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Transformers: Generation 1

Volume 2: War and Peace

#1 - New World Order


SYNOPSIS

The issue begins in Alaska with the Autobots and Decepticons engaged in some pretty hellacious combat. The landscape has been set ablaze and there's no indication as to how long the two sides have been fighting there. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, privately wonders what force drove him to the Alaskan shore and how Megatron and his soldiers were able to get the drop on them in such short order. The prize is an Autobot escape pod that was detected by a whaling ship in the preview, though how it got there remains a mystery. Although Prime is finally able to turn the tables on Megatron, his victory is short lived: the escape pod opens and the Decepticon Scourge steps out with ill tidings: the Autobot and Decepticon factions have been dissolved, and Cybertron (the Transformers' home planet) has been united under a single ruler. Before Scourge can finish, however, he is shot and killed by Shockwave, a former Decepticon who introduces himself as "the ruler of Cybertron."

Shockwave tells the Autobots and Decepticons they are under arrest as "criminals of war" and that "defiance will not be tolerated." To drive the point home, six heavily-armed Transformers step out from behind him, and brandish their weapons at all those involved. Prime tries to get more information from Shockwave, who proceeds to claim "I have transformed our dying world into an energy-producing machine of limitless potential" and "Cybertron has finally found peace." He goes on to say that in order for peace to be maintained, the "threat" of the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth must be "purged." Enraged, Megatron throws Prime out of his way and shoots Shockwave with his fusion cannon and respectfully implores him to "DIE, TRAITOR!" Shockwave acknowledges Megatron's request, but politely declines, instead requesting that his Cybertronian army "TERMINATE THEM!" Blitzwing, Shockwave's triple-changing lieutenant, shells Megatron and Optimus Prime, wounding them both. As he moves in for the kill on the latter, the former Autobot and recent Decepticon defector Grimlock appears and takes Blitzwing out of commission.

A badly wounded Megatron limps over to Shockwave, vowing to kill him if it's the last thing he ever does. Shockwave calmly blasts Megatron and as the Decepticon commander's energon reserves deplete themselves, Shockwave tells Megatron to "accept it. I am your superior...in every conceivable way." With that, Megatron goes into stasis lock (roughly the Transformer equivalent of a coma).

The Autobots are not faring much better. Shockwave's forces have them hurt and on the run. Carrying each other away from the scene, the Autobots hastily retreat away from the battle to return to the Ark, the ship that brought them to the Earth millions of years ago. Shockwave tells his forces to hold their fire and turns to address the Decepticons. Kicking Megatron's tattered form in the head, he offers the surviving Decepticons an ultimatum: "pledge your allegiance to the new order of Cybertron or be exterminated." Starscream, the ambitious second-in-command of the Decepticons, enthusiastically speaks for his comrades: "tell us, Commander Shockwave...where do we sign up?"

Away from Shockwave's ship, the Autobots are assessing their damage. Prowl, the Autobot's chief tactician, convinces Prime to allow him to form a small recon team to monitor the situation. Although reluctant at first, Prime agrees when he sees the confused, defeated looks in the eyes of his troops. He orders Hound, Cliffjumper, Trailbreaker, and Mirage to stay behind with Prowl and returns to headquarters with the others.

Back at Shockwave's ship, Starscream commends Shockwave for what he perceives as a carefully-planned coup against Megatron rather than some lofty utopian goal. Shockwave admonishes Starscream, telling him "unlike you, I have no need to disguise my true intentions. I simply accepted the mantle of leadership after logic dictated that I was most qualified to do so." Starscream scoffs at this and accompanies Shockwave onto the ship for the return voyage to Cybertron. Shockwave tells Soundwave (who transforms into a cassette player), the Decepticons' intelligence officer and communications expert, to eject Rumble and Frenzy (two small Decepticons who transform into cassette tapes who reside in Soundwave's chest) for some purpose or other. He remarks off-handedly that he will need their assistance while the other Decepticons are put in CR Chambers -- automatic repair modules -- for the duration of the journey back to Cybertron. Starscream is rather shocked by this announcement and Shockwave tells him (much to the former's satisfaction, strangely) that while in the chambers, they will automatically be able "to download the fundamentals of Cybertronian society."

Just as Shockwave returns to the bridge of the ship and gives the order to take off, he is notified of an incoming communication from the commander of Security Team Dion. The two discuss the matters at hand and Shockwave mentions that the Decepticons are "secured" and that they will "pose no forseeable threat." At that moment, a hand reaches out from a CR Chamber and opens it. Back on the bridge, the still-unidentified commander informs Shockwave that he will apprehend the Autobots and goes on to say that "[Optimus] Prime will not be a problem." Shockwave gives his approval and then contacts Blitzwing, telling him to wait for "reinforcements" that are en route and to help Security Team Dion in the apprehension of the Autobots.

For their part, the Autobots are having domestic problems of their own. Optimus Prime is engaged in a rather...shall we say...heated discussion with some of his soldiers. The eternal pessimist Gears shows uncharacteristic wishful thinking, telling Optimus and the other Autobots that they "owe it to [them]selves" to at least see if Shockwave is telling the truth. Bluestreak lashes out at Gears, telling him "those warmongers will never change" and "defending ourselves from those killing machines was no crime." They go back and forth, with Bluestreak arguing they have a responsibility to protect the Earth from the Decepticons and Gears retorting that humans by and large hate them anyway. Jazz cuts in and tells them to knock it off and Optimus finally tells everyone to shut up. Just as he finishes saying his piece, the door flies open and in steps Grimlock. Ironhide berates him as "backstabbing," but then concedes to Ratchet's point that Grimlock's rather forceful rhetoric is at the very least something of a morale-booster, albeit a distracting one.

Meanwhile, Prowl, Trailbreaker, and Hound are desperately searching for Mirage and Cliffjumper, who have apparently not returned from their patrol. Just then, they're attacked by three Decepticon jets -- Dirge, Ramjet, and Thrust. Before eating a missile fired at him by Thrust, Hound announces that he's picking up another Autobot energy signature. Prowl transforms and attempts to contact Optimus Prime, but is stopped when Mirage appears and tells him "everything's going to be all right" and then "we finally get to go home." Unnerved, Prowl turns around and comes face-to-face with the now-revealed commander of Security Team Dion: Ultra Magnus!

In space, the ship carrying the Decepticons has made it to Alpha Centauri, and Rumble and Frenzy are shown standing guard over Megatron's somewhat, uh, injured chassis. Megatron begins moving and says "I still function" before blasting a hole in the wall with his fusion cannon. On the other side of the wall is the hand that was seen opening the CR Chamber. Its owner pushes a lever forward that opens the bay doors, which conveniently begin to suck Megatron, Rumble, and Frenzy out into the void of space. While the latter two are holding onto each other, Megatron is clasping the hull of the ship itself in an attempt to stay put. He says "Shockwave...you traitor...I'll tear you apar-" before being blasted in the face with a laser and subsequently flying out of the ship. The unidentified individual who shot him (and who crept out of the CR Chamber and who opened the pod bay doors) eulogizes him very briefly and is then finally shown to be -- who else? -- Starscream, with the muzzle of his weapon still sizzling. Megatron's positively shattered corpse sparks and crackles and drifts away aimlessly.


REVIEW

Well, I'll be goddamned if this series isn't off to something of a bang. In this capacity, it is markedly different from its predecessor. The first G1 limited series from Dreamwave drew fan criticism for its somewhat lethargic pacing, and I think it's clear that they meant to rectify that situation with this series. To me, that says volumes about Dreamwave's ability and willingness to listen to its fans. Although I doubt anyone would claim that acknowledging and then acting upon the wishes of one's consumer base is bad, it can be something of a double-edged sword. This is especially true in our fandom; Transfans who have loyally stood by this franchise for two decades have seen so many new and different gimmicks come and go, that you'd think Vince McMahon and Michael Ovitz were in charge of marketing. In case you hadn't guessed, that isn't meant to be a compliment. I could actually rant and rave for days at a time about this subject, but in the interest of all two of you reading, I'll save it. The gist of the problem is that for two decades, Hasbro has apparently been using some type of divining rod to figure out what their customers want and almost every conclusion they've reached has landed them flat on their collective ass and with egg on their collective face. In the last couple of years, someone came up with the completely revolutionary idea of just asking "what do you want?" As unbelievable as this might sound, it actually worked. Hasbro basically has no problem now giving customers -- kids and older fans alike -- what they want because they simply asked. Things have been going relatively well for the Transformers brand since then.

But this can be a double-bladed sword; they're obviously not going to be able to ask every person on the planet what they'd like to see. And although a lot of people are online, I feel confident in saying that most kids don't use the internet for the express purpose of going to www.hasbro.com and saying "I WANT TO SEE MORE DINOBOTS." And beyond that, it's true that people are fickle. Constantly acceeding to all the various wishes of a fanbase can be potentially destructive to the internal fabric of any type of series. The handlers of the Transformers brand are happy they're doing well, but they're still insecure. They don't seem to trust themselves enough to give people what they want and stay comfortably in power.

Similarly, Dreamwave is trying to make up for some of the harsher criticisms leveled at Volume 1 by making Volume 2 flashier, grittier, more violent, and so on and so forth. Poor old Scourge gets killed less than half-way into the issue and Megatron gets jettisoned into space at the end. In fact, the entire issue is almost nothing but fighting. While it's a definite improvement over the fairly passive first volume, I get the impression that they're trying to cram as much "extreme" material as possible into an issue at the expense of internal consistency. A prime example of this is the presence of the character Wheeljack. Towards the end of the first volume, Optimus had a rather moving soliloquy about sacrificing one's self for the greater good. During this internal monologue, two parallel sacrifices were shown simultaneously. In the first, the Autobot combiner Superion flew into the air and threw himself in the path of a small nuclear warhead headed for San Francisco and gave his life to save the largely unappreciative humans there. As you might assume, he was obliterated. At the same time, in Canada, Wheeljack and some of the other Autobots were trying to combat a self-replicating virus that threatened to cover the entire planet in a Cybertronian alloy and kill every organic thing in its path. Before they could do finish, the Canadian military attacked them and the virus began spreading even faster than before. Wheeljack -- despite the protests of his friend Jazz -- hooked himself up to a satellite dish, reversed its power intake system, and used the remnants of his own life-force to blast the virus and destroy it. Volume 1 ends with Jazz holding the tattered and torn body of his friend. It was a meaningful sacrifice whose nobility was essentially negated when Wheeljack showed up in Volume 2. The same thing happened once before with this brand and I'm convinced that the noble death, resurrection, second and even more noble sacrifice, and re-resurrection of Optimus Prime in the original cartoon series is directly responsible for killing Transformers in the 1980s. Having bad pacing isn't desirable, but I definitely prefer that to cheap retcons that destroy any meaning to an emotional event. And this wasn't the only continuity problem: the aforementioned Blitzwing was present in a flashback in the first volume, which would be rather impossible given that he was supposed to be on Cybertron at the time. This is particularly problematic because the whole point of Shockwave's elite army is that they are more 'advanced' than the other Transformers and their advancement (the fact they have three transformations rather than just two, as the others have) is related directly to the fact that they were created with superior technology not present when the original characters left the planet millions of years ago. This sort of thing continues all throughout the second volume, but I'll discuss each problem as it pops up in each issue.

Something else I don't like is the fact that Brad Mick quotes lines and reproduces scenarios from Transformers: the Movie fairly often in the second volume. While it's nice to get these little nods every now and then, there's no point in reproducing the movie in glossy print. If I wanted to watch the movie, I would. I -- and I think most fans -- are looking for new stories involving the characters we grew up with and loved (or hated, in some cases). Megatron's rather irreverant ejection into the void might not seem like a big deal, but he's the leader of the Decepticons, for fuck's sake. Getting rid of him seven issues into the title seems a bit premature to me, and I was afraid that he would be turned into Galvatron (as he was in the movie following a similar scene in which Starscream threw him into space) far too soon. (Fortunately, recent developments in the series seem to indicate this won't happen, but I'll stick to one issue at a time.)The movie references happen pretty frequently throughout Volume 2.

That's really all the negative things I have to say about this issue. On the other hand, there are lots and lots of positives here. First, the artwork is gorgeous. I read some of the original comics from the 80s recently and asked myself "how did I ever enjoy these blocky things with terrible coloring?" The recent anime influence on Transformers is something I generally dislike (for various reasons dealing more with the show), but the artwork here gives results I can't complain about. If you ever saw the original show, you'd know that all of the characters got sort of "rounded off" and had embellished features that made them look more like people than their actual corresponding toys. The result of that is that much of the time, it was impossible to look at a character and say "ok, I know exactly how he's able to transform into a realistic car and maintain human-like articulation and features without sacrificing quality in either mode." Here, however, Lee has made sure the characters actually look like they're able to transform into their purported alternate modes. I mean, if we're willing to grant that robots from another galaxy turn into cars, trucks, jets, and cassette players, we might as well have it be convincing. Likewise, Armstrong's coloring is great. Past Transformers comics have always suffered in the coloring departments; in the original run, it was impossible to tell one Decepticon jet from the other two because all three of them have the same character model and they were all colored dark blue. Obviously some coloration quality would be lost when the actual printing was done, but I honestly don't think it should have been that awful, particularly since Thundercracker is the only one who is blue. (Starscream and Skywarp are primarily light silver and black, respectively.) So it's a great treat to see everything colored in such a lush and character-accurate manner.

Despite the few problems with Mick's story I mentioned earlier, he did a fantastic job overall. The story that has been set up is definitely interesting and it's definitely like nothing we've ever seen before in a Transformers comic. The reintroduction of Shockwave, a fan favorite who has been out of commission since 1990, was great to see. But even more unbelievable than that was Ultra Magnus appearing as the leader of the squad of Decepticon jets that attacked Hound et al. The issue was full of surprises and was probably the strongest debut issue I've ever seen for a Transformers series, despite the literary and continuity problems I addressed earlier.

If I'm not mistaken, this issue was the second best-selling comic for the month -- April 2003 -- in which it was published. If that's not a strong show of support for the Transformers brand and for an upstart "new kid" company like Dreamwave, I don't know what is. Great work all around.

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