Transformers #0

Reviewer: Iain Burnside
Story Title: Prelude to Infiltration

Written by: Simon Furman
Penciled by: E.J. Su
Inked by: E.J. Su
Colored by: John Rauch
Lettered by: Tom B. Long & Robbie Robbins
Editor: Chris Ryall
Publisher: IDW

So – just how long can stories about transforming robots beating the crap out of one another continue to be popular? The roots of the Transformers stem back to a 1970s licensing deal that saw the U.S. based toy company Hasbro provide their Japanese counterparts Takara with access to their extremely successful G.I. Joe range, which Takara gradually turned into a cyborg range called Microman and then eventually wound up as the transforming Diaclone figures. After this, Hasbro brought the figures over to the States for an early ’80s marketing blitz that was to turn the likes of Optimus Prime and Megatron into pop-culture icons for an entire generation. In fact, they’ve never left since that point, morphing into various new ranges such as Beast Wars and Armada that, while successful, have never quite managed to match the durability or popularity of that classic Generation 1 line. With a major live-action movie in the works for a 2007 release, there is no sign of the franchise being laid to rest just yet. The comic books have proved to be one of the most significant parts of their history, from the classic Marvel series in the ’80s through to the recent Dreamwave titles that spearheaded the spate of nostalgic comic titles, with random appearances at publishers like Titan, Image and Devil’s Due thrown in for good measure. After the implosion of Dreamwave, the rights were acquired by IDW, who already have some major plans lined up. There is a G1 mini-series called Infiltration starting in January ’06, a Beast Wars mini kicking off in February ’06, a planned ‘summer event’, and potential TPB collections of previously unpublished Dreamwave stories as well as classic Marvel material in the works.

In other words, IDW is working out on the farm all day long and well into the night, milking the cash cow with all their might. Not that they can be blamed for this, there are plenty of ’80s children out there who never managed to escape the lure of the Transformers and will gladly pay good money to read these stories (myself included, I have literally hundreds and possibly thousands of Transformers comic books around the house). It is slightly disconcerting that they are already heading into the murky realm of over-exposure that helped to dull the quality of Dreamwave’s books (at one point they had six TF books on the go simultaneously) but considering IDW has proven itself capable of, you know, paying their employees and stuff they probably won’t wind up on the scrapheap alongside Pat Lee’s folly. Anyway, they are gearing up for this big 2006 launch with TRANSFORMERS #0, a special prelude issue that has been doing the rounds on the convention circuit for the past couple of months and finally made its way to stores this past week. Basically, as with any comic book marked “issue #0”, you shouldn’t get your hopes up. This one has a sixteen page story by legendary Transformers writer Simon Furman and pads out the issue with interviews with Furman, editor Chris Ryall, artist E.J. Su, and a few sketches. Still, with a cover price of just 99 cents any complaints about the lack of content are foolish.

Just how good that content is, however, is another matter altogether. This is yet another reboot of Transformers continuity, as much for legal reasons as anything else, so Furman is attempting something a little bit more subtle than the crash-bang-wallop theatrics of his Dreamwave books. According to the interview with him, he wants to bring back the sheer spectacle of what it would be like to actually see the Transformers. After all, they are aliens, they are highly advanced mechanoids, they possess tremendous power and even the smallest of them are giants compared to humans. This sounds very similar to the comments made by the producers of the upcoming movie but the movie is bound by the limits of special effects and a budget. To paraphrase the Wachowski brothers’ introduction to their Burlyman comic books – in a medium where you can do anything, why are so many people so content to simply repeat what they have seen in the movies? It’s understandable that Furman would want to try a different approach considering so many of his previous stories have been so epic in scope, but it remains to be seen whether or not the fans will appreciate the change in style or whether they’ll just clamour for the return of the crash, the bang and certainly the wallop.

This change in approach means that Furman has to try and introduce his new world via the dreaded human interest. The human characters in previous Transformers stories have been notoriously annoying and largely devoid of any redeeming features other than the ability to not be on the page, so credit goes to Furman for making a real go of it here. The lead character is a runaway girl named Verity Carlo. She spends her time traveling around the States, usually by bus, just people-watching and stealing things that she can later sell. Usually, these things are various bits of electronic equipment, of which she has a genuine interest in. On her latest bus trip, she steals a laptop off of some salesman but has to get off early due to a regrettable incident with a stale bagel. This leads to her hitching a ride with the unfortunately named Hunter O’Nion, a conspiracy theorist who believes that the Earth was infiltrated a few years ago by extraterrestrial mechanoids hiding themselves in disguise. Compared to the previous human characters, most of whom were either dopey mechanics or shady government officials, these two are a breath of fresh air that could prove to be quite interesting as the series progresses.

Verity, naturally enough, does not believe Hunter’s theory. Unknown to her, however, the laptop that she stole is doubling as the MacGuffin for the plot. There is the occasional murky shot of Starscream coordinating a Decepticon attempt to take the device and, throughout the issue, we see various strange things happening. A couple of cars run the bus off the road, but Verity is no longer on it. A fighter jet appears and destroys Hunter’s van just after they can escape, but Verity just thinks they have stumbled onto some kind of military testing range. An ambulance appears and forces the jet to retreat with some kind of strange gun on its roof, while the holographic driver almost-but-not-quite quotes Terminator 2 as it urges Verity and Hunter to get in.

The reader knows these various vehicles better as Runabout, Runamuck, Thundercracker and Ratchet. Verity doesn’t know what the hell they are. Hunter has an inkling but presumably doesn’t know that much. It’s certainly an interesting choice to play things so understated, with much of the action happening off-panel and various plausible explanations about what’s going on offered up by the humans. If this was an introduction for newcomers to the franchise then it would be great and could certainly play well in the movie. As a comic book, however, it has a lot to live up to if it is to keep the dedicated audience happy with such a subdued, conspiracy style leading up to the big reveal of giant robots knocking the crap out of one another that we all know is coming. After all, the best anticipation is when you don’t know what to expect. Nonetheless, there are enough positives here to keep the anticipation levels reasonably keen for the start of the series proper in January.