Friday, June 12, 2015

The Combiner Wars Continue: Transformers # 40!

AFTER the “Opening Salvo” and Part 1 of the first two issues in IDW’s Combiner Wars crossover, “Transformers” # 40 shows the readers the pieces of the puzzle. And there’s a lot of moving pieces.

The issue begins by showing a shuttle on its way to Cybertron. The shuttle is commanded by Jetfire, and is manned by the OG Protectobots. In this continuity, they’ve never been a team, much less a combiner. Despite the fact that the Protectobot Rook was introduced in the Combiner Wars toyline, here you have Hot Spot, Groove, Blades Streetwise and First Aid, who has arrived after spending a lot of time on the ship The Lost Light of “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye” fame. Streetwise even jokingly themselves “Protectobots,” because they are composed of “a doctor, a cop, a firefighter, an infiltration expert and a fire.” Guess that team name is in continuity now.

Interestingly enough, First Aid is here due to his capacity as doctor of Patient 619, who is being ferried to Cybertron for treatment. Patient 619 happens to be Mirage, who is experiencing nasty visions of a burning Cybertron. In his vision, he says “I must help them choose,” to Ironhide—who also happens to be having the same visions on Cybertron.

Optimus Prime is currently leading a team to the lost colony of Caminus in order to repair the damage caused by the rogue combiner Menasor—as well as keep an eye on Starscream. “He is the leader of our world… but he cannot be allowed free rein,” Prime says.

Meanwhile, the Autobot broadcast journalist Circuit is beaming a report from the surface of Caminus itself. Just a nerdy note: It’s always great how IDW includes these obscure TFs in their stories when they get the chance—I mean, Circuit is an Action Master, among the most reviled lines because they are Transformers which don’t Transform. From Circuit’s report we get a running account of what’s happened so far (Menasor vs. Superion) amid cheerful statements by the Camiens and gruff, cynical responses from the visiting Cybertronians.

After last issue’s reveal that the Camiens consider the line of Primes to be living gods (you’ve been holding out on us, Windblade), Prime himself feels pretty awkward as the planet’s religious leader, the Mistress of Flame, treats him in a really worshipful fashion. But when Starscream starts suggesting that Cybertron essentially take over Caminus (and by extension the other lost colonies), Prime can no longer hold himself back. Knowing full well how influential his statements will be to the Camiens, Prime advocates for the formation of a Council of Worlds, where each planet will have an equal voice. Prime basically publicly shames Starscream into agreeing to his plan.

Starscream won’t take that sitting down. “Transformers” # 40 reveals much more of Starscream’s plans as he see that Swindle, whom Starscream had conned into attacking Caminus with Menasor (funny seeing Swindle being swindled), has been captured and now left to rot in a secret prison. That prison is being run by Starscream’s pal Rattrap.

There are many little moments here that are clues to the larger story. Prime has a conversation with Superion who, it turns out, even though he was essentially created by Starscream (and Wheeljack, don’t forget!), the combiner is not in Starscream’s thrall: “If Starscream had anything to do with this descruction, Superion will kill him.”

Amid all of this, Prowl, who was on his way back from Earth, has found out that Prime has been withholding crucial information from him. Aside from the return of the Enigma of Combination, spacebridge technology is now in Starscream’s hands—and Prowl isn’t happy about it. “This is everything we ever fought against,” Prowl growls.

And then we get the big reveal of the issue. Serious TF fans will remember that, prior to IDW’s comics continuity, Rattrap had appeared as a somewhat whiny but still loyal and ingenious Maximal in “Beast Wars.” But he has since been seen kowtowing to Starscream, doing some notably illegal and immoral things at Starscream’s instructions.

Feeling that it is for the good of Cybertron—as well as a studied decision to be on the winning side—Rattrap has reached out to Prowl. Prowl shows up at the secret base, grateful for Rattrap’s change of heart and he did not come alone. Prowl, you see, believes it’s better for Cybertron to die than to spread Starscream’s evil in the universe. “If Cybertron has to die for the sake of the galaxy… whom I to argue with progress?”

Prowl is now set to travel to Caminus—with the Constructicons by his side.

“Transformers” # 40 is essentially the start of the series’ meatier portion and as such is almost entirely exposition. Look: No action scenes at all. Now we see more of Starscream’s plan as well as Prime’s conflicted presence on Caminus. We see the introduction of the Protectobots (who, based on the cover of a coming issue, will be combining into Defensor pretty soon). But the big element added to the Combiner Wars is the original combiner himself as Prowl will undoubtedly be leading Devastator into battle. With the Stunticons out of commission, someone has to stir the Combiner Wars plot, and who better than the OG gestalt himself?

We know the Combiner Wars story is co-written by John Barber and Mairghread Scott, but this issue is by Barber alone, and the constant divulging of plot by characters who are basically just chatting seems like a throwback to Barber’s earlier work. Livio Ramondelli has noticeably changed his art style so it’s lighter and clearer, making it easier to tell one TF from another. It’s also startling how different the art is from Sarah Stone’s work in the Windblade parts of Combiner Wars.

“Transformers” # 40 is all-set up, which means that the next chapter of Combiner Wars will probably—hopefully—be an all-action issue!

Next time: Windblade (2015) # 2!

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