Assembling The Crew – Transformers: Lost Light #17 Reviewed

by Noah Sharma

For all its breadth and variety, James RobertsTransformers has been remarkably consistent in its focus. If you look at almost any story in the six+ year epic that Roberts has been crafting, you’ll find one of a handful of questions being answered or explored. ‘To whom are the powerful accountable’, ‘How do we go on living’, ‘Who counts as “we”?’

Brought before the Guiding Hand, Rodimus rages against his creators. He demands to know on what authority they can keep him from his revenge, but they have a question in return: why does he even want it? Who is this really about?

‘To whom are the powerful accountable?’

Meanwhile the crew’s most detail oriented member finds himself confronted with everything he’s ever wanted, Cyclonus gets poetic for a bittersweet reunion, and Nautica comes face to face with the consequences of her actions.

‘How do we go on living?’

And, caught in a hell designed to look like heaven, Ratchet spies a mysterious message, one only he can read, one that could prove to be central to the crew’s ongoing mission and, in fact, the entire series: “We Are All Trapped Light”.

‘Who counts as ‘we?’

With the end on the horizon, James Roberts seems to be pulling back the curtain a little bit. Threads are coming together, secrets held a little less closely, and it’s fantastic to watch things come into focus and wonder whether the answers materializing are red herrings or merely misdirection, offered to keep the deeper mysteries out of our view.

Roberts actually demonstrates both approaches within the narrative, offering false versions of what his characters want, to lure them off the path while reviving and revealing the flaws in one of the series most significant, and seemingly answered, mysteries.

It feels like every time I review Transformers: Lost Light, I wind up talking about Roberts’ talent for the mystery genre, but it proves true and more impressive with nearly every issue. Here we can see how the care and seemingly fifth-dimensional planning that Roberts imbues this series with can provide structure and potency to a comic. Because, make no mistake, this is a scattered issue.

The cast is literally being pulled in separate directions, and checking in with all of them can leave the issue bouncing around. There’s a notable scene with Cyclonus that’s really lovely, if rather open about its excesses, but it can feel disconnected from the greater narrative, a single page with a character who’s otherwise absent floating between beats. A strict editor might question whether it was necessary. The same goes for a two page recap of the Guiding Hand legend, with some tweaks for sectarian differences, and an interlude with Lug and Anode.

Nevertheless, Roberts’ quirks as a writer make this work for him. He’s undeniably wordy, packing panels full of exposition in a way that feels entirely natural, but the contraction of space as time runs out in the issue actually draws attention to the discomfort of what’s going on around Nautica and Brainstorm. Likewise, those scenes that seem supplemental are likely to immediately trigger alarm bells in any longtime reader’s mind, forcing them to wonder what their relevance could actually be, for little to nothing in this series is just for flavor. And with the cast spread out it’s hard to notice, but some of them actually seem to be missing.

With the end approaching, I’m still caught on that message Ratchet noticed. “We are all trapped light.” The minutiae loving Transformers fan in me thinks immediately of the Matrix of Leadership, which started this bizarre quest in the first place, which was written in the G1 Marvel comics as a crystal carved to capture the life-giving creation program encoded in light. On the other hand, Rodimus actually discovers examples of “trapped light” that comes from organic life and it at least raises questions that only atheist Ratchet can read the message if it does concern a matter of religion. Perhaps Scorponok’s experiments bridging the gap between Cybertronian and organic life play a part, or maybe it’s his master, the Grand Architect, trying to reconcile fact and faith. Regardless of what it turns out to be, I stand by my opinion that the question of who exactly is referred to in that “we” seems essential.

Even at this late stage, Lost Light is a series that it pays to read monthly. The tension and mystery of serialized reading is excellently utilized. The final page reveals a twist that is cute enough on its own, but feels seismic for just how long it took to occur.

The characters are still vibrant and charming, with plenty of moments that are both amusing and meaningful for their development. Admittedly “The God War” is little more of a workhorse than some of its fellows, with a greater focus on laying necessary groundwork and slightly less on being a complete and wholly satisfying unit on its own. That said, when this what a middle chapter looks like, your series is doing something very right.

Jack Lawrence has had several hard acts to follow, but this is probably one of his best issues of Lost Light. With dramatic framing and forceful emotions, Lawrence really brings this story to life. There’s a real sense of gravitas in Lawrence’s lines that has never been this strong or consistent before and, drawing primordial battles and celestial tribunals, that’s a perfect fit.

Lawrence and Joana LaFuente remain a potent combination and the presence and absence of specific palettes for scenes and panels is used to tremendous effect. Lighting is a big part of the drama and helps the eerie yet comedic flavor of the issue emerge.

In all honesty, Transformers: Lost Light #17 is not the most groundbreaking or essential issue of the series, not by a long shot. However it’s hard, perhaps even objectively incorrect, to hold that against it. Like every issue of this incredible series, Lost Light #17 is thoughtful, well-constructed, and charming nearly beyond measure. What’s more, this issue is fascinating even beyond the impressive standard that the book has set. There’s a change in the wind and, even without the grand promises of the next issue’s solicit, it feels like this may be the last port of rest for the crew and it beckons you to savor the poisoned chalice presented to them before everything comes crashing down.

This is, independent of the rest of the series, a well made issue, but it’s also almost an invitation, an offer to dig deeper and discover why each line and action is, in fact, more than meets the eye. If you haven’t taken the plunge on Transformers: Lost Light, issue #17 implores you to catch up and join the crew, because there is so much to see and enjoy, and a meeting with god is what this series does in its downtime.

Transformers: Lost Light #17 is currently available in comic shops from IDW Publishing.

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