Transformers MTMTE #12: Robot Love

James Roberts shows us how interpersonal relationships with genderless robots work without making it creepy.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Transformers: MTMTE #12

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is my favorite book of the year. It's imbued these characters I've loved since my childhood with… well, the character they've so richly deserved and often lacked since then. The worldbuilding is fascinating, the plotting is dense, the dialogue is sharp and often hilarious, and more people would agree with me about the greatness of this series if the concept of Transformers fiction didn't have such a lamentable stigma to it. Whether it be the punishingly insipid Michael Bay movies or ol' chestnut that it's all just a big toy commercial, it's hard to convince some people to give 'bots a chance. Hopefully, writer James Roberts will continue to make the case for Transformers for a long time to come, because he's the best writer they've ever had.

It's got action, it's got adventure, it's got comedy, it's got drama, it's got pathos, it's got mystery, it's got suspense – everything you could ask for. Until now, the only thing one could say it was missing was something for the shippers. Not that that's ever stopped them before – if you really want to, you can find all sorts of creepy Transformers fetish porn with a Google Image Search. Rule 34 and all. While previous incarnations of TF fiction has played a little bit with gendered robots – the original Generation 1 series introduced "Female Autobots" as a species thought extinct, and gave Optimus Prime a girlfriend with Elita-1, and the original animated movie gave us the bright pink Autobot Arcee (it was 1986) – the IDW TF comics continuity has firmly established that there is no gender in the Cybertronian race of shape-shifting robots. In fact, a mad scientist named Jhiaxus tried to artificially force gender into the equation just to see what would happen, and the result is the IDW version of Arcee, who is still pink, but also bore a huge psychotic grudge agaisnt Jhiaxus for what was done to her and got some very brutal revenge for it. These days, she's a ruthless assassin for the Autobot cause.

Anyway, in a society without gender, without coitus, there's not much you can do in the way of "relationship drama," and humans do like that kind of thing. Roberts has finally cracked that nut, though, with TF: MTMTE #12 by helping us realize that these characters are still people with emotions, and that gender and coitus are not required for love to exist. This issue – while filled with the action of Autobots (and Cyclonus) vs. aggressive Decepticons, the black comedy of Swerve blowing his own face off and the twisted motivations of the sometimes heroic and most times self-serving and all the time crazy Whirl – is mostly a story about the love between a guy named Chromedome and a guy named Rewind.

Roberts gives us a symbolic pseudo-engagement gesture with the concept of 'innermost energon,' the fuel around one's spark (i.e. soul) casing, which stays there forever regardless of what else about their robo-bodies change. Offering a portion to another person is symbolic of a deep bond of friendship… but Chromedome was born dry, and his best friend Rewind's best friend is somebody else. It seems Rewind is very old, and was once a part of "the disposable class," akin to slaves, until a dynamic gentlebot named Dominus Ambus realized the marginalization of the disposables and campaigned for equal rights for them, bonding with Rewind in the process very deeply. So much so that, when Ambus mysteriously vanished, Rewind's entire life from then on was dedicated to trying to find out what happened to him – to this day. And that adds a bittersweet tinge to the fact that Rewind is currently dying, and Chromedome is doing all he can to try and stop that from happening – and it's not enough. A trouble made all the more painful due to the fact that meeting Rewind many years ago was the inspiration for Chromedome not to go through with an assisted suicide at a "relinquishment clinic."

This is a strongly emotional story – a pure one, without all the skeeve that comes with fan-people ship-art and such – and it really sets up a great deal in the way of future dramatic potential, and that pays dividends right away, when the well-meaning but time-displaced Tailgate, learning of the innermost energon ritual, tries to make that offering to Cyclonus, a hard-edged pseudo-Decepticon who abuses and refuses him at every turn, only to have a change of spark at the sight of Rewind with Chromedome.

Relationship drama. Now, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye officially has everything – including a stellar art team, as Alex Milne and Brendan Cahill work absolutely seamlessly to take up two sides of a crucial event, with Milne taking the 'before' and Cahill taking the 'after.'  Their work is so perfectly matched that I wouldn't have known two artists were creating this book if I hadn't read the credits.

This book is amazing. Give it a chance, won't you?