When you’re as rightfully renowned as James Roberts’ Transformers, nostalgia can become a dangerous enemy. This ongoing story has been running since 2012 and has not only brought Transformers comics to new highs of respectability and readership, but answered a desire for very particular stories, beautifully told. All this is to say that, despite the incredible consistency of this series, this one feels particularly like classic MTMTE.
Whittled down to eighteen bots and housed aboard an enlarged Decepticon corpse that should normally hold one body at most, the crew’s feeling of being in close quarters permeates the issue, appropriately titled “Sardines”. The scripting crams a huge amount of content into this issue and gives us brief but meaningful spotlights on a handful of beloved characters. Weighing how much Ultra Magnus has found peace versus how much he’s retreated into his old persona is fascinating and Roller’s outrage is hilarious in its extremity but very much justified (though what he was thinking mass shifting in such close quarters is beyond me).
The main plot concerns a prank war between Lug and Swerve that uncovers a threat to the ship. The resolution is not what you might expect and its long term implications could easily be nil, however, it’s actually a lovely look at how fractured Team Rodimus has become. This issue shows bots sectioning off. Chromedome and Rewind ‘canoodle’ in what relative privacy they can find, Nautica and Brainstorm amuse themselves with whatever inventions he has on hand, and Lug and Swerve trade tricks and traps. The whole thing escalates because Lug doesn’t know Swerve’s hangups the way the rest of the crew does and it almost leads to a death. Oddly enough, the only bot who isn’t isolating themselves is Whirl!
So, as Lug and Swerve draw the spotlight their way, Cyclonus, Rodimus, and Ratchet deal with deeper problems, and these are all fantastic.
Transformers helped to cement the one-note characterization among children’s programming with its massive cast and repeated voice actors, but MTMTE is all about how no one is just one thing (no pun intended). So while it’s easy to define red Rodimus as all ego and id, and cool Rodimus as pride and vengeance, this issue very efficiently reminds us that he has a softer side, one that has been tempered by command and that coexists alongside both of those other personas.
With Ratchet suffering from two, presumably interrelated, conditions and Tailgate’s fate back in the mix, any returning reader will be deeply engaged in the widening mysteries of the series. Sifting out what elements are red herrings, fan service, short term concepts, misdirects, and seeded plot threads is an enormously satisfying reading experience, and all of it has emotion and primacy regardless of which category it falls into. Even things that are theoretically small, like a barb from Cyclonus to Chromedome, feel extremely meaningful and like they could lead to big things for the series. The only thing sharper than the excitement of all of this is the torture of seeing that some of the issues raised here won’t see further exploration until after the next arc. How did James Roberts make me sad to have two months of Scavangers adventures!?
It’s perhaps not surprising that this issue packs so much classic MTMTE charm when you see that it comes from the classic team of Alex Milne and Joana Lafuente. There’s no one who can render the sheer density of ideas that Roberts brings to this title like Milne. What’s more, it is, as ever but decidedly more so in this particular instance, just deeply impressive how legible Milne’s work is considering the narrow margins he allows for breathing space in his compositions. Admittedly, there are a few moments, especially as tensions rise, where the close quarters of the ship seem to get the best of him and an action will be somewhat harder to follow than usual, but the characters remain crisp and the story easy to follow throughout. Props to Lafuente for her part in keeping the dense crowds distinct not only from one another but from their surroundings.
There’s also a lot of great expressiveness from the characters. You always know exactly what each panel is trying to express and, more than that, they get you excited about the characters, helping the reader share in their enthusiasm.
Milne’s representation of Cyclonus, in particular, deserves praise. The degree to which single panels capture the flatness of his affect, the sickly creep of his self-disgust, and the depths of his impotence in the face of his own emotions elevates his actions from effective cliche to pathology. Watching Rodimus’ reaction is just as effective.
Lost Light #13 is a high-intensity dose of what this series is all about. Though what it does for itself is actually pretty limited, it is undeniably effective, and then, like a shotgun shell, it explodes into a hail of fascinating plot threads, traveling forward into the series’ future. The return of a classic art team bolsters the issue and reminds one of the history that these characters share. Issues like this remind me why Transformers: Lost Light is not only a series that I will still love years from now, but one that is an absolute blast to read every single month.
Transformers: Lost Light #13 is currently available in comic shops from IDW Publishing.