Transformers Escalation #1
Release date: November 2006
Number of covers: Five
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: EJ Su (pencils) John Rauch (colours) Chris Mowry (letters)
Rating: Art / Story
Synopsis:By Omega Steve
Megatron steps-up the Decepticon plot on Earth, while Hunter finds himself at the mercy of the Machination.
Our story begins explosively (literally) with a sports car being blown to bits by bazooka fire. But the incident is little more than a simulation - a training exercise for the shadowy human group known as the Machination. It has been keeping watch over the Earth-based Autobots and is aware their ship (Ark 19) is at the bottom of Lake Michigan. The moment for the Machination to make its move is almost at hand.
Inside the Ark, Ratchet has bad news for his human allies Verity, Hunter and Jimmy. It has been decided that the trio are to be returned home and will play no further part in Transformer affairs. A furious Hunter suspects the aloof unit commander Prowl to be responsible. Ratchet feels uncomfortable, and the move just confirms a lifetime's worth of rejection for Verity.
At the Decepticon command bunker in Oregon, Megatron is pressing Astrotrain for information about Ore 13 - a mysterious fuel source uncovered by Starscream some weeks ago. It was the reason his 'infiltration unit' broke cover and caused Megatron to come to Earth and take-back control. The Decepticon leader gives a briefing to his troops, warning them that there will be no further chances if they step out of line again, and then orders the initiation of 'phase two': it is time to activate the facsimiles.
Back at the Ark Verity amuses herself playing a computer game designed by (and starring) Sunstreaker. Jazz's holographic human drone appears to announce that the time to leave has come. Ironhide is to transport Verity and Jimmy, and Hunter will ride with a reluctant Sunstreaker. As they hit the highway, Prowl reports to the Autobots' leader Optimus Prime, who has come to Earth to take charge of the Ore 13 threat. It was on HIS orders that the three humans should be removed from harm's way.
Nearby, the Machination's mobile HQ has observed Ironhide and Sunstreaker and alerts its road units to close in. Remote controlled buggies exit from the back of the HQ and unleash small charges among the traffic, causing cars to swerve and collide. A smokescreen envelopes Hunter and Sunstreaker, and seconds later, Machination troops open fire with bazooka weapons that electrify Sunstreaker and Hunter, rendering them unconscious.
Ironhide swings into action, ramming cars out of the way in a desperate bid to reach his comrade. He arrives, along-with Verity and Jimmy, to see Sunstreaker reduced to a burning wreck and no sign of Hunter!
Wow, how's that for an opening issue? The Machination proves itself as deadly as it is mysterious, the Decepticons are on the move, Prime's set to respond, and to cap it all off we get a genuine honest-to-gosh cliff-hanger. Infiltration came in for a bit of stick from some fans for being slow, but I suspect there will be no complaints here. Following on from Stormbringer the series appears to be going from strength to strength and building into something truly epic.
There's so much to comment on that I hardly no where to start, so (ironically) let's begin at the end. I recall IDW hinting in summer 2006 that it was ready to kill off a human character if the fans wanted it. For the record I am not one of those baying for Verity, Jimmy or Hunter's blood, because I like the characters and I think you need some human interaction in a series set on Earth. If people want nothing but robots then the stories may as well be set on Cybertron. But having said all this it then appears IDW has carried through on its threat by taking out Hunter (and Sunstreaker). And while Sunstreaker can feasibly be repaired it looks like curtains for Mr O'Nion - or does it. The thing that niggles here is why the Machination would go to elaborate lengths just to destroy an Autobot. They could have taken Sunstreaker out in the middle of nowhere with no witnesses around, but instead they used the chaos of a busy highway. It makes me think there's more than meets the eye here, and most likely the pair of them have been captured and replaced with a smouldering replica Sunstreaker. However if Hunter is dead, it will be interesting to see the effect this has on Verity and Jimmy.
Ironhide's conduct in that incident also raises eyebrows. After all, he was prepared to ram cars out of the way and risk injury to innocent human life. It's a departure from the Autobot conduct we're used to for sure, and may be a sign that the modern-day bots are more battle hardened and accepting of collateral damage that their counterparts of old.
Many questions remain after the end of this issue - not least who the Machination is and who it works for. The obvious explanation is a secret branch of US intelligence, prepared to use questionable methods to defend the country from alien invasion. But just maybe it serves some other dark purpose? Either way I'd like some answers... and soon. Likewise, Megatron's comment 'release the facsimiles' sounds ominous and the reader can imagine an army of replicants ready to infiltrate human society at the highest levels. It's a new, more sinister approach from the cons to be sure.
Something that did strike me as out of character was the way Megatron let his troops off with a slap on the wrist after their mutiny. Maybe he needs them if he's to capitalise on the Ore 13 opportunity, but even so it seemed unusually soft for Megs. Even Starscream gets praise for the way he laid the foundations of their current course of action, and perhaps for that reason he's in a repair bay somewhere, recouperating from the kicking he got at Megatron's hands in Infiltration #6.
Some observations about the Autobots: Ratchet, Ironhide and Jazz seemed to have warmed to their three human guests. Sunstreaker says he hasn't but he has gone to the trouble of creating a computer game for Verity (albeit an egotistical one about himself) but it still suggests some feelings there. Jazz's hologram is a black guy, which I think compliments his character nicely (and he's even overcome the dodgy smile that seems to plague the Autobot holograms). Prowl is shown as the loyal assistant, prepared to be the bad guy to protect Optimus Prime from criticism, and I loved the scene with Prime seated in his chair commanding the war on multiple fronts. It illustrates the grand scope of the conflict in IDW and opens up possibilities for so many stories. Incidentally I suspect one of the 'heads' he's talking to, to be Nightbeat, perhaps before he undertakes the mission in his spotlight. And one of the others is surely Ultra Magnus about to track down Swindle another time saying "up to his old tricks again. I'm bringing him in". With all this going on, it shows the situation on Earth must be very serious if Prime has decided to allocate so much of his time to this one facet of the war.
Roll-on issue #2, I can't wait.