Sep 17, 2012

The First Ever Transformers Annual!

MTMTE Annual #1
cover by Tim Seeley.
Well I recently picked up IDW's  The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Annual 2012 and it struck me -- this is the first time Transformers has ever gotten an American-style annual! Sure, there's been a tonne of hardcover UK annuals over the years, but never an American-style 'big comic' annual.

So I was kinda excited for it.

The Annual is an oversized (40 page) book, which takes the bold move of actually having a significant plot revelation happen in it -- a part of the ongoing story from More Than Meets the Eye  is resolved here, which is really neat. It harkens back to the old 1960s Marvel comics annuals, which were just over-sized 13th issues for each year.

The unfortunate thing about it, though, is that it's really not very good.

Okay, maybe that's not very fair. At the expense of giving away my conclusions, I'll just say that this issue doesn't really feel bigger than a normal issue of MTMTE, and that's its main problem. Rather than feeling like a larger, more epic piece of this series we get a relatively mediocre regular issue, that just happens to have a bit more mythology than normal.

The plot here, written by James Roberts the series regular writer, is incredibly thin. There's little more to it than, "The Autobots arrive at a planet and discover a shocking secret". There's a B plot with Ultra Magnus (which is actually simultaneously the most interesting part of the story and the most frustrating) and some mythology revelations, but otherwise it's a very thin plot.

The really unfortunate thing is that most of the revelations that happen in this issue aren't new information for the characters involved. These revelations could have happenned at any time because all the characters who tell us the mythology were already WITH the main cast.

Still, it's not a terrible story, and it put me in mind of one of my favourite issues of the old Marvel Transformers comics -- #61 Primal Scream. This issue was written by Simon Furman and Geoff Senior and  was structured fairly similarly to this annual in that it combines action sequences with much larger revelations about mythology and ends with implications of a larger threat to our characters. There's also a very similar mixing of character moments, humour, and action; it's not surprising since James Roberts is highly influenced by Furman's run on the Marvel comics.

Unfortunately the art team of Jimbo Salgado and Emil Cabaltierra just aren't up to the task. They're no Geoff Senior. Roberts's script calls for moments of high action, moments of humour and moments of grandeur. Sadly, the art in this comic is dull, humourless and cramped. From the opening scenes the art fails to live up to what the script is trying to deliver, and it's really unfortunate.

This is a pretty funny page. Or it would
be if not for the cramped, humourless art,
and terrible storytelling...

There are some great concepts in this script -- but they're just not handled as well as they could be in the art. Fortunately the pay-off to one of the most brilliant concepts (Ultra Magnus smiling to save the day) is actually pretty good because the Ultra Magnus smile shot is pretty funny... but that's partly because the art is so stiff and grim everywhere else that Magnus' smile feels just as out of character for that art as it does for Magnus himself.

The most disappointing part, though, is that the moments of grandeur in the comic just don't look that grand. The pull back to show the broken crystal city is a particularly disappointing moment -- one that desperately needed to feel big, but just didn't.

Storytelling is an absolutely key component to comic books, and it's just a complete failure in this book. I found myself really wishing that the series' regular artist, Alex Milne, had been able to draw this annual.

It's all small details, but compare how much grander
Time Seeley's cover (above) feels just by changing the
angle, and the positioning of the other Autobots in
relationship to Metrotitan's head.

(Man, that's a weird place to be in -- I once rated Alex Milne as one of the worst Transformers artists of all time. Now, he's improved so much recently that I think I actually enjoy his art. It's not perfect, but it's definitely one of the aspects of the regular MTMTE comic I actually look forwards to.)

There is one really nice art moment in this book, though -- where Guido Guidi draws a flashback mythology sequence in his imitation Akin and Garvey inking style. It's neat, and I think an effective way of showing that this is the distant past.

So yeah, back to where we started, I guess. This annual isn't awful. It's just a big issue of the regular series, but with worse storytelling than usual.

--Andrew Sorohan
(Oh well, Transformers comics can't all be Primal Scream)

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