Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mutants and Transformers, More Parallels Than You Probably Realize

First off, the disclaimer:

I love Transformers, enough so that I hold myself back from talking about them at least 4 out of 5 times I think of them. You don't want to be THAT guy, trust me. The thing that's most alluring about them is, of course, the toys. When I was a kid and I got a GI Joe, I got a little figure that could punch people, hold a gun, and drive a vehicle. If I was lucky, he could also fire a spring-loaded plastic projectile. When I got a Transformer, it could do all of that (except for driving a vehicle, although that wasn't unheard of) but it could also fold up like a piece of origami into a truck or a jet. It was kind of like a puzzle, even though I always read the instructions, I still marvel at the engineering of it all.

Now, Transformers have been around for over 30 years, and just like any other fictional property with that much history, you can find a lot of stuff that's surprisingly good. At the moment, we're kind of in a hayday for comics in general, Transformers has at least two really solid titles that have been running for a couple of years that are very well written.

Tl:dr I'm an apologetic Transformers fanatic.

So, Transformers and Mutants! If you've managed to avoid knowing what a Transformer is, but you're actually reading this, a Transformer is an alien robot that can change between at least two forms. Typically a humanoid robot, and something that adds functions or enhanced mobility. Inevitably in every fiction, they come to Earth at some point, and cosmetically change their alternate modes to resemble Earth equipment.

When they were first introduced way back in 1984, I don't know if they thought that Transforming alien robots wasn't going to be a big enough hook for children, or if they wanted more to put into each character's biography on the back of the box besides: "He turns into a car, and has a gun", but many of the original Transformers ended up with super powers. Mirage can turn invisible, Thundercracker can fly so fast that he creates concussive blasts that knock people, and robots, out, Skywarp can teleport, Bombshell can take over minds with little drones, Windcharger literally has Magneto's powers, and so on.

The early cartoon pretty much stopped paying attention to superpowers after the first season, only occasionally remembering they existed, and not giving them to many of the newer characters. The comics have had a lot of fun with them by retconning a bunch of old Cybertron politics involving discrimination and oppression based on having random powers, among other things.

One other thing that some Transformers can do, is smaller ones can sometimes combine into a larger one. Depending on which fiction and which character you're looking at, this can be a super power, a modification/surgical procedure they underwent, or something they were built for. Regardless, one thing that is fairly standard is that the merged form has a merged consciousness. The end product is a large, very powerful, robot that's not terribly bright, and a little indecisive. The first introduced combiner was Devastator, who is the combined form of all of the Constructicons. Now, each of the Constructions has a superpower. Mixmaster, who transforms into a cement truck, can pretty much breakdown any material at a molecular level and rebuild it into something else, so long as he ingests it? The funny thing, is that in theory, Devastator has access to all of the powers of his components, but since he can only act on shared thoughts, and only Mixmaster would think to transmute things, mostly he just smashes stuff, occasionally he shoots things. Later combiners somewhat mitigated this shortcoming by having more rigidly defined roles. If there was a clear leader that everyone respected, they were less likely to be so indecisive.

Okay, now, mutants! Specifically Marvel Comics mutants. I promise this going somewhere that I think is interesting, at least. I'm going to assume that we all know who the X-Men are, and how they get super powers randomly based off of genetic background. I know! They're not actually "mutants" but that's neither here nor there.

So, there's a guy, named Jamie Madrox, his super power is that he can generate doubles of himself, and he goes by the very clever name of "Multiple Man". Everyone just calls him Madrox for some reason...

There's a great X-Factor book where he's the main character, and they flesh out his powers and personality quite a bit. So, he can generate a copy of himself, and then he can later reabsorb it, and gets all of its memories. At some point, he couldn't figure out what to do with his life, and decided to do everything. He split off a bunch of doubles, and had each one start a new career and then come back in a decade and rejoin him. As such, he's a shaolin monk, legal counsel, CPA, locksmith, and SHIELD trained spy to name a few things. He can literally generate fifty or so doubles in just a few minutes, effectively creating an army of people with his skillset.

How do you mitigate such an over powered character? There's a couple of things. One, is indecision (See! Callback!), while he has, probably, centuries of life experience, every time he's reached a fork in the road, he's almost always had the option of generating a double, and basically taking both paths. It makes him very uncomfortable when he's dealing with people and has to make a choice. The second shortcoming he has is that each double is not an exact copy of his personality. Sometimes they get more or less of certain aspects of his personality. He doesn't know when he creates a double if it's going to be prone to fits of rage, hold grudges more than it forgives, just be manic, not take anything seriously, or just be so overcome with despair that it just wants to sit there. In the first issue of this run of X-Factor he sees a former teammate that's about to jump off a building, knowing that he's probably not the most optimistic at the moment, he generates a half dozen dupes, asks them how to save their friend, and elects the most uplifting seeming of them to go talk to him. This works perfectly, friend decides not to jump, except the double isn't just really peppy and positive, he's mostly a twisted sense of humor that thinks it's funny to push off after he's decided not to jump. He gets saved despite that, but it shows how unreliable he can be.

So, in a way, he's kind of the inverse of a Transformers combiner. He's conflicted and indecisive, but that goes away when he splits off pieces of himself. At the same time, he can turn himself into a larger force, but in order for that force to accomplish its purpose, they have to be doing something that they can agree on.

Anyhoo, I thought it was interesing.

No comments:

Post a Comment