June 20, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Chaos Theory, Part 1

Shadowcon Reviews: IDW Transformers Ongoing #22: “Chaos Theory, Part 1”

This is the issue where the themes established in my earlier reviews really come together. Themes of loyalty, betrayal, morality, peace, etc.; they all culminate in what I consider to be the best solo issue that IDW has ever done. And yes, despite this being one of two parts to a story, the two are independent enough for me to call this a one-shot… because that’s what it is: “Chaos Theory, Part 2” is focused on Optimus’ past, and so we get a little more light shed on that, but Part 1 deals with his relationship to Megatron, which is I think the most underdeveloped relationship in all Transformers fiction. Prime, War for Cybertron, IDW, and the movie prequel comic series all established lasting and complicated relationships between the two titans, but they far more often settle on being quintessentially good and evil, without being complex or having much history behind them to make you realize that these two know each other so well that the war is to them about making the other person realize that their philosophy is flawed. IDW established Optimus and Megatron’s relationship so well, that this issue could be seen in part as a two-man stage play, with each having his reasons and rebuttals as to the other person’s comments or reasons.
This issue also sees how Megatron started out. This is set prior to the Megatron Origins story, so he’s still a civil person. It’s nice background material, and helps the reader understand why Megatron does what he does: it’s because he sees no other option. His society is so corrupt, so broken, that the only answer is a complete overhaul of the system, and that of course gradually grew into a want for total control over everything. The saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Yeah, that’s this guy, but on a massive, ridiculous cosmic scale! Megatron’s motives for surrendering are rather vague, though the Spotlight Bumblebee issue would clarify that: Megatron needed a ride back to Cybertron… that’s it. That may seem to undermine this whole issue, but this on its own was handled so well, that I can personally overlook that in favor of character interaction and development.
I’d like to comment briefly on the artwork for this issue too, as I commented on it in my previous review. This comic is drawn by Alex Milne, with colors by Joana Lafuente, and I really like how this looks. The past scenes are done up in light popping colors, while in the present, everything is dark and moody with greens and blues. I think this speaks a lot about how art can enhance a story; with this, the mood is set not just in conversation, but also in the environment. This also helps establish Cybertron before the war as being full of color and engagement and fun, whereas in the present, Megatron and Optimus are discussing dark and complex topics.
Speaking of which, the two have a great discussion that makes one realize that the entire war can really be summed up by these two men: one the epitome of peace and good, the other of superiority and conquest. Note that no part of Megatron’s idea is actually inherently evil. He’s taken it too far to be sure, but in different hands, this idea of fixing a corrupt society in favor of equality could lead to Cybertron’s own Civil Rights movement. As Megatron lays out his vision of his unified Cybertron, the two have the following exchange that I think is very interesting:
“Let’s play a game. I’m dead. The Autobots are no more. Cybertron- or what’s left of it- is yours. A hundred thousand planets have been re-sculpted, technoformed, colonized, whatever. The Decepticon Empire is resplendent, and there you sit, at the center of it all. Now what?”
“Then the real work begins. Repopulation. The rebirth of the Cybertronian race. A new Golden Age- one that will put the Knights of Cybertron to shame. Imagine: a civilization free from conflict. Everyone’s needs met. No want, no unhappiness, no dissent. Peace through tyranny.”
“And what of autonomy? Personal responsibility? Free will? Where do they fit into your brave new world?
“They won’t be missed.”
What we see here is that Megatron’s vision frees him from the society into which he was made, that of taking social engineering and making it literal: your form dictated where you fell into society. Megatron’s goals seek to change that. And his final comment that personal responsibility and free will won’t be missed makes a twisted sort of sense, as he has never experienced free will, at least not in any meaningful way. He spent his early days as a miner because he was made that way; having no responsibility to himself and only to the people was his way of life. So saying that they won’t be missed solidifies his goals of having everyone see the world as he saw it.
On the flip side of that, we have Optimus’ moral standards, which are actually vocalized in the form of the rest of the Autobots, when they discuss Megatron’s trial. issue of issuing Megatron the death penalty comes into play, and it’s a captivating and morally grey discussion. Optimus is conflicted about whether or not to let Megatron live. As Prime says, if he put a bullet in Megatron’s head right now, the rest of the Universe would stand up and applaud. That’s… pretty hard-core, especially for a Transformers comic. Prowl and Ultra Magnus are all for that option, but Bumblebee states that if they kill Megatron, they risk turning him into a martyr, and that would arguably be worse than what Megatron has already done. Starscream or someone else could see this as taking Megatron’s methods to a whole new level. Optimus pulls executive decision and says that the decision rests with him alone, much to Bumblebee’s and every one else’s discomfort. Except, Bumblebee’s the leader of the Autobots now… in fact Xaaron in this very scene says that the decision to execute Megatron rests with ‘Bee, so, why is Optimus now suddenly taking command? I think part of the answer is that Optimus doesn’t think that anyone else can handle Megatron, but Rodimus points out the reverse, that Optimus’ judgment is so impaired by revenge and anger towards Megatron that he wouldn’t make the right call. And in the following scene, that is indeed put to the test, as Megatron exploits one aspect of Optimus’ motives:
“This isn’t about me.”
“Of course it’s about you. It’s always been about you. You’re the most venerated Cybertronian who has ever lived. Hero, patriot, icon= and it’s all thanks to me. Without this war, you’d be just another Autobot, another wasted spark who left no trace. Another nobody. And that’s why, deep down, you’re glad for this war. What’s a few million fatalities if it secures your legacy, eh?”
Optimus' reaction to this is even more telling, as he then electrocutes Megatron with the flick of a switch, causing him much pain… Megatron that is, not Optimus. This indicates that Megatron may be right in part, that Optimus’ ego may indeed be why he’s carried on this war for so long, and may perhaps be why Optimus in the end doesn’t decide to kill Megatron…
            This issue is a “Must Read” for me, because it focuses so much on Optimus and Megatron’s relationship. It really tries to get at all the facets of that, and I think it succeeds! It did a great job of humanizing both characters. The artwork is fantastic; Milne really makes the Figueroa designs come to life while making their visual appeal more accessible to those who don’t enjoy the Movie-ized G1 character models, such as simplifying and streamlining a lot of the characters’ armor. The flashback stuff was nice too, though I did find it a little distracting; we already know how and why Megatron did what he did, and this just kind of rehashed it a little too much. Ultimately, though, this proved to be the best that the Ongoing series had to offer. Next time, we’ll return to Prime and see a return to form with “Legacy”.

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