Wednesday, January 18, 2012

...The Right Of All Sentient Knuckleheads - Bwah-Ha-Ha

IDW's Transformers comics are shaking up this month. What started off as a simple reboot of the franchise and its comic book continuity became swept-up and overshadowed by the success of the live-action movies and arguably went off the rails for a while. So now we're getting a new jumping-on point that is not so much a revamp as just something exciting and new.

This month we have two new ongoing series - Robots In Disguise and More Than Meets The Eye. The new status quo? The ongoing feud between the Autobots and Decepticons is considered over, and in a goodwill gesture to show that Cybertron has moved on, the leadership is divided between Rodimus Prime and Bumblebee, who are not getting along right now. Both agree that that they need to get their home planet in order, but disagree in how to do it. 'Bee thinks it needs to be done from the ground up, Rodimus thinks something old will help - in this case, a quest for the Knights of Cybertron - a Jedi/Templar-sounding order of robots that went into hiding long,long ago.

So they split, and the two books show the change well. In More Than Meets The Eye,  Rodimus fronts a book that's very Justice League International meets Lost in Space/ Star Trek: Voyager with more humor than you'd expect - no, not terrible Shia Labeouf comedy, but the cause-and-effect, dialogue-fueled, "Bwa-ha-ha" that defined the Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis years writing the Justice league, and I found this approach very engaging. Robots In Disguise appears to offer a more conventional alternative, but I expect it will be good, since Bumblebee stars in it.

Casting Transformers in comics is very important. In past years, the comics would focus on characters with a cult following, like Jetfire, Grimlock and Ratchet (who didn't do much in the original cartoon, but strangely enough, became the real hero in the original Marvel comic books, even considered by fans to be Megatron's true arch-foe). Here, with Rodimus and Bumblebee, the books are centered on characters that played major roles in Transformers movies, and I'm certain that was a key strategy  to bring in new readers. I saw one guy in the comic shop pick up a copy that prominently displayed Rodimus on the cover, while I opted for Nick Roche's awesome cover tribute to Kevin Maguire's Justice League #1 cover, with Rodimus standing in for Guy Gardner. Variant covers cover all bases - not all the time, but here they did.

I tend to drift in and out of Transformers because the continuity can get ugly and self-indulgent. The old Marvel comics veer away from the TV show at one point, the Marvel U.K. comics used a time travel story set between scenes in the animated movie, Target 2006, which created an alternate continuity. Bumblebee survived in the TV series, but was killed off in any crossover with G.I. Joe. Characters like Shockwave, Ratbat, Nightbeat, Blaster, Ratchet and Grimlock were given the lion's share of attention, yet barely registered on TV.

The timing couldn't be better - The Hub channel started airing episodes from season 3 of the original Transformers series - which featured  Rodimus, Ultra Magnus, Galvatron , Wreck-Garr,  Dalek-wannabes the Quintessons and Ben Grimm-analogue Kup, so anyone watching and visiting a comic shop spotting a comic book showcasing those characters will want to try it. That season is not very popular, but technically, the scripts, dialogue and characterization are stronger than what came before. I like how it played off events from the animated film, which was something of an event to any kid who saw it in 1986. I remember I had to choose between seeing that movie or the final re-release of  Disney's Song of The South. But Song of The South had already started, and the Transformers movie was still playing into the afternoon and evening, simply because somebody ingeniously thought of having Spike Witwicky say, "Oh, Shit, what are we going to do now?!" in the middle of the picture. Well, if the parents weren't taking them out and demanding refunds when the Autobots were getting killed left and right in the 1st ten minutes... It all sounds so tame, now.

What about Bayformers? The popular nickname for the live-action films? Well, maybe it says something about my worldview, but I can't help but find Bay's ugly depiction of the humans to be more convincing than anyone would care to admit. In Bayformers our fates are often in the hands of overzealous, uneducated, interchangeable and hammy people in suits and uniforms who thrive on red tape and puffed-up men and women overcompensating for their lack of logic or personality by clinging on to growling hoary stereotypes. The giant robots have more personality, but Bay (or perhaps, Steven Spielberg) is skittish about giving them more screen time. I guess a Beast Wars movie is unthinkable, here. Ditto an adaptation of the great comic I just reviewed.

I can't help imagine what a Doctor Who/Transformers crossover would be like. Of course it would star David Tennant. Maybe Tom Baker would cameo, offering Galvatron jelly babies. And K9 would blast away Decepticons while UNIT and Torchwood would tell Sector 7 the business and show them how its done right. And the sonic screwdriver would convert an industrial fan into an inter-dimensional Hoover vac that would suck all the baddies into a pocket nowhere place and let the Daleks and Cybermen finish them off.  And Megan Fox could lay down on the hood of an Aston Martin DB9 and pose all sexy-like, just in case this was starting to look like kids stuff... This might already be on YouTube... Babelcolour's The Ten Doctors uses the soundtrack from the films better than Bay did. I'll check again...

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