August 30th 2010

More than meets the eye in the history of the robots in disguise

Transformers Exodus- The official history of the war for Cybertron

Written by Alex Irvine, Titan Books, Available Now

Review written by Gavin O’Reilly

When asked if I would look at this to review I jumped at the chance- I am a lapsed hardcore Transformer fan. I know that though this comes from the recent videogame the book is officially canon and endorsed by Hasbro themselves. How could I resist seeing how the war of Cybertron came about, with some old but shiny friends? A nostalgia trip for sure. I was a huge TF fan when younger, being a member of “Transfans” fan club in the early- mid 90s (a dark time for TF fans as they had lost their 80s heyday and were somewhat in limbo until “Beast Wars”). In fact, the size of my transformer toy collection came up as a topic of discussion at a recent childhood reunion- I hadn’t seen some of these people in 17 years! Somewhere along the line though, I lost my interest in all things cybertronian- I didn’t get into Beast Machines, and though I had the 1st issue along with everyone else of the Dreamwave comic, I didn’t follow on.  I hoped this book might rekindle my love affair, and though I didn’t mind the two films, they didn’t get me reaching for the comics or any other merchandise for that matter.

It has at least provided me with an enjoyable jaunt down memory lane.  The book starts slow with scene setting and historical explanations- some may find this a drag but it appeals to my nerdish hunger for imagined knowledge.  We learn of the humble origins of Orion Pax before he becomes the heroic Optimus Prime that most TF fans were introduced to as a hardened and masterful leader in generation 1. On the other side, we also learn the lowly beginnings of the bot that named himself Megatron. This is a tale of the relationship between the leaders of the war- and their relationship is a good deal deeper and more intertwined than anyone may have necessarily guessed.  It is nice to see some depth and context given to the childhood ‘Autobot=Good, Decepticon=Bad’ equation.  It is an ideological clash of free will against order that triggers the meeting of the two- does everyone have their place in a caste system, if not, do we face the paralysis of endless choice? How can society possibly guide itself with no structure? These are the base of the questions Orion Pax poses while sharing the initial dialogue with Megatron, who forcefully believes he knows the answer. While they agree to the basics of free will, it is the method in which to implement this into Cybertronian society that causes the chasm of a rift between the two which ultimately leads to the war. Sometimes the book lingers a bit long on these themes- the debate between Megatron and Orion Pax is engaging, but Orion Pax’s inner thinking fails to inspire. I would have expected Orion Pax to be at least a little more foolhardy than he is portrayed in the book.

I wanted a kick-ass Prime. Instead I got a young data clerk who is very unsure of himself and really, a bit of a wet blanket. Though I guess the point of freedom of choice is that someone can become whatever they like- but it seems odd that this Orion Pax bears little to no resemblance to Optimus Prime in spirit. It is nice to see his journey though, but I am left wondering why he did trust Megatron as far as he did. That was a mega-mistake- one we have seen Optimus Prime pay for dearly.  Megatron as a character is enjoyable enough, a bad-ass bot from the gladiatorial pits that inspires rebellion on Cybertron.  Though you can’t help but agree with some of Megatron’s points, it is his method which makes him much like the Magneto to Prime’s Professor X.

Megatron and Optimus Prime are examined closely as characters, but it is a shame that with such a large and stellar cast populating TF universe that more characters didn’t get fleshed out a bit more thoroughly. We get familiar faces for sure, but with the exception of Jazz on the Autobot side, and Soundwave, Shockwave and Starscream on the decepticon side, there is precious little character insight into the bots that really populate the war and are affected by the sociological dispute between Prime and Megatron.  Bumblebee, the fan favorite gets his moment, but I still feel a little empty without any further understanding of the characters and their motivations.  The lines between Autobot and Decepticon still appear just a bit too clean cut, and I want to know why.

After the initial history brief and scene setting the pace of the book picks up nicely. The breaking point comes not entirely unexpected but with a twist and a suitably grandiose setting for a scene that has dire consequences for Cybertron and its future.  Megatron and Orion Pax address the council regarding their issues before their grand council, and if ever there was a scene I would like to see on film or beautifully rendered visually somehow, this would be it. This is the moment when the leaders really come into their own, and it really is an exciting read from there on in. Even though we know the Autbots eventually arrive on earth, and we know really who survives, the “how in utter of God will they get out of this?!” factor is very much in the driving seat for the duration, as the Autobots face near impossible odds. We also have the fabled 13 referred to and dealt with more directly than ever before, which is an exciting indicator that the older mythos behind the transformers and their homeworld of Cybertron will be explored some more.

All in all, you might thinkthat a new reader would get much of a kick from this, but it may well be a perfect starting point. It is a good tale for fans reasonably new and those older, and definitely for those like me, happily returning to the fold.

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