I don’t know that we’ve actually had a status quo on this book, at least not since I took over reviewing it at the start of season 2, but Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #40 is a bizarre mix of embracing and bucking the status quo. After an issue with the DJD coming on the heels of a massive story arc, itself coming on the heels of something of a wham episode, itself coming on the heels of one and a half arcs full of big moments, which themselves come hot on the heels of a gigantic crossover, it is really weird to get a light, little character portrait. As I said, it’s kind of a return to the status quo, just enjoying itself between major stories, but with that kind of history it’s also kind of telling labels and expectations to, as Swerve so eloquently puts it, sod off.

It’s nice to spend some time with Ratchet, a bot we haven’t seen much of lately despite his importance to the franchise as a whole, but, despite the prominent billing he receives, this isn’t just his story. Obviously Brainstorm is in the spotlight as his trial gets underway and Tailgate is a common sight, but you could also argue that this is really Ten’s issue, of all bots! But of course, Ultra Magnus and/or Minimus Ambus also have a big part to play. When all’s said and done, this issue derives a lot of its power from its ability to stop and comment on the series as a whole, the cast as a whole.

The web of connections Roberts calls into play this issue is impressive. The story is, in many ways, exceedingly simple, especially for Roberts, but he pulls it off with impressive naturalism. One thing that struck me about this issue is that to a reader who wasn’t around for the first twenty issues or so Ratchet’s relationship with Drift would be rather mysterious. There’s very little specificity about their friendship and, in fact, his name is barely used at all. What’s amazing about this is that I think the story would play as well to them as it would to a reader who’s been here since the beginning. Admittedly an issue of this series will likely never be truly new reader friendly, but, fittingly for the tale at hand, Roberts says a lot with a little, carving out the mold of a friendship that readers can easily fill in themselves.

Ratchet’s machinations make for a space-effective way to cram a huge amount of…I hesitate to say character development because it seems to lie somewhere between advancing the characters’ stories and revealing them, but, regardless, it feels more engaging than it probably should and makes it easy to care about the crew.

Brainstorm’s trial is a particular spot of good writing and the defendant is a joy to read, even if it feels like he’s had his personality turned up for the occasion. Admittedly the requirements of the story seem to shrug off some of the implications of the last arc, but as long as you can let that be or accept it as a natural consequence of bias and charisma it should be a blast.

I’m also fascinated and horrified to see more of Getaway’s uncomfortable relationship with Tailgate play out and my continued interest in Ravage’s role aboard the ship is very much justified this month. There’s a lot going on here and, while Roberts is using this issue to move pieces around the board it’s all interesting and engaging.

Frequent fill-in artist Brendan Cahill takes the reins this month. I’ve always liked Cahill’s way of drawing Transformers and that’s still true. There’s a great balance of the robotic and the organic in his work and, resultantly, the characters have an iconic look about them. Rodimus’ sharp, high-octane chassis looks especially great. I will say that noses occasionally look flat or overly rounded and mouths, especially the more robotic looking mouths, aren’t always his strongest work. Admittedly part of the oddness in the art comes from the reader’s comfort with Alex Milne’s style, but there’s something undeniably pleasing about Cahill’s style as well and he’s got a very particular talent for getting the human into these characters without anthropomorphizing them too much.

It’s also great to see Cahill being allowed to use a very different style to depict artwork within the story itself. Not only is it wonderfully presented and super cute, but the reactions to it are some of the stronger work he does in the issue. This is a remarkably heartfelt issue and Cahill totally leans into that to great effect.

While her collaborations with Alex Milne are always lovely, it feels like working with guest artists these past two issues has freed Joana Lafuente to try some new and bolder things. It helps that Lafuente seems to use a less pastel set of colors for these issues and is really taking her chances when they arise. Particularly in moments of literal darkness, Lafuente always seems poised to utilize beautiful colors and soft but startling glows to punctuate the moment.

Some Thoughts:

  • I can’t tell if the particular focus on Mirage and First Aid is an attempt to play with them before they’re called away for “Combiner Wars” or a conscious way to both alerting readers to and foreshadowing the events of the fast approaching Drift: Empire of Stone.
  • I must say that the story doesn’t seem to acknowledge the severity of a millennia-long plot to destroy all of creation on the chance that things turn out better for it. I think Nautica’s scenes handle it well because she is dealing with a personal betrayal, but at no point do I get the sense that the majority of crew who know are willing to accept just how much of a Megatron-level omni-genocide that is. I’m willing to believe that the power of bias and charisma led to the outcome we see here, but it’s clear that Roberts wrote backwards from that necessity. I get that Brainstorm was being selfless, but he was still gambling with existence based on very limited information. It just seems like Magnus might have given him a harder time.
  • I love that Ten seems to universally depict himself with eyes.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

There’s little point in hiding it: I found this issue difficult to review. It’s action-less filler in many ways, but I put it down bowled over by how tight and affecting it was. There’s very little to pick at and the whole thing feels like a single unit, despite the reality of its myriad moving parts. It’s a story of speaking with silence, the art feels new and yet familiar, it’s a self-contained moment that also extensively draws from past events and sets up for future plot lines. It’s a mess of contradictions, but the point, it seems, is that it, like it’s cast, is a beautiful mess. Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #40 is a fantastic reminder of the range and potency this series possesses and just feels good to read.