Spotlight: Hot Rod
Released: November 2006
Number of covers: Two (plus sketch versions)
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: Nick Roche (pencils) Liam Shallo (colours)
Rating: Art / Story
First appearance: Hot Rod, Dealer/Double Dealer, Download, Backbeat, Gizmo, Gutcruncher, Banzaitron
Synopsis:By Omega Steve
Nobody gets in or out of the Ki-Aleta prison, except for Hot Rod.
They said it could not be done. Infiltrating the Decepticon penal colony, Styx, is impossible, no-one gets in and nobody gets out. Hot Rod doesn't know the meaning of the word impossible.
The prison is on a frozen, inhospitable, moon and anything that flies into the atmosphere is likely to get shot out of the sky. But a seemingly innocent meteor shower is not a threat, and it provides the perfect cover for Hot Rod to skydive from orbit. With all but the most essential systems offline he freefalls and, moments before impact, generates a force field to save himself from being obliterated. Even so the impact is traumatic and Hot Rod flits in and out of consciousness as his internal repair systems go to work.
His thoughts drift to his first, disastrous, mission as a unit commander. He, and fellow Autobots Dealer, Download, Backbeat and Gizmo, had travelled to the barren world of Ki-Aleta in search of the Magnificence, an oracle of great power which the Decepticons might have attempted to possess. Hot Rod's mission was to get to it first, but to do that it meant sneaking by powerful stone sentry droids. Gizmo rigged a holomatter projector, Backbeat set explosives, and Dealer was responsible for the uplink.
Back to the present, and Hot Rod is on his feet firing a small device onto the roof of the installation. It sprouts legs and begins disrupting CCTV screens inside the main monitoring centre. The Decepticon Gutcruncher is concerned by the equipment failure and mobilises the guards. Hot Rod uses the confusion to slip into the prison.
Resuming his flashback to Ki-Aleta he recalls the moment it all went horribly wrong. The holomatter generator failed and was totalled by the guardians - along with Gizmo. And while Hot Rod managed to steal The Magnificence, he lost Backbeat to a Guardian attack and had to abandon Dealer to the arriving Decepticons, as he fled with the treasure. As per his secret orders he hid the Magnificence in a place where it wouldn't be found.Back at the prison, Hot Rod springs the cells open and then uses holographic technology to disguise himself as a Decepticon, venturing onwards until he discovers Dealer's cell. He finds the occupant looking rusty and battered from years of ill treatment. Hot Rod disguises Dealer as a con and the pair make a break for it aboard a Decepticon cruiser.
Days or weeks later aboard an Autobot space station, Dealer is restored to health and quick to forgive Hot Rod for abandoning him on Ki-Aleta. In fact he's touched his former unit commander would go to such lengths to rescue him from Styx. Hot Rod is absolved of guilt, but in a twist in the tail Dealer opens a secret channel (later) to the Decepticon Banzaitron. It transpires it was he (Dealer) who sabotaged the mission to Ki-Aleta, and it is just a matter of time before he gains Hot Rod's trust enough to learn where he hid the Magnificence, and then finally it will belong to the Decepticons.
It's a bit harsh to say, considering this is solid enough story with engaging art, but it's the least appealing of the 'first five' spotlights for me. I can't put my finger on why exactly, it may be because the support cast are unknowns, and guest stars (Dealer, Gutcruncher, Banzaitron) are not familiar to me either. It might be that on first read its difficult to separate the 'live' events from the flashback, although this becomes clearer on a second or third read, or maybe the premise is simply not as enthralling as say Shockwave battling the Dynobots on pre-historic Earth, or sheriff Ultra Magnus on the trail of outlaws on the frontier of space. Yes I know many rate Sixshot as the weakest spotlight but I rather like the idea of a living weapon contemplating its life.
Having Hot Rod command a unit is an interesting development. It is a new direction for the character best known for his impetuousness, and typically it is only as Rodimus Prime that he displays any maturity. However Hot Rod has always been hands on and at the fore of any situation, as seen in the Animated Movie and in the old Marvel stories (Edge of Extinction, the battle with Matrix-Thunderwing etc) so it's not inconceivable that his superiors could have decided to take a chance on giving him a unit.
Hot Rod is apparently haunted by his disastrous mission to capture the Magnificence, but actually he fulfilled his orders pretty successfully. He overcame steep odds to infiltrate the temple and secure the Magnificence (hiding it from Decepticon hands) and even though his comrades perished it's hardly his fault. The mission was always the priority and he had no choice but to abandon the others. This is why he, presumably, escapes punishment for the mission and is still a high ranking officer in Escalation (where Hot Rod is revealed as outranking Prowl). Ironically it was Dealer who sabotaged the mission, but Hot Rod doesn't know this and is determined to rescue him.
This loyal, unselfish side of Hot Rod, is evident in the story, while his thrill seeking nature is summed up nicely by the facial expression Nick Roche gives him at the start, when Hot Rod is in freefall and loving it. What I didn't quite get is how Dealer was to be found decaying in a dungeon when it later transpires he was in league with the Decepticons. Did the cons put the word out that he was there, thereby ensuring Hot Rod would come for him, and then rough him up a bit so he wouldn't suspect anything? Perhaps this is exactly what happened, but you have to wonder how the medics did rumble the ploy during the weeks of repairs he underwent.
A nice twist in the tail at the end, but as most fans know Dealer (or Doubledealer as his toy is known) is a double agent it can be seen coming. He makes contact with his Banzaitron, evidently his employer, to say it's only a matter of time before he worms the location of The Magnificence out of Hot Rod. Is Banzaitron an Action Master at this stage? We don't find out. However one nice parting shot is that we get to see the moment Doubledealer earns his name. Overall, good stuff, and undoubtedly an issue which will bear greater significance as the main title evolves, just not the best of the Spotlights for me.