11 October 2016

Review: The Transformers Classics, Vol. 2 by Bob Budiansky, Don Perlin, et al.

I just realized I've been neglecting to mention my work at USF the past couple weeks, which have seen four of my reviews materialize: The New Counter Measures: Who Killed Toby Kinsella? (Christmastime during the Three-Day Week), Doctor Who: Aquitaine (the Doctor meets a robot butler who can butle with the best of them), The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 6 (Steed and Keel fight crime in the streets of London, at a shipyard, and at a fun fair), and Doctor Who: The Peterloo Massacre (the Doctor visits North and South, only it really happened).

Comic PDF eBook, 284 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 1986-87)
Acquired August 2014
Read March 2016
The Transformers Classics, Vol. 2

Written by Bob Budiansky, Len Kaminski 
Pencils by Don Perlin, Graham Nolan, Herb Trimpe
Inks by Al Gordon, Keith Williams, Tom Morgan, Vince Colletta, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey
Letters by Janice Chiang, Bill Oakley, Hans Iv
Colors by Nelson Yomtov

Even within the bounds of what you can or should do with comic books based on a toyline, The Transformers is not and never will be great. There are just too many characters with too little personality to distinguish them from one another, and more are constantly being introduced, meaning you never get to know anyone long enough to care about them. Plus, Bob Budiansky's plots range from bizarre to far-fetched: this volume features a Decepticon plot to steal music from a rock concert, an out-of-work comic book writer hired by the government to pretend to be a terrorist controlling the Autobots and Decepticons, a group of Decepticons who go rogue to leave graffiti on human monuments, and Optimus Prime committing suicide when non-player characters are accidentally killed when he has a videogame duel with Megatron. This isn't great comics; it's not even great hokum.

I love the idea that Megatron is so convinced that Optimus is not dead, he kills himself to get one over on Optimus.
from The Transformers #25 (script by Bob Budiansky, art by Don Perlin and Ian Akin & Brian Garvey)

(You do, I think, have to give Budiansky credit for never settling into a repetitive status quo: the Decepticons are always shifting their leadership and plans throughout the series. I'd take Shockwave over Megatron as leader any day.)

Terrifying death by acid disintegration, that's what this kid's comic needs.
from The Transformers #17 (script by Bob Budiansky, art by Don Perlin & Keith Williams)

That said, every now and again, Budiansky hits it out of the park; each volume of The Transformers Classics usually has one story that sticks out above the rest, and vol. 2 actually has two. The first is "Return to Cybertron," a two-part tale that shows what life has been like on Cybertron since the Ark left three million years or so ago. In a word, it's completely terrible: it's a huge contrast between this and the kind of wacky hijinks this title is usually populated with. It's a gritty story of a world where the Autobots are barely hanging on under the cruelty of a Decepticon dictatorship, where most robots don't even have the energy or parts to resist. Characters can die here, and their deaths have real emotional consequences. If only Budiansky's run was always like this, it would have been incredible. (Though, perhaps, not very uplifting.)

This is definitely a euphemism for something sexual.
from The Transformers #20 (script by Bob Budiansky, art by Herb Trimpe and Ian Akin & Brian Garvey)

This volume actually has two very good stories, the other being "Showdown!" After a big Autobot/Decepticon battle, the Autobot Skids is left for dead, stuck in his vehicle mode (a van), where he's found by Charlene, a grocery store cashier who dreams of a better life, and who needs a new car. Charlene has Skids repaired, and, tired of war, Skids decides to lay low and just act as her van. Of course, circumstances force him to reveal himself to her-- but they decide they like the arrangement and become fast friends. It's a story of two different sides. In one sense, it's a cute slice-of-life tale. In another sense, it's the story of a wounded soldier trying to escape an endless war that has caused him nothing but pain and anguish. It's at once adorable and weighty, and it's probably Budiansky's second-best work on the Marvel Transformers title.

Next Week: The nadir and the peak of The Transformers, in Classics, Vol. 3!

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