Transformers Escalation #6

Publisher: IDW
Release date: April 2007
Number of covers: Two regulars, two incentives
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: EJ Su (pencils) Zac Atkinson (colours) Robby Robbins (letters)
Rating: Art / Story


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


A supercharged Megatron withstands the Autobot bombardment, but who's that behind him?

Optimus Prime, noble leader of the Autobots, and his age-old enemy Megatron have fought each other to a standstill in the frozen wastes of Brasnya. It may have been the first time in centuries the pair have met in face-to-face combat, but Megatron took no chances and had stacked the odds heavily in his favour by absorbing the superfuel Ore 13.

Now, as the Autobots - Hardhead, Jazz and Wheeljack - look on in horror, the Decepticon stands triumphant over Prime's lifeless body and exclaims his victory. Hardhead, choked with fury, transforms into tank mode and lets Megatron have it. If it's too late to save Prime, he can at least avenge him.

The smoke clears and Megatron emerges unscathed and clearly relishing his moment. Commander of the Earth-bound Autobots, Prowl, radios his men to fall back and moves to join them, leaving Hot Rod to babysit their valuable hostage, the Decepticon facsimile Georgi Koska.

Meanwhile reports of Prime's death may have been exaggerated, but only barely. In the moments before Megatron extinguished his spark, Prime has uploaded himself to his trailer section, a difficult but necessary move. As he's downloading he languishes in Limbo, a place between life and death, and alarmingly he feels the presence of another.

At Fort Wayne, Indiana, Ratchet and Ironhide face a race against time to rescue Verity and Jimmy from a Machination bobby trap. The pair had gone to investigate a car parts store, which was actually a cover for a secret underground base and ended up getting gassed. Ironhide's hologram goes in after them and enlarges himself to 10 feet tall to lift them through a gap in the roof that Ratchet has drilled. The humans and Ratchet escape with seconds on the clock and then the building erupts in a massive explosion that leaves Ironhide (and two arriving police cars) trashed.

Back in Brasnya, Prowl instructs his troops not to engage Megatron at close range. Instead they will utilise his weakness, lack of speed, by firing continuously and falling back. The strategy is effective, forcing Megatron to expend his new energy and keeping him distracted. Optimus Prime uses the moment to his advantage, approaching Megatron undetected and then blasting him in the chest at close range. The Decepticon collapses in defeat, and in a dramatic role reversal is now at the mercy of his enemies. But at the last moment Skywarp swoops down and collects him.

Moments earlier, Hot Rod came under heavy attack from Skywarp and Thundercracker as he was waiting to transport up to Ark 32 in orbit. Nightbeat radios Prowl to report that Hot Rod arrived badly damaged and has had to go into a CR chamber for repairs. However Koska, whom the Autobots went to great lengths to capture, copped some flak and has been reduced to a puddle of genetic slush.

In epilogue, we drop in at Machination headquarters in Tampa, Florida, where Hunter O'nion, fresh from surgery, is brought before Dante and the mysterious head. The youth wants to know what they've done to him but is given no answers, and then he sees lines of headless robots built in Sunstreaker's image!

We also stop by Skywatch HQ in Washington DC where 'men in black' types have Ravage and Laserbeak in chains and are due to take possession of Shockwave and the Dynobots, so recently uncovered in an archaeological dig. And finally to the Decepticon stronghold, where Megatron emerges from his energon bath, still seething at his latest indignity. He will summon reinforcements and devastate the Earth... Astrotrain is given the order: summon Sixshot!

******

Comments:

Twists, turns, blazing gun battles, triumph, and disaster: overall a fitting conclusion to the Escalation story arc and a suitable beginning for the next one. Fans reeling in horror at the demise of Optimus Prime, will have been punching the air to see him back on his feet so soon and striking the decisive blow in the fight against Megatron. Though outgunned on this occasion, Prime has outwits his more powerful opponent by out-thinking him - faking his death and re-entering the fray at the vital moment.

The explanation of how Prime cheats death may be a little predictable, and certainly there were readers who sussed it out ahead of time, but I loved it for the way it utilised the trailer section. Suddenly this huge lump of machinery, that usually does nothing except teleport in and get dragged around by Prime, has a function and becomes a powerful tool in the Autobot leader's arsenal. Just as Roller's talents were showcased in issue 4 when it blasted Blitzwing, this time it is the trailer section's turn to shine.

Prime's experience in the Limbo realm provoked new questions; who or what was the being he encounters and what was its significance? The mystery figure looked a little like Soundwave or Nemesis Prime, but Optimus said it knew him and vice versa so perhaps it is a Prime from the distant past. Although it's not explicitly stated, it seems possible that this is another encounter with the 'dead universe' mentioned in Spotlight Nightbeat, and where Galvatron inhabits. An upcoming Spotlight will hopefully shed a little light on the matter as will TF Revelation, when we finally see this.

Slightly amusing was Megatron's evolution into a Godzilla-type monster, able to breathe fire. It effectively illustrates how utterly unstoppable he is with this new superfuel coursing through his circuits, but of course as we saw in Stormbringer if a Ore-13 Transformer is driven hard enough he'll deplete the Ore and collapse. Following his defeat it's like Megatron's pride is hurt. The logical thing to do is to refuel, regroup, and come up with a better strategy. Instead he's on the phone to Sixshot to come and destroy the whole planet. At the time of the Sixshot Spotlight there were criticisms that the story felt detached from the main continuity, but at last we're seeing how it all fits. The spotlight introduced us to Sixshot and the Reapers and thanks to that issue we all understand the threat they pose.

A couple of minor gripes: firstly the Machination. Escalation started with them making a bold move, and I had every hope that we'd at last discover who they were and what they were up to. Instead there a more hints, some major questions thrown at us (like the Machination head, the purpose of Hunter's op, and the Sunstreaker headmasters) and we're told to wait until TF Devastation. Especially as Hunter appears on the B cover to Escalation #6, looking like a Borg refugee and zombified, and I immediately thought he was being used against the Autobots perhaps in direct combat. But on reading the issue nothing like that actually happens. He's fresh from his operation but apparently no different to before.

Likewise the subplot of Verity and Jimmy investigating the Machination workshop doesn't advance particularly far, except for the discovery of a workshop, a business card, and a rather dramatic escape. However it was enjoyable to see yet another capability of the Autobot holograms, when Ironhide's doubles and triples in size. His rather nasty demise injuries at the end look like he'll be out of action for some time, and possibly even captured by the human authorities, namely Skywatch. Ratchet of course is powerless to intervene without revealing his robot form.

A final point, about Hot Rod. I loved the frustration felt by him in getting left minding the proverbial baby when he'd rather be in the thick of the fight. He takes a heavy pounding from the seekers, but crucially the Decepticon facsimile Koska is intact at the point of transport. Next thing Nightbeat is reporting he's been reduced to a puddle of protoplasm after "taking flak". It doesn't ring true and makes me think it's Nightbeat playing saboteur, perhaps even unconsciously, after having devices installed in his brain by Galvatron.

So its on to Devastation in the Autumn with the promise of Sixshot and the Reapers on Earth, the Machination's plans revealed (hopefully), a new faction on the scene in the form of Men In Black 'Skywatch', and Nightbeat playing the enemy within. Phew! It's going to be a long summer.

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