CURRENT TRANSFORMERS COMICS FROM IDW PUBLISHING
Transformers #23: Chaos Theory Part 2
Reviewed by Blackjack
”You know how, one time in every million, your transformation just sings and changing shape feels as natural as… as putting one foot in front of the other?”
Not quite as strong as the previous issue, but this issue is an accomplishment in one venue: Optimus Prime. Aside from that Simon Furman-penned Marvel comics issue near the end of the original comic run, I don’t think anyone actually gave any thought about who Optimus Prime really is as a character. He’s always this heroic figure, more a catalyst than a real character. We never have a moment where he sits down and just remembers how things came about and stuff. The closest thing we have to proper characterization (where Optimus is actually being a character instead of alternating between moping, beating up Decepticons or giving orders) was the Furman-penned stories near the end of the Marvel comics. An excellent story, although the ride is a wee bit bumpy from one point to the next. Small quibble, though! Firstly, it is great that Optimus Prime wasn’t portrayed as a nobody until the war began, thus quashing Megatron’s mind tricks from last issue. Orion Pax, bookworm-slash-beat-cop stands up to the thugs in his life, and tears his way through everyone until he gets Whirl to the Senate only to piss all of the Senate off… that takes guts, and is evidently awesome. And to think that Megatron had inspired Optimus Prime to act as such… another excellent concept is Optimus Prime discarding the Matrix so he doesn’t have his decisions dictated to him by fate or destiny. And this is evidently the best use of the ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings’ adage.
Really combined with the previous issue it acts as a great prequel to whatever big Chaos event. It almost takes my mind away from the inevitable encounter with [groan] D-void. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? We’re shown how crapsack pre-war Cybertron is, how the Senate tries to control the lives of the little people, how it is literally falling apart due to a rubbish Senate, corruption in the political system, jerks like Whirl getting whatever they want… it’s so surreal in the fact that if you open your eyes a bit, the very same thing is happening with many countries all over the world, Note how Whirl and Impactor, two of the antagonists on these prequel stories, actually become Autobots later on. Note how gray and blurred the war becomes… it’s a much more effective way of telling ihow thin the line between ‘Bot and ‘Con instead of ‘everybody pretends that we’re getting along and gets shocked when the Decepticons betray us’. For one-shot characters, Springarm and the Senate Thugs are given quite solid character work, realistic as opposed to being just random caricatures, as is Optimus’ Senator friend. The thugs are quite menacing, and it isn’t difficult to see the same thing happening in real life with humans. Sentinel is… well, more catalyst than anything. Really the flashback sequence is rather full of win, telling us finally the secret origin of Optimus Prime . It’s a rather heavy story, but it is memorable, especially the scenes where Orion Pax, weaponless, has to improvise his way to defeat the three thugs. Using medals as throwing knives… and beating up the green thug as he reads him his rights is seven levels of awesome. The scene where he enters the Senate could use some work, but comparing this to the very basic dialogue Mike Costa uses, it’s a masterpiece.
Whirl is a great foil as well. Being a great fan for the underused character myself, I find it a great backstory for him, though we don’t quite see what happens to Whirl afterwards and why he now flies on the side of the angels. I also like how tiny meaningless things like Orion mentioning other gods like Adaptus and such, as well as organizations in Cybertron giving a better sense of realism, that the world of Cybertron isn’t just the Civil War. Discussion about religion and history is great as well. And it ties in into the present day stuff too. Ratchet is a great foil for Optimus Prime, as is Megatron. Why Optimus can’t decide whether to kill the imprisoned Megatron is well handled, unlike how Costa clumsily does Scrapper and Spike. The Matrix fitting Rodimus better than it did Optimus is a great plot device that actually makes the Matrix identity crisis more effective than how it’s portrayed prior to this. I mean, without Optimus’ death there was no reason for Rodimus to steal the Matrix without being portrayed like a serious jerk, and this gels it well. Not to mention that all this gels together with Megatron: Origin instead of contradicting it, and actually explains a lot of what is happening, who the heck is the Senate and things like that. Alex Milne’s art continues to impress, although not quite up to the level of last issue. There are some moments of that dull surprise face on the background characters, but for the most part it’s still wonderful. What else to say? Issues 22 and 23 are the best origin stories for Cybertron and the war. Even if you’ve given up on the ongoing, I insist you read them both. They are not excellent, but are great stories nevertheless.
With this prequel finished, next issue we return to Mike Costa again. We'll see if the improvements he had made lately on his work would carry on...
Other than the obvious Iacon, other locations mentioned by characters include the Tri-Torus states, Protihex and Praxus (from the War Within and the Ultimate Guide) and the Dead End (from the Marvel comics). The Dead End here is in Iacon instead of Polyhex though. Also we’re introduced to the Grand Imperium, the place where the Senate gather, as well as the Ark-1 memorial grounds.
To the uninitiated, as in the last issue Optimus Prime is called ‘Orion Pax’ before the war. This was the name of pre-war Optimus Prime in the original cartoon. Also, Optimus Prime has a mouth under that faceplate, but that’s kind of a given, isn’t it?
Corrodia gravis, the disease that plagued Snarl in the Marvel UK comics, is mentioned in passing as a possible trick of the suicide bombers.
The Matrix Flame is also mentioned. First seen in the ‘Target: 2006’ arc of the Marvel UK comics, the Matrix Flame is an until-now unused plot device used to check on the condition of the Matrix bearer.
If Sentinel became Prime shortly after the events of this issue, then his time as Prime must be short indeed because the war would presumably break out soon after this.
Barely readable, but one of Orion’s trophies is one from the Institute for Higher Programming. A rather obscure mention to the Chromedome’s biography, where it is stated that Chromedome was supposed to have worked there.
As established in the Megatron: Origin comics, the Autobot insignia has been the symbol for the military even before the war began. This issue reveals that the term ‘Autobot’ didn’t come until later as well.
According to the Senate thugs, Orion Pax’s predecessor used to have a stuffed Nebulan as a trophy in the room, saying that he used to go hunt for them.
Orion Pax mentions ‘branched spark’ in passing, a condition between Topspin and Twin Twist seen in Last Stand of the Wreckers.
Springarm appeared from last issue, although the Matrix tat wasn’t visible last issue due to Springarm’s face always being obscured or seen from an angle. Wheelarch, unnamed, also appeared last issue.
Wheelarch mentions ‘Empties’ and ‘Syk Dealers’ as two kinds of people they usually arrest. Empties first appeared in an early Marvel US issue, and are the Cybertronian equivalent of homeless beggars. Syk is an illegal power enhancing drug mentioned in passing in a Marvel UK black and white story.
Alongside Primus, Orion name-drops two other gods seemingly connected to the religion of Primus and the Matrix, Mortilus and Adaptus. This is the first time any of them had ever been mentioned.
The ‘Knights of Cybertron’, first mentioned last issue, is mentioned several times this issue as some sort of apostles, I guess. Springarm also name-drops the ‘Primal Prophecies’ and the ‘Underbase’. The Underbase is obviously a shout-out to the G1 Marvel comic plot device of the same name, a storehouse of information that blows you up if you absorb it.
Whirl is handcuffed with a device that is nearly identical to the Energon Cuffs from the Animated cartoon.
The arm-blasters on Orion’s wrists are decorative.
The thugs joke about Pax confronting them ‘head-on’. If this were anyone else it might be a generic dialogue but knowing James Roberts this is probably a shout-out to the Japanese Headmasters series where Headmasters combine with the catchphrase ‘head on!’
Cybertron has their own version of the Miranda rights.
In the Grand Imperium Senate Chamber, a statue of Prima stands. Prior to this issue, Prima was only known as a name until Hasbro released an artwork of him for the Prime cartoon. Note the Matrix on the hilt of Prima’s sword. Under his statue is ‘freedom is the right of all civilized beings’.
The members of the Senate that we see here include Ratbat and Decimus, both characters from Megatron: Origin. Decimus does seem a wee bit different, though. Among the Senate is also Senator Proteus, who seems to be partially based off Zeta Prime from the War for Cybertron game. Proteus is the name of a minor Greek god of the seas.
Sentinel Prime’s aide is coloured exactly like Ironfist, and really looks like him. But since Ironfist was a pacifist until the war this was probably the work of the colorist.
The unknown Senator mentions Garrus-1 as a prison. Is it as easily broken into as Garrus-9, I wonder?
The Matrix of Leadership is also known as the Creation Matrix. Finally someone acknowledges this. A bit of geekish history lesson now. Initially the plot device was called the Creation Matrix in the Marvel comics, and is a program within Optimus Prime’s head. Come 1986 and the Matrix of Leadership appears in the movie, and Simon Furman retcons both to be the one and the same, that the program is part of the bauble. But most post-Marvel material only call it the ‘Matrix of Leadership’.
Springarm’s beheaded head lacks the Matrix tattoo.
On the panel before the closeup on Springarm and Wheelarch’s heads, the heads, in the background, are coloured like the rest of Orion’s trophies.
On the last page, the nameless Senator calls Optimus Prime as ‘Orion’, but calls him ‘Optimus’ a few panels later. Not sure if it’s an editing goof, or foreshadowing.