Review – Optimus Prime #2 (IDW Publishing)

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Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: John Barber
Artwork: Kei Zama, Josh Burcham (colours)
Release Date: 4th January, 2017

In the second issue of IDW’s latest Transformers series, the unexpected arrival of the Junkions on Earth sparks the need for some even-handed diplomacy, with Optimus Prime and his team invoking their somewhat self-appointed role of Cybertronian ambassadors to meet and greet their ‘guests’.  This triggers G.I. Joe into action in an attempt to try and police the situation, with Zilong Qian – AKA Talon – facing some problems with his own team, Spike Witwicky in particular, along the way.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of the series so far is the shift in tone and style between the present-day scenes and those set four million years ago when Prime – then Orion Pax – was a street cop on Cybertron, investigating the murder of a Decepticon in police custody.  The flashbacks in this issue see Pax bringing Jetfire in for questioning following his violent outburst in the opening chapter, and enlisting a familiar Autobot face to assist with the “interrogation”.

John Barber has crafted an impressively cerebral Transformers comic here, packed with delicate political machinations and intertwining agendas. By exploring two different “versions” of Optimus Prime – the past and the present – we get to see the marked difference that four million years of conflict, betrayal and secrecy has made on the would-be Autobot messiah, and are left to ponder whether these changes have been for better or worse.

As strong as the writing is however, there’s definitely a feeling that newer readers may struggle a little with the density of the storytelling and the frequent references to pre-existing events and characters.  Yes, Barber does a solid job of handling the exposition cleanly and clearly, and newcomers would still definitely be able to pick this one up without necessarily needing to know anything beforehand, but there’s likely always going to be a niggling sensation that they’re somehow missing out by not knowing all the subtle ins and outs of the wider story.

Visually, Keia Zama is to be applauded for the detail and dynamism of the artwork, and while there’s very little action in this issue, the overall aesthetic is still an impressive one.  The pages can occasionally feel a little overcrowded at times, but that’s likely more down to Barber’s script than Zama’s artwork.  Extra credit should also be given to the colours of Josh Burcham, whose slightly washed out and muted colour palette evokes memories of the classic Transformer comics, giving this series a slightly retro vibe that works well as a contrast to Barber’s boundary-pushing narrative.

Overall then, while its position as a jumping-on point is questionable, Barber and Zama are crafting a detailed and complex character study of one of the most intriguing Transformers of all time, and are doing so by blending a myriad of different genres and styles together.  Yes, the pace is glacial for the time being, and the onslaught of characters and backstory may feel intimidating or suffocating to some, but I’m definitely planning on sticking with this new series for the long haul, and I’d heartily recommend and would-be reader to do the same.

Rating: 4/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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