IDW Publishing: Spotlight Wheele Review

in 2008, Comic Book Review, Generation One

General Information:
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: June 18, 2008
Written by: Simon Furman/Klaus Scherwinski
Art by: Klaus Scherwinski
Colors by: Klaus Scherwinski
Color Assist: Josh Burcham
Letters by: Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Edits by: Denton J. Tipton


Cover A Cover B Sketch Cover

Synopsis:
Long ago, the Autobots began sending out troops to find habitable worlds. One of these intrepid chosen Autobots was Wheelie. Unfortunately his ship crashed on a far off world known as LV-117. While he survived, his ship was totaled. Salvaging scrap from his vessel, he manages to create a shelter where he spends time both admiring the beauty of the planet while fending off aggressive predators. Through these trials, he truly learns the essence of survival. It's kill or be killed and Wheelie handles his share of that equation well.

One night, Wheelie sees something fall from the sky in the distance. It gives him hope and he begins to track it. Along the way he encounters an Arachnosaur and remembers his time being attacked by the Chaosteros monster who tore his arm off. He reattached the arm, but its functionality was never quite the same. When he arrives at the crash site, he finds a Decepticon vessel! He scouts out the crash site and finds the two Decepticons Spectro and Spyglass with a captive organic alien. The alien is bound by a mechanical restraint and the Decepticons comment that their weapon power is low. Using his slingshot, Wheelie disables the restraint, allowing the alien to escape. The two Decepticons go chasing after him, allowing Wheelie to go into the ship to investigate. There, he finds Viewfinder deactivated, the victim of a large, sharp piece of glass embedded in his upper body. He decides to go and try to help the alien, who has two Decepticons in hot pursuit.

Wheelie tracks the trio to the ruins of an ancient city. There, he finds a ship but the alien attacks him! He tells the alien to stop and that he is friendly, and the alien shrinks down from a large, muscular form into its earlier smaller, tiny form. In its own way, Wheelie realizes this alien is a "transformer". It speaks in a tongue that translates into sentences that rhyme, and Wheelie adapts his speech accordingly. He learns the alien's name is Varta. The two work together to repair the ship, using Wheelie's Energon synthesizer as a power source. The two are about to leave when the Decepticons show! They stun Varta and tell Wheelie they want the ship. The Autobot realizes he cannot stop the launch sequence and grudgingly lets the Decepticons have the ship - but not before pulling the Energon safety-catch first! As the ship ascends, it explodes, taking the two Decepticons with it!

Later, Varta and Wheelie work together to build a new shelter using parts from the Decepticon ship. Wheelie has learned to rhyme in such a way that Varta can understand him clearly. Elsewhere, inside the ancient building nearby, the eyes of a five faced, tentacled being begin to glow!

The End?

Story:
Many of the IDW Spotlight titles feature characters who have been popular in one way or another amongst Transformers fans. Grimlock, Hot rod and Sixshot are all no brainers to get an issue of a comic featuring them. However, this issue of "Spotlight" pulled an unexpected hand from the deck of Transformers characters: Wheelie. Often reviled for his rhyming speech patterns and obviously-made-for-kiddies-to-love design, Wheelie has never caught much of a break from fans and is often the butt of jokes amongst geeks as a whole. In a way, this made him the perfect character for Simon Furman to explore. Furman has often taken characters that were easily dismissed and made them into distinctive, interesting characters in their own right including G1 Thunderwing and Nightbeat.

As with many of the "Spotlight" issues, Furman takes the pure essence of a character, distilling it down before rebuilding the character for this new Transformers universe. In the case of Wheelie, Furman takes the character's relatively small stature (both in body and rank), his instinct for survival and yes, even his tendency to speak in rhyme and uses them as a basis for the character's story. In the G1 series, Wheelie had two distinct back stories. One placed him on ancient Earth, the lone survivor of a crashed starship who learned to survive on his own. The other, more well known story has him crashing on the Quintesson homeworld of Quintessa instead. In this story, he crashes on neither of those worlds, but it is just as savage. I enjoyed the menagerie of creatures used in this story, in particular I enjoyed how "B-movie" they were. Between the giant spider and Chaosteros, these are creatures worthy of old 50's scifi movies or early 80's Marvel Comics. Showing Wheelie's survival instincts kicking in is great, and the scene where he transforms and drags his damaged arm is almost painful to read. Despite his youthful ignorance, this is not an Autobot who shies away from doing what must be done to survive.

I found it appropriate that just as Furman used a relatively maligned Autobot as his feature character in this tale, he also uses three "throw away" Decepticons in the form of Spectro, Spyglass and Viewfinder, killing one even before the main conflict kicks in! Rather than just using them as an excuse for some explosions, I was happy to see the Decepticons (and Varta) used as a plot device to help Wheelie remember who he is. Is he a savage or an Autobot? It turns out he can be a little bit of both.

I'm intrigued by the use of the Quintesson imagery at the end. So clearly in this universe, Quintessons exist. Do they have anything to do with the past of the Transformers race? Are they still around? Do they have a homeworld filled with mechanical sea life? I'd be very intereste din seeing a future story addressing these questions.

Artwork:

I normally don't talk much about the covers to comics since they tend to be fairly generic, especially the Spotlight covers. However, the two covers for "Spotlight: Wheelie" are awesome. Cover A features Wheelie about to strike at Chaosteros in what looks like a beautifully painted cover with lots of texture. In sharp contrast, Cover B is a throwback to the classic days where covers of comics were filled with text, hyperbole and relatively good but just servicable artwork. What impressed me most is that the Cover B even has texture overlaid on it to look like the cover is crinkled and that it had tape on it here and there like a well read comic sitting in a kid's back pocket. Beautiful job all around.

Klaus Scherwinski takes on the art chores including colors (with assist by Josh Bircham). His work is really impressive. "Spotlight Wheelie" has a lot of story squished into one issue. You have to explain Wheelie's stranding, show his character, show how tough life is on LV-117, then bring in Varta and the Decepticons and resolve it all. Not an easy task for an artist and writer, but the duo of Furman and Scherwinski figured it out. His panel layouts are exciting even when they don't rely on big splash pages or huge panels. His use of facial expressions on all the characters is very well done and I'm a fan of his creature designs, especially the dinosaur-like Chaosteros who is actually partly based on a creature that the Autobot Kup fought in the G1 cartoon known as Kaos.

I appreciated the use of the G1 animation models as the base for the Transformers in this issue. Sure Wheelie was changed a tiny bit and given some extra details, but overall he is instantly recognizable as the small Autobot who met the Dinobots on Quintessa. Even his slingshot is intact! Now that's just awesome. It wsa a bit of a surprise to see the trio of Spectro, Spyglass and Viewfinder in this issue, and I found the use of different colored eyes for the two Decepticons a smart way to distinguish them from each other.

Final Thoughts:
I've never actually subscribed to the "I hate Wheelie" club. I found him a pale character compared to the likes of other "kid appeal" characters such as Hot Rod and Bumblebee, but I never actively hated him so going into this issue, I had no negative preconceptions. Even with that in mind this issue really exceeded my expectations and was a fun read. Between a truly good story, its nods to the kitchy touches of G1 such as wacky monsters and Wheelie rhyming this is one neat issue. Recommended!