Comic thoughts: Transformers #1-12 (2019)

SPOILER WARNING: This blog entry is a spoiler-heavy thought essay (I dare not call this a “review”) about the first 12 issues of IDW Transformers comics to come out this year.

IDW got the license to the Transformers comics back in 2005, following the dissolution of Dreamwave Productions. It was the first time I’d heard of IDW (Ideas & Design Workshop), and after a bit of a rocky start, their Transformers run ended up lasting until the end of 2018, and producing somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400 issues, PLUS crossovers with other Hasbro properties including G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., The Visionaries, and more. Beginning on the release day of the final issue of IDW’s run the day before Thanksgiving, I re-read the ENTIRE saga, which took me until somewhere around Valentine’s Day, reading at least a couple of issues nearly every day. It was huge, it was sprawling, it was deep, and it was exciting. It’s also the longest continuous Transformers narrative to date.

After its conclusion, IDW announced they were taking a few months off to let the dust settle, and then coming back with a brand-new Transformers saga, set on Cybertron in the time BEFORE the Autobot-Decepticon war. It would have no ties to the previous continuity, except that they were both Transformers stories. New writers, new artists, new everything. The first six months have given us double-shipped issues, meaning two issues per month of the same series. This has led to some probably-rushed artwork and a narrative that didn’t allow for reader feedback, due to the nature of how much time it takes to produce a comic.

It’s also generally not been very well received.

But it’s also possibly being unfairly judged. After all, at this point, MANY (although certainly not all) of the readers of the Transformers comics are in their late 30s to early 40s. At this point, most of the people with a predilection towards Transformers comics have gone through the 1984 cartoon series, the 1984 Marvel comic series, numerous spin-offs and alternate continuities such as Beast Wars, the Armada Trilogy, Transformers: Animated, and Transformers: Prime, the Michael Bay movies, and definitely the original IDW Universe (which has been shorthanded to “IDW1” by fans). All of those series are completed, and we know where they stand in Transformers history; Some more loved than others, but among the cross-section of Transformers fans and Comic fans, IDW1 is basically going to be right near the top.

So how can a brand-new series compete with that?

In short: It can’t. Not without doing something huge at the outset…which this story has failed to do.

I just finished reading issue #12. It was enjoyable. Moreso, I daresay, than the last few issues have been. And it finally hit me as to what’s been bothering me (and probably other readers) about the IDW2 stories so far:

IDW1 was very CHARACTER-driven. Every story featured a ton of characters, sure, but really only a few were the focal point at any given time.

IDW2 seems to be more PLOT-driven. And as a result, most of the characters have been blank slates. Sure, Megatron has to be the leader of the Acenticons (who will become the Decepticons) with characters like Soundwave and Shockwave working in his service… but the Megatron of the 2019 IDW Transformers comics doesn’t feel like he has to be Megatron. He could be ANY political revolutionary, with ANY name, and ANY design. Granted, the same could be said about the very early issues of IDW1’s Megatron, but he was already established as the big bad. We already knew who Megatron was, and the first panels of Megatron in IDW1 fed directly into that knowledge. This new Megatron doesn’t really fit into any preconceived notion that I have of Megatron. He’s just… a bot.

And that’s true of basically everybody, so far. I haven’t felt like anybody has shown any differentiating character traits, until issue 12. There were a few audience-surrogate moments in the first arc, via Rubble’s eyes, but once he was killed, the entire second arc has felt like I’m just watching random events happen, and I’m not invested in them.

Issue 12 takes the time to introduce us to this Universe’s interpretation of Nautica — a character created during the last few years of IDW1’s run — and Road Rage — a character that was originally released as a 2002 Japanese website-exclusive repaint of the 1985 Autobot Tracks toy, and, to my knowledge, hasn’t seen (m)any appearances in fiction, yet. And by focusing on these two characters, and using fairly natural dialogue and conversation, we learn quite a bit about who these characters ARE: Nautica studies non-Cybertronian life and considers all life to have value, though doesn’t necessarily understand what motivates other races and species. Road Rage is Nautica’s bodyguard, and she takes that role very seriously, right up to nearly sacrificing herself to protect Nautica from an explosion.

Despite these two being fairly underdeveloped characters in the 35 years of Transformers history, I feel like I know more about this universe’s version of Nautica and Road Rage than I do nearly any of the other characters, just from this one issue. I’ve been following Bumblebee, Cyclonus, Orion Pax, Megatron, Ironhide, Sixshot, Flamewar, Prowl, Chromia, Barricade, Shadow Striker, and a handful of others around for 11 issues, and still don’t really have a grasp on who ANY of those characters are or what their motivations might be, outside of my pre-exisitng Transformers knowledge.

Hopefully, writer Brian Ruckley continues down the path of more character-driven tales. Because the plot-based stories of the previous issues certainly aren’t working for me…and I’d be fine NOT buying two issues of Transformers every month.

-Psycho Andy, 21 Sept 2019