Today I have the chance to look at something really cool (CHILLING you might say?): the Halloween special of IDW’s Transformers. This issue, written by Dan Watters and with art by Beth McGuire-Smith, stars everybody’s favorite sycophantic suck-up, Starscream. I had a lot of fun reading this, so let me stop the preamble and get right to the regular-amble.
We start off by having Starscream overhear a conversation between Sixshot and Megatron, the former going to great lengths to undermine the seeker’s loyalty to the cause. This causes our mouthy protagonist to solving a haunting mystery all on his own: a mysterious “ghost” that’s appeared lately in the deepest, most under-explored area of Cybertron, that only Starscream and his departed mentor Cryak knew well enough to traverse.
We come to learn the noise is being caused simply by a Voin ape, bound and trapped by a cable to a tree as it screams day and night in desperation. Starscream goes to cut its wire to end its life, but in a freak accident, ends up getting his spark trapped inside the creature’s body. Inside, he encounters his former, believed to be dead mentor. While initially overjoyed, she quickly reveals that she has no intent on rekindling, instead wanting to usurp his body and escape. In the end, Starscream manages to get back to his body safe and sound, and leaves his former teacher to her cruel fate, forever to be trapped in the undying body of the ape. After all, who would he be to deprive Cybertron of its latest folk tale?
The issue goes to great lengths to be a fascinating character study of Starscream himself, which I didn’t expect, but can’t say I didn’t like. I was honestly shocked at just how deeply an introspective look at Starscream this was, to the point I actually forgot it was supposed to be a horror themed story almost entirely. He’s loyal to Cybertron, to the Decepticon cause, but only in his own personal, self satisfying and cruel way. His twisted patriotism is reflected, more horrifically, by his mentor Cryak, who is also an interesting character. Her insane ramblings about being free of bodily autonomy being rightfully creepy and deranged to make for a fun one-off villain.
The artwork is also great, with McGuire-Smith putting out some wonderfully expressive and very creative work. The body language of the ape having a full on anxiety attack, spurned by Starscream’s own panic at his imprisonment within, was great and appropriately horrific. The mind-melting transfer was also just a really cool visual that I found myself going back to look at a few times — it just looked really cool. I also loved seeing the shots that showed a half “X-ray” view of the creature, to depict the microscopic scale of Starscream and Cryak’s race to escape.
Overall, I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this. You’d be forgiven to think that maybe with the concept at play here here, a Starscream Halloween tale, that you’d be in store for something to do with the character’s rather common association in other incarnations with being a literal ghost. You might be on the right track, but not quite on the mark. I’m surprised the obvious route wasn’t taken there, but I appreciate the ability to tell a Starscream-themed horror story without doing the obvious thing.
Transformers: Halloween Special is brief but well characterized, and offers a unique little story where you can just explore a character and watch them go on a bite-sized journey. I actually miss when comics did things like this more often, and in the primary titles at that. It’s not the first thing I think of when Halloween comes to mind, sure, but you can’t say it isn’t unique, and very Transformers.
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