Transformers: Exodus and Exile Examined (with Third Book News)

5 Jul

transformers exodusBy Ed Sum

Fans of either Transformers Prime the animated series or the Fall/War of Cybertron games are well advised to read the book Transformers: Exodus: The Official History of the War for Cybertron. Written by Alex Irvine, he does a remarkable job in penning the lead up to one of cartoondom’s greatest wars of all time. As most fans know, the conflict is largely centered on a battle of wills between Autobot leader Optimus Prime and Decepticon dictator Megatron.

But for the leader of the Decepticons, there is more to him than meets the eye. He was a nameless factory worker who quite literally fought his way to the top. Domination is all he knew as he fought in the gladiatorial pits of Kaon. Despite his limited dealings with higher Cybertronian society as a whole, he believed they were corrupt. He wanted to do away with the caste system that was eroding the robotic civilization. He took on the name of Megatronus and preached that equity should exist. That is, no social or occupational ranking system is required to determine one’s way of life. Freedom should exist for everyone. Orion Pax agreed with this up-and-coming orator about what needs to be done, but somewhere along the way, a rift between them would form and a war would erupt.

Irvine expertly explores what Orion Pax has to face as an up-and-coming leader of the Autobots—who would later be known as Optimus Prime. With Megatronus, he’s a character straight out of the movie Gladiator. He struggles for achieving freedom that meets his own ends. But his limited experience with societal moire seems to hamper him than make him respected. His relationship with his subordinates gets looked at, and some readers may well wonder if there is anyone he can trust. His first two lieutenants, Shockwave and Soundwave, even have their own agendas.

As for Starscream, he does not declare allegiance until much later. But this Bruticus to Megatronus’ Ceaser soon gets his moment; his double-dealing nature is far better explored in the book than the cartoons. He is less of a snivelling coward but more of a scheming traitor. Everything revolves around a secret that this Seeker (the Cybertronian name for a flyer) is hiding from both factions fighting for “the supposed freedom” for a planet. Instead, it becomes the right to rule.

And If Cybertron was known by any other name, it may well be Neo Rome. The name of Megatronus has a distinct air of Roman authority and the Primes were basically considered to be the former Emporerers of Cybertron. Also the etymology of the Autobot name is not because they can transform into land-moving vehicles. They represent autonomy even though hints of autocracy can be read between the lines—and that is what Megatronus hopes to achieve. When Optimus realizes its time to leave their home world, the chase is on!

Transformers Exiles

Much of the second book, Transformers: Exiles, tries to cram in details more worthy of a classic episode of Battlestar Galactica with elements of Jason and the Argonauts mixed in. The Autobots become wanderers in space with a fear of the Decepticon battleship, the Nemesis, potentially coming out from nowhere and laying waste to them. Irvine nicely imbues a familiar mythic quality to this next chapter of the saga where Optimus is navigating the space lanes in search for the Allspark aka the Golden Fleece.

He meets a few lost colonies along the way, and the plot does not become all that apparent until the second act, when the Autobots meets the Junkions. After a slow start, the pacing in the narrative becomes more interesting as it ventures into familiar seasons three and four territory from the G1 cartoon.

With The Ark roaming the stars courtesy of ancient Cybertronian technology, the Space Bridge, some readers may well be wondering which is Irvine was inspired by Stargate: Continuum. As the Autobots discover a few lost colonies, they too uncover relics from the ancient past. Some of these items, like the Star Saber and Apex Armour, are referenced and this novel serves as a very good bridge to the Prime Universe.

Unfortunately, this book is only one part of a greater whole. Irvine revealed that he is not involved with the planning of the next book, Transformers: Retribution, which is a shame—he’s moved on to work on other franchise material like the novelization of Pacific Rim.

He tells Otaku no Culture that he is unsure of how this third book will pick up on the story threads he strung along in Exiles. Hopefully writers David J. Williams and Mark S. Williams will do a good job, but when a franchise series is being penned by multiple authors, they usually do not have a lot of creative freedom. They sometimes have to stick to the guidelines set in Hasbro’s production bible for this new continuity.

Sadly, unlike the original Stargate novels, where the titles nicely played with a theme, from the first book titled Rebellion to the last, Reconnaissance, publisher Del Ray has changed the formula around by not offering a teasing title like “Transformers: Extinction.” After all, Megatron does want to hunt the Autobots down to just that.

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