I was a big fan of The Transformers #50. I think John Barber and Andrew Griffith et al. did a fantastic job of tying everything together into a huge, bombastic story that really presented the beginning of a new era for the series. So, especially with a number of hints as to what to expect from “The Dying of the Light”, I was so excited to see how James Roberts and his crew would accomplish the same.

I made the fatal mistake of More Than Meets The Eye

I expected that it would be like anything I’d seen before.

With issue #50 James Roberts returns to the core of this extremely versatile series, the element that holds when everything else is turned upside down: life. Normal, stupid, wonderful life. For all the horror that has and will visit the Lost Light, as we begin here, things are pretty great. There are sure signs that it is a tenuous peace, but here we see the crew in their ideal state.

While they’ve certainly stuck their collective noses in from time to time, it’s been a while since the Lost Light have just played hero, possibly as far back as their engagement on Temptoria in issue #12. In fact, I say rather knowingly, for a long time, it could be argued, our favorite bots have almost exclusively cleaned up messes of their own creation. So to see them really being “heroic Autobots” (bar one) is not only a treat but a reminder of who these characters are and who they believe themselves to be. I mean, Whirl even jokes with Megatron! He jokes and the joke is essentially about himself and how crazy it is that he could joke with Megatron!

Another thing fans haven’t seen is Megatron, the philosopher. I’ve previously mentioned/complained/complmentioned that Megatron’s journey from frightened social reformer to world-conquering dictator has never truly been detailed outside of a memorable moment in Roberts’ “Chaos Theory”, but leave it to this series to make giant robots going to school and participating in a focused, drama-free class fascinating while also satisfying a personal curiosity a little. It really demonstrates Roberts’ skill with exposition, a talent that MTMTE leans heavily upon.

But before long the plot catches up with our heroes. The plot drags a little during this bit, but you can’t say it does away with the high level of character interaction that’s been displayed. Many of the most charming lines of the issue are tossed into the Rod Pod with our intrepid bots.

It’s a little disappointing to see so little of the DJD after they were hyped for this issue in a pretty big way. That fact also makes the facelessness of the crew’s attackers feel all the more of a misstep. It seems obvious that this was done so as to introduce the reveal of the DJD in story, but between the heavy hinting in issue #39, Tarn’s appearance on the cover, and a solicit mentioning them on the back cover, it seems a waste not to introduce some of Deathsaurus’ army, all the more so given that the aforementioned reveal is rather understated, especially in comparison to another one that might have benefitted from the sleight of hand.

Still, when that reveal comes, it arrives in force. It’s a calm scene but one that’s dripping with tension and the hits just keep coming. It’s really amazing, but, in many ways Roberts pulls the same trick he employed in “Elegant Chaos”…and “Rules of Disengagement”…and “Our Steps Will Always Rhyme”…and the entirety of Season 2…and it still works!

The core monologue in this section is great and Roberts’ pacing really sells the mounting odds. Even better, Alex Milne absolutely nails the emotions of the characters, delivering crucial information as clearly as Roberts’ words do. You can see anger and desperation and resentment in the characters’ faces and you can feel the moment where each one sets in.

Though the main story is not exactly the explosive culmination of the series thus far that I imagined, it does serve as a testament to Roberts understanding of his story and characters. This piece is about establishing stakes and it really does that. It’s a story that could only be told in a universe as populous and rich as the one IDW has created over the last few years. The build is slow and the writing is, characteristically, overreliant on dialogue and exposition from a textbook understanding, but there’s such a strong connection to the characters’ humanity and such knowledge of how each one’s actions affect the others. The dramatic beats of this issue have weight that most series go issues and issues, if not runs, without. Whether it’s the hints of Megatron’s lingering tendency towards violence, aimed both at himself and others, or Nightbeat’s feelings-induced deductions or the moment you realize that Rodimus’ sins have come back to haunt him or the mind-blowing Usual Suspects meta-moment when your brain locks onto a line some ten or twenty issues ago that means more than you ever imagined, there’s incredible power in this book.

And yes, far too much of what’s considered good writing these days is wrapped up in ‘twists’ and surprises, but the incredible planning that it took to lead to this point is an incredible achievement, one that’s secondary to the emotional connection that the series has forged within its own boarders and with its readers.

Alex Milne really is Roberts’ match and perfect partner. The duo have delivered over thirty issues of this award-winning series together and its clear that they are perfectly in sync. For any minor variances between the two in their vision of the story, the clear support that they give each other is rather impressive. It’s a basic part of the comic book process, but it is an under appreciated charm of this series how clearly these two men share an understanding of the scenes they craft and, as the second of the two to do his part on the issues, a huge amount of that credit goes to Milne.

I’ve just gone on about the pacing and beats of the issue, so suffice it to say that Milne is all over that. However it cannot be overstated how great the acting in this issue is. Especially with a cast that has about a 50-50 shot of a character having a face, it is astonishing just how specific each panel is about the emotional state of its occupants. Obviously the extremity and grave nature of the opening sequence makes it a stirling example but, actually, the scene between Megatron and Velocity stuck out to me particularly. It’s just so absolutely clear that Milne knows exactly what’s going through the pair’s heads and it’s so very real and grounded. Furthering the point, the moment is interrupted by Swerve and a hodgepodge of MTMTE favorites. Here we see a fairly obvious, but nonetheless effective, demonstration of Milne’s character sense. Having each suffered a psychic attack, each member of the group holds their head in pain, except for Rewind, who holds his ‘stomach’ with one hand and Chromedome’s hand with the other. As Tailgate steadies himself on Rewind’s shoulder and Chromedome looks down worriedly at his diminutive partner, Rewind himself seems lost in thought, almost concerned about Domey, a hint at the complicated guilt that runs between Rewind and his two Conjunx Endurae.

The backup feature continues the issue’s interest in the casual and fragile elements of the crew’s life, focusing these ideas through Swerve’s bar for a journey through the history of the Lost Light. A story like this easily could have felt supplementary, like a DVD extra, included only to reuse details that had to be cut, but that’s really not the case here. Though I’ll admit that some of the story’s profundity may simply be a product of a simple mechanism that allows us to reevaluate what we’ve seen, there’s fun and heart befitting Swerve’s and the Lost Light.

Some of the brief vignettes are more interesting than others. Ambulon’s segment seems designed solely to give us the (admittedly amazing) names of his Combicon teammates. Even so, seeing the Duocons again is nice and getting a closer look at some of the heroism that occurred during Overlord’s assault helps give the short a sense of gravitas. The best of them has to be a conversation between Drift and poor, unlucky Pipes, who receives a little more characterization than tourist and ‘ship’s Waspinator’, for better or worse.

In the end, Crosscut, in a move that subtly reinforces one of the cruelest elements of the main story, explains to newcomers Nautica and Riptide what Swerve’s is. It’s meta, but it feels earned and it feels true. “Some people come here when they feel happy,” he tells them, “Others come here when they feel sad. But most people? Most people come here when they feel both.”

Once again Brendan Cahill is our artist for the backup on this anniversary issue and once again he proves a fine choice. As is often the case, Cahill’s humanoid Transformers are a little anthropomorphized for my taste, but they still look great. More importantly for a dense little story like this one, his storytelling skills are sharp, able to convey the action and tone of each of the vignettes in just a page or so. Under Cahill’s pen, Swerve’s feels alive and, as they say, “Life Persists.”

A Thought:

  • It’s probably just because I recently watched this hilarious/horrifying video, but Rodimus’ response to Ultra Magnus’ surprise that “Someone fired on us and you want to run towards the gun?”, “Yep—and disarm them before they take another shot”, seems, to me, a fantastic summary of who Rodimus is. Rodimus is someone who, by privilege or by simply high opinion of himself, doesn’t see a reason to fear a gun pointed at him. Rodimus is someone who truly believes that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and, for Rodimus, that good guy’s name will always be Rodimus Prime.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

So often Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is a bright, brilliant flash of genius. This month the genius remains but the whole affair is mellower. This is the calm before the storm, but, into that calm, James Roberts and co. have woven a subtle celebration of this series without taking anything away from the story at hand. It’s not perfect - though with this series any flaw could actually be terrifyingly meticulous foreshadowing - but it succeeds in looking back and forward in a way that not many anniversary issues can claim.

Some might be disappointed by the relative lack of action, but this issue is as funny as any that’s come before and sees no reason why that should preclude it from shattering your illusions and showing you your heroes at their lowest. With nuanced and beautiful art from everyone involved and all the wit, intelligence, and heart you’ve come to expect from this book, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #50 is a worthy tribute to the one of the best monthlies in comics.