TF: Megatron Origin #1

Publisher: IDW
Released: February 2008
Number of covers: Two (plus incentives)
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Eric Holmes
Artwork: Alex Milne (pencils) Josh Burcham (colours)
Rating: Art / Story

First appearance: Senator Decimus, Sentinel Prime, Rumble, Frenzy


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


The closure of the mines where Megatron works is all the excuse he needs to kick some ass.

The story opens long ago when Cybertron was still at peace. A grand looking shuttle carrying the Autobot senator Decimus touches down at the mining outpost C-12, where he has bad news to impart. Protocol dictates it must be delivered in person but some on the senator's ship are nervous.

Miles below, hulking mechanoids toil to extract raw energon from the planet's crust. It is unpleasant, gruelling work, and the miners are tired and low on fuel. Most feel downtrodden and helpless, except for one: a brute of a worker called Megatron, who for some reason has a glint in his optics.

Senator Decimus tells the assembled miners that the facility is no longer economical and is to be shut down. His attempts to reassure them fail and the mood turns ugly. One vocal crowd member hurls insults and is attacked by an overzealous Autobot policeman with a high-voltage weapon. The worker's faceplate is melted off and a riot ensues.

Decimus tries to regain control and gets an axe in his shoulder for his trouble. Megatron beats a security guard to death with his bear hands, covering his face and hands with his victim's oil. He stares at his 'bloody' hands aghast, while somebody drags the senator to safety and the rebellion is soon violently put down.

Sometime afterwards Megatron and fellow rebels are on the prison transport Longshot on their way to a penal facility. Two small prisoners (possibly Rumble and Frenzy) cause a diversion and Megatron attacks the guard, then the prisoners gain control of the ship. They open fire on Senator Decimus' vessel which is escorting them and leave it crippled in space. Megatron explains the strategy: had they executed the senator the full resources of the government would be focused on hunting down and destroying them - instead they are out searching for their missing people, allowing Megatron and company time to disappear underground.

Elsewhere Prowl brings the matter to the attention of a rude and slightly disinterested Sentinel Prime. Little does the military chieftain realise that this crisis is not destined to be a minor passing storm.

******

Comments:

So to Megatron Origin, a series which should have been a real triumph for IDW and probably even the publisher's answer to the War Within, but it's ended up a confusing mess.

The story is by Eric Holmes, a computer games designer from the UK, and a relative newcomer to comics. He came up with the concept (actually very good) for a Transformers story set on pre-Civil War Cybertron which would explore the beginnings of the Decepticon movement and Megatron's rise to power. It must have sounded a tall order, but IDW boss Chris Ryall liked the idea and gave Holmes his shot.

Dreamwave did something similar back in 2002 when it published the War Within volume one. This (as I'm sure you know) was also set in the past and told of Optimus Prime's ascension to the Autobot leadership and his first battle with Megatron. The difference being that it was written by an experienced old hand in Simon Furman, and with art from an exciting new talent: Don Figueroa. Megatron Origin by contrast is penned by a much less experienced writer and accompanied by art from Alex Milne which is confusing and at times impossible to decipher. With top drawer art the weaknesses in dialogue might have been less noticeable, but when the art's as bad as it is in places here, the cumulative result is very disappointing.

It's a shame because page 1 of issue #1 gets off to a promising start. We've got the senator's ship coming in to land in a scene reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels. It's all very nice. We've also got a sense of industry coming through loud and clear, and I quite like the contempt of the senator's staff, who would rather close the plant remotely than turn up and face those they are consigning to the employment scrapheap. The trouble is the conversation drags on over the next three pages, not really going anywhere. We see Megatron swinging an axe but get no sense of what he's like or what drives him. Is he a thug, the strong, silent but principled type, what?

Then when the senator is delivering his bad news and a robot in the crowd is having a go, the heckler gets taken out by security. From what I can make out some kind of sword or axe is used to chop his face off (the art painfully confusing). It continues to twitch on the floor, which is a good moment, as is the murderer guard projecting an Autobot badge. This is quite shocking I think because it challenges what we believe that badge to stand for, and it's like the Autobots are now the bad guys.

We've then got panel after panel with bugger all dialogue and Megatron seemingly battering a guard to death with his bare hands. It should be a key scene - the moment where Megs makes his first kill - but it's a wasted opportunity because we have no idea what's motivating him. Is he consumed with rage over the death of a fellow worker, a thug who just wants a good fight, or a terrified soul who strikes out of fear? What is it? Don't bother looking to the dialogue for clues because "heh." and "blasters" reveal little about his emotions in this situation.

We can gather that Megs is grief-stricken that he's got blood/oil on his hands and can't believe he's a murderer. But because of the lack of context in terms of where Megatron is coming from as a character, the reader has no clue as to why Megs is so stunned. For example has he suddenly realised he's overstepped the line in a big way and will be punished severely, or was he previously of virtuous character and has committed a terrible sin? I can't help thinking that some dialogue or internal monologue is badly needed here.

There's something a little weird about Transformers working the mines, or holding down jobs in the first place. It's not like they need to eat or keep a roof over their heads so what do they spend the wages on? I'm guessing they get paid in energon and merely work the mines as a means of keeping a steady supply of fuel. It's odd though, when one of the workers (itself a robot) raises the fear of automation by other machines. Pre-war Cybertron seems just like industrial revolution Britain or the Victorian era with it's class system. I almost expect to see Megs dashing up the Senator's chimney to sweep it.

A couple of other points - things I do like in fact: the debut of Sentinel Prime makes an impact, even if he is a grumpy old sod. I also like Megatron's tactical handling of the prison ship mutiny, how he leaves the senator's ship crippled but intact so that the Government is looking for its missing VIPs instead of devoting its resources to hunting escaped criminals. That is at least showing that Megatron is a smart cookie - a thinker with leadership potential.

Unfortunately he's still something of an enigma, and I'm not convinced by the strap for next month: 'evil rages on'. So far we've not seen anything to suggest categorically that Megatron is evil. If anything he's been badly treated by the Autobots and lashed out, as much a victim of the system than anything else.

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