Spotlight: Arcee

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

First appearance: Arcee, Kick Off, Onslaught, Brawl, Vortex, Blast Off


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


Arcee is out for revenge on her 'creator' and woe betide anyone who gets in her way!

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned as they say, and Arcee certainly proves the rule. Cornered in an industrial facility by the lawman Ultra Magnus, she refuses to come quietly - unleashing a cluster of bombs. Arcee then races up a flight of steps and appears to cut Magnus down with her fiery sword.

But she's been duped by a holographic decoy and the real Magnus uses the confusion to counter attack with a shock grenade. Arcee is down.. just about, and shortly afterwards two robots who witnessed the whole thing secretly report back to the evil scientist Jhiaxus. They say the nega-core (whatever this is) was not found by the intruders and preparations continue for 'the expansion'.

We learn that Arcee's gender and unbalanced state of mind are side-effects of experiments by Jhiaxus, and ever since she's been obsessed with finding her creator and having her revenge. It was her rampages that brought her to the attention of Ultra Magnus, and now she is taken to the Garrus-9 penitentiary - watched over by warden Fortress Maximus - and her spark is removed from her body and incarcerated.

The prison holds some of the Transformer war's most dangerous criminals and agitators, among them Bludgeon's cult of Thunderwing, and the six robots who combine to become Monstructor (more of Jhiaxus' handiwork). Jetfire and the Technobots are working on these in the hopes of reversing the process, and Optimus Prime was very specific: the technology must not be allowed to fall into Decepticon hands.

However the head of the Decepticon secret service, Banzaitron, thinks differently. Determined to secure the combiner technology he unleashes a full-scale assault on the prison. Fortress Maximus needs reinforcements and restores Arcee to her body. She agrees to the terms of her 'parole' as it may offer a chance to get to Jhiaxus, and before long she's locked in battle with the Combaticons - Onslaught, Brawl, Vortex, and Blast-Off.

But despite her efforts, the Combaticons are able to teleport away with the combiners (and possibly other criminals). After the battle Arcee confides in Fortress Maximus and Jetfire about the experiments done to her, and how she endures a "madding maelstrom of contradictory sensory input". Despite his reservations, Max has little choice but to turn Arcee lose as she may be the only one capable of finding those responsible for the prison attack. If Jhiaxus is alive somewhere, Arcee is coming, and Max almost feels sorry for him.

******

Comments:

While undoubtedly significant to wider ongoing saga (in terms of laying down threads for upcoming plots) as a 'spotlight' the comic is a little disappointing. The problem is that it really should have been all about Arcee and what makes her tick, but instead a large amount of the comic is given over to the assault on the prison, with Arcee showing up at the end.

Perhaps a better way of presenting the story would have been to have it all in first person narrative from Arcee. It could have started with her as a dismembered spark in the Garrus 9 prison with flashbacks to her creation, earlier pursuit of Jhiaxus, and the take-down from Ultra Magnus. As the finale she could have been restored to physical form and joined the battle. I'm not sure why the back-story wasn't fleshed out more, but I can only think it was because there was a lot to squeeze in already, or the back-story would have given away too much. However a writer of Simon Furman's ability could have navigated these pitfalls I feel.

To say Spotlight Arcee lays plot threads for upcoming stories is only half right. It's a little more than that. This comic is more like the meeting point for past an future stories. It touches base with Stormbringer, in that we've got Bludgeon and fellow Thunderwing-devotees featured, it's a direct sequel to Spotlight Optimus Prime - also more a plot facilitator that a spotlight - as we find out what becomes of the combining Pretender Monsters, plus its also a sequel of sorts to Spotlight Ultra Magnus. The mentions of Jhiaxus and the 'expansion' also continue the theme begun in Spotlight Galvatron.

At the point of writing TF Revelations has still to be released, but what I know of it so far suggests that Jhiaxus and the dark universe will feature heavily. Therefore the true value of Spotlight Arcee may be in setting the scene for Revelations. We know that during the fourth and final part of Revelations (Spotlight Sideswipe) Arcee will confront Jhiaxus.

If I understand correctly, Furman initially planned to write Revelations as the next chapter of the TF ongoing story, presumably in six parts like TF Infiltration, Escalation and Devastation. But IDW opted for a change of direction (making All Hail Megatron the core product), and Furman had to adapt his Revelations story to fit four interconnected spotlights. It's hard to imagine that these four - Cyclonus, Hardhead, Doubledealer and Sideswipe - can one-character-centred spotlights with so much other stuff going on. So it's a fair chance that the Arcee model of spotlight is what we're going to get more of in future. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but of course the proof of the pudding is in the tasting as they say.

Speaking of clich�s, Spotlight Arcee appears to have embraced the old adage about Hell having no fury like a woman scorned. In reinventing the character, Furman has taken the Barbie doll fembot from the original Transformers Movie and turned her into a psycho-bitch with permanent PMT. Some might feel both characterisations lean towards sexism - and I can't see why Jhiaxus introducing gender to a Transformer would make her unhinged.

Perhaps the writer felt he had to make Arcee nastier and more dangerous to get the widest possible readership. Some readers may well be turned off by the prospect of a spotlight on the token female Autobot from the movie, and indeed some might think the idea of gender in a race of robots pointless. Clearly Furman's given some thought to that very point: how would there be a female Autobot and why would anyone create one. Rather than opt for the fluffy explanation in the 1990s Marvel story 'Prime's Rib' - that the Autobots created Arcee in a mistaken bid to win the favour of feminist campaigners - he's opted for something more sinister and Frankenstein-like.

Arcee is clearly more powerful and resourceful than the average Autobot - we can see that from the off, when she's taking on Ultra Magnus. Initially she comes across as a villainess and fugitive, but by the end readers understand her motives better and can sympathise with her plight. Although she has taken a dark path she is still capable of goodness.

A couple of final points: given the calibre of prisoner, shouldn't Garrus-9 be better defended? We see the Autobots Repugnus and Longtooth among the dismembered sparks, so I wonder if we'll find out their crimes. The Combaticons are currently a quartet, perhaps Swindle will be among the prisoners they liberated and will be obliged to join the group. Presumably once the secrets of combination are unlocked the five-strong Combaticons can be re-engineered to become Bruticus.

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