Oozing Fanboy Love Like The Oil Spill (Too Soon?)
Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers (IDW 2010), RASL vols. 1&2: The Drift, The Fire of St. George (Cartoon Books 2009 & 2010)
I love cookies. And if you took my love for cookies and squared it, you would
have my love for dark chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips and almonds.
(They're pretty easy to make, too; you just add six or so squares of melted
chocolate and an extra egg to your standard cookie recipe. Let the chocolate cool to
a nice gooey consistency so it won't cook the eggs when you add it. Don't say
Uncle Orson's site never taught you nothing.)
As my love of cookies is to dark chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips, so
my love of comics is to Transformers comics. And like cookies, a bad batch of
Transformers comics can really let me down. A good batch can make my month.
Last Stand of the Wreckers made my year.
I don't think that shows you my enthusiasm.
It MADE MY YEAR!!!!!!! (degenerates into making explosion sounds and that
"kee-koo-koo-koo-kee" transforming noise) !!!!!
For a comic about giant transforming robots, Wreckers makes a great war movie,
an action-packed yet thought-provoking story of sacrifice among a brave coterie of
soldiers. Writer James Roberts and co-writer/artist Nick Roche write with vivid
power about the archetypal best-of-the-best soldiers, the Wreckers, an elite
Autobot squad who get sent in at the last resort when everything looks hopeless.
Megatron and Optimus Prime are nowhere to be found here. The best-known
character is Kup, a grizzled old trooper from the animated 1986 movie. If you
owned the toys of Ironfist, Pyro, Guzzle or Rotorstorm, there is a good chance that
your mom got to the store after the Transformer section was picked over.
As with so many other franchise comics, the obscure characters allow the writers to
truly up the stakes with real risks and real characterization for story's sake, not for
the sake of selling toys.
The story goes thusly: Garrus-9, an Autobot-run prison, has been attacked and
overtaken by a twisted Decepticon named Overlord. Overlord was Megatron's
fallback psycho for years, a wild card mostly good for razing the battlefield. When
Megatron tried to rein Overlord in, he broke ranks and took over Garrus-9, where
he now pits Autobots and Decepticons against each other in no-holds-barred pit
fights for his own amusement, waiting for Megatron to return and confront him for
Overlord is a horrifically sadistic villain, despite an uninspired toy design (oh, the
pitfalls of being a generic Transformer). He giggles at a helpless Autobot's joke
and then blows said Autobot's head off. He tosses the Autobot leader Fortress
Maximus to a crowd of Decepticons with the instructions, "Just try not to kill
him." He looms over the Wreckers' human crewmember, Verity, cackling "Look at
you, all brittle bones and ligaments and red, red ventricles. I wonder what sound
you'll make when I pop your seams?"
The Wreckers must liberate the Autobot captives, take out Overlord, and retrieve
the mysterious MacGuffin called "Aequitas." We see the action through the eyes of
four new recruits to the Wreckers -- cavalier Rotorstorm, taciturn Guzzle, glory-hound Pyro and Ironfist, who has a passion for Wreckers history and is basically
Cybertron's biggest nerd.
One of several juicy mysteries in the series is why weak little Ironfist is even on
the mission. Others include what Aequitas is, what crime the former Wrecker
Impactor committed and what it has to do with Garrus-9, and of course, how many
Wreckers will die infiltrating a heavily fortified prison.
The story is crammed with great moments both character and action-oriented, from
the rookie robots' reaction to tough-as-nails human stowaway Verity Carlo
("You're so delicate and in need of our protection!") to when the robo-drill Twin
Twist, attempting to make a way into prison cells, instead drills into a reactor core.
The Garrus-9 chapters take us on a dizzying trip through a world gone mad, full of
robot torture chambers, smelting pits, and hordes of Decepticons chasing our
heroes, occasionally tearing them apart. True to the war movie style, our heroes go
with brave or bravely ironic last words and spit in the face of death.
(Okay, so robots don't actually spit, but it's metaphorically true.)
Nick Roche and Guido Guidi's art is kinetic, loaded with surprises and great shots
of Wreckers leaping through the air, punching out Decepticons, and dying in a
splatter of engine parts and purple oil. The Autobot's faces are bright and
expressive even when they are masked in the Optimus style and only readable by
With the ending and the big reveal of the horrible truth of Aequitas, catharsis
washed over me. I truly cared for these crappy toys. Wreckers is an example of
how sometimes the medium doesn't matter, even if it's a licensed comic based on
toys; sometimes a real, powerful story that says something about the human
condition can emerge.
My only complaint is that the coloring by Josh Burcham chafes; it's just too bright
and shiny for this moody series. A better colorist, like IDW's Liam Shalloo, would
give this the moody bleakness it deserves.
As for RASL, a comic far, far away from the licensed world: in the early 90s, Jeff
Smith's Bone was merely a black-and-white indie comic series from Cartoon
Books, with no hint of how it would one day be colorized and mass marketed by
Scholastic. It's strange to think that the cute, fun Bone was once considered "edgy"
and "different" in a glut of superhero comics.
These days, Smith has been drawing RASL, an entirely different animal from Bone,
and one that appears to be rather "edgy." If it is being sold to elementary-school-aged kids in twenty years, I'll be surprised. No doubt my own kids will have lots of
questions for me after reading it.
RASL follows a fellow, the series' namesake, who appears to be a simple art thief.
In the first chapter, with the help of a very strange get-up that looks like two big
airplane engines and a tiki mask, he hops to an alternate world, steals an alternate
Picasso and hides it, waiting for his rendezvous with his client back in his home
world -- until he looks in a jukebox and sees a Bob Dylan album under a different
name. He's gone to the wrong world.
A mysterious lizard-faced man shows up. Gunshots and a chase ensue across the
rooftops of Tucson, Arizona. RASL runs, RASL hides and RASL fights back, all
while providing us with the standard flashbacks.
It's a cool, mind-twisting beginning to what will prove to be a cool, mind-twisting
series, if you can get over a few things.
For starters, there is fact that Jeff Smith of Bone is drawing this comic, which is
most definitely a comic for adults. RASL visits his favorite prostitute and a strip
club. He keeps running into parallel versions of his former girlfriend and best
friend's wife in another life, and Smith is not shy about showing us what they get
up to when her husband is not around.
RASL fits right into the currently dark comics world among series like 100 Bullets,
Ex Machina and The Exterminators, but you can't come to it expecting Bone.
Another off-putter is how the character of RASL appears to be an enterprising
thug, but flashbacks soon reveal that he was once a theoretical physicist studying
the works of Nikolai Tesla, the fruit of which has somehow given him access to
Most theoretical physicists don't seem like the type to be scaling buildings, cat-burgling and fistfighting, nor the type to be picking out a favorite prostitute.
Although at one point Lizardface reveals that RASL is an anomaly among the
millions of possible worlds. He subsumes each alternate version of himself as he
travels between worlds. So I suppose it is possible that he ended up on a world
where his alternate self was a thug and he absorbed the thug's personality. If that is
what Smith is planning, I doff my alternate universe's cap to him, since hats never
fit me in this world.
RASL does have the exuberant wonder of all Smith's work. Tiki masks and
turbines! Long treks through the harsh desert! Lizard-faced secret agents! The
pictures are alive with animated beauty that is only helped by the minimalist black
At the same time, I can't help feeling a little bit disappointed. There are a lot of
HBO comics out there. There aren't many Bones. Smith has become a treasury in
the comics world: someone who can write comics that children genuinely love and
that have just as much appeal to adults. Now he's cut off half his audience.
Can't blame the guy for trying to branch out, but I do long for something a little
Next issue: We return to Jack and Rapunzel, heroes of Rapunzel's Revenge, in
Calamity Jack, a tale of beanstalks, zeppelins, enterprising giants, hat-loving pixies
and most importantly, young love. Stay with us, miraculous pictographers! (It's a
more distinguished, newfangled version of "true believers.")
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth