With great excellence comes great expectations. If you’ve followed my book reviews for long, you know that I’m a huge fan of the work of James Roberts and Alex Milne on the ongoing IDW Transformers: More than Meets the Eye series. The release of each trade paperback is a Pretty Big Deal in my world, a world that is usually more or less cut off from What’s Cool Right Now. (I still haven’t seen either Interstellar or The Martian, for example, and I have no idea how many superheroes are currently appearing on network television series.) I’ve had huge expectations for each of these installments, which have consistently been setting the bar higher and higher. Great art, fantastic story-telling, compelling science fiction, and giant transforming robots. What’s not to love?
I say all that to say that the expectations were ratcheted up (no pun intended regarding the cover) pretty high for Volume 8, and it was the first volume that disappointed. I usually read each volume twice before posting a review. With Roberts’ writing this is important, as the narrative flow can at times be very dense. This one though only merited a quick re-skim to see if my initial dissatisfaction was justified. I think it was.
So here’s my list of tongue-in-cheek suggestions as to why this volume for the very first time in the run of TF:MTMTE trades left a bad taste in my mouth. And I say tongue-in-cheek because I realize it’s easy to criticize. So while I stand by these complaints, I still say Roberts is doing great work and can keep doing whatever he wants. I’ll be reading Volume 9, no worries. These are also tongue-in-cheek because they’re also to some extent an acknowledgement of what Roberts is doing continually, which is turning some common expectations on their heads.
But anyway, here they are:
1. Don’t humanize the sociopaths. The Decepticon Justice Division since nearly the very beginning of the series have been the bogeymen, the horror, the real Bad Guys now that the Decepticons themselves are ambiguous. (I’m not sure who the Bad Guys are in the other IDW Transformer title.) They were the worst of the worst of what the Decepticon cause could become. So don’t humanize them now. Don’t pull their teeth. We’ve already had sociopaths getting humanized: Megatron. So please keep Tarn and company easy to hate. Don’t introduce us to the humor and social dynamics of their crew. Don’t confuse our loyalties. And please, please don’t give the DJD a Tailgate. We don’t need another cute sidekick to show us the softer side of our mechanical killing machines.
2. Don’t dial back the body count. This series immediately found its legs by introducing us to the second-stringers of the Transformers universe and not being afraid to kill them. We learned that the secondary characters were themselves heroes, and then we learned that heroes died. The early issues– especially those with Overlord– were gritty and felt real. Things have lightened up significantly in this volume, which is fine, but now we’ve got another wave of second-second-stringers to keep track of. We’ve got a second replacement medic. We’ve got a bunch of new faces. Fine, but remind us why this all matters. I’m with Rodimus on this one: please let Thunderclash die, for goodness’ sake. I guess I’m as twisted as the DJD: I want dead Autobots or the game just stops feeling real.
3. Don’t get sappy. I get it, and I appreciate it: we’re playing with romantic relationships among non-biologically gendered robots. That’s pretty cool, and it was pretty effective when it was Rewind and Chromedome. But I feel like this volume has a lot of drama, a lot of weird tensions, and a lot of goofy crushing. Please, please, please don’t give me an Autobot love triangle (unless Dominus Ambus turns about to be Tarn). And please don’t give me any more pictures of Rewind and Chromedome on a flowered backdrop with the words “my love” written anywhere, ever.
4. Don’t get cute. Besides the two-issue throwaway story arch about the charisma parasites (which I think was a low point for the series so far), this is my major complaint about this volume. It felt too cute. Ten is cute. He draws cute pictures and makes cute toys. Swerve is very meta and cute, creating an entire sitcom planet in which our heroes can cut cute figures and be cute and snarky. I’ve already complained about the DJD’s cute sidekick. Even Megatron’s cuteness in this volume, as he bickers with both Rodimus and Magnus, shows perhaps more than anything else his integration into the Lost Light crew. One or two issues of heavy cuteness I think I could have taken, but the whole volume was full of it. (A major theme of this volume was Autobot dance parties, for Cybertron’s sake.)
Again though, it’s quite likely that Roberts knows exactly what he’s doing. He probably has some of this series’ darkest developments up his sleeve, and he knows we need some time sit back and relax, project our holomatter avatars and just be silly for a while. Or perhaps he’ll explain away the whole thing in another few issues with a wonderfully detailed explanation involving metabombs, time loops, and quantum cuteness paradoxes. Maybe while all this was happening in our universe, another crew of the Lost Light completed their quest only to realize Cyberutopia was long ago consumed by the Chaos-Bringer, Overlord returned, and Pharma had an epic battle over a smelting pool with Ratchet (as opposed to our universe, where Ratchet gets a Drift action figure).
But to tell the truth (Primus help me), I would have rather read a comic about that universe.