I read this in IDW’s April solicitation for its Transformers comic: “MEGATRON joins the AUTOBOTS! The perfect jumping-on point for new readers!” This may in fact be the least true statement in comics.
I don’t know, it seems like the whole point of Megatron is that he is irredeemably evil. I guess it’s the cannon. When I was a kid I couldn’t help but notice all the good guy robots had little pistols, and the head bad guy robot had this giant arm-mounted nuclear bazooka and I was like “That’s not faiiiirr!!!” To me that’s the basic appeal of Megatron–he is a machine hardwired to be a dick.
Granted, this is probably a turning point in a larger story, where Megatron’s shifting loyalties are competently explained, and this unlikely alliance will lead to a return to the status quo. But stuff like this is exactly why I could never get into the Transformers comics, even though I love the ’80s cartoon. Once in a while I’ll be watching that hokey old cartoon, and be like “Gosh, I can’t get enough Transformers, I wish there was more of it!” And then I’ll think of the comics and be like “Ennh, actually, this is plenty right here.”
It always seemed more chic to prefer the comics to the cartoon. The comics had Simon Furman and detailed mythology and half-naked cyber-ladies and that one ninja Skeletor guy. The cartoon had Bumblebee and Spike getting a giant can of bug spray to fight the Insecticons. Nevertheless, I feel like the cartoon had a better grasp of the concept, which is–let’s face it–pretty simplistic. Transformers is fundamentally just good toys in an endless war with evil toys.
David Wise, who wrote the cartoon’s finale, once compared the Transformers’ war to Doctor Strangelove–the only major developments turned on some silly new gimmick which was inevitably adopted by both sides. On the surface that theme comes across as a crass marketing tactic, but it also forced the cartoon to set its stories within the “doomsday gap.” Optimus Prime and Megatron can’t dwell on the big picture, or dream up some truly novel way to turn the entire war upside down. Their forces are deadlocked in a war of attrition, and it’s all either of them can do to maintain the stalemate. The drama is in how the characters cope with that–Prime can’t lower his guard and it’s giving him an ulcer, Megatron’s authority is constantly challenged by Starscream, etc. Most of the cartoon’s plots were frankly interchangeable, but all of them provide that sense of getting a snapshot of life in the trenches.
The comics, to me anyway, never seem satisfied with that. Every time I take a look somebody is becoming a robot god, or there are parallel universes, or a somebody decides to create a third force in a definitively dualistic conflict. I suppose the realities of selling a monthly comic force you to employ those kinds of plot devices. But it ends up feeling more gimmicky and cheap, ironically, than the toy line itself.