Transformers #43 is a somewhat different issue than what we’ve been used to. It’s smaller in scale than the other season 2 stories, certainly smaller in every conceivable respect compared to “Combiner Wars”, and there’s a greater emphasis on out and out comedy. The focus is squarely on Cosmos and Soundwave, with their respective factions barely impacting the story. All things considered, this looked like a nice bit of character building filler.
And then things got real.
Hardly just the charming fluff it could easily have been, “South of Heaven” has a significant effect on both of its leads and positions at least one of them for what seem like very big things down the line. It also gives us a first person look at the oft mentioned Decepticon Colony and, while it’s largely what you’d expect, the clarity we receive about Soundwave’s philosophy, essentially the new Decepticon philosophy, really expands our perception of this title.
As much as I felt that Transformers: Robots in Disguise got a bad rap next to More Than Meets The Eye, I haven’t loved its second season nearly as much. The earthbound plots have felt comparatively simple and the new cast’s gags have fallen flat. “Combiner Wars” returned us to star-spanning political intrigue and huge battles, but, not only during but in the lead up to the event as well, Transformers was a little bit of a workhorse for that event, devoting huge swaths of time to moving pieces into position. I say this not to bury The Transformers, though, but to praise this issue, because all of a sudden I think I can see what John Barber was aiming for.
All of the elements that felt out of place in Season 2 stories come into their own this month. It feels like Barber has been waiting to tell this Soundwave story for a long time and elements like Cosmos’ feelings of isolation and the question of D.O.C.’s sentience have been brewing since issue #28. That said, there are built in limitations to what this strategy can achieve on its own and, while this issue sees it really shine for the first time, it doesn’t quite address what’s missing from the formula.
Of those elements that the issue nails, I think the comedy is one of the best. It’s not easy to write jokes that are funny because they’re not funny, but Barber more than manages this week. Making Laserbeak and Buzzsaw the Statler and Waldorf of the Decepticon movement is brilliant little gag, with Brawl proving a perfect target for their barbs, and Garrison Blackwell’s odd balance between master planner and possibly delusional goof really clicks. You can practically hear his affected enthusiasm as he asks Soundwave about “Spacebridges?”
In the end, the interplay between Cosmos and Soundwave is paramount, and it can kind of break your heart. The emotion of this piece is spot on and, while it does lack a bit in excitement and immediate importance, it not only carries the story through to its conclusion but gives it another dimension, beyond the simple point A to point B of serialized narrative. Besides how often do you get to see a giant flying saucer android say “Waka Waka”?
The time off during “Combiner Wars” has obviously rejuvenated Andrew Griffith, whose work is looking particularly precise this month. The line work is sharper than in previous issues and the titular bots are looking quite slick. The humans, undoubtedly the element that has most frequently thrown Griffith, are also improved. The fine lines employed are useful for communicating the specificities of organic expressions as much as the angular perfection of Cybertronian forms. It also helps that the humans’ space suits focus both the artist and the readers’ attentions on their faces and that Garrison Blackrock provides such clear emotions for himself and all those around him.
Artistically the greatest flaw is probably largely the script’s doing. There is a lot of talking this issue and the major participants in these conversations tend to lack faces. The result is a lot of well drawn panels of Soundwave and Cosmos that don’t say much on their own. When I was a film student my professors taught me that if you couldn’t understand a shot or a sequence with the sound off, you hadn’t tapped its potential. For any beauty that Griffith brings to the page, there are significant sections where the book just doesn’t pass that test.
- I’ve already written briefly about my feelings towards the anti-organic underpinnings of IDW’s take on Decepticonism, but it really comes to the fore again here. I think it’s fascinating how Soundwave can be both sympathetic and horrifying at the same time and his matter-of-fact explanation, built on the soundness of his reasoning thus far, is a great punch to the gut that caps a strong issue. Despite an effective use of the philosophy, it still, perhaps especially in the case of Soundwave, feels strange to see the Decepticons’ compassion run out so abruptly. It just feels like true believers like Megatron, Ravage, and Soundwave would have to eventually run up against the oddity of such a non-intersectional movement for equality and, in fact, it seems like Soundwave might have had some ‘wobbles’ as Megatron puts it. While the current creative teams inherited and partially justified this contradiction, it can feel like a simplistic way of ensuring that the Decepticons never run the risk of having a moral high ground. Does anybody else feel this way? Does anybody else spend this much time thinking about Transformers?
Transformers #43 isn’t a return to the glory days of Robots in Disguise, but rather a complete about face, embracing and nurturing the distinctive elements of the book’s second season. The result is an honest and funny detour that finally justifies the series’ new direction and takes it about as far as it can go in its current form. Free from the crossover’s complex preparations, Transformers #43 is a promising step into the post-”Combiner Wars” world.