My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I reviewed earlier volumes of More than Meets the Eye, I said it was like all your childhood friends getting on a spaceship and going off to have adventures. But it’s actually quite a lot better than that, because the imaginary adventures I had with my childhood friends seldom made much sense or had any sort of narrative cohesion. Another analogy I’ve used for this series is that it’s like the best of Transformers meets the best of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That’s a bit of a better analogy, as it gets at what makes both of these series tick: a great crew exploring some amazing science fiction scenarios. But it’s not a perfect analogy either, as The Next Generation had no extended narrative arch. There was nothing in later seasons or episodes that suddenly made earlier clues fall into place, which is one of the most satisfying (and challenging) aspects of the type of story-telling that television has been doing since Babylon 5 and comics have been doing forever. MTMTE knows this game, revels in it, and plays it to the hilt.
Volume 7 has everything you’ve come to know and love about MTMTE, now with extra time travel. We pick up with a few second-string characters in a stand-alone at the volume’s beginning that effectively reminds us (as if we needed a reminder in the wake of what has come before) to fear and dread– to keep checking under our beds for– the Decepticon Justice Division and dangles some clues about the past of Megatron’s ever-deepening character. Then we launch into a time-travel arch that lets Roberts give us more Cybertronian history without feeling as much of a tangent as some initial forays like this did earlier in the series. It’s clear Roberts want to firmly tie events in this series into Cybertron’s past. The result is character development that takes place in both directions, which is no mean feat if you think about it. (Megatron is a prime example of this. Pun only 65% intended.)
Milne continues to draw the contours of my imagination. His work is at once exceedingly detailed and exceedingly crisp. His backgrounds never seem secondary, which is remarkable when you consider that every vista or wide-angle in this series is a mechanical landscape. There’s no room for organic laziness. Everything has to show signs of exactness and engineering. This is a universe of clean lines and details– even in the midst of chaos and battle. There’s no way around it: Milne’s work is perfect for the series.
And Roberts’ writing continues to impress. He strikes an ideal balance in this volume of appearing to wrap things up (or at least give a satisfying measure of narrative closure) while creating new plot points to follow up later. Indeed, it was only on a second reading (and you know a comic has narrative heft if you need to read it at least twice to catch everything) that I realized how many new nooks and crannies to the story had been presented. Leaving aside the time loop and splinter universe, some of these included things like the identity, fate, and machinations of Terminus, Megatron’s early mentor; the disappearance of Roller; and just who exactly was experimenting on sparks in Cybertron’s past. My single complaint in this installment was Brainstorm’s explanation of his motivations. For all the talk of him being a genius, I wanted more. Apparently he’s the tinkering-with-devices kind of genius, not the nefarious schemes genius.
Since I’ve already waxed eloquent about this series (and now about this volume), I thought I’d go further and pike the collective brain of the team behind it, posing artist Alex Milne and writer James Roberts a few questions on Facebook. To my delight, they were good enough to oblige. Posting them both together was a bit lengthy, so Alex’s responses are below, and Roberts’ will appear on the blog on Saturday.
Q: You have a distinctive style representing Transformers as a lot more than blocky robots. They have expressions, get sick, and even bleed, sort of. They have gruesome deaths. How much of your designs or way of visualizing the Transformers came from previous iterations or from influences outside the franchise?
AM: I guess my style for drawing Transformers is a ever evolving thing. I do absorb a lot of different visual elements from other media and artist I like and try and to incorporate that into my own work. I see what works for me and what doesn’t and I keep playing around and changing how I do things. I’m never quite satisfied with my work. I’m always seeing if I can do better and push myself more. I always look to the past Transformer series and comics and see what I can take from there that will integrate well with what I’m doing. Right now I’ve been trying out more traditional inking techniques to use on the pages. A big inspiration for this is the works of Sean Gordan Murphy who does amazing black and white work. It might make Joana’s [Joana LaFuente, the series’ outstanding colorist] job a lot harder, but I’ve been playing around with using just a brush at times to create interesting inking effects. Hopefully I will continue to be inspired and find new ways of doing things with my art for the book.
Q: Help someone who’s fairly ignorant of the artistic process understand the relationship between art and narrative. Do the scripts come to you fairly finalized, or is it an iterative process? Has the artwork ever transformed the narrative, either in a particular instance or over the course of the series?
AM: I don’t want to speak for James, but I do get very detailed scripts for each issue. Some of them have had more detail than others and I think we’ve gotten to the point where he can describe the basics of what he wants and he knows I will be able to pull it off. There are times when James will write a series of panels where he wants the same image over and an easy way to do that is to copy the one image over again. Well I don’t like doing that and I don’t think I’ve ever done that for MTMTE. I like to think that I can re-draw those panels but have slight changes to them that helps add to the mood of what James is trying to convey with the story. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to save some time, I just come up with an idea in my head and I have to roll with it. Usually I think it works out pretty well.
Q: Did you put together Gundam models as a kid? (I’m thinking of Prowl’s autopsy scene early in the series.)
AM: Yes, yes I did have Gundam model kits as a kid and I still do buy them and put them together. In fact a have a lot of different Anime and giant robot kits and toys that eat up a lot of space in my room, but I would never get rid of them since I think they are so cool looking and fun to build and display. I guess that was a big factor in the autopsy scene. It definitely help come up with how piece of that bot should be laid out on the ground.
Q: Apart from making good art, telling good stories, and making fans very, very happy, what relevancy do giant transforming robots have today? Do you see your work as having significance outside the comics alone?
AM: For myself, it’s hard to see if my work is having a significance outside or even inside comics. I mean, there are a lot of people who can’t get over the stigma of a Transformers comic being anything more then a comic to sell toys. I know from past experience in the comic industry that other comic companies don’t take Transformers comic art as serious and feel its less worthy of looking at over mainstream comics. Recently I have seen that more people are getting into the TF comics and that makes me very happy, but I don’t know if it’s making any significance. I guess it’s just disappointing to me that all the hard work that we put into the comics can just be waved off by some people because they think we’re just selling toys and how can you get a great story from toys? I guess MTMTE is bringing new reader to Transformers so I guess small steps.