IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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andersonh1
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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Spotlight: Hot Rod
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Nick Roche

Hot Rod surfs a meteor down to the surface of a planet to get past Decepticon prison security. Tells you a lot about how far this guy is willing to go. He has things all planned out, he's going to break former team member Dealer out of this prison because the last time Hot Rod led a group to recover an artifact known as "the Magnificence", a source of all-encompassing knowledge, the rest of his team was killed and Dealer was captured. Hot Rod succeeds in breaking him out, only for the reader to learn at the end of the story (to no one's surprise who knows these characters) that this is Doubledealer, a Decepticon double agent, who had been attempting to obtain the Magnificence for his cause.

This is another winning Spotlight, though the Magnificence ends up being a plot device that vanishes in the compression of Furman's plotlines. I don't know if Barber or Roberts ever pick it up, given all of their use of Furman storylines later on. It's introduction would no doubt have tied into the main plot as Furman's other two character Spotlights have done, but at least Hot Rod ends up being prominent in Escalation, Devastation and Maximum Dinobots, so his introduction is very relevant. Apart from a good story, this shows that there are a lot of Transformers all around the galaxy, involved in a number of different things, and not all are on the front lines of the war. There's the cold war/espionage angle on Earth, and then there's the same thing happening in the bigger picture of the Transformers' war.

These early Spotlights are better than I remembered. I had it in mind that they were somewhat "disposable" when it came to the main storylines, but that seems more true of later Spotlights, not these Furman-written examples.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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andersonh1 wrote:
Tue Jan 19, 2021 12:52 pm
This is another winning Spotlight, though the Magnificence ends up being a plot device that vanishes in the compression of Furman's plotlines. I don't know if Barber or Roberts ever pick it up, given all of their use of Furman storylines later on.
Roberts brought it back in Lost Light, and would explain its origins.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Sparky Prime wrote:
Wed Jan 20, 2021 1:06 am
andersonh1 wrote:
Tue Jan 19, 2021 12:52 pm
This is another winning Spotlight, though the Magnificence ends up being a plot device that vanishes in the compression of Furman's plotlines. I don't know if Barber or Roberts ever pick it up, given all of their use of Furman storylines later on.
Roberts brought it back in Lost Light, and would explain its origins.
Cool, that's good to hear. I imagine his ideas for the Magnificence are a lot different than what Furman probably would have done with it, but still it's good to hear that loose plot thread was finally addressed.

Spotlight: Soundwave
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Marcelo Matere

Megatron directed Bludgeon to look into Shockwave's projects, but he clearly knows better than to trust Bludgeon, and has Soundwave follow and observe him. This is a later Spotlight placed earlier than publication order probably because it continues the Bludgeon/Thunderwing plot that will be dealt with in Stormbringer. The book is also set in 1984 rather than 2006, so it fits chronologically as well. Soundwave is content to observe his fellow Decepticons until he figures out that they're going to use Ore-13 to restore Thunderwing, and then he attempts to stop them but fails. A weapon used against him traps him in cassette deck mode and he'll stay that way for the next 20 years.

This is a good Spotlight, but doesn't feel quite as essential as some of the others. However it does fill in some story gaps and explains where Soundwave is during the events of the main series. And the placement of Bludgeon's storyline in chronological order within this volume is a nice touch.

Infiltration #0-#6
Writer: Simon Furman Art: E. J. Su

The final issues collected in volume 1 are actually the first Transformers comics that IDW published. Infiltration starts out small, introducing us to 2/3 of the human cast of the book, Verity and Hunter, before slowly building up the Transformers cast a bit at a time as the Decepticons try to recover a handheld computer containing compromising information about their presence on Earth. Verity had stolen it from what she assumed was a traveling salesman, but as we later learn the man was working for one of two organizations on Earth who are already well aware that aliens are among us.

There is a lot of plot in this series. Verity, Hunter and Jimmy all have lives that take a hard right turn when they get involved with the Transformers. The Autobots and Decepticons are on Earth doing what they do everywhere across the galaxy. The Decepticons are carrying out their six phase infiltration plan that ultimately leads to stripping a planet of all resources, the Autobots are trying to stop them. Clandestine organizations Skywatch and the Machination (we don't learn the names of either here, as I recall) are both after the Transformers, each for their own reasons. And the discovery of Ore-13, a very pure, very powerful form of Energon changes everything, making Earth suddenly pivotal in the war rather than just another battlefield. None of this is revealed in a straightforward way, we follow the human characters as they learn part of the story, and then as they investigate further. Furman does not run headlong into action and conflict, he's telling a paced story that gives out answers a bit at a time. I remember people really griping about this back in the day, just as they're complaining about the pace of the current Transformers series today. Some things never change.

E. J. Su's art is excellent. The guy does one of the best jobs I've seen in these comics with perspective and proportion, and his vehicles look like real vehicles. He often draws Transformers as if we're looking up at them in an attempt to show just how big they are, and he puts all sorts of tech details beneath the outer robot plating that forms the vehicle exteriors. His human characters are all distinctive and well rendered. This guy was a solid artist for these books, no doubt about it.

The story holds up fairly well. These days, having read all of this before, I know the plot revelations before they're given so the placement of several Spotlights earlier than this series which gives much of the game away is not a big deal, but I wonder how a first time reader would react. I have always wondered just who the Decepticons thought they were hiding their actions from by covering their tracks, since it fools Megatron not one iota. The palmtop computer is a plot device to get the human characters involved, and I suppose it does clue the Autobots in on the change in Decepticon tactics, so maybe that was the fear. Once the Autobots know what's going on, the arrival of Megatron keeps them from acting and the computer is no longer important.

As an aside, lest we later complain about characters recovering from what would seem to be fatal injuries, Megatron blows Starscream's entire midsection apart, leaving him with a gaping hole in the middle third of his body, but some time in a CR chamber restores him to full health by the end of Devastation, so Furman set the ground rules that these guys can take massive damage and recover, given time and care.

This story is the foundation and starting point for IDW's original continuity, and in my opinion it set up an interesting status quo and backstory that is recognizably G1, but which changes things around so that it's not just a rehash of ideas and concepts that we've already seen, though some things are familiar. Like so many of these stories, it flows much better in collected format than it did waiting months for the next issue. The cliffhanger and resolution in issues 4 and 5 where Verity walks through a door and runs into Megatron, only for him to dismiss her and go on with his conversation is still a great example of resolving a situation with the unexpected. Ratchet gets one of his best outings here, showing himself to be very capable and able to think on his feet. It's a good story, and a good place to end volume 1.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Stormbringer #1-#4
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Don Figeroa

Volume 2 opens with "Nothing but robots on Cybertron!" That's how this story was advertised in a quick response to reader complaints about Infiltration being "slow" and heavy on the human presence. This is a tight four part story illustrated with Don Figeroa's superb artwork as Furman goes back to characters he originally elevated in prominence during his Marvel Comics days: Bludgeon and Thunderwing. Cybertron in this continuity has been almost destroyed by the war, depleted of resources and with an environment hostile to Transformers. Turns out that Thunderwing saw this coming and attempted to head it off, but his method of doing so is Furman's attempt to adapt Pretender shells for this new continuity. Thunderwing grafted himself into an exo-shell that vastly increased his power and durability, but also drove him mad. He became a planet killer, essentially (even more than the Phase Sixers, I presume) and was so powerful that both armies worked together to try and stop him. Bringing him back would be a disaster, to the point that Megatron is willing to destroy Cybertron itself to stop him, but Bludgeon and his little cult of followers believe that "sacrificing" other worlds will somehow restore Cybertron to life.

This story contains the most purple prose Furman wrote during his time as Transformers writer for IDW, and he's clearly attempting to portray an apocalyptic scenario here, both in terms of language and imagery, as Optimus Prime remembers the last encounter with Thunderwing. A planet in the final phase is shown when Thunderwing is sent out to attack, and it's all out war with the Wreckers introduced into this continuity, so we've seen the beginning stages on Earth in Infiltration and now the end stages here. Stormbringer is a story packed with characters and concepts that show just how much trouble Earth potentially has in store. And it not only introduces the Wreckers, but the Technobots, Bludgeon and his followers, the Predacons, and the members of the Decepticon infiltration unit on Nebulos, so maybe triple the number of characters seen during Infiltration? The original covers (not all reproduced in the collected volume, sadly) are these great wraparounds with tons of characters that Figeroa draws so well.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Escalation #1-#6
Writer: Simon Furman Art: E. J. Su

At the end of Infiltration Megatron announced Phase 2, and Escalation gives us an idea of what that looks like as the Decepticons attempt to use existing political and military tension to create larger conflicts on the road to destabilizng the planet. That's one of two main plotlines of Escalation, while the other involves Hunter and Sunstreaker's apparent death at the hands of humans, only for an investigation to reveal that Sunstreaker's death was faked, leading Verity, Jimmy, Ratchet and Ironhide to try and find him.These mini-series are treated more like story arcs within an ongoing series as the destabilization plot is resolved for now, but leads to Megatron calling in the big guns in the form of Sixshot and breaking protocol in doing so, while the Sunstreaker plot is not resolved.

There's some good stuff in this story, including Megatron powered up on Ore-13, allowing him to go all out while fighting, and it allows him to mass-shift, said to be an energy-intensive process, giving the handgun mode an appearance in this new continuity. Optimus makes use of his command deck and Roller, something we rarely see in Transformers fiction, and doing so saves his life as Megatron nearly kills him. The Autobot cast is expanded by adding Nightbeat, Hardhead and Hot Rod to the mix, and Ratchet continues to go around the chain of command and investigate what happened to Sunstreaker. Autobot command in this continuity is not as compassionate or as careful about life as they are in other series, as we see when Optimus stops a Machination agent simply by allowing his vehicle to run into him, badly injuring the driver. But Ratchet and Ironhide are the compassionate Autobots of old, so we get a mix of approaches.

Hunter, meanwhile, gets operated on and given experimental technology without him being given any choice in the matter, establishing the Machination as about as vile as they can be, and he's threatened with brainwashing as well, just as he sees a row of headless Sunstreaker bodies. We got this continuity's Pretender technology in Stormbringer, now we're going to get Headmasters.

I like the idea of the six-phase infiltration and destabilization process that Furman introduced. It gives the Decepticons direction and purpose and strategy rather than making them aimless thugs always attacking targets of opportunity. And it makes for a good story for this mini-series, offering clear goals for Megatron to attempt to achieve and for the Autobots to stop. It does have the effect of always putting the Autobots on the defensive though, since we're not told what their wartime strategy actually is. So we get proactive Decepticons and reactive Autobots, which is not a recipe for an Autobot victory. Presumably they have a grand strategy, but we learn nothing about it here.

And I had forgotten that Nova Prime is first introduced here, seen by Optimus as his conciousness is in his command deck.

It's a good round two for the story, with more action and higher stakes, and we're promised bigger stakes in the next installment. Having established the protocol and having spent six issues depicting part of it, Furman now throws it all out the window for next time. Which is certainly his prerogative as writer, but I'd like to have seen a bit more myself. This cold war/espionage version of the Transformers' war had some untapped potential.

Spotlight: Sixshot
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Rob Ruffolo

The final pages of Escalation show Megatron calling in Sixshot, and the Reapers vowing to go to Earth to recruit him. So the placement of this Spotlight immediately afterwards works to explain who both are. Sixshot is a phase six Decepticon, one of the most powerful who hits the planets left in chaos by the Decepticon infiltration and destabilization, finishing them off so they can be harvested of resources. By the time he shows up on any given planet, the time for subterfuge is over. Sixshot is a Decepticon who lives to fight, and feels without purpose when things are quiet, so when he's offered membership in a group of aliens who call themselves the Reapers, he definitely consideres the offer. The Reapers claim to go around the galaxy working to end war, but the way they do this is to take a planet and kill everything on it. Sixshot's feeling of kinship with his fellow Decepticons is enough to make him turn down the offer, but it's clear he was tempted.

The art is not the best, but it gets the job done. The concept of the "Phase Sixers" is something that will be revisted later with Overlord, and it's not a bad way of explaining some of the outliers among Transformers in terms of higher power levels than is typical. The book essentially exists to establish these characters before their appearance in Devastation, which is the only other substantial use of any of them in this continuity that I remember.

As an aside, the use of Sixshot in this continuity is clearly why when he's introduced in the Headmasters series, his dialogue is translated in the DVD subtitles as "Sixshot, a Phase 6 Decepticon officer", or words to that effect.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Spotlight: Ramjet
Writer: Stuart Moore Art: Robby Musso

A mostly pointless one-shot, set during Escalation (several scenes from Escalation are recreated as the story progresses) that introduces a character and then kills him off. Ramjet wants to overthrow Megatron, sets a plan in motion involving surveillance and facsimiles that echoes the grander Decepticon strategy, but just as he's about to really execute the final phase, Megatron shows up and kills him, leaving parts of him scattered in various places around the world. No one mourns his passing, not even his fellow Decepticons or the mini-Constructicons who work for him.

I guess the only real theme of this issue is irony. Ramjet wants to replace Megatron, but rather than innovate he acts just like Megatron only on a smaller scale. He shows no flair, no creativity, and certainly doesn't have the power to pull off his coup.

Spotlight: Ultra Magnus
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Robby Musso

One thing this issue makes very clear is that "Ultra Magnus, duly appointed enforcer of the Tyrest Accord" is a persona that Magnus puts on when he's confronting the criminals he hunts. It's a performance, not who he is, something James Roberts seems to have missed or ignored. This issue offers a nice reinvention of Ultra Magnus as an Autobot lawman who hunts down and arrests criminals who violate wartime standards. Swindle is a perpetual target, but Scorponok is the big prize that Magnus wants. Scorponok is slippery and always leaves himself a way out. When Magnus actually tracks him down to Nebulos, he gets into a physical confrontation that ends up with Scorponok being shot in the head by Magnus and running, actions which will play into Devastation and Maximum Dinobots down the road. If IDW had chosen strictly chronological placement, this issue would have to come before Infiltration, but as long as we see Scorponok injured before the big reveal in Devastation, we're good.

The plot is a bit thin, but it's needed setup for later and it makes good use of Ultra Magnus by allowing him to be someone a bit more powerful than normal and gives him a specialized role outside the ranks as something other than just another foot soldier. And good use is made of the holomatter avatars here, as Magnus uses his to infiltrate the alien base in his search for Scorponok.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Spotlight: Kup
Writer: Nick Roche Art: Nick Roche

I missed this one when it was originally published, and I honestly can't remember where I finally read it, because I didn't own it either as an original issue or in collected form prior to purchasing the hardcovers. It's possible one of the local libraries had some of the CEs in their graphic novel section. At any rate, it feels like it belongs in a later era of IDW Transformers with the tone and the bleak ending where the main characters win and accomplish their goals, only to wonder if the cost was worth it. There's a definite downbeat feeling about this Spotlight.

Kup crash lands on a planet filled with what turn out to be radioactive crystals. He ends up hallucinating thanks to these crystals, and perceives rescue attempts by Autobots sent by Springer as attacks from nightmarish creatures. He hasn't slept in weeks, and he thinks the very dead Outback is still alive, talking to him from time to time. Springer, who holds Kup in high regard as a mentor, is able to call in a "specialist" which turns out to be Trailbreaker with his forcefield. Trailbreaker prevents spark overload from killing Kup and is able to bring him in without being harmed himself. But the story ends on a bleak note: Kup was already old, and enormous damage has been done to him while on the planet, leaving him on life support. Was it really worth the cost in lives and resources to bring him back? The question remains unanswered.

Good story, good art by Nick Roche, and it manages to do what Ramjet could not: act as a standalone story that's worth reading even though it has no impact on the main plot at this time, though the events of this story will have consequences going forward, so it's more important than it might have appeared at the time. Another winner of an issue.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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I loved "Spotlight: Ramjet".

It is a parody of the faux-epics that are so common in comics (including much of Furman's output).

Ramjet has plans, complicated, monologue-worthy plan. He has minions (2 of which he kills in a tantrum). He talks about being non-linear. Did I mention the plans, and how complicated they are?

We have seen it all before, in comics from the big 2. But, "Spotlight: Ramjet" resolves it without pretext of importance. Ramjet's plan fails,and he is the only one who never saw it coming. (This was before IDW adopted a big 2 style model as their default for TF.)

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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Dominic wrote:
Thu Jan 21, 2021 11:33 am
I loved "Spotlight: Ramjet".

It is a parody of the faux-epics that are so common in comics (including much of Furman's output).

Ramjet has plans, complicated, monologue-worthy plan. He has minions (2 of which he kills in a tantrum). He talks about being non-linear. Did I mention the plans, and how complicated they are?

We have seen it all before, in comics from the big 2. But, "Spotlight: Ramjet" resolves it without pretext of importance. Ramjet's plan fails,and he is the only one who never saw it coming. (This was before IDW adopted a big 2 style model as their default for TF.)
I can see that as an interpretation, and it's a good way to read the story. I just saw the parallels between Ramjet and Megatron as pretty blatant, only Megatron is competent and Ramjet simply is not, which leads to him biting off more than he can chew and getting killed for it. If nothing else, it shows that this version of Megatron does not mess around, and Starscream, Skywarp and Blitzwing had better be thankful to be alive.

Spotlight: Mirage
Writer: George Strayton Art: Guido Guidi

This one's always been a bit confusing to me. I'm not sure if it was originally supposed to be dimension-hopping alternate universe stuff, or a dream or what. John Barber would eventually write it as a vision that Mirage had once and tie it into Combiner Wars, but that's a long way in the future. Given Guido Guidi's as-always great artwork, which is very Sunbow-esque, I assume the issue is riffing off the episode "Traitor" and the idea of "Mirage as not entirely loyal" (and of course he remained loyal in that episode, he was just under Bombshell's control for awhile, but the idea of disloyalty still sticks to him), which we'll see again when Ironhide accuses him of treason during AHM. Basically this is the worst case scenario as the Autobots lose the war and Mirage is there to help the Decepticons finish them off. I'm not quite sure what to think of it, honestly, and I just treat it as a well-drawn "what if" scenario.

Spotlight: Optimus Prime
Writer: Simon Furman Art: Don Figeroa

The final issue in volume 2 is much more to my liking as Don Figeroa returns to draw a story of Optimus Prime looking for answers about what he saw back in Escalation, and going to Omega Supreme for those answers. A lot of the Ark-1/Dead Universe plotline is set up here for the first time. I like the idea of Omega Supreme as an older Autobot, a contemporary of Nova Prime and Galvatron, and someone who is not an active participant in the war but rather a source of knowledge and advice. And I find the choice of Monstructor as the first combiner of this continuity to be an interesting one, though you'd think Omega Supreme would be more of a match for him physically than he turns out to be.

Despite being the named protagonist of this issue, this isn't really an Optimus Prime story per se, as we learn very little new about him. But it's a key piece of the bigger picture that Furman was building and it does give Optimus a chance to shine, taking down an opponent that Omega Supreme fails to stop. Good story plus good action makes for a well-done Spotlight issue.

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Re: IDW Transformers Comics - retro reviews

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John Barber would eventually write it as a vision that Mirage had once and tie it into Combiner Wars, but that's a long way in the future.
That is one of the worst back-writes of IDW's first run. I really liked the idea of Mirage being crazy/doubting his loyalty. Nice,simple, no McGuffins or alternate universe.

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