James Roberts has revitalized Transformers comics as we know them right alongside writer/editor John Barber with the two-pronged ongoing series efforts – each very much their own entitiy – entitled More Than Meets The Eye and Robots in Disguise, respectively. While Barber is focusing on a great deal of political turmoil in the aftermath of war, Roberts plays with some of that while also incorporating some stark horror movie elements, and he's constantly inventing new aspects of Cybertronian culture.
In Transformers: MTMTE #3, he brought us a robo-zombie. In this week's #4, he's giving us an outbreak. Yes, robotic life forms can catch diseases, and what's going on in this story takes the series in a darker direction as Drift, Ratchet and Pipes investigate a mysterious data signal that leads them to a quarantined outpost called Delphi. This place is in no mech's land, on the outskirts of DJD territory – and that means Decepticon Justice Division, the nastiest of the nasty, hunting down traitors and punishing them to the point that death is preferable. Not the best place for an ex-Con like Drift to be hanging around – but Ratchet can't help but notice that Drift doesn't seem all that bothered. In this post-war world, trust is at a premium, it seems.
Anyway, it turns out there's some mystery bug that's hit Delphi and started causing them to weaken and fall apart – a red rust virus of some sort. This isn't the first disease to be introduced in the lore, of course – the original TV series had Cosmic Rust and the old Marvel comics had Scraplets, but this still feels different due to the depressing realism with which it's treated. A team of medics are standing watch in what's essentially a house of death, a metallic mausoleum filled with mechs on the brink of death, without the means of saving them. And Pipes somehow doesn't know the universal plague symbol and rams right into the place, getting himself infected in the process.
Roberts sets an eerie kind of mood, with great help from Alex Milne's brilliant work in showing how quickly Pipes' condition deteriorates, and when it turns out a couple of purported DJD victims that the Delphi crew tried to help turn out to be the bastards who started it all with some kind of dirty bomb, the real-world implications of this mess suddenly hit home. Never trust Genericons, it would seem. However, the return of a long-sidelined character is welcome, and it looks like the medics just got a heavy hitter back in the game on their side.
There are also some side plots back at the Lost Light – Swerve has a bar now, which is perfect, and Tailgate's confusion about the war comes into full focus as Rodimus and Rewind finally take the time to educate the guy on what he missed – and it leads to the realization that Cyclonus might not be the best friend to have. Roberts writes his issues densely, with plenty going on, but also with a lot of detail and information to keep readers up on what's going on without drowning them in canon. Even folks with a passing interest in Transformers should check out Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye. It's a great series that makes everybody an engaging character, and #4 is no exception.