Apr 28, 2016

Hidden Gems: Halo and Sprocket

I've been a fan of Kerry Callen since we launched the Comics Cube, mainly because his blog is a hoot. Among the features on his blog that have gone viral, here are animated GIFs of classic comics:

Super Antics:

And this particularly popular pair of images:

So with all this, I've been particularly interested in his creator-owned series, Halo and Sprocket. Unfortunately, they're not easy to find, so it took me years and a bit of luck at the recent Komikon to find a copy of the first volume, Welcome to Humanity.

This series is quite clever, and if you've read enough of the Cube, you'll know I particularly like wit and cleverness, especially in shortform content. This story about an angel, Halo, and a robot, Sprocket, who live in a single woman's apartment (with the woman, Katie). Halo is put on Earth to help Sprocket adjust to humanity. It's not easy, because the two of them take everything so literally.

The stories vary in length, but there are no multi-parters. It's pretty much ruminations on various events and figures of speech that we encounter in our everyday lives. At one point, Katie takes Halo and Sprocket to an art show, and they don't understand art at all. Finally, Sprocket finds a piece that appeals to his sense of aesthetics. Kinda.

I can't really say much more without spoiling the stories because they're so short, but they're really quite fun and clever that it does provoke some thought about certain things we consider routine.

Also, at one point, Sprocket asks Halo, "Can I borrow your flaming sword of vengeance?" And you know, I thought that was pretty funny.

Halo and Sprocket is available, in full color, now on Comixology.

Apr 25, 2016

Dreamwave's Transformers: Mo Money, Mo Problems

It Was All a Dream: Exploring Dreamwave's Transformers
Part 4: Mo Money, Mo Problems
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

Previously, on Back Issue Ben, I decided to cover Dreamwave’s Transformers. I have reasons. They have been covered elsewhere. The War Within was a prequel detailing the early days of Optimus Prime as leader of the Autobots. He used to be an accountant, which I find both amusing and horrifying, also for reasons detailed elsewhere.

That’s about it, let’s continue.

Story: Simon Furman; Pencils: Don Figueroa; Inks: Elaine To; Colors: Rob Ruffolo

“This world is older than you can possibly imagine…”

The mysterious voices continue talking to Optimus Prime, even as he lay unconscious (or whatever robots are when they’re knocked out, dormant?). He boots up in a panic, looking for where Megatron might have landed.

Back at Decepticon headquarters, Starscream has assumed command of the Decepticons, following his sneaky betrayal of Megatron (a trademark of his). He orders Shockwave to continue his assault on Iacon, while in-house he wants every scrap of information downloaded from Laserbeak.

Optimus searches for more guidance from the voices, but they have nothing more to say. His self-reflection is cut short when Megatron blasts his way into the room, ready to resume their fight.

Grimlock meets with his team of Kup, Wheeljack, and Ironhide. Prowl believes the Decepticons have made a tactical error focusing all their forces on Iacon. Prowl plans to keep them focused on Iacon, while they covertly evacuate essential hardware, and then strike back at unmanned Decepticon arsenals and positions.

Ironhide mocks Grimlock’s assertion that they “let Iacon go,” since it sounds a lot like what Optimus Prime said about Cybertron.

Megatron is easily handling Optimus Prime, all while boasting about the untapped power held within the Matrix. He imagines a mobile Cybertron no longer bound by orbits or spacial topography. Optimus doesn’t understand why Megatron believes the Matrix is so powerful, it’s merely a conduit to the past.

Optimus (finally) strikes back, throwing him into some exposed electrical wires. (A move reminiscent of the titanic battle between the two during Transformers the Animated Movie. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I may have watched that movie in my life more than any other movie. Probably more than the next four movies combined. Yes, this is a point of pride for me.)

Starscream has finished downloading Laserbeak’s info, confirming that there is a mechaforming sub-structure under the surface of Cybertron, a second skin. Once the war is won, you could theoretically wipe away the mess made of the planet by bringing that layer to the surface.

In Iacon, Shockwave’s assault continues. (I heart Shockwave.)

Optimus Prime puts up a good fight, but Megatron is able to crack open his chest cavity, causing energy to burst forth.

Grimlock and his crew arrive at the edge of the former Forum of Enlightenment. Their specific mission is to find and, if necessary, rescue Optimus Prime.

Megatron and Optimus are engulfed in the energy released by the Matrix.

Next thing they know, they both find themselves on a world that looks very much like Earth.

This series cruelly teased me with Tracks, and has failed to produce him since. Luckily, it’s been entertaining enough to make up for it, but this slight shall not stand. I will have what’s coming to me!

Story: Simon Furman; Pencils: Don Figueroa; Inks: Elaine To; Colors: Rob Ruffolo

“What is it with you and authority, Grimlock?”

Ironhide, Wheeljack, and Kup question Grimlock about his lack of respect for authority. I’m not sure they get an actual answer, but knowing comic book Grimlock, I’m going to chalk it up to Grimlock respects strength, not cunning.

In Iacon, Shockwave and the Decepticons finish cracking the defenses of the city. A small squad of Autobots, led by Prowl, prepare to fight them off.

Grimlock and his team discover the engine turbines renovated by Megatron. Grimlock believes this discovery takes priority, as it threatens all of Cybertron. They spy on the nearby Starscream, who is ordering the Constructicons to reroute the power from the turbines. Grimlock orders the others to shut down the turbines permanently, while he continues to search for Optimus Prime.

Optimus and Megatron try to determine where they are, when they look down and see future versions of themselves battling over Sherman Dam (fans will recognize this scene from the original Transformers cartoon).

Megatron says the Matrix isn’t just a window into the past, but is giving them a glimpse of the future as well. Megatron’s beliefs that they are destined to escape the confines of their world have been confirmed, and that he will create a universal dynasty. (The best Transformers comics and cartoons always reference the original cartoon in some way. This is just an objective fact, and has nothing to do with my personal bias.)

Scrapper tries to explain to Starscream that rerouting the power is no simple task, but Starscream doesn’t care. He has his own plans now.

Ironhide, Kup, and Wheeljack listen to Scrapper and Starscream. There is no more time, the Decepticons have to be stopped now, before the entire surface of Cybertron is destroyed by whatever they’re planning.

Megatron and Optimus Prime have continued their battle, when they timeslip again. This time, they get a preview of the age of the Headmasters and Targetmasters. (Hubbs would snicker at the mention of the Headmasters. Who is Hubbs? Nobody. He’s nobody.)

Grimlock tracks Optimus through the path of destruction and smashed Decepticons he left in his wake, deep into the bowels of Cybertron.

Kup, Ironhide, and Wheeljack attack the Constructicons, despite being severely outnumbered. Starscream demands Scrapper finish the job.

Optimus Prime and Megatron are once again engulfed in energy. Megatron takes a swing at Prime, but he fades out of view before him. Optimus finds himself back in the present day, pulled free by Grimlock.

Optimus insists that Megatron must be stopped. Grimlock lectures him about needing to be a strong leader, one that makes a stand, here and now, instead of running away. Instead of evacuating.

Grimlock hadn’t come to rescue him, but bury him, if need be. Optimus has one chance to prove himself, remove Megatron from the equation permanently. (Early on in the cartoon, Grimlock was a much more intimidating presence, along the lines of his depiction here. The Dinobots were the heavy hitters of the Autobots in those early appearances, only brought out to cause much damage. Somewhere along the line, the writers turned them into bumbling idiots only used for comic relief.)

The battle continues in Iacon, as well as deep below the surface. Prowl and his squad have fallen to Shockwave up above, while down below Starscream activates his device. The release of energy cracks the surface of Cybertron with its destructive power.

(Seriously, with all the comics that have been published of the Transformers between then and now, you’d think Tracks would have gotten some action. Are there no fans of Raoul out there?)

Story: Simon Furman; Pencils: Don Figueroa; Inks: Elaine To; Colors: Rob Ruffolo

Iacon collapses in a series of massive explosions.

Deep within the planet, Optimus Prime prepares to end the threat of Megatron forever.

Kup, Ironhide, and Wheeljack are pinned down by Decepticons, while the turbines threaten to turn Cybertron inside out, destroying all their friends on the surface.

Scrapper warns Starscream that the energy from the turbines isn’t compatible with his platform, and it’s beginning to overload.

On the surface, Shockwave and the Decepticons retreat from Iacon back to their home base.

Optimus and Megatron continue their battle, only this time, Optimus letting loose with everything he’s got. This time, there are no more limits, no conscience holding him back.

Scrapper warns again, that the power they’re misusing will tear Cybertron apart, but Starscream doesn’t care. Either Cybertron will be his, or nobody’s.

Grimlock arrives to back up Ironhide and the others. Optimus Prime emerges from the depths and joins Grimlock, Ironhide, and the rest. The planet has called to him for help, and they must answer its call. (Optimus is starting to become the warrior and leader that we know. My little accountant is all growns up.)

Prime relays orders to Wheeljack, and directs Ironhide and Kup to lay down some cover.

Kup is pretty much the worst Autobot ever. He’s the equivalent of your grampa telling you stories of back in the day. Great for Thanksgiving, not so much for an action cartoon. But you know Hubbs used to take the toy with him everywhere as a kid. That and old Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Optimus tells Grimlock that he’s taking command of his team, whether he likes it or not.

Starscream makes a strategic retreat. (Like I talked about last week, this is a suitable situation for Starscream to retreat. He doesn’t just retreat anytime there is a fight. You hear me, imaginary critics!)

Wheeljack locates the point of origin of the raw energy fueling the turbine. Optimus Prime orders the Autobots to retreat to the surface.

Wheeljack lets fly a missile into the energy source, destroying it and the turbine in a massive explosion.

Wheeljack quickly joins the others in escaping to the surface. (It would be kind of funny if they killed Wheeljack in both of their new series, but alas, he escaped this one.)

Later, Optimus and the others stand over the smoking crater that used to be Iacon. The Autobots finally understand Optimus Prime’s earlier thoughts. There can be no winners or losers in this war, only a wasteland.

Yet, Optimus Prime has changed his mind, they are staying on Cybertron. If they don’t end the war here on this planet, it will only escalate and spread throughout the galaxy.

Grimlock asks where they will go now that Iacon is destroyed. Optimus says they will dig in here, and all across Cybertron. They will fight the war from the inside out. (The war within, get it? Well, you should!)

A severely damaged Megatron finds his broken comrades. (I’ve always been, and continue to be, a sucker for Transformers missing arms or legs. Faces and bodies cracked and broken. In related news, I am not normal.)

Soundwave asks Megatron what happened, but he cannot remember anything. (Optimus beat him stupid.)

Later still, Grimlock gives Optimus Prime an update on status of forces. Optimus talks to Grimlock, tells him he understands what he goes through. When he fought Megatron, he tapped into something dark and buried. Had he killed him, he would have given in to it. (Yes, but you would have saved so much later misery. This is a war, Optimus.) They all walk a fine line, but some of them are a little closer to the edge. The real enemy is (wait for it) within.

Optimus shows Grimlock the compact disc (ha!) he received upon becoming Prime, containing the combined wisdom of those who came before him. (Look, maybe discs are still relevant media in their culture.)

“But you know what,” he says, as he throws the disc into space.

“I choose my own path!”

The need to always focus on Optimus Prime, Megatron, Grimlock, and Starscream in every project can get tedious at times, but makes complete sense for a series like this. It absolutely should begin with them.

Like I said last week, this series absolutely held up to my memories of it. All the metaphors for things “within” were a little much, but not in an annoying way. Grimlock and Starscream were right on point with my personal interpretations of the characters. Figueroa did an outstanding job of redesigning the characters, but still making them recognizable enough to the versions we know. Furman, is, well, still Furman. One of the best Transformers writers that ever did it.

A good story, great art, and the best characters ever devised by human beings. Can’t ask for more than that.

Next week, I don’t know, I’m writing this 4 months before it’s on the internet anyway. It could change.

Apr 21, 2016

Why We Can't Talk About Nice Things

Why We Can't Talk About Nice Things
Travis Hedge Coke

I want to talk to you about Wonder Woman: Earth One. Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, and Nathan Fairbairn did some fantastic things in that comic and avoided pretty much all of my fears for how they’d handle things. It’s not shouting “Look at me! Annotate!” with loud winks and nods (though there are a lot allusions, to other comics, to social theories, to the creators of Wonder Woman, though only one is credited - and that by contract). It’s a fun adventure about a young woman leaving her small, isolated home to explore the big world and save a busload of sorority girls and stuff. It’s sweet.

We can’t talk about sweet things, though, as comics fans, as superhero fans, because it agitates a segment of the broader fandom. It bugs them.

Supergirl is my favorite TV show serializing right now, and it’s really cute. It’s sweet. And, virtually every conversation around it is “fans” who are mad she’s not in a belly shirt, that Jimmy Olsen is hot, that they keep having little girls on the show (like, twice in one season!) as if little girls are important enough to be on a tv show and get saved! “Cute” is a way to dismiss the show and Melissa Benoist, the actress playing the lead. It isn’t a way to praise either, because we have internally, as a community, decided it’s an insult.

There’s an Etsy shop selling the most adorable comics and cartoon-themed dresses and I am absolutely in love with them. But, if I shared pictures of them, or the idea of them, on pretty much any major comics or anime forum right now, within two hours, I’ll have posts complaining that “they” don’t need to interlope on the real fans like that, “they” can have something else, somewhere else. I’ll see posts about how this is PC pandering that proves that Tumblr is making everything girly.

Patsy Walker: Hellcat and Starfire are two of my favorite currently serializing comics, and Starfire is canceled soon, of course, but it got a year, which isn’t bad these days. They’re cute, fun comics. And, they’re clearly written by functional, cognizant adults, which I can’t really say for a lot of super-books serializing right now. But, because there’s not blood spraying everywhere, constant rape threats, and the leads don’t shove their breasts at the reader or a nearby proxy for the reader who will oooh and aaaah over them, they’re “fuckin kids books.”

That’s where we’re at right now. We can’t have fun things. We can’t have nice things. Kids can’t even have kids’ books, not that I’d call a comic with serial murderers, slavery, and a scene of someone literally up someone’s butt necessarily a kid’s book. (Who’m I kidding? I’d have enjoyed that a lot as a kid.)

How many of you have seen someone insist Deadpool had to be R-rated because “Deadpool is always R-rated” and not just because it made the movie better?

If that’s true, how is it that Joe Kelly’s beloved run that basically defined the parameters of classic Deadpool never rises above PG-13 levels? Or, Fabian Nicieza’s Deadpool and Cable made it fifty issues without going R? Have there been Deadpool comics that would get an R-rating with the level of what they say and show? Sure. They are, even right now, the rare animal.

It's the equivalent of guys who insist real Dragon Ball has a bunch of swearing and Goku is a villain. Because, they saw this thing on the internet one time and they know.

I’m not blaming the internet. Wikipedia is not more dangerous than any other earnest encyclopedia, online or in print. What is dangerous is half-assed research, or taking a small sample and extrapolating the universe out of it. And, combined with our seemingly-desperate need to be hard-asses about everything right now, that results in deciding that Supergirl focusing too much on Supergirl having friends, fighting supervillains, and inspiring girls, that should could spend showing us her panties and killing more people. Or, at minimum, acting like Man of Steel’s Superman and being grimacy and very serious about all things. It’s how we get “Deadpool is always R-rated, it’s practically X, it’s just cray-cray-cray-zzzyyyy!”

We all pick and choose our criteria, our reference points. It’s impossible not to. But, do we also acknowledge that those we choose are done so for subjective reasons? That our preference and our focus is subjective?

Having something nice, or something cute, or charming, something fun, is not depriving the world of things that are hard or intense or brutal. One is not more real or more true to life than the other.

The internet and life have made us all experts, but somehow, having to share space has convinced some people that anyone enjoying different things than them, or enjoying the same thing but in a different way is depriving them of theirs.

That’s how we get to “The problem with Supergirl is that it’s too girly.”

We are still stuck in this mode where it’s very common for someone to accuse people of being fair-weather fans (why the hell shouldn’t they like something more when it’s cool to them, then when the character is in a show they don’t enjoy, the show has a bad season but they like the previous season, etc?), accusing cosplayers or t-shirt wearers of just liking the look or the pattern, an emblem, but not knowing the history of the character or the designer of the emblem. Oftentimes, these accusers are guys who own some kind of SWAT or Female Body Inspector or I Am a Hardcore Extreme Badass t-shirt that reps something they’re clearly not, but do they see this? Probably not.

What’s wrong with wearing a shirt because you like the emblem on it? If it looks nice, that’s good enough.

A costume? There’s nothing worse than deeply-researched Halloween costumes, for sure, so why would I worry about it with a cosplayer at a convention? People wear stuff because it looks cool all the time. Why do you think Deadpool has all those pouches?

Apr 20, 2016

The Subtle Misdirection of Spider-Woman's Baby Daddy

There will be spoilers for the new Spider-Woman series. 

When Marvel relaunched their line last year, they jumped forward into continuity by eight months. The relaunched Spider-Woman, written by Dennis Hopeless and illustrated by Javier Rodriguez (note: my #1 reason for buying the book) had a simple hook for the new direction: she was pregnant.

Instantly, I as a reader who had been following Spider-Woman since the last series asked, "So who's the dad?" After all, in the entire previous series, Spider-Woman didn't have a love interest. And if it weren't going to be a big reveal, why would they hide the identity of the dad? They even make a point of hiding it early on at the expense of a certain Armored Avenger.

The story takes Jessica Drew into an intergalactic hospital, where she's sitting with a bunch of alien soon-to-be moms. And I, for one, considered the possibility that the dad was an alien character we've met before.

And yet, when Spider-Woman gives birth in the story, the baby is perfectly human.

And at the end of the story, Jessica finally comes clean to Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel). There is no dad.

She was dating someone and was disappointed at a negative pregnancy test. So she got a donor.

Motherhood wasn't something that happened to Jessica Drew. She chose it.

And Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez made us dwell on the identity of the dad, thinking the dad was the point of the story. But they did the most mundane payoff possible, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The story was never about who the father was. The story was always about Jessica Drew, a woman who chose to have a child. And if we paid attention to the story, that was always the point. But we focused too much on what wasn't there — the dad — to see it.

Apr 18, 2016

Dreamwave's Transformers: Hypnotize

It Was All a Dream: Exploring Dreamwave's Transformers
Part 3: Hypnotize
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

Simon Furman may be the best Transformers comic book writer ever. So when upstart new company Dreamwave acquired the Transformers license in the early ‘00s, it was only natural to bring him onboard. (Budiansky gets the nod for me personally, but that is entirely due to childhood nostalgia.) Not wanting to tread the same ground covered by the flagship book (which was covered here last week) Furman decided to look far into the past of Cybertron, and chronicle the beginnings of this millennia-spanning civil war. Fan turned artist Don Figueroa got his first chance to work on the Transformers alongside Furman, and quickly became one of the best artists to ever work on the property. Together, they created one of the best Transformers comics in the history of the franchise, The War Within.

As I detailed in the previous weeks, the Transformers comics produced by Dreamwave represent a crucial point in my life (at least when it comes to my entertainment preferences). Dreamwave eventually went out of business, meaning there is no hope of digital releases of these outstanding comics, or new printings of the trade paperbacks (the old ones are long out of print and difficult to find). I couldn’t just let these comics be forgotten, so I have made it my mission to explore the best of them with my usual mix of blatant incompetence, questionable literacy, and a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Let the madness continue.

Written By: Simon Furman; Pencils and Inks By: Don Figueroa; Colors By: Dreamwave

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Grimlock is in a derelict Cybertronian gladiatorial arena in the city of Kaon, when he is visited by Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp. Starscream taunts him about being on the wrong team, and how he should join them on the Decepticons. Times have changed since they were all fighters in that arena, before the war began. Starscream continues to tease Grimlock, says they’re on a mission from Megatron to attack an Autobot command post in sector zero-six, and he can either warn the Autobots, or join them in destroying it.

(I like the idea of Grimlock as the loose cannon of the Transformers. The one always straddling the line between both the Autobots and Decepticons, always capable of stepping over to either side. Anything is better than Grimlock as the bumbling idiot of the Transformers, the “Screech,” if you will.)

(I like Figueroa’s redesigns of the Transformers. He did a good job imagining pre-Earth modes for the characters, but still recognizable as the Generation One models.)

Grimlock thinks back to those gladiator days, of Starscream taunting him then about not being inner circle material, about not willing to go for the kill inside the arena.

Present day, Starscream and the others arrive at the command post to find it abandoned. A message from Grimlock relays to Starscream that this isn’t like the arena, that he has a channel for his rage now. He may not like Optimus Prime, but he likes them even less.

With that, the place explodes.

Story: Simon Furman; Pencils: Don Figueroa; Inks: Elaine To, Don Figueroa; Colors: Rob Ruffolo

“Sentinel Prime is dead…”

In the Hub Capital of Iacon, Bluestreak relays the rumors of Megatron killing Sentinel Prime to Optimus. Optimus has already heard those rumors and more, and would prefer to just continue logging his data. (In this version, Optimus is an archivist. A statistician that collates data, creates columns and spreadsheets so that he can audit the sum total of war. Basically Optimus was an accountant for the military, just like I used to be.)

In the city of Altihex, Grimlock and a team of Autobots are taking heavy fire from a Decepticon assault team. They’re trying to hold the line and give the city time to finish evacuating. However, Grimlock is sick of withdrawing and retreating. He believes the Autobots need a military leader, not a thinker.

Inside the Chamber of the Ancients on Iacon, Optimus is notified that he has been selected as the next leader of the Autobots. Optimus believes there must be some mistake, that he is not qualified to lead. The council assures him that the Matrix has spoken. Optimus, having a personality dominated by data and facts, has his doubts about the mysticism of the Matrix.

(I have more than my share of doubts about spirituality, so I’d love to say this take on Optimus appeals to me a great deal, but a robot obsessed with math and data reminds me too much of our emotionless Editor-in-Chief here at the Cube. I’m so torn. Optimus Prime is my spirit animal. -Emotionless Editor-in-Chief)

Prowl and a group of Autobots stand in the smoldering ruins of Altihex, to attend a meeting called by Grimlock. Grimlock is tired of the old ways, of endless contemplation. If the council once again chooses the wrong Prime, this time they must seize his power, and his title, by force.

(This is the Grimlock that was teased in those old Marvel comics, but that we ultimately never got. A capable military mind and unparalleled combatant, with a temper. His speech pattern masking an underestimated intelligence.)

Optimus seeks answers from the Keeper (a disembodied oracle of images and visions, apparently). He doesn’t understand why they fight for this world of Cybertron. For all its wonders, it is still only a world. (Optimus the accountant ponders if the possession of arbitrary land designations is worth fighting and dying over? As much as I can relate to that, he still loves math far too much. So, so torn.)

Later, back in the Chamber of Ancients, a ceremony takes place. Optimus is presented with the Matrix of Leadership and becomes, Optimus Prime.

A trio of Decepticons ambush the proceedings. Grimlock holds the others back, wishing to see what this new leader is made of. Apparently he’s made of sterner stuff than suspected, as he easily beats down and even melts the head off of one of his attackers.

Optimus Prime shrugs off their resulting praise, and with his first order as commander of the Autobots, he orders a planet-wide evacuation. Deep within Cybertron, the fearsome Megatron is ready to face this new Optimus Prime.

Story: Simon Furman; Pencils: Don Figueroa; Inks: Elaine To; Colors: Rob Ruffolo

“Alas, poor Xeon…”

In the Decepticon Fortress of Kolkular, Megatron reminisces about the former Emirate Xeon, now nothing more than a mutilated trophy head. It was Xeon’s acceptance of bribes that had been the beginning of Megatron’s rise to power.

Starscream questions if Megatron plans to do anything about the Autobots preparations for their evacuation of the planet. Megatron reminds Starscream that he is not around to do any thinking, and assures everyone that the Autobots aren’t going anywhere.

In Iacon, many of the Autobots question the decision to leave Cybertron, but are torn between their feelings and their oath of allegiance. Grimlock, most of all.

Back in Kolkular, Megatron has sent Starscream and the jets on an inconsequential mission to destroy a command post, so that he can check on the status of the Constructicon’s secret project renovating ancient planetary turbines deep beneath the surface of Cybertron.

Optimus Prime and Prowl privately debate the decision to leave Cybertron. Optimus believes that in his job as an archivist, all his data pointed to only one outcome from this war, the destruction of everything. Prowl argues that a decision like this can’t come from data, that it has to come from inside. (One of the many references to something involving “within” in this storyline. Deep within the planet of Cybertron… the war waging within each of the characters… It’s a little on the nose at times, but harmless enough.)

They are interrupted by a massive explosion nearby, rocking the surface of Cybertron. Elsewhere, Grimlock watches that same explosion, and heads towards it to investigate.

Below, Megatron addresses his trusted soldiers. The realization of all his plans are at hand. Going all the way back to the battles in the arenas, which masked the building of the Decepticon forces. The weak were winnowed out, leaving only the strong to eventually rise up and strike. But even the war is a distraction, to hide the work being done here, below the surface.

(I so very much love when the bad guy has a real evil plan dominated by executable strategies and intentional diversions. Complicated, but not so complicated that it’s unbelievable. I’m looking at you, The Dark Knight.)

Optimus Prime and his rescue team survey the site of the explosion. Somehow, Optimus just knows that this is the work of Megatron. That he did this to get his attention. Optimus heads below, alone, to investigate for himself. It doesn’t take long before he is under attack. First by Shrapnel, and then Ravage.

In Iacon, Jazz questions Prowl letting their leader investigate alone, but Optimus insisted that they continue with evacuation prep. They don’t get any time to debate it further, because a massive squadron of Decepticons led by Shockwave, attack Iacon.

(This is my kind of version of the history of the Transformers. Most prequels present the characters as basically the same as they are in the original stories, only younger. Obi-Wan is more of a badass in the prequels, but still has basically the same demeanor as the original trilogy. Optimus is one of the most charismatic leaders in all of fiction, known for his compassion and big beating robot heart, but here he’s riddled with doubts and dominated by spreadsheets. Megatron isn’t just blindly lashing out for power, but has a real plan hidden underneath every action.)

Story: Simon Furman; Pencils: Don Figueroa; Inks: Elaine To; Colors: Rob Ruffolo

“From day one, it’s been about pain…”

Starscream continues, “Its Megatron’s way of controlling us. The Arena, the Forge, the Branding Pit.”

(I like the way each issue has started from the perspective of an individual character. It’s not sustainable for a comic book like this, but it adds a nice personal touch for the beginning of each issue.)

The seekers narrowly escaped Grimlock’s trap (issue #0) thanks to Skywarp’s teleportation power. Skywarp, angry that Starscream tipped off Grimlock in the first place, wonders if Starscream has grown too fond of the pain.

(That is a pitch perfect encapsulation of Starscream’s characterization. Starscream is always questioning the plan, questioning his leadership, sometimes even his own allegiance. For him to be motivated by pain and suffering rings so true for me. Deep down, he knows Megatron is better than him. I love that line. I love it as much as I hate our EIC’s unbeating robot heart.)

Megatron contacts the team he tasked with capturing Optimus Prime. All his plans hinge on Megatron obtaining what Prime carries within. (See? Within…)

The deeper Optimus Prime goes, the more prominent the voices in his head become. The voices speak to him, and ask him why it is that he came down here alone. They answer for him. Within Optimus is a need, a need to understand, to grasp the meaning of this world before he abandons it. Optimus, of course, questions if these voices are even real, or are figments of his imagination. Either way, they warn him that Ravage is about to attack him from behind.

Shockwave and his army continue to lay waste to Iacon. (Shockwave has to be one of the more irrational loves of the Transformer lineup for me. He was little more than a flunky in the cartoon. In the comic he started out badass, then let Ratbat boss him around a little too much. Yet, I still love him. Is it because he’s a cold, calculated robot dominated by logic? No, I refuse that! It’s because he looks damn awesome. Yeah, that’s pretty much all it takes.)

Jazz, Bumblebee, and Prowl do their best to stem the oncoming tide from their command center. (Tracks cameo! Unfortunately his back is turned, sad face emoji.) Prowl suspects there’s more going on than this simple attack.

Optimus Prime easily dispatches Ravage. Starscream returns from his mission, sees everything that is going on, and questions if Megatron is purposefully keeping him in the dark. (Just as Starscream knows Megatron is better than him, Megatron is just as wary of giving Starscream too much power.)

Megatron explains how long ago, before all this began, he saw another side of Cybertron. The planet had once been mobile, a living Death Star (he didn’t say that, but he should have).

The engines he discovered deep within the planet were derelict, and any attempt to repair them would surely be detected, unless the powers-that-be were distracted. This war had always served as a mask to hide his bigger goals, in much the same way that this attack on Iacon serves to keep Optimus Prime isolated from the Autobots.

(See, he draws Optimus in, Optimus decides to go it alone, so Megatron sends an army of Decepticons to keep the Autobots busy. This is in the kind of sequence of events that makes logical sense. Once again, I’m looking at you, Ledger Joker.)

All that remains is an energy source powerful enough to fuel the repaired engines, the Matrix. Starscream laughs at his mention of the Matrix, believing that it is nothing more than a ceremonial bauble. Megatron is not pleased with this mockery, and lets him know it.

Prowl, still suspecting there’s more at play than the attack on Iacon, contacts Grimlock with a special mission for him and his team.

Meanwhile, Megatron’s team is not faring too well against Optimus Prime, and Prime taunts Megatron to come speak to him himself. Back below the surface, Optimus Prime and Megatron finally meet each other face to face for the first time. Megatron wants the Matrix, but Prime isn’t going to give it up willingly (and has already started to believe that its power is real).

However, before their battle can begin, Starscream emerges from his hiding place high above them.

“It’s about pain, Megatron,” he says, and then Starscream blasts the bridge out from under Optimus Prime and Megatron, sending them tumbling into the depths below.

(This very possibly could be Starscream’s first power play against Megatron. The first of many, as fans will know. After Skywarp’s comment, and his humiliation at the hands of Megatron, it would make sense that Starscream would be motivated to finally cross that line. All too often Starscream is depicted as a simple coward, which is certainly part of his personality, but that shouldn’t always be the case. His efforts to subvert Megatron as leader make no sense if he isn’t a capable and respected warrior in his own right.)

That was a long one this week, so I’ll close simply by stating that I’m glad The War Within is living up to my memory of it. I can confidently say it is one of the best Transformers comics I have ever read.

Starscream has betrayed Megatron. The Autobots are under attack. Optimus Prime and Megatron are falling to their doom. What is Grimlock’s secret mission? Will Megatron’s carefully calculated plans be engulfed when he develops a burning hatred of all things Optimus Prime? Will my love of accountant's that question the universe overcome my hatred of math and all those that value it?

Next week, the story continues.