There's a lot to say about this one, but before I get too overwhelmed I might as well start with the best stuff from this issue, mainly the continuation of the worldbuilding from last issue. I really appreciate the focus given to the pre-war Cybertron setting in these flashback pages and getting even a tiny glimpse of what Cybertronian society/politics was like back then. I think it's safe to assume that Roberts put in much more effort compared to previous writers into creating a world that felt alive and lived in.
Now onto the main plot beats. The focus of this issue is clearly on Optimus Prime, both in the past and present. The focus is on his early days as a young, determined cop, driven restless by a burning desire for "justice" with an unwavering moral compass. At the same time, we also see him in the present as a conflicted, confused leader, grappling with uncertainty and self-doubt (something we'll be seeing MUCH more later on) as he deliberates Megatron's fate, unsure of the right choice to make. It's a pretty nice juxtaposition of his past as an idealistic cop, and his present as a conflicted leader.
With all that said, I do share the same mixed feelings about this issue, particularly on Orion Pax being a cop. My personal disdain of cops aside, I do prefer his more humble origins as either a simple dock worker or a data clerk. In general, with the negative public perception on cops in real life, this just seems like an unfortunate timing for such a choice in origin. But then, there's also page 5 of this issue showing him arresting what are essentially homeless people and addicts like you brought up. Yeah...not a fan of that.
To give fairness to this origin though, it's set in a different universe with its own re-imagining of the character. I think having him starting out as a cop works in establishing his sense of justice from the get-go. I really liked that part of the "Coptimus" origin, and it was super interesting to know that Roberts was once a cop himself. It's like you said, Roberts does such an amazing job writing Optimus/Orion as a badass hero cop that's it's easy to overlook the potential complications of that portrayal. So in the end, I don't hate the idea, I just personally prefer him with more humbler origins.
Now onto the last part: Optimus' iconic speech to the Senate. I'll admit, I was one of those fans who was astonished at that page when first reading it, slobbering all over the fact that we were receiving such remarkable political writing before us. Now while it's still one of my favorite moments from IDW (seriously though, I can't even describe the emotions I had when reading that for the first time), I find your analysis regarding the origins of Megatron's "3 questions" and its connection to a real-life quote to be completely fair. It's baffling to think that these questions were rooted in the words of someone who would later turn into a genocidal fascist himself. But then again, it does show just how far low Megatron fell before the war...so it's a pretty complicated topic, but one that I think you handled fairly.
Overall, this might just be one of the most profound issues in all of IDW Transformers, at least imo. It certainly is one of the most iconic. It's one of those stories that has left me contemplating its themes and implications long after reading it. So credit to Roberts where it's due, he certainly raised the bar high on this one. Costa's return in the next following issues may not reach the level that Chaos Theory did, but at least now we're finally at the turning point where Phase 1 is reaching its endgame. Thanks for the amazing write-up on this one Stuart, can't wait for what's to come.
Right, I’m going to get straight to addressing that big, blue elephant in the room, and dive straight into the issue of *that* panel. No, not the decorative arm cannons, the other one. The three questions one.
Now, I’m in what may well be a vanishing minority of people who still actually like that page, although I’m certainly not oblivious to its problems. For me, as someone who even as recently as 2011 wasn’t actually that knowledgeable about politics (and who still isn’t compared to some of the people I know now) I’d certainly not heard this quote before, and found it pretty powerful. And even when I learned it was just direct plagiarism that didn’t turn me off it at all. And I think for me the main thing is that it showed that, however flawed the implementation might be, these silly comics about space robots could also be about something, in a way that Costa with his clumsy use of Eastern tensions and radicalised Americans could only dream of.
It was also a pretty important panel for me, personally. At that point in my life I wasn’t sure what I was doing politically (aside from hating the Tories) and I wasn’t as fully vocal online about how into Transformers I was, because even though I knew that there was a sizeable fanbase of grown ups who should know better, I didn’t think that that was the right thing for me to be doing. It was only after I moved to Scotland in 2014, away from my close friends and family and into a quite active political environment (that was the year of the Independence referendum) that I realised that I could engage online with the things that I was passionate about, and that that could include both leftist politics and Transformers, that I didn’t have to abandon one so that I could engage with the other. It may highlight just how insecure and I was (and still am) about myself that it took a Transformers comic of all things to help me realise that, but nevertheless it did, and I’ll always appreciate that.
Which is, of course, not to say that this issue is without problems - “occasionally fumbled thoughtfulness” is a very good way of putting it.
The big problem, of course, is in those very socialist ideas coming from Megatron. Now it’s important to remember when revisiting these things that just because someone writes a character doing things doesn’t mean that the author thinks that the character’s actually right - they’ve just exploding ideas for character development and motivation. But it is all the same an odd message to suggest that someone could go from wanting to emancipate all peoples to becoming a ruthless tyrant. Although to be fair when you see how often people act against their own self interest you can see why someone might decide that peace can, indeed, only be achieved through tyranny. The big issue really is with the associated genocide…
But it’s a shame, because there’s an interesting idea in how a cop inside the system could be radicalised to change by the writings of a socialist writer outside the system, and the fall of that writer to the extent that the two of them end up swapping sides. There is something in there, but unfortunately the existing framework of the IDW Transformers universe at this point makes it a bit awkward and clumsy for that to be Optimus and Megatron, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get a bit more of a post-Chaos exploration of how that happened. (I know that we already had Megatron Origins, and we will get Barber looking into it a little, but it remains not entirely coherent.)
And yeah, Optimus beating up the homeless to vent some frustration does come across as a little bit awkward now, to say the least, but had that been part of a journey that he was to go on, with him figuring out the actual cause of the issues and repenting in some way, then this could be forgiven. But such, I guess, are the perils of writing long-running comic series that we never got to see that.
So yes, this is flawed, for sure, but in trying to be about something this still remains a very important entry in the world of Transformers fiction. And it’s a testament to just how much this last couple of issues has tried to do that I’m sure there’s more that I wanted to say, but can’t remember right now, so this’ll have to suffice.
Pedantic correction! The word 'Morphcore' appeared in Last Stand of The Wreckers #5!
Good recall, I'll try to remember to point that out next week.
Stuart Webb. Who knows everything about nothing and not a lot about that.
Action Force/G.I. Joe