Comics are easy to identify but difficult to define. One, admittedly incomplete, definition posits that comics are the juxtaposition of words and images in sequence. If we are to accept that definition, it could be said that James Roberts opens the latest issue of his acclaimed giant fighting robot political romance on the inside of the front cover with a simple diagram.
It’s an equilateral triangle with a name at each point – Tailgate, Getaway, and Cyclonus – simply labeled: The Story So Far. And so, Roberts sets the stage for this chapter and tips his hand in the process, when he reveals early on that “The Story So Far” is not the story as it is and that this chapter is entitled, “The Lopsided Triangle”.
It’s clever but, in itself, simplistic. After all, is there any concept more played out than the love triangle? Which is why it’s interesting that Roberts really eschews the trappings of a romance. Getaway’s courtship is convincing, but it immediately lacks the intimacy he’s displayed in previous installments. It’s all very technical. Of course, if you’ve read this series you’ll know that James Roberts’ claim to fame very well might be his ability to make the technical absolutely fascinating.
Indeed, the story almost immediately subverts all reasonable expectations. The cover depicts Tailgate literally torn apart by Cyclonus and Getaway, with a romantic suggestion not easy to miss. Instead the two barely interact and their dual attempts to hold on to Tailgate resolve largely on their own. Cyclonus even manages to deal with his feelings without interacting with Tailgate! And, as I said, there’s very little romantic about any of the interactions in this issue. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the central role that another member of the crew plays. Yes, much as it would be wrong to say that this isn’t a story about Cyclonus and Tailgate, the real star for me was Whirl.
Let’s be honest, Getaway, while seemingly insidious, has never been subtle. The question of whether there’s something good or redeeming in him has led us to this moment, but no one but Tailgate could believe that he wasn’t playing a very calculated game. So after one last heavy duty dose of ‘slipped’ tongues and apparent manipulation, it’s refreshing to check in with Whirl.
Whirl, Roberts admits freely, doesn’t play those games. He has no filter, every word he says spilling out of him with an unmanaged glee or fury. Roberts does some of his best and tightest writing in a meeting between Whirl and Cyclonus, capturing the range of Whirl’s manic energy and its interplay with Cyclonus’ dour disposition with an economy of words that stands out against the, seemingly intentional, creep of the early pages. There are volumes in the bolding. Your heart can break when Whirl clarifies, “Because I keep making mistakes.”
This scene was also exceedingly clever. His mood taken a turn for the sour, Whirl turns to the matter at hand and promptly lays out a brutally honest case for the GateAway pairing, or at least for why CyGate may not be any better. Deep down it’s still obvious at this point that Getaway is toxic at best, but I would be lying if Whirl didn’t make me feel a little bit guilty for supporting Cyclonus more than I was supporting Tailgate’s agency. And with that none-too-subtle title, you know that Roberts planned for all of that.
I will say that not every scene is as open and welcoming as this one. There are moments where the precision that the creative team has put into this issue leaves things feeling just a little stiffer, but the overall effect is more than worth it.
What I thought would be a dramatic but self-contained plot line immediately proves to be absolutely central to the plot and themes of the book. Arcs that have been brewing since the first year of the title come sharply into focus, the overarching plot of season 2 comes very much into play, minor references from issues past become explanations that grease the wheels towards our outcome, and Swerve even makes a technically superfluous but decidedly pointed appearance.
So there are all of these expectations I came into this issue with and they were all completely wrong. Until they weren’t.
After a dense, dialogue-driven first three-fourths, the last five pages spring to life and suddenly it’s all about actions. And man, this one has quite the cliffhanger. Even if you’re not terribly invested in Tailgate or Cyclonus these pages carry an impressive punch. And even at this late stage, Roberts is still playing with expectations. He teases the reader with an out, a way this situation can resolve, that most series would gladly take. But this isn’t most series.
Brendan Cahill is our artist and he does a pretty fantastic job. Especially with Joana Lafuente coloring his work, Cahill fits right in on MTMTE. Even more than his last issue, the similarly personal “Our Steps Will Always Rhyme”, Cahill embraces the look of this series, fusing his own aesthetic with Alex Milne and James Roberts’ designs and sensibilities. I’m not sure that it quite matches Milne’s house style, but it’s pretty impressive to see Cahill take such a different approach to the Lost Light crew and be just as successful.
The characters act very well in this issue. The indents of Getaway’s ‘nose’ and the specific purse of Cyclonus’ lips are powerfully emotive under Cahill’s pen. And it’s not just his ability to draw the characters, but to draw them in scenes. One of the best visual choices of this issue is a repeated motif of small close-ups of Cyclonus in sequence. It’s easy to forget just how out of place Cyclonus is on the ship after nearly fifty issues of adventures and more than a couple of friendships, but Cahill sells this idea well enough to make it very clear that Cyclonus is an awkward, uncomfortable soul. The small panels confine him and suggest the slow staccato rhythms of his thoughts.
And once we hit those final pages, Cahill and Lafuente go all out. Cahill gives the Transformers’ metallic skin a little more wrinkle than strictly makes sense, but he captures Cyclonus’ focus and determination without robbing him of softer attributes. You can really feel the building energy of the scene. The sense that time is running out is palpable and, despite the darkness of the setting, things are painfully clear. I also have to mention an absolutely astounding panel of Megatron that serves to light the fuse leading towards the stunning final page.
Particularly in so much darkness and emptiness, it would have been easy for Joana Lafuente to go overboard, but she keeps the color simple and restrained. The shadows of the scene speak for themselves. Besides, she gets her chance, bathing the final pages in crucial, fiery reds.
A (Slightly Spoilery) Thought
- Getaway and Whirl are fascinating foils for one another this issue. Getaway may smile and smile and be a villain, but Whirl is exactly the opposite. Unlike Getaway, Whirl is perfectly clear about what he’s saying, but the question is what emotion his words represent. At any moment Whirl’s words can equally be joy, mourning, or fury and the swiftness with which one becomes another is what makes him hard to trust when snakes like Getaway are easy confidants. Especially without the ability to hear his intonation, the reader is particularly cut off from Whirl’s thoughts, which is, of course, exactly the same effect that his Empurata has on his shipmates.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #47 is a masterfully executed comic. This issue is intently focused on taking the reader on a journey and, like a roller coaster, it builds tremendous anticipation by engaging the reader’s fears and expectations before sending them careening down the track to their destination. Though it’s occasionally kind of obvious about the characters’ motivations and some scenes are slightly distancing, there is a level of craft that will make this an issue you remember where you were when you read it.