Transformers Spotlight: Wheelie

Released: June 2008
Publisher: IDW
Number of covers: Two regular, one incentive
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: Klaus Scherwinski, Josh Burcham (colour assist) Jimmy Betancourt (letters)
Rating:

Characters: (Autobots) Wheelie, Ultra Magnus, Perceptor, Hotspot, Springer, Jetfire (Decepticons) Spectro, Spyglass, Viewfinder (aliens/others) Arachnosaur, Chaosteros, Varta


Synopsis:


Alone and stranded on a creature-infested alien world, Wheelie faces a daily battle to survive!

Desperate to play an active role in the Autobot war effort, Wheelie provides 'technical support' ferrying ammunitions and supplies to the larger and more important officers, while dreaming of the day when he might be taken seriously.

Then at last he is selected by Hotspot for a mission into deep space and it seems to be the opportunity he has waited for. But a radiation belt shorts out his ship's systems and Wheelie crash lands on LV 117 - a planet inhabited by monsters! He salvages what he can from the ship and fends off the 'locals', but his distress signal fails to attract any rescuers.

Finally another vessel crashes on the planet and Wheelie sets off to find it. On the way he encounters a giant arachnid, which pierces the energon converter backpack Wheelie uses to power himself, forcing him to make repairs. He also relives (via a flashback) an earlier encounter with a monstrous creature called Chaosteros, which had ripped his arm off and, not being able to digest it, dropped it with his dung. Although Wheelie was able to reattach the arm, transformation to vehicle mode is now extremely painful.

Eventually Wheelie locates the crashed ship and spies its two survivors - the Decepticons Spectro and Spyglass - with a shapeshifter alien at their mercy. Wheelie fires an energy bolt (from a safe distance) and frees the prisoner, then boards the enemy ship while the Decepticons are off looking for their escaped prisoner. He finds the third member of the Reflector team, Viewfinder, dead in the command chair, having apparently been impaled by a large shard of glass. Wheelie wonders whether he might actually be the lucky one.

Later Wheelie finds and befriends the alien he freed; his name is Varta and he speaks in rhyme. Wheelie adapts his speech accordingly, and learns that Varta has ship but it is lacking a power-source. They use his energon converter powerpack but are ambushed by Spectro and Spyglass before they can escape. The Decepticons threaten to execute Varta unless Wheelie hands over the ship, which he agrees to do, but sabotages it so that it explodes in a huge fireball.

With the Decepticons vanquished, but no means of escaping the planet, Wheelie and Varta build a home and accept their fates. While unbeknownst to them, in a nearby abandoned structure, a mural of a Quintesson cracks and begins to glow.

******

Review:

By Omega Steve

Wheelie was for some time the butt of the jokes, the irritating guy from the Transformers Animated Movie, the one who the fans loved to hate; so on paper, publishing a story with him as the main character should have been a major no-no. In fact it is a gamble which pays off beautifully.

The reaction from the fandom was overwhelmingly positive, thanks in no small part to some solid storytelling and characterisation from Klaus Scherwinski and Simon Furman. Rather than going with a safer option to spotlight, IDW has bravely sought to rehabilitate a near-universally disliked Autobot and turn the negatives on their head. In fact I would go as far to say that Wheelie's infamy could be a selling point; if you can't fix it, feature it - as they say in marketing. Readers might be intrigued to see whether how IDW is attempting to rehabilitate him and whether it is successful.

Probably the main reason fans took against Wheelie so vehemently was his tendency to talk in rhyme, which I admit could be grating (although I have never had that big a problem with it). But the spotlight neutralises this to some extent by at least setting up a plausible reason why a robot would choose to talk this way; so that he can communicate with his alien companion. One supposes that over time, such sub-routines would become ingrained.

In fact the great triumph of this spotlight, and what sets it apart from many of the others, is that it is so successful in making a throwaway, somewhat annoying character, into someone the reader can empathise with and care about; and it does this right off the bat, right from the opening panels where Wheelie is playing second fiddle to the other Autobots. He is risking life and limb to ferry supplies to the front lines but getting no recognition for it. How many times has the reader been overlooked or denied the chances they thought they deserved? How many times have they felt life wasn't giving them a fair deal? It is universal sentiments such as these which the story taps into.

Essentially a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, Wheelie finds his Man Friday in the shape of the alien Varta, and the irony is that it takes the act of removing him from the war effort he craves, which brings out the inner qualities he always knew he possesses. Being stranded forces Wheelie to push his boundaries of courage and resourcefulness, as he encounters mental as well as physical challenges of survival.

The decision to include the Reflector trio is an interesting one. I'd like to know the reasons why they, rather than say, a better known trio like the Insecticons were chosen. It might be a personal indulgence on the part of Simon or Klaus, or perhaps they thought these three are largely non-essential and can be impaled and blown up without wider ramifications. In fact this could not be further from the truth, as later in 2008 these self-same Decepticons would appear in Shane McCarthy's All Hail Megatron epic. This begs the question of when exactly is SL Wheelie set? In a post-AHM future one would suppose, but certainly Wheelie's distress signal is received in Spotlight Optimus Prime (and ignored by the hard-pressed Autobot leader as one of many comms) set before AHM. Hopefully this inconsistency will be addressed.

The comic leaves the reader with some niggling questions, namely whether Wheelie and Varta will ever be rescued and WTF is the glowing Quintesson mural about?? The latter could have major ramifications for the Transformers saga, and deserves to be picked-up on at some point. However two and a half years on (at the time of writing) the plot thread continues to dangle unclaimed.

All in all a very worthy spotlight which accomplishes the near impossible - making Wheelie respectable (and respected) again.

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