Transformers: Micromasters #2

Title: The Gray Race
Publisher: Dreamwave
Release date: July 2004
Covers: Two
Price: $2.95
Writer: James McDonough & Adam Patyk
Artwork: Rob Ruffolo (pencils) Erik Sander (inks) David Cheung (colours)
Rating: Art / Story

First appearance:
Roughstuff, Detour, Slow Poke, Stormcloud, Mudslinger, Airwave, Powertrain, Highjump, Tailwind, Tote, Dropshot, Bombshock, Groundpounder, Greasepit, Ironworks, Hyperdrive, Blackjack, Swindler, Skyhopper


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


Roadhandler leaps the debris to cross the finish line ahead of Big Daddy.

Feeling tired and under-appreciated, the Hot Rod Patrol has walked out on the Autobots and is heading for Little Iacon when it bumps into the Decepticon Race Track Patrol. After a bit of sabre-rattling it transpires that both teams are fed-up with their respective armies and questioning the point of the unending civil war. They agree a truce and are about to leave together when the Deluxe Insecticons hover menacingly above them.

Big Daddy and the Hot Rods are defenceless, having left their guns behind when they stormed out of Autobase. Luckily Barricade's Decepticons are minded to show some solidarity with their fellow Micros, and take the fight to the Insecticons. They look doomed, until Groundshaker arrives aboard his large armoured vehicle and blasts the Insecticons, forcing them to retreat. The Hot Rod Patrol accepts his offer of a ride to Little Iacon, but the Race Track Patrol remains and is joined moments later by Shockwave.

The Decepticon leader invites the Micromasters to return to the fold, but they refuse and, after transforming to vehicle modes, they depart. Only one of their number remains and he is betrayed by Shockwave, and 'fed' to some evil-looking characters in a darkened cave.

Elsewhere, the Hot Rod Patrol learns that Groundshaker is a 'first-generation Micromaster' - a previously a full-sized Transformer who was shrunk to save energy. They arrive at Countdown's mobile fortress and go aboard, where Countdown explains the galactic scale of the Decepticon threat and attempts to recruit them (unsuccessfully) to the cause. He asks them to think about the offer and they get dropped off at a bar in Little Iacon, which is filled with Micromasters from both factions.

At the bar Big Daddy has a run in with the Autobot Roadhandler and agrees to race him. Pretty soon they are in vehicle modes at full pelt, with Big Daddy struggling to keep up with his more experienced competitor. Everyone is on the street watching the spectacle and taking bets on the winner. Big Daddy charges his engine and gains a burst of speed that temporarily puts him ahead, but he is forced to throw on the brakes to avoid debris in his path. Roadhandler reverts to robot mode at the last second, leaping over the rubble (and Big Daddy) to claim victory.

Elsewhere a shuttle enters Cybertron's orbit. It lands in Decepticon territory and Countdown's nemesis, Skystalker, and his lieutenant Skyhopper, disembark.

******

Comments:

After 20 years of Transformers stories it must be difficult for any writer to come up with anything truly original, but McDonough and Patyk have done just that with Micromasters. They have brought an underused and largely unknown cast of characters to the fore, and developed an intriguing premise: how would a group of newly-created, adolescent Transformers cope with being shoved onto the frontline of a millions-of-years-old war? Would they identify with the cause or have any common ground with their fellow Autobots and Decepticons? How would they feel about being forced to kill their former 'brothers' who have chosen a different allegiance, and wouldn't their doubts only deepen once the casualties begin to mount?

The writers have ramped-up the tension by having the Micromasters feel alienated by their so-called colleagues. They are ignored and put in their place by their superiors, and in the Decepticon camp they are treated as a joke and kicked about for amusement. It's no wonder that resentment is brewing, especially as they are forced to hold the frontline in the war by virtue of their youth and greater fuel efficiency. Therefore it makes sense that they should have formed an underground counterculture, presumably unknown to the other Transformers, where they can meet and socialise and wear traditional Autobots and Decepticon brands have no place. The race scenes between Roadhandler and Big Daddy are wonderfully evocative of human teenagers desperate to show off to their friends, and compete for status.

On paper the series has a lot going for it, but there is one big problem that is standing in the way of this becoming a true Transformers classic. The problem is that the series is so darn confusing. There are characters coming at you left, right and centre, with insufficient effort made to explain who everyone is. It is hard enough when you are unfamiliar with the names, to have robots popping up without introduction, and I just feel that a few well-placed and informative narrative boxes would have helped. It's not just the array of characters, there's also an issue with the art itself. When the Micros are battling the Insecticons the proportions are totally out. They all look the same size rather than the Insecticons being five or six times larger. I also dislike Rob Ruffolo's depiction of Shockwave with a chunky head and small, fat ears. I've seen a lot of artists tackle Shockwave and this doesn't look right.

We've got a few other unexplained events - such as why the Insecticons hover in mid air rather than attacking or saying what they want? Why has Shockwave sent them, and why does he feed that Decepticon Micromaster to the cave full of mystery robots? Are these supposed to be the Insecticons or some other menace? And how come there's a Dreamwave Prime and Megatron poster on the wall of the Little Iacon bar? Is this the production team having a bit of fun?

In the next issues it would be better for the writers to concentrate on developing a couple of main characters (Big Daddy, Barricade, Countdown and Skystalker) rather than pumping out new ones with a scattergun. But I do like how there are first and second generation Micromasters with different outlooks on the war. Countdown, Groundshaker and their Decepticon opposite numbers have a more serious outlook on the conflict than the teenagers, and if handled properly, Countdown versus Skystalker could take its place among the great rivalries (Prime v Megatron, Magnus v Galvatron, Fortress Maximus/Scoponok etc).

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