Tag Archives: James Roberts

TF:MTMTE volume 9

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 9Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 9 by James Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

James Roberts knows how to make monsters. What makes this series great though, and what keeps it feeling fresh after almost fifty issues, is where the monsters come from. We’ve had four million years of warfare between sentient robots who can form their bodies into vehicles and weapons, so there’s a lot of history to draw on, and Roberts mines it deep. But he doesn’t pull his monsters from where you would expect: treacherous Decepticons against heroic Autobots. His monsters come from all sides, from every angle, keeping you constantly guessing. And many of them are genuinely frightening, often in ways you don’t expect.

If you’ve been following this series for a while (or even my blog, where I’ve reviewed each volume so far), it shouldn’t be a surprise that Roberts revels in switching things up and making battle lines grey and messy. In this volume though, it seems to come through even stronger. Of course, re-branding (literally) Megatron as an Autobot several issues back, and following through with what this meant internally for the former murderous dictator, was a very big thing. But this volume asks the question, apart from the titans like Megatron, what do swaps like this and the weirdness of a new peace after millions of years of hatred mean for the little guys? In this volume we get two sides of the coin: we get the return of our favorite Decepticon misfits being heroic and even empathic, and we get Autobots plotting treachery to do what they think needs to be done to bring Megatron to justice.

Let’s take the Decepticons first: along with the Decepticon Justice Division (the series’ primary true “bad guys”), early on we were teased with the Scavengers, a crew of pathetic soldiers made up of the rejects from the bottom of your toy drawer. Early on they met up with a damaged Grimlock and were introduced to a ship full of creepy mysteries. Since then these characters have been shelved for much of the series. Their return in this issue gives a look at what the peace has meant for the average Decepticon. Roberts uses his characteristic skill to bring this group together, making them seem real as a team, even as they tackle issues like human (okay, sentient robotic) trafficking and the psychological wounds of war with a (usually) light touch that doesn’t trivialize the fact that Roberts is tackling big issues with giant battling robots. The first two chapters in this volume give us a self-contained episode that returns us to these characters and sets them on a new trajectory, while simultaneously opening up an old mystery that Roberts has been dropping clues about for a while.

On the other side of the sigil, we get conspiracy and manipulation by Autobots who want Megatron to get his due. Roberts thrives creating heroes out of assumed villains and vice versa, and the work of portraying rotten Autobots is believable and chilling. In addition to this though, we get another genuine monster, and here it’s simply wonderful to see the sort of creatures Roberts can fashion to haunt the universe he’s created and the mecha-physiology he’s devised for the Transformers. (At the same time though, the precedents set here are going to make certain things pretty easy: now that we know it’s possible to access memories by sight and transmit thoughts and data directly from brain to brain, this opens up a host of shortcuts for a deus ex machina any time a plot point needs to be resolved.)

I’m the worst kind of fan though: one who takes the content and the characters quite seriously. The kind of guy who is the first to maintain that comic books can be literature but has to keep reminding himself that they’re also magazines. That is, More Than Meets the Eye, as much as I’d like it to be, is not a self-contained graphic novel. It’s a serialized comic, which means in some ways it still functions as a magazine, selling advertising (though I don’t see those in the trade volumes I get) and keeping readers pulled along. It means it’s constantly raveling, winding on, with additional twists, turns, and scope of characters added layer upon layer.

For the most part this is fine, especially when it has to do with the plot. It starts to feel like a soap opera though when these additional tangles and coils have to do with relationships between characters. They are giant fighting robots. Yes, they have pathos and depth now and time for exploring what peace means. Four million years of warfare probably didn’t leave much time for love, but I really don’t want it now.

I’m also pretty spoiled by Alex Milne’s artwork, enough that I tend to throw a fit if he doesn’t do the majority of the issues in a volume. In this one he does only the first two, but the artists who do the other issues actually do a pretty fantastic job, with the exception of a few awkward panels here and there. They’re not Milne, and they don’t bring his depth and detail, but the artwork here does not detract from the story as it did in a few early issues when Milne stepped away.

In all, this series is still going places and doing incredible things with my favorite characters. The next volume (volume 10!) will include the fiftieth issue of the series, and Amazon has the drop date listed as right around my birthday.

They know me, guys . . .

More than Meets the Eye, Vol. 7 continued (an interview with James Roberts!)

1James Roberts is without a doubt my favorite writer working in comics right now– not simply because he’s working with the legends of my childhood but because he’s not afraid to use those characters to do new, creative, compelling storytelling in the Transformers universe. I’ve expounded on his work here before, most recently earlier this week, where I explained that I’d posed Roberts and artist Alex Milne some questions on their work on the series and that they’d been gracious enough to respond. Milne’s responses are here, and Roberts’ are below:

Q: What’s it like writing inside a franchise universe? Are there narrative constraints you run up against? You’ve done some incredibly creative things with characters like Ultra Magnus and Megatron, but is there ever a frustration that at the end of the day certain things can’t change?

JR: I can’t speak for other writers working with other licensed characters, but there really are very few restrictions within IDW’s TF universe. Hasbro have the final say as to what goes out, but I’m confident that their vision for the G1 side of things is the same as IDW’s. It helps enormously – certainly in terms of the stories that I want to write – that Michael Kelly (Senior Director of Global Publishing at Hasbro, and the person who, after John [Barber, senior editor at IDW], signs off the scripts) has always been keen to humanise the TFs – to make them characterful. 

It’s true that efforts are being made on both sides to make the comics complement the toys (see ‘Combiner Wars’ for example), but we’re in a good place right now in that the comics are starting to influence the toys. You mention Ultra Magnus. In Season 1 of MTMTE we learned that these days ‘Ultra Magnus’ is a title, inherited – along with a hulking suit of armour – by law enforcers. Currently the armour is worn by Minimus Ambus, someone I created and Alex designed for ‘Remain in Light’, the S1 finale. Now, in the last few months Hasbro have brought out a new version of Magnus and it’s very much the MTMTE version, complete with a Minimus figure. 

And no, I’ve never felt frustrated that certain things can’t change. Quite the opposite: I genuinely believe that the IDW TF universe is one of the most unrestrictive, status-quo-avoiding, open-ended, ever-evolving universes in modern comics. Since John and I started on ‘Phase 2’, as it’s now called, the war has finished (and stayed finished), the Neutrals have returned, Starscream has become ruler of Cybertron, Bumblebee has died etc etc. The clock hasn’t been turned back and we’re not re-setting anything. It’s great. 

Q: For those of us who aren’t following the series each month in the comic book but who get it for the first time in the trades, can you talk a bit about how those are packaged? Is it simply a new one every six issues or so, or is there intention behind how they’re divided?

JR: The latter. John and I structure the ‘seasons’ so that there’s a natural break point every five or six issues. That’s normally not too difficult. At the beginning of MTMTE and Robots in Disguise, he and I said – publicly, too, I think – that we wanted to tell more one- and two-part stories (which you didn’t really get much of, and still don’t get much of, in mainstream comics). Telling shorter tales makes it easier to group the stories into the trades. 

TF_MTMTE_35_cvr1Q: Help someone who’s fairly ignorant of the artistic process understand the relationship between art and narrative. Do the scripts go to Alex 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?

JR: I think Alex describes the process well. There are two ways of writing a script, generally speaking: ‘the Marvel method’ and ‘full script’. The former is when the writer breaks down the issue into scenes and describes each one in a few paragraphs; then the artists translates that into layouts and pencils, and the writer adds dialog at the end. With the exception of some Dark Cybertron issues, I’ve always preferred to write ‘full script’, which breaks down each page into panels and describes what’s in the panels, and writes dialog then. The whole package is passed to John, then Alex, and Alex works his magic. As he says, that can involve deviating from the panel descriptions. We trust each other enough that he can interpret moments a different way without prior discussion.

Q: Which character has surprised you most over the course of the series? Are there some you wish you could have spent more time with? (I’m thinking, for instance, of the abrupt departures of Red Alert, Fortress Maximus, and Drift.)

JR: I did think I’d do more with Red Alert in Season 1 but found I was struggling to line things up for him after his attempted suicide; that’s not to say I don’t want to ‘work’ with him again. Fort Max was never going to stick around because he was originally going to die at Overlord’s hands in #15, and then he was going to do something so beyond the pale it would have meant taking him off the board for a long, long time. Dropping him off on Luna 1, so to speak, was more about putting him in a holding position so I think more about how to use him. 

Over the course of the series I’ve found myself more invested than I anticipated in the likes of Whirl, Magnus, Tailgate, Brainstorm and Nautica.

Q: I’m not going to ask the forbidden question of how much you had mapped out at the beginning of the series, but how seriously should we be taking the Necrobot’s list? And when are we going to see Misfire’s misfits again? (Free band name suggestion there.)

JR: Ah, well, the Necrobot list mystery has kind of been cleared up… but for the avoidance of doubt: the famous names on the list we saw at the end of #8 relate to the ‘copy’ characters who were killed on the duplicate Lost Light in issues #32 and #33.

The Scavengers return very, very shortly.

3Q: 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?

JR: We’re using giant transforming robots to tell all sorts of stories about life, love, death, illness, society, the government, faith, friendship and the rest. The best science fiction – the best fiction – holds a mirror up to the reader. It’s like Swerve says in #41: we valorise fiction because it tells us about ourselves. I’m not putting MTMTE up there with the best, but beyond the giant robots – or rather *through* the giant robots – we’re trying to tell the best stories we can; and the best stories touch a chord because you relate to them, or the characters in them.

Alex is right about TF comics – and licensed comics generally – getting a bit of a cold shoulder on the basis that, somehow, they’re not legitimate comics – which is patently absurd. But it’s changing! Attitudes are changing. People are far more open. We’re benefiting from a new generations of readers and critics who are more open and less dismissive, because good stories are good stories. 

And, you know, MTMTE and RiD and Windblade sell well. In print form they’re rock solid, in digital they do VERY well. I can’t speak for the other titles because I only focus obsessively on MTMTE’s ‘rank’, but on Comixology the most recent issue hit #3 in the UK, #8 in the rest of Europe and #9 in the US. People are still checking it and sticking around.

More than Meets the Eye, vol. 7

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 7Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 7 by James Roberts

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.

tf_mtmte_38_cover_lineart_by_markerguru-d87cjdkQ: 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.

More than Meets the Eye: Volume 6

UnknownTransformers: More Than Meets the Eye Volume 6 by James Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An open letter to James Roberts:

Dear Mr. Roberts,

Thank you. I have lots of questions, certainly, and I have plenty of comments, but I need to start with that: thanks. When I read a work I love, that seems the first and most necessary response. I know that writing is a difficult labor– no matter how easy some people make it look and no matter what a reward it must be to see those stories given form by Milne’s artwork. It’s probably still worth something (I hope) to hear a heartfelt thank you from a reader.

But let’s talk about why we should be thanking you for a moment, shall we? Obviously there were a lot of us who grew up loving Transformers, who filled afternoons with sagas enacted by forms of molded plastic on bedroom floors. There were probably less of us, but still a significant number, who bought wholeheartedly into the mythology that Furman created in his brief stint on the original Marvel run, who realized that of course these characters were scions of a god and the universe’s last line of defense against the Chaos-bringer, that of course they were more than simply robots that transformed into cars.

And then we grew up.

We passed the broken survivors of garage sales that hung on in basements and attics to our kids. We went to Botcon maybe once or twice, taped Beast Wars when it was on television, and tried our hand at fan fiction with embarrassing results. We had our hopes dashed by the live action movies. We waited. We knew what we had glimpsed once upon a time, but it appeared as though the deep well of mythology and potentiality in story and mystique– in the epic of a million years’ war– would remain untapped.

But then there was More Than Meets the Eye, and now six volumes of trades into it, here we are. We can talk about the journey that it’s been– what it was like to realize that someone else got it and was going to start telling those stories– but the primary feeling throughout has been: of course. It’s about time. It felt as though these were stories being uncovered as much as they were being created. They were in the bones of the thing itself– spark, cog, and marrow– waiting to be told. We knew they were there. We half-remembered them ourselves. And now, we can nod and gasp and laugh and cry over the pages with recognition.

Except, of course, surprises linger. I read and then I re-read volume 6, trying to imagine the voice of Frank Welker speaking the lines you’ve given Megatron. You are doing a new thing here, because you refuse to let anything be taken as a given. You’re going to give us character and depth, even in what had been the most single-dimensional villain in the entire franchise. In each volume of MTMTE so far we’re provided a new angle, a new insight, and in this one it is the character of the former Decepticon leader himself.

Very well done.

We get new characters as well, showing your continued determination to make this a series about the second-stringers, and pushing against convention when the second-stringers themselves begin to feel established in the limelight by bringing in new faces and introducing them in ways that don’t seem contrived. We get what we expect as well in the sense of science fiction tropes done well and done with Autobots. We also get all of this given form in the continually impressive, subtle, and just so darn wonderful artwork of Milne. Can we talk for just a minute about the care he took in eviscerating everyone’s favorite spaceship?

Okay, so you obviously don’t need any advice besides: keep doing this, but I’m going to give some anyway. Feel free to skip over this to the part at the end when I say thank you one more time and promise to keep reading.

1. Can we all just agree that we’ll do everything we can to keep Milne happy and drawing these comics? I’m not saying that there’s no one else out there who could do it as well but– no, I think I am saying exactly that. Please, guys, don’t ever break up.

2. Do anything you want. Really. I was a bit annoyed at first (okay, I still am) that characters aren’t getting killed off fast enough and that some of them have started coming back. I get it. It’s a comic thing and a franchise thing. But–

3. Kill off at least one cute sidekick. With Swerve and everyone it’s great. With Rewind and Chromedome it’s sweet. With Tailgate and Cyclonus it’s getting old.

4. Spoiler: start dropping some hints about who or what the Lost Light transforms into. I know, I know, I’m a bit slow. It took me until this volume before it hit me: she’s going to transform some day, and it’s going to be awesome.

That’s all. You’re a British subject, right? I think we could probably make a case for you being knighted for service to science fiction literature and sentient robotic lifeforms. It’s probably not how these things work, but you’d have my vote.

Thank you. I promise to keep reading.

Your fan,

More Than Meets the Eye: Volume 5

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 5 (Transformers (Numbered))Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 5

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you take an 80s toy franchise and make legitimate science fiction storytelling out of it? I’ll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with Michael Bay.

The Transformers are an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand, they represent the point in time when the boundary between making cartoons and selling toys finally broke down completely, and they were the opening salvo in what for many of us was a childhood filled with half-hour toy advertisements thinly disguised as entertainment. On the other hand, in the hands of the right writers they had the makings of truly epic science fiction: sentient robots who had been fighting a war for six million years and whose very bodies were shaped into vehicles and weapons. (The original animated movie was somewhere in the middle: a feature length toy advertisement with a plot only a seven-year-old could–and did–love, it was for many of us the first introduction to gorgeous Japanese animation and its potential for bringing giant robots to life.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, it is in the comic book medium– which seems especially suited for walking the line between outright commercialization and original storytelling– that the Transformers as credible science fiction have best found their niche. This happened originally in the final arch of the original Marvel run back in the 90s, written by Simon Furman and pencilled by Andy Wildman. Furman and Wildman together created an interpretation of the Autobots and Decepticons in which the corrosion of millennia of war was evident, and they gave an additional space operatic depth by a mythological explanation of the Transformers’ origins and position as guardians against the embodiment of Chaos. It worked (for too short a time), and I’ve dutifully passed on the Titan Book reprints of these runs on to my own kids.

Since then I’ve obligingly checked out the various reincarnations of the franchise, most often with the waste of time and money. (Come on, they’re giant transforming robots? How much depth do you really expect?) When I learned that IDW had split their Transformers run into two separate ongoing series a couple years ago, I figured the first collected volume of each might make appropriate Christmas gifts for my twin sons. I’d have to read them first, of course, so I flipped a coin and ordered volume one of More Than Meets the Eye. I quickly realized that a) this wasn’t a series for kids (or at least not for kids as young as my kids are), and b) this was what I had been waiting for since Furman and Wildman.

I’ve waxed eloquent on the merit of this series in my reviews of the previous four volumes, so I’ll try to keep my comments here constrained to the fifth and latest installment. All along, Roberts has been laying track to some epic conclusions but more importantly taking the time to build characters and backstory along the way. Milne’s artwork and eye for detail takes it up another notch. (Have you ever considered how difficult it must be to convey emotions on a robotic visage lacking nose, mouth, and other characteristic facial features?) My major (and really only) complaint with the series so far was the fact that Milne left the helm for the artwork of a few issues in volume four. It’s not that I don’t mind a different artist, but some of those who were drawing for issues in that volume simply weren’t up to the task of communicating the scenes and moods Roberts was creating.

I’ve tried to express the shear delight of this series before: imagine all your childhood friends getting together on a spaceship and going off to have adventures. In some sense, that’s all there is to it. On another level though, Roberts is writing science fiction in the best tradition, and doing it well. Remember, these are nearly-immortal robots who have known nothing but millennia of warfare. Exploring issues like what peace means to lifeforms whose very bodies are weapons, answering questions about mortality and origins, looking at what relationships might develop among a species that lacks gender– and doing it all with pathos and humor. This is what you can expect with this series.

Volume five in no way disappoints and even more encouragingly avoids two of the greatest dangers that often begin to afflict a series once it’s been going on for a while. The first danger with any continuing series is that subsequent issues will simply continue to string the reader along by adding mystery to mystery and refusing to provide any real resolutions. (Think the first few volumes of The Unwritten, or, from what I understand, the entire series of Lost.) Enough of this and you start to suspect that maybe the writer isn’t actually planning on resolving anything or maybe doesn’t have a plan at all. Maybe (horror!) they’re more interested in you purchasing the next issue than telling a great story. I started to get that dreaded feeling with the end of volume four, especially related to the fate of Ultra Magnus. An additional twist? And there was still so much that hadn’t yet been explained!

But in volume five there are answers, and we go places. The quest takes a major step forward. The fate of Ultra Magnus is explained, but more importantly the mystery of Skids’ immediate past, which had been lingering since the first volume, is resolved. New characters are introduced and some old ones are dispatched. The volume consists of a five-issue story arch in which our heroes discover a lost moon of Cybertron and defeat a character we’ve only heard alluded to in the past plus an additional one-shot character piece that gives nice breathing space before the series goes off to play in a big IDW crossover for a while. The writing and the art is as solid as I’ve come to expect.

The second danger of a continuing series is that certain (i.e. main) characters become more or less untouchable by default, so there’s eventually a lack of tension. You know the main characters are going to make it, no matter how grim things look. The redshirts are not. The best writers of course push this convention as far as the franchise (and it is, after all, a franchise) will allow, at times even turning it on its head. They make you care about redshirts, and then kill them (which happens in this volume). Or they “kill” a main character, but in a way you don’t expect (which is what happens to Ultra Magnus but doesn’t feel like a throwaway because it fundamentally alters the way you think about the character).

There’s a lot to love here (especially if you love giant transforming robots), but one of my favorite things about this series is the depth it brings to the character of Rodimus. I was never an Optimus Prime kid. Prime always seemed to me rather flat and over-idealized as a character. There’s not a lot to him besides 100% leadership and responsibility and seriousness all the time. Rodimus was different. If Optimus Prime was your dad, Rodimus was your cool older brother. He was the guy who stumbled into greatness and was never comfortable with the responsibility but craved the fame and glory. Roberts does great things with his character in this volume, balancing his headstrong immaturity with his responsibility to his crew. And all the while you know– or you know if your Tranformers mythos was highly influenced by the animated movie– that something is building. Rodimus is going to be central to something big, more than simply playing at being Captain Awesome (which he does quite well).

I’ve heard a rumor that this volume wraps up the first “season” of More than Meets the Eye and that Roberts has at total of five plotted out. I hope this is true, and I hope indeed that IDW knows what they have going on here and allow Roberts and Milne to keep up the good work. Because, come on? Making art and literature out of giant transforming space robots? That were originally toys cobbled together from two disparate Japanese toy lines and given a thin veneer of backstory to help them sell better? We need more of that kind of crazy.

More than Meets the Eye

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 1Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 1 by James Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is it. All your best friends from childhood getting on a spaceship and heading out who-knows-where to have adventures. The main characters you’re tired of are out of the way. The second-stringers you always wanted to get more development are getting exactly that. With a real story. And humor. And fantastic artwork. This makes all the badness that was the live action movies go away. You can even ignore the disappointing Dreamwave reboot. I haven’t had so much fun with a comic since Titan Books reissued the original Simon Furman Marvel run, and if I’m completely honest– this is better.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 2 (Transformers (Idw))Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 2 (Transformers by James Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read more Transformers comics than I would readily admit, always trying to get back to the wonder that was the finale of the original Marvel series scripted by Simon Furman. I’ve always been disappointed, until this series came along. I purchased the first volume for my son for Christmas and sat down to preview it. I quickly realized that a) this was not a comic for kids and b) it was amazing.

The second volume just gets better. Finally, someone actually building characters and writing stories that explore what it might be like to be a mechanical life-form involved in a six-million-year-old war. There are three “episodes” in this volume. The first involves Rachet solving a medical mystery on an Autobot outpost devastated by plague and actually uses the fact that Transformers transform as a pivotal plot point. The second involves the ship’s psychiatrist and a damaged patient, and– impossibly– makes you start to like Whirl. And the third– which shifts the focus from the primary players– surprises by taking some of the misfit Decepticons that usually sat forlorn in the bottom of your toy chest and making real characters out of them.

I still read more Transformers comics than I would readily admit, but now it’s usually the volumes from this series, which repay a careful re-reading.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 4Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Volume 4 by James Roberts

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have been following this latest (and by far best) comic incarnation of the Transformers since it began, and with each volume I have been more impressed. Finally real story-telling and fantastic artwork combined to bring my favorite characters to life once again. This volume though was the first that disappointed. It was still quite good, and I liked it even better on the second read, but I have some major complaints:

1. The artwork. Not up to the standards of the previous volumes. Milne’s name was on the spine, but so were a few others, and it made me realize how much the previous storytelling has been married to the artwork. There are some things you just can’t do well without the art to back it up. The final scene of the “guys night out” issue, for instance, with Cyclonus teaching Tailgate ancient Cybertronian ballads at a table in an empty bar. It just doesn’t work if the art isn’t strong enough to carry it, and it wasn’t.

2. The resolution of the Overlord story arch. This had been building for a while, and the issue leading up to the final confrontation built it even more (and was perhaps the most effective issue in this volume). But then, when he finally faced off against the crew, it was over so quickly, and a good part of the action happened off panel. I felt we were entitled to more here. There were deaths, but it was that of a minor character that I found the most effective. Later, the ship dropped five coffins, but we never even really learned who.

3. The drama. I know all these characters have been together on a ship for quite a while now, but the drama is starting to get old. If you’re going to hang so much on the relationship between Chromedome and Rewind (which, to be fair, is quite well done), then ease back on everyone else. Magnus opening up to Swerve. Tailgate’s attachment to Cyclonus. Rodimus’s not growing up. Ratchet and Drift’s love-hate thing. I love it that these characters are being developed, but this volume in particular just seemed to be laying it on a bit thick.

None of this, of course, will stop me from scooping up Volume 5 as soon as possible.