IDW Publishing: "More than Meets the Eye" #4 Comic Book Review
Title: Life after the Big Bang
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publishing Date: April 18, 2012
Written by: James Roberts
Art by: Alex Milne
Colors by: Josh Burcham
Letters by: Shawn Lee
Editor: John Barber
At the Autobot Medical Outpost Delphi, former doctor (now demoted to nurse) First Aid is typing into his journal, recounting the events that led him up to the point where he is considering what will happen after he dies. There, not too long ago the Autobot Ambulon allowed two Decepticon deserters sanctuary in the facility. Pharma, the leader of the facility wasn't happy about it, but taking in those begging for sanctuary was part of the Autobot Code, and the two Decepticons were "Genericons" who had been stripped of their alternate modes. Then, shortly after they arrived - Autobots began to die!
Two days later on The Lost Light, Swerve's bar has kicked into high gear, getting business from customers including Ratchet, Skids, Chromedome and Rewind. There, Swerve and Ratchet discuss a datalog they've received from Delphi giving statistics on deaths at the site for the last two years. The numbers fluctuated, then leveled out but recently they have risen to new levels. Ratchet decides it's time for him to investigate!
Elsewhere on the ship, Ultra Magnus and Rodimus are talking about Tailgate and his decision to become a Decepticon. Magnus is feeling the weight of keeping order on the ship but Rodimus tells him to calm down and be more flexible. In addition, he'll deal with Tailgate.
On the planet of Messatine, Drift, Ratchet and Pipes are using hovercraft known as M.A.R.B.s (Mobile Autobot Repair Bays) to get to the site. Once they arrive, they find a gigantic red "X" painted onto the door. Pipes impulsively rams into the facility and winds up covered in corposes! Ratchet chastises him, telling him the symbol meant to stay away in several cultures, not ram into the facility! Before the conversation can continue, an infected Autobot stalks up to Pipes, but before he can get to him Drift slices him into several pieces! Ratchet now chastises Drift for acting impulsively. Before the arguement can escalate, First Aid appears to say see who has arrived. He recognizes Ratchet and explains that a mysterious "red dust" has infected the facility. He marks Pipes with an "X" to indicate he has come in contact with an infected patient.
Meanwhile on The Lost Light, Magnus brings Tailgate to Rewind and Rodimus. Rodimus tells Tailgate that Rewind is going to transfer data about the Great Wars into Tailgate's head to update him on what's happened in the last six million years. At the end, he can then decide if he wants to truly be an Autobot or a Decepticon.
Back at Delphi, First Aid explains the symptoms of the disease, including "crying" leading to liquification of the Transformers' body. Miners and the security detail in the facility died first, quickly followed by others. Ratchet sees that First Aid is marked as infected and wonders why he hasn't died yet. First Aid explains that Ambulon believes the doctors have been exposed to so many more diseases they have a greater resistance. Drift says they should have called for help but First Aid explains communications have been down since "The Big Bang", an explosion of unknown origin that seems to coincide with the time the disease started.
The group reaches the main medical bay and Ratchet examines some of the older patients, noting they are not "crying". When Ratchet asks if this is everyone, Ambulon points out a body in the corner in a comatose state. First Aid theorizes he can use a health Spark to "jumpstart" the comatose patient, but Ambulon doesn't believe it. First Aid asks Ratchet for his help regardless...
On The Lost Light, Tailgate is glum as he asks accuses Cyclonus of lying to him about the War. However, Cyclonus explains to him that war is never so straightforward, especially after millions of years. When Tailgate hits Cyclonus (to no effect), he gets a swipe and a kick in return before Cyclonus stalks off, grim as ever.
Back at Delphi, the newly arrived Autobots discover that Pharma has been sealed in an operating chamber since the infection began. The glass is too thick so they can't hear him. Unfortunatley, the chamber won't release until millions of years have passed! Pharma quickly burns a message into his hand: Your friend is upset! They turn around to see Pipes in bad shape. The infection has begun to take hold! Ratchet quickly unlocks the chamber Pharma is in right before Pipes is knocked out by Drift. They carry Pipes to a table and then Drift notices he is also infected! Before they can formulate a plan, Pharma is sent crashing into a table and in walks the Decepticon deserters! Armed and smug, the two are ready to kill everyone in the room until First Aid shows up!
Behind First Aid is a giant, hulking figure: Fortress Maximus! He explains who he is, what has happened to him and finally that these two Decepticons are now in the worst possible place to be in the universe!
So it's taken a while, but I think this series has begun to truly hit its stride. Story wise it struck me as of this issue that what we have here is a quirky, Transformers take on what a Transformers based "Star Trek" style series would have been. The story revels in the eccentricities of its characters and goes into some side stories, but throughout there are some themes running through the narrative. The eccentricities are everywhere, whether its on Delphi with First Aid's obsession with Autobot badges or Ultra Magnus with his pervasive grumpiness. Some of the side stories are kind of funny including Swerve's bar while others are a bit mysterious such as Skids' missing memories. All these puzzle pieces help carry you along for the ride as an "A" story takes place. In this issue, that story is the ill fate of the Delphi facility.
I like the idea of an Autobot Medical facility, and I could not help but make comparisons to the affliction hitting the Autobots there to the "Cosmic Rust" featured in an episode of the original Transformers series by the same name. That disease basically rusted and 'dissolved' Transformers while this oine goes a slightly more wet route. I'm curious to see in upcoming issues what the "Big Bang" was and whether the two generic Decepticons even play a role in it at all, or did they just break free and decide to go on a killing spree. I did find mention of their "conjoined Spark" interesting since one of their designs is very similar to the body design of the G1 Decepticon "Clones" known as Pounce and Wingspan. It may be pure coincidence, but with a series based on G1 like this its easy to draw odd little comparisons like this.
I give writer James Roberts a lot of credit for setting up tons of story in a single issue. This includes bits of foreshadowing such as Pipes explaining he has never been off Cybertron and enjoying the "wet" snow, showing how he could be both more vulnerable than most but also very naive. Also, the constant talk of Ratchet's hands seizing up and him being "done" as a doctor is interesting. I can't help but wonder if this is going somewhere, or is it just an ornery old doctor complaining. I also wonder if there's a chance we're going to see Ratchet get some type of physical upgrade at some point in this title (or if they'll just kill him off as they seem quite willing to do with most Transformers in this series).
Another brief, but interestikng story component is the odd relationship between Tailgate and Cyclonus. In their own way, they are each Transformers "out of time" who did not fight in the Great Wars. While this links them, it is clear that Cyclonus has little patience for Tailgate's shenanigans. Now, you'll note I say "little". I have no doubt that Cyclonus could have easily torn Tailgate in two and disintegrated his body without anyone noticing for weeks, but his violent reaction was incredibly reserved given how dumb Tailgate was being. Cyclonus is not a nice guy, and he's the last 'bot Tailgate should be trifling with. With his dominance established firmly, I now wonder what effect this will have on Tailgate.
I do have to confess to grinning ear to ear when Fortress Maximus returned. Since his introduction in the Marvel Comics "Headmasters" series, I have always liked the character. He always felt a bit like Optimus Prime taken to an interesting extreme towards pacifism and his toy was of course the source of much desire when I was younger. In the IDW Universe of course, he's a bit less puritanical and a much more of a warrior figure, but I felt "Last Stand of the Wreckers" really didn't teach us much about this iteration, so now we may have the chance! It's a prospect that fills me with much excitement.
This title definitely has a distinctive visual style, no matter who is drawing it. It's purely a matter of personal preference, but I do sort of wish many of the characters retained their "toy designs". Drift being paramount among them. Pipes, I can understand not being an Earth truck since well, until now he's never left Cybertron, so having a truck form reminscent of his G1 toy is cool. However, I don't understand why say, Ratchet and Drift decided to change their forms. It kind of opens up a weird hole in the story. If all Transformers can change body forms as easily as a human changes clothing, why doesn't Ratchet just get a new form complete with new hands? Changing his body form clearly involves changing some of his functionality (such as the type of vehicle he becomes) so it's a bit strange if you think about it. I'm guessing/hoping that at some point in the future the ease that Transformers seem to morph from one form to another is addressed.
None of what I say above detracts from Milne's work, which is brilliant as always. I enjoy the fine line he walks between having characters be too thin and lithe (I'm looking at you Drift) and others who are more traditionally bulky or angular in shape such as First Aid. This issue especially provided quite a bit of facial expression fodder. I love how his pictures alone easily convey the mood of characters whether it's the "Genericons" looking relieved at gaining asylm or Fortress Maximus' severely angry expression at the end of the issue.
I think with its fourth outing, "More than Meets the Eye" is truly hitting its stride. Complete with the return of Fortress Maximus and introducing a bunch of new characters, there's a lot of interesting story points being set up for the "A" story here that I look forward to seeing resolved in coming issues. A fun read that is definitely worth picking up!