Comics You Should Be Reading: IDW's Transformers Series
What kind of stories can you tell with giant robots?
If you're only familiar with Transformers through their movies or cartoon series, you might think your options are pretty limited. Not that those things don't have their moments, but mostly they're pretty straightforward action stories with lots of punching and guns. That's cool, especially if you're in a certain kind of mood, but maybe there are some of you out there—like this hopelessly geeky writer—who feel that Transformers can do something more. Maybe, we think, there's a few real serious science fiction stories to be extracted from the Transformers universe, if only someone would really look.
If those people ARE out there, IDW Publishing has the books for them. Their recent Transformers comics relaunch has already told some of the most exciting, well-thought out stories these characters have ever been a part of. And that's only been in THREE MONTHS.
So let's set the scene. The Great War between the Autobots and the Decepticons has ended. Megatron has been defeated, and Optimus Prime, desperate for a change, has left Cybertron, presumably forever. In his place, the Autobot Bumblebee rules, doing his best to oversee a shaky government made up of ex-fighters on both sides, as well as a giant group of non-aligned Cybetronians who've returned to their planet looking for peace. Not everyone's happy with Bumblebee's leadership—most aren't, in fact—which leads to a whole new group of conflicts the Transformers would never have anticipated. How does a society that's been fighting for four million years change?
Capitalizing on the rich new possibilities this scenario affords, IDW has broken their Transformers comics into two books, each with a distinct niche to fill:
More Than Meets the Eye: The more adventure-based book of the two, MTMTE focuses on a single ship of Transformers, captained by the young Autobot Rodimus, who're anxious to get off Cybertron and explore the galaxy. Rodimus and his crew—mostly Autobots, with a few Decepticons and neutrals—have in particular set off looking for their ancestors, the Knights of Cybertron, who legend has it colonized the galaxy millennia ago. Perhaps there are other Transformers homeworlds out there, paradises that the Great War never reached? Rodimus and his unlikely crew will find them or die trying in this book that combines the frontier feel of old Westerns, eerie outer-space spookiness ala Alien, and giant robot swashbuckling like a steampunk Pirates of the Caribbean. It's also pretty darn funny. Writer James Roberts correctly describes this series as "Justice League International as re-imagined by Stephen Moffat" (of Dr. Who fame) and "Arrested Development with alt modes…"; its most obvious comparison, though, is to the epic sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, which used a similar conceit (finding one's long-lost home across the stars) to great effect. Because of its action-oriented nature, more traditional Transformers fans will probably find this to be their book of choice.
Robots in Disguise: This book takes a slightly more serious, though no less excellent, approach to the Transformers concept. It's set on Cybertron and focuses on Bumblebee's attempts at governing a society that seems to resist stability by nature. While MTMTE sets the Transformers against alien threats, Robots in Disguise still displays the old Autobot/Decepticon battle lines, but they're much more blurred. Here, old enemies (like the conniving Decepticon Starscream) vie for power in Bumblebee's new legislature by acting like heroes, while old friends (like Autobot security chief Prowl) have to do so many ethical gymnastics to maintain peace that they start to look worse than the guys they fight against. Really, Robots in Disguise is a pretty dark book thematically, but a very satisfying one, if for no other reason than the fact that it's the kind of story you never thought a Transformers book would be able to tell (and also, writer John Barber and artist Andrew Griffith craft the story with such care that you know you're in good hands). If MTMTE is the Battlestar Galactica of Transformers, this is the West Wing.
As we already mentioned, these books are both only in their third month of release; that means that it should be super-easy to catch up on these series if they sound like anything you'd be interested in (you can grab the issues of each series digitally on Comixology for a start…). Of course Transformers comics won't be for everyone, but there are definitely people out there who grew up with these characters but left them behind in favor of more sophisticated stories. James Roberts, John Barber and the rest are proving twice a month that transforming robots can be just as sophisticated as famous primetime television.
So, what kind of stories do you want giant robots to tell?