Transformers sometimes get a bad rap, but historically, the breeding ground for great storytelling in the world of Autobots and Decepticons has been in comic books. Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman conceived the lion’s share of what have become the basic cornerstones of the Transformers universe through Marvel’s Transformers comic in the ’80s and ’90s.
The current Transformers comics are produced by IDW, and while every series they’re currently producing is at the very least good, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: James Roberts’ Transformers: Lost Light.
Originally titled More Than Meets The Eye, the recently rebranded series tells the story of a ragtag group of post-war Cybertronians ostensibly on a mission to find the mythic Knights of Cybertron. That’s not what the book is really about though; it’s a story of freedom, redemption, romance, and family. It is equal parts hilarious and terrifying. It’s the best fiction ever associated with the franchise, and it’s not even a close race.
These are the 15 Reasons Transformers: Lost Light Is The Greatest Transformers Story Of All Time.
15. It Starts With The End Of The Autobot/Decepticon War
How do you begin crafting the best Transformers story of all time? You throw the basic premise of the series out the window. With the Decepticons vanquished and an uneasy peace at hand, the Autobots have the choice of doing their duty and rebuilding their war ravaged planet– or maybe knocking off in a space ship on a silly, open-ended quest. With Optimus Prime in a self imposed exile, the more stoic Autobots like Bumblebee and Prowl see it as their responsibility to get Cybertron back on its feet. They struggle with what to do with the surrendered Decepticons and the swaths of unaffiliated Cybertronians that are returning home as the fighting ends.
It’s sober, political stuff, and the crew of the Lost Light is having none of it. After fighting a seemingly endless war for millennia, this ragtag group feels like they’ve more than done their duty and our looking for new adventures. The proposed mission of finding the Knights of Cybertron is really just a thinly veiled excuse to find a new purpose besides fighting. This new optimistic, thrill-seeking ethos is inspired by an unlikely source…
14. The Best Version Of Rodimus Ever
The captain of the Lost Light, Rodimus is a ‘bot with a vision… and he’ll let you know just as soon as he figures out what that vision is. Finding the hard, thankless work of rebuilding Cybertronian society until yet another conflict inevitably arises painfully boring, he’s the instigator of the Lost Light’s mission. Rodimus (don’t call him Hot Rod, he really hates that) believes he’s destined for greatness, and to lead other Autobots toward greatness; he’s simply not sure in which direction greatness lies. He believes finding the Knights of Cybertron could be the event that finally unites his race, but he’s prone to tangential adventures and sometimes seemingly forgets he’s even on a mission.
Hysterically self-obsessed, Rodimus hands out achievement awards to the crew called Rodimus Stars, which are gold medals featuring his grinning face. He’s also the owner of shuttlecraft called the Rod Pod, which bears more than a passing resemblance to his own head. Despite his sizable flaws, Rodimus is still a fundamentally heroic leader who cares deeply about his crew. And what a crew it is…
13. Development of D-List Characters Into Fan Favorites
Remember when you were a kid, desperately scouring Toys ‘R’ Us for the newest Grimlock or Starscream figures only to find shelves overflowing with the mediocre toy of some character you’d never heard of? The affectionate term coined for such toys is “pegwarmers.” The Lost Light is practically overflowing with pegwarmers.
Part of Roberts’ genius early on was making a conscious decision not to lean too heavily on the established icons of the Transformers mythos. A lot of those characters are compelling, but they have decades worth of storytelling baggage and expectations. Taking obscure, little-loved characters that had largely been ignored by the pre-existing fiction and grafting complex, surprising personalities onto them provided the crew of the Lost Light with a genuine breath of fresh air.
There’s Tailgate, a diminutive, endlessly enthusiastic Autobot who accidentally slept through the entire war; Brainstorm, an absolute genius inventor who is just a bit too amoral to be wearing that Autobot insignia; and Skids, a highly skilled theoretician with some alarming holes in his memory. It’s a sprawling, eclectic cast, though a few characters definitely stand out from the rest…
12. The Relationship Between Chromedome And Rewind
Historically, romantic love has been difficult to properly portray in Transformers fiction. Not only are they big metal robots who don’t reproduce, they are also, with a couple of exceptions, almost exclusively portrayed as male. Roberts’ solution to this issue is both progressive and elegantly simple: it’s perfectly acceptable for two masculine Cybertronians to be partners. They’re known as a Conjunx Endura, essentially a spouse.
The primary example of this aboard the Lost Light is the relationship between Chromedome and Rewind. It’s almost never played as a melodramatic romance; it’s a genuine, quietly sweet, lived-in relationship between two characters who clearly can’t function without each other. They struggle through issues of mistrust, addiction, and genuine, horrific tragedy, but at the end of the day they can always lean on each other. It’s the most authentic relationship in all of Transformers fiction, and it’s paved a brave new path for telling stories about love with giant transforming robots.
11. Whirl, The Universe’s Most Dangerous Watchmaker
There’s maybe no more tragic figure in the Transformers mythos than Whirl. In the pre-war Cybertron, he was punished for defying his assigned function (more on that later) in favor of pursuing his passion, watch-making. Pushed around and left destitute for his societal transgressions, Whirl was forced to undergo the horrific empurata ritual, which removed his hands and face. He was made to do terrible things in the service of Cybertron’s corrupt Senate, including roughing up a bright, idealistic miner named Megatron, thereby souring the reform minded young ‘bot on the idea of non-violent political change.
So, yes, Whirl is more or less responsible for the entire Autobot/Decepticon war. This has understandably left him a bit unhinged. Prone to bouts of spectacular violence, Whirl was at one time a member of the Autobot special taskforce the Wreckers, but turned out to be too unpredictable for even that infamously amoral organization.
Unexpectedly finding himself on the crew of the Lost Light, Whirl has stumbled into something of an adopted family. He still has deep, dark issues. but he’s found something approaching a purpose among this group of misfits and outcasts. Still, he’s probably the last person onboard you’d want to provoke.
10. Swerve, The Pop Culture-Loving, Fourth-Wall Breaking Autobot
We are all Swerve. It’s hard to imagine anyone is happier to have the Autobot/Decepticon war behind them than the small, gregarious Autobot. He was never really cut out to be a soldier, and the idea of leaving the post-war world behind for an exciting quest was more than he could have ever hoped for. He quickly appointed himself the Lost Light’s bartender, the perfect job for an Autobot who has lots to say about everything, and is so desperate for friendship.
Lost Light is rarely lacking in levity, but Swerve is probably the closest thing the book has to a genuine comic relief character. While he’s never risen to the level of self-awareness of, say, Deadpool, Swerve has more than once directly addressed the reader, and has playfully expressed the sneaking suspicion that he might be a character in someone else’s narrative. He has strong, detailed opinions about Earth television. He is loved and loathed in equal measure by his crewmates, but they’d likely all agree the ship wouldn’t be remotely the same without him around.
9. A Version Of Ultra Magnus Who Is Not What He Seems
In the pantheon of legendary Autobot warriors, Ultra Magnus is generally right up there with the likes of Optimus Prime and Grimlock. Brave, selfless, and strong willed, Ultra Magnus could always be depended on when the going got tough. His war hero reputation is largely the same in the IDW continuity.
And yet, there’s something a little off about this Ultra Magnus. His altruism has descended into a bizarre obsession with the minute details of the most minor of rules; a crooked Autobot insignia is likely to unhinge him. He’s suspicious of virtually every member of the crew, perceiving his fellow Autobots as being a couple missteps away from becoming dangerous criminals. The most basic elements of humor utterly escape him. He is a seething ball of neuroses, and it is genuinely baffling.
And then Roberts explains why Ultra Magnus has become like this, and it’s such a perfect little reveal you kick yourself for not thinking of it. Without spoiling the twist, it’s a fresh spin on comic book legacy characters, a meditation on the pressures of expectation, and a bumpy journey toward self-acceptance.
8. Overlord, The Most Terrifying Decepticon Of All Time
If Autobots were to have nightmares, they wouldn’t be about Megatron or Devastator; they would be about Overlord. A particularly sadistic Decepticon, he’s what’s known as a Point One Percenter: his spark glows green, giving him rare and sizable power. Experimented on during the war by Decepticon scientists, Overlord was re-formed as a Phase Sixer, making him essentially indestructible.
If the Decepticons were going to impart such awesome power onto someone, they really should have picked someone other than Overlord. Lacking any interest in the Decepticon cause or universal conquest, Overlord just thoroughly enjoys slaughtering people. While he was a useful tool to Megatron for a while, by the end of the war he had largely become a violent liability, culminating in a confrontation with the Wreckers on the prison planet Garrus-9, where murdered most of the prisoners and Wreckers before being subdued.
7. The Scavengers
Imagine you’re a soldier in a universe spanning war that’s been going on for millions of years. You’re not a good soldier; there’s a decent chance you’re among the very worst. You’re in such a remote part of the universe that when the war ends, nobody bothers to tell you. You eventually figure out you’re on your own, and you were on the losing side of the war. What do you do?
That’s the scenario that faces the Scavengers, a group of absolutely anonymous Decepticon grunts. They have exactly one thing in common with the nightmarish Overlord: they have no real loyalty to Megatron or the Decepticon cause. They’re just trying to survive by whatever means necessary, dodging the gaze of more serious Decepticon outfits, and taking on surprising allies, like the brain-damaged Autobot warrior Grimlock. The book only periodically visits these Decepticon counterparts to the main cast, but the characters are just as fully realized and compelling as the crew of the Lost Light.
6. Its Sense Of Humor
Transformers is not really a franchise noted for its sense of humor. The Michael Bay movies have been known to lean on lazy toilet humor and even slide into some uncomfortable racial stereotyping that’s unfortunately played for laughs. The humor in the original animated series was, for the most part, found in its treasure trove of unintentional technical goofs.
Perhaps the single aspect that makes Lost Light stand out so prominently from other Transformers fiction is that it is properly, laugh out loud funny. James Roberts has often cited sitcoms such as Community and Cheers as influences on the book’s tone, as well as more comedy-inclined genre fare like Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who and the classic Keith Giffen/J. M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire run on Justice League International.
The book excels at knowing, winking meta-humor, as well as more straightforwardly witty dialogue. Roberts could probably be writing a great sitcom if he wasn’t busy writing a science fiction comic about transforming robots that’s also pretty much a sitcom.
5. The Revolutionary Artwork
While James Roberts rightly fields the majority of the praise for the book’s success, Lost Light wouldn’t be what it is without its stable of artists. The book was launched with the sublime Nick Roche on pencils, and Jack Lawrence has recently taken the reins to great effect, but Roberts’ true partner in this endeavor has been Alex Milne.
Milne got his start working on Transformers during the infamous period when Dreamwave held the license, ghosting for that company’s owner and self-proclaimed “superstar” artist, Pat Lee. If anything positive came out of the embarrassing, litigious Dreamwave debacle, it was Milne. His work brims with painstaking detail, and no one has ever had the ability to infuse life into robots the way he can. He has the uncanny ability to let his characters emote without ever veering into cartoonish excess. The book is as defined by his visual flair as it is Roberts’ meticulous plotting. His future on the title is, at the moment, a bit unclear, but it’s difficult to imagine reading these characters for an extended period of time without his influence.
4. The Secret Origin Of Shockwave
One of the most iconic Deceptions in Transformers lore, Shockwave is always portrayed essentially the same way: a cold, ruthless reptile for whom logic trumps all other considerations. He follows Megatron as long as it makes sense to him, but if he feels he’d be a better leader of the cause, he has no problem attempting to usurp him. The single yellow eye in the middle of his faceless head is one of the more unsettling Cybertronian designs.
While primarily set in the present day, Lost Light occasionally revisits events from the past– generally events on Cybertron before the war began that offer some insight into the approaching calamity. Perhaps the best of these stories is “Shadowplay,” a tale primarily about Orion Pax, the ‘bot who would eventually become Optimus Prime. Orion Pax discovers how corrupt the Cybertronian Senate is as he investigates a conspiracy and murder. Shockwave’s role in the story is not immediately evident, but by the final chapter his shocking origin is revealed, explaining a great deal about how the sinister Decepticon gained his ruthless reputation during the war.
3. Its Massive World Building
Historically, Transformers is something of a mixed bag with its world building. Many iterations will simply never address the reasoning behind the war or the intricacies of Cybertronian society, while others get so bogged down in the mythology that they end up contradicting themselves over and over again. The current IDW continuity has had remarkable clarity in this department, and nowhere more so than in Lost Light.
The political machinations of the pre-war Senate make the Autobot/Decepticon war seem not only understandable, but inevitable. Multiple religions are discussed, from the more mainstream believers in Primus to the followers of the Militant Monoformer Movement, who remove their transformation cogs.
Perhaps the most intriguing belief system is that of Functionism– the belief that a Cybertronians’ alt-mode determined their place in society. For example, if you turned into a helicopter, you weren’t allowed to be a watchmaker (poor Whirl). There’s a reason why most of the Decepticon movement started in the manual labor classes.
2. The Decepticon Justice Division
The Decepticon Justice Division are a group of extremists whose mission is to track down Decepticons they believe have somehow betrayed Megatron’s vision, and execute them in horrifyingly imaginative ways. They are, in their own way, the worst the Decepticons have to offer. As zealots obsessed with an arbitrary purity test, many of their targets don’t even know they’ve done anything wrong until they’re being pulled apart by Helex or Kaon. The group’s lineup occasionally changes, but they always keep the same monikers: the names of the first five Cybertronian cities that fell to the Decepticons during the war.
Led by the mysterious, pragmatically homicidal Tarn, the DJD have not been swayed by the seeming end of the Autobot/Decepticon war. In fact, they’ve doubled down on their mission, refusing to acknowledge the demise of the Decepticon cause until they hear it from Megatron himself. However, if they were to ask Megatron, they’d be in for quite a surprise…
1. The Redemption Of Megatron
Lost Light never tries to downplay Megatron’s transgressions; he is a mass murderer on an almost inconceivable scale. The book does give tremendous context to the events that led him to that path, and it makes him a sympathetic character before the war begins. Following the end of the war, after an uneasy alliance is struck between the Autobots and Decepticons to thwart a superpowered Shockwave, Megatron has a genuine change of heart when an Autobot sacrifices himself to save the Decepticon leader. After surrendering and submitting to a trial, Megatron joins the Lost Light crew in an effort to find the Knights of Cybertron and salvage his legacy, renouncing the Decepticon cause he founded in the process.
Understandably met with contempt and hatred by the largely Autobot crew, Megatron finds himself struggling to reconcile his centuries of rage-fueled conquest with the earnest reformer he originally set out to be. It takes the story in new, unexpected directions, and seeing Megatron bounce off the Lost Light crewmembers is never less than genuinely compelling. It’s an incredibly difficult high wire act, making the literal face of evil into, if not a hero, someone you can genuinely root for and care about. It’s the greatest feat Lost Light has pulled off to date, and a testament to its rightful position at the very top of Transformers storytelling.
What’s your favorite thing about Transformers: Lost Light? Let us know in the comments!
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