Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: John Barber
Artwork: Kei Zama, Josh Burcham (colours)
Release Date: 18th April 2018
Last month’s Optimus Prime #16 was one of my favorite Transformers issues in recent memory. A tour-de-force of the current political landscape of Cybertron through the eyes of one of Barber’s most brilliantly realized characters, showing how this strange comic universe has so brilliantly curated real discourse and history within its transforming characters.
It managed to perfectly display the plights and current motivations of all its main players, from the disenfranchised to the largest with the most to lose. It also showed the clear threat that Onyx poses, not just to their wellbeing, but to the beliefs of Cybertron and their faith in everything they hold dear. Ultimately, it was an issue that cemented the fact that this arc was more than just another fight with a big bad planning to destroy Cybertron.
The quiet before the storm, if you will.
Now, the falling begins.
Everything the consort of Cybertron have built since the Civil War ended comes crashing down around them as Onyx Prime’s seeds of destruction bloom. In the face of dangerous revelation after dangerous revelation by Onyx Prime, allegiances are tested, broken and rekindled as the lies and betrayals are finally revealed to the world. Old characters return to make the most of their cause. Drastic actions are taken, guns are fired, lives are ruined and leadership is lost. Onyx’s true nature is revealed. And yes, Cybertron will never be the same.
In an explosive, shocking and action-packed issue, Barber terraforms the landscape of his Transformers epic forever in ways both unexpected and brilliant. It’s an issue where you can actually say “everything changes.” And that’s super exciting
Barber’s long history on this run is what makes this issue almost as successful as the last. His dedication to establishing the personal identities and beliefs of every character in the roster; his continued deconstruction of the Autobot, Decepticon and Colony ideology; the creation of the current status quo that still uses years of history of this universe to form the thin ice of the political landscape of Cybertron and its leaders; means that the weight and outcomes of this event are felt so naturally and expected of the characters Barber has put through hell time and time again.
It’s a dynamic issue, feeling at times like a rollercoaster of betrayal and action you find yourself pulled through from start to finish, viewing each character’s reactions and decisions in the face or Onyx Prime’s presence as Barber sets up the next (and final) phase of his tale. But it’s the massive task of fitting this all into one issue that also proves to be its Achilles Heel. The storyline events and outcomes of this issue could quite easily be described as hectic and messy, but the same could sadly also be said about its execution as a piece of comics writing.
Cramming the massive roster of characters that Transformers is known for into one issue means Barber has to jump so quickly from scene to scene, from faction to faction, from Earth to Cybertron to some other part of Cybertron so often that it frequently becomes disorienting. As a reader, I found myself constantly adjusting every few pages (or panels) as everything moves at breakneck pace. Pair this approach with large-scale action and it feels like time and time again the script doesn’t manage to provide about exactly what’s going on.
Another major drawback is that not every character gets to shine in the way they should. Having to fit everything into one issue means that not everything can be expanded on effectively, which left me a little disappointed that the reactions of more significant characters like Optimus Prime or Windblade weren’t focused on in greater depth. And while this may come in future issues, judging this issue on its own merits leaves something to be desired. It may have possibly been more effective to split this issue in two, but we’ll see where this decision takes us in future chapters.
The art also falls victim to this same fate, as the art team try to juggle this mass of different settings and frantic action. Panel layouts and transitions don’t always convey the clutter of Cybetronian betrayal happening over a multitude of settings. Without much in the way of breathing room here, Zama does her best to capture it all, but that doesn’t always allow for the kinetic panelling or dynamic, clear action she has become well known for. Of course though, Zama and Burcham still bring their A game, with a perfected style of Zama’s stylized and detailed Transformers designs pairing with and Burcham’s atmospheric, moody and engrossing colors.
In the end, Optimus Prime #17 is a mammoth issue, full of big changes and massive reveals as Onyx Prime and The Falling prove to be something not to be forgotten any time soon. And while the execution of an issue of this magnitude – and its effect on the state of the universe as a whole – isn’t perfect, nor always delivered with the sense of clarity it deserves, the sheer of scope of the story and the effect on the direction of the series as a whole ensures that it’s still one not to be missed.
The writer of this piece was: Connor Stephens
Connor Tweets from @diddlesMVP