A Humble Bundle That You Need In Your Life (Really)

Transformers comic

If you’ve followed this blog or have known me in real life for any significant amount of time, you know that I love me some Transformers. That baffles people, mostly because the Michael Bay films are all they know. Even if the last one was comparatively decent, that’s still a shame for this multi-layered, multi-faceted science fiction franchise (which obviously exists to sell toys, but it does so because it gets us to care about the characters).

The biggest slap in the face to what Michael Bay has done to the franchise is the comics IDW Publishing has been putting out since 2006. Taking place in a new iteration of the Generation One continuity (that’s the original ’80s cartoon, comics and toyline), the line was initially a succession of connected miniseries and one-shots written by the Major Domo of Transformers writers, Simon Furman. In 2008, the maxi-series All Hail Megatron which had the Decepticon leader formally conquer Earth was released and kicked off events that led to an ongoing written by Mike Costa that, after three years, ended with the most daring storytelling anybody had done for Transformers yet.

The Great War between the Autobots and Decepticons–y’know, the thing THE ENTIRE FRANCHISE is based on–actually ended. Cybertron was restored to life after eons of barrenness and loads of NAILs (Non-Aligned Indigenous Lifeforms, those who left the Great War) arrive back home. From there, the franchise split in two directions in 2012, with IDW’s Transformers editor John Barber writing and Andrew Griffith drawing Robots In Disguise, about the efforts to unite the new Cybertron, and fan-favorites James Roberts and Alex Milne writing and drawing More Than Meets The Eye, where a bunch of characters, led by Rodimus (aka the guy who became the new Prime in the 1986 movie), leave in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron to help restore the planet and…well, pretty much everything but that happens.

It’s those two series that are the focus of Humble Bundle’s new Book Bundle, which started last week and concludes on Wednesday. Like all Humble Bundles, the focus is towards charity–here, it’s the Hasbro Children’s Fund–but the staggering greatness of the deal offered here is incredible.

For as little as you want–yes, even a penny–you get 37 issues of More Than Meets the Eye–that’s every single issue ever published but the current one. That’s an astonishing deal. If you pay more, you can also get nearly every issue of Robots In Disguise (which has been renamed to avoid confusion with this) as well as the “Dark Cybertron” crossover, which bridges the gap between the first and second “seasons” of both comics (but really isn’t required reading). But if you can’t pay that much, just get MTMTE.

Roberts, Milne and colorists Josh Burcham and Joana Lafuente are the most underrated storytellers in comics today. Yes, even if they’re working on a licensed book put out by a Top 5 comic book publisher, they’re still written off. It’s a branding thing, obviously. Because the public perception of Transformers has come to be “shiny shit blowin’ up REAL good” for four films now, other media gets written off as similarly stupid.

More Than Meets The Eye is the complete opposite of that. Milne’s gorgeous pencils are distinctive and emotive; you clearly know and feel for these characters. Burcham and now Lafuente compliment that with astonishing colors. And Roberts–himself a long-admired figure in the fandom–leads the way with absolutely incredible scripts that either redefine old characters or define characters who never got much or any backstory in the first place.

The series is full of wit, humor, Big Ideas, dysfunctional personalities, epic space-faring adventure and small-scale introspection. In short, it’s everything you can get in great science fiction. The fact that this has a lot of firsts like, say, the franchise’s first canonically gay married couple (really), only is more points in its favor.

This is an incredible comic that is only going to get better. If you don’t believe me, read Lindsay Ellis’ take on it. Then get your butt over to Humble Bundle, donate and download. Even if you don’t like Transformers–hell, especially if you don’t–read this. You’ll be so glad you did.

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LAST STAND OF THE WRECKERS (Review)

(thumbnail) (TFWiki)

So this past weekend was Botcon, the annual Transformers convention. Given that the new film, Age Of Extinction, hits today, there was naturally a lot more excitement than usual. Judging from the reports I’ve read, that excitement was due and well-deserved (barring the occasional ugly snafu).

I couldn’t attend–not that I ever have been able to–and while some friends of mine held their own “Notcon” to make up for it, I stayed home and weathered the death of a close family member.

In between the various businesses of grief, I found comfort and escape in rereading the opening arc of the always-excellent More Than Meets The Eye, one of the two current ongoing Transformers comics, and reading the prequel to this current era of Transformers comics, the 2010 miniseries Last Stand Of The Wreckers.

Essentially, this is an action movie in comics form. Taking place after the All Hail Megatron event, which saw the Decepticons become rulers of Earth after destroying San Francisco, the story opens with Autobot Springer recruiting four new members–war hero Rotorstorm, Optimus Prime wannabe Pyro, gun nut Guzzle and genius weapons inventor Ironfist–to join the Wreckers, basically the Autobots’ answer to Seal Team 6 and Blackwater.

Their mission? Take back the Autobot prison planet Garrus-9, which has been ruled for 3 years by the sadistic Decepticon renegade Overlord. The Wreckers, plus human stowaway Verity Carlo ( a holdover from previous Transformers comics by IDW), land on the planet. But what they find is worse than they could’ve ever imagined…

The wonderful thing about this series–and there are many–is that it mashes up familiar characters (Springer and fellow Wreckers Kup and Perceptor date back to the ’80s) with the ultra-obscure (all the new guys are European exclusive toys who had never been used in fiction before). Writers James Roberts, currently writing More Than Meets The Eye, and Nick Roche (who also draws with Guido Guidi) bring these disparate types together and make them all fully fleshed out, interesting characters.
For example, Ironfist is a die-hard Wreckers fanboy who writes famous stories about the team under a pseudonym. That’s pretty neat.

I should also add this story is full of carnage. Bots die left and right and far from being meaningless, Roberts and Roche make us all care. That’s not easy to do.

Key to it all is Roche’s and Guidi’s art. The two mesh together beautifully and, with the amazing coloring of Josh Burcham, create vibrant, poppy artwork that could easily be the basis for an animated film.

I’d highly recommend this storyto anyone with even a minor interest in Transformers. No prior knowledge is required. I’d especially recommend getting the deluxe hardcover. It has all the covers, character profiles, a wonderful short story written by Roberts and supplemental sequel comics (full disclosure: my friend lettered two of them).
Even if you removed the giant robots, this is a solid military scifi story
If Roberts and Roche were to work on an original work, it’d be as great as what we see here. Check it out.

My Free Comic Book Day 2014

Free Comic Book Day

For those of you who aren’t aware of Free Comic Book Day aka the greatest secular holiday on the calandar that’s not Halloween, let me fill you in. Since 2002, every year on the first Saturday in May, Diamond, the comic book industry’s largest (and basically only) distributor, coordinates with all major and minor publishers as possible to produce books that are given away for free in stores for the purpose of providing a nice treat for regular readers as well as hopefully luring lapsed readers and new readers back in.

Additionally, since comic book stores voluntarily operate at a loss by participating in the event–they still have to pay the publishers for the books after all–they offer pretty wide discounts in-store to get people to buy something else as long as they’re there. It’s worked pretty well, honestly, and is a big reason for the changing face of fandom away from being overwhelmingly the nerdy white guy (like, y’know, me).

Finally at a point where I could find a way to a store and knew about multiple stores in my area this year, I went whole hog and decided to do a FCBD crawl: that is, going directly from one shop to the next. I went to two with a friend this past Saturday and, yeah, that’s not a big number, but the day was great regardless.

Because this is easily the most attendance a comic shop sees all year, my friend and I knew we had to leave early, so we go ton the bus at 9 AM. We arrived at Vault of Midnight–which you’ll recall I wrote in February for the Rapidian–about a half-hour before opening to stand in a pretty decent line and felt thoroughly embarrassed as we were two of the few people not really in costume. However, my friend was wearing an awesome Godzilla shirt and I was wearing my Captain America shirt because I went and saw The Winter Soldier later, which you can read my review of it here, so it was all good.

Vault of Midnight only allowed its customers to take 3 of the free books, which is perfectly understandable. After all, this is the number one day where kids come in to comic shops as well as parents with kids. I grabbed Fantagraphics’ Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity by Don Rosa, a preview of the publisher’s upcoming Don Rosa Library, which will reprint all of Rosa’s Disney comics in chronological order and begins this July. I also got the #0 issue of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, IDW’s version of…exactly what it sounds like, and the hotly-anticipated Dark Horse book, which contained three stories, headlined by an Avatar: The Last Airbender story written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks. (I’ll review those and my other purchases below.) While at Vault, enthused by the spirit of the day–and the fact that my tax rebate had just hit the day before–I took the opportunity to get caught up on Action Comics and Superman (the only super comics I read at the moment that aren’t Captain America) and took a chance, since it was $10, and bought the just-released first volume of Sex Criminals, which made untold numbers of best-of lists last year, was nominated for two Eisner Awards, and which I can’t wait to dive into.

After that, my friend and I walked all the way over to the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids–about a 2-3 mile hike from where we were downtown–and to Argos Book Shop, a lovely little place that reminded me so much of all the used bookstores I romped through when I was in New England a few years ago, but if they had an explicit SF/fantasy/comics bent. There, I picked up Bongo Comics’ Spongebob Freestyle Funnies (yup, they make Spongebon comics!), the Biongo Comics sampler itself, full of Simpsons stories, the Kaboom! Summer Blast full of comics by the kids’ imprint of Boom! Studios and a 100-page digest of Archie stories (hey, it was 100 pages).

After that, my friend introduced me to a really great hot dog place here in town called Crazy Charlie’s, where one can purchase a hot dog, fries and a large shake for under $10. Nice capper to a wonderful morning. Then we went back to campus and wen tour separate ways, with me hanging around my apartment for a while before heading off again to see The Winter Soldier, grab myself some nice Jimmy John’s after, and,on my first connecting bus back, managed to have a great conversation with a stranger about the books we had picked up today and about anime of various sorts (I told him how I review Bleach, and he told me of the arcs I should skip. Thanks guy!). It took a while before I got back to my apartment but the whole great, wonderful day was very much worth it.

I mean, getting free comics, spending money on even more awesome comics, delicious food, and a great movie? And also hanging out with a friend and making a new one for the duration of a bus ride? How cool is that?

If you’ve stuck with me so far, here are the reviews of all the free comics I got!

Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity by Don Rosa (Fantagraphics)–given how much I love Disney Duck comics, I knew I’d like this and I was proven right. The title story involves Magica De Spell stealing Scrooge’s Number One Dime, as she often does, by performing a spell that reorients Donald and Scrooge’s personal gravity: they now stick to walls and other sideways surfaces instead of floors. This leads to a huge chase, which leads to some absolutely wonderful, hilarious visuals that will make you turn the book in all sorts of directions to follow the action. Rosa, a longtime Disney cartoonist now retired due to eye problems and upset with less-than-stellar working conditions, wrings every bit of potential out of this story and the other one reprinted here, “Sign of the Triple Distelfink,” which reveals that Gladstone Gander, Donald’s ever-lucky cousin, is actually unlucky on his birthday and when he tries to avoid a party being thrown for him, all sorts of slapsticks ensues. There’s also a really nice afterward by Rosa where he explains how he got involved with Disney comics and reveals the inspiration behind the two stories. If this is what the Don Rosa Library will look like, consider me onboard.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe by Tom Scioli and John Barber (IDW)–This isn’t the first time such a concept–giant robots fighting army guys–has been explored, of course, but it’s the first time IDW has done it and they went all-out bonkers in the best, possible way. The story–written by Scioli and Barber, with all art handled by Scioli–opens with Starscream chasing Bumblebee, then turns into a massive, sprawling tale of the Joes fighting Cobra (as many Joes as possible show up), with Snake Eyes coming up against Starscream and thinking he’s a Cobra weapon. That sounds pretty boilerplate, I realize, but Scioli’s absolutely astonishing art tells a different story. For one thing, it feels like you’ve stepped right back to the late-’70s or early-’80s days of comics, with Scioli channeling as much of Jack Kirby as is possible for one human to do. A nice little touch is Starscream and Bumblebee speaking in sinewaves with translated text underneath, which really sells the alienness of the Transformers as compared to the earthbound stuff with the Joes and Cobra. If this sort of charming, exciting throwback is what the rest of the upcoming miniseries is, then I’m pumped–and I’m a guy who HATES crossovers and event stories. Super recommended.

Kaboom! Summer Blast (Kaboom!)–Over the past couple years, Boom!’s kid imprint, Kaboom! has built up a huge swell of critical and commercial support for itself with licensed content, mostly Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show (WOO!) and stuff like Uncle Grandpa and Steven Universe (which I don’t know anything about), new stories about comic strip icons like Peanuts and Garfield, as well as original books like Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and The Kid series. An excerpt from Kunkel’s latest adventure in his series about a boy who’s the descendant of Santa Claus and has a magical bear toy for a sidekick opens the book, with Kunkel’s stark yet lovely pencils an utterly unique thing compared to the rest of the book. Course, the rest of the book is pretty good too, particularly a Regular Show story involving a 20-sided die that grants wishes, a pretty funny story from The Amazing World of Gumball (a show I don’t really care about) about how fish-kid Darwin doesn’t wear pants that has some pretty inspired gags and a Garfield story written by the legendary Mark Evanier and with some great artwork by Genevieve Ft that proves my theory that Garfield is only funny when people who aren’t part of PAWS, Inc are doing something with him. A really sharp book full of fun stories told in a variety of good art styles that proves there’s creativity in kids’ licensed comics.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Dark Horse)–Y’all readers know how much I love Gene Luen Yang, and his script doesn’t disappoint here, offering a great, inspiring story about Sokka ( the funny guy from Avatar) and his girlfriend Suki, a Kyoshi Warrior (read: lady fighter who can kick all sorts of butt) visiting a shell store full of collectible shells where they deal with a girl who loves shells being talked down to by the store’s jerk dude-bro owners…and anyone who pays attention to comics knows exactly what this is a metaphor for, right? The basic message of the story–people should like whatever they like without being mocked for it–is a great, empowering one and Yang’s delightful script is given great life by Hicks’ expressive, detailed art that’s not only true to the look of the franchise, but is marvelous all on its own. While Yang and Hicks are the headliners, the supporting acts here are pretty good, too: a two-page “Itty Bitty Hellboy” story by kid-comic masters Art Baltazar and Franco that’s a nice bit of fun and a short story from David Lapham’s Juice Squeezers series, which I guess is about a team of kids who all have the powers of Ant-Man. Good stuff all around.

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies (United Plankton Pictures/Bongo Comics)–For the past couple years, United Plankton Pictures, in conjunction with Simpsons comic publisher Bongo, the production company behind Spongebob Squarepants, has been recruiting all sorts of independent cartoonists like James Kochalka of American Elf fame to draw little stories about the people of Bikini Bottom. The sampler offers a pretty varied range, with a story about Squidward relocating by turning his house into a robot (it’s in the homeowner’s manual) and a tale about Spongebob and Patrick making their own comics among others. It’s all fun, cool stuff that showcases a lot of great cartoonists and I think this series will satisfy older fans like me who think the show has gone way downhill in recent years.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2014 (Bongo)–a nice collection of Simpsons stories that not only shows off the depth of the franchise’s world, but also pays tribute to comics itself, particularly with the last story that involves Bart and Prof. Frink traveling to a world straight out of popular culture and a lead story with Bart and MIlhouse trying to gain superpowers through emulating comic book origins. Fun, solid stuff, like Bongo always provides; I AM a little disappointed that a back-cover pin-up is the only Futurama-related material we get, though.

Archie Digest (Archie)–I’m not exactly an Archie “fan,” but I DO admire the company’s commitment to diversity and risk that they’ve done this past decade. Plus, I liked the Archie’s Weird Mysteries cartoon as a kid and some of the oldest comics I own are old Jugheads. Plus, at 100 pages, this definitely packs the most bang for the non-existent buck. The stories–all reprints–are all pretty solid stuff, particularly the ones where Archie master Dan DeCarlo is on pencils. There’s also a surprising amount of Josie (of & The Pussycats fame) stories that threw me for a loop because I didn’t really know anything about them, but were pretty fun too. If nothing else, it’s a nice primer to the one company that a lot of people are surprised to still see around after all these years, doing what they always do.

SO no superheroes this year–that’s kinda surprising, right? Well, while the DC offerings looked abysmal, the Marvel stuff I was interested in but not THAT much. Besides, the Big Two usually use this day as an excuse to promote their summer crossovers and like I said above, I HATE crossovers. But that aside, I think I made out pretty good this year.

And that was my Free Comic Book Day 2014! How was yours? Let me know in the comments, if you are so inclined.

Top 5 Comics of 2012

Hey folks, how was your Christmas? Mine was great! I got to see my new baby cousin, the first season of Homeland, and over $100 in Barnes & Noble gift cards!

Speaking of books, if you’ve been following here for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that I like comics. A LOT.

But rather than try and count down my top 5 comic book issues of the year (because that would be really hard and several people are much better suited than I for such work), I figured I’d just list my top 5 favorite ongoing series. OK? OK, here we go…

#5–Superman/Superman Family Adventures

In talking with a friend about Superman recently, I mentioned that DC policy thus far has been to rotate the creative team every six issues, which equals out to the length of one storyline generally.

“So, basically, ” he said, “it’s an anthology?”

I said yes at the time but now I think it’s more like each arc is an episode of a TV show: each team is telling their one largely self-contained story (the current crossover being the exception), with their own style, while still contributing to one vision. It’s not always the most interesting or captivating book, but it’s entertaining and has got plenty of shots of Supes fighting the good fight, which I like.

Family Adventures, while having that whole episodic feel– each issue is self-contained, but there’s obviously some big plan being cooked up by Lex Luthor–is still a bit of an anomaly. I honestly never thought I’d be buying a kids comic, let alone one drawn and written by the dudes behind the famously-drawn-in-crayon Tiny Titans series, but when I saw the buzz it was getting, I had to check it out.

Man, is this book fun. Clean drawing, simple yet brilliant stories, really fun tweaks on the Superman mythos, like, say, Otis from Superman: The Movie becoming the Parasite…this book is great. Check it out for sure.

#4–Action Comics

Because it’s written by famed author Grant Morrison–best known for turning out the incandescently amazing All-Star Superman and being incredibly damn weird–Action Comics had the biggest hype arguably of anything going into DC’s New 52 relaunch because people were wondering which version of Morrison would show up. Well, with one issue left to go in his stated 16-issue run, I’d say by and large it’s been the one who can turn out amazing; at his best, Morrison writes high-concept stories that still feel understandable to the neophyte while celebrating the love of the longtime fan. Although the run hasn’t always been perfect (a head-scratching two-part story with the Legion of Super-Heroes comes to mind), it’s always been intriguing and the backup stories by Sholly Fisch have done a great job filling out the world and its inhabitants. This run will no doubt be discussed by comic book scholars for years to come.

#3–Captain America

If you had told me I’d be reading a Marvel book in 2012, even with the roller-coaster of awesome that was The Avengers, I’d have laughed. See, by and large, here’s how the storytelling policies of Marvel and DC Comics work. DC tries to make stories about gods (Superman, Wonder Woman) and god-like humans (Batman, Green Lantern) very simple and straightforward; Marvel, on the other hand, tries to make stories about simple humans with powers (Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc.) as complex and interconnected as possible.

Laugh at DC all you want for having rebooted 3 times in the past few decades, but they understood that their continuity had gotten too complicated for layfolk to understand; Marvel, on the other hand, has a “sliding timescale” policy similar to the newspaper comics comic books sprung from: i.e. the stories are always set in the present, but everything that has happened to their characters, unless stated, has always happened, creating a giant web of context that’s darn near impossible to navigate.

So why do I like the new Captain America so much then? Because it takes place outside of that web. In the first issue, Steve Rogers, investigating an abandoned subway line that’s mysteriously begun operating again for S.H.I.E.L.D., boards the train–which turns out to be full of monsters–and is whisked away due to another dimension, escapes his captor, the fanatic Armim Zola, and with a genetically engineered baby of Zola’s design, wanders the alien landscape trying to figure out a way home and how to survive. So yeah, it’s The Road but with spandex, basically.

John Romita, Jr’s art is well suited to the surreality of “Dimension Z” as it’s called, as well as the flashbacks to Rogers’ ’20s Bronx childhood that Rick Remender’s scripts call for. Speaking of Remender, while I’ve never read anything of his before, this is great: his pacing and the way he constructs his scenes are great; only 2 issues in and I’m already reeling from a cliffhanger that cries out to be delivered in a splash page, but isn’t. Instead, it’s a wide panel at the bottom of the page. It’ll cost you only $7 to pick all 2 issues of this up and I’d heartily recommend it.

#2–Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye

I’ve been a fan of Transformers since I was eight but I’d been holding off on diving full-throttle into the current comics because of the strange way they were published but this series allowed me to dive in with full force. The great thing about this book is that, like Captain America, it’s largely set apart from the rest of what’s going on.

Here’s the setup: the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons is over, with the two sides back on Cybertron trying to rebuild their damaged planet. Meanwhile, Rodimus–the guy in the middle there–has gone off  with several other Autobots to try and find the fabled Knights of Cybertron–the first inhabitants of the planet who were sent off on a mission of piece eons and eons ago, fyi–and persuade them to come back. But shortly after takeoff, they accidentally go through a wormhole and wind up roaming the galaxy all by themselves. Of course, it only gets crazier from there…

Key to the series is the astonishing artwork of Alex Milne for sure but the real star is the script power of James Roberts. Although everyone who works in comics nowadays is a fan-turned-pro, Roberts is particularly special: a founding member of the huge Transformers UK fanfiction community, Roberts eventually wrote Eugenesis, a novel-length fanfic that actually has astonishing literary skill behind it, believe it or not, and sunk about 1000 pounds of his own money into putting it into print. Eventually, when IDW Publishing had picked up the license, he was tapped to write a few stories here and there and then given full control of this book. What makes his writing work for me is that he imbues all these characters–some new, some established characters–with enough personality and charm that they stand on their own, even if you aren’t familiar with them. As somebody not familiar with the ’80s Transformers continuity, this is a big help for me and I look forward to this book every month.

But there’s one I look forward to even more…

#1–Saga

I had heard of writer Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man for Vertigo and Runaways for Marvel) and artist Fiona Staples (Marvel’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) but I had never read anything by them until I saw the first issue of this science fiction series for $1.99. I picked it up as an impulse purchase, but one look at the terrific worldbuilding and gorgeous gorgeous artwork and I was hooked. Just look at this stuff:

If her art doesn’t get nominated for anything big next comics award season, I’ll hate everything.

At its heart, this is a star-crossed lovers story. Marko–the ram-horned guy–and Alana–short-haired chick who, although you can’t really see it, has wings–are soldiers on different sides of a bitter interstellar war. Alana hails from the technologically-advanced planet of Landfall, while Marko comes from the magic-using people of the planet’s moon Wreath: the two planets have been in endless conflict but when Alana, a prison guard, and Marko, a prisoner, fall in love, bust out and have a baby named Hazel (who narrates the series as an adult), the war gets a new focus. In addition to their own peoples hunting for them, they also have bounty hunters on their trail and Prince Robot IV from the Robot Empire following them. So yeah, pretty tense yet typical stuff. But Vaughn’s terrific scripts and Staples’ amazing art make this stand out from the rest.

The series only has 8 issues right now because it started in March and, after the first story arc, the book took a 2-month break to allow the two to rest and for Staples to get ahead on artwork. But the first trade collection is out now and it’s only for $10 so you have no excuse, people. Check it out.

Well, that was fun. Given my update schedule, I won’t post another one of these until after New Year’s Eve, but hey, I know y’all won’t mind.

Home again, Home again

And we’re back! Exams are over and I am back home in Illinois!

What have I been doing? Watching TV, mostly. See, my uncle lent us the first season of Suits and White Collar. Don’t care about the latter, but the former is a GREAT show; expect a review soon…

My friend, freshly back from an internship in Kansas City, KS, has been helping me get through the first season of Fringe, knocking another entry off my TV Bucket List. Expect a review of that too!

And comics; Lord, did I buy comics today! $50 almost…this is what I bought:

  Saga 

  Captain America #2 - Comic Book Cover 

For those of you that don’t read them funny books, those are, from first to last, Masks #2, Saga #8, Action Comics #13-15, Superman #13-14, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #12, and Captain America #2. Those are pretty much all the monthly books I buy–well, Superman Family Adventures, too, but I forgot to buy those today–and although there is a comic shop by me, I have yet to check it out. Hence, the splurging.

Oh, that last thing? Well, that’s a trade paperback actually–volume 6 of Chew, which is one of my favorite anythings of anything. That will be reviewed as soon as possible.

Back to TV a second: yesterday, I found series 5 of Doctor Who for $20 on Blu-Ray at Best Buy, so I snatched it up. Tonight, I go to set up my Blu-Ray player to my folks’ semi-new Samsung LCD HDTV so I can watch it…and I realize that I somehow forgot the power cord. Yeah. Bit of a setback, there.

But hey, I still got comics, so that’s what matters.

‘Til Friday!

I want to tell you about the Transformers!

So lately, I’ve been swamped with a whole bunch of school stuff. But what’s kept me going through all that, beyond the reward of a job well done, is finishing in my downtime the first season of Transformers Prime and starting on the second. I’ve talked about this series before, I know, but lately I’ve come to realize just how GOOD it actually is.

I mean, if the fact that the show has had 11 Daytime Emmy  nods (and four wins) doesn’t tip you off to its quality then let me say that this is quality television, not just for kids; heck, it’s one of the best dramas around right now (IMHO obviously; keep in mind I haven’t watched Game of Thrones yet). But first, a little explanation on my part.

I’ve been a Transformers fan since I was 8 years old. Yes, I’ve seen the movies (first two but not the third). However, as great as the film franchise has been for keeping the Transformers name alive in the public consciousness and almost certainly made this show happen, I do not like them. They are bad; the first film is boring and has basically no robots for most of the time, the second one is more goofy fun and more robot fighting but it’s still pretty dumb and I don’t know about the third.

But because I still consider myself a fan, I have friends and strangers who assume that I love every aspect of the franchise, including the movies. Well, let me say that’s not true. I like what the movies have done as far as impact goes, but I do not like THEM. That may sound harsh, but that’s how I feel.

With that in mind, I was surprised when I watchedthe first episode of Prime and found myself really invested. The plot begins as these things usually do; the Autobots and Decepticons have been hiding out on Earth–specifically, in and near the town of Jasper, Nevada after fleeing there from their decimated homeworld of Cybertron. But when Arcee (the only girl robot up there, voiced by Sumalee Montano) sees her partner Cliffjumper (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. No, really.) kidnapped and accidentally alerts teenagers Jack Darby (Josh Keaton) and Miko Nakadai (Tania Gunadi) and 12-year old Rafael “Raf” Esquivel (Andy Pessoa) to her species’ existence, she’s forced to take them to the rest of the team: leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), tough guy Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson), medic Ratchet (Jeffrey Combs aka the guy from Re-Animator) and scout Bumblebee, who speaks in beeps because that’s what the movies did.

The Decepticons are pretty nasty too; second-in-command Starscream (Steven Blum) kills Cliffjumper about 5 minutes into thee first episode, the mute Soundwave is terrifying because he seems to be everywhere, and Megatron (Frank Welker) is just straight up ruthless. Most episodes of the first season are stand alone adventures, but there’s a LARGE overlaying story that becomes more prevalent in the second season.

Credits-wise, the show was conceived and is executive produced by the screenwriting team of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman who wrote the first two movies and have also made millions of dollars by writing a whole bunch of other stuff and also the show Fringe, along with big-time animation producers Jeff Kline and Duane Capizzi. All four serve as showrunners over a small writing staff that basically is a hive mind, telling a show that has a single story in mind and pretty much never diverges from it.

What’s remarkable about this show is how ambitious it is. The series began with a 5-part mini-series instead of a pilot and had a seven part story arc stretching across the end of the first season and into the beginning of the second, which has since been edited and released as its own movie. That’s ballsy of any show to do that, let alone a show that’s rated TV-Y and targeted towards kids.

But the thing is, this show has a broader appeal. If you were hooked by the movies, this show’s for you, but it will make you feel smarter afterwards. It feels like the production staff knows that they don’t want to make a time-waster for kids but a truly grand sci-fi show. And honestly, they’re succeeding. The dark places this show can go to are always surprising, the characters, even the kids who are meant to be surrogates for the show’s young viewers, are unbelievably well-developed (the depths that the treacherous Starscream goes to make me think of a Shakespereian villain) and the stories are always gripping.

Of course, the animation and voice acting do their parts to help that along. The animation, produced by Polygon Pictures, is a little limited looking, admittedly; facial expression isn’t all that great and the overall feel of the backgrounds are a bit static. But it makes up for it with detailed movement and pretty bravura action sequences. The voice acting is GREAT: I could devote an entire post to it alone, it’s that good. Blum–who’s been in everything from Digimon to The Legend of Korra (he was Amon)–shows why he’s a voice acting legend: his Starscream is menacing, threatening and captivating. The  rest of the cast is all fine too: Montano is the tough female role model Transformers loving girls have NEVER gotten until now, the actors playing the kids actually make them interesting and Ernie Hudson (yes, Winston Zedmore himself) is fun as the Autobot’s government liaison Special Agent Fowler.

But the real stars are of course Cullen and Welker, who voiced Prime and Megatron in the original series (although the latter was voiced by Hugo Weaving in the films). If anything, the age of the two actors now compared to the ’80s has made them understand these icons more. Cullen embues Optimus with wisdom, experience, confidence and a sheer commitment to peace after seeing a lifetime of war. He makes you realize just why the Autobots would follow him anywhere (my pastor friend Josh at Spiritual Musclehead has a great post explaining this). Welker–who, by the way, is the most successful actor alive due to the sheer amount of stuff he’s been in–is desperate, evil and malicious as Megatron. If nothing else, watch this show to hear some GREAT voice acting.

The more episodes I watch of this show, the more I feel that this is what Orci & Kurtzman wanted the movies to be like, but couldn’t make happen, because of having to work with Michael Bay. What they’ve done here is created a smart, compelling show to teach kids what good storytelling and good science fiction can be. The second season wraps up next week–and yes, this airs on digital cable, unfortunately for a lot of people– but comes out on DVD around Thanksgiving, so feel free to pick either of the boxsets up. Or, if you like, the five-episode miniseries is available as its own DVD. Check this out; you won’t regret it.

Now roll out!