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THE TRANSFORMERS: COMICS, BOOKS AND MANGA

IDW Publishing
(2005-now)
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(2003-2007)
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(2002-2004)
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CURRENT TRANSFORMERS COMICS FROM IDW PUBLISHING

Spotlight: Arcee
Reviewed by Inflatable Dalek

Issue Review

Something is very wrong here.

Arcee was always going to be a tough sell as a Spotlight star; the character is either unpopular or ignored by everyone but the sort of crazed types you wouldn't let handle sharp objects. As an attempt to create equality amongst the Transformers she failed, due to the fact none of the writers of the cartoon seemed to have ever met a woman and just came up with clichéd, sexist nonsense for her.

Oddly enough, any fears about Arcee's character go unfounded (though the one cliché, of the meek subservient girlfriend, has been replaced by another: the crazed bunny boiler stalking her ex) because she's so irrelevant to the main plot. You could just as easily do the same main plot without her, especially as she doesn't stop the Combaticons escaping. She's little more than a plot device, being set up for use later but not the focus of her story in the same way as the other Spotlight stars (even the similar plot cypher Sixshot) have been. This creates a very odd sense of something missing... in a comic called Spotlight: Arcee she really should be the focus. You're just left with the sense the prison break story would have worked better as a subplot in Devastation (in place of, oh, let's say the Reapers) where the expectancy of focus on her wouldn't have been there.

The prison story itself is... OK. It's full of logic holes but it's a nice idea. The real problem is Milne's art, which makes nearly everything impossible to follow. It took me three reads to get exactly what was going on and even I'm not normally that slow. The panel showing that Onslaught's Cybertronian mode looks amazingly like a pile of random tank parts sums up his shortcomings perfectly. It drags down what would otherwise be a middle of the road script hugely.

In short, best avoided if you want to not have your eyes bleed. The whole thing is best represented by a panel where Milne decides to have Scattershot explode in shadow; making it look for all the world as if a giant dildo has just caught on fire.

Notes

As usual this issue ties into several long running plot lines -- Ultra Magnus as a law enforcement officer and the significance of the Tyrest Accord were revealed in his Spotlight; [Double]Dealer was revealed as a double agent with Banzaitron as his boss in Hot Rod; Jhiaxus' back story has been revealed piecemeal over the course of the Nightbeat, Galvatron and Optimus Prime Spotlights; whilst the latter saw Prime capture the Pretender Monsters and vow to try and rehabilitate them after their mental breakdown as a result of Jhiaxus' experiments.

The present day segment of this issue takes place between the destruction of Ark-19 in issue 1 of Devastation and Optimus Prime receiving a message from Jetfire on these events in Issue 5. It's not impossible that, knowing Prime has a personal stake in the secrets about Jhiaxus and Nova Prime that could be learnt from the combiners, the attack on the Prison was deliberately launched after Sixshot's attack on Ark-19 put the Earthbound Autobots out of contact with anyone else.

Arcee at one point refers to Jhiaxus' "Dark Designs" -- This was the title given to Titan Books trade paperback of the first six issues of the Generation 2 comic that introduced the original Jhiaxus. It's one of the few Titan trade titles not to be taken from one of the issues within, it comes from a first season episode of Beast Wars instead for some reason.

Swindle isn't with the other Combaticons as a result of being captured by Ultra Magnus at the end of his Spotlight. There isn't actually anything to say he has any connections to the Combaticons in IDW continuity, though them escaping here with the secret of Combiner technology suggests they may soon be signing him up. The Combaticons are only the third sub-group (after the Terrorcons and Dynobots) to be called by name in a IDW comic. The Terrorcons' moniker was a entirely unofficial one they used themselves but which was not recognised by other Decepticons; it may be the same case here.

And speaking of combiners, no, the Pretender Monsters still aren't Pretenders, but will continue to be referred to by the more familiar name here for convenience's sake.

At some point since Stormbringer Jetfire and the Technobots have been put in charge of "rehab" at the Garrus-9 Prison. Assuming rehab is an accurate term this was most likely after they were put in charge of the Pretender Monsters in Spotlight: Optimus Prime. On the other hand, if Jetfire was using the term just in reference to his current assignment they might have been there since Bludgeon and any other Stormbringer Pretender survivors were brought in.

This issue confirms that 'Banzaitron' being spelt as one word in Hot Rod -- as opposed to the toy's Banzai-Tron -- was a deliberate choice rather than a mistake (or at the very least it's a mistake they're running with). More irritatingly it seems the Decepticon master spy wasn't joking about Dealer being called Double Dealer from now on. Hopefully it's just him doing it, crazy joker that he is.

The concept of a Transformer prison where the key element of their personalities (in this case the Spark) is removed from the body and held separately is taken from the G1 cartoon episode Starscream's Brigade (seemingly on Furman's mind lately as issue 7 of Titan's Transformers Comic also uses elements from the same episode. In that case the Combaticons were the prisoners being broken out of jail. Of the list of names we see here, this is the first confirmation that Bludgeon has survived Stormbringer in some form. Fortress Maximus also looks at a large screen with silhouettes of inmates, many of which look like named Transformers though it's hard to be sure. This screen suggests a minimum of 52 inmates.

It's not entirely clear if the Ransack listed is the G1 Deluxe Insecticon or the G2 Rotorforce member. The former has already been established as part of IDW continuity via his appearance in Spotlight: Sixshot, whilst the latter would make more sense in context due to his bio describing him as making reconnaissance flights over Autobot territory.

Fortress Maximus makes his IDW debut, seemingly as the prison governor. He's drawn to roughly the same size as the bulk of his Marvel Comics appearances, i.e. slightly larger than most Autobots but not a citybot. As such he's been redesigned to suggest a more in scale alt mode. He now has kibble on his back suggesting a tank of some sort. The overall rear view is more than a little reminiscent of Armada Megatron.

Fortress Maximus is able to threaten Arcee with synchronised G-forces strong enough to crush her should she either kill an Autobot or try and run during the battle. Presumably this is a security measure built into all prisoners' bodies. The concept of a prisoner being sent on a mission with the threat of destruction from an in-built mechanism if they fail may be inspired by Escape From New York (which makes Arcee Kurt Russell).

This is the first on-screen appearance of Jhiaxus (though it's only a head shot on a monitor). This suggests either that Galvatron was not the first Ark-1 crew member to make journeys outside of the Dark Universe or two way communication between the two dimensions is possible. Exactly what Jhiaxus wanted with stellar cartography is unclear, but it has something to do with a "Nega-Core" and "the Expansion".

This issue clarifies that -- as in the Marvel Comic -- Transformers are genderless and Arcee is the only 'girl'. Exactly what Jhiaxus expected to get from introducing genders to the species isn't revealed, though we do learn that Transformers don't have DNA but something called CNA that was altered to make her so. She's certainly stronger and tougher than a normal Transformer, but whether or not this is due to her being a girl or other enhancements made on her is unclear. Exactly what it is that makes the other Autobots refer to her as "she" without realising is also unclear, though it's unlikely to be her body design as there are a fair few Autobots with bigger busts...

It's also worth remembering the slightly tricky concept that the other Transformers having been referred to as "he" here and in other issues doesn't make them male, it's a translation converting from Cybertronian to English that is probably considered preferable to "it" as a pronoun.

The attentive reader of Megatron: Origin will have noted several Tittybots were present. These weren't present in the script (which was run past Furman to make sure there was nothing to contradict the main comic) but added to background crowds by the artist, one Alex Milne. The official retcon explanation is that those weren't actual female Transformers but Transformers that just looked a bit feminine. In the same way that Fortress Maximus resembles a big butch manly man but isn't male.

Goofs

[Resisting the temptation to pass off all of the art as a goof...]

Ultra Magnus is a sporting type; when confronted with a crazed psychopath who's just killed at least one other mechanoid in front of him and who shouts "Never!" when asked to stop, he gives her a speech about his duty to arrest her rather than just shooting her with the big honking gun he's carrying. Obviously he's never had to go after very dangerous criminal types. Fortress Maximus does something similar later in the issue, telling the Combaticons (who've just massacred their way into his base and are about to beam out with valuable prisoners) shouts "no-one move!" rather than just shooting them.

Banzaitron brings at least six ships with him to Garrus-9, but only sends four troops down, despite desperately wanting the combiner technology. Still, perhaps it was the right choice as despite being outnumbered more than three to one the Combaticons still kill their way through the guards without seeming to sustain any injury whatsoever until Arcee arrives -- even when Jetfire is standing right in front of them firing his gonzo guns at point blank range. This is especially daft that when you consider that in the big Autobot/Decepticon fight as the end of Escalation -- despite the numbers being more even and the Decepticons having Ore-13 as fuel -- Megatron's bunch never comes close to inflicting these kind of casualties.

And why is Banzaitron leading the mission personally? As the head of the Decepticon Secret Service he must be a very important 'Con. If, during the Cold War, Britain has sprung a vital prisoner out of a Soviet jail you wouldn't get the head of MI6 driving the getaway car (even the Bond films, with their more liberal interpretation of the spy world, have only had M go directly into a dangerous situation once in 21 films).

Then again, Fort Max is having as much of a bad planning day as his opposite number. Garrus-9 is one of -- if not the -- most secure facilities the Autobots have. It should be defended to the hilt. But when the Decepticons attack he releases a prisoner to help with the fighting. This seems to be done instead of he himself going down to the battlefront and using his super big gun on the enemy.

And does anyone else find it a bit unlikely Max would be able to hand Arcee her light sabres back just like that? It might make sense if she'd just been brought in, but she's been there a good long while; the weapons should have gone off to a evidence room somewhere else because keeping a weapons room full of your inmates' favourite maiming tools at your maximum security prison is never a good idea.

Even if Arcee was once able to join the Autobots, wouldn't her current "krazy killer" status get her kicked out? Why does she still have an Autobrand (surely it doesn't take much to remove?)

It's an old problem, but once again all signage is in English.

Not a goof as such, but in the flashback to Arcee's gender conversion the socket plugged into her groin is a bit unfortunate...

Quote/Unquote

Jetfire: Fortress Maximus, what brings you down to Rehab?

Onslaught: Combaticons -- Move in! Mutilate, maul or massacre anything between you and the target.
Brawl: Onslaught, you're preaching to the converted. We aim to maim!

An Unidentified Noble Autobot's Last Heroic Word: HAARK!

Fortress Maximus: Welcome back Arcee, do you know where you are?
Arcee: I do. In hell. Or at least your little corner of it Fortress Maximus -- The last resort!

Vortex: Oh no... Not her!

 
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