My weeks long quest to find the good Transformers comics—assuming that there must be some good Transformers comics based solely on the longevity of the franchise—has finally bore some fruit.
Among the titles the Columbus Metropolitan Library system carries is Transformers: Perchance To Dream, a 2006 black and white digest collection of old Marvel UK Transformers material from Titan Books.
Once again Simon Furman is doing the writing, and he works with seven different artists, including Staz Johnson (a familiar name form the late-nineties Bat-books), John Stokes (some Vertigo work) and several others I’m less familiar with (Jeff Anderson, Pete Knifton, Geoff Senior, Lee Sullivan and Andrew Wildman).
In a cast consisting of giant robots, the black and white art could be something of a drawback I suppose (I mentioned before that some Transformers look the exactly the same and are only distinguished by their coloring), but I think it works quite nicely here. In general, I prefer black and white reprints to older comics, as it’s a way around either straight reprinting the shoddier coloring of the era or having to recolor the work and thus changing it in a somewhat unwelcome manner.
And this black-and-white is true black-and-white; no grading or shading or gray tones, just black ink on white space.
I can only guess what function these stories played in the original comics, but I’m guessing by their super-short, five-page length that they must have been back-ups that ran with reprints of the American material…? (One of you will correct me if I’m totally wrong, right?)
That short length, and the fact that Furman’s stories are all surprisingly character-focused little vignettes, reminded me quite a bit of the back-ups that Chris Claremont wrote as back-ups for the old Classic X-Men reprints, the ones collected as X-Men: Vignettes (These, by the way, are about the only Chris Claremont X-Men comics I’ve really ever been able to enjoy, a results, I suspect, of not even attempting to read any of his X-Men work until I was at much too old an age to really identify with it).
Even the storylines that continue through multiple strips here tend to be stand-a-lone character pieces that somehow connect.
For example, the title story, which quotes Shakespeare extensively in the narration (my, but Marvel UK was classy!), consists of six, five-page chapters, but the first five each have a framing sequence wrapped around an individual Autobot’s dream of some adventure.
Each of those dreams characterizes the robot in question, and while that characterization isn’t anything too terribly deep, it is characterization. For example, Silverbolt, who turns into a plane, is afraid of heights, and is afraid his fellow Autobot planes will discover this secret shame of his when they all combine to form the giant robot Superion.
The truncated space makes that focus seem even sharper, as Furman never has the opportunity to waste much time or space in these stories, so they’re remarkably character-driven.
They also boast a sort of admirable try-anything approach, which gives this little collection an enjoyable unpredictability.
The title story, for example, features five Autobots having their dreams scanned by a time-traveling Galvatron in an attempt to control their minds, and also quotes Shakespeare and has a punchline-style, last-panel twist ending.
That’s followed by a Raymond Chandler parody called “The Big Shutdown” (see, robots don’t sleep, but they do get shutdown) narrated by Nightbeat, who transforms into a police car and is thus a detective, some more traditional robot space-war stories, and finally a two-parter about a newspaper reporter that both the Autobots and Decepticons are trying to spin for positive PR (the Autobots try granting him access and an interview; the Decepticons try shooting a mind-control thingee into his brain).
Like the other licensed comics featuring the Transformer characters I’ve read so far, I wouldn’t call this high literature or anything, and, end of the day, it’s still just an advertisement for a toy line, but damned if it isn’t a very good advertisement for a toy line, and one that features a more admirable level of craft in both the writing and the art than a lot of the other Transformers comics I’ve read thus far.
But then, I’ve still got some more to read yet…