Writer: John Barber
Artists: Andrew Griffith, Casey W. Coller, Jamie Snell, Sara Pitre-Durocher
I came into IDW’s Transformers as someone who hasn’t touched their main comics in years. I certainly grew up with the parallel stories of the original Transformers cartoon and the alternate-yet-similar Marvel comics, and mostly stuck with them until they died out in the early 1990s, and I haven’t kept up with all of the various reboots since then. So wandering back into IDW’s big anniversary issue was a bit familiar and yet disorienting all at once. There’s a lot going on, and while older Transformers fans will recognize most of the pieces on the chessboard, they may be rather lost as to how the pieces got where they did.
John Barber’s Transformers #50 kicks off the start of the “All Hail Optimus” storyline which brings to a head a number of preceding events from the series (and quick research indicates that IDW has some 280 comics which precede this including the prior 49 issues of this title). Walking in with fresh eyes, what I gather is this: we’re in a Transformers timeline that’s relatively similar to the old animated series (specifically in its “2005” setting, but with sprinkles of the old Marvel comics) in that we have an ongoing war between the Autobots and the Decepticons which has spilled over to Earth. Problem is, this war is coming to a head with the various factions and sub-factions threatening each other to no end. Earth’s governments in particular aren’t having any of this–particularly China, who’s decided to take unilateral action against the Autobots and Decepticons alike. The surprise moment comes when Optimus Prime concludes that the only way to save the Earth from this warfare is to annex it himself to bring it into the Cybertronian Council of worlds.
To their credit, the art team–particularly Andrew Griffith on the main story–does a fabulous job on the story. This Transformers comic emulates the old Pat Lee style that was done so well when the Transformers license was still at Dreamworks, with characters who not only resembled their animated counterparts but also looked really big within the confines of the comic page. They also use that lovely coloring and inking technique which really makes the characters vibrantly spring of the page, reminiscent of animated stills but without the limitations of a fumetti book. So yes, this book is very pretty to look at.
The downside is that because this story is very in media res, it’s not especially accessible to someone like me who’s considering jumping into Transformers after a long absence. From what I can gather, Barber has taken Transformers‘ thick mythology and done some interesting things with it, but it’s unclear how to get quickly spun up on that. For example, he’s done some tremendous reshuffling of the characters, so while Optimus Prime and Galvatron are on the obvious good-versus-evil sides, the Autobot = good/Decepticon = bad division is not so clear here as it was in the cartoon. Soundwave leads a faction of “good” Decepticons, for example. Starscream is the democratically-elected leader of Cybertron and Bumblebee works for him. Thundercracker has defected to Optimus’ team. And this says nothing of the “new” characters in the book who aren’t part of the classic Transformers lineup. Thematically, the blurring of what’s really good and evil is always worth exploring, and that appears to be an element of where this story is going. As a gateway story, though, it’s a bit of a morass for a new reader to get into.
Longtime readers may enjoy this title. Older, established fans may want to stick with the wacky G.I.Joe vs. Transformers, which has considerably fewer issues to catch up on and stays closer to its roots.
Rating: Three Energons out of Five.