Transformers Infiltration #1

Publisher: IDW
Release date: January 2006
Number of covers: 10
Cover price: $2.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: EJ Su (pencils) John Rauch (colours) Tom B. Long, Robbie Robbins (inks)
Rating: Art / Story

Characters: Jimmy Pink, Ironhide


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


Ratchet and his new human friends have been found by the Decepticons.

Hunter O'Nion is an awkward teenager on a mission to discover the truth. He believes the Earth has been secretly infiltrated by giant alien robots, able to transform into the likenesses of everyday vehicles and machines to blend in. Hunter believes their existence is known to the Government, and yet it refuses to inform the people, so it falls to him to spread the word through the internet. Our story opens with a page from his Mechatopia site, telling a fanciful tale about dinosaur-shaped mechanoids whose tracks were uncovered by geologists. Then we snap-back to the present moment where Hunter, along with a teenage runaway, named Verity Carlo, are inside Ratchet and travelling at breakneck speed.

Verity does little to endear herself to travelling companions Hunter, and a fake-looking 'human' at the wheel of the vehicle. She thinks Hunter is trying to put his arm around her and dismisses him as a geek, but its all bravado to cover-up her fears about this crazy, abnormal situation. After all it was only moments ago when they were being pursued on foot by the seeker jet, Thundercracker. Ratchet's speedometer indicates they are travelling at 65mph but Hunter reckons it at least three times that speed. Then the driver at the wheel distorts slightly, as though he were some kind of hologram given solid form. It could explain the slightly unnatural permanent smile.

Suddenly the trio has company in the form of Battlechargers Runabout and Runamuck, who zoom alongside and look like trouble. Ratchet, speaking through his holographic driver, asks if he can trust his new human friends, and then unfolds some sophisticated technology from his dashboard. It displays a 3-d map of the area with Ratchet and the Battlechargers displayed. A panel in Runamuck's side door opens to reveal an array of deadly missiles, and Ratchet takes action, ramming into the side of the Decepticon. He produces a weapon from his own side-pods, blasting the enemy at close range and inflicting heavy damage. Runabout unleashes his fire but Ratchet gains the upper hand, taking out his opponent with a sonic blaster concealed in his fuel cap, which explodes Runabout's windows. Thundercracker swoops down to attack from the air but is blinded by a release of toxic, heavy smoke from Ratchet's exhaust, and flees.

Having bought some time before the Decepticon self-repair and come back, Ratchet discusses with his new human friends where they can hide. Verity uses her stolen palm top computer (which she pinched from a travelling salesman in issue 0) and contacts an 'online friend', Jimmy Pink. Shortly afterwards they arrive at the 17-year-old grease monkey's garage, and following flirtatious banter between Jimmy and Hunter, they go inside.

Hunter, who has largely been ignored by Jimmy, wonders if they can trust him. Verity still hasn't decided whether she even likes Hunter and won't hear of it. But Jimmy and 'hologram Ratchet' are getting on well, especially as the youth is proving a natural at carrying out repairs. But Hunter is suspicious that Verity's computer is stolen and switches it on - little does he know that the Decepticons are looking for the device and can detect its signal once it's powered-up.

The computer reveals an image of Starscream, and Ratchet is about to explain who the Decepticon is, when Verity stomps off. She is unwilling to entertain the notion of an alien robot infiltration and goes outside, only to run back in terrified. The Decepticons have found them and suddenly the building begins to fall down around their ears. The Ratchet hologram orders them into the vehicle (his ambulance mode) and gets swallowed by rubble, only to reappear elsewhere a second later. The roof is ripped away to reveal Runabout and Runamuck, in robot modes this time, demanding the 'data storage device' to be handed over.

******

Comments:

The first comic from the new Transformers publisher has been eagerly awaited all winter, coming as it does, after the preview issue #0 in October. But if fans were hoping for wall-to-wall giant robot action they will have been disappointed. Furman, it seems, is intent on playing the long-game and unravelling this story bit-by-bit at a controlled pace. Apart from a reflection of Ironhide's head and small picture of Starscream on the palm top, he makes us wait until the very last page to see a robot mode. This is either frustrating or expectation-building, depending on your view and level of patience. I think it works really well and you get the pay-off shot at the end with the full page view of Runabout and Runamuck transformed and looking menacing.

Furman's choice to hold-off on the robots inevitably means more has to be made of the vehicle modes and other devices. I think this is a very good thing. In the past it has been standard procedure for Autobots and Decepticons to do battle in robot mode, but why shouldn't their vehicle forms also have fighting capabilities? I loved the lasers and various missile arrays emanating from Ratchet and the Battlechargers. It took me back to watching Knight Rider episodes as a kid and wondering how much kit (pardon the pun) could possibly be packed into one car. Likewise Ratchet's holographic 3d map was a nice idea and gives the impression of Transformers as highly sophisticated, multi-ability alien machines.

Talking of alien, the idea of giving Ratchet a holographic 'driver' was genius. Its roots were in the old 'facsimile humans' which Autobots were fitted with during the early Marvel run, to avoid suspicion. They were actual, physical dummies, but now the concept has been upgrade for the 21st Century with an innovative use of holograms. It provides a way for Ratchet to interact with the human characters in Infiltration without blowing his disguise; and the imperfections, such as the projection flicker and 'unnatural' grin, coupled with the technology/weaponry all help to create an 'alien' effect.

What comes through for me is that the comic is very much from the perspective of the human characters - Verity and Hunter. I'm sure this is deliberate. Through them we can wonder a-new at the concept and sheer scale of giant transforming robots. We can rediscover the alien-ness of these Transformers whom we have got to know very well in past series, and have become desensitised to. Plus for the first time I can remember, I actually appreciated how scary it must be to run into a Decepticon, with the high speed pursuit on the freeway to Runabout and Runamuck looming, 30ft into view at the end of the comic.

It feels as though Furman has given thought to redefining the characters to suit the visual redesign given to them by artist, Su. Ratchet is a different entity to the courageous, but largely inexperienced-in-war medic, whom Bob Budiansky magnificently created in the 1980s Marvel era. This truly is Furman's continuity; his chance to be in at the beginning rather than picking up someone else's plot threads, and he's going to paint the characters as he likes. Maybe this is just what the series needs to keep it fresh and different from predecessors. IDW/Furman's Ratchet is every bit as comfortable a warrior as he is a surgeon, and is clearly capable of handling a Decepticon attack from land or air and gaining the upper hand. He's also something of a maverick, a 'conscientious objector' he calls it, who disagrees with the Autobot policy of maintaining cover and keeping tabs on the Decepticons. He believes direct intervention is needed and is prepared to disobey orders to do it. This is indeed a very different Ratchet to Marvel and Dreamwave.

Overall it's a great start. Good characters, well thought out, and a nice mix of interaction/dialogue and action. Having built up expectations its time to deliver and I'd be expecting the pace to quicken in issue 2.

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