Rodimus and company begin their quest for the Knights of Cybertron, co-beginning a new era of IDW’s Transformers franchise. This is a series that will clearly focus strongly on character interactions, but it ends up playing itself up too much for laughs at the expense of its central story.
For those not up to date on the current state of IDW’s Transformers franchise, the war between Autobot and Decepticon is over. The Autobots have won and retaken their homeworld of Cybertron, which has undergone drastic changes through the course of their war. Optimus Prime has gone into self-exile to smooth out the transition into a post-war era between Autobots and non-aligned Cybertronians. But rather than manage that uneasy transition, Rodimus has begun a movement to find the legendary Knights of Cybertron, who he believes will be able to usher in a new golden age for Cybertron.
This issue takes place on launch day for Rodimus’ ship, and we touch on a variety of characters who decide to join him or otherwise end up joining him. This is where the writing is at its strongest. James Roberts is obviously setting up a very diverse cast of personalities to play off each other in the issues ahead. Some genuinely believe in Rodimus’ goal while others simply have their own personal reasons for wanting to get off of Cybertron. Ratchet’s scene with Bumblebee is where Roberts is my favorite. Roberts really sells Ratchet’s reasons for wanting to leave with Rodimus, and the scene feels genuine as he explains that to Bumblebee. The next scene between Prowl and Chromedome comes off as a bit more artificial, but it does end on a very solid moment.
I have actually rather liked the development of Hot Rod into Rodimus in IDW’s continuity. They’ve wisely not had him take Optimus Prime’s place as originally happened in the ‘80s. That wasn’t exactly a well received move. This time Hot Rod made himself Rodimus, and there’s always that sense that he’s being pretty presumptuous about that. He means well and makes some good points, but he may not be as wise or as good of a leader as he thinks he is. This makes for an interesting portrayal of a more overtly flawed Rodimus, and that could make for a really strong character arc in this series.
But my problem with this series is that it’s apparently a comedy. It’s not just a book with some humor to it. It is a straight up comedy. Priority is being put on humor above all else. One of the alternate covers for this issue is a homage to DC’s JLI, and that turns out to be fitting. Now, don’t get me wrong. The humor is generally funny. But it’s too much. Almost every character has to be witty or humorously over the top. Almost every scene needs some kind of punchline. It’s good for Bumblebee to be a little silly. It’s right for Rodimus to make little funny asides. That’s their characters. But it’s not good for Ultra Magnus’ strictness to be played up to a comedic extreme. I don’t need a scene devoted to the punchline of some guy’s model collection getting knocked off. I really don’t even need to acknowledge the existence of the character who transforms into a memory stick. It all serves to badly diminish the seriousness of some of the drama that takes place in this issue.
Adding to this problem is Nick Roche’s art. While it is very good for what it is, the animated style of it just adds to the overall goofiness of the book. He makes the Transformers look even more cartoony than usual, and for me, that’s not to the book’s benefit. The writing makes the story hard enough to take seriously.
Another problem this issue has is that it spends so much time populating itself with unique personalities that it neglects what all these characters are going to be doing. Remember? The quest for the Knights of Cybertron? ...So, who are they? Roberts gives us nothing on the mythology that is supposed to be central to this series. Knights of Cybertron. Cyberutopia. Golden age. These are all just meaningless words right now. Some serious mythology building needs to start taking place if readers are expected to understand why Rodimus is doing any of this. A complete history lesson isn’t needed, but throw us a few bones at least.
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye aims to be the JLI of the Transformers franchise. It focuses on character and humor, and it does so at the expense of story drama and plot. Maybe if this issue spent less time trying to get laughs, I would know more about the Knights of Cybertron and be able to get behind what Rodimus’ is trying to do here. But instead, I come away from this issue with some good chuckles and almost no interest in seeing what happens next. I will say it offers a good tonal alternative to Transformers: Robots in Disguise and will probably appeal to those who were fans of the old JLI days. But it’s not what I was looking for coming out of the more serious story developments that launched this series.