June 6, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Revenge of the Decepticons

Shadowcon Reviews: IDW Transformers Ongoing #14-18: “Revenge of the Decepticons”

The Ongoing series was meant to thin the Autobot cast back down to basic players, and also to be able to kind of revisit the Simon Furman era of the comic, that of Earth-based or centered stories. While All Hail Megatron had done that to a degree, the focus there was on the Autobots’ defeat and the conquering of Earth, while the Ongoing series’ focus is on the Autobots’ victory and subsequent dealings on Earth, such as with the humans, tension amongst the crew, leadership positions, etc. The “Revenge of the Decepticons” storyline brought me back to what I loved about the series: that of careful plotting character dynamic, and this one happened to focus on Optimus, and to a lesser extent Megatron, which was a happy bonus.
Previously, we had taken a look at both Optimus’ and Megatron’s motives and positions during the war, and what their goals were. Now, we take a look at how those goals play out, and how the two actually fight; because in this arc, very little hand-to-hand combat happens; a lot of this is setup and calling one’s bluff, so it’s more of a chess game than anything else. This is a great take on the Cybertronian War, which over the years has gotten to be so ridiculously long in some series, that you wonder how there could be anyone left when all this fighting is going on. IDW presents us with a far more realistic vision of what the war would be like in the present, with either side drained of resources and resorting to duplicity of entire worlds to further their own ends, and psyching the other side out and making them blink.
This story is I think one of the stronger stories in the IDW fiction. First, the plot is super tight, with lots of great lines, and a moral dilemma that can really be seen from either the humans’ or the Autobots’ point of view. Second, the art is fantastic. Alex Milne and Don Figueroa do an amazing job with the art, blending the Movie-verse complexities with the G1 bodies, which result in very real-looking and plausible robot designs. Third, the characters are well written, stay in-character for the whole arc, and are three-dimensional. Of particular note is Optimus Prime, who is pushed to the edge and must confront his demons both in the form of Megatron and in the form of the near breaking of his own moral code.
The first two-thirds of this story is focused around the humans’ interaction and mistrust of the Autobots, which is executed pretty well. The US government’s collusion with the Autobots is met with natural indignation and contempt by its citizens in the wake of the Earth Occupation in All Hail Megatron. I really like this because it gives the humans actual presence and they are the threat this time around, which is something not often seen in Transformers lore.
In fact, the Autobots that are under attack are often presented as aggressive and adversarial; while we sympathize with them by default, in the back of our minds we recognize that the humans who threaten them are only civilians, and thus our moral compass is spinning in a daze: do we side with the supposed Autobot heroes, especially after Jazz kills a human in cold blood, or do we side with the humans, who are by all accounts right, as they’ve been lied to by their own government? That moral dilemma and questioning of who was in the right was handled brilliantly. Jazz’s killing of the human police officer is also a real shock, because it Jazz did what he did out of miscommunication, and not because the human was inherently evil. Indeed, the man was a good cop; Bumblebee had calmed him down to the point where he was willing to lower his gun. But all Jazz saw was a man with a gun who had pointed it at Bumblebee. During all of this, the Decepticons are watching and pulling the strings to great effect. We know what’s going on, but the Autobots and the humans struggle to keep up with the Decepticons’ machinations.
Megatron is written very well in this arc. He’s masterminded a trust test between the Autobots and the humans, and the Autobots were the ones that blinked. And thus Megatron, in the end, wins! As he says, Optimus’ philosophy of seeing the good in everyone has failed, as Optimus’ own lay wounded not by the Decepticons’ hand, but by the humans’. Megatron’s goal has always been to beat Optimus and to show Optimus that he is his superior in every way. Here, Megatron proves that he’s not only Prime’s better in strength, but also in intelligence: Megatron has shown Prime the face of humanity that Prime himself never looks at, the face of corruption and fear, of deceit and mistrust. And Megatron’s endgame is masterful as ever, as he reveals to Optimus that his plan is to hurt Optimus not through violence, but by making Prime see that for all his speeches and pontifications of goodness in humanity, his Autobots will be destroyed by the humans themselves. I loved that this happened; it reinforced Megatron as a threat to Optimus not by his beating Optimus up, but through making Megatron challenge Optimus’ philosophy and psychologically messing him up, which is in character for this continuity’s version of Megatron and the state of the Cybertronian war in general.
The Autobots are rescued, and Optimus is pretty pissed off that Megatron nearly beat him; some might say that Megatron did beat him, after all, Jazz did prove Megatron’s point, that humanity is a threat when presented with mistrust and deceit… and Optimus can’t acknowledge that. Optimus then storms out with vengeance on his mind. I think one of the reasons that this Optimus is such a strong character is that, like Prime Optimus, IDW Optimus rarely looses his cool, and when he does, he does so because he recognizes that Megatron has beaten him. All of his trying to build trust between the humans and Autobots has failed, and he has no one to blame but his nemesis, Megatron. As we’ll see next time, Optimus and Megatron know each other so well, understand each other to the point of interchangeability, that losing to someone whose every flaw is known to him… well, you can understand why Optimus is so guilt-ridden and vengeful.
This is where we really get to see the two philosophies collide. After a really neat battle involving a kinetic harpoon (which is in fact a real thing!), Optimus looses it altogether, angrily asking Megatron why he can’t ever die. We don’t get to see the ensuing fight, just the aftermath, where Megatron drags a damaged Optimus back to the Autobots… and then surrenders. Optimus questions him, only to find that, according to Megatron, the humans have already been duplicitous in their collaboration with the Autobots. Spike, Optimus’ human compatriot, killed the Decepticon Scrapper in a previous issue, and here Megatron brings that up, saying that Optimus is himself a traitor to his race, echoing what a human had said about the US government when the truth was revealed about them working with the Autobots in the first place. It ties the whole tale together perfectly. And with that seed of doubt and mistrust of the humans planted in Optimus’ mind, he orders Prowl to investigate Spike’s actions regarding the death of Scrapper, thus playing Megatron’s game now.
              I think the arc as a whole receives a “Must Read”. It had great character dynamic, excellent pacing, and fantastic art by Alex Milne and Don Figueroa. Optimus and Megatron’s argument will continue in “Chaos Theory”, which we will look at next time!

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