Transformers Infiltration #0

Publisher: IDW
Release date: October 2005
Number of covers: Eight
Cover price: $0.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: EJ Su (pencils) John Rauch (colours) Tom B. Long, Robbie Robbins (inks)
Rating: Art / Story

First appearance: Ratchet, Runabout, Runamuck, Ratchet, Thundercracker, Starscream, The salesman, Verity Carlo, Hunter O'Nion


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


Verity Carlo steals a computer and becomes a Decepticon target.

The first Transformers comic of a new era begins inauspiciously enough at a bus station in Phoenix, Arizona. A closer look at this most everyday of scenes reveals more than meets the eye. For in the parking lot is an ambulance, closely resembling the Autobot, Ratchet, and a sporty black car which could well-be the Decepticon, Runabout. They silently observe their 'target', a middle-aged salesman checking his palm-top computer at a bus stop. He is oblivious to the prying eyes, and also unaware that he is being closely studied by a homeless teenager, and thief, Verity Carlo.

She boards a Greyhound bus and takes a seat behind the salesman. As the vehicle weaves its way through the desert the man falls asleep, and Verity uses a pen knife to stealthily slice open his leather bag. She removes the personal computer, and slightly-rancid bagel, and feigns illness to persuade the bus driver to let her out. Verity makes her escape and studies the stolen Ultralite SM-40 notebook, excited about the prospect of rejoining her online community. She fails to notice Runabout and Runamuck passing by in pursuit of the bus. Whatever could they want?

An unseen Decepticon issues an order "find it", and we then see Verity in the passenger seat of a Volkswagen van. She has accepted a lift from oddball conspiracy theorist, Hunter O'Nion, who believes giant alien robots have secretly invaded the Earth. Verity is not sure what to make of Hunter; he seems genuine but there is something strange about him. When he slams on the brakes without warning, Verity freaks out and raids her bag for two cans of mace in anticipation of an attack. But Hunter points to the distance where the bus we saw earlier has run off the road and is smoking.

The driver tells Hunter that everything is okay and the bus company is sending help. So he continues on his way with Verity, showing her a flyer he made alerting people to the giant robot threat. She finds it all very amusing until the huge, intimidating form of Thundercracker roars overhead, barely 30ft above the van. Verity accuses Hunter of straying into a military range, but he knows better - they have just been scanned by the seeker jet - and he is swinging around for another strike.

Hunter and Verity hit the deck as a missile destroys the van. Helpless, they run for their lives as the ambulance from earlier appears in the distance. Twin gun barrels emerge from its roof and blast Thundercracker into a spin. The driver, who appears not-quite-human, tells them: "If you want to live, come with me."

******

Comments:

When Dreamwave went bankrupt at Christmas 2004, it seemed likely that Transformers fans would be deprived of their comics fix for some time to come. Fortunately IDW stepped in and secured the rights, and ten months later issue #0 hits the stands with a special introductory price, and a ridiculous amount of variant covers. The trouble at first glance is that there doesn't appear to be any Transformers in this opening instalment - well, no robots at least, unless you count the obscured shots of Starscream.

Actually it's not as bad as it seems, because writer Simon Furman is actually implemented a measured and patient strategy. In a world apart from the big, bold Dreamwave approach, he's decided to get back to basics, and rediscover the core element of 'robots in disguise'. So there's no rush to show us a robot mode, and in fact we are going to be forced to endure an excruciating wait until the final page of issue #1. This is a risky strategy because not all fans are patient, and some will have been put off by this slowly-slowly approach. But it does allow the writer to showcase more of the TF's alt modes, such as Ratchet's concealed weaponry and (next issue) the Battlechargers' rolling attack forms. It's also makes a perfect sense that we shouldn't see many robots because if the Transformers revealed themselves they wouldn't be 'in disguise' or particularly effective at infiltration.

Interestingly this latest reboot appears to have ditched the established back-story of the Transformers crash-landing on Earth millions of years ago and awaking in the present day to resume their civil war. Furman has decided instead that the Decepticons made a conscious decision to come to our world, and arrived fairly recently, staying hidden and laying the ground work for their eventual invasion. The Autobots, likewise, are here to thwart those plans.

Ratchet is an interesting choice. He has always been a major character in the comics ever since Marvel US writer Bob Budiansky established him as the conscientious medic, forced to be a warrior, in early 1980s classics. Furman has taken him on and made him a loner and rule-breaker, who is prepared to break cover to safeguard human life, and appears quite capable of looking after himself in battle. This Ratchet is as much a warrior as he is a medic. The new ambulance mode looks good too, and I approve of the holographic driver (complete with inhuman smile) that he has in the driving seat. It is a nice tribute the dummy humans that Autobots used to have as 'fake drivers' in the Marvel days, and is updating the concept with technology more akin to the 21st Century. Likewise palmtop computers and references to the Internet also bring it bang up to date.

The Verity character is a brave move, and one which won't pay off with everyone. She doesn't start off as likable or endearing, especially as she's stealing a man's computer and preying on him like a scavenger. She's also quick to jump to conclusions about Hunter's intent, and somewhat annoyingly assumes he wants to jump on her - and in fact is puzzled when he makes no overtures in that direction. On the other hand we also get the impression that she is from a difficult background and it is possible we will later gain an insight into her troubled childhood that could sway our sympathies. She seems to like Hunter a lot more than her gruff manner reveals, but finds it hard to lower her guard. Finally we've got some mysteries such as who the salesman is and what is on his computer that is so important to the Transformers? What is Verity's past and how does Hunter know about the Decepticons?

There's a decent cliff-hanger to ensure that you'll be back in January (three months after this issue) to find out what's going on - and hopefully see some robot modes next time. The double page of Thundercracker looks awesome and really gives him scale and menace, but it's a shame that there are no clashes outside of vehicle modes. This series is going to play the longer game and not give anything up until it wants to. In doing so it has managed to restore a sense of mystery and wonder about transforming robots that no comic has captured since the early Marvel run. It's a shame Dreamwave folded with several stories unfinished, but I'd say we're in good hands with IDW.

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