and keeps drinking from a juicebox of Energon. Here, he seems like he is Pax’s bodyguard of sorts. “Pax keeps me around because we’re friends,” Roller says.
But he isn’t even the most surprising member of Pax’s team. The time-traveling Lost Light crew is shocked by the arrival of a very young Trailbreaker (still using his old name), who is brash, friendly and still very much appreciating drinking. Still recovering from the tragic death of Trailcutter just a few issues prior, Rodimus hatches a plan to somehow warn Trailbreaker and eventually save his life.
Then we get the funniest set piece of the issue, where a Megatron in the future has a long, awkward conversation with Pax, who thinks he’s talking to the current Megatron, the eloquent former miner from Tarn. It’s a great sequence that demonstrates just how much Megatron has changed and how optimistic Pax is. “Will you join us,” Pax asks Megatron. “I think so,” he answers. “Eventually.” Rodimus even gets a bit of comedy from the exchange. “Hey, best friend, miss you,” he quips.
Then the Autobots and the Lost Light crew together go on a dangerous mission where they have to attack a sky platform to save the sparks that the senate is secretly planning to sterilize. What follows is a great action sequence that you have to pay close attention to. When the platform fights back, the flying TFs do some damage. Just when Pax is about to join the fray, Roller steps into the fire instead. “Sorry, big guy, I need this,” Roller says. After which we see Roller going down in a hail of blasts.
Amid all this, Rodimus finds out that Brainstorm has time-jumped away from this era, but decides to keep fighting to protect the sparks rather than chase Brainstorm.
In a nice touch, Windbreaker and Trailbreaker combine to send Pax on what X-Men fans will identify immediately as an homage to the Colossus-Wolverine move called “the Fastball Special.” That takes care of the attack.
Afterwards, the heroes look around, but there is no sign of Roller. “Keep looking,” Pax says. It’s time for the Los Light crew to leave but Chromedome has secretly devised a memory-wiping application for his hands to erase any remembrance of their time spent here. Chromedome shakes Pax’s hands, then every one else’s, except Trailbreaker, because Rodimus wants Trailbreaker to remember the warning. But just as they are about to leave, it is Trailbreaker himself who steps forward and shakes Chromedome’s hand, thus erasing the memory of Rodimus’ warning. Rodimus screams, “no, Trailbreaker,” just as they vanish. Trailbreaker is left wondering what just happens—and then asks, “Who wants to go for a drink?”
What a great issue. From the time-traveling mission to Megatron’s conversation, “Elegant Chaos Part One: All Our Parlous Yesterdays” flips all the right switches. It starts off intriguing then becomes funny then furious and finally tragic. It’s great seeing Prime as Pax because this less-confident less powerful version is also less hesitant. It’s always great to see original cast members like Windcharger in their pre-Earth incarnations. What happens to Glitch?
It’s thoroughly intriguing to meet Roller. Do we assume he’s been destroyed, and that Prime will later name his assistant Roller as a tribute for a fallen friend? Or does Roller later come back and change his name?
But the big shock is seeing a living Trailbreaker. So soon after his death, Trailbreaker’s appearance causes the same emotion to rise in the reader as it does in the Lost Light crew. We understand Rodimus’ wish to save him even if it runs counter to what they know about time travel. And when the plan goes awry at the last second, we realize that the tragedy lies in the fact that there are some things you cannot change—even if you travel back millions of years to do so.
Roberts writes a perfect issue with the requisite twists and getting every character’s voice just right. The issue builds and then hits you at the very end, just when the actual fight is over and you thought Rodimus’ plan was going to work. It also should be noted that, despite the successful defense of the sparks, Rodimus’ team actually failed. Brainstorm got away. Trailbreaker won’t remember the warning. And Roller may be dead. Only Roberts can make such a depressing ending work so well.
And let us not forget the incredible work of artist Alex Milne. It is interesting how he draws the “modern” Autobots in such an angular fashion that is very different from the space-agey look of the past Autobots. Milne draws this issue with particular detail, giving us scenes like the modern Megatron talking to the past Orion Pax, a good look at the mysterious Roller and, most of all, a new appreciation for the Trailbreaker of old.
What happens next? As the old saying goes, only time will tell, but this time-hopping adventure is already etched in our indelible memory.
Next time: The Transformers # 37!