Despite being aimed at kids, many elements of “Transformers” have always struck me as more mature and adult than normal children’s fare. Take, for instance, the animated “Transformers: The Movie,” which features the wholesale slaughter of various Transformers, gunned down, beaten to death, or run over, since their robot nature meant harsher forms of violence weren’t out of bounds. With a violent conflict at the core of the concept, “Transformers” has always flirted with very dark subject matter and no group of characters in its universe seems ripe for dark, disturbing stories than the Wreckers, a commando group of Autobots — the sort sent in to do suicide missions and eliminate the enemy any way possible.
The first issue of “Last Stand of the Wreckers” constantly threatens to throw caution to the wind and embrace the brutality of the idea of violent robots trying to torture and kill one another, but never quite crosses that line, jumping between two timeframes and two very different tones. Three years ago, as part of Megatron’s grand plan to finally defeat the Autobots, a raid on the Garrus-9 Penitentiary is co-opted by Overlord who, after killing the Decepticon in charge and leading the rest to victory, ignores Megatron’s plan and turns the planet into his own private Roman Empire — with him cast as Caligula. Throughout the issue, we get brief glimpses of the violent decadence he encourages as Autobots are hunted for sport or fight to the death against Decepticons.
Now, four trainees have been promoted to the Wreckers to join the mission to see what has become of Garrus-9 as no ship can land without being shot down. These parts of the issue are the weakest as the new Wreckers all blend together, none establishing themselves as solid characters yet. They do provide some comic relief as one, upon meeting a human for the first time, remarks, “Optimus Prime’s data was right! They’re so delicate and in need of our protection...” The best joke has to be the mockery of one whose look resembles Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus for being a rip-off. It’s nice to see Roche make fun of himself a little like that.
The differing tones don’t play off against one another as well as they’re meant to. While the Wreckers scenes do have hints of the dangers and dark nature of their work, it’s much lighter than the Garrus-9 scenes, which are disturbing and show Roche at his best, as both writer and artist.
The light, cartoony look of Roche’s art is different from the ultra-technological look that some may expect in a Transformers comic. He’s not afraid to sacrifice the ‘reality’ of how robots would look to get across the emotional point of a scene. The final Garrus-9 scene where Overlord watches an Autobot and a Decepticon fight to death is the most visually powerful scene as Roche uses shadows more heavily and holds himself back from piling too much detail on, a tendency that makes some pages here look cluttered. That he both writes and draws the book allows for a harmony between the words and pictures that helps.
“Last Stand of the Wreckers” #1 is a good start as Roche jumps between harsh, decadent, violent scenes and lighter, comedic ones that culminate in the two tones meeting head-on by the end. Longtime fans will be both surprised and happy with the final page of this issue, which is handled with enough skill to win over new readers as well. If the rest of the series follows through on the potential glimpsed here, “Last Stand of the Wreckers” may turn out to be a class Transformers story.