The holidays will probably be over by the time you read this. But on the off-chance you got a lot of gift certificates or cards with money in them and want to keep the holiday spirit going for just a little longer, then you might be interested in the good-humored fun offered by the Transformers: Holiday Special.
This special contains three stories, each with very different styles of art and writing. I’ll be spoiling most of the first and third, while trying my best to avoid spoilers on the second. I know that sounds weird. Just go with it.
And with that spoiler warning behind us, let’s roll out.
The first story is “Choose Me,” and fans of The Transformers: Windblade will be excited to learn that this story is penned by Mairghread Scott. She doesn’t have the most extensive history with the franchise, but she’s known for being the first female writer to ever tackle a Transformers comic. While her exploration of the fan-created Windblade character garnered some recognition, her story in Transformers: Holiday Special is much lighter than what you might expect. In fact, the whole thing is written in rhyme.
The basic story is that Starscream, who is now ruling Cybertron, has decided that the people don’t love him enough. He takes advice from the ghost of Bumblebee and decides that the answer is to simply treat people with a little more kindness. Not completely understanding the concept, Starscream forms a new holiday called Chosen One Day, on which people are supposed to worship him. Unfortunately for him, his message is cut off and the Cybertronians are led to believe that Starscream had simply wanted them to appreciate one another.
Pretty much the rest of the comic is simply a series of cameos, some of which are more fulfilling than others. Artist Corin Howell didn’t exactly go out of his way to give us a whole lot of background detail on many of these panels, and colorist Thomas Deer only does so much to help him out. The character designs appear to be that of the IDW continuity, yet something about the execution here makes everyone look a little bit like the popular toys of old. That’s fine, it would just be nice to see more detailed backgrounds and more character action. That said, some panels are just about perfect, such as Cheetor and Dinobot reluctantly exchanging gifts. It’s also nice to see Sparkstalker propose to Lightbright, as it was Mairghread Scott who had furthered their romance in Windblade.
This isn’t the most fantastic story ever, but it’s a nice opportunity to see a lot of characters in one place. It’s disappointing that the artwork doesn’t really offer anything new, with characters largely just standing around (although there is a nice moment where Starscream smiles like the Grinch). But the writing is cute. Fortunately, the next story does better than any in this collection when it comes to combining decent character art with hilarious dialogue.
The second story, “Silent Light,” follows the crew of the Lost Light as they enter territory occupied by the Maulers, an anti-machine terrorist group. Rodimus gets back from surfing meteors, only to find Megatron and Ultra Magnus putting the finishing touches on something that looks very much like a Christmas tree. Designed by Brainstorm, the tree-like cloaking shield should be able to help everyone hide from the Maulers’ sensors. Especially since bulb ornaments and fairy lights will be acting as signal boosters. Megatron refers to the whole thing as a “Contrivance Engine.” Each crew member also has to hide in a B.E.D. (Biometric Envelopment Device) to avoid the Maulers’ notice, while wearing brain shields that look a lot like colorful paper crowns. There’s even a Christmas cracker-shaped energon tab packet that Hot Rod tries to pull from Megatron.
With this set up, we move to Swerve’s bar where a half-drunken Swerve, Nautica and Whirl are surprised by a new package. They aren’t sure what it’s supposed to be, but it looks like a protoform (a Cybertronian baby). Whirl thinks they should get rid of it, but the group consensus is eventually to keep it safe. This leads them on a mild adventure, complete with Christmas songs and an amazing character revelation by Whirl.
The artwork on this one is incredibly true-to-form. There are a few holiday elements that would normally seem as if they don’t belong in a Transformers comic, but artist Kotteri manages to adapt them well. Writer James Roberts also does an excellent job of writing elements such as Christmas lights into the story in a way that should tickle the holiday fancy of readers without acting like too much of a nod to our own world. The colors by Joana Lafuente are also a bit more vibrant than in the last story.
The creative team on “Silent Light” did a superb job of delivering a story with a couple of action beats, some great moments from each of the characters (including a brief appearance by Velocity), and a surprisingly decent emotional arc. Whirl and Nautica stood above the rest for me, but this was really a great story all around. And it fits that they put it in the middle of the book. It acts as an excellent segue to the next story, which combines this story’s focus on narrative with the first story’s sense of whimsy.
The third story is entitled “The Thirteenth Day of Christmas” or “Dead and Green” or “The Night Thundercracker and Buster Saved X-mas.” As you can probably tell from those three titles, as well as the image above, this story goes for humor more than anything. In a scene with narration modeled after “The Night Before Christmas,” a Santa-dressed Megatron busts in and kills Anna Log, the woman in charge of maintaining peace on all of Earth. He also takes out her poor little turbofoxes.
Thundercracker, who plays the role of a private investigator in this story, is charged with the task of solving Anna Log’s murder. His trusty canine pal, Buster, is also along for the ride. After a quick cameo by Arcee as a police officer, Thundercracker sees footage of what appears to be Santa Claus committing the murder. This sends him off to the North Pole, where he gets into a fight with the real Santa and his robot reindeer before engaging Megatron. The whole thing turns out to be something of a story within a story, and we learn how ignorant Thundercracker is of human ways. For instance, he sets the story on December 38th, because it happened the day after Christmas and he believes Christmas to have twelve days. All in all, it’s a cute story.
Little touches like Buster’s Rudolph-like nose (which glows red when danger is near) are nice. It’s easy to appreciate what John Barber did with the script, which manages to take a number of very disparate forms of comedy and combine them into a comic that never feels quite as imbalanced as it could. That’s not to say it doesn’t feel imbalanced at all, but it could certainly be worse. It helps that artist Josh Burcham has done an excellent job of giving each scene an ever so slightly different visual style. The colors are paler toward the beginning, black and white at Thundercracker’s office, dark and somewhat neon at the murder scene, a bit more vibrant for the main action scene, and your average fare at the very end. The line styles don’t differ quite as much, but Burcham still plays around a bit.
This wound up being an excellent story, and is just about perfect for a holiday special. If it had been packaged on its own, it would have felt just fine. But this story instead underscores the type of balance that Transformers: Holiday Special manages to achieve throughout all three stories. The first one couldn’t stand on its own, but it works when printed in the same issue as the other two. The second story might stand on its own, but it wouldn’t be nearly as strong as this collection.
You do not have to be a huge Transformers fan to enjoy Transformers: Holiday Special. The first story may feel a little off, as dependent on cameos as it is. But the second and third stories will have you aching to see more of these characters in action. The three creative teams each managed to create a work with its own personality, and the result is something that feels like more than your average holiday special. Pick this up again and re-read it in a couple of months, and you’ll see that the last two stories are still strong as narratives within the comic book medium. And then, you’ll seek out every issue by these writers so that you can add them to your collection.