Any medium that utilizes robots as its draw will invariably be compared to Transformers, since it’s one of the most popular and successful franchises to employ a robotic focus. Understandably, Transformers’ appeal comes from the explosive battles that extend from the robots fighting amongst themselves. In most iterations of the long-running series, however, the character dynamic between the sentient machines and their human counterparts is given more focus than is necessary and the balance between action and meaningful human-robot relationships is fumbled. Interestingly, if there’s one thing that newcomer to the genre, Turning Tiger, does just fine, it’s balancing those two aspects. Unfortunately, too much time is spent on a third aspect: the humans interacting amongst themselves. And the overall story suffers. Emotions can go from confused to worried to indignant to calm to maniacal in the span of a couple of successive panels. Turning Tiger strives to tell a family story, but with the quick emotional transitions (it's like they're experiencing the most extreme of mood swings) and lack of character development, it only struggles. Anytime humans are left to interact with each other, which is a good chunk of the tale, the relationships end up feeling forced and unnatural. The only semblance of a meaningful relationship throughout the tale comes in the form of a half-page scene depicting robot and the main child character playing in the forest. It’s almost Iron Giant-like in its innocence.
Overall, the art is quality, but it fluctuates between being peculiar and fantastic. It’s the character art that is most inconsistent (one character sports six fingers on at least one occasion). The humans all share a distinct trait in that their designs are oddly angular and blocky, with ridiculously elongated and square jaws and massive hands. It’s a bit off-putting, since it makes the characters seem a little less human. However, that might be intentional.
The most attractive design is saved for the three central robots. The giant mechanized beings all share the same hulking humanoid design, with soft, round edges that offer a welcoming and familiar feel. (It’s similar to how, in Transformers, the heroic Autobots are modeled smoothly in comparison to the evil Decepticons’ sharp angles. It makes the friendly robots seem much less alien and more relatable.) Indeed, the scientist in charge of the robots’ care and development affectionately identifies them as her children, even referring to each by very female human names (Sam, Jo, and Jen). The contrasting design between the human-like robots and the stiff, almost artificial humans is fascinating as it helps the robots seem even more human.
The trio of robots is the result of dubious military experiments, where the goal was to create the ultimate weapon (isn’t it always?). As such, each is equipped with a variety of firearms, rocket boosters for flight, and an unrivaled processor of a brain. Despite their almost golem-like size, the robots are as speedy and agile as they are destructively strong. Given these attributes, the few action set pieces that involve the robots are nice and dynamic. (One standout scene is composed of a constant stream of bullets fired during a high-speed chase that meanders through a deep, rocky, and winding canyon.) In order to help the reader keep track of the fluid action’s participants, each robot is primary-color-coded for your convenience.
Undeniably, more often than not, you’ll be asked to suspend your disbelief. (For instance, how does a mid-sized sedan crash into a big rig truck head-on, both going full speed, and the passengers manage to survive with nary a scratch?) The mystery of why one of the robots defected has a surprisingly grim backstory. The overall “science” behind it all is more than a little far-fetched, but just familiar enough of a concept to be hand-waved. Take some time to think about it, though, and the plot holes start to show.
The ending begs several questions that are the result of bungled writing with a couple of the characters (humans, naturally) coming off as incredibly incompetent. There are also some shadowy authority figures watching behind-the-scenes from the safety of their computer monitors, but their fleeting presence is absolutely unnecessary, serving as nothing more than a possible sequel hook.
With painfully brief, but splendid robot-focused action and equally concise, yet pleasant relations between robots and humans, Turning Tiger certainly has a few bright spots. It’s the mishandled bulk of time dedicated solely to the humans interacting amongst themselves and the implausibility of certain events and exposition that drag the whole premise down.
TL;DR: Ambiguous science, a robot’s mysterious defection and strangely designed humans with frustratingly fickle personalities negatively balance out stellar robot action.
Turning Tiger is written by Richmond Clements and illustrated by Alex Moore. Published by Arcana Comics and produced by Renegade Arts Entertainment, it will be released May 8th. You can pre-order it here.
A review PDF of Turning Tiger was graciously provided to Spandexless.