[I was attempting to make my post on Perceptor last night. My favourite thing about Perceptor is actually his recent elevation from annoying, nerdy field scientist to badass sharpshooting weapons specialist... field scientist. However, the amount of dead bodies I had to wade through just to get to the good stuff was staggering. The result is the rant below. I apologize in advance to anyone that came looking for a regular post. The pretty toy pictures will be back tomorrow, I promise.]
When writers are particularly weak, they fall back on death. Death is the easy, cheap hit. If things start to slow down, you don’t have to actually use your imagination or be clever, just kill a few cast members. Unfortunately, as a comic book brand, The Transformers has been handed almost consistently to weak writers.
In a scene in the 1986 animated The Transformers: The Movie, the Decepticons board a ship and begin firing on Autobots. Shots that had been all but shrugged off many, many times in the series became suddenly fatal, dead Autobots hitting the deck left and right. This was clearly a reaping, wiping out the toys that were no longer on the shelves to make room for a new cast and new toys. Now Hasbro is a company that exists to make money, and despite the callous lack of feeling for the emotional attachments they themselves had engendered in kids for these robots, it was a move that made financial sense.
Beast Wars, easily the best written Transformers cartoon to this day, also took up this mantle of removal in the name of new cast members/toys. However, they were at least polite enough to do so in a way that left plenty of room for questions regarding if Terrorsaur and Scorponok were killed or simply went into stasis lock buried in lava. Dinobot’s death in Beast Wars is a thing of legend and had great meaning; and even then he experienced a quasi-resurrection (and second noble death) as Dinobot 2. Since then, the Cartoons have mostly stayed away from the concept of massive amounts of death, doling it out here and there as a function of the story.
Not so with the comic books.
This war has been going on for millions and millions of years, yet somehow, for a race that long ago lost the ability to procreate, Transformers appear to be rather easy to kill. How has such an inconsistently fragile race managed to wage war for millions and millions of years? Of course, when a new writer comes along, this leads to resurrections and — far more often — reboots to clean up the previous writer’s bloodbath. Beginning pretty much with Simon Furman’s run on the original series, the comics have continued to kill with impunity and mostly without reason except to attempt to prove how cool, hip, and edgy the writer is.
A perfect example of this is the recent “Last Stand of the Wreckers”, written by Nick Roche and James Roberts. It is a limited series which is literally built around the concept “of good people dying in stupid, pointless ways.” (an actual quote from the series.) Why? Why do we want to see people we like die in stupid and pointless ways? For whom is this entertainment? This isn’t drama. Death is not a substitute for intellectual and creative storytelling. Thank god — according to their own interview– someone had the good sense to keep them from killing off Springer, Perceptor, or Kup.
The current, on-going IDW comics series choose the fact that they killed Ironhide in the first issue to be their biggest selling point.¹ Even going so far as to release a preview that consisted of the last three pages of the first issue. Who releases a preview that gives away the ending? ’Nuff said.
There are so many examples in the world of good science-fiction, set in a state of war, that are able to use battle, political intrigue, and emotional investment to generate an entertaining mix of comedy and tragedy, reserving the use of death for meaningful and impactful moments. No one is under the delusion that children are the core audience of the Transformer’s comic books, so why do we have to put up with such childish, immature, and vapid fiction?
¹ They have since un-killed him in his own mini-series, thereby wiping out any potential emotional impact to the reader this cheap ploy at sales might have had.