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Deviating from Quality

Transformers: Deviations
IDW Publishing, 16 March 2016
Writer: Brandon Easton
Review by Neil Raymundo, 17 March 2016

Transformers: Deviations is a one-shot published by American comics publisher IDW Publishing as part of its March 2016 “Deviations” event, where the publisher takes existing titles and crafts standalone stories featuring alternate realities, either as a result of one aspect of the franchise being changed (such as gender-swapping a main character) or an important event happening differently. This is what IDW Publishing has done with its title, “Transformers: Deviations”.

“Transformers” is a story about a war between two alien races, the Autobots and the Decepticons, each of which are capable of morphing into vehicles. The comic book (and related TV cartoon series) started existence as a cross-media promotion of toys based on the main characters. In various parts of the world, the concept has come to be much loved by readers of all ages.

Iterative approaches to continuity is not novel within the US comic book industry. Both DC Comics and Marvel Comic have regularly done these types of non-canonical stories through the “Elseworlds” stories on DC’s side, and through the long-running “What If…?” series by Marvel Comics. While the stories can be very entertaining, these explorations of alternative continuity seem to project the impression of exhaustion: that creativity in the existing canonical universe of the publishers has been fished out.

For its part, “Transformers: Deviations” addresses the issue with the franchise’s long history across a wealth of mediums, which has multiple canons all running in parallel. This story devotes a couple of pages to the single event upon which the story pivots: the leader of the benevolent race of Autobots, called Optimus Prime, was shown as murdered in the crescendo of the 1986 film ‘Transformers: The Movie.’ Another character called Hot Rod unintentionally caused this death by distracting Optimus Prime during a fateful duel with the villain Megatron, leader of the evil Decepticons. The comic book series however significantly deviates from this plot twist by instead having another autobot named Kup restrain Hot Rod, allowing Optimus Prime to subdue Megatron and ultimately kill him, after a failed sneak attack.

The narrative of this comic is that sometimes the worst of things had to happen in order to get the best outcome. With Megatron gone, his traitorous second-in-command Starscream assumes control of the Decepticons. Being more ambitious and significantly more ruthless than his predecessor, Starscream gains powers greater than those of Megatron, and then organizes the Decepticons into a more cohesive and aggressive offensive unit. This new threat proves too much for the Autobots, resulting in the deaths of many main characters that have otherwise lived in the mainstream continuity.

The concept is sound and interesting to readers in the know, but the execution palls. The crude dialogue is forgivable given that it is derived from the 1980s cartoon. Perhaps this is a way of being true to the source material. But IDW’s “Transformers” comic books are generally targeted more towards a mature audience (those adults who as children bought the toys, watched the cartoons, and read the comics, and now engage in childhood nostalgia by following the ongoing adventures). It should have a better quality of writing. IDW should have applied the same quality on “Deviations” as it normally does in the regular series.

The pacing is also faulty. Even considering that the writer, Brandon Easton, only had 30 odd pages to work with, the transitions still feel abrupt. Mr Easton seems to have elongated a story pitch rather than written a fully fleshed out story.

Regrettably, the majority of the pages depict fight scenes and characters talking about what they are going to do before and after a fight. Worse still is that many fights happened off panel. Even the story’s climax, whereby Hot Rod sacrifices himself to win the war, is reduced to a couple of panels. It is lazy or, to be more fair, amateurish.

“Transformers: Deviations” is an interesting concept poorly implemented. It boils down to a series of beautifully drawn panels of robots smashing each other to bits, with haphazard scene transitions and an unsatisfying finale. The title seems to rely upon “Transformers” nostalgia to propel sales, rather than any significant quality of writing. An uniformed audience will be disappointed: the informed audience should cringe.