29 November 2016

Review: The Transformers: Infiltration by Simon Furman and E. J. Su

Comic PDF eBook, 152 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06)
Acquired and read October 2016
The Transformers: Infiltration

Written by Simon Furman
Art by E. J. Su
Colors by John Rauch with Josh Burcham, Aaron Myers, Simon Bork, Mark Englert, Runder Raj, and Kevin Senft
Letters by Robbie Robbins and Tom B. Long

Though it takes place between The Transformers Spotlight and All Hail Megatron, I actually read this IDW Transformers comic much later, because the Humble Bundle it was included in didn't come out until October 2016; by the time I read this I'd already read All Hail Megatron, For All Mankind, Last Stand of the Wreckers, and Infestation. It's a shame I didn't read it earlier, because it's really quite good, probably the best part of the IDW Transformers continuity I'd read up to this point, except for Last Stand.

Simon Furman has written for The Transformers since the 1980s, but this is, I'm pretty sure, his first time writing for them from the beginning, getting to design his own Transformers universe from the ground up. I see two different inspirations here: "Man of Iron," the first UK Transformers story, and "Rose," the first episode of Russell T Davies's Doctor Who. Like "Rose," Infiltration introduces us to the extraordinary through the eyes of the ordinary, starting with human beings in their world, whose normal lives are disrupted by something they've never seen before. Like "Man of Iron," Infiltration depicts the Transformers as strange, mysterious beings, emphasizing their size and their otherness. There are a lot of scenes with silent, mysterious Decepticon jets flying overhead and destroying things, just like in "Man of Iron." A Transformer does speak to the human protagonists in the first issue, but only in the form of a holomatter avatar; the humans don't talk to a robot as as a robot until the very end of the second issue.

I mean, I think RTD would write such a speech better, but I can imagine him writing such a speech.
from The Transformers: Infiltration #2

But it's not all mystery and scares; Furman does a good job of slowly initiating the human characters, Verity, Hunter, and Jimmy, to the Transformers world. They meet Ratchet, the Autobots' medic, then they go to the Autobot base and meet a few more Transformers, then they end up helping Ratchet and Bumblebee investigate a mysterious, abandoned Decepticon base. Optimus Prime doesn't show up until the very last page. The Decepticons are frightening, Megatron especially because of how Verity encounters him: he's so large and so focused that she's beneath his notice, an insect he shouldn't even waste time with. This is probably the best portrayal I've seen of Megatron outside Beast Wars/Beast Machines.

This scene gave me shivers, no joke.
from The Transformers: Infiltration #5

Compare this to the ridiculous way Bill Mantlo and Ralph Macchio introduced the original Transformers line-up, by having twenty-nine different characters just say their names and give personality-based one-liners, and this is loads more interesting and sophisticated. We don't know a lot of the Transformers characters by the end of this, but the ones we do know we know very well. E. J. Su's artwork is strong, too, able to handle both the legion of robot characters and the few human ones with equal dexterity. Transformers comics can look very posed at time, but Su is great at keeping things natural and (forgive the word choice) organic.

I love that Ratchet's avatar always has the same overly upbeat smile no matter what he's saying.
from The Transformers vol. 1 #0

This book came out a year before the first Michael Bay Transformers film, and it seems to me that it accomplished what that film tried to do much better. Though, unlike a film, this isn't a self-contained story but a set-up for more adventures: Furman plants many seeds for what is to come, but I'm especially intrigued by the Decepticon infiltration protocol. I like the way he's given new life to the "robots in disguise" concept by making it so that both the Autobots and the Decepticons are limited by rules of engagement that mean they must do their work on Earth in secret, and that Earth is but one of many worlds where they are in conflict across the galaxy. It's a clever reinvention of the basics of the Transformers concepts-- different, but also the same, hitting the right balance between nostalgia and reinvention. There's stuff here to please new and old Transformers fans alike.

Next Week: We jump ahead, to when The Transformers leave Earth, amidst Devastation!

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