Comics Features

SECOND LOOK: Transformers: Generation 2

Whoopee. Another bloody Michael Bay-led Transformers film is on the way. Another majestically terrible event in film-making whereby the sole purpose, if the last three films are anything to go by (and therefore, the whole franchise), is to slam the metallic characters together in such a way that it makes the young and young-at-heart dash to the nearest toy store to replicate what they see on screen.

Such is the Transformers in a nutshell – the greatest toy commercials in existence. But we hardcore fans know there’s a bit more to the Transformers than that. While the film/TV shows gave little way to genuine character/plot development, the comics often told a different story, letting a genuine story spill out into oblivion. The very title of this latest outing, Age of Extinction, made me think of Simon Furman’s Generation 2 storyline.

And on being reminded of this story, it also reminded me how much I adore that comic. How it’s not only the first Transformers comic I read, but one of the very first comic books I fell in love with. Urgh, nostalgia is a horrible thing. It can blind your judgement in the blink of an eye, so without trying to be too rose-tinted about the whole thing, let’s have a look back at the Transformers tale written for the grunge generation.

So, for starters, G2 follows on from G1 (poor Simon, he must’ve sprained some neurons coming up with that title), yet manages to stand on its own twelve issues as a self-contained story. Its not vital to have read the previous G1 saga to understand what’s going on in G2 (my collected editions very kindly sum the previous events up into a few paragraphs).

With the battle against Unicron completed and Megatron seemingly destroyed, Autobots and Decepticons enter an uneasy alliance, where trigger-happy fingers reign supreme. Things don’t ease up when Bludgeon plans to become leader of the Decepticons, then Megatron returns just in time to set things straight, and an advanced form of Cybertronians make their destructive presence known to both sides. All the while, Optimus Prime is constantly having apocalyptic visions, growing larger and deadlier than the last…

As this suggests, G2 is quite definitive of the action/adventure identity that Transformers is stereotyped by. However, the sheer biblical scale of the story packs a strong emotional punch, harder and heavier than anything Michael Bay could throw. The combined forces of Jihaxus, his army and the Swarm reveal a dark side-step to the Transformers’ origin as a species that G1 failed to mention.

A lot of the emotional resonance can be put down to the artwork. The revolving team of Manny Galan, Geoff Senior, Andrew Wildman, and especially Derek Yaniger all share a fairly constant style, letting the character’s faces express emotion (just turn to any page where Optimus is having one of his vision of being eaten alive), with barely any humans around to handle the emotion for the robots.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love this comic so much. It’s the Transformers themselves that carry the story, and therefore bare the emotions they face. When you’ve got a story concerning the takeover of your species, and then the eradication of it, you’ve got to chuck in the odd cry of despair, haven’t you?

In general, the boxy, crunchy artwork tends to look more relic than realistic and the tone becomes lost in places, with characters occasionally looking deformed on pages, but it all adds to the scrambling immediacy of the piece, and the grand grittiness is still highly entertaining. Such moments as Starscream engulfing the Matrix, a bleeding Megatron confronting a battered Optimus, and pretty much every scene where the Swarm consumes something/someone stand up in their violence against any Transformers tale that’s come before.

But does all this violence, action, and death override the story itself? Does G2 actually predate what Bay’s now done, putting the visuals over the story? Well, in the world of comics, that’s a fine line to tread. I was brought up on the belief that when it comes to comics, the artwork enhances the story. This is very much true for G2, but also, the scope and setup of the story demands that the violence is as essential as the binding that holds the physical comic together.

However, the crowning glory of the story is its pace. The story slowly unfolds from a restart of the Autobot/Decepticon war into a final confrontation with only basic survival as the sole positive outcome. In the space of twelve issues, Furman takes us on a journey of self-worth and understanding the importance of alliance and comradeship. In the final few pages, several Autobot/Decepticon characters band together, fighting alongside a seemingly unstoppable force, and even Starscream gives Prime a helping hand against the Swarm.

Transformers: Generation 2 is a testament to how you can tell an emotionally gripping story with giant, war-hungry robots. Throughout, every feeling becomes drained out of your system, much like the life being squeezed out of half the characters in this story. Michael, if ever you read this, you could learn a lot from Simon.

Have you read the G2 saga? What do you think of it? Is it just a lot of robots meshing together, or do you think there is some genuine substance? Lets us know in the comments below or via Twitter/Facebook!

About the author

Fred McNamara