Holy crap. Transformers finally has a really good writer.
Transformers were the reason I ever got into comics in the first place, so I have a deep and abiding love for the myriad personalities running around in the Cybertronian pantheon. Marvel's original Transformers series back in the mid-80s were the first I ever owned, so I mean no disrespect when I say that I would never recommend this particular canon to new readers who don't share that love, or didn't feel their blood run cold when Ironhide got shot in the face in Transformers: The Movie. There are hundreds of characters to keep straight, not to mention the 400 different iterations and settings that have been made into TV shows, usually resulting in random name redistribution with no regard to the previously established characters with those names – and let's not get into Michael Bay's malarkey. The comics started out as toy commercials just like the original cartoon, with only flashes of brilliance here and there (Megatron's descent into suicidal insanity in #25 comes to mind), and slowly began to mature with Simon Furman's arrival late in Marvel's run.
Furman brought a depth of storytelling that hooked fans – much like the aforementioned animated film did with its surprising darkness and grim brutality. Unfortunately, since Transformers' initial popularity was waning by the time he came on board, most of his work is known only to the fans. That's the other big hurdle for new readers – with both the Dreamwave incarnation and IDW's current run with the property, it's still pretty much written just for the longtime fans who sustain it. It's great for us and has delivered a lot of awesome moments, but it's always with that caveat of 'well, you gotta know who these guys are.'
Now, however, it is with cautious optimism that I say that people only passingly familiar with the concepts might actually enjoy reading Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye. James Roberts has proved that he's no fluke. After his stellar trip into Cybertronian history with Prelude to Chaos, and last month's fantastic The Death of Optimus Prime, he's making the case with this new #1 issue that he might just be the best writer to ever to grace the canon. No disrespect intended to the great Mr. Furman, but Roberts' dialog crackles with life and vibrancy, comedy and pathos, spouting ideas ranging from lofty to twisted. He's not only juggling his massive cast with aplomb, he's giving us tons of character hooks to make each guy memorable – which is what the old tech specs used to do for all of us old-school devotees. If the show wouldn't showcase our guys, we knew what they were about anyway. Roberts has very obviously memorized these things back to front, and he knows how best to utilize them without being ponderous and cumbersome about it.
It also helps that they've created a really fresh start as well, taking the bold move of actually ending the Autobot/Decepticon war and sending Optimus Prime off to new adventures. In Roberts' case, he's telling the story of Rodimus spearheading a new expedition to seek out the fabled Knights of Cybertron. Some doubt the reality of the old stories, but Rodimus thinks he's got a star map to find them and bring about a new Golden Age, so the majority of the issue focuses on him settling into Captain Kirk's chair and building his own Starship Enterprise crew from scratch – although his ship is called the Lost Light. Turns out that name is an ominous portent, because while Rodimus leaves triumphantly with a following of over 200, stuff goes wrong in a hurry. Is it sabotage? Dumb luck? We'll know for sure in later issues. Here in #1, we're focused on character and mythology-building, and it's all interesting and entertaining.
Outgoing Transformers writer Mike Costa famously left the title with complaints that he could never really get his head around why these alien robots have human personalities and how that made them impossible to write. Roberts, however, understands what you need to understand – they just do. While it's fun to dig deep into how different alien robot culture would be, don't worry that much about it. Sure, maybe they don't date each other or even have genders, per se, but hey, maybe it's an exercise about how to write stories about other things, like sociopolitical turmoil and being Ratbatshit insane and talking to corpses, like Whirl does. Roberts has it down, and he's having a great time exploring how these characters tick, introducing all sorts of cool little elements to the daily life of a Cybertronian.
The only quibble I might have with Roberts is that he's being a little too cute with Cybertronian parallels to human concepts – like "rigor morphis: the dead body assumes its preferred shape" or Brainstorm mentioning his "Autopedia" entry. At the same time, though, it's still totally cool that they'd have those things and helps make these guys relatable and more like an actual society. Plus, he's adding fun things like Tailgate's self-loathing extending to his internal readouts calling him an idiot, or Ultra Magnus seeing the worst in everyone he meets displayed as case files in his optics. It's these amazing, deft little touches that really seal the deal that Roberts is the man to captain the Transformers ship. The guy is funny, as evidenced by Chromedome mocking Rewind's worthless alt-mode of 'a giant memory stick.' Considering he used to turn into a cassette tape, it's still a considerable upgrade.
Nick Roche is handling the art, and while it takes a little getting used to (his opening page Rodimus looks a little too scrawny), it works really well. Everybody's got their own distinctive look, there's no confusion as to what's happening in the panels despite the inhuman physiology, and somehow, in one panel, the little stubby dude Swerve's happy little pose as he tries to get onto the Lost Light crew combined with a hilarious exchange with Red Alert that might automatically make him my new favorite character. He's got a Puck/Gimli kind of a thing going, and it's thanks in large part to Roche's rendering.
So I say to you out here in comic-book land: pick up Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #1. If you've never read Transformers before, or if you haven't in years, give it a shot and let me know what you think. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but even though there are still a truckload of characters being juggled here, it's being done in such a refreshing and entertaining way with this concept that is so unassailably cool that it could actually hook in new readers and make some new fans. Let's hope so, because I'd like this to go on for a long while.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9.6/10