Thursday, 20 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Police Action


With the "Chaos" event folded into the main ongoing at late notice and with planned co-writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning joining Don Figueroa in fucking off Mike Costa was left juggling much of the closing days of the IDW ongoing, now stepped up fully to bi-monthly. He used alternate issues to tidy up the remnants of the Earth-based story threads which probably pissed a lot of readers off at the time, which is always a plus. Costa was probably used to fans' utter impatience with anything he did at this point and for once didn't buckle; it's strange how James Roberts is deified for taking a year to answer perceived flaws in his stories and yet Costa's versions of Spike and Prowl had morons apoplectic every month, desperate to have every little frame explained to them immediately. Arguably the difference was Costa tried to supplicate these idiots and cater to them. Or that Roberts is a dyed in the wool Transformers fan who spends most of his time talking about Transformers to people who like Transformers whereas Costa was a jobbing writer who'd rather have been writing X-Men or something and saw the title as a means to an end. But Transformers fans would never be so fickle and shallow; it wasn't like they spent years trying to have Bob Budiansky shot for not writing dark epics about Unicron or anything mental like that.

Anyway the "Police Action" thread served basically as a dumping ground for all the plots that required fans to give things a chance to unfold and I suspect the original issues were read by hardly any of the drones buying them. The main focus is Prowl and his attempts to uncover Spike's role in the death of Scrapper while the writer attempts to deal with readers who couldn't be bothered to wait to find out if there was a reason behind his character changes, what with the way no Transformer had ever had a radical inexplicable personality overhaul -  Grimlock didn't spent a chunk of the eighties being a gruff soldier and a buffoon with a crown at exactly the same time, for example. The explanation we actually get isn't too brilliant but that's perhaps because a Prowl who understands humans and cares for collateral damage isn't as much fun as the Peter St. John ultra-manipulator he'd been for, well, "Last Stand of the Wreckers" and a bit of "All Hail Megatron: Coda". It's clear from this arc that Costa always wanted to write him as a detective connected to humanity; it's a shame he didn't use Streetwise for it as it might have made for a better fit what with the Protectobot being all but a blank slate but then it's another attempt at character evolution, something that's never gone down well with Transformers readers. That it was more than a little fudged hardly helped, though there are worse reasons for this sort of thing than a character discovering they're not as much of a bastard as they think.

The other thread is Spike, who never really recovered from people mistakenly thinking he was meant to be William Lennox and assuming that his crass behaviour such as his womanising, reckless use of equipment and vigilante action was a badly written hero rather than a dangerous loose cannon promoted above his level of competence and making a series of bad decisions. It's a problem with comics in general that people demand realistic characters that are unrealistic; if a character does something stupid it's seen as the writer's stupidity rather than intentional stupidity on behalf of their fictional creation. Again the problem is that the actual resolution isn't especially satisfying, though it is amusing that Costa gets fed up with subtlety in the face of his readership and just has another character literally explain this to Prowl and the kids at home.

There's also some resolution to the random incident of Jazz killing a human and the aftermath, though again the problem is that we've not really been shown much of the character full-stop since 2006 so the intended jarring aspect of Mr Culturally Integrated salting the Earth and effectively ending the Autobot presence on Earth maybe for a while. It's a worthy direction to take on paper - who would be more disgusted by the underbelly of human behaviour than an Autobot who loves the best bits of Earth culture? - but there's just not the page count to do it justice and in this case it's Costa's fault. Like Furman his work has exhibited a complete failure to consistently pursue and work a thread of plot or characterisation without getting distracted by something else, meaning everything happens in bursts and ends up feeling trite because the writer can't articulate gradual changes and instead favours shocking revelations. Once again however Bumblebee is in the background, effectively ignored by everyone - as he wouldn't appear in the concurrent "Chaos" this is one last time Costa lets the character down after bravely forefronting him as Prowl drives the Earth-based storyline while Bumblebee feeds him the occasional prompt.

"Police Action" ends up no better or worse than most of Costa's work; it features some solid characterisation and some of the freshness that someone who obviously hadn't paid much attention to the comics before landing the job can bring but it also features a writer wasting time trying to wrestle the property into a place to tell their story and once again it's easier to appreciate the broad strokes of the storylines rather than to actually enjoy reading the comics.

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