(W) Brian Ruckley (A) Angel Hernandez (A) Anna Malkova (C) Joana Lafuente (C) Josh Burcham
I was skeptical at the onset of this series. For all the bluster of the line’s subhead “The Dawn of a New Era,” it felt like a retread of threads we’d visited in previous Transformers iterations: pre-war Cybertron, an imperfect state, Megatron and Orion Pax bristling against a domineering Sentinel Prime.
And while The Transformers (2019) hasn’t exactly broken the mold, it’s sprinkled in enough new ideas to make my interest blossom.
Writer Brian Ruckley’s most inspired decision has been to make his Cybertronians so stupendously violence-averse. While we’ve had depictions of pre-war Cybertron in a similar vein — a formerly colonizing planet attempting to turn its back on its bloody, expansionist past — they’ve still operated more or less as a facsimile of earth replete with crime, murder, and other violence. Except robots.
But this Cybertron is a tightly controlled society, its energon rationed and new forgings only allowed intermittently. It is also exceedingly peaceful. The murder of Brainstorm and, later, Rubble (a refreshingly bold move, killing the newly-forged audience surrogate) is so rare and unknown as to spark a massive silent protest in this issue. Previously, when facing a threat from the insurrectionist Rise group, the Autobot security forces are forced to dig out artifact-weapons from a previous era. Ruckley has them express their utter unfamiliarity (and ineptitude) with their use.
But how long can that kind of tightly-controlled peace last?
In issue #8, the aptly-named psychotherapist Froid surmises the delicate equilibrium: “We are wilful, protean, assertive, troublesome beings,” he tells Prowl and Chromia. “Restraint and constraint were never going to work forever.”
That’s a big idea and I can’t help but think there are several big ideas hidden within the pages of a comic designed to sell toys.
Ones that might even tap into the zeitgeist of the current moment. The Cybertronian rules-based order — codified laws built to maintain peace and stability in response to a preceding era of bloodshed and expansionist conflict — crumbles before the narrative manipulation and political machinations of a power-hungry Senator Megatron who wishes to return the planet to its galactic ascendance.
Issue #11 — which I am ostensibly reviewing here — is very much centred on that deception. The last issue revealed Megatron has been covertly directing the Rise to cause havoc in order to create opportunity for his own Ascenticon movement. He makes some further moves to stoke that unrest this issue (driven somewhat by Soundwave’s snap decision-making) and ends the issue with the recording of a call to arms against the established order, brandishing an all-too-familiar canonical icon that portends the carnage to come.
We all know where this story is going and in that foreknowledge is its tragedy. Ruckley is playing a sonorous melody here, hitting just the right notes to build towards the inevitable, terrible climax.
Everything old is new again.