Transformers: Energon #21 Review

Reviewer: Iain Burnside
Story Title: What Lies Beneath: Part 2

Written by: Simon Furman
Penciled by: Joe Ng
Inked by: Elaine To
Colored by: David Cheung & Jong-Im Lee
Lettered by: Ben Lee
Editor: Adam Patyk
Publisher: Dreamwave

So, I stopped watching The X-Files around about sixth or seventh season, whenever it was Mulder was abducted. After the movie had revealed the aliens at long last there really didn’t seem to be much point to the series, yet they carried on anyway, even after the main character had left. It just wasn’t the same, especially if you tried to watch the odd episode here and there. Unless you had watched every single episode prior to it, read thorough and exhaustive episode guides and engaged in deep conversation about exactly what the hell was going on with the geekiest of fanboys, there was no chance in hell of being able to get back into the series. Energon is a lot like that.

Simon Furman has packed the book full of cameos, keeping up the fine Dreamwave tradition of trying to out-annotate JLA/Avengers. There is nothing wrong with that but these cameos are actually being treated as major characters, even though they are not properly introduced to the reader or even named for the most part. For example, the four ‘beasts of the apocalypse’ sent to attack Cybertron by Unicron are called Rhinox, Airazor, Cheetor and Terrorsaur, yet we are only shown which one Rhinox is. Likewise, the four Omnicons that come to the rescue of the Autobots during the battle with the beasts are called Arcee, Skyblast, Signal Flare and Strongarm, yet we are only told which ones Arcee and Skyblast are. This is simply lazy writing, which is quite surprising given Furman’s obvious passion for the Transformers franchise.

The worst oversight, however, comes at the very end when the Autobot cavalry finally arrives. In one medium-sized panel, far off in the distance, Rhinox spots Hoist, Thrust, Red Alert and Demolisher approaching. Not only are they never seen up close and personal, or even given the chance to speak, but they are completely ignored by the Autobots and Omnicons after the battle, remaining firmly off-panel. It might be easy to dismiss such blunders as this is ‘only’ a Transformers book, but I strongly disagree. Furman has been writing Transformers comics for years and these are basic Comic Book Writing 101 level mistakes being made. Hell, I’m turning into 411 Comics’ resident voice of all things TF and even I had to triple-check all the above information. It just won’t do at all…

Of course, there is a chance that most of these errors can be attributed to a simple case of miscommunication. Regular artist Guido Guidi has been replaced for this issue by Joe Ng in order to go work on Dreamwave’s upcoming Transformers Summer Special, and the result is a mixed bag. In some cases it is difficult to figure out exactly who is fighting who or what certain characters are doing. Such as when Rhinox punches out Optimus Prime in their first encounter… what happened to Prime’s trailer, exactly? When Rhinox notices someone shooting him from behind, who is shooting at him? And what the hell is he doing in the next panel? Stomping the ground? How is that going to help him??

The scene were the Autobots receive their Powerlinx upgrades from Alpha Trion are also terribly laid out. I’d be willing to bet than anyone who has not seen the Energon cartoon show or heard about the Powerlinx gimmick (basically, any two Autobots can combine with one another as long as they have the Spark of Combination plot device) would be utterly perplexed by that scene.

Still, let’s try to stay upbeat. When things are kept relatively simple, Ng does produce some nice-looking work. The first appearance of Energon Prime and the Prime Force following the upgrade is rather impressive. He looks positively bulimic compared to his Fat Bastard, he-ate-all-the-pies toy figure. Similarly, the anonymous beasts are the most terrifying Transformers since Bludgeon and the rest of the Decepticon Pretenders first graced the old Marvel comics. Powerlinx Prime’s vicious RIGHT HAND OF DOOM, shattering Rhinox’s jaw, is a truly awesome sight as well.

It will be interesting to see what Ng makes of the premiere of Energon Megatron next month, and whether or not his colouring comrades Cheung & Lee can improve upon their work here. I am certain that the main problem here is that all the scenes on Cybertron are so darkly coloured it is hard to see what is actually happening at times, muddling Ng’s work even further.

Wow, that’s a lot of moaning. To be fair, the book is not that bad. It is aggravating to see the continuing amount of silly errors Dreamwave lets slip through their fingers, but the plot is progressing quite nicely here. Sure, this version of Optimus Prime continues to verge on Ultra Magnus levels of incompetence, but he and his troops are still just glorified police officers shuffled into the grandiose role of planet-protectors against their will. It is a nice change of pace from the Deus ex Prime of old, as the Autobots are going to have to learn how to properly utilize their strengths and abilities together if they are to be successful in stopping the ‘9th coming of Unicron’. The Omnicons are also a welcome addition to the mix. Replacing the irritating, helpless Minicons of Armada with a race that can actually take care of themselves and are in many ways superior to the Autobots is a welcome touch.

The most interesting developments in this issue, however, are far away from the crash-bang-wallop on Cybertron. Back on Earth, the Terrorcons (Scorponok, Tidal Wave, Divebomb and Battle Ravage, all properly introduced) have been sent to plunder energon to take back to Unicron in order to speed up his rehabilitation. Yet, while Scorponok ponders keeping it all for himself, Ravage is off chasing a couple of tasty little humans. Anybody who loved the Generation One version of Ravage (and really, who didn’t?) will love his Energon equivalent here. Screw that updated, lawsuit-fearing name, this is the real Ravage. The humans in question are Alexis, who previously appeared as a child in Armada but is now a fully-fledged babe, and Kicker, the latest irritating brat to spoil the franchise. To be fair, his cartoon version has been quite entertaining so let’s hope Furman doesn’t mess him up. Much to Scorponok’s delight, Kicker appears to be composed entirely of energon. Why Ravage didn’t just eat the frankly useless (though hot!) Alexis is a mystery…

Well, all in all there is enough here to sustain my interest, but then I am rather an avid TF fan. Anybody new coming into Energon would likely be put off straight away by the rather incestuous love-in the creative team is making of the title. Ever since the previously easily-approachable Armada went all epic and space-opera with the World’s Collide arc that introduced Unicron, Furman has had his head in the clouds. Hopefully things will change before even the hardcore fans begin to drift away…