Normally this would have some kind of really clever title, but I think I’m getting sick (again!) and this is an honest to goodness review, not one of my discussion posts (not that the two are really that separate?). Plus, “Starscream’s Legs” is probably not the most illustrative title this could have. But, below the cut, find a rather spoiler-laden review of an awesome issue of, and good jumping on and/or catch-up point for, IDW’s current Transformers comics. 🙂
Note: Oh, wow. This turned into kind of a lot about Starscream. Densely packed, well done issue though, so it makes sense. Extra kudos to John Barber and Sarah Stone. 🙂
This issue (and More Than Meets the Eye as a whole, although that’s another series for another day) almost slipped past my radar and I’m really glad it didn’t.
It primarily caught my eye because I finally had a lightbulb moment in the comic shop and realized Sarah Stone had done the art on it and that it was the comic that went with the really cool re-birth imagery I had seen floating around. And I then picked it up and flipped through and realized it had my personal favourite, Starscream, in it (and Sarah Stone Starscream at that), Windblade, and a lot of fun and playfulness mixed in what looked like as good a jumping on point as any for both RID and for IDW Transformers happenings post-Windblade.
After finally getting to give it a proper read-through this week, it has totally lived up to that expectation. And more, because I wasn’t quite expecting to get the lovely (and feelings-wrenching) treat of some Starscream-centric character exploration.
I really have to compliment Sarah Stone’s art here, because she not only draws really beautiful bots (which is a topic for another time, perhaps Comics Arts Conference Wondercon 2015? 🙂 ), but also gives a wonderful expressiveness to them and one that I think really makes writing moments like the scenes with Starscream work.
There is a lot of nice (and, honestly, rather sad) stuff with Starscream this issue and it really starts with the page I included above. I think it’s rare to get to see Starscream genuinely happy and that’s what we get here. There’s no faux moment of happiness so that Starscream can swiftly get kicked back down for a gag and, likewise, he isn’t reduced down to a crocodile tears bad guy either. He’s really, genuinely glad and it’s a rare moment of vulnerability for him. And it’s a moment of happiness (genuine or otherwise) that has nothing to do with plots and schemes to overthrow Megatron or that otherwise have to do with dastardly Decepticon doings.
And the rest of the issue makes it rather clear how much Wheeljack and Wheeljack’s friendship mean to Starscream and – if he can keep getting written with this much sensitivity and care and drawn with kind hands, I will be so freakin’ happy. Plus totally sold on not waiting til the next Windblade series to do more of the IDW Transformers comics, including the next event crossover thingie. And I have a Transformers Animated Prowl level of grumpiness towards events, so that’s no small feat. 🙂
Mulling over this issue and my favourite character quite a bit, It really seems like a key component of Starscream’s character is that he does genuinely care what others think about him and that he does have actual emotional and emotional intimacy needs. I will joke about him wanting to play Pretty Pretty Princess and win, and a fair bit of his character ‘is’ like that, across versions, but (and I’m trying to avoid turning this into a Starscream character thesis 🙂 ) simply being in charge and/or getting lots of things isn’t really enough for him. Starscream wants to be in charge, yes, but he also wants to be a beloved leader. And, I think, also really wants someone to personally like him and be close to him and or vice versa (I added that bit in because I think wanting someone to be close to can explain a lot of his staying with Megatron in various continuities despite the lack of returns and the levels of violence and abuse).
All of which helps to differentiate him from other characters, especially ones that he tends to get highly associated with (*cough* Megatron *cough*), and all of which also makes this issue feel like an emotional punch to the gut because it makes it really clear that Starscream ‘is’ like this ‘and’ that there is simply too much standing in the way at this point for him to get what he wants. He might, might be able to stay alive and keep Cybertron together (stay tuned to find out!), but he won’t get the kind of relationship he had with Wheeljack at one point back and Wheeljack can’t quite, and at Starscream’s own admittance/advice, shouldn’t, trust him.
This leaves him in a painfully lonely place, even though his friend is back and Starscream was as close as Starscream gets to bouncing with joy about that.
He’s also still the winner of a planetary-sized game of Pretty Pretty Princess, but it hasn’t gone as planned for him since the events of Windblade. Citizens are moving out of the city and we get to become painfully familiar, via Wheeljack, with exactly how unpopular Starscream as leader has become. It isn’t pretty (and involves much throwing of trash at Starscream’s pretty pretty alt mode, along with telling Starscream and his “Autobot friend” to go back where they came from) and also isn’t neatly divided across faction lines. Autobots and Decepticons alike are glaring at the two of them from doorways (I have to hat-tip to Sarah Stone for the great glow-y bits in darkness she does here and elsewhere in the issue), throwing trash, and yelling hateful and slur-y things at them as Starscream attempts to show his friend around the now unfamiliar Cybertron.
This is really a different kind of awful for Starscream because he is, unfortunately, very much used to being hated and despised (and abused), but more of in the context of the very very long Autobots versus Decepticons war. He’s not used to an environment in which everyone can at least agree on the fact that they hate Starscream and want him gone. And, as I already analyzed above, he actually cares what others think about him, so being happy as long as he stays in power and not caring how those he rules feel about him is not an option. Starscream is not Megatron (or any other Decepticon or former Decepticon). Starscream is Starscream and he wants to be a ‘beloved’ leader and to have some kind of friend and by the end of the issue it’s painfully clear that he is none, and gets to have none, of those things. He is achingly alone, cracking under the stress of trying to rebuild and protect Cybertron (and figure out exactly ‘who’ to protect it from – I’m trying ‘so’ hard to avoid spoilers about that), and he is far from done trying to lead a planet that, as of yet, still has him as its chosen leader, but does not really want him there.
And that ended up being a lot about Starscream, but the issue is, indirectly, a lot about him and a very humanizing (bot-izing?) side of him. The guy is stuck in a no-win situation and in a no-win situation that is vitally important to the future of Cybertron. And to future issues of Robots in Disguise. And the next IDW Transformers event. But this review is getting long so –
To close with, I just want to compliment the combined team of John Barber and Sarah Stone because this is my very first issue of Robots in Disguise and first non-Windblade issue and I felt so so welcomed and even catered to … which as a queer lady who likes comics (and robots) is a nice, but unusual feeling. Especially since I could figure out what was going on without having read Dark Cybertron ‘or’ having read this particular series before and now feel like I could actually start picking up the series (and eventual next event) on a regular basis and not feel terribly, horribly lost. ‘Or’ feel like I now know what’s going on but I have to slog through unrelentingly serious story and potentially inaccessible art (there is something glorious in being able to read the shrunken down pages of this issue in my blog writing interface, minus the text bits, when I can’t read some comic pages full size and in a physical copy).
I know Sarah Stone was only guesting on this issue and from what I’ve absorbed from the internet, it seems the series doesn’t normally have quite this touch of playfulness and humour that makes the dense, serious story so very enjoyable and accessible, but I’m also really hopeful about it ‘and’ interested in picking up the next issue. So good job. Very good job indeed. 🙂
And, as always, all images belong to their respective copyright holders and are used for review purposes only. Also because Sarah Stone is amazing with faces, including ones that are partially obscured/less “human” looking than others (I’m looking at you, super-expressive but bandaged-face-d Wheeljack!).