It’s funny how a popular, worldwide, decade-spanning franchise can mean something different to so many people. Take Transformers, for example. We all had the same toys, saw the same cartoons and comics, but each person tends to latch on to a specific medium that for them represents the “real” Transformers. Everything else is compared to it and carefully cross-referenced with a personal canon that only exists in the imagination.
It’s almost the exact opposite to something like Star Trek. Some people love the original series, others devoutly followed The Next Generation, but they all represent the same thing; different parts of the same whole. Then again, I have a cousin who refuses to believe that DS9 ever happened. Whereas for me, it all ended with Voyager and I consider the entirety of Star Trek: Enterprise to be a feature-length episode of Quantum Leap. So maybe there’s no escaping it.
Also, for those playing along at home, make sure to clearly stamp your Star Trek Bingo cards.
I digress. Back to Transformers.
For me, the Marvel UK comics represented the primary Transformers universe. They were lavishly illustrated (as opposed to the Bazooka Joe-style scribbles that passed for comics in the USA) and written by the inimitable Simon Furman. The dialogue was always exciting and theatrical, with Optimus Prime being thoughtful and ponderous, and the villains cunning and maniacal. Simon penned a lot of lore and history that is to this very day treated with the kind of reverence people would show a 4,000 year old parchment that said “Gone out to get some bread. Please leave the commandments in the ark. Love, Moses”.
For many years, these stories formed the foundation of my interest in Transformers. When they ended in the early nineties, I wasn’t that bothered. Sure, there weren’t any new stories being produced, but I had three hundred issues or so to read. Everything that needed to be said had been said, so I was satisfied.
Then Dreamwave, and IDW after them, ruined it. They relaunched Transformers and at first I snapped up the comics – I was ecstatic to see them on shelves again, but my attraction was purely physical and based on looks alone. The art was great, but the stories were mostly crap. The publishers would occasionally wheel out The Furman to keep the older fans happy, but it just wasn’t the same. After a particularly depressing run from IDW in 2009, I gave up and vowed to never read a comic again.
I have the greatest respect for Uncle Simon, you understand. Without him, Transformers would be just a distant memory, an artifact gathering dust under the bed along with the Visionaries and Inhumanoids. I’ve met him a few times, and he’s incredibly humble and dedicated. But he couldn’t save Transformers comics for me.
So when, in 2012, I heard that IDW were launching a new series, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, I made a rude noise and shook my fist (middle finger extended) in the vague direction of California, where I hoped the editor was looking out of his east-facing window with a large, extremely powerful telescope.
This new series, they said, would focus on a small cast of Autobot nobodies and document their adventures aboard The Lost Light, a massive space ship, as they quested across the galaxy searching for the mythical Knights of Cybertron.
It sounded like bullshit. I made the decision to avoid it at all costs. But then one day, I picked up an issue in my local comic shop, more out of politeness to the long-suffering owner than genuine interest, and read the first couple pages.
It was like sitting under a cow, expecting a shower of steaming bum-juice, but finding yourself instead buried under a pile of Ferrero Rocher.
Suddenly, Transformers felt fresh and new, yet still reassuringly familiar. I felt instantly at home, as if I’d never stopped reading comics. It’s a bit like when you go to Primark and buy Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles pyjamas or underwear. They’re essentially the same as the ones you had as a kid, but they’re made to accommodate your adult form. You can wear them without fear of repudiation from your peers, as would come if you simply tried to squeeze into your old He-Man pants.
It’s very British, for one thing. I’m not really a patriot, nor do I take any special pride in being British, but it seems to me that we’re only one McDonald’s and an assassination away from changing our country’s name to Little America. All our entertainment and media comes from the States, and we seem to be absorbing their attitudes and social values. Reading the first few issues of MTMTE was a breath of fresh air, and when World War III is over and we’re sweeping the fallout from our driveways, we can do so happy that our country birthed James Roberts. Before they were annihilated by the forces of The United States of North Korealand, at least the Americans got to read some bloody good comics.
They’re a joy to read. Not since the original Marvel UK comics have I been so captivated. My eyes scan the page, and I’m scarcely aware that I’m reading at all. It’s more like watching a TV show.
The script is witty and believable. It flows naturally and is always interesting, crammed with jokes, asides and references to Cybertronian customs and history. The latter makes each issue feel like a part of something much, much bigger. Like that patchwork quilt Grandma makes with her friends every Friday. It’s the size of a groundsheet and no matter how many of her friends die, more come in to replace them. And so the quilt just keeps growing, like The Blob. So it is with MTMTE, each issue revealing another part of an ever-expanding tapestry.
You don’t even have to be a Transformers fan to enjoy it. MTMTE stands on its own, and newcomers will quickly adjust to Transformer life and terminology. It’s Star Trek without the uniforms, you could say.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll ball your fists in frustration when you turn the page to find the issue is over. But most of all, you’ll enjoy yourself. It’s a wacky, topsy-turvy ride through the universe, and you’ll come to love the crew of The Lost Light as you would your favourite soap characters.
I found that I had the irresistible desire to give the comics to my friends to read, to convert them. I can see myself going door-to-door, trade paperback tucked under my arm: “Excuse me, madam. Do you have a moment to talk about our saviour Primus and the Gospels of Roberts, issues one to twenty-eight?”
My one and only complaint stems from the Dark Cybertron saga, a sort of interval between ‘season one’ and ‘season two’ of More Than Meets The Eye. IDW had the bright idea of merging the two competing Transformers titles together for this period, and the result was predictably awful. I can only compare it to someone unloading a tanker of animal slurry and spoiled dog food into a crystal mountain lake.
Fortunately, these issues can be excised from your collection completely, as they have virtually no bearing on past or future stories, and the wound cleft between seasons one and two heals nicely.
In summary, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye represents the finest Transformers fiction ever written (sorry, Simon) and it’s frankly much more than we fickle, ungrateful, bickering fans deserve.
TMW Rating: 4.8/5 – What are you still doing here!? Go out and buy the paperbacks immediately! It’s a treat for the eyes, not least because of the beautiful artwork from Alex Milne, whom I completely forgot to mention.
“Tried to squeeze”