Stories of unknown soldiers are seldom told and in the Transformers universe there are as many untold stories as there are unknown soldiers. One such story is “Last Stand of the Wreckers”. It’s a tale that doesn’t focus on the likes of Optimus Prime or Megatron or Bumblebee but instead on Pyro, Rotorstorm and Ironfist.
Before “Last Stand of the Wreckers” came along in early 2010, some 8 years ago now, not many people knew of the likes of Pyro, Rotorstorm and Ironfist. But over the course of the 5-issue mini-series readers met these unknown soldiers. They met them, they knew them and, ultimately, they lost them.
“Last Stand of the Wreckers”
Written by Nick Roche and James Roberts
Illustrated by Nick Roche and Guido Guidi
Inks by John Wycough and Andrew Griffith
Colours by Josh Burcham and Joana Lafuente
Letters by Neil Uyetake and Chris Mowry
Originally published in Last Stand of the Wreckers 1-5
At the end of 2009, IDW Publishing relaunched its range of Transformers comics with one main ongoing title, and soon a series of related mini-series. One of these mini-series is Last Stand of the Wreckers, helmed writing-wise by (originally just) Nick Roche and (then joined by) James Roberts.
Compared to IDW’s mainstream Transformers output, Last Stand comes right out of left-field and has sparked a radical change in the way that many Transformers comic book stories have since been told.
Last Stand of the Wreckers may deal with a peripheral corner of IDW’s Transformers universe but its commitment to characters and their relationships over plot and dense, intricate world-building make it a universe within a universe. It’s intimate but all-encompassing at the same time. Its cast is small but its characters are massive.
In 2008 All Hail Megatron took 16 issues and 350 pages for the Decepticons to conquer, occupy, and lose Manhattan. During that time there was an off-handed implication that, by the way, the rest of the Autobots in the known galaxy had been conquered too like it was a narrative shrug of the shoulders. Last Stand takes one tiny aspect of what may or may not have happened off-Earth and develops the idea into a fully-formed microcosm. It is an untold story writ large.
Last Stand’s premise is this: A squadron of Decepticons under the sudden and unexpected leadership of Overlord has taken over an Autobot prison, Garrus-9, and the Wreckers and a handful of new recruits have been tasked with rescuing any surviving Autobots. (If only it were that simple!)
The biggest first impression that Last Stand makes is Overlord himself. His introduction is glorious! Unforgettable. Just as Wreckers aren’t Autobots, Overlord is, emphatically, not a Decepticon. He is an ex-Phase Sixer with a sadistic streak larger than any one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms. Previously only known by the information of his 1991 toy’s tech specs, Last Stand turns Overlord into one of Transformers’ most illustrious and perversely entertaining villains ever written. (This, of course, is a completely different Overlord to the Masterforce Overlord.)
The depths of depravity that Overlord and his Decepticon followers plumb over the course of the story is astounding. There is torture, dismemberment, immolation, decapitation, and some really, really fucked up dentistry. The violence and gore in Last Stand is over the top and gratuitous but hideously and effectively punctuates how sick Overlord is. I could probably do without such an extreme level of bloodshed, but that’s only because after 30 years of reading robot comics, I get far too attached. Some scenes are so visceral that you’ll find yourself looking away from the page. You’ll flinch first, believe me.
The flip side of Overlord is, of course, the Wreckers. And I’m not saying what they do and what they’ve done is any better. The morals of this story are muddy to say the least and that’s what makes it such a compelling read.
This story delves into exactly what the Wreckers are about and it isn’t pretty. It highlights, in both the Transformers’ universe and ours, what can and does go on in times of war and how the truth is twisted and misrepresented, and worst of all, how our consciences are too easily salved when we turn a blind eye.
The Wreckers are well known to those of us who have followed the lore of the 1980s Marvel UK Transformers comics. Last Stand features all of the old guard and a handful of new recruits–Pyro, Ironfist, Rotorstorm, and Guzzle–and it does a remarkable job in presenting these previously obscure characters in a warm and captivating light. Old, forgotten Transformers toys have become new favourites.
Speaking of Marvel UK, this story is littered with references and nods to that series from the identities of Squadron X to the numbering of the Wreckers: Declassified entries. If you’re a hardwired Marvel fan you’ll be euphoric over all the references. In fact, there is a total of 112 nods to Marvel (just one shy of the notorious 113). Hey, I counted!
(Also, if you squint, you could just about read “Last Stand of the Wreckers” as follow on from issue 332 that fills issues of an non-existent 333-342 of Marvel UK’s Transformers!)
Of the new Wreckers recruits (wrecruits?), Ironfist is by far my personal favourite. He goes through so much over the course of the five issues and is just so warm and nerdy and lovable. The sheer polarity of what he thought he knew about his idols, the Wreckers, to what he eventually finds out destroys him utterly. Hang on, there’s just… something… my eye…
Pyro is another favourite. As big a fan Ironfist is of the Wreckers, Pyro equally idolises (to the point that it’s become a recorded behaviour disorder) Optimus Prime as much. Pyro spends his time seeking the perfect death and the perfect motto. In his last minutes the motto he has been looking for becomes his last words. It’s one of the series’ most touching moments. Even now I can’t even bear to look as Pyro meets his demise “Shaun of the Dead”-style!
The real highlight of “The Last Stand of the Wreckers”, for me, is the relationship between Springer and Impactor. It’s compelling, tense, dramatic and heartbreaking. The core of their relationship is really the core of the story itself–that the truth of war is as devastating as the stories told of its warriors are romantic.
Ironfist romanticised and idealised Impactor’s war crimes through his…well… blog and as we see more details of the relationship between Springer and Impactor as the story reaches its climax we, and Ironfist, realise that what actually happened is nothing short of atrocious.
Just as with human conflicts, time and nostalgia soften a war’s horrors and numbs us from it.
Last Stand’s storytelling strengths lie in its rich and dense world-building, its characters and their relationships, and the details of its own meticulous backstory that weave in and out of the narrative. But the plot itself, at times, lacks sophistication and feels contrived in places. Sometimes there is more manoeuvring of characters and situations into the right place, for the reason that there is so much happening at any given time, rather than the plot having the space it needs to flow more naturally.
The majority of “Last Stand of the Wreckers” is illustrated by its co-writer, Nick Roche, with colours by Josh Burcham and inks by John Wycough. (With help on a few pages from Guido Guidi, and Andrew Griffith.)
It’s a beautiful and detailed story. Its pages and panels glide along effortlessly and convey the action and tension (and even the gore) with such elegance that it’s impossible not to become completely absorbed. If there is poetry in violence then Nick and Josh know how to give it form.
The style change between flashback and present-day is skilfully done. The flashback pages are aged and gritty while the present-day scenes are bright and polished.
The artwork plays with the central theme of the story: the idealised versus the reality.
The battle at Pova, the event that both Ironfist’s breakdown and Springer’s and Impactor’s relationship is pinned on, is told and retold in two very different ways. The way Ironfist tells of the battle of Pova is shown with artwork that is clean, polished and with a kind of ethereal lighting that drenches the characters in a rhapsodised sheen. Conversely, when the truth of what actually happened is revealed, the artwork is dirty and scuffed and the characters are distressed and brittle. It’s even raining. This distinction between lies and truth is brilliantly painted.
For all its depth and intensity, Last Stand features its fair share of lighter moments. Maybe lighter is the wrong choice of word here; the humour is dark! Once particular scene, where an Autobot prisoner is rent apart with his own insignia stuffed in his mouth makes me feel disgusted with myself for finding so funny.
With five years’ worth of follow ups and sequels that have spun out of Last Stand, it is an absolute delight to revisit again and again.
If you can find it, I recommend the hardcover collected edition with all its extra features, stories and character profiles. It’s the joy of a childhood Transformers annual; it’s a rousing, colourful, cabaret production (Wrecktacular, Wrecktacular!); it’s a universe within a universe that deserves a few hours of your time to truly saviour and appreciate.
If you’re currently catching up on More than Meets the Eye/Lost Light and Sins of the Wreckers then one particular highlight of the collected Last Stand of the Wreckers is James Roberts’s must-read text story, “Bullets”. It serves as a prequel to the mini-series itself and adds so much to the story, and the cast, but also sows so many seeds to plots that blossom in More than Meets the Eye. “Zero Point”, too, is essential. James’s prose is beautiful and vivid, evocative and arresting.
The “Autopedia” character profiles are marvellous inclusions to the series. In the hardcover collection, every profile that was printed in both the single issues and the softcover TPB collected edition are included: Rotorstorm, Pyro, Guzzle, Ironfist, Impactor, Snare, and Overlord. Each one adds more layers to each character and the story as a whole. If you’re a huge fan of character profiles like I am, then it’s a wonderful addition.
I honestly cannot recommend “Last Stand of the Wreckers” enough. It’s a benchmark of the IDW Transformers Universe. It shows what can be done by talented storytellers who know Transformers inside out and understand how to tell their stories, no matter how obscure they are to begin with. Nick and James have created a far larger narrative than fits into 5 issues and the distilled and concentrated end result is a thrilling and startling mini-series that has so much depth and character that it will stay with you, like it has with me, for years to come.
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.