Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Transformers Unencumbered By The Pesky Humans: Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation Still Disappoints.

The Good: Decent sense of bigger picture for the Transformers storyline.
The Bad: No real character development, Terrible sense of movement/artwork, Does not satisfactorily lead into the film.
The Basics: The second of two Transformers graphic novels, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation is not as bad as most, but doesn't lead well into the new film and isn't likely to interest readers who aren't already Transformers fans.

The graphic novel has had an interesting relationship with film the last few years. There have been a number of successful films based upon graphic novels and the flip side of the relationship has been to create prequels for planned blockbusters that stimulate interest in the fanbase. Those are anthologized as trade paperback anthologies usually within a month of the blockbuster's release and help to plug elements of the movie that the filmmakers might not have been able to include. In the case of the Transformers franchise, the producers and writers have had a strong relationship with IDW comics, where they release movie-parallel stories (parallel to their popular, successful and film-independent Transformers comic line) in advance of the latest cinematic outing. For Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, fans got hit with twice the cashgrab with Rising Storm (reviewed here!) and Foundation. I write "cashgrab" because neither book tells an essential story, both have artwork that looks like it was cobbled together from children's drawings and both seem terribly expensive for anthologies of four comic books.

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation was a four-issue limited series which sets up Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (reviewed here!) by exploring the War On Cybertron. Absent the human element, Transformers ought to still be engaging and thrilling, but the fundamental problem with Foundation is that it feels more like what it actually is as opposed to what it should be. In other words, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation feels like a movie tie-in as opposed to a vital story about a robot civilization in decline. It contains the dangling character elements and obvious plot reversals that fans of the Transformers franchise already expect and nothing substantive or new. Without spoiling anything from Dark Of The Moon, Foundation does not adequately set up a relationship between Sentinel Prime and the key elements from the film.

As the war on Cybertron heats up, Sentinel Prime and his loyal general, Optimus Prime, seek an audacious way to end the war and reunite the mechanical life forms that come to be known as Transformers. In a bold move, they bring a star to Cybertron which revitalizes the planet and brings hope to all. With Megatron and Optimus Prime burying the hatchet, it looks as though peace may endure. But soon, Megatron and Shockwave revolt and they become dangerous elements working for Optimus and Sentinel, while still working for their own needs. When Sentinel Prime tries to give Optimus more responsibility, Optimus leads with too loose a hand.

Shockwave, acting as an overpowered police officer, begins to eradicate malcontents within the Cybertronian ranks in a more brutal interpretation of unification than either of the Primes wish. When Megatron splits, Optimus goes after him, reaching a showdown at a Decepticon hatchery as Sentinel Prime prepares to launch his historic Ark.

Unfortunately, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation ties into the first Transformers movie better than the current one as Optimus vows to find the All Spark, not the Ark (which he believes might have been destroyed). The book suffers from three big problems: a predictable plot, lack of character development, and poor artwork. The predictable plot is a tough nut to crack and writer John Barber does the best he can with the material he was given. The truth is, a "War On Cybertron" story has to be somewhat predictable because the whole overall arc of the war was explained in the first Transformers film. So, before opening the book, most readers will already know that Cybertron is dying, the Decepticons are kicking the butts of the legitimate government and the lack of Energon is making everyone on the planet desperate. Filling in the blanks much more than that can be problematic. For example, the addition of Sentinel Prime's world-saving technology being both created and lost pretty much begs the reader to ask, "Were there no Transformers - Autobot or Decepticon - who might have tried to replicate Sentinel Prime's research and results to save everyone?" Because there are thousands of years in the story between the death of Cybertron and the modern Transformers stories and we're meant to believe neither side was ingenious enough to try to do what Sentinel Prime was doing? The loss of the Ark was a crushing blow to Optimus Prime's forces, we get that, but how that loss didn't lead to all-out slaughter of the Autobots when a genocidal maniac like Shockwave is in play is an unfortunate oversight. My point here is that in creating more stories, writers like Barber and the cinematic storytellers make the whole franchise seem somewhat preposterous.

On the character front, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation stumbles not because we know the outcome of the characters' actions from the film, but because the character choices never seem consequential enough. This book isn't an "Optimus Prime coming of age" adventure, it's not a "Megatron fall from grace" story, it's more a "Sentinel Prime is getting old and Shockwave is a psycho" story. There's no growth or development here; Sentinel Prime starts feeling alone because the Primes are gone and Shockwave starts crazy and ends crazy. Those looking for a character journey, arguably the most important part of storytelling, will be lost in this volume.

Which leads us to the artwork, which many readers of graphic novels will say is the most important aspect of the medium. I agree it is important, at least to augment a good story. Great artwork can even raise a lousy story into average territory. That is not the case with Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation. Unfortunately, artist Andrew Griffith seems to have a handle on just how lousy the story of the book is and he makes no efforts to try to improve it through the artwork. This book is little more than a series of surprisingly rough sketches of the robot characters with washed out watercolor coloring to make it look like a contemporary book. Take, for example, the artwork on page 9. The transforming effect is little more vehicles with background robots and the anemic attempt at connecting the two versions of each character falls flat.

The graphic novel can enhance the anticipation for a summer blockbuster, but it helps if the audience that might appreciate being exploited was at least pandered to. I write that tongue-in-cheek, but there is some truth to it. If your audience is 14 - 19 young men who get excited by big explosions and special effects, the least you should do in the graphic novel tie-in is make sure it looks good for them and can offer them some sense of thrill. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Foundation does not do that and it, unfortunately, does not pander to the science fiction-loving fans who have rejected the Transformers films as mindless Summer Blockbuster tripe. This just seems to be ideal for Transformers fans with too much money and not enough in the way of high standards.

For other Transformers graphic novels, please visit my reviews of:
Transformers Official Movie Adaptation
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen Alliance
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen Defiance


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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