The Transformers: All Hail Megatron #1-16 by Shane McCarthy and Guido Guidi – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius returns to 2008 (and sanity) with Transformers: All Hail Megatron.
“Autobots versus Decepticons at its best, yet it somehow still leaves you wanting more.” – The Founding Fields
All Hail Megatron is a rather divisive event amongst the Transformers comics fandom. With Simon Furman having been effectively kicked off writing storylines by IDW due to failing sales a new writer was put in charge with an entirely new direction. Effectively revamping the 1980’s G1 cartoon in a darker style.
The absolute worst has come to pass. The Autobots have effectively lost the Great War. In a widespread strike against multiple instillations the Decepticons have crippled their opponents and left countless dead in their path. Unopposed Megatron has opted to drop any effort at disguising his invasion of Earth and launches an all-out assault. Crippling the planet in days and leaving no human military force capable of fighting back. Trapped on Cybertron with the last of his soldiers, Optimus Prime lies close to death…
Let two things be clear before going into this: First, you might want to have a basic understanding of the setting before trying to read this. Nothing of the background or war is really explained and likely assumes anyone reading will at least be aware of the basics.
Second, despite keeping most of the transformers’ original looks, this comic is bloody. It is extremely dark with a lot of people dying. While no direct blood or guts are usually shown, it often presents events in such a way to be chilling. Usually either via description or just outright suggestion leaving the readers to imagine the rest. That being said the robots themselves are often beaten to a pulp, with some surprisingly graphic wounds. Even moments of torture or subjects such as suicide brought up.
The surprising thing here is that it actually works though. Unlike the Michael Bay films, the humans don’t stand a hope in hell of victory and the fights are completely one sided. This combined with the state the heroes are in during the opening makes the villains seem genuinely threatening, and a force more than capable of bringing down worlds en mass. Yet somehow it manages to avoid the Marvel curse of being relentlessly bleak to the point of only inspiring apathy within readers. Most likely because in the action driven series, the heroes start at their darkest point and rise back up to fight back as events progress.
Perhaps the most surprising point amidst this is that writer McCarthy managed to weave enough of a plot amongst the action. Not a story for the action to follow but multiple character subplots ranging from an apparent traitor amongst the Autobots to doubts in the Deception cause. While none are especially complex they are enough to keep things interesting and feel like the characters are genuinely involved. Something which is quite an accomplishment when there are a good thirty named individuals on either side. It can almost take you out of the moment when you realise the well-crafted, ideology driven reasoning for someone opting to defect is by someone called Thundercracker.
Much of the action is reasonably spaced out between events. While the series is very clearly action heavy it’s not utterly reliant upon it, or focuses upon it to the detriment of everything else. It’s frequent enough to keep you interested but rarely becomes overbearing save for a few moments. What helps keep things interesting is a mixture of Guido Guidi’s art style and the pacing between scenes.
Guidi’s art style deserves special mention. While it would have been easy to make this a very brown, very grey environment to emphasise upon the bleakness (insert your own modern FPS joke here) it’s very colourful. Both with the transformers themselves and the environment, creating an oddly disjointed feel amidst the conflict. Albeit one which works here, breaking up the environments into visibly different locations and keeping the reader visually invested.
For all this praise however, there is a lot to criticise. Even before getting to the comic’s individual problems it suffered from multiple canon discrepancies with what came before. Objects like the Matrix are suddenly introduced with no prior mention to this series and more than a few personalities don’t quite match up correctly. Often drifting to what readers might feel more familiar with than how they had been done by Furman.
Story-wise McCarthy does rely upon deus ex machinas more than once throughout the series. Sometimes excused by the more awesome results of their inclusion, sometimes feeling utterly jarring with the narrative and leaving you scratching your head. The continuity itself has more than a few problems within the series as well. With issues ranging from minor visual alterations between issues to stating actions occurred when we saw otherwise. A notable case being when it’s claimed Devastator crushed the bridges of Manhattan, while it’s clearly shown they were left intact in his assault.
All of the story problems are also without getting into some of the basic logical errors. Many transformers show up in the classic looks from the cartoon despite the vehicles being too heavily outdated for camouflage. An often repeated case of this being Starscream who switches from an F-22 to outdated F-15s. Other problems also arising from just why the Decepticons are even bothering having human alternate modes as well. Several Autobots are also seen playing Go, despite having little logical reason to even know about the Chinese game.
Also if you’re not a fan of Michael Brian Bendis’ ultra-decompressed method of storytelling you’re going to absolutely hate this comic. Though at least unlike with his stuff McCarthy actually allows his heroes to end arcs on a high note. Not be relentlessly crushed down by misery, death, infighting and utter failure even in a bleak event such as this.
So, with all this considered how does All Hail Megatron stack up? It’s reasonably good. While nothing outstanding or even being a shining example amongst Transformers comics, it does more than enough to keep a reader entertained. The action is solid, the new direction is fairly well, and while the writing has more than a few problems there is enough to like here. While it’s not a series which is a must buy, it’s definitely recommended despite its problems. If you’re someone looking to get into IDW’s series to see what the writing is capable of, you could definitely do much worse.