Road Trip with the Transformers, Entry 2 — Transformers #2

Road Trip with the Transformers is what happens when you take a guy who grew up with Transformers (well, Robots in Disguise and the Unicron Trilogy, anyway), who was mildly interested in IDW’s Transformers comics — but too scared to dip too far in — and give him a rebooted Transformers comics line. With this, I’ll be quickly reviewing and then commenting on IDW’s new Transformers comic universe that began in March of 2019! I’ll be chronicling my experience as someone who is a lapsed fan of the franchise from childhood, who has only read a few of the previous IDW Transformers comics. Expect me to forget characters’ names, find it hard to tell them apart and have little to no understanding of references to previous continuities! Does that sound like fun? No? Well, you’re coming along anyway! It’s a road trip! Roll out!

Before I get into the comic, I just want to say that I’m looking to buy Transformers toys now because I liked the first issue of the comic and dig the character designs — Chromia on the cover of this issue looks pretty great, for example. Plus just a general nostalgia for my childhood. The problem? I didn’t realise how hard the Siege toys are to find! Seriously, Australia is not a good place to live if you want access to Transformers toys, and I can’t wait for Toys R’ Us to make its comeback. Although I did manage to get lucky and find a Target that had a bunch of Wave 2 stuff on my first day of looking.

I also learned that posing is hard, especially when one toy has slim legs and a gigantic backpack.

Anyway, back to the comic. Last issue introduced us to the world of Cybertron and what will probably be our main cast of characters for a while: Rubble, Bumblebee, Windblade, Orion Pax and Megatron. Also, Ironhide was there. It had some great art, an interesting world and did a good job pacing itself and not overwhelming me as a new reader. The lettering was off though, which kind of took away from the issue overall. Let’s hope that’s not the case here. Anyway, here is Transformers (2019) #2!

Transformers (2019) #2cover

Written by Brian Ruckley
Art by Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman
Colours by Joana Lafuente, Josh Burcham
Letters by Tom B. Long

Published by IDW Publishing
Cover price: $3.99 USD

The first chapter of any story is filled with unbridled potential. It’s something to captivate readers, but what about maintaining that quality? Well, at the second issue, Transformers (2019) is already struggling under the weight of itself, with sluggish pacing and a lack of focus.

Last issue, Brian Ruckley set up an intriguing world full of unique features and a political climate ready to burst, along with a plot hook to tie it all together. It was a good start. This second issue does little to move anything forward, focusing instead on world-building that, while nicely detailed, introduces too many new concepts simultaneously. New terms and concepts are introduced at a rapid pace once the exposition gets started, while the murder of Brainstorm takes a backseat. Unlike in the first issue, the plot with Rubble and Bumblebee feels like it is only there for the sake of justifying exposition, and any attempts at strong character moments fall flat — not helped by awkward panel-to-panel flow that feels like panels or dialogue balloons are missing. The Bumblebee and Rubble plot is probably the weakest part of this issue, and it’s a shame that it takes up so much of it.

Did Bumblebee’s voice break again?

Meanwhile, the Ascenticon plot moves at a crawling pace — while we learn what their motives are, it’s nothing you couldn’t assume from the first issue and its Termagax quote. While this plot thread does receive some development, how little it gets highlights how slow it has been moving. Meanwhile, the murder plot has some strange ideas — such as how rare a murder is on Cybertron — and is even more out of focus than the Ascenticon plot. Chromia and Prowl are introduced, and are characterised well, but there is very little done with them. The characters are just introduced, established and the plot’s potential ties to the Ascenticons made clear before the scene jumps to Bee and Rubble. Aside from reminding the reader that the plot is present and likely has ties to the other stories, it serves very little purpose. All in all, it feels like this issue was spread too wide across its three plot points, and chose to spend too much time on Bumblebee and Rubble for the sake of giving Ruckley a reason to world-build at the cost of story progression.

Art-wise, Angel Hernandez still does a good job. While there’s less humanity and character moments this issue, the few scenes we get are well-drawn — ignoring the awkward flow as mentioned above. Joana Lafuente does a good job colouring too, although she seems to be trying a new technique with the characters’ eyes, giving them a stronger glow that I’m not a fan of, given how it weirdly draws the reader’s eye — although long shots look strange in general with characters’ lack of detail, so it does help to define the characters’ eyes in those moments. It was somewhat present last issue, but here, it is especially distracting. Cachet Whitman’s Ascenticon scenes are appropriately loud and bombastic, befitting their nature, while still fitting with the aesthetic established by Hernandez’s pages. However, the posing is just a little too stiff, especially when it comes to any action scene involving Megatron — otherwise Whitman does a solid job here, and Joshua Burcham’s colours do a good job establishing the darker, foreboding tone of the story. Character designs are strong throughout the issue, but the adherence to Hasbro’s Siege toy designs results in some awkward design elements, such as Prowl’s very square shoulders, or the presence of parts designed for play and not aesthetic.

A little too close to being an action figure.

Transformers #2 is a comic that feels unfocused. It wants to do too much, and the result is a glacially slow comic that does very little to advance any of its plot. The world-building is fine, but not nearly as seamlessly integrated with the narrative as the previous issue, which is a shame given how masterfully Ruckley handled exposition there. The slow pace and multiple plot threads establish a sense of foreboding that makes it clear that this Cybertron as a setting with problems on multiple fronts. But a lot more things need to happen in this setting. Art is solid, with some impactful moments, but there are also awkward moments that feel like a panel or dialogue balloon is missing. Transformers #2 is a rough second chapter in this story, but I’m hopeful that it is building towards something that will be interesting.

2/5 – Below average

“The World in Your Eyes, Part Two”

Here comes the commentary, where I basically give you a much more detailed look at what I think about the issue while somewhat summarising it. Obviously, spoiler warning. And don’t take anything I say here too seriously, most of it is for my own benefit, though I do like to put focus on some moments here and there.

See that cover? Notice how Chromia doesn’t have an insanely huge backpack that unbalances her? Must be nice…

Anyway, in the actual issue, she does have the backpack, and in general looks a lot more like her toy. Same with Prowl. I guess the cover was drawn before anyone knew what the toy looked like? Or IDW or Hasbro care less about that for some reason? Either way, it’s noticeable. I prefer the cover version, if I’m being honest. In general the adherence to toy designs feels unnecessary, at least to this degree —  especially since some of the characters in this comic have the little holes you’re supposed to put effect pieces into. I’m sure these serve a function… I’m just struggling to come up with one.

The issue opens with Rubble acting morbidly melancholic about the whole thing, as Chromia and Prowl have arrived to look into Brainstorm’s death. Rubble narrates his name to himself and then has a lot more narration captions, giving me flashbacks to Scott Lobdell’s New 52 work —  and that’s not a good thing.

He’s 41 days old?!

We’re introduced to these versions of Chromia and Prowl, with Prowl taking a backseat to Chromia. I appreciate this, and always like when female Transformers get some love. Chromia is the head of security on Cybertron (and I guess her presence establishes that Brainstorm’s murder is a big deal), and is very supportive of Rubble during this time and shows off her experience. This all leads me to believe that she’s going to die, but I hope I’m wrong. She also speaks more formally than I thought she would, based on the YouTube clip I saw of her where she had a thoroughly cartoon Southern accent. Prowl, in the meantime, is very rigid and unpleasant — apparently this is how he always is, based on what I’ve read. But he’s good at his job, and that’s enough, though Chromia says if he were more personable, he’d have her job. Oh no… she’s gonna be fridged to give Prowl an arc, isn’t she? Can we not? I like her.

Prowl thinks the Rise were attempting sabotage and Brainstorm just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We also learn that there hasn’t been a murder on Cybertron in lifetimes. And these guys live a long time, right? It’s… it’s more than a bit unbelievable, if I’m being honest. Like, really unbelievable. Chromia decides to round up every suspected Rise activist for questioning. That’s… a plan. Chromia also questions Windblade about Rubble, and she acts indignant about things before Chromia says she just has to ask about everybody. Prowl takes the opportunity to bag out Windblade for a minor thing she didn’t do. Orion calls Chromia and tells her to get some security to Tarn for Megatron’s Ascenticon rally that was mentioned last issue, which is drawing in an even bigger crowd than they’d thought. Chromia notes that security is spread thin, and we get the idea that Cybertron is about to burst. Also, surprisingly, no interaction with her and Ironhide — given what I know about the two. He’s not even in this issue, so… it’s kinda weird that he was in the first one.

Cut to Bee and Rubble as they meet up with Wheeljack, an engineer who likes to exposit. A lot. And really, that’s all that happens. Though we do get some more information about Termagax, who built the device that Autobots use to “filter Energon from the very fabric of spacetime”… whatever that means. Also, that Termagax isn’t just an sinpirational figure for the Ascenticons; she was the first Ascenticon, which ties her a lot closer to them than I thought she’d be. Bee tells Rubble not to mention Brainstorm’ murder, and he doesn’t — there’s no angst about it or anything, Rubble just doesn’t say anything — and ends up working with Wheeljack for a day while Bee goes off to… do something. Wheeljack himself even points out he doesn’t know what Bee is doing. But at least Bee is spared the day of exposition. Seriously, that’s all Wheeljack is here to do; he doesn’t really have a character or charisma beyond that to be eccentric, he just talks your ear off about whatever he happens to see.

He even started the page before this!

Some of the exposition, like the one above about the Skitter, feels like it’s just there for the sake of world-building. But unlike the stuff with Termagax or Energon, this feels like it will have almost no bearing on the overall story. Unless this and the weird lifeforms from last issue are meant to be some foreshadowing about organic life? I don’t know, but I didn’t need to know this in an issue packed with exposition.

Bumblebee eventually returns to spare us from anymore of Wheeljack’s talking. Bee and Rubble go to a roof to watch the Energon machine do its work, and an attempt is made at a heartwarming scene. Rubble learns from Bee that the Rise are after the same things as the Ascenticons; they’re just violent about it (and this somehow hasn’t led to a single murder in living memory?!). Rubble asks if he’ll have to pick between the Ascenticons and Autobots, setting up an interesting idea of where Rubble will ultimately end up once he’s done being the audience surrogate. Bee says he never joined any of them, and that Rubble won’t have to either. Yeah, something tells me you will, Bee.

Finally, the two watch the moon open up to do its thing. Bee makes a passing mention of two Transformers who jumped from the thing, and the kind of wistful look in his eyes makes me think he’s talking about himself. Which would definitely line up with Bumblebee; I’ve only just noticed how strange it is that this story starts him in a mentor position, rather than as a younger character. With Rubble substituting for a human audience surrogate, I guess Bee’s role is kind of the same. Anyway, this scene is actually kind of touching… before a weird thing happens where Bumblebee instantly changes his mind for no noticeable reason.

Um… I have nothing. I don’t even know what to say. What changed his mind?

After that touching, if confusing, moment, we cut to Megatron and the Ascenticons in Tarn. Megatron gives a speech that reads like he really needs to work on cohesion in his writing, and we catch a glimpse of Soundwave with him, which is nice. The Ascenticons are discontent with life on Cybertron, where Energon is rationed by the Autobots so much that many Transformers are not at their best, and there are “kilocycles” between “forgings” — I think that’d be… what, 1000 days between births? That’s not that bad, Megs. I find the Energon rationing interesting, as Bee says using the moon-thing to harvest Energon is actually not very effective, and that a crystallised Energon is preferable. It seems like Cybertron is on its last legs, in addition to its society being on the brink of imploding.

Before Megatron can finish his speech about how the Ascenticons must rise up against the oppressive Autobots, someone tries to kill him. The ground benief him explodes and rounds are fired at him. He rushes through the crowd, imploring them to seek cover, and busts through the wall the sniper is hiding behind. But he’s too late, and the sniper has fled, leaving an angry Megatron to seek answers.

That’s a good way to end the issue, and I like that Megatron shows some concern for those attending the Ascenticon rally. This Megatron seems to genuinely want to make Cybertron better, but might not understand where it’s at — and this sense that Cybertron is overwhelmed from all sides might be why Ruckley is pacing this story so slowly. While it’s pretty clear that the Ascenticons will become the Decepticons, I’m curious how that will happen. And the shooter? I’m betting it’s a member of the Rise trying to trick the Ascenticons into joining forces with them, if not joining them outright. Although… where was Chromia’s security team? She better not be the shooter, Brian Ruckley! Though it’s also possible there were that few guards there, given how she said they’re short-handed. Curious where this goes, and hopefully next issue focuses less on random world-building and more on meaningful world-building and the plot.

As an aside: the strange lettering from last issue is still the case here, though I’ve definitely gotten more used to it. But there’s absolutely no reason for having the white of some speech balloons weirdly overtake the black outline. It’s pointless and distracting and I seriously hope it goes away.

This entry was a little later than usual (can it be ‘usual’ when there’s only been one before it?) because I had two assignments in a Masters degree and a job interview. As always, life comes first. But I think I’ll have a lot of time in the next few weeks, and I’ve been reading a lot of the older Transformers comics from IDW so I may run another feature where I read older stuff. Definitely with a different name, however, since I want Road Trip with the Transformers to be focused on the universe launched in 2019.

For anyone who wants to check out those older IDW comics I mentioned, you can get a lot (or even the entire run) for a cheap price at Humble Bundle until April 12th.

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