I can't say enough things about how James Roberts' Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is my favorite damn comic book going right now. It's the book that makes me the happiest each time out, and now this month I get a double-dose of it, thanks to the Transformers: MTMTE Annual 2012, which is epic in length as well as scope. Somehow, it also doubles as a great jumping on point for this series. So if you think you can handle a book without any human characters in it, by all means, come on in. The water's awesome.
We open with a mini-Innerspace comedy-adventure, as Rodimus and a group of Autobots have shrunk themselves down (thanks to mad-scientist Brainstorm's "highly implausible mass-displacement gun") to clean a life-threatening infestation of Nanocons out of the mouth of Ultra Magnus, the humorless, officious and duly appointed enforcer of the Tyrest Accord. An infestation he has to finish clearing out himself by engaging pistons in his mouth that haven't been engaged for centuries – the ones used to smile. This makes him a laughingstock for a while, and that prompts him toward having a personal dilemma of whether or not he can stay with Rodimus and the crew of the Lost Light if he's being openly mocked. "Ultra Magnus is not supposed to be a figure of fun!"
Meanwhile, the LL is finally nearing its first destination in its quest to locate the mythical Knights of Cybertron and their legendary cyberutopia, and things start to get weird. For one, at Tailgate's Autobot initiation ceremony, instead of the insignia, Rodimus seems briefly possessed enough to scrawl "Let Me Out" on his chest in Old Cybertronian. The Off-Liners in the medbay start holding their audio receptors (that means "ears") in pain, the first time they've moved in weeks. Even the dead guy Ore, who was accidentally fused with the quantum engines in a freak accident and stuck in them, starts chattering away to our bar-owner buddy Swerve, and throughout the issue, the two of them have a pump-to-pump talk that helps Swerve exorcise some of his personal demons we didn't even know he had, given that he's such a happy-go-jerky sort whose nickname at the academy was "Shut The Hell Up."
That last bit was provided by the handy-dandy introductory page at the end of the story, giving us names, faces and jobs of a big batch of the admittedly huge cast of crew members – that should help you in your attempts to start reading this series. Heck, the first volume of Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is already out in trade paperback!
Anyway, their arrival at the Crystal City, home of the Circle of Light (a pacifist organization of philosophers who helped ex-Decepticon Drift see the error of his ways), is interrupted by The Galactic Council forbidding them access, and we see once again that the rest of the universe absolutely despises Cybertronians. And Rodimus hates the Galactic Council (and authority in general) enough to add Prime to his name for the first time just to spite them and their dismissive tendencies. However, they enforce the Tyrest Accord and Ultra Magnus is an absolute celebrity for being such a rigid, unbending enforcer of it. Magnus gives Rodimus the time he needs, while the G.C. makes Magnus an offer that he might not be able to refuse.
Down below in the Crystal CIty, Drift is stunned to find it deserted and trashed, as if the Circle of Light were all abducted, and they eventually uncover a "metrotitan" struggling for its freedom – and the question of what the hell a metrotitan is prompts Cyclonus to relate one of the metaphysical creation stories for their entire race.
However, if you'd like to know what a metrotitan is, think Metroplex, one of the massive Autobots who could transform into a whole city. You can get a sense of his scope in this trailer from the recently released Transformers: Fall of Cybertron video game.
There have been many retellings of the origin of the Cybertronian species over the decades, and it's usually done in a grandiose, scripture-from-on-high sort of manner, defining the hows and whys of it all. They're usually pretty cool and interesting, but there's no arguing with it. Roberts, however, has woven a lot of elements of myth-cycles, interpretations and outright disbelief into the series so far, and even here, when the foundation of Cybertronian religous belief is explained point-for-point by Cyclonus, a war-torn relic from ancient times, there's still room for Ratchet's militant atheism right in the face of it. And we know from experience that Roberts delights in throwing curveballs often enough that there's no way everything's going to turn out to be exactly like it was explained.
Roberts is an absolute genius at crafting engaging, deep, dense, dramatic yet funny stories, and this 2012 Annual is so thick with history, world-building, personality, character and pathos that you can't just shove it aside and say "it's good for a Transformers book." It's a damn good comic book, period.
The art is a team effort from Jimbo Salgado and Emil Cabaltierra, and it's pretty solid. It's not quite up to the unmatchable standard set by Nick Roche and Alex Milne in the regular series, but it's still really good at giving us action and interesting business during talk-heavy scenes. Also, Guido Guidi handles the flashback art in Cyclonus' tale of the mythology, and it can't be an accident that all of his panels look like they were lifted directly out of an old 1980s Marvel Transformers comic. It's a very different backstory than was related in that old series, but homage is well and truly paid to the books that were so crucial in inspiring this enduring fandom.
I've been urging people that if they even have the slightest interest in science fiction stuff involving robots, it's well worth their time and effort to shift your mentality enough to accept a comic series populated entirely by self-actualized robots with a culture that's firmly their own, and yet with enough similarities to our lives that they're all completely relatable as people. Roberts makes these characters so damn compelling they're irresistible. I'm sure it takes a bit of getting used to, as there's likely a learning curve for new readers as opposed to longtime fans like myself, but reading Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Annual 2012 should really give you everything you need to know to learn the basics well enough to hook you in.
If not, then you don't really like robots, do you?