Review: Titans Return

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Review: Titans Return

“The planet reeks of concession. It’s time to wipe the slate clean. Tear down, so that we might rebuild.

Hot off the presses, it’s the latest IDW graphic novel, Transformers: Titans Return. A tyrannical leader from Cybertron’s past has returned from the dead, and he’s looking to make a few changes to the home world of the Transformers. Nothing too drastic, he’s just going to bring in an entire army of undead Metrotitans to kill everyone on the planet.

If you read Transformers on a regular basis then you’ll  already be familiar with the content here; it collects issues 56-57 of both the regular The Transformers title and More Than Meets The Eye, along with the Titans Return one-shot issueHowever, if you find it a little hard sometimes to follow the story from month to month across two titles (like I do), and you were thrown for a loop by scheduling problems that caused some of the chapters to be released out of sequence, this book puts the whole story together in its intended order.

The first half of the book covers the Titans Return one-shot and The Transformers issues. After a brief scene of a mysterious figure coming back to life on Cybertron, we begin the story with a history-lesson-by-way-of-flashback, ie: “Movie Night” aboard the Lost Light. A lot of times I have to consult the Transformers Wiki for backstory, but in this case everything’s spelled out in one of Rewind’s documentaries. Livio Ramondelli does the art for this first half, so it’s a treat to see the MTMTE characters in Ramondelli’s beautifully dreamlike artwork. And of course it’s fun to see the Lost Light’s dysfunctional crew getting to relax (or in Megatron’s case, attempting to relax in a social situation. Which he loathes.)

Megatron: I apologize for being late. I spent too long trying to think of reasons not to come.

Whirl: No worries. We passed the time by starting without you.

The next section is back to present day on Earth, and the truly awesome sight of a Metrotitan standing in Monument Valley (have I mentioned recently how beautiful Ramondelli’s artwork is? Last paragraph? Okay, just checking…). Optimus Prime has annexed Earth into the Council of Worlds (as you do) and from here on the action jumps back and forth between the fallout from that, and Starscream and Windblade dealing with the mysterious figure currently cutting a swathe across the Decepticon Ghetto on Cybertron: Sentinal Prime

The earlier discussion of the once-hated-but-then-revered-for-getting-offed-by-Megatron Sentinel Prime (and of how Megatron absolutely was not responsible for the disappearance of Sentinel’s head before the funeral) tells us everything we need to know about the former leader. A tyrant, head of a Senate that oppressed most of the population in the name of “purity”, he’s not at all happy with the state of things on his planet now. Decepticons and Autobots working together? Best to just raze everyone and everything on the surface and start over.

The secret of Sentinel’s survival and the true identity of Garrison Blackrock were two really important plot reveals in this story that were ruined when issue 56 of MTMTE was accidentally released before issue 56 of The Transformers. I was incredibly confused after reading MTMTE 56 the first time; things makes a lot more sense when you read it in the right order. Not everything in this book is completely clear of course; you still have to know who the original Thirteen are, and you have to be familiar with how the whole Galvatron plot turned out to understand why Soundwave is fighting on the same side with Optimus Prime (side note, Rumble and Frenzy both make an appearance in this book. Cue fangirl “Eeeee!”), but I’m a little less confused now.

The two  More than Meets The Eye issues take up the second half of the book. The usual artist Alex Milne did not do the artwork for these, but the team of Priscilla Tramontano on pencils and Joana Lafuente on colors have a very crisp, lively but easy-to-follow style, something that’s important when you have a story written by James Roberts, who has a lot of fun showing you things that aren’t quite what they seem.

“I know I’m paranoid. Contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean I think everyone’s out to get me. It just means I don’t know who is and who isn’t.”

Messing with perceptions is a big part of the story for Red Alert, one of the first Transformers characters we’ve seen who’s had to undergo major therapy for crippling mental issues. His overly cautious habits in previous TF incarnations were usually treated as a personality quirk; in IDW he’s had it much, much worse, having to deal with things like paranoia, nightmares, depression, even a suicide attempt. The way Roberts writes any scene that’s shown from Red Alert’s perspective shows a little of what he has to deal with: hallucinations, false memories, even obsessively diagramming conversations to try to figure out what someone meant by that extra pause before the second word of that sentence.

And then Sentinel Prime shows up and we find out just how far back Red Alert’s problems go. And what the hell those five dots he’s constantly seeing are all about.

Mental problems notwithstanding, there’s a much lighter tone to this half of the book. Roberts loves to write snarky dialog and clever scenes. The scenery-chewing by Sentinel is balanced out by things like Prowl pretty much taking the air out of everyone’s tirades, especially poor Metroplex. (A long time ago Prowl waited three years before sending someone to rescue Metroplex from being tortured by Overlord. Yes, Metroplex is still angry about it, and no, Prowl doesn’t apologize.)

There’s not a lot of bonus content in this book, other than a collection of alternate covers (love the one of Prowl and Metroplex by Nick Roche), and the book itself is a little bittersweet since it marks the last issue of both More Than Meets The Eye and The Transformers. Don’t despair, because TTF has been re-branded as Optimus Prime, all the characters in MTMTE return in the new title Lost Light, and the Titans Return storyline (complete with invading army of undead Titans coming to destroy Cybertron) continues in issue #5 of Till All Are One.