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Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Fri Sep 23, 2022 4:50 pm
by andersonh1
Transformers The War Within #1
October 2002
Story - Simon Furman, Pencils - Don Figeroa, Inks - Don Figeroa, Elaine To, Colors - Rob Ruffalo

The opening G1 mini was hit and miss, but we're in good hands now. I am not someone who gripes about Simon Furman, I enjoy his Transformers writing, and Don Figeroa is absolutely my favorite Transformers artist of them all. Between the two of them they produced a superb early war Transformers story, and Rob Ruffalo's colors are bright and lush and really compliment the artwork. I think this is the first time we saw so many of the G1 characters redesigned en masse like this, so that's noteworthy. That triple gatefold cover is so good it should be a poster. I'm gushing with enthusiasm here, I know, but this remains one of my favorite Transformers mini-series.

The opening splash page is succinct: Sentinel Prime is dead. All we see is his forearm and hand, both damaged, and in the background smoke and flames and a half-toppled structure, with jets flying away in the distance, probably after a bombing run. The next page gives us Iacon, the capital city, still intact, and the death of Sentinel Prime is all Bluestreak wants to talk about, while an unnamed archivist, who will clearly be Optimus Prime, just wants to work. He's not interested in gossip, he's not interested in the war, and he doesn't care about the rumors. Bluestreak reprimands him for playing it safe while others are fighting and dying.

The story shifts to those fighting and dying out in the war zone, among them Kup, Ironhide, Wheeljack, Skids and Grimlock. This is Furman's Grimlock, so he's a very familiar figure in how he speaks and how he acts. Trailbreaker and Bumblebee witness an attack by Skywarp and Thundercracker on the neutral city of Altihex, and it's clear the Decepticons aren't going to respect that declaration. Grimlock declares that there's been too much retreating, and soon there will be nowhere left to go. It's time for a Prime who will take the fight to the enemy, and even if I hadn't read this before, I recognize the beginning of a conflict between that next Prime and Grimlock. Especially when the next page shows us the Ancients (in a chamber with a floor that looks like the Matrix of Leadership, and "Till All Are One" on the wall) informing the Archivist that he has been chosen by "the Source" to be the next Prime, and we've already seen that he's not too invested in the war and certainly doesn't think like Grimlock. Grimlock, meanwhile, meets with Jazz and Prowl and plainly states that they are out of time, and if the next Prime doesn't get it right, it's time to stage a coup. I think Grimlock is clearly thinking of himself as the candidate here.

In the oracle tank, Prime sees visions, and there's some fun details here. Omega Sentinels guard the tank, Sky Lynx, Starscream and Shockwave are seen, and a shadowy figure that may be Megatron is visible in the panel where the still unnamed Archivist floats the idea of just letting the Decepticons have Cybertron if they want it so badly.

The Archivist (and I keep calling him that because I don't think he's ever named until this scene) is invested with the Matrix with a solemn ceremony and proclaimed to be Optimus Prime, even as assassins creep towards the chamber. A fierce fight ensues and though the Autobots kill a few, Grimlock insists that Jazz wait and see what the new Prime is made of. Prime easily defeat the final assassin who commits suicide after taunting Prime. The Autobots cheer their new leader, but that stops quickly when his first command is to prepare for planetwide evacuation. That in and of itself would be a great cliffhanger, but the book ends with Megatron finally revealed, no doubt expecting his assassin's taunts to bring Prime to him. A caption on the next to last page reads "within" giving us one of a couple of meanings of the series title. It's going to be a physical war within the planet itself, beneath the surface, and ultimately a battle within Optimus Prime to be who he needs to be.

I did more plot summarizing and less commentary than I often like to do. I have to summarize some events to comment on them, though I try not to go overboard since people who want to know what happens can just read the issue. But if nothing else it demonstrates that this book is packed with plot. It puts Prime Directive to shame with just how much occurs in this one issue. The death of Sentinel Prime, the introduction of several main characters, the establishment of a character conflict between Prime and Grimlock, all interspersed with character moments from familiar faces who look a little different thanks to the redesigns. For the most part, those redesigns are excellent, leaving all the characters recognizable despite the changes. I even like the callback to some of the G1 toys with Ironhide's windshield in front of his face, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. One of the Decepticon assassins becomes a pistol, which is a fun reference to G1 Megatron's alt mode later on. And I like this hint that there is something important about Cybertron, and that it is more than just a planet, and that the war is a test of the Transformers race, the first of many. Hints of some greater purpose do more to inspire the imagination than explanations, and I think Furman properly showed restraint in his storytelling here.

Just to comment on a few ads, we see what must have been the original plan for the G1 profile books. The copy mentions four issues, and of course we ultimately got eight. And then there's a Toys R Us ad for the first wave of the Commemorative Series reissues. There are solicits for War Within #2, Armada #5, the trade paperback of Prime Directive, and two posters: Devastator vs Superion and a G1 battle poster by James Raiz. Dreamwave really was all-in with the Transformers franchise at this point.

I rarely ever give a perfect 10 out of 10, and though there are no doubt flaws in this issue, it's so good I'm going to give that rare 10 of 10. Great story, great art, and the characters feel like themselves. It's good on its own, and looks even better compared with what we just finished. I'm not likely to give another 10 out for some time, but this issue deserves it.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sat Sep 24, 2022 6:53 pm
by Sparky Prime
Don Figueroa remains one of, if not the best artists to ever work on Transformers comics. It's so disappointing he was not treated well not only by Dreamwave (like all of their employees) but also Hasbro and the fans before he ultimately left IDW. Based on his Twitter, he's still understandably bitter about it, but it's nice to see him sharing his work again.

The War Within was something I was very excited for when it was first announced. Getting to see the early part of the war on Cybertron with the characters in Cybertronian forms was something I'd always wanted to see. And this story really delivered on all fronts. Little disappointed we didn't get to see Sentinel Prime, aside from his arm. We would eventually get to see Don Figueroa's design for Sentinel, but not until IDW's Spotlight Optimus Prime in 2007. His attention to detail and tendencies to throw in Easter Eggs is something we don't often see with other artists. In fact, Alex Milne is the only other artist I can think of that is similar in that regard.

Odd Optimus is known as Optronix rather than Orion Pax prior to getting the Matrix, although that's a moot point since they don't actually use either name in the comic itself. Not sure how the fandom even found out about the name Optronix. I just remember seeing it used online at the time, but never any context for its origin.

Kinda wish Alpha Trion played a role in this story, since he was the reason Orion became Optimus in the cartoon. The Council of Ancients was an interesting idea introduced here, but unfortunately don't really do anything besides informing The Archivist that he has been chosen to become the next Prime. Starscream ends up killing most of them... and finished off the survivors in one of the following series.

I like that Optimus doesn't initially want to fight the Decepticons for Cybertron, instead commanding the Autobots evacuate the planet. It adds an interesting twist to the character, who looks at this war as a pointless waste, which in turn will lead to his growth as Prime of the course of this storyline.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sun Sep 25, 2022 5:57 pm
by Dominic
I reread "War Within" a few years back.

Figueroa carried that book.

Fun fact: In '02, I actively wanted to be out of comics. This was not the sort of idle "I might be out of comics" that we all go through. For a number of reasons, I made a decision that I would be out of comics by the end of that year. And, I was *real* close. Everything I was reading had either ended ("Prime Directive", the first arc of "Armada") or was hindered by poor distribution (Games Workshop was notorious for this). I was looking for a change.

Then, "the War Within" happened. A friend of mine called me up to tell me how good it was. "There is stuff on every page..." he told me. I flipped through the first issue or two, and I cracked. I was more forgiving of Furman 2 years ago than I am now. But, it was not his writing that sold me. It was the absolutely gorgeous art by Don Figueroa.

Don Figueroa is more responsible than any single creator for keeping me interested in comics. The zero issue (set during issue 3) has some of the best art I have seen in a "Transformers" comic. (Note how Figueroa conveyed Grimlock's mental state without exaggerated facial features and general sloppiness.)

My only gripe with Figueroa is that he left us.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sat Oct 01, 2022 7:04 pm
by andersonh1
Don Figeroa is my favorite Transformers artist, bar none.

Transformers The War Within #2
November 2002
Story - Simon Furman, Pencils - Don Figeroa, Inks - Elaine To, Colors - Rob Ruffalo

We all think it right? For years, we fight and die... and for what? To run, hide? This slap in face for all those who die for cause, for all those still willing to carry on. - Grimlock, not in agreement with Optimus Prime

We open with another forearm and hand, as we did last issue, and with a Hamlet reference as Megatron holds the decapitated head of Xeon (who looks like he has a proto-Decepticon insignia on his forehead) as a crowd watches. We're in Kaon, in the Decepticon fortress of Kolkular, which resembles a giant mushroom to me. I love that Cybertron geography is being established and that we get a little history from Megatron about how the Decepticons rose to power, in part by using Xeon's greed. Since Xeon was an Emirate, feels like a trademark friendly reference to Emirate Xaaron. As always with Don Figeroa's art there are cameos in the background, among them Trypticon. Starscream objects to Megatron's course of action and points out that the Autobots are evacuating the planet. There is so much information conveyed in these few pages that we're immediately caught up not only on events since last issue, but more history of the war as well.

So the Autobots are following the new Prime's orders, but they don't like it or agree. There are so many familiar faces here, and even in redesigned forms the color schemes and basic design tell us exactly who they are: Grapple, Ironhide, Hound, Powerglide, Outback and Brawn. Grimlock is still talking about another leader, just as he was last issue. He may well take matters into his own hands, and while this could be construed as breaking his oath, Grimlock clearly has a good point.

Back with Megatron, it becomes clear that the war and wiping out the Autobots is only part of the plan as Megatron intends to turn Cybertron into a "Cosmic Dreadnought", so he already has his sights set beyond Cybertron to larger conquests. The role of the Constructicons here is perfect, and I love the hints of a deeper history here with "planetary turbines" that someone unknown built.

Prowl, unlike Grimlock, doesn't consider replacing Prime behind his back, he comes right out and says that the evacuation decision is not popular, and he makes it clear that he doesn't agree with it either. Prime explains the numbers he saw in his past job, and that there will be no winners in this war, only the total destruction of Cybertron. We get a partial title drop as Prowl tells him he can't go by numbers, he has to look "within". What happens next ups the stakes, as even in a planetwide war with untold death and destruction, Megatron fires one of those engines and destroys a huge chunk of the surface, something everyone witnesses, including Grimlock who has gone to Kaon. Nice "Dark Knight Returns" reference there, Don.

There Megatron is making it clear to Soundwave, Ravage (in an interesting humanoid design) and the future Insecticons that the subjugation of Cybertron was a feint. When Optimus Prime arrives, as Megatron remains sure that he will­, they will be there to greet him. And in true Optimus Prime fashion, he goes alone, and by the time he rethinks his actions, it's too late to go back as he is attacked by the Insecticons and sent hurtling further underground. I've always loved Shrapnel's line here that Megatron wants Prime's "twitching corpse!"

Then we get a stellar cliffhanger as Shockwave leads an attack on Iacon. I've grown so used to seeing all the characters redesigned that it was a a surprise on first reading (but a good one) to see Shockwave unchanged as he declares to the Autobots that "the hour of your eradication is at hand!"

Another great issue. More redesigned Transformers are revealed and they look great. Don Figeroa's art is still my favorite, and Furman shows his skill at writing this type of comic as he reveals bits and pieces of the larger plot while still providing some good lines and good characterization. These characters feel like themselves, unlike the previous miniseries, they behave and sound largely as I expect them to. I really don't have anything to pick apart here, and I'm just as enthused as I was for last issue. I keep telling myself that I can't give two 10 out of 10s in a row, but I'm going to do it. Curious to see if I will feel the same for next issue. I've always enjoyed this series, but it's been years since I've read it, and I'm discovering that it's probably one of my favorites from the last twenty years worth of Transformers comics.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sun Oct 02, 2022 10:35 am
by Dominic
Nice "Dark Knight Returns" reference there, Don.
Refresh my memory. (I like to think I would recall this. But, I cannot.)

As much as I liked IDW's Prowl, I never understood why some elements of the fandom decided he was a bad guy years before "All Hail Megatron".

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sun Oct 02, 2022 12:35 pm
by andersonh1
Dominic wrote: Sun Oct 02, 2022 10:35 am
Nice "Dark Knight Returns" reference there, Don.
Refresh my memory. (I like to think I would recall this. But, I cannot.)
I can't say I had ever noticed it prior to this last read-through, but it's in the middle of the page where Grimlock is entering Kaon.


As much as I liked IDW's Prowl, I never understood why some elements of the fandom decided he was a bad guy years before "All Hail Megatron".
Yeah, that characterization didn't start until that AHM Coda issue where he decides to manipulate Kup. I think sometimes they read that back into earlier series, but it's simply not there.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sun Oct 02, 2022 6:08 pm
by Dominic
Shame on me for not catching that reference years ago.

The Prowl thing ties in to the idea that took root among some fans that Prowl is a jerk (going back to G1, when Prowl would call out Grimlock for being stupid).

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sat Oct 08, 2022 9:03 am
by andersonh1
As many times as I've read this series, I'd never caught it either.

Speaking of things I missed from Dreamwave....

Transformers The War Within preview
August 2002
Story - Simon Furman, Pencils & Inks - Don Figeroa

I've never read this story before, and I'm not sure how I missed it back in the day. I knew it existed simply because issue 3 of the main series refers to some of the events of the story. So Grimlock was a potential Decepticon recruit at one point? Or at the very least, used to keep company with Starscream in the old gladiatorial days, and Starscream thinks Grimlock might not be all that loyal to the Autobots he's sided with. It's another instance of the "war within" theme, referring to internal conflict of course. Grimlock's having none of it, but Starscream gives him a choice: join them in attacking an Autobot command post, "give in to that beast coiled inside of you".

Flash back to "ante-bellum Cybertron", an age of peace and harmony, but discontent and rebellion lie beneath the surface. Starscream's eyes have a yellow glow rather than red at this point, interestingly, and Grimlock is already wearing an Autobot insignia, when he probably shouldn't be. Their designs are also slightly different than present day, in another nice bit of care and detail from Don Figeroa. They're fighting in the arena, and Megatron already has his eye on those fighting as he picks his future army. Everyone is fighting to prove themselves according to Starscream. We get to see Xeon being paid off to look the other way (so it's nice to see that history from issue 2 briefly shown here) and Starscream again referring to just how many in this society have some capacity for violence just waiting for the chance to be turned loose. His belief is that there is no one who can't be tempted or turned.

Back to the present where Starscream finds out just how wrong he is. Grimlock took advantage of Starscream's information to get to the command post first, erase all tactical data, and leave him a taunting message. It's as solid a summation of who Grimlock is as I've seen. He needed an outlet before the war, but now he's got plenty of fighting to do, and while he may not like the Autobots all that much, he really hates Starscream and the other Decepticons. The choice wasn't all that hard for him. We all know that Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp survive the trap since they're around in the present day, so it's hardly a spoiler to note that next issue shows the aftermath of Grimlock's attempt to kill them.

I miss Grimlock. He was barely in IDW's Transformers once Furman left, and I really do think that Furman's Grimlock is the definitive version. He adds some much needed grit to the Autobot cast of characters. I like this look into his past, and the idea that the no-nonsense Grimlock would not put up with Starscream is something that just logically fits both of these characters. I'm not sure I've seen them interact all that much before, so that was an interesting scenario to read. I'm not quite sure how to grade what is essentially a few extra scenes rather than a full story, but I'll go with 8 out of 10. The plot is short and to the point, and proceeds nicely from the characters behaving as they should, and the art is as strong as ever. Bonus points for giving past Grimlock and Starscream slightly different designs.

The extras are nice as well, good to see some of Don's character designs in isolation, and of course I appreciate that he kept Bumblebee and Skywarp similar to what we saw in the first episode of the G1 animated series. I like his sleek and angular vehicle forms for so many of the Autobots. Nice interviews with Furman and Figeroa, even if they are a bit "hype up the new series" in tone. They give a nice snapshot of a moment in time 20 years ago when we were getting the first new Transformers comics in about ten years, and everyone was excited for the possibilities.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Sun Oct 16, 2022 3:53 pm
by andersonh1
Transformers The War Within #3
December 2002
Story - Simon Furman, Pencils - Don Figeroa, Inks - Elaine To, Colors - Rob Ruffalo

I had never picked up that every issue is opening with someone's hand and forearm, but issue 3 follows that same pattern as we see two unknown Transformers being tortured as Starscream talks about pain. Starscream is clearly trying to rationalize the failure of the mission and Skywarp isn't taking it. Turns out he teleported the three of them out before the explosion could kill them. Meanwhile Megatron is talking to Soundwave about the status of Optimus Prime, and he reminds me a bit of Ruckley's Megatron here, with Megatron concerned that his plan could easily fall apart with one mistake. In this case, they have to get the Matrix, because that's clearly what Megatron is after here.

Meanwhile Optimus is getting a lesson from the Matrix, or at least I assume that's what is happening here. "Here within Cybertron we have a voice" an image of himself tells him. Optimus did not come alone because he's foolish, he came seeking answers. There's not time for much as he has to defend himself against Ravage, with the others close behind.

On the surface we get some great panels of Shockwave leading the attack on Iacon, and I love that for once we really do get a war, not a skirmish with a few individual Autobots fighting some Decepticons. Lots of background cameos here from Don: Dirge, Ramjet, Deluxe Insecticons, all the Decepticon triple-changers, probably Cliffjumper and Huffer. I cannot say enough good things about the vehicle designs. All of this had to be a massive amount of work, to create new character models for all of the major characters in this story, and draw the story itself. But Don did it, and it all looks so good. The guy just has so much talent.

Jazz and Prowl agree that attacking the Autobots in their strongest location isn't a good strategic move by the Decepticons, and Prowl thinks there's too much coincidence here. Since we've learned that much of the war is a distraction by Megatron (something the Autobots don't know), Prowl looks intelligent here for arriving at a pretty shrewd conclusion. Starscream also has arrived at a similar conclusion (though in his case it's because he's privy to all the inside tactical discussions) and confronts Megatron, who considers for a moment and then spills the whole plot. We caught most of it last issue, but here it's explicitly spelled out that the uprising exists to keep the authorities occupied while Megatron had the massive engines that could move Cybertron repaired. All of this takes place over a depiction of Optimus taking on Soundwave, Ravage and the Insecticons and taking them out all by himself. Pretty impressive for a former archivist, but exactly the display of fighting prowess we'd expect from Optimus Prime, and I appreciate the narrative overlaying the fight rather than a bunch of dialogue from the combatants. Even here we get a bit of character building as we learn that Starscream is not a believer in the mystic power of the Matrix, while Megatron is sure that it's real, and it's the key to powering the engines.

I love the moment when Optimus tells Megatron to stop sending these punks after him, come tell him whatever he has to say to his face. And Grimlock gets a mission that he's not going to like, as Prowl informs him that the Autobots are taking advantage of their tactical error.

The issue ends with Megatron taking Optimus up on his bit of bravado and coming to meet him personally, only for Starscream to pull a coup attempt that I really didn't expect to happen this early in the series and try to kill them both by collapsing the bridge that both are standing on, leaving both falling to their doom.

A lot of Cybertron's interiors in this series remind me of Beast Machines, with a technological surface and a lot of dirt and rock and mysterious technology deep underground. It's an area that Optimus realizes he is able to navigate thanks to the Matrix and a connection with an unknown presence. "A voice from pre-history" he calls it. I agree with the storytelling choice to hint at Cybertron's past, not explain it in great detail. It's much more intriguing left to the imagination.

This is a strong chapter for a "middle chapter" in a story, which we don't always see. It doesn't move the story forward as much as the first two issues did, and repeats some of the same plot we've learned about from issue 2, so while it's another very good entry in this series, I'd go with an 8 or 9 out of 10. There's no significant decline in quality, but the plot does slow down after so much happened in issues 1 and 2. Still, War Within remains and interesting story, well-told and well-drawn, and we're honestly 3 great issues for 3 so far.

Re: Dreamwave G1 read-through

Posted: Tue Oct 25, 2022 5:06 pm
by andersonh1
Transformers The War Within #4
January 2003
Story - Simon Furman, Pencils - Don Figeroa, Inks - Elaine To, Colors - Rob Ruffalo

The hand motif on the first page continues, this time with the shadow of a giant clawed had over what I assume is Cybertron, with bursts of flame and a cracked moon in the background. Along with the caption this hints at some distant unknown history for the planet, and as I noted last time, I like that so much is left to the reader's imagination. It's the Tolkien idea of unexplored vistas and distant horizons that intrigue because we know so little about them.

We're in the most "middle chapter" issue of the story where the plot doesn't really advance, which seems typical for a six issue mini-series like this. Optimus has survived the fall of course, and is wondering where Megatron went. It won't be long before Megatron finds him and attacks, but meanwhile on the surface, Shockwave isn't buying Starscream's story that Megatron is dead, and he's certainly not accepting Starscream as the one "calling the shots". I think Starscream needs to take this a bit more seriously, because Shockwave isn't someone to be trifled with, and I think he could take Starscream out pretty handily.

Grimlock takes his sub-group (proto-Dinobots?) of Ironhide, Kup and Wheeljack down into the crater that Megatron created a few issues back by firing one of Cybertron's engines, and reveals the strategy: shore up defenses elsewhere while the Decepticons persist in attacking Iacon. We find out a few pages later that he's not sure he's going to rescue Prime while he's down there. Looking at Kup's design here, seems like Brakedown from the Cybertron line was based on this design. I enjoy that Wheeljack (and Laserbeak) look like they did in the first episode of the G1 animated series. There are some more cameos during the battle sequences, and though I can't tell who all of them are, looks like Hun-grr, Broadside, Elita-1? and others that I feel like I should know based on the color schemes, but can't quite figure out.

Megatron is written here as far more determined and better than Optimus, and he dominates this part of the fight while decrying Optimus as "a jumped up records clerk, carrying power he barely comprehends". Megatron is not too busy beating up Prime to explain some of his goals though, which galvanizes Optimus into finally fighting back. I enjoy that Megatron is someone who has spent a long time studying Cybertron and putting together his plan, and that he has a broader mind than Starscream, both in terms of being willing to accept the reality of the Matrix (as a power source at least) and in his vision for the future. He's intelligent and determined, and so far, very capable.

The story structure of cutting back and forth between plotlines makes reviewing the story a little tougher, but it allows Simon Furman to punctuate the story with a series of mini-"cliffhangers", pauses on a dramatic moment to leave the reader wondering while he shifts the scene. And what a change of scene as we get a great panel of seekers, a Predacon and Chop Shop are attacking Omega Sentinels, and Shockwave presses the attack, fully confident in the results.

Returning to Optimus and Megatron, this is definitely lifting the sequence directly from the movie fight between Hot Rod and Galvatron, down to the headlights in the eyes trick, a view out of the windshield, and the Matrix saving the Autobot combatant's life. It's a good sequence in the movie, and I don't mind seeing it repeated here, though I'm not sure that the reference has any storytelling purpose beyond a continuity reference. The Matrix seemingly acts to protect itself and the Prime and shows both Optimus and Megatron a vision of Earth, with neither understanding just where they are.

I'm going to criticize a couple of things about this issue: too much cutting back and forth between plotlines, which constantly breaks the momentum, and not a lot of forward motion for the story overall. It is a middle chapter, and spinning the wheels a bit is typical for the middle of the story, but it's noticeable that we're not much further along at the end of the issue than we were in the beginning. And while I generally like the crosscutting between plotlines to keep things interesting, it just felt like too much this time, mainly in having the fight between Megatron and Optimus broken up into four segments. Just when something happened, we'd cut away, and at the very least I'd have kept the sequence where Megatron gets to the Matrix and it reacts together. It was one break too many for me.

Don't get me wrong, it's still a strong issue with great art and some good character moments for Shockwave, Optimus, Megatron, Starscream and Grimlock. I may be a bit nitpicky with my complaint about the story structure, but it just annoyed me this time around, which I can't say has been the case before. I'm still going to give this issue 7.5 out of 10, and if the plot had moved forward more than it does, I'd bump that up to an 8. Still, it's a strong issue, it's just not at the level of the first three.