As with the rest of American society, gender has recently been a hot topic in the world of Transformers. In the fandom, the comic books, the cartoons and the toys themselves, the brand is responding to a call for greater gender parity among our favorite robots in disguise. There was even a recent article about female Transformers on USAToday.com. While the evolutionary rationale behind gender diversity in Cybertronians has not been truly explained in the fiction -- at least, no more than the traditional maleness of our classic characters has been explained -- the fact is that female Transformers are growing in both number and prominence. They are here to stay. And I have some thoughts to share on this topic. And some mixed feelings, both regretful and hopeful.
First, let me start off by saying that I consider myself a feminist. I believe that women can be just as capable as men in any area of employment or recreation. I don't believe in pigeon-holing women (or men) within traditional stereotypes of appearance or occupation or interests. I certainly don't believe in paying them less than men for the same job.
When the first version of Masterpiece Optimus Prime came out waaaay back in 2003, despite the adulation heaped upon that figure by so many Transformers fans, I wasn't interested. It wasn't that I thought the figure was bad or that upsized, high-quality renditions of classic Transformers wasn't a great idea. It's just that one of the things I enjoy the very most about the Transformers is their diversity. Cars, jets, dinosaurs, tanks, cassettes, spaceships, microscopes, monsters... the sheer variety of forms is part of what originally drew me to them. A standalone Optimus didn't interest me without the promise of future accompaniment. After all, what good is a military leader without soldiers or an enemy to combat? Sure enough, it took 3 years before Starscream, the next Masterpiece figure, was released. Megatron was released the year following, then the next two years were occupied by the obligatory repaints of Starscream into Skywarp and Thundercracker. A Grimlock appeared in 2009, then a disappointing Rodimus Prime in 2011, but 8 years had passed since the initial release and I was not regretting my decision to pass on the thinly-numbered (and expensive!) Masterpiece line.
In the meantime, the Classics line was putting out figures rapidly. Though smaller and arguably less exquisite than their Masterpiece counterparts, they were far more numerous and I was steadily building a large collection of modernized versions of the vintage toys I so loved. I had my armies! What did I need with a few isolated specialty pieces?
But when I learned of an impending Masterpiece Soundwave figure, my love of the character and of his cassette minions made the figure difficult to ignore. Plus, an unofficial Masterpiece-scale Shockwave was being produced by a third party company, and he's pretty much my favorite Transformer ever. The pace and variety of new Masterpiece figures was improving as well: Sideswipe and his remold of Red Alert; Prowl and his remolds of Bluestreak and Smokescreen; impending releases of Wheeljack, Bumblebee and Ultra Magnus. Add to this the fact that revised and improved Masterpiece versions of Optimus Prime and the Decepticon jets had been recently released and it was starting to look like two diverse armies were being built. Two armies I could get behind.
I haven't been blogging as much, I know. I've been busy. With stuff. All of which I will tell you about right now. (If you care about my personal life, there's a lot about that to follow. If you only care about Transformers, skip down to the pictures below.)
Notably, Dollface and I flew to the east coast for my brother's wedding. Which I officiated. (I've done it before.) Except this time I was mercilessly hungover. Don't worry, the attendees couldn't tell. Everything went off without a hitch, no one could see my suffering. This time, instead of memorizing the service -- which included writing their vows and lots "they've already been together eleven years" humor -- I read it off my Android phone. Welcome to the future.
I am always on the lookout for synchronicities. I enjoy them. I'm not a believer in fate, so there's no spiritual element to it. There are such things as coincidences! The only greater significance any coincidence possesses is that which we invent for it. And this is a good thing! I believe that the universe is best understood as a confluence of disparate ideas. Creativity itself is the invention of new connections between previously unconnected things. In both the entertainment I consume and the music I create, I seek cross-relevancy of disparate ideas that will lead to a higher personal notion of meaning.
And then sometimes it's just wacky happenstance. Such is the case in this, the convergence in my life of Longtooth and Moby Dick...
Several months ago I decided to finally read Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. [Though the whale's name is always written as "Moby Dick" in the book, the name is hyphenated in the title.] I finally finished the book over the weekend. It was excellent, definitely one of the most superbly composed works I've ever enjoyed. The first 20 or so chapters all focus on the narrator, Ishmael, his scholarly musings, his acquaintances, and what brings him to the fateful voyage. These chapters have a wayfaring, rather comical bent. After this, Ishmael becomes merely an observer, focusing instead on Ahab, the mates, the crew, the ship, and whaling itself in very, very specific detail. There are several chapters on cetology and whale flensing. There's a whole chapter discussing whether a whale's spout is water, air or vapor. You learn about seagoing carpentry, cooking, and metalwork. One chapter is entirely focused on describing the rope-rigging in the hunting boats. It's extremely detailed. And in the very end, they find and confront that damn whale. If you have patience and a love of brilliant prose, I highly recommend the book.
The second panel presented here (from the just-released Transformers #30) is one of the best panels in any comic book ever:
I'm consistently surprised by how persistently enduring the character of Thunderwing remains. After all, Thunderwing arrived at the tail end of G1, one of the oft-maligned Pretenders, and never appeared in a single cartoon episode. Nearly all the credit for his characterization has been in both the classic and modern comic books, all penned by Simon Furman, the most prolific Transformers writer of all time.
Furman is a big fan of taking neglected and under-utilizied Transformers and instilling new life and characterization into them. In the original comic series, Thunderwing's affinity and obsession for the Autobot Matrix drove him to steal it (and become possessed by it) during the "Matrix Quest" storyline. In recent IDW comics continuity, Thunderwing was recast as the victim of his own "polydermal grafting" process (read: modernized Pretender) and simultaneously became insane but so uncontrollably powerful and invulnerable that he mindlessly turned Cybertron into an irradiated, uninhabitable husk.
Some improved box art devoted to some of the largest and smallest Transformers. Let's start large: Omega Supreme and Sky Lynx. Their artwork was scanned off their reissue boxes, edited and submitted entirely by Jeremy Barlow of Soundwave's Oblivion. Thanks again, man!
I think my favorite Omega Supreme moment is seeing the cover to issue #19 on a newsstand spinner rack while on a middle school field trip to Philadephia. The cover boasted, YOU ASKED FOR HIM-- YOU GOT HIM! And I thought "I don't recall specifically asking, but that is what I want!" Appearing invincible, Omega is crushing Starscream in his claw, a crunkled shadow-double of same darkening Omega's midsection. Great stuff.
One of the reasons that I loved last year's Last Stand of the Wreckers comic series was its thematic musing upon death. From heroic and memorable deaths to pointless and forgettable deaths, from death by sadistic torture to death by noble sacrifice, death itself was a constant presence in the series. Because this is an ongoing fictional universe, however, we are confronted by one of its central conceits: major fan-favorite characters cannot be casually snuffed out. In order to put actual death on the table, Wreckers is populated with fringe characters from the tail end of Generation One, including a couple that were only available in Europe in 1993.
He's the Autobots' embodiment of youthful optimism and persistence: Bumblebee! Without being annoying or tiresome, Bumblebee's depiction in the original cartoon was one to which all the youthful viewers could relate: a little guy, dwarfed by his fellow Autobots, but appreciated for his exuberance and skill.
Special attention was obviously paid to Bumblebee during the creation of his character. He's the only original Autobot with a vintage vehicle mode, the famous Volkswagon Beetle (also called the "Bug"), which obviously influenced his name. I don't know whether his yellow and black color scheme was fixed before or after his christening, but it certainly completes the package. His status as the weakest Autobot is offset by his many other quiet but invaluable talents: of all the Autobots, he's the most energy-efficient, has the best eyesight, and can even function underwater. And, of course, he makes an excellent spy.
It's unsurprising that one of my all-time favorite Transformers comic book covers features my all-time favorite Transformer: SHOCKWAVE, the Decepticon Military Operations Commander. This was the first cover to appear after the original four-issue limited series was extended into an ongoing monthly, and was one of only two painted covers in the 80-issue run (the other being the debut issue). Here Shockwave reminds us that at the end of the previous installment he was the last Transformer standing, having incapacitated the remaining Autobots after their seeming victory over the Decepticons.