I’m a cold-hearted woman. I’m not the type to cry over a lot of things, be it movies, books, video games, whatever. Yes, yes, I possess a heart of stone. Fine by me, I’ll proudly wear that badge because there’s nothing you can show me that will turn me into a sobbing mess…unless your name happens to be James Roberts. Just recently, I picked up the latest issue of IDW’s current Transformers comic More Than Meets the Eye (a sister series to Robots in Disguise), read through it twice, and fought back tears.
More Than Meets the Eye is the best Transformers comic currently out there, no contest. Written by longtime fan James Roberts, MTMTE takes place after “The Death of Optimus Prime.” The war is over and both Autobots and Decepticons are left to pick up the pieces. Rodimus decides to locate the fabled Knights of Cybertron so they can rebuild and influence their home planet. With a motley crew on hand, Rodimus boards the spaceship Lost Light and sets out on a totally epic quest. It’ll be fun! Plenty of adventures and good times to be had! Except not really.
With sixteen issues currently under its belt, the series concluded its first “season finale” (as it’s frequently coined), so I figured now is as good a time as any to inform the uninformed and convert the nonbelievers. This entire series is a walking spoiler, but I’ve provided four handy-dandy spoiler-free reasons why this is recommended reading for any Transformers fan. Who knows, maybe some non-fans may dig it too.
1.) The Writing: Notwithstanding my first paragraph, the writing is as funny as anything. James Roberts apparently attended the Joss Whedon School of Casual Banters, because everyone talks in rambling and jaunty tones. They stumble, interrupt, and jest with clever wordplay; there’s not a stilted line of dialogue to be found. The script doesn’t feel forced or artificial, they talk like actual people and a lot of the stuff coming out of their mouths is drop dead hilarious.
MTMTE is a series that rewards faithful readers because its continuity is super tight. Just about everything you see and read can and will be a clue to something significant and bigger. It can be something as blatantly obvious as a cryptic clue or something subtle like a minor sentence or background event, but it’ll eventually pay off in the most mind-blowing and plot twisty way possible. It’s gotten to a point where I have to examine each page to figure out the next major clue – the foreshadowing is practically a game in itself.
The comic isn’t shy about digging into Transformers culture and twisting the knife. Subjects such as unsettling medical issues, robotic anatomy, and politics are all dissected. It even goes as far as deconstructing the Cybertronians’ key feature: their shapeshifting abilities. What other Transformers media actually has an activist group that criticizes alternate modes? MTMTE also gets bonus points for tackling a relationship that would otherwise be ignored or underrepresented in the franchise. The result is something tragic and complicated, but ultimately beautiful.
2.) Easy To Pick Up: Given the massive backlog of IDW Transformers comics, MTMTE is a godsend. It’s instantly accessible and doesn’t necessarily require you to read previous series to understand the current plot. There are numerous callbacks, yes, but most of them are self-contained or from James’ previous work, especially Last Stand of the Wreckers (and if you haven’t read that mini-series, then you go do that right now!)
This is taken a step further with its choice of characters. The majority of the leads are underused Transformers who barely made a blip in previous IDW titles, so there’s no hassle in trying to figure out which guy did what in who knows where. Even the ones who did have big roles in earlier works get retooled personalities, most of which are arguably justified. Highlights include Drift as a flaky fundamentalist ninja and Ultra Magnus’ studiousness being cranked up to eleven. Also, when he’s angry, Prowl likes to flip tables. I will never get tired of that gag.
3.) The Characters: “I’m not sure why the Autobots worry about obstacles or monsters standing in their way. They are nothing compared to the obstacles and monsters within the party.” That’s a quote from Brian Clevinger, albeit paraphrased. MTMTE is less about the quest or the crazy adventures they encounter – those are just significant background noises to the series’ true drawing point: its cast. To put it lightly, they’re jerks, misfits, sociopaths, paranoids, and losers wrapped up in a sea of self-destruction. And the ship only carries one psychologist. Talk about hopeless. Lesser hands might have delivered an ensemble of unlikable nitwits, but as the story progresses you slowly realize where they’re coming from. They are demented people with serious, serious issues, yet they usually have a justification for their actions or a tragic backstory that remarkably gives them enough depth that you will sympathize with them, or at least pity them.
4. The Emotions: I saved the best for last because this is where the writer’s craft really shines: MTMTE will make you laugh before you cry, often frequently in the same issue. James Roberts is a master of the mood swing, able to transform a happy scenario into a living nightmare. He toys with your emotions so much that I swear he has a secret villain’s lair where he just watches in glee every time someone bawls over his latest creation.
Don’t go expecting epic, longwinded battles, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite Transformers’ reputation as an action-heavy toyline, fighting is only second nature here. There’s plenty of explosions and fistacuffs, but combat isn’t the writing’s strongest point. In fact, the violence only arguably works when it has a point or if it wants to showcase a truly horrifying baddie (and some of their acts are repulsive enough to make you cringe.)
For better or worse (and I’m obviously in the first camp), it is governed in its pathos. This is what sets MTMTE apart from most. Damaging conversations and subtle background hints will often trigger a stronger reaction from the Autobots than a weapon could ever hope to. I haven’t seen anything from the franchise as poignant, meaningful, and utterly devastating as this. Character conflicts will often be the cause of a brutal mess, simple mistakes turn into tragedy, and death is usually close behind. And yet it always comes across as insightful, worthwhile, and bittersweet. After one painful encounter after another, it finally broke me. It’s that good.
For all that it’s attached to a name brand designed to sell toys to its primary young male audience, MTMTE proves it is capable of producing something profound and momentous. Anyone who is a Transformers fan—old and new—owe it to themselves to check out this series. If you don’t want to read a comic where robots constantly talk about their feelings, then this isn’t for you. Otherwise, it’s intelligently written and will make you cry. But that’s okay, there’s no shame in it. Just remember, “’Til all are one.”