And we’re back with a new, multi-part MTMTE adventure! Not that a couple of great issues is anything to complain about but “Elegant Chaos” kind of left you wanting more. Regardless “The Sensuous Frame” will scratch that itch, even as it gives you a few more.

Especially with the time jump the precedes it, this issue feels like a mid-season premiere and, accordingly, has a quality of issue #28 about it. There’s the focus on new characters – that’s nice – and a similar slow burn approach – definitely effective – and even the same feeling of vague disconnect – obviously not as good. Indeed, while it doesn’t affect the issue evenly, much of the dialogue is ever so slightly off. I don’t know if others out there agree with me, if it’s something to do with Robert’s British sensibility, or what quality it exactly is, but the best way I can think to describe it is that the affected scenes feel subtly out of phase. It’s as though the ideas and relationships aren’t fully tangible to me, hence my wondering if others agree or it’s unique to me. This problem is definitely strongest towards the beginning of the issue. The scene in Nautica’s room is just strange as often as its cute and it took me a while to realize that Countdown was for real; at first it seemed as though he liked the sound of his own voice a little too much to be sincere. These problems have shown up before, notably in the aforementioned issue #28, but it’s worth noting that the oddity of some scenes is more than enough to raise an eyebrow. James Roberts has already admitted that we don’t have the code required to fully unlock this issue and I can’t help but think that he’s pulling the same trick as in issue #31, hiding the clues in a deluge of information.

Despite this weirdness, MTMTE #41 really pulls off a lot of its other moments. For a book about giant transforming death machines searching for a mythical space utopia, this book, this issue, can get a little too real. Perfect example: Nautica’s interactions with Firestar are great, helping to establish a life before the Lost Light for the fan-favorite newcomer, both in what is said and, crucially, in what isn’t. There’s something immediate and viscerally tragic about Nautica in this issue. Obviously it’s nothing like Chromedome’s struggles, but, at least for me, it’s both the struggle that you know and the struggle that haunts quietly, and that makes it very easy to fill in the gaps. You learn a lot about Nautica, what her life was like and what about her made that so, in the subtle intonations of her conversations and more than enough about Firestar.

And that’s really what makes this issue tick: weaknesses, raw nerves, flaws. More so than usual, even, Roberts is painting a picture of these bots that doesn’t lump them into good and evil. For instance, I’m pretty sure, based on last issue, that Getaway might just be a pretty bad person, but here he is in a lead role, playing the hero. Rodimus hasn’t seemed this petty or this useless since at least the end of Season 1 and bots like Nightbeat reveal some less than favorable baggage despite remaining largely sympathetic. That may not seem like a big deal, but it opens up so many avenues for the story to explore. Even Nautica, while hardly unlikable, displays clear flaws and that allows her to play more full and just more roles in the story.

I also give Roberts full credit for incorporating elements of detective fiction, horror stories, and even teen dramas effectively into a unified whole. The horror elements in particular work really nicely with a last minute page turn proving especially effective at creating a legitimate atmosphere of unease. Admittedly the final panel is possibly a little bit played out, but breaking through the safety of the fourth wall is no small feat and Roberts knows that the slow and the small do it best.

After two months of able stewardship, the art duties return to Alex Milne. It definitely adds to a sense of a big return for the series. Milne remains great at imbuing bots of all shapes with personality and life. Milne has been working on Transformers for quite some time and, perhaps as a result, he’s become quite a master of the art of drawing our favorite transforming automatons. There’s a sharpness about Milne’s style that’s very charming and admirably blends the human and the mechanical, but that’s par for the course on this book. Instead, what strikes me is the level of detail Milne puts into each panel. I strongly doubt that this is a new development, but it stuck out to me more than usual this issue. I wonder if the two issue break gave Milne some extra time or energy or if I’m just late to the party. Whatever the reason, there’s a startling amount of detail given to the Autobots’ overlapping panels and complex joints. While the Transformers franchise is hardly a stranger to intensely detailed robots, some that make Milne’s look downright simplistic, what’s most amazing is the degree to which these choices are integrated and non-obtrusive. Milne’s work is exceedingly clean, despite the careful rendering of their mechanical parts. Oddly enough, if I had to criticize, I’d say that certain pages look a little bit empty, given Milne’s choice to leave many of his backgrounds blank or merely colored. Still, that problem is really more proof of Milne’s skill.

The design work is also thoughtful and considered. Firestar’s character is immediately apparent from her design, incorporating human concepts into a sleek and different robotic form. The other Camiens look similarly natural and a larger role for Ravage reminds us of how great he looks under Milne’s pen.

Still, as much as Milne is doing the same great work that he always does, all eyes should be on Joana Lafuente, who is on quite a roll. It seems that Milne’s return has done nothing to slow her down, which is wonderful, as she’s really made her presence known over the last few issues. The colors are bold and beautiful, standing out from both the drab shades of many other sci-fi war stories as well as from the primary look of the original 84 Transformers, but that’s just the base level. The little details in Lafuente’s work are gorgeous. The space scenes are full of wonderful, yet subtle choices and Thundercrash’s pre-wake dance party offers Lafuente countless light sources to play with. The resulting color combinations are beautiful and bring an added sense of realism and excitement to the scene.

Still, I think the final pages are probably Lafuente’s best. Lit by the glow of Nautica’s wrench, Nightbeat and Getaway’s venture into the ship’s morgue looks great. Obviously the turquoise glow makes for some beautiful panels and benefits from being a favorite color, but the way it plays off of the intrepid bots’ own colors is really something and Lafuente’s attention to shadow brings the scene to life while conjuring the cold breath of the dead on your shoulder.

A Thought:

  • Admittedly there isn’t a lot that’s actually explained this issue, but I think this may be the first issue of this series that I could feel confident handing to a new reader. HEY, EVERYBODY! WE’VE ACHIEVED SOMETHING!

Grade

B

Conclusion

Without its conclusion, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #41 feels a little off. Nevertheless, that still leaves it as one of the most adaptable and familiar books on the shelves. James Roberts brings some fascinating genre tropes and his hawk-like eye for character to the plate while Alex Milne returns, strong as ever, and Joana Lafuente continues her takeover of this title. Plot, dialogue, and artwork have all been stronger, but you forgive the people you love and, if you’re reading this book, you love these characters.