IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

The IDW Comics universe has had such a different take on G1, one that's now significantly represented by the Generations toys, so they share a forum. A modern take on a Real Cybertronian Hero. Currently starring Generations toys, IDW "The Transformers" comics, MTMTE, TF vs GI Joe, and Windblade.
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andersonh1
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IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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I've been in the mood lately to go back and revisit the early days of IDW and see just how far we've come. Part of that has to do with discussions on other boards about Ratchet's current personality versus what he had when Furman was writing, and part of it is just wanting to compare and contrast. And since Jimmy Pink just turned up again, it's useful to go back and see how he was initially portrayed.

Transformers #0
This book felt very familiar as I read through it. I remember it well, probably from reading it many times while waiting for the series proper to being. It's very different from IDW's current output, particularly given that the main characters are humans rather than Transformers. Verity is the point of view character that we follow for most of the issue. She's essentially homeless, and lives off of what she can steal. Furman's already poking fun at her as she discusses "missing nothing", and in the very next panel we get a Decepticon point of view on her and the people around her as Runamuck and Runabout case the same bus station. The whole plot kicks off because Verity steals a micro computer (did we have IPads yet? That's pretty much what it is, or would be if the story was written now) and the Decepticons track it down. She ditches the bus she was on, gets a ride with Hunter O'Nion, and they're attacked by Thundercracker, then rescued by Ratchet, who in his best Terminator impression tells them to come with him if they want to live.

So, heavy on the human pov characters, very light on Transformer action. No robots to be seen, apart from some shots of Starscream's eye and mouth, both hidden in shadow. Furman keeps the Transformers as ideas, glimpsed from the shadows and through the eyes of conspiracy theorist Hunter. I seem to remember some griping at the time that things moved very slowly in this storyline, but I think it's a reasonably effective teaser for the upcoming series. Verity and Hunter get the lion's share of page time and characterization, while the Transformers that appear get very few lines. I do love the two page spread with the massive Thundercracker looming over the tiny VW bus, and Hunter's line about it being "not our military".

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Re: IDW Transformers - retro reviews

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IDW has had the license for nearly a decade now, making their longevity equal to Marvel's. And, they are likely to surpass Marvel's longevity with the license (barring anything unexpected in the next year or two).

The zero issue was decent set-up. (It is hard for a zero issue to be truly great.) Verity's monologue was a little retro, but not offensively so.

I think that the biggest waste of Furman's run was that he jumped the gun on upsetting the status quo before he finished establishing it. (Apparently, a 6 phase plan to invade planets was too hum drum for the TF comics. It needed to be spiced up.) Of course, given how impatient the fans were to see more Transformers doing stuff that Transformers do, maybe skipping all of that "boring set-up" made sense.

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Re: IDW Transformers - retro reviews

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Dominic wrote:I think that the biggest waste of Furman's run was that he jumped the gun on upsetting the status quo before he finished establishing it. (Apparently, a 6 phase plan to invade planets was too hum drum for the TF comics. It needed to be spiced up.)
The thing I always got annoyed about with regard to the six phase plan was how people kept jumping on Shane McCarthy for ignoring it, when it was, as you point out, Furman himself who set it up and then ditched it.


Infiltration #1
Thanks to having a zero issue to set up the premise, Infiltration hits the ground running, with Ratchet fighting off first Runamuck and Runabout, and then Thundercracker. I happen to like the vehicle to vehicle combat, with the various bots sporting all sorts of weaponry that they can use in vehicle mode. According to Ratchet, he's a concientious objector, Thundercracker is a grunt who follows orders, and both Runamuck and Runabout like to play with their food. Ratchet goes to ground after fending them off and they end up with Jimmy Pink, third and final member of the human cast. So we've got our homeless thief, our conspiracy theorist and our mechanic. And Ratchet, who interacts with all three via his holographic driver for the entire issue. Once again, we only get glimpses of robots until the final page. There's Starscream on the palm computer and a reflected image of Ratchet's face at one point. And of course at the end Runamuck and Runabout smash into Jimmy's garage, demanding the palm computer.

I'm trying to remember how I felt about this book at the time. I like the approach now, certainly, with characters being established and the Transformers still being kept in the background until the end. Furman is letting things unfold for the reader at the same pace that they unfold for the three human characters, and we know pretty much what they do when it comes to this particular continuity. I liked EJ Su's art then and I like it now. I wonder whatever happened to him? In any case, having an actual covert war between the two factions while they're in disguise on Earth is an approach that IDW has abandoned, but I like it here. I think it's very effective, and having the human characters drawn into this covert war also works well. I like the fact that the Transformers have been on Earth for years and very few people realize it. It's an aspect of the franchise that is rarely utilized, and it's good to revisit it.

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Re: IDW Transformers - retro reviews

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In any case, having an actual covert war between the two factions while they're in disguise on Earth is an approach that IDW has abandoned, but I like it here. I think it's very effective, and having the human characters drawn into this covert war also works well. I like the fact that the Transformers have been on Earth for years and very few people realize it. It's an aspect of the franchise that is rarely utilized, and it's good to revisit it.
In a way, "All Hail Megatron" was a step back, being a deliberate attempt to being "Transformers" back to 80s spec.

Of course, there is little way to know who is to blame for that given what we know about how AHM was proposed, drafted and revised. (IDW did not even seem to know how/if AHM fit in even after they announced it.)


The best vehicle/vehicle fight was in "Escalation", where the diguises failed despite few of the combatants transforming.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Infiltration #2
We definitely have "middle chapter" syndrome with this issue. It isn't its own story, it's part of a larger storyline that picks up where last issue left off and ends on a cliffhanger. And it does move the chess pieces around, but it also lets a few more revelations slip about what's on the tablet that Verity stole, and what kind of threats are out there. We readers are still learning with the human characters and still don't know any more than they do, with a few exceptions. Because we get inside Ratchet's head this issue and get his viewpoint on the situation.

I've said before that Ratchet in MTMTE has never felt like Ratchet from this storyline, and as I get further into these early issues that's certainly proving to be true. This isn't the old, cynical, athiestic Ratchet that James Roberts writes, who is so old that his hands were failing him and he was thinking about retiring. Furman's Ratchet is a lot more willing to break the rules and get involved, judging by the list of broken regs that Prowl throws at him. He sympathizes with the humans for what they've been pulled into. He's once again all action in bot and vehicle mode as he fights off Runamuck and Runabout twice, while both times declining to use lethal force. Not that he minds inflicting damage on them, but it is his life or theirs.

Verity, Jimmy and Hunter get less to say and do as the story focus widens, but Furman does stop the action for a page or two to give everyone a pause in the action. Prowl, Sunstreaker and Ironhide arrive in the final pages of the issue, doubling the Transformers seen in the book so far. Furman makes it clear that this is a strictly regimented military group, not necessarily the collection of "Cybertron's finest" comrades in arms that we've seen in prior continuities. I'm still loving the detail in EJ Su's art, and miss seeing him on the current books. He really knew how to draw vehicles that look real with correct perspective, and he drew Transformers with tons of details under the armor and vehicle plating.

I'm a lot more patient with the pacing since I have all the issues and know where things are going, but I think at the time I was a little impatient to see the story get somewhere. It does go for the slow burn approach. But I like it a lot now.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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I've said before that Ratchet in MTMTE has never felt like Ratchet from this storyline, and as I get further into these early issues that's certainly proving to be true. This isn't the old, cynical, athiestic Ratchet that James Roberts writes, who is so old that his hands were failing him and he was thinking about retiring.
It's possible that he simply became that way after everything else that happened--this is the first IDW issues, mind, so after this he goes through all the -ations, all his human friends pretty much die, AHM happens, then the big-ass cynical Costa run, Chaos...It's easy to see how his mindset could break him down.

The hands thing though, I really got nothing.
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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Onslaught Six wrote:It's possible that he simply became that way after everything else that happened--this is the first IDW issues, mind, so after this he goes through all the -ations, all his human friends pretty much die, AHM happens, then the big-ass cynical Costa run, Chaos...It's easy to see how his mindset could break him down.
That's pretty much how I had rationalized the changes. But there's no doubt Ratchet is a very different individual.
The hands thing though, I really got nothing.
Yeah, me either. Ratchet is clearly very physically capable here. He fights off Runamuck and Runabout on multiple occasions, and to top that, fights off Thundercracker who is much larger and faster and better armed. He's nowhere near the big scrap heap in the sky.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Once again, I've been thinking about re-reading IDW Transformers from the beginning for a while now, and now that I have the hardcover "reading order" collection, I'm going to dive in. The first volume has an introduction by then-editor Andy Schmidt in which he discusses very briefly the fact that both chronological and publication order were rejected, but does not discuss exactly what the criteria for "reading order" are. As I look through this volume, some of it is in fact chronological, but "Spotlight Nightbeat" would seem to fit better later on when Optimus Prime calls him to Earth during "Escalation". Regardless, these oversized 300+ page books are a lot more convenient for a re-reading than the individual issues or the smaller paperbacks are. Ever since I picked up that first Superman omnibus, I've been a fan of these large books with long runs of comics. It works for DC, and it works for IDW.

I plan to approach reviews in the same way I've approached the Batman reviews: short and sweet, just a few paragraphs. Keep it fun and not a chore to put down some thoughts about the stories. In some instances I will probably cover an entire story or story arc rather than individual issues, because a conclusion that reading these in collected format has led me to is that some of these stories simply hold up better as a whole rather than divided up into parts. Some of those post-Dark Cybertron story arcs in RID/Transformers that honestly bored me a bit on a monthly basis have been far better when read all in one sitting. As I noted recently, I found Dark Cybertron a lot more readable when I read it over two nights than it was over five months, or whatever the original publication schedule was. So no in-depth issue by issue breakdowns, unless a particular issue really stands out to me somehow.

Rather than start a new thread, I'm going to use this existing one that never got very far. We'll see if I get further along this time.

Megatron: Origin #1-#4
Writer: Eric Holmes Art: Alex Milne

Megatron goes from energon miner to local warlord with grander ambitions in mind. The events of this story will be revisited later and expanded on, but the basic story of how Megatron rose to power remained in continuity as far as I know. A mine closure and the killing of a miner leads to a riot in which Megatron kills for the first time and is horrified by what he's done. Arrested, he takes over the shuttle and escapes into Cybertron's underground, where he becomes involved in illegal gladiatorial matches, rising to the top tier of fighters and becoming more and more callous and brutal along the way. I have read that this story was originally supposed to be six issues when it was pitched to Dreamwave, and this is one of those instances where cutting it down to four may have hurt the story, because there needed to be more detail given about how he went from being in hiding to becoming a gladiator.
He gathers a following along the way, including famliar faces like Soundwave and Starscream. His eventual plan, which succeeds, is to overthrow the Senate and take over the city. Despite the efforts by law enforcement led by Sentinel Prime and Prowl, Megatron succeeds in his goals, and he kills Sentinel Prime. He rules the city, but his plans are far larger than just one city.

This is a reasonable origin story for Megatron. I've never liked the idea of making the Autobots into fascists in order to make the Decepticons more sympathetic, but that's an idea that permeates much of IDW's Transformers output, so there's no getting around it. And it really doesn't make Decepticons or Megatron sympathetic here. They're brutal killers, first issue aside. The Autobots just aren't a big contrast. Alex Milne does excellent work later on in MTMTE, but he's not quite at that level here. Sometimes it's hard to tell exactly what's going on, which is partly due to Milne's layouts and partly the fault of the very dark coloring. This is a sound origin story that is hampered by the art and truncated script.

Spotlight: Blurr
Writer: Shane McCarthy Art: Casey Coller

Blurr is a celebrity racing champion who lives to race, get applause, and enjoy the good life. Not someone who cares about current events, he's not even aware of the growing war until it impacts his racing. Attempts are made by both sides to recruit him due to his speed, but Optimus (who should be Orion at this point) wins out over Starscream's arguments, and Blurr sides with the Autobots to help prevent an assassination, his speed proving to be the decisive factor.

The art is great, as I would expect from Casey Coller. This Spotlight is clearly placed here in volume 1 because it takes place so early in the war, making this an obvious chronological choice. Blurr will not be important to Furman's main plot, so unlike many of the early Spotlights, this one from after Furman's time as writer obviously does not help build the story told in Infiltration. As a standalone story focused on Blurr, it's not riveting, but it's an enjoyable enough read that gives Blurr more to do than run a bar or talk fast. I'm more partial to the Spotlights that tied into the main storylines and gave us both a character study and important plot information, so issues like this one feel less essential. I still enjoyed it, but it doesn't have the relevance that others have. It does give Blurr more character and motivation than I ever recall previous Transformers media doing. Only Animated's Agent Blurr does as well, and he manages to get himself killed after a few episodes, while this Blurr survives the war, even if he does nothing of note in it that I can recall.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Spotlight: Cliffjumper
Writer: Shane McCarthy Art: Robert Musso

Cliffjumper has crashed on a planet and befriended a young alien girl and her brother, both orphans. He's forced to wait for rescue, and enjoys some of the first peaceful time he can remember until Decepticons show up looking for crash sruvivors. It becomes clear that despite being a quiet and thoughtful person that the war has made Cliffjumper a very effective killer.

I think a story that showed Cliffjumper living up to his name and taking risks would have been more appropriate for the character. What we get here is fine, but not the type of story that effectively shows who Cliffjumper is, though it could be argued that charging five or six Decepticons solo is. He can't escape the war, and innocents suffer because of it, though at least this issue does show some differences between Autobot and Decepticon as Cliffjumper rejects the "collateral damage" attitude towards bystanders that we saw Furman's Autobots exhibit. I can't help but wonder if that line was written by McCarthy as a reaction against Furman's earlier characterization. We could derive a larger theme from this story if we wanted, and see Cliffjumper as representative of all Autobots who would rather enjoy a peaceful life, but cannot because the war has forced them to become soldiers in order to survive.

Spotlight: Shockwave
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Nick Roche

This is one of my favorites among the early Spotlights. It's enormously important not only to Furman's storylines, but also much later to Dark Cybertron as Regenesis and Shockwave's desire to seed ores to power Cybertron is revisited and expanded. Shockwave forsees the coming collapse of Cybertron as the planet is used up, and takes steps outside the chain of command to combat it, seeding various planets in order to have them produce ores. We'll learn over in the main books that the one on Earth, Ore-13, is a form of supercharged energon. Shockwave encounters problems as he's attacked by Grimlock and the rest of the Dinobots, out for revenge for an earlier defeat of their group by Shockwave. Shockwave beats them all singlehandedly, but Grimlock betrays his crew and causes a volcano to erupt, burying them all together rather than let Shockwave escape.

The art is good, though Nick Roche will improve over time just like Alex Milne. The story not only establishes and characterizes Shockwave and Grimlock, but as I noted it's a big piece of the larger story going on at the time. A perfect example of how the Spotlight series should have been used, not just as extras, but essential reading. The references to Beast Wars (the reasons the Dinobots adopt Dinosaur modes) and to old Marvel Comics plots are nice nods for long-time fans. This is also where Megatron assigns Bludgeon to examine Shockwave's work, which will come up in Spotlight: Soundwave and pay off in Stormbringer.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Spotlight: Nightbeat
Writer: Simon Furman Art: M. D. Bright

Nightbeat is set up here as the detective of the cast, which is faithful to the character, and he's investigating the disappearance of the first Ark spacecraft. In the middle of a war would not seem to be the most opportune time to do this, but Nightbeat loves a mystery. He follows a clue to the planet Gorlam Prime where he discovers what we'll later learn is a portal to the Dead Universe that looks like an underground lake, and he's captured and subjected to brain surgery. The first mention of "the Expansion" occurs here, which I pad no real attention to when I first read this issue, but this is the storyline that would have followed Devastation had Furman's run not been cut short. He's setting it up back in the seond Spotlight, meaning he had his story planned out well in advance.

The art and the colors combine with the story to really create a mild horror vibe here. The atmosphere of this story really is very effective, and Bright's art is a big part of that. And once again this issue not only gives us a character study, but it ties in to the main storyline and adds some very important elements to it. It's another strong Spotlight issue.

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