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Transformers Evolutions: Hearts of Steel #4 (of 4)
Reviewed by Denyer

Issue Review

Well, I found myself really rather enjoying this, against expectation and especially against expectation after reading some of the reviews that've appeared in various forums. After last issue I'd been assuming the Decepticons would get to their destination and there'd be a fight. Both sides would be low on energy and forced to retreat into hibernation once more. In the event they didn't get to their destination, and there was a bit of a scuffle en-route instead.

So I'll start with the criticisms: the ending was abrupt — I'd have liked to have seen the train convoy get thoroughly and convincingly buried, a page of space for which could very reasonably have been taken from earlier parts of the issue. The Transformers felt more like side characters in this issue than in any previous one.

The problem, I think, is that this isn't a Transformers story — it's a story with Transformers in it. On the other hand it's accessible to any reader, light in tone, looks good and I'm surprised that I'm not regretting taking the time to get and read it. The closing narration made me grin, as did John Henry pointing out that he knew the track having laid it. In fact the human characters were all enjoyable once I'd started reading the story as a cartoon (of the Dastardly & Mutley, Stop The Pigeon type) set down on paper.

It became quite a fun exercise, working out why the Decepticons needed designs for air vessels that can fly under coal or oil power, although Bumblebee being able to instantly reconfigure his outward appearance back in the first issue still doesn't make sense.

Truth be told I enjoyed this more because I had to rationalise and piece together the backstory from clues, and you should probably take that under consideration if looking for a recommendation. Additionally my favourite installment of the four is the third, which other people seem to have ragged on because it had fill-in artists... I honestly feel that the batshit insaneness of that issue lifted the series. And of course, I warned you in the first of these reviews that it takes more than a nifty set of designs to interest me in a alt-universe story. So take this with as much salt as you like: I'm really probably not the typical audience for this book.

At the end of this series I still don't have any particular enthusiasm for Transformers-in-different-periods -of-history stories. I do consider this run to have worked, above criticisms aside, but would seriously prefer some more ambitious modern/futuristic "What if?" scenarios rather than an eking out of human eras that could have vehicles in.

A serious request for whoever does the next one: please don't ask us to believe that Transformers can deactivate due to low energy reserves, come back online thousands of years later and then morph their entire designs in the span of a minute or two. It's a sloppy shortcut for them to be able to morph at all — mechanical transformation, please. It involves retooling rather than nanotech... think about it, if instant reconfiguration is possible, why the need for alt-modes at all?

One thing's for sure, Hearts of Steel has certainly been different. Viewed as a "strange history with Transformers in it" tale, the trade paperback will be worth a look as a singular curiosity. Ideally somewhere you can take the time to flick through first and see if it's to your liking.

Character Development

Not a lot for the Autobots... Bumblebee is, of course, The Little Engine That Could — saving the day and generally wandering around being chipper, saying things like "Join us, Tobias Muldoon and friend."

Gratifyingly there isn't a side-story in which the well-intentioned humans mistake the Autobots for bad guys, thereby avoiding one of the most hackneyed concepts used in 80s Transformers stories.

Bonaventure and Vanfleet remain gloriously one-dimensional stereotypes.

Stanford undergoes a further change of heart where Tobias is concerned, and also sits and takes Twain's gloating about seeing a "robber baron" shovelling coal into an engine. Realistically he'd probably turn like the weather again when the adventure was all over, but since this a cartoon we can call it a character redemption successfully achieved, masterfully executed with hugging and beaming onlookers. The only thing missing is a couple of cigars and brandies.

John Henry, who I was half-expecting to die in A Meaningful Way, gets away with "add a new verse to that song of yours!" I'm not sure what "jaspers" means in the context of old railroad slang, but it doubtless isn't complimentary in the context used.

Other Details

Dixon's Decepticons need airborne designs to fly, either because they're low on energy and materials to repair themselves with or anti-gravity just wasn't one of the things the author picked out from his research beforehand.

Scourge looks just like an upturned version of his 1986 movie alt-mode, forming the underside part of a classic inflatable airship. Like the Hindenberg, the balloon seems to be filled with hydrogen gas, exploding when Ironhide's bullets and the mountain-side strike it.

The other Autobots don't convert to steam engines like Bumblebee... could this be because he has the most energy reserves after the long deactivation? He's known in other continuities for being particularly fuel efficient.

One of the Autobots at the end may actually be Hound. It doesn't really matter, since only Bumblebee and Ironhide really have roles. It's confirmed that the Autobot who looked rather like Optimus Prime last issue in the fill-in art definitely wasn't.

The back of the issue contains a couple of pages of letters (like in Stormbringer, with new introduction art — pay close attention to what's written on the piece of paper the character is holding...) plus in-house ads and a five-page preview for the forthcoming Animated Movie Adaptation. Here's hoping the dialogue attribution errors are fixed before the final thing goes to print.

Quotes of Note


John Henry: "I laid this track, friend. I know every foot of it."

Mark Twain: "They'll carry on their fight in another time, I reckon. In the years long from now. In a world none of us can imagine."

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