There were moments I wanted to stop reading. I’ve never felt that way about at a Transformers comic before.
I’ve read boring Transformers stories, and bad ones too, but none of them made me feel the way I felt during selected issues from James Roberts’ second “season” of Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye (Volumes 6-10 of the trade paperbacks, encompassing Issues #28-55). It was a physical desire to close the book and not read any further. It was a feeling of being, not shocked exactly, but offended in some vague and unnameable way, of having my expectations gently but unmistakeably violated--this is not the book I paid good money to read.
I’m glad I stuck it out. I’m also glad James stuck it out. He weathered a lot of criticism on this arc. The online reaction to many of the later issues in the arc --particularly the mid-forties issues--seemed to be a mix of anger, confusion and disappointment.
I’m also glad I’d read some of the online reaction and even some of the spoilers. By knowing going in it might not be what I wanted, I was able to let go of the story I wanted to read and pay attention to the story Roberts was telling.
To me, that story is about the choices we make when we’re pulled between principles and people. What do we do when faced with a conflict between the values we hold most dear and the ones closest to us…and at what point does upholding our commitment to one cross the line into a betrayal of the other? It was a question that all the significant characters--both hero and villain--faced at some point.
Roberts’ approach to characterization felt odd in this arc. Sometimes it felt like his cast was too large, and other times it felt like it wasn’t large enough--like he was ignoring the rest of the Lost Light’s crew in favor of a handful of characters who often didn’t appear to be doing anything of significance, plot-wise.
But despite Roberts reputation for meticulous set-ups and pay-offs, I don’t think Roberts’ focus was the plot. I don’t think character was his focus either. Roberts writes great character moments and many of them happen in this arc. Still, characterization--at least in the ‘following a protagonist or group of protagonists as they journey from A to B to C’ sense of the term--takes a back seat.
Theme holds together this arc of More Than Meets the Eye. If you’re reading for plot or character, then it’s a disjointed and frustrating experience. But if you’re looking at the story thematically, it all…well, it doesn’t come together, not exactly…but each piece plays off the others. We get a multifaceted look at the interaction between character choice and consequences, each ornament tied to the others by the thematic string of loyalty and betrayal. Multiple characters face this issue in large ways and small. Again and again, we watch different characters with different personalities in different context grapple with the same fundamental question: Megatron. Rodimus. Trailcutter. Whirl. Getaway. Nautica. Tarn. Nightbeat. Overlord. Censere. Ravage. The Scavengers. Deathsaurus.
It was uncomfortable reading. Often characters I liked made decisions I didn’t. Or they made a decision I agreed with, but the consequences of that decision weren’t what I hoped. Other times it was Roberts’ writing that challenged me. Intentionally or not, his offbeat structural, plotting, or narrative choices that intentionally or not, left me in the same position as the characters: this franchise isn’t doing what I think it should be doing. Do I stick with it or not?
It was hard reading--and I’m looking forward to reading it again.