• Let's Review: The Magic of Cybertron #4

    Our adventures on Cybertron come to a close! The free-willed versus the enslaved. Brains against Brawn. Party Cannons against WMDs.

    There’s a lot to cover after the break. Check it out along with some spoilers!

    The Mightiest Dinobot
    As with past issues, we get a dual set of stories, both illustrated by artists who have a greater history with the Transformers than My Little Pony. Casey W. Coller has a long list of credits to his name, including entries in Ironhide, All Hail Megatron, and Lost Light. He did some interiors for Friendship in Disguise #2, but this is the first chance I’ve gotten to talk about his style. He is so faithful to presenting G1-style Transformers and understanding how to emphasize their scale through perspective that I mistook his artwork at first. I thought back to Sara Pitre-Durocher’s work in the first crossover and how well she depicted the Ark base on Earth. Coller achieves the same on Cybront’s scale, though an there’s an interesting color choice to the backgrounds.

    This is like introducing your new friend to your
    totally awesome brother and his band.

    Joana Laufuente represents the colors from the respective shows well and makes a unique choice in the backgrounds. Whereas most artists display Cybertron in cooler shades or even deep grays, Laufente utilizes vivid oranges that pair well with the Dinobot’s motifs and Smolder’s style. There’s even a bright blue sky. I mostly remember Cybertron reflecting the vastness of space (making me wonder how humans survived there). This setting reminds me more of Autobot City from the movie and Season 3. It doesn’t convey the menace of a world under attack, but it does match Grimlock’s enthusiasm and affection for Spike. This is meant to be a light-hearted story despite some combat.


    Ember might contest this.
    No other dragon can.

    As beings with alt-modes based on living creatures, the Dinobots require more artistic flexibility. Yes, they need to be seen a robots yet they are robots with a wider array of poses. If the mechanical aspect is over-emphasized and they come off as stiff, then their alt modes become more a parody of life than taking inspiration. Coller’s skill in depicting the Dinobots alt-modes (complete with Sludge’s eye-popping homage to the ’85 movie), helps in depicting Smolder and Spike. I get the sense that Coller is comfortable drawing both the mechanical and the organic, making this one of the most balanced presentations in the series. 


    RiddleofLightning drew this up after listening to one of my streams.
    Never thought it would be this relevant, but I can't resist.

    We don’t get much info on how Spike and Smolder reunited on Cybertron or how Smolder became separated from her other friends. Instead, we start right away with Spike’s reunion with Grimlock. It’s nice to see Grimlock celebrating seeing his dragon buddy. I still remember Grimlock as being either a brute with a chip on his shoulder in G1’s seasons 1 and 2, or a bizarre man-child in season 3. This Grimlocks a much better compromise. He has a commanding presence over his fellow Dinobots and doesn’t have to put up a false persona to make them respect him.

    Talk to the tail!

    That might sound like a dig at Smolder, who makes a big demonstration to introduce her to the entire team. However, Smolder is a character who knows her strengths and doesn’t need to put others down to make herself feel good. She isn’t presenting a falsehood or trying to show up anyone else. She’s expressing her best self. Unfortunately, this is an image that Spike feels he can’t match and so his reception by the Dinobots is much colder. This is another case where big brother Grimlock gets to help him stand up for himself.

    I want telecomm fire!

    Spike and Grimlock’s adventure in the last crossover was my favorite because of that relationship. Spike idolized Grimlock’s size, strength, and confidence. Grimlock recognized Spike’s own value and encouraged him. Most of these crossovers have been meeting of peers, and I like the idea of a few inspirational figures. Spike’s at a disadvantage here because Smolder is a dragon only a little older than himself. Spike doesn’t try to be like Grimlock because he recognzes the differences in their histories, but Smolder’s a closer mark for comparison. Comparison is the thief of joy.


    Sombra's mind powers allow for sick burns!

    Of course, getting attacked by a brainwashed Superion isn’t a cause for celebration either. This too seems fitting since Grimlock faced Devestator last time. In place of the first Decepticon combiner, we now have the first Autobot combiner. In fact, I would argue that Superion is the Autobot combiner as he’s had much more screen time and represents a big change in the Autobots’ approach. An aerial team on a force mostly known for ground vehicles. Yet as Superion overpowers both the Dinobots and Smolder, there’s a legitimate question to ask. Since this is a Generations-style comic, why not feature the Dinobot combiner Volancus as well?


    When I said the Dinobots look boring if they're too stiff,
    I was thinking of Prime Wars.

    I think it’s a good idea to keep Volcanus out of this, because I think Volcanus is a mistake. Don’t get me wrong. As a kid, I would have loved the idea of a Dinobot combiner. That’s just adding an awesome concept on top of already-awesome robots. Yet looking back, there’s a theme of escalation to the Transformer gimmicks that sadly gave out towards the end. I think it’s this loss of focus on escalation that reflected this series’ initial decline. 


    Keep those eyeballs nearby, Sludge!
    We'll need them for more references.

    The first Transformers started out with a conflict of numbers versus strength. The Autobots had a clear numerical advantage, but t many of their members were smaller and couldn’t tangle with a Decepticon in one-on-one combat. Even the smaller Decepticons like Rumble were a challenge for larger bots like Hound. So you had Autobots teaming up to take down one Decepticon. 


    One wonders why you even need other Decepticons besides Soundwave.

    The Dinobots were an escalation because now there was a Autobot team that could best multiple Decepticons at once. After a few failed attempts to outwit the Dinobots, Megatron escalated again with the first combiner. This eventually lead to several combiner teams before escalating the conflict even further to city-sized Transformers like Metroplex and Trypticon. Making the Dinobots a combiner team takes them out of this escalation theme. It plays to their popularity at the cost of the larger story. 


    The fact that Smolder survived
    is testament to her toughness.

    Plus there’s something to be said for what one does when at a disadvantage like Spike. I have no idea where he was able to research all the Autobots. Maybe he got to keep one of those inexplicable, giant, paper-bound books from last time. Whatever the reason, he understand that most combiners are a difficult compromise between personalities. I imagine that writer Ian Flynn had to consult the Aerialbots’ bio cards from the old toys to figure out their weaknesses. Outside of their leader Silverbolt and the hostile Slingshot, the team didn’t get much individual characterization.


    You can bet the other Aerialbots will have words for Slingshot after this!

    Whatever the case, Spike earns both victory and recognition for brains over brawn. Given that he’s now two-for-two on besting Combiners, I wonder who would be a good opponent to cement him as the Combiner-Bane? Apparently, there’s a neutral-party combiner named Nexus Prime in the franchise. I say Nexus better watch his back!


    Spike could take him!

    The Dinobots don’t get a chance to show their greatest strength in this story, though anyone who can handle a beating from a combiner is no slouch. It does do a lot to celebrate Spike’s intelligence and quick-thinking. Something I always appreciate given his less-than-gracious treatment throughout the show. So while not a balanced presentation like the previous Spike/Grimlock story, it is thoroughly enjoyable and well worth your time. A fitting story before we read the final conflict.


    I think the Dinobots are what dragons should be.
    Emphasis on strength, but recognizing its various forms.

    The final confrontation comes courtesy fJames Asmus’ writing and Jack Lawrence with colors by Luis Antonio Delgado. A veteran of the Lost Light series, Lawrence is well-versed in conveying motion and purpose. This is especially clear as he illustrates Optimus Prime leading the charge. While Coller excelled at a mixture of organic curves and mechanical edges, Lawrence renders the Autobots in as many sharp angles as possible and accentuates the perspective. This gives the Autobots a super-hero feel as they charge to the rescue.


    Autobots, Assemble!

    While the ponies enjoy similar dynamic action as they join the fray, Lawrence seems to struggle more with how to present them at different angles. The style of Friendship is Magic is harder to capture alongside the Transformers, whose boxy designs make it slightly easier to create the illusion of three dimensions. You can especially see the difference as Ravage and Applejack slip by a brainwashed Red Alert. Or is it Sideswipe? Hard to say.

    That's probably another Transformer
    I just don't know about.

    Sombra’s endgame is to excavate and possess a Titan, namely Scorponock. Without Zarak to serve as its Headmaster, the shell is completely devoid of will and perfect for a takeover. I can’t be sure if this is intentional yet this whole setup seems a callback to the Japanese Headmasters and Master Force series that served as an alternative for the “Rebirth” saga here in America. After twice ousting Galvatron, Scorponock (Mega Zarak in Japan) became the Deception leader but lost his larger body in a final battle with Fortress Maximus. He then went on to create a new body and became Black Zarak, only to have that body taken over by the alien Devil Z. It’s fully possible that this is just coincidence, but long-time Transformers fans can wonder at the connection.


    Word is the guy's toy was terribly brittle.
    Not a word you want to associate with a big bad.

    The battleground we witness is a very different feeling from the Spike/Dinobots story. This is the Cybertronian tones I recall. Dark and colder with the vastness of space overhead. It’s a good look for this battle and it helps the ponies stand out. 


    Pick your favorite.
    I choose Applejack!

    In the ultimate fanboy moment, we get the best of both worlds and ponies can now transform into weapons. This is based on the rescue technology Rarity, Ratchet, and Knockout developed last issue. Knockout is sadly absent for this but that seems in character. Having gotten his partner back, I don’t see any reason for him to rush into a fresh battle any more than Holiday and Lofty would. It is a bit odd to imagine Rarity’s voice coming out of a highly-polished shield. Stranger still is her assertion that it’s only been about twenty minutes. 


    One idea with this is that 20 minutes means that there wasn't enough time for Twilight to do anything terrible.
    Her conscience is clean.

    I’m used to My Little Pony working on an accelerated timetable, but the figure seems absurd. I can picture this struggle going for at least a day on Cybertron. Regardless, we finally have the liberation of Twilight, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie plus the always-welcome sight of Starscream getting to give Megatron some comeuppance. 

    Don't care how evil.
    Starscream earned this chance.

    The idea here is that strikes from a pony-based weapon–or fire from Spike–stir the target’s memories and awaken them from Sombra’s power. Personally, this reminds me more of having and curing amnesia with a bonk to the head. A classic cartoon trope.


    Still better than what the Storm King's army got.

    In the midst of all this combat, we get a small nugget of Optimus and Megatron’s history. Unlike G1, upon which I base a lot of my interpretations, this story features a more recent idea. Both leaders used to be friends. Though initially mentioned in a Michael Bay film, it was never truly explored. Instead, Transformers Prime made the most use of the idea that Optimus and Megatron started out as equals with a shared political goal. In time, one sought to reform Cybertron’s government while the other tried to tear it down. Events have escalated far beyond what either intended. 


    This is a surprising show of integrity from Megatron.
    I give it ten minutes.

    Why add this dynamic between them? For one, it adds a personal element to the war’s tragedy. That’s where the more recent entries to the franchise differ from G1. The 80’s were not big on moral gray. The Decepitcons were programmed to be pure evil and the Autobots–even with some characters flaws–were good. The two sides were always separate and distinct. In more recent entries, the line has blurred. The big difference is choice. Cybertronians chose which side to support and sometimes even changed sides. Makes me wonder what a Tempest Shadow and Drift crossover would look like.


    Always keep your receipts!
    Even in the apocalypse!

    A personal gripe is that we never get to see Fluttershy’s alt mode. At most, we see her from far away acting a a shield for Ratchet. Given that both Spike and Pinkie became firearms with vastly different ammunition, I figure Fluttershy can be a different sort of shield from Rarity. In fact, she might be the first shield in history no one wants to hit. 


    We're gonna have to workshop that name.

    A more story-related gripe is Sombra’s fate. As mentioned in the first issue review, Sombra has a history of demanding a cost even in defeat. Plus he is so evil that reformation and regular detainment haven’t been options. He’s been blown to “the ether” twice. I think it would have been more powerful and respectful to the character to have him go out in a final blaze. I don’t know if he could take anything away from the protagonists, but he’s been a big enough threat that the outcome feels tragically inadequate. Though he may have fulfilled the true purpose: sequel baiting.


    Rarity and Knockout open a joint franchise.
    I want to see this!

    Cynical as that last statement might sound, I’m all for another round of these stories. I have fun seeing the two franchises interact and in the case of the Transformers it’s interesting to see what elements they keep from the overall franchise. I don’t know if My Little Pony will ever reach that level of varied lore, but that’s a question that G5 might be able to answer. Here and now, I had a lot of fun reading this and think that this sequel set stands on par with its predecessor. There are some elements I don’t want to spoil here but will talk about next week with a retrospective. Give this story a read through and see how it might spark your own nostalgia or give ideas for other crossovers.


    Which is the more awesome image here?
    I just can't decide!

    I’m Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Silver Quill on Twitter