18 October 2016

Review: The Transformers Classics, Vol. 3 by Bob Budiansky, Don Perlin, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, 308 pages
Published 2012 (contents: 1987-88)
Acquired August 2014
Read April 2016
The Transformers Classics, Vol. 3

Written by Bob Budiansky, Steve Parkhouse
Pencils by Don Perlin, John Ridgway, Mike Collins, Jose Delbo
Inks by Brett Breeding, Ian Akin & Brian Garvey, Jim Fern, John Ridgway, Mike Collins, Dave Hunt
Letters by Janice Chiang, Rick Parker, Pat Brosseau, Richard Starkings, Jack Morelli, Diana Albers, Bill Oakley
Colors by Nel Yomtov, Gina Hart & Josie Fermin

Previously I claimed that every volume of Bob Budiansky's run on The Transformers had one real standout story that made it worthwhile. This is sort of true of vol. 3 of The Transformers Classics: "Man of Iron" is probably the best story of the Marvel Transformers series full stop... but it's not by Bob Budiansky. The UK creative team of Steve Parkhouse, John Ridgway, and Mike Collins (all familiar to me thanks to their work on Doctor Who Magazine) step in for a two-part story that is just incredible. Written almost entirely from the perspective of the human characters (the Autobots are investigating information about a ship beneath a castle in the UK), the story is entirely unlike any other Transformers story I've ever read: moody and frightening. The Transformers are inscrutable alien robots, even when in scenes written from their perspective.

I like the idea that the Transformers' names are codenames because their names are unpronounceable by humans. As far as I know, this has never been used anywhere else. (Though Tom Scioli's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe has them communicating in indecipherable electronic codes.)
from The Transformers #33 (script by Steve Parkhouse, art by John Ridgway)

The story is told from the point-of-view of a child for large chunks, something often pooh-poohed by Transformers fans (including myself), but in the hands of these master craftsmen, that only makes the story even more frightening:
I don't think I would want to wake up to this outside my bedroom window.
from The Transformers #33 (script by Steve Parkhouse, art by John Ridgway)

The end of the first issue is even a terrifying kidnapping scene, as Jazz drives off with an unwilling Sammy while all his mother can do it watch. The second issue explains the Transformers a little bit more, but makes them cold and ruthless-- the Decepticons never speak, and the whole thing ends with a big blow-'em-up battle that is utterly-uncartoonish, and the death of two faithful Autobots who'd been waiting for the Ark for a thousand years.

Deadly and silent-- the worst the Marvel Decepticons have ever been.
from The Transformers #34 (script by Steve Parkhouse, art by Mike Collins)

It's a triumph of tone, and the best Transformers comic I'd read up to this point.

The rest of the book is... not as great. Grimlock becomes the leader of the Autobots, which should be hilarious and awesome, but just makes the Autobots look like indecisive incompetents who'll bow to anyone with a mildly strong will. The book does introduce my favorite Decepticon leader, Ratbat, a fuel auditor. From his base on Cybertron, he audits the Decepticon operation and determines it's wasting too much resources for too little profit, and assumes control by cutting off supplies if the Decepticons don't run things his way. On the other hand, his plan to mind-control America's greatest manufacturer of gasoline into building car washes that hypnotize their users into driving at night to a Decepticon base and siphon off their excess fuel isn't exactly an elegant plan itself.

I was also a little annoyed to discover that though the Headmasters spin-off series has a major impact on the events of the parent book, it's collected in The Transformers Classics, Vol. 7. Its issues really ought to have been woven into this one, in a sort of "meanwhile, elsewhere..." fashion like the original readers would have experienced it. As it is, a ton of new characters from Headmasters pop up out of nowhere and have a major influence on the plot.

Next Week: Bob Budiansky plots the climax to his run on The Transformers, in Classics, Vol. 4!

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