Not long ago James Roberts relaunched his acclaimed Transformers series as Transformers: Lost Light. Since then he’s teased an army of Sparkeaters as the series’ final threat, returned us to the Functionist Universe and seen it off, revealed Rung’s purpose, removed Megatron from the series, and revealed the Guiding Hand and the Knights of Cybertron as the myths they are.
Somewhere James Roberts is having a well deserved laugh.
With only a few chapters left in his tale, Roberts shows no signs of slowing down, not in general and absolutely not when it comes to the big, crazy reveals that he seems to preternaturally capable of seeding and sprouting. Unless they’re undone or clarified by subsequent issues, this week’s revelations are arguably the biggest and craziest of the series.
There’s definitely a sense that we’re coming up upon the end here. Just like the crew, we readers are floating in threadbare space. The quest is over and there’s something unsettling about that lack of forward motion. Roberts plays upon this by presenting twin threats, one that visually and metaphorically tears its way through the center of the story and another that closes in from the edges of the entire series. The result is a finale that not only ties together an impressive amount but actually juggles the two sides of the series – the quest-based plotline of season 1 and the looming shadow of Functionism that became integrated into Megatron’s arc in seasons 2 and 3 – with remarkable naturalism.
But that’s not to say that this issue is structurally pristine. More than any other issue, “Return of the King” finally succumbs to the pressure to wind down the famously complex device known as Transformers: Lost Light. Put simply, there just isn’t enough time to explain everything and do it naturally and, while Roberts has done an admirable job of spacing out which issues took a hit and how noticeably, this one bears a greater burden than its brothers, possibly in the hope that she sheer scope of new information helps to ease the more pragmatic writing. There’s plenty of instances of infodumps, telling rather than showing, and quick flashes of character that have to be put away before they can fully bloom and, most obviously, the Grand Architect just loves to explain things, even though his ability to do so is contingent upon him having been deeply private for years if not centuries. And, of course, this effect is emphasized by a couple of, very necessary splash panels that compress the issue even further! The compromises are many, even if, to Roberts’ credit, I’d still happily call the writing more subtle than many comics and greatly more enjoyable than most.
A prime example of a scene that feels like it almost certainly would have played out differently had the series had more issues is actually also one of the loveliest moments in the issue. As Megatron discovers a wounded bot, he pulls a Rung and talks to him, giving us a quietly beautiful example of parallelism between the two, even if it’s undeniably rushed. One imagines that this might even have been a full b-plot in another issue, rather than a touching vignette that, frankly, either depends on Megatron having attained an incredible level of skill off panel or obscures the reason for recovery in order to show off Megatron’s new toys. Still the idea is wonderful and the image of Megatron and his portable apothecary is too deeply woven into the core of this series not to do something to a reader’s heart. What’s more, between Roberts’ insistence on including it and the perfect click of the logic, it really makes you wonder how long this scene has been in the works, if and how much decisions made in season 1 were done for this payoff.
One other element affected by the series’ truncation that I can’t help but wonder about is the role of Tyrest. Regardless of how he plays into this latest intrigue, there’s no denying that Tyrest is a changed bot from the one we saw in “Remain in Light”. It’s been on my mind ever since Tyrest mentioned that he was physically repaired last issue, but the sudden disappearance of Tyrest’s religiosity, and, by extension, his mental illness, is odd for this series. With the world-shaking revelations of this issue, it becomes clear from Tyrest’s responses that he is acting in a fundamentally different way.
Mental illness is one of the key themes of Roberts’ run and, at this stage, I genuinely trust him to give it the thought and respect it deserves but rarely receives. So, even though Tyrest’s original descent into full-on genocide coincided with a brain injury, it’s surprising to see Tyrest ‘repaired’ in this way, especially with no signs of the preexisting issues with guilt and self harm that the character was presented with. It’s entirely possible that Roberts simply felt that everything he had to say about that side of Tyrest was said back in 2013, but it feels out of character for him and the series, making it seem all the more likely that it would have seen more exploration if Roberts had a dozen or so more issues like he anticipated.
But if it sounds like I’m harping on the negatives, trust that that’s largely because of the incredible spoiler potential of this issue. Suffice it to say that The Functionist Council’s final strategy is a brilliant inversion of a classic Simon Furman concept that’s become foundational to modern Transformers and, lest anyone think for a moment that the kind of critical plot movement could distract Roberts from his characters and their foibles, there’s a quick but incredible Pharma moment that will quickly disabuse you of that notion.
Brendan Cahill is the latest in a series of guest artists to pop in on Lost Light near the end, bringing his smooth, hawk-nosed style back to Team Rodimus. Cahill’s been around for some of the Lost Light’s most critical moments, but somehow his stylistic particularities are more noticeable this month. It takes a moment to acclimate to Cahill’s look, one that is perhaps a bit distracting at this highly serialized point in the story, but different is hardly lesser. Cahill may have a slightly more different flavor, but it still suits Lost Light naturally and he’s great at communicating the big emotions of the issue.
Another particular strength of Cahill’s is knowing how detailed to be. Cahill’s panels are, by default, uncluttered, but that can make a bit of detail go a long way. Tiny lines like those around Megatron’s eyes or Rodimus’ crest can turn a simple expression into something decidedly particular. And Cahill knows not only where such small details are important but where they’re superficial as well. Though some may not care for it, compare the impact of a small line in a bot’s face and the choice to neglect drawing one’s altogether in a wide shot. And, of course, if we’re talking about detail, it’s impossible to even consider this issue without touching on the significance of scale. I’ll not say much, but the use of line weight and the care taken to ensure that detailing doesn’t become business for its own sake is highly impressive.
Cahill is once again working with frequent collaborator and current series colorist Joana Lafuente. Despite the tried and true relationship between Lafuente, Cahill, and Lost Light, there’s something different about the colors in this issue. Perhaps it’s just a lighting effect used in several locations, but the overall color of the issue is a little flatter and a little more pastel than Lafuente’s usual electric saturation. I don’t mind it, it’s actually kind of a cool look, but it does exacerbate that period of adjustment that I mentioned earlier. Still, if you want piercing, deeply human optics on your Transformers, there’s perhaps no one better than Lafuente and that remains the case.
This issue is huge. James Roberts had – and has – an enormous amount of maneuvering to do to prepare this series for its finale, and Lost Light #22 not only took on a disproportionate burden towards that end but made it feel epic. The art and reveals truly sell how massive the events of this issue are.
There is significant exposition that is only partially integrated and numerous compromises made to balance the loss of a dozen or so issues, but, despite the obvious strain that the issue is operating under, its core enthusiasm and personality shine through its responsibilities to the narrative. Lost Light’s positioning for the final stretch is one of the more impressive and complete distillations of a series that I’ve seen, calling on a shocking number of the myriad threats and themes that have defined the book over its six year run.
Transformers: Lost Light #22 is not a book to hand to a new reader, but it is absolutely an issue that will make people go back to the beginning and read the entire series, whether in a desperate search for clues or for the very first time.
Transformers: Lost Light #17 is currently available in comic shops from IDW Publishing.